Thursday, October 28, 2010

Next Week in Tickets, Halloween Edition: Films playing Boston 29 October - 5 November

Halloween on Sunday! That means lots of spooky stuff at the smaller theaters, yet another Saw at the multiplexes, and me buying a whole bunch of Reese's Peanut Butter cups that I may or may not be around to give out when local kids come trick or treating that evening (along with comics and kid-friendly DVDs).

The point is, when I go to movies during the early part of November, I'll be bringing my own peanut butter cups to snack on. And if you know me and want some movies held back, let me know now.

  • We start, of course, with Evil Dead 2 at the Brattle, as it is what I like to call a Holiday Tradition. It plays Saturday and Sunday night as part of the Brattle's Sam Raimi: King of Cult weekend series, which also includes Drag Me to Hell and Darkman on Friday, the first two Spider-Man movies on Saturday, and, in a little Halloween change-up, matinees of his Western, The Quick and the Dead, on Sunday.

    A little earlier on Sunday, they'll be running "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" as part of the Harvard Square Trick or Treat festivities, free, with candy for the kids. Tuesday night, the rescheduled CineCaché program is Four Lions, the British terrorism comedy that also happens to be the first film picked up for distribution by the Alamo Drafthouse folks. Wednesday and Thursday will feature local premieres of local movies - Left on Pearl: Women Take Over 888 Memorial Drive and Keeping the Time: The LIfe, Music, and Photographs of Milt Hinton, respectively.


  • The Coolidge finishes off their Wes Craven midnight series with The Serpent and the Rainbow on Friday night, and then goes for an overnighter with a Halloween Horror Movie Marathon from midnight Saturday to noon on Sunday. Of the six movies, four are being kept secret, but two of them are House (freaky and strange even for Japan) and Re-Animator. Live music, burlesque, and psychic readings will fill out the rest of the time.

    In other, non-horror-related screenings, Monday night has Dirty Harry as part of "Science on Screen", with forensic scientist Amy Brodeur as a guest. Sunday to Thursday, they will be screening the complete, 5+ hour Carlos in the smaller digital rooms (a shorter version will play at the Museum of Fine Arts), and they are one of several places opening The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (see below).


  • Emerson has a great weekend lined up: Psycho plays Friday and Saturday, as does Make-Out with Violence, a film I loved at SXSW last year (even if I don't think I've ever quite made it through the soundtrack album I bought to support the filmmakers - it sounds much better in context!). The family-friendly film Saturday afternoon and Sunday night is Jim Henson's Labyrinth, which reminds you that Jennifer Connelly was always beautiful but the acting skill took a while to develop, but Jim Henson was always fantastic.


  • The Regent Theatre's Halloween matinee is Atomic Brain Invasion, a sci-fi horror film that was shot locally and looks to be pretty family-friendly. Perhaps more interesting is Thursday night's premiere, Beneath the Blue, with a Navy officer investigating a missing dolphin and falling for a young scientist.


  • The one-week warning at Kendall Square is on Kuroneko (Black Cat), a beloved Japanese horror story from 1968, presented here in a new 35mm print. Welcome to the Rileys, a movie I liked well enough at the Boston Film Festival, also opens, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest gets two screens.


  • The Somerville Theatre gets right to the point: John Carpenter's original Halloween, at 9pm, on Halloween.


  • There's a surprising amount of crossover between boutique houses and mainstream theaters this week. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest opens at the Coolidge, both Landmark theaters, and AMC Boston Common. Boston Common, in fact, is offering a triple feature of all three Millennium films on Friday and Saturday. At the very least, that's a chance to revisit the excellent The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on the big screen; the series loses steam as it goes, with The Girl Who Played with Fire being pretty good and the finale being a bit of a disappointment, but it starts well enough that it can fall a bit and still do okay.

    Boston Common will also be opening Feng Xiaogang's disaster drama, Aftershock, which portrays the aftermath of a major 1976 earthquake just three months after its premiere in China. Feng has a pretty good track record - Big Shot's Funeral, The Banquet (aka Legend of the Black Scorpion), and Assembly - and it was a pretty huge hit there, so I'm excited to see it. Though it played in IMAX in its native land, it's not large-format here (no, they're using that screen for Paranormal Activity 2), but I gather it's more a drama than action film anyway.

    Otherwise, the only mainstream film opening is Saw 3D: The Final Chapter. If you've been watching the Saw movies for the past six years, you'll probably want to see this year's model; if not, the traps are in 3-D but be warned that this is apparently not a start-from-zero franchise, but one whose story has grown more intricate with each new film.


  • As mentioned earlier, the shorter cut of Olivier Assayas's Carlos will play the MFA Friday evening and Saturday at noon; it's roughly half the length of the version showing at the Coolidge, running two hours and forty minutes. Starting Wednesday (3 November 2010), the MFA offers intermittent shows of Johnny Mad Dog, a French feature about African child soldiers, and Hyman Bloom: The Beauty of All Things, an hour-long look at the famed Boston Abstract Expressionist painter. Then, next Thursday (4 November 2010), the Boston Jewish Film Festival kicks off wtih My So-Called Enemy, Lisa Gossels's documentary about the difficult friendship between six Palestinian and Israeli women who meet as teens at a US program. Ms. Gossels will be there in person.


  • The Harvard Film Archive resumes its Robert Gardner retrospective, with the documentarian appearing in person Friday and Saturday night. The free Tuesday and Wednesday VES screenings are James Stewart in The Naked Spur and Gene Tierney as Laura.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 18 October 2010 to 24 October 2010

Shortish week, but not a bad one:

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: The Kovak Box (24 October 2010, Jay's Living Room, Amazon VOD)

This may very well be the first time video on demand has popped up on TWIT, which some folks may find as odd. It's not, really - given how many movies I watch, it's not always easy to fit more movies in, let alone different ways to watch movies. But, after seeing Cell 211, I wanted to see The Kovak Box.

Well, I remembered my VHS screener from 2006 (I ask for screeners every year, but am often terrible about watching them, even when my living-room technology doesn't just ignore the things). Now, folks, have any of you watched VHS recently? Now, admittedly, the last time I did, it was on a smaller television, but ye gods, how in the world did we put up with that for decades?

My VCR wasn't even hooked up anymore; I had to find an outlet and it was nuts trying to get it to stop trying to tune into cable that wasn't even hooked up. Then, about ten minutes in, it started blinking, locking up, and half-ejecting before finally just giving up. I think it more or less died of shock at being used.

The VOD looks a lot better, but getting it on the TV is kind of a hassle. I didn't drop a fair amount on my home theater to watching movies on my laptop screen, but the connections between the computer and T aren't perfect. The SlingCatcher, I've decided, is more or less worthless, but I've got a cheap DisplayPort to HDMI cable; unfortunately, it doesn't pass sound, and it took me a while to put headphones on rather than have the computer in my lap so the sound didn't seem to be coming from off to my left. I'm going to have to find a USB device to get 5.1 sound out, or maybe a headphone-to-stereo cable from monoprice.

It eventually did the job. I don't know that I'll be doing this a lot for movies versus TV, but it's nice to know, especially for smaller movies, they can be just a few bucks away.

My Dog Tulip

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 October 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

There have been many "a boy and his dog" movies, even many that featured somewhat older boys, but I have trouble remembering many that wax so rhapsodic about the downright messy parts of pet ownership as My Dog Tulip. Via Christopher Plummer's voice and the animation of Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, we learn a great deal about the elimination habits of J.R. Ackerley's beloved Alsatian, as well as his attempts to breed her (quaintly described as "marrying" her), most likely much more than we really want to know.

Not that My Dog Tulip should be described as a "warts and all" movie. It's an enormously affectionate story of an older bachelor who finds true contentment for the first time with a dog that is large, loud, and difficult; Ackerley comes across as a true curmudgeon, as difficult in his own way as his pet. The pair don't quite make up for each other's faults, but do create a pairing that works, and earns the audience's affection.

The animation, though created entirely without paper and cels, has a pleasantly handmade feel, although occasionally the sketchy look, occasionally-sparse backgrounds, and limited animation can come across as trying a little too hard (there's having a style, and there's looking cheap). The end result is charming, but can often feel like it was more satisfying to its creators than its audience.

Predators

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 October 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Recent [Cult!] Raves)

Even though the original Predator is not a particular favorite of mine (I didn't see it until fairly recently, and it seemed kind of unpolished compared to big action movies and hollow compared to ground-level ones), I had hopes for this one. It's got a quality ensemble cast, Robert Rodriguez is in charge and knows a little something about pulp fun, and director Nimrod Antal is coming off two movies (Vacancy and Armored) where he took a standard-issue plot and a good cast and made something better than you might expect.

Of course, when you start to expect better than you might expect, you'll occasionally be disappointed by only getting what you should have expected. That's what happens here. Basically, Antal, Rodriguez, and writers Alex Litvak & Michael Finch make more Predator. Which isn't really a bad thing; people still dig that first movie twenty-five years later, and recapturing that vibe probably counts more as success than failure. The movie is not for the folks like me who don't find the Predator's design awesome or didn't really dig the one-note testosterone fest. This one feels like it could have been a little more - the idea that the humans brought to the "game preserve" to be hunted are predators in their own right is a neat hook, as is the idea that they may find out more about these humanoids by being on their own turf - but just settles for being more Predator.

My Dog TulipPredatorsCell 211

Daniel Monzon: Cell 211 and The Kovak Box

I would have liked to see both of these movies at festivals, but it didn't quite work out. Cell 211 was showing fairly late at IFFBoston this year - they basically crammed all of their "IFFBoston After Dark" showings into just a couple time slots - and I wound up choosing The Good, the Bad, the Weird over Cell 211 and Drones because I needed some 'splosions after sitting through five subjective hours of I Am Love. The Kovak Box was a selection at Fantasia back in 2006, when I wasn't staying for the whole festival and had to rely on screeners to see the stuff on the back end.

The thing is, I didn't realize the connection until Saturday evening, after watching Cell 211. I noted during the credits that it it was co-written by Jorge Guerricaechevarria, making me think, hey, isn't that the guy with the crazy-long name who co-writes Alex de la Iglesia's stuff? Sure enough, it was, and following links on IMDB eventually got me to The Kovak Box, at which point I recalled having an unwatched screener for that somewhere. I'll discuss a bit about why I wound up watching it off Amazon's streaming service instead in TWIT, although it can more or less be summed up in three letters: V, H, and S.

Interestingly, the two films are in different languages despite having the same writers and director, Spain-based financing and production companies, and likely many crew members in common. I do believe that working in their native language helped the filmmakers a bit in Cell 211 versus The Kovak Box - there are a few moments in Box where it feels like Monzon is trying to get Timothy Hutton to approximate the way the dialog sounds in Spanish comedies, and it doesn't quite fit in English. It does serve to highlight that there seems to be a real push to make English-language genre films in Spain. They're not exactly alone in this - Luc Besson's company cranks out a fair amount of English-language action on the other side of the Pyrenees - but it does seem a bit odd. Does The Kovak Box do much better financially by having an American actor in the lead? We're talking about a movie that more or less went straight to video in the U.S., although I suppose that wasn't guaranteed; it could have turned out like Buried (which may not have set the box office on fire, but the producers likely got paid when Lionsgate acquired it). On the other hand, it could have been The Birthday, which might have been considered art-house in Spanish, rather than just weird.

Interestingly, the director of The Birthday, Eugenio Mira, has a new one making the festival circuit right now, and it (Agnosia) is in Spanish. Alex de la Iglesia's most recent collaboration with Guerricaechevarria, The Oxford Murders, was in English and wound up sitting on the shelf for a while, having a very brief theatrical run before hitting video in America. I've got it on Blu-ray, and will getting around to watching it one of these days. Iglesia also has a new movie coming out, Balada Triste de Trompeta, which (at least on IMDB) appears to be his first written without Guerricaechevarria. It's also in Spanish.

Celda 211 (Cell 211)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 23 October 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

Director Daniel Monzon seems to know that the hook to Cell 211, with a rookie guard having to impersonate an inmate when a riot breaks out, is as improbable as it is intriguing. He and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarria (adapting a novel by Francisco Perez Gandul) run through the set-up quickly, getting us right into its story and then following it where it leads. What takes it from a cool concept to a great movie is how "where it leads" is always both logical and surprising.

Juan Oliver (Alberto Ammann) will be starting as a guard at Zamora prison as a guard tomorrow, but he want to make a good impression, so he goes in a day early to get the lay of the land. Wardens Ernesto Almansa (Manuel Moron) and Armando Nieto (Fernando Soto) are giving him a tour when a rock thrown in the yard crashes through a decayed bit of grill-work and hits him. Ernesto and Almansa move the dazed Juan to an empty cell, but at the same time, one of the prison's most infamous inmates, "Malamadre" (Luis Tosar), overpowers another guard (Ricardo de Barreiro) and incites a riot. The guards retreat, leaving Juan behind. When he comes to, he quickly disposes of anything that would identify him as an outsider and tries to ingratiate himself with Malamadre and his lieutenants Apache (Carlos Bardem) and Releches (Luis Zahera), while his pregnant wife Elena (Marta Etura) tries to find out what's going on.

Those of us not from Spain may not quite grasp why SWAT doesn't just burst in to take care of the situation right away - it involves some of the prisoners being Basque terrorists, and them being caught in the crossfire would apparently be a political disaster. We get the gist, though, and the film uses this to not only keep the story from ending too quickly, but to raise the stakes without expanding the scope of the story too much - there will be consequences outside of the prison, but Juan, Malamadre, and company aren't going to have control taken from their hands. It also enables Monzon and company to make points about the use of force without preaching to the choir. It's a smart, clear-headed movie that trusts its audience to see and think about what's going on without diverting itself from the main story.

Full review at EFC.

The Kovak Box

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 October 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Amazon VOD)

The makers of The Kovak Box likely thought it to be a little more clever than it actually turned out, at least at some point. There are, after all, bits about characters controlling the writer in there, although director Daniel Monzon and co-writer Jorge Guerricaechevarria don't go fully literal with it. Instead, they put together a decent little thriller with some nice parts, though it doesn't really start to get rolling until the end.

We start with American science fiction writer David Norton (Timothy Hutton) on a plane to Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain, where he's to lecture at a conference. With him is his longtime girlfriend Jane (Georgia MacKenzie); back in economy class, we meet Silvia (Lucia Jimenez), a Spanish girl with a nosy middle-aged American seatmate, Kathy (Annette Badland). It's a wonderful getaway, at least until people start killing themselves. Silvia survives throwing herself out a hotel window, only to be attacked and drugged by a mysterious man (Gary Piquer). Then David's host, Frank Kovak (David Kelly) puts his cards on the table, giving him a box that connects the deaths to David's first novel.

There is, no question, a little mileage on The Kovak Box's main plot device. The movie acknowledges this, to a certain extent - the suicide circuit is presented as something that David had in his novel thirty years earlier, and that feels like about the right provenance. It's still a good horror plot that's not yet ready to be retired. Monzon and Guerricaechevarria modernize it a little, using a pop-cultural tie-in to the "Gloomy Sunday" legend and going a bit meta by having the story, in some ways, be as much about fandom and how writers often cannot escape their first or most famous works. Unfortunately, it's got a tendency to fall between its two hot spots - the satire's not as sharp as it could be, and the idea that someone could flip a switch and send a person out of their mind should come across as much creepier.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 October - 28 October

This upcoming weekend may be the dullest of the year - incredibly little turnover at the boutique houses and just a couple of major openings, both of which have caveats attached.

  • The big openers are Hereafter and Paranormal Activity 2. Hereafteris the least excited I've been for a Clint Eastwood film in a long time; the trailers make it look like the sort of squishy spirituality that angers up my blood. I'm hoping for better - great cast, Eastwood, written by Peter Morgan - but it's hard to get enthusiastic. I do feel a little more confident about Paranormal Activity 2, although let's be clear: Anyone shelling out extra money to see a film shot to look like consumer-quality digital video in the IMAX-branded theater deserves a slap.

    Occasionally, on a quiet week like this, the theaters sneak something unusual in, but there's not much of that going on. Showcase in Revere is opening a family drama, Like Dandelion Dust, that stars Mira Sorvino, Barry Pepper, Cole Hauser, and Kate Levering, has won awards at some festivals, but it's tough to tell whether its high score on IMDB is the result of genuine quality or friendly audiences. Festival crowds can be nice, especially for a film that seems as targeted to a Christian audience as this one is.


  • At the boutique theaters, there's even less turnover: Kendall Square swaps out last week's one-week film for a new one, Cell 211. That one, about a new guard who is mistaken for an inmate during a prison riot, looked darn good at IFFBoston this spring, and won a ton of Goyas besides. Otherwise, Kendall just simplifies screens, cutting multi-screen pics down to one and giving Never Let Me Go matinees again. The Coolidge sticks with last week's line-up, shifting some times around in the digital rooms and presenting the original Nightmare on Elm Street Friday and Saturday at midnight as part of their Wes Craven series.


  • Fresh Pond offers a couple screens worth of Indian cinema, with Endhiran splitting one screen with Ram Gopal Varma's new crime story, Rakht Charitra (which appears to be the first half of a two-parter); a romantic comedy about a suicidal girl, Jhootha Hi Sahi, opens on the other. I kind of liked RGV's last one, Rann, and from the description, I'm thinking I may have to retract my incredulity at its politicians that appeared to be gangsters, as the story of Paritala Ravi and his rival Suri certainly seems equal parts politics and crime.


  • Another piecemeal schedule at the Brattle: Friday and Saturday night, you can go to The Boston Bike Film Festival, a couple nights of short films about bicycling (the list of films is hidden on the site under "Venue". Saturday and Sunday afternoon, they finally get Twin Peaks out of its system, with the finale and Fire Walk With Me on tap at 8pm. At 5pm Sunday, film archivist Serge Bromberg is in town with his program Retour de Flamme, in which he presents early films with accompanying piano accompaniment. It looks nifty. Monday is the as-yet-unannounced latest entry in the CineCaché series (with Stone Heart Pizza Company selling slices). Tuesday through Thursday, they pay tribute to Tony Curtis with a double feature of two of his best, Sweet Smell of Success and Some Like It Hot


  • Emerson's screening room continues to have an interesting group of films. Agrarian Utopia is a mix of documentary and narrative film from Thailand playing Friday and Saturday night, and considering that even Thai horror movies tend to look gorgeous, this should be worth looking at. The same nights, though at flipped time slots, there's a restoration of a 1964 film, Dry Summer, which also focuses on agriculture and greed. The family-friendly film on Saturday afternoon is trippy 1973 animated French film Fantastic Planet, and Sunday night there is a program of Stan Brakhage shorts.

    They have some great stuff coming up for Halloween, too.


  • The Harvard Film Archive finishes up its Wang Bing series Friday, Sunday, and Monday; Saturday has another performance by Bruce McClure.


  • It's a quiet weekend at the MFA, as well - Friday and Saturday each have a screening Pianomania and Saturday also features In Search of Beethoven as part of "Music on Film"; Friday and Saturday feature Unzipped as part of "Fashion on Film" and Tuesday has an afternoon showing of The September Issue in the same series.


  • And, finally, though I mentioned it last week, Billy Joel & friends' concert film Last Play at Shea runs tonight (21 October) and Friday (22 October) at the Regent. They're also screening what looks like a found-footage-sci-fi-horror thing Saturday at 7pm, CO2, but the site says it's sold out. Thursday night is a documentary, The Eventful Life of Al Hawkes, about the Maine-based bluegrass pioneer. Filmmakers will be there to meet & greet.


Oh, and happy birthday to my brother Matt this Friday!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 11 October 2010 to 17 October 2010

Ah, a weekend with no traveling, no demands other thana much-needed haircut and spending some time watching baseball, working on the pile of books (prose and graphic) that are piling up by my bedside, and seeing which fall TV shows are worth following and which aren't.

(Brief TV thoughts: FX seems dedicated to having one show on the air that I want to watch at a time; Terriers will likely give way to Justified to Rescue Me; The Event seems to want to break Lost's best-in-class standard for being needlessly convoluted by the same margin Lost came in ahead of The X-Files; Fringe still rocks; it is a minor TV miracle that someone got Fox to pay for a full season of The Good Guys, though how its genuinely inspired lunacy gets ignored while people go nuts for Glee's idiocy vexes me.)

(Brief comic thoughts: Wait, 2011 won't have a new Darwyn Cooke Parker adaptation? The Outfit ended with a "Parker will return in 2012" tease, and that's too long. However, if you want good crime comics in the meantime, A Sickness in the Family, the new Vertigo Crime entry, is the best yet in a very good line.)

This Week In Tickets!

Funny-ish story on that Red ticket; I arrived in time for the 3:40 show, but since Regal Fenway helpfully shows which screen a given film is playing on at a given time, I looked up, saw that the show a half hour later was playing on the second-to-last screen, and presumed that meant it was playing on one of the two "screen monsters", as they cutely describe screens 12 and 13. But, when I buy the ticket, it says 11 on it. Apparently 13 is temporarily undergoing renovation to open as an "RPX" (Regal Premium Experience) screen, which I presume will be roughly comparable to the IMAX-branded screen at Boston Common. I'm not sure whether there will be just one or if they'll start work on screen 12 once 13 is finished, or whether they'll try to slap a surcharge on it for non-3-D films (it's not like RPX is the sort of brand name IMAX is). In the meantime, they're down a screen, so check showtimes carefully.

Speaking of AMC Boston Common.. I'm not a big fan of people using their mobile devices during movies, but you know what might be a cool idea? Registering a Twitter ID for each theater and sticking it in your pre-show ad package, so that customers can send feedback directly to management in real time. I mean, once the movie starts, I'm generally not going to leave, but I might walk over to the entryway where I can still see the movie without disturbing others in the audience when I send the theater a message to turn down the bloody house lights in auditorium 3 because they're really working against the movie whose hook is that the guy is buried in near-total darkness!!

Although, granted, I might not put it quite like that. That's longer than 140 characters, after all.

Media That Matters: Short Documentaries

Seen 11 October 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché/The DocYard Presents)

This was a pretty good collection of documentary shorts. Rather than star-rate them individually or as a group, I'm just going to rattle off some brief thoughts on each. Clicking each title will bring you to its page on Media That Matters's website, where you can watch the film, share it, and go to the various take-action links:
  • "Lessons from a Tailor" - The film that opened the program is perhaps a little lightweight compared to the other films, but its charismatic subject - a tailor who came to America as a boy escaping the holocaust, learned his trade, bought his business, and eventually made suits for Presidents - makes it worth a look, and his quiet determination to do good is a welcome contrast to the other films' railing against evils.

  • "A Girl Named Kai" - Not quite a dud of a short, but the sort that tends to leave me kind of cold - first-person, artsy, more about visually and metaphorically representing feelings than telling a story. It's not bad for that kind of movie, really, but left me feeling like I knew little about its narrator as a person or about her challenges.

  • "The Next Wave" - A very interesting piece about the inhabitants of an island in the South Pacific facing an almost immediate need for relocation due to climate change. It's informative on how rising sea levels do more than just flood, although the directors could perhaps do a little better in establishing the geography in question, especially describing the place they propose to relocate to.

  • "Perversion of Justice" - The site suggests that this is a condensed version of a 30-minute film, and I suspect that it works better at that length. Here, director Melissa Mummert states her point about how mandatory sentences for those involved in drug-related crimes are counterproductive, but it does feel a bit rushed.

  • "I'm Just Anneke" - This one fell a little flat for me; as much as I support its general message (that gay, transgender, and other kids with different sexual identities should be given the room and understanding to be themselves), the filmmaking felt off in a couple of ways: First, it doesn't define some of its terms like "fluid gender" very well; second, the medical treatment it shows with unblinking, unquestioning approval struck me as somewhat creepy, as it is described as holding puberty off. The message sent, especially when showing Anneke with her friends, is not one of her becoming what seems right for her, but staying in place as the rest of the kids grow up around her.

  • "A Girl Like Me" - Is there anything more immediately depressing than movies like this, a simple document of how black teenagers, especially girls, feel that society makes them feel generally inferior, starting from a very young age, as black toddlers consistently choose white baby dolls over black ones? It feels like something we should be long past as a society. It's a good film, though; when teenagers turn their cameras on each other with any amount of skill, the end results are usually intriguing, and this is no exception; it's direct, honest, and well put together.

  • "Denied" - A simple but damning indictment of the American health care system which demonstrates by example its (literally) fatal flaw - that there is often an enormous gap between the cost of treatment and the threshold at which sick people can get assistance in affording it. This one uses a suburban mother as an example, and is all the more tragic for how clear-eyed and straightforward both the movie and the subject are about the situation.

  • "Massacre at Murambi" - A short, sharp, and supremely haunting film that brings us to the Genocide Memorial in a small Rwandan village and ruminates on what we see there. Perfectly accusatory without being strident.

  • "Justice Denied: Voices from Guantánamo" - A well-constructed film commissioned by the ACLU that does an effective job of confronting the excesses and injustices perpetrated by the War on Terror by interviewing a number of people who had been detained in Guantánamo Bay. They're an interesting, diverse group of Muslims and it sort of kills me to see how my country is earning a bad reputation by how it has treated these people.

I'm not certain of the order beyond the first film and the last two, or that I included everything (the Brattle's site lists a few that weren't shown, and I didn't search through Arts Engine's list for any I may have missed). Most are worth seeing, and there are dozens of other free documentary shorts there as well.

Buried

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 October 2010 at AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run)

Buried is the sort of movie where every step in the process of getting made is a combination between those involved challenging themselves and crafting a movie that can be shot with a tiny budget, cast, and crew. Fortunately, this is one of the ones where the folks involve rise to the challenge, even on a set with very little headroom.

We open in darkness, not seeing Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) until he uses his Zippo lighter. He's bound and gagged, in a box roughly the size of a coffin, and while he is able to free himself from the ropes fairly quickly, he's not going anywhere. He does find a mobile phone in the box with him, along with his empty wallet, a pencil, a knife, a flask of water, and his anxiety medication. As he makes his attempts to contact the outside world, we eventually learn how he got in this situation - he's a trucker, working a contract in Iraq, and his convoy was attacked. He eventually hears from his kidnapper Jabir (Jose Luis Garcia Perez), and gets in contact with a State Department rep whose job it is to facilitate the release of hostages (Robert Paterson). But, as we all know, U.S. policy is not to negotiate with terrorists.

When the local film society has its nomination meeting early next year, I think I'm going to have fun defending my inclusion of Buried among my selections in the category of "Best Cinematography", as its hyper-constricted setting is roughly the opposite of the usual definition of great camera work; the only scenes set outside of this box appear on the telephone's minuscule screen (disclaimer: I may or may not be including the last five minutes of the movie). Cinematographer Eduard Grau has a very restricted set of angles to work with in any given shot, even though the walls and roof of the coffin are likely added digitally in some shots, but it seldom feels like we are getting unfair shots; the P.O.V. almost always seems to be inside the box. It's a legitimate marvel of close-up photography.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Red

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 October 2010 at Regal Fenway #11 (first-run)

There are two ways to look at someone adapting one's work rather liberally. Comic legend Alan Moore insists his name be taken off it, holds a grudge, refuses the money, and gives interviews about how bankrupt the system is. Warren Ellis, on the other hand, sees that Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Mary Louise Parker, Ernest Borgnine, John Malkovich, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, and Helen Mirren have signed on to something he's written and blogs a star-struck "holy crap". Then, when he gets a look at the script, notes that it's got Helen Mirren with a sniper rifle, and says that if you don't want to see that, he doesn't even want to know you.

Red isn't terribly close to his and Cully Hammer's original work; it takes the main character and basic premise and inflates it to a broad ensemble comedy with action that is often flat-out cartoonish. And as an action comedy rather than an adaptation, it's a lot of fun; there's always an amusing new character just waiting to be introduced and the action scenes are unbelievable but just short of superhuman. They're not quite the gigantic action scenes of a summer movie, or the gritty, down-in-the-dirt fights of a grim spy flick, but a happy medium.

There is a kind of 1980s nostalgia to this, of course - American and Russian spies reminiscing about when they just fought the other side and there seemed to be rules, as opposed to today's high-tech espionage about covering up one's own nation's secrets and those of corporations. Karl Urban's villainous assassin is a family man, an everyday joe compared to the larger-than-life retirees he's hunting. You can't blame the characters for missing the cold war, nor necessarily the audience; evil empires are much easier to root against.

Media That MattersBuriedThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestRedTamara Drewe

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Girls in the Title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest & Tamara Drewe

Here's a pair of fairly surprising results: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest isn't very good, and Tamara Drewe, which I'd figured to be a screwbally sex comedy, is actually a pretty good ensemble piece. In fact, while writing up the reviews and trying to determine the final star ratings, I flirted with knocking Hornet's Nest down to a two-star rating and eventually increased Drewe's from a plain three.

Both of the films have leading ladies who should be big stars, though. Noomi Rapace is already lining up a fair amount of English-language parts, which has got to be considered Sweden's loss. Tough to blame her, though - the money in Hollywood is crazy, and she's not likely to ever have another opportunity to go after it. She's got Sherlock Holmes 2 and an action/adventure Hansel and Gretel from the director of Dead Snow coming up, but not the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. After all, even if that movie wasn't a career trap (if her performance there doesn't get the sort of praise that her work in the original got, folks may assume she can't work well in English), if it's a success, she'd eventually wind up doing Hornet's Nest again, and who needs that?

Gemma Arterton, meanwhile, has already been in a couple big Hollywood movies, most notably Quantum of Solace (and a couple years out, I find that though she was "the other Bond girl" in it, I have a heck of a time remembering that the primary one was Olga Kurylenko), but the thing she was in that really knocked me flat was The Disappearance of Alice Creed - she's great there and that movie gets better the more one thinks about it. That movie played down just how good-looking she was a bit, but I'd like to think we'd have noticed what a good actress she was anyway.

Both, apparently, have been talked about in connection with Ridley Scott's Alien prequel, and though that thing is all kinds of unnecessary, it'll certainly be worth watching if it gets one or both of these actresses in the cast.

Luftslottet som sprängdes (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 October 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Complete Millennium trilogy/preview screening)

It's somewhat apt that, in giving the novels and films in the Millennium trilogy similar titles in English-speaking parts of the world, the names given second and third wound up being phrases that essentially mean the same thing. They are, more or less, the same story, with the new film serving as an epilogue that is somehow longer than the one whose loose ends it is tying up.

When we last saw Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), he was calling the police and EMTs and she had been shot three times by her evil, Soviet-defector father Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) and impervious-to-pain half-brother Ronald Niedermann (Mikael Spreitz) - though she did do a number on daddy with a shovel. Now, while she recovers in the hospital, the police still plan to arrest her for murder; the old men who have covered up Zalachenko's crimes for thirty years plot to silence her, either via assassination or by having Dr. Peter Teleborian (Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl), the psychologist who declared her incompetent, do the same; and the missing Niedermann wants revenge. Fortunately, Mikael's sister Annika (Annika Hallin) is a lawyer, and he plans to devote the next issue of Millennium to proving Lisbeth's innocence, though his editor and sometime lover Erika (Lena Endre) worries about his obsession.

Sounds exciting, right? And it really should be. But remember how the second film, The Girl Who Played with Fire, basically tossed the chemistry that Lisbeth and Mikael had out the door by having them barely come into contact with each other? Hornet's Nest takes it to the next level by not just separating the pair, but by barely having Lisbeth do anything at all. She spends the first half of the movie sitting in her hospital room, barely moving; when Mikael manages to smuggle a cellphone in, she doesn't help her defense by whipping out some quality hacking, but by writing her autobiography - essentially, recapping things we already know. She changes back into her leather outfit from the first movie in order to look incongruous at her trial, and gets an action scene at a moment when the story needs it least. One can't fault Noomi Rapace's work in this movie - she embodies this person full of anger and distrust just about as well as anybody can, but it becomes an unusually literal and frustrating example of a talented actor not being given anything to do.

Full review at EFC.

Tamara Drewe

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run)

Tamara Drewe is an odd film, able to defy expectations even if all the audience knows going into it is its name. After all, one would expect this movie to be a showcase for Gemma Arterton as the title character, and while she's certainly memorable, this movie establishes itself early as an ensemble piece. It will likely also confound retail shelvers in the future, as it doesn't quite favor light drama over weighty comedy enough to make that classification easy.

The movie doesn't open with Drewe at all, but with an ad for a writer's retreat in Dorset. Beth Hardiment (Tamsin Greig) oversees it, as well as the attached farm. Her husband Nicholas (Roger Allam) is a bestselling mystery writer, currently seeing a pretty young thing on the side and dispensing false humility to the other writers, such as visiting American academic Glen (Bill Camp), would-be novelist Diggory (John Bett), online lesbian porn author Eustacia (Bronagh Gallagher), et alia. Tamara is a writer, too, a columnist for a London newspaper just returned to handle the renovation and sale of her late mother's house. She'll call on Beth's handyman Andy Cobb (Luke Evans) for help, even if he was her boyfriend back when she was a teenager with a now surgically-reduced nose and his family owned the land for generation before the Drewes. She'll also take up with a drummer she interviews, Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper). Ben has a couple of local fans, troublemaking girls Jody Long (Jessica Barden) and Casey Shaw (Charlotte Christie).

Glen is stalled on a book about Thomas Hardy, a wink at the film's source material twice removed (this film is an adaptation of Posy Simmond's graphic novel, itself inspired by Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd). Familiarity with that story isn't necessary to enjoy Drewe, though; those who (like myself) come in cold will find an intriguing story that plays familiar situations in interesting ways. Screenwriter Moira Buffini and director Stephen Frears do a nice job of working new characters and information in without necessarily tipping off their significance, and later deftly pulling earlier moments toward the end. They divide the focus between characters expertly and equitably so that nobody's story seems extraneous and flawed characters aren't presented as strict saints or sinners.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 October - 21 October

Let's be honest - this is not a hard post to do; I basically go around a few websites, check my email which is mostly subscriptions, organize it differently and add the sort of presumptuous comments I hate when I see everybody else do them. Sometimes, though, I'll get something in the mail that is worth sharing, so let's lead off with that.

  • If you've been to downtown Boston over the last year or so, you've probably noticed that the long-closed Paramount Theater has been undergoing renovation (not as obvious as some construction projects, as it mostly takes place inside and the building never looked run-down), and re-opened as Emerson College's arts center a month or two ago. It looks pretty nice from the outside, though I haven't been in yet. Part of that is a new 170-seat cinematheque, the Bright Family Screening Room, which has been running programs for at least the last week or two, and looks like it might be a nice addition to Boston's specialty theaters. The website nees a bit of work (looks nice, but it generates long URLs, acts weird when you use the back button, and it took me a few minutes to realize I should click "Learn More" rather than a shw title), but does reveal some nice programming for October. It looks like weekends will be at least loosely themed, although I don't see anything about a discount for double features.

    This weekend, there's a fair amount of Marlon Brando: The Fugitive Kind runs tonight (15 October 2010) and Sunday (17 October 2010) at 7pm; it's maybe not as famous as Streetcar, but it's Brando doing Tennessee Williams. Less well-known is Burn! (Queimada!), an Italian film from 1969 that was only released cut in the U.S. at the time; this is the complete, Italian-language version, and plays tonight at 9:30 and Saturday at 7pm. Another Brando film from Italy is Bernado Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, which runs Saturday at 9:30pm.

    Looking at October, each weekend features at least one family-friendly matinee; this weekend that film is Seven Days in Slow Motion, an Indian film from Former Disney animator Umakanth Thumrugoti, which follows a kid who finds a movie camera and tries to shoot a movie in seven days with his friends. It plays Saturday at 2pm.


  • The Brattle offers some interesting stuff this week. The Duel was the first program in its CineCaché series, and returns for its regular run tonight. It's a short run, only continuing through Sunday, and even then only limited times - the 9pm shows are cut out tonight and tomorrow for Twin Peaks episodes, and it only plays matinees on Sunday to make room for an appearance by Barry Gifford, discussing his work and introducing the movie David Lynch made from his book, Wild at Heart. They like them some Lynch over at the Brattle.

    More special appearances go on throughout the week - live music Monday, visits from Nicole Krauss on Tuesday and Charles Burns on Wednesday as part of the Harvard Book Store Presents series. The double feature running Tuesday and Wednesday is at least half fantastic, as it includes Vincenzo Natali's Splice, one of my recent favorites. It plays at 10pm on Tuesday and 8pm Wednesday. I'm looking forward to the other half, Predators, as I missed it in theaters (not that I'll trade three weeks in Montreal for seeing it) and director Nimrod Antal has a tendency to make a better movie than the synopsis suggests. The Brattle then finishes the week off with two Thursday night screenings of The Way I See It, a skiing world tour movie.


  • The Coolidge takes a temporary break from Wes Craven for the midnights this week, instead offering up one of the greatest sci-fi/horror movies of all time in Alien. It plays Friday and Saturday at Midnight, and the only downside is that watching it might make Monday night's Big Screen Classic, Aliens, look like the inferior sequel it is comparison, despite it being a darn good film in any other context. The week's other special screening is The Robber Sunday at 11am as part of the Goethe-Institut's German film series. The week's big opening there is Inside Job, a documentary on the 2008 financial crisis and the systemic corruption that precipitated it.


  • Inside Job also opens at Kendall Square, as does Boston Film Festival alum Conviction, young John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy, and the first of a couple films that week that you may not guess were based on comics, Stephen Frears's Tamara Drewe, which features lovely Gemma Arterton returning home to the village which once tormented her. The one-week warning is another English movie, the animated My Dog Tulip, a pleasant-looking tale of an old man finding true friendship with a rambunctious German Shepherd.


  • The other comic adaptation coming out this week is in the more mainstream theaters. Red is notable not just for being a loose adaptation of Warren Ellis's and Cully Hammer's miniseries (it's got to be loose; it was three issues long with a lot of action), but because the quite frankly ridiculous cast includes, alongside Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren With A Sniper Rifle, John Malkovich, and Ernest Borgnine, the venerable Brian Cox, who starred in an entirely different movie by the same name a couple years ago. Other wide-openers are Jackass 3D and Stone, with Conviction hitting some mainstream theaters at well.


  • In advance of an appearance by the filmmaker at the end of the month, the Harvard Film Archive has two documentaries by Robert Gardner tonight: Rivers of Sand, a 1974 film about the Hamar people of Ethiopia at 7pm, and Dead Birds, a 1964 film about the Dani tribe of New Guinea. Saturday has Bruce McClure in person, doing a "projector performance" that appears to involve treating projectors film loops as musical instruments. Sunday begins a retrospective of independent Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing with West of the Tracks, an epic movie trilogy about dying factory towns in northwest China; the second part playing Monday. Also, though not officially Archive programs, there are free VES screenings in the room on Tuesday (Sullivan's Travels) and Wednesday (Battleship Potemkin).


  • The MFA programs the weekend (and Tuesday) with a Fashion on Film series, which not only includes Antonioni's Blow-Up, Milos Foreman's Hair, and Douglas Keeve's Unzipped, but ties in with their exhibitions and lectures. On Wednesday and Thursday, they add music to the mix, with screenings of Pianomania and In Search of Beethoven. Thursday night, director Ronald Tec is on hand to discuss his new film We Pedal Uphill: Stories from the States 2001-2008 (it will also screen Friday afternoon, but without Mr. Tec).


  • And, finally, some noteworthy openings in perhaps unexpected places: The Somerville Theatre is one of several screens nationally opening Cherry, a pleasant enough film that played BFF, but don't hold that against it. That's on one of the regular screens; the digital mini-cinema has Brutal Beauty, what looks to be a documentary about a Portland, OR, roller derby league. One show daily, at 8pm.

    It's sometimes easy to miss stuff that plays Arlington's Regent, because it's mostly a music venue and new film bookings not only run for just a day or two don't get much play in its emails. I did notice that they will be having a two-day run of Billy Joel's concert film, Last Play at Shea starting Thursday (22 October 22). And hopefully the Stuart Street Playhouse is selling tickets to their schedule this week as a double feature: I'd hate to pay full price for second runs of Eat, Pray, Love and Kings of Pastry, but just from knowing the names, the pairing amuses me.
  • .


So, is anyone thinking of a Pianomania/Piano Man double feature on Thursday? No?

This Week In Tickets: 4 October 2010 to 10 October 2010

A busy week (especially when you consider that Sunday was blocked out for my niece's birthday cook-out), including some rare full-priced tickets!

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: The first three Resident Evil movies on Blu-ray.

Sometimes a marathon day seems like a good idea. Knowing that dong any movies Sunday would be out of the question, almost everything on Saturday got locked in in one way or another: I knew that Waking Sleeping Beauty was only scheduled for one week and only matinees and figured Endhiran wouldn't last forever. I'd picked up the first Resident Evil Blu-ray a month or so earlier, figuring I could watch it before the new one came out, but time filled up. Then, while RE: Afterlife had a good first couple of weeks, it didn't last long once it wasn't on the IMAX and digital 3-D screens so much, and Saturday night's screening was likely to be the last. Well, I picked up the other two movies at Best Buy last weekend when they were $10/pop on Blu-ray (along with a few other horror movies I really should get around to watching around Halloween), there looked to be just enough time after getting back from Fresh Pond to get all three in before walking to the T and heading to Park Street.

If you're going to do this, though, it's wise to consider the next day a bit. The last movie was at 12:30am, so it got out around 2, which is after the subway stops running. So it was nearly 3am before I collapsed in my bed, and my brother Matt was going to come by to pick me up at around 9:30am. Figure time for a shower and wrapping my niece's presents... Well, it makes for a short night. Amazingly, Sunday was no problem, but I've been dragging ever since - apparently hanging around with one's family, including and especially a four-year-old birthday girl, keeps you more active and alert than sitting at a desk and staring at SQL code.

And, yes, it makes sense to do it with a better set of movies than the Resident Evil cycle, but to be honest they're not that bad and at least have the virtue of being short.

Let Me In

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 October 2010 at Regal Fenway #5 (first-run)

Let Me In is a good movie, a very good movie even. As much as I wish that there wasn't a rationale for movies like this to be produced, the fact is, a number of people won't go to or rent movies with subtitles, mainstream theaters won't book them, and a fair number of folks who bristle at subtitles don't like dubbed movies either. That being the case, I can't fault Hammer for producing an English-language version - it's a good story that deserves and audience.

And writer/director Matt Reeves does a good job. This movie is good for all the reasons that the original Swedish Let the Right One In is (for why I loved that movie, see the original review), and while I think that a few key scenes aren't done quite as well, it may partly be a matter of which I saw first. Sure, I suspect that you could use math to prove objectively that the final swimming pool scene took a hit between the films, but I'm also reminded of watching The Departed and hearing the theater around me jump at bits that I was anticipating and didn't think were quite up to the level of their equivalents in Infernal Affairs. This version also has the benefit of a nice Michael Giacchino score which manages to be moody and goose the scares nicely.

(From here on in, I'll be comparing the two directly, so SPOILERS for both films)

There are a couple of interesting and crucial differences between the pair that at least make them interesting in terms of comparison. As expected, Reeves doesn't confront the "I'm not a boy" thing nearly as directly as Tomas Alfredson did, in that there's no blink-and-miss-it shot of Abby's castration scars, and Abby is a much less androgynous name than I suspect Eli is in Sweden. But I don't think he avoids it entirely; anyone watching the movie with knowledge of this will likely note just how androgynous Abby is in her early scenes; Chloe Moretz's Abby actually comes off as more masculine than Kodi Smit-McPhee's Owen. Indeed, she starts to appear much more girlish after she first feeds, which she does in response to her caretaker not procuring sufficient blood for her.

That's the other real notable difference here - where Let the Right One In suggested the idea that Oskar would become the sort of caretaker for Eli that Hakan was, the relationship between the two was left rather undefined (unlike the book); in this one, Abby seems to be actively seeking a new protector after seeing her unnamed "father" fail to bring her blood and openly say that he may not have it in him any more. That's when she starts to go to work on the isolated boy next door, giving him the little pushes to make him feel he owes her but also that she is, in many ways, weak and in need of safeguarding. It's little differences that I may have wrong - I don't recall Abby shivering, suddenly remembering what it's like to be human, upon meeting Owen the way Eli did with Oskar; similarly, I don't remember "I'm not a boy" being followed by "what are you?"/"I'm nothing" in Alfredson's film, a potentially revealing and manipulative exchange.

I don't think "Abby is training a new keeper" is the only way to look at Let Me In, but it's an interesting one, and the strength of the theme makes what is superficially a very direct translation actually an interesting variation.

(No more spoilers)

Even taking comparisons to Let the Right One In away, the new movie still has a few issues - some overly on-the-nose 1980s references, occasional stumbles, and some less-than-ideal CGI. Still, if I'd never seen the prior film, I think I would find Let Me In a darn good horror movie, without reservations. It's a worthy remake even with them, well worth giving a chance even if the idea of remaking the original initially seems absurd.

Waking Sleeping Beauty

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)

Watching this movie's opening scenes, with a bunch of animators screwing around, working more or less unsupervised in Disney's old Ink & Paint building, brought together for being college classmates and taking breaks to do skits and home movies, reminds me of my youth. Not because of how I loved Disney movies, or because I was that sort of creative person. No, this image of Walt Disney Studios circa 1984 reminds me of what working for the dot-coms during the internet bubble could be like, and, well, let's just say that I know how that story ends.

Waking Sleeping Beauty doesn't follow this story all the way to its conclusion, though - it mostly chronicles the years between 1984 and 1994, when Disney feature animation rose from the low of The Black Cauldron to the high of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and how behind-the-scenes changes in corporate leadership saved the division, shook it up, and built it into the Disney of the 1990s. We're (re-)introduced to all the important figures of the time - executives Roy Disney, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Frank Wells; creative people like Ron Clements, John Musker, Howard Ashman, and many more, including camoes by the likes of Tim Burton, John Lasseeter, and Don Bluth. They tell the story of what working at Disney was like at the time, in their own words and with their own pictures (both caricatures and home movies).

It's a telling demonstration of just how dependent on editing all films, but especially documentaries, can be. Director Don Hahn pieces his movie together from behind-the-scenes footage and other odds and ends, and he does a decent job of matching his narration and interview recordings to it, although he quite often seems guided by what he has, often indulging his own nostalgia for the time. As a result, the movie is sometimes awkwardly constructed - with over a decade having past since the film's endpoint, much rancor has disappeared; even Eisner and Katzenberg seem to talk about their past dealings with regret more than anger. So in chronically the rise and imminent fall of the group, Hahn seems to have trouble both in saying that Feature Animation needed a shake-up and in presenting the acrimony behind the scenes.

Of course, presenting the chronology of this story presents some unique challenges - it makes sense to present the film in chapters, and the pictures themselves make for reasonable divisions, but production on them overlapped, resulting in a fair amount of back and forth that makes the chronology feel a bit wobblier than it actually is. On the other hand, he and his editors do, ultimately, do an impressive job in framing the film: As the movie wraps back around to the start, footage that initially seemed endearingly awkward is re-presented as contentious, strained politeness.

Waking Sleeping Beauty isn't the definitive telling of this story; Hahn is too close to the material and subjects. It's a good starting point, and offers a tantalizing glimpse at how the suits and creative types need each other, even if they sometimes have a hard time admitting it.

Also at EFC

Resident Evil

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray)

There have now been four Resident Evil movies, which is kind of surprising in some ways. The first is kind of mediocre, the man behind them (Paul W.S. Anderson) has what you might call a negative fanbase, and the fans of the original property kind of hate them for how this first one seems only vaguely connected to Capcom's Biohazard games, and the franchise's central character is created for the movies. But they keep on coming.

How did this one kick off a franchise? Well, most obviously, there's having Milla Jovovich. She's easy on the eyes, good at the physical parts of an action-movie role, and just good enough as an actor that we believe in the character without ever giving the impression that she's slumming. Anderson also makes the interesting decision to pair her with other strong women - here, Michelle Rodriguez (admittedly, not really doing her best work) - reinforcing that the heroines are defined not by the men they're with, but the ass they kick. I imagine that's got a genuine appeal to both women and guys who dig strong women.

And while Anderson the director isn't any great shakes - although he does okay with the action scenes - and the editing is pretty bad, Anderson the writer shows himself pretty adept at writing around budget limitations and capturing the structure of a videogame (thrown right into action not knowing much, story information gradually revealed, constant stream of minor monsters building up to boss battles) while also making it feel like a movie. Resident Evil may not be 100% faithful to the game, but I suspect that it does a good job of stimulating the brain in similar ways.

Resident Evil: Apocalypyse

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray)

Apocalypse isn't a lot better than its predecessor, but it's slicker. Moving to the surface rather than a bunch of underground makes for bigger and brighter action scenes, and at least on the Blu-ray, there's less of a cheapness to the cinematography (I don't mind grain, but Resident Evil looked a bit off, though that may be about how compression doesn't work quite so well with dark scenes that well-lit ones). While the movie still has a few issues with how it's pieced together - if I in the audience notice that star Milla Jovovich doesn't seem to be in it much, then something should perhaps be tweaked - it flows from scene to scene fairly well, better than the first.

The story is thin, and often somewhat random - lots of people meet up at opportune times, and a lot of what the characters need to do is fed to them from outside - but it's a solid zombie action movie with some fun boss battles.

Resident Evil: Extinction

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray)

This is where the series started actually growing on me, because it seems to be around this point that Anderson and company decided that they could start going nuts with the series. It still recognizes its video game roots - its opening is almost a grim parody of how most people play games (play five minutes, die, restart, get a little farther, die...), as is the powering up. The movie gets full-on post-apocalyptic, though, and becomes a cool hybrid between a traditional zombie movie and a gonzo sci-fi one.

There's a really cool "anything goes" vibe, the action is pretty good - even if there's now more superpowers involved - and the filmmakers aren't afraid to off returning characters. The switch from an urban setting to a wasteland is probably in part to stretch the budget a bit, but it does work in a "we don't care if we have to fix this later" manner.

And so, when the movie ends on a nutty, potentially game-changing note, I was pretty pleased and ready to head downtown for the next part. The series has embraced its ridiculous cliffhangers and actually gotten better as it went on.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 October 2010 at AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, Real D digital 3-D)

The reason for that marathon, aside from perhaps wanting to show that yes, I will eventually watch all those movies I buy, was because Afterlife was down to one midnight show a day at the Boston Common theater, meaning that after Saturday it would be gone. It looked like it would be a bit of fun; though Anderson was returning to the director's chair, he was shooting in 3-D, which can be a lot of fun when used well.

And while Anderson indulges in a lot of throwing things at the audience and slow-motion, he and cinematographer Glen MacPherson (who also shot The Final Destination in 3-D) do make good use of it; there is a sense of space and size even when things aren't flying around in mid-air. The stuff they're shooting is fun, too - a clone army, a field of abandoned aircraft, a prison within a prison, a gigantic monster with a massive meat tenderizer who elbows his way through a zombie horde. Of course, so much of it is made with 3-D in mind that I wonder if it's a compromised experience in other media.

By now, the story is a bit repetitive - another ragtag group of zombie-apocalypse survivors, the Umbrella Corporation continuing to do nasty experiments despite the world falling down around it - but it sort of works; it's a good combination between feeling like the story is progressing and giving the audience what they liked about previous films. Although, and maybe this is just me, I'm not sure we need to see zombie dogs every film. Are they this ubiquitous in the games, as well? Why should they be a thing that shows up in every installment, when the streak of Ms. Jovovich getting naked ends with three?

The movie ends on another over-the-top cliffhanger, and I found myself hoping for a fifth movie sooner rather than later. The series may have humble origins, but it has done a remarkable job of getting better, not growing into something unwieldy, and figuring out how to leave the audience both satisfied and wanting more.

HeartbreakerLet Me InWaking Sleeping BeautyEndhiranResident Evil: Afterlife

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Heartbreaker

In terms of moviegoing disappointments, the bad Thursday night film has a special place. New movies open on Friday, so Thursday is the last night when stuff that's not performing runs before it gets broken down, packed into rusty cans, and sent back to the place it came from (or to a local second-run house, but if it's going there, seeing it now isn't quite so urgent). When I worked in a theater, the projectionist loved when that last show didn't sell a single ticket - it's always good to get the breakdowns done at a reasonable hour.

But, I digress. If you find yourself missing movies or procrastinating on seeing them like I have over the last few weeks (there have been some long afternoons at work and things pulling me elsewhere on the weekends), Thursday night is the last chance to see something that may have interested you a little before it's gone. Although you can sometimes get a good idea of which ones will be on their way out on Monday or Tuesday by which ones are playing split screens or early information on the theater website or ticket site, Thursday is the brief window where now-or-never kicks in (Wednesday, of course, is new comics day, and I generally give movies a pass in favor of hanging out at the Million Year Picnic with the other regulars).

Of course, the thing is, you can only choose one, maybe two if you're feeling ambitious, and the one I choose is often influenced by when I can get to the theater from work in Waltham (both in terms of "can I make it in time?" and "will I have to wait an hour?"). So sometimes I wind up seeing Heartbreakers, a pretty bad movie. Not bad enough that I don't think it can get better while watching it, so the little recriminations about how I wound up missing Jack Goes Boating and having to do something screwy and expensive to see Buried tonight didn't come until after the credits started rolling.

L'arnacoeur (Heartbreaker)

* * (out of four)
Seen 7 October 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

Making a good romantic comedy seems easy enough, in theory: Come up with some witty banter, figure out what makes the people delivering it interesting and likable, add a reason that they aren't kissing by the end of the first act, and fill in the rest until you've got a hundred double-spaced pages. Then you just have to find some charming, nice-looking actors and you're good to go. It's so simple that you have to wonder why the people making Heartbreaker (L'arnacoeur in the original French) jumped straight to step three.

The heartbreaker of the title is Alex Lippi (Romain Duris), a handsome young man who, along with his sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and her husband Marc (François Damiens), operates an unusual business: Family and friends of women in bad relationships hire them to break the couple up, with Melanie and Marc creating a convincing background for Alex. He never sleeps with the women he seduces, and they never take the case of women who are truly in love. Until now, maybe - Juliette Van Der Becq (Vanessa Paradis) is set to marry Jonathan Alcott (Andrew Lincoln) in ten days time. He's nice but bland. Her father (Jacques Frantz) wants him gone, but if it weren't for the group's massive debts, they wouldn't go near the job - and that's before Sophie (Helena Noguerra), a mysterious friend of the bride-to-be who didn't show up their research, shows up. Or Alex starts to like her himself.

Most comedies, romantic or otherwise, have an unlikely situation or two used to somewhere in their script, even somewhere central; it's how you get screwy situations that (hopefully) later translate into comedy gold. The trick is to make these moments seem reasonable, and that's something director Pascal Chaumeil and writers Laurent Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner, and Yohan Gromb rather fail to do. Why, for instance, do Alex and company not know that their debts are, in a roundabout way, owed to their client? Keeping this secret doesn't add more than a couple mediocre jokes, and needlessly confuses the audience. Similarly, Melanie gripes about how the cupboard is bare right before they, without an advance, take a job in Monte Carlo that will require some resources to run. Why make the point about how this stuff is expensive and tricky if you're not actually going to play on how the whole thing could easily fall apart?

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Endhiran (The Robot)

I usually start talking about Indian movies by mentioning that I only tend to go to ones that have some other hook for me, but then I did see Rann earlier this year. Still, aside from that one cable news melodrama, I've basically seen Indian movies with aliens (Koi...Mil Gaya), superheroes (Krrish), and kung fu (Chandni Chowk to China). This one's got robots and the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai (now credited as "Aishwarya Rai Bachchan" as a cruel reminder that she is married and off the market), so why not?

Well, the price, for one. I dropped $21 on this ticket at the box office; it actually would have cost less online ($18 + $1 service fee for today's screenings), unless they jack the price on weekends, which would be pretty good business. That is a pricey movie ticket - in contrast, the Saturday night 3-D ticket I bought at AMC Boston Common later that day was $14.50, and I think adding IMAX would have only bumped it a dollar or two. Granted, Endhiran is right up on three hours while many standard movies are something like half to two-thirds of that. I suspect that none of that goes to the theater, either, with Entertainment Cinemas getting a booking fee for a screen at their Fresh Pond plex and whatever they make on popcorn and soda (or maybe they do take a chunk of ticket sales, and that's why the price is so high). The one screen that shows Indian films (which aren't even listed on the marquee) seems to be a big part of their business, though, just from how many standees and posters in the lobby promote Hollywood fare and how much Indian movies.

(One looks at the way Indian movies have been chugging along, opening day-and-date around the world for years now, charging prices well above the ones that make folks shriek about how it's much better/cheaper just to stay home and watch TV or 3-D is a rip-off [and as I'll get to in a minute, this isn't just dating couples - this brings out whole families], and wonders what the heck they're doing that other niche groups can't figure out. I know South Korea's CJ is making cautious movements in this direction, opening a cinema in Los Angeles to play Korean films, and Viz has a spot in San Francisco. Maybe they've got long-term plans to expand east, reaching Boston sometime in 2019. Still, you'd think other groups, like the ones who got hurt trying to put Hatchet II out a couple weeks ago, would be able to figure out a combination of savvy, targeted booking, marketing, and risk-sharing, as there's ample evidence that it could be done.)

But, anyway, back to this moviegoing experience. I believe most of my previous visits to Indian films have been evening shows - once at "Bombay Cinemas" in Allston, now a Staples; twice at the Arlington Capitol; and a matinee at a deserted Stuart Street Playhouse for Rann - and none of them have been Tamil films, which I read are a little bit on the weird side, even for India. So I wasn't quite prepared for just how many kids were there - indeed, a lot of really little kids considering that this was a three hour movie. This is part of what makes showing these films a successful business - they are generally kid-friendly and thus a good way for families to do something together even if one or more members has a little trouble with their English. It does mean that you almost certainly are going to have to accept that there will be kids in the aisles at some point, or that some member of the nice family of four that didn't ask you to move over is going to need a trip to the restroom at some point.

The other thing I didn't realize is that the movie's star, "Rajini", either really, incredibly, super-popular, or the subject of some sort of ironic joke which I, the one white dude in the audience, was not familiar with. Because after the regular studio and production vanity cards, there was a truly ostentatious one, spelling out "SUPER STAR RAJINI" in big bold letters with full surround sound. And the crowd went berserk over it. As they did when he first turned and showed his face as Vasi, and again when Chitti had been skinned to share the same face (if we've learned anything from the movies, it's that any scientist developing a lifelike android is an incredible egomaniac). He'd get random, huge applause at other times, too, despite the fact that he's a bit past his prime and didn't seem to be dripping charisma to me (he often seems old-guy-stiff, rather than robot-stiff, as Chitti). Meanwhile, Aishwarya Rai, internationally famous Bollywood star who has regularly been lauded as the most beautiful woman in the world - and I've seldom seen anybody argue against that claim, even online - who enters the screen in slow motion the first few times she's shown, doesn't even get a tenth of that reception. I don't know whether it's a case of her popularity among her native audience not quite being up to her international reputation, or if Rajini is a particularly big deal to Tamil speakers.

Shows what I know, huh? But that is, actually, some of the fun about seeing Indian movies: You get to immerse yourself in a completely different film culture for a few hours, and the rules which you didn't even realize were rules don't apply.

Endhiran (The Robot)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 at Entertainment Cinemas Fresh Pond #3 (Indian Movies)

Endhiran is long, uneven, and like many films that attempt to be all things to all people, frequently comes off as a muddled, drawn-out mess. However, the thing about the Indian style of filmmaking - which seems to be based on the idea of giving audiences everything they might want in a movie in every movie, thus creating Frankenstein monsters like this three-hour musical sci-fi adventure romantic comedy - is that at some point, so long as the folks involved are relatively capable, the filmmaker will either hit on something he does well or will combine things in a way that creates something as new and exciting as it is bizarre. That's what Endhiran is - a mess, but one with some occasional truly inspired lunacy.

As the film opens, Dr. "Vasi" Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) is hard at work on his latest creation, so hard at work that his medical student girlfriend Sana (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is feeling neglected. Eventually he succeeds at creating this humanoid robot (and because the scientists who build these things are egomaniacs, he gives it a face to match his own), names it "Chitti", and begins training it so that the Artificial Intelligence Research & Development center can certify it for military work. However, AIRD is run by Vasi's old teacher, Dr. Bhora (Danny Denzongpa), whose own work on the subject has not borne fruit, and he posits that Chitti is flawed for lacking human emotion. So Vasi starts working on that - although, let me say, when you've got a girlfriend who looks like Sana, your incredibly powerful robot developing human emotions could lead to some predictable problems.

Endhiran was a longtime pet project for writer/director Shankar (like many involved in the production, he's a big enough deal to be credited with just the one name), and in realizing it, he's made the most expensive film yet produced in India. The money certainly shows up on screen: Not only does the film star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Rajinikanth (so popular that his animated "Superstar Rajini" logo dwarfs those of the studio and production company), but their fantasy music sequences are shot in Peru and other far-off lands. Several visual effects companies from Asia to America are brought in to do extensive digital and animatronic work, and while one or two bits of work disappoint, most looks good, and the extensive compositing is seamless. Folks from Hollywood are brought in to work on production and costume design, and Hong Kong's Yuen Woo-ping works on action choreography. The music by frequent Shankar collaborator A.R. Rahman is catchy, and some of the musical production numbers are very well done indeed.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 8 October - 14 October

Well, that unrated opening for Hatchet II was a thorough disaster last weekend, wasn't it? Except for whichever movies got a couple extra showings per day when Boston Common, like all AMC theaters, cleared it out even before Monday for reasons that aren't exactly clear (performance is a joke; I'm pretty sure movies with lower per-screen averages limped on until Thursday as usual). I now kind of idly wonder whether that disaster has anything to do with the remake of I Spit on Your Grave not opening anywhere in the Boston area.

But, let's spend our time on what is opening. It's kind of a quiet weekend.

  • With, I suppose, It's Kind of a Funny Story being the main notable release. It's not a great movie, but it's not a bad one, either, and it looks like it's got a bit of crossover appeal, as it's opening in both the Landmark boutique houses and the multiplexes. There's a bit more crossing-over going on, too, as AMC Boston Common also picks up screenings of documentary Waiting for Superman and Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, which had previously only been running on the boutique screens.

    More conventional multiplex fare opening this weekend is Life as We Know It, which looks harmless enough (one hopes; I like Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel despite their tendency to appear in terrible movies); Secretariat, which I suspect that even people who like horse racing will find unbearable, based on the trailers; and My Soul to Take, part of an unusually robust October horror season (although I gather the 3-D is pretty much just gouging, which annoys me, as it's pushing Resident Evil: Afterlife off screens before I've got a chance to watch my Blu-rays to get caught up).


  • Soul comes from Wes Craven, and those looking to see one of his more-respected works can hit the late show at the Coolidge this weekend, where The People Under the Stairs will be the "@fter midnight" selection of the week. They also pick up Tall Dark Stranger for (mostly) the upstairs film screen, with the pretty-good Last Train Home moving into the video room. The main special screening is Hackers with videogame designer Jesse Schell taking questions after the movie as part of the "Science on Screen" series. There's also a Talk Cinema screening Sunday morning, Arto Halonen's Princess.


  • Kendall Square is in a bit of a holding pattern until a bunch of releases next week. After Funny Story, the other two openings both have the one-week warning: First is South African comedy White Wedding, chronicling a road trip where the groom tries to get everything pulled together. The real blink-and-miss-it entry is Waking Sleeping Beauty; the documentary about Disney's revitalization of the feature animation division in the late eighties and early nineties is only playing matinees.


  • The Brattle has a bit of a cobbled-together schedule this weekend. Sold-out live music and comedy rule Friday and Saturday. Sunday has Looney Tunes in the morning - their traditional contribution to Harvard Square's Oktoberfest - and folks can come and go as they want between 11am and 1:30pm. More shorts will be on display at 5pm, as stuff is pulled out of the archives for a "Mini-Fest: Brattle Miscellanea" presentation. In between, they tribute to the recently departed Tony Curtis with a screening of Some Like It Hot at 2pm. 7pm brings a preview screening of Stone, the new film starring Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, and Milla Jovovich, and 9:45 is a special surprise screening, as yet unrevealed (though I have a suspicion). To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the theater operating as a non-profit for 10/10/10, all screenings are free (how better to celebrate being a non-profit than giving stuff away, right?).

    Monday night is the bi-weekly CineCaché screening; this week the Brattle and Chlotrudis join forces with the last bi-weekly series, The DocYard, to present the Media That Matters: Short Documentaries program. It appears to have an international focus, and both one of the directors and a representative from the Media That Matters Film Festival will be there for a Q&A.

    The rest of the week is the Complete Millennium Trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Tuesday, The Girl Who Played with Fire one Wednesday, a matinee of the pair on Monday, and a triple-feature that finishes up with a preview of The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest on Thursday.


  • The Indian movies at Fresh Pond are working on a bit of a screwy schedule - Endhiran (The Robot) plays late on Friday and Saturday, not at all on Sunday, and all day Monday and Tuesday. Anjaana Anjaani played today, and will have single shows on Saturday and Sunday, with a pair of apparently unsubtitled Teugu-language films (one of which also appears to involve robots) filling in around them.


  • This weekend, the Harvard Film Archive has the awesomely-named Kenneth Anger presenting his "Magick Lantern Cycle". He won't be in town until tomorrow, but the screenings start tonight at 7pm. The MFA continues The Boston Palestine Film Festival
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