Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sundance USA: My Idiot Brother

Wow, are my pictures from this horrific. I'm not even going to consider subjecting you to the reddish blobs my camera took of director Jesse Peretz.

The Sundance USA program - where movies from the current Sundance Film Festival screen at different venues around the country while the festival is still going on - is a nifty idea, and as close to the Park City as many of us are ever going to get. (What, you think I'm going to take a vacation in the middle of January to go someplace that's even colder and snowier than New England? There are, in fact, limits to how much I love film.) Sundance is a big and cool thing, but has grown rather distant over time; Austin's SXSW film festival, for instance, got the reputation of being just as viable a place to premiere films without seeming as snobby or industry-focused. That's a reputation that Sundance probably doesn't deserve - in addition to the festival, the Sundance Institute has a number of filmmaker-focused programs - but when more of the news coming out of Utah is about sales and celebrity sightings than whether something is a good movie, it's easy to get the wrong imipression.

So they reach out to the country at large, showing us that they are really all about promoting independent film - as much as there's a lot of business-oriented stuff going on, their mission is still, mainly, to give independent filmmakers a chance for their works to be seen. It's probably no coincidence that at least some of the pictures chosen, like My Idiot Brother, are much more mainstream than avant-garde. This is a fun movie, and for the people who were there Thursday night, their first-hand encounter with Sundance is now something enjoyable and not pretentious at all.

My Idiot Brother

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 January 2010 at The Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sundance USA)

My Idiot Brother is just as broad a comedy as its name suggests but a good deal less mean-spirited. In other eras, it might have been a door-slamming farce, although in the present its screwball tendencies are held back just a little; well-rounded characters are valued a bit more now.

Title character Ned (Paul Rudd) is, indeed, not very bright - he gets sent to jail not just for selling pot to a police officer, but to a uniformed one - but there's not a mean bone in his body. The same is not true for girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn), who has found a new boyfriend (T.J. Miller) and kicks him off the farm, not even letting him take Willie Nelson, despite Willie obviously being Ned's dog. So he winds up back home with his mother (Shirley Knight), but soon winds up couch-surfing and picking up odd jobs with his three sisters. Housewife Liz (Emily Mortimer) gets him a job helping her husband (Steve Coogan) shoot a documentary, but they don't really approve of him roughhousing with their son River (Matthew Mindler). Writer Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) has him drive her around while doing a story on Lady Arabella (Janet Montgomery), who won't tell Miranda the juicy stuff Miranda's editors want but hits it off with Ned right away. Youngest sister Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) lets him in on a secret that could wreck her relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones), who's helping him get Willie back. And while Ned would never do anything to hurt his family, he tends to take what people say at face value, so inevitably things are going to slip out.

Ned is stunned to find out that River has never seen The Pink Panther early on, and it's not surprising that director Jesse Peretz and writers Evgenia Peretz (his sister) & David Schisgall (her husband) would refer to that movie. After all, Ned's not so distant a relative from Clouseau, a well-meaning force of comedic chaos who wanders from one situation to another, frustrating people terribly even though he is seldom actually the cause of their problems. From the first moment that the trusting Ned sees something with a chance of causing trouble, Peretz does a fine job of both keeping a number of balls in the air and dropping them when it seems appropriate; it's a fun blend of both comedy and comic anticipation.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 28 January 2011 - 3 February 2011

Oscar nominations got announced Tuesday. This year, I'm reasonably caught up, with only one glaring oversight (that's right, despite my love of Fincher and Sorkin, I still haven't seen The Social Network). I'll correct that, not out of any compulsion toward completion, but because it looks like a pretty good movie. I used to think you had to see everything to have a right to have an opinion about what is snubbed and what isn't on the night of the awards, but while this might be true, suffering through Chicago a few years ago disabused me of the notion that this was in any way worth it.

  • If you do want to catch up, the Somerville Theatre in particular has your back. They're already showing The Social Network and Best Costume nominee The Tempest, and this week they re-open Best Documentary nominee Inside Job and multiple nominee The Kids are All Right. Inside Job also re-opens in the Coolidge's screening room. And The Social Network, already playing at Somerville, Stuart Street, and the Arlington Capitol, re-returns to AMC Harvard Square. If you'll recall, it re-opened there two weeks ago, played a week, and is now back again. Three and a half screens for something that's out on video, and we don't get Ip Man 2, despite that opening in spots around the country today.

  • Oscar nominees also tell the tale of what opens at Kendall Square. Not only does 127 Hours expand back to a full screen after limping along with just late shows for a couple weeks, but Biutiful (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor) and The Illusionist (nominated for Best Animated Feature) open. I'm a little skeptical of Biutiful - it looks like more interconnected suffering akin to director Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu's Balbel and 21 Grams, and I don't remember either fondly. But The Illusionist looks wonderful, with The Triplets of Belleville's Sylvain Chomet adapting a screenplay by Jacques Tati.

    The one-week warning is for Nuremberg, a newly-restored version of the 1948 documentary of the first modern war crimes trials. It's never been shown in the U.S. before this new release, and the soundtrack had to be completely reconstructed. For the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (28-30 January) shows, Sandra Schulberg (daughter of original director Stuart Schulberg and a major part of the restoration team) will be present to introduce the film and perhaps answer questions.

  • Oscar likely has very little to do with the two main films opening on multiplex screens. Sure, The Rite has former Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins, but otherwise it looks like the Season of the Witch to The Last Exorcism's Black Death - bigger, more expensive, and with some more familiar faces, but just not looking quite as scary, because imaginary demons just aren't as scary as the cruelty human beings are capable of.

    The other major opener is The Mechanic, in which Jason Statham and Ben Foster try to step into the shoes of Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure whether that's an upgrade or not. It looks like a bunch of Jason Statham doing Jason Statham things - a little martial arts, a little looking cool, a little vehicular mayhem. Generally, there's worse ways to spend a couple hours.

  • One more movie opens this week for a semi-conventional run: Zenith, an indie sci-fi movie that describes itself as a retro-futuristic steampunk thriller taking place in two time periods with people genetically engineered to be happy all the time discovering that only sorrow makes life meaningful. It's potentially a game of cliche bingo, but sometimes interesting things come out of that. It's playing one show a day - 8pm tonight, 11pm Saturday, and 7:30pm Sunday through Thursday. As a head's up (in case I don't get this up early then), the Regent will be playing IFFBoston selection Lemmy next Friday (4 February).

  • The Brattle continues their "(Some of) The Best of 2010" series with a few interesting double features - tonight there's a pair of zany, surprisingly good by most accounts youth comedies with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Easy A; Saturday is a pair of films about young girls in big trouble, Winter's Bone and Fish Tank; and Thursday a pair of rediscovered Japanese horror films with new prints - Kuroneko and House. On other days, there are singles - the full five-and-a-half-hour cut of Carlos on Sunday afternoon, IFFBoston Best Doc winner Marwencol on Monday, and low-budget kaiju/romance Monsters on Wednesday.

    Marwencol will also be playing Sunday night as part of the Boston Society of Film Critics's annual awards ceremony, where they will honor its director, Jeff Malmberg. Tuesday night sees the return of The DocYard, a bi-weekly screening series of documentaries that will run through April. The first entry is Armadillo, Janusz Metz's chronicle of a UK-Danish base in Afghanistan.

  • It's a week without a lot of change at the Coolidge - the Sundance shorts move to a smaller room to make way for Inside Job, but The King's Speech and Black Swan stay put. The schedule of special events is likewise pretty quiet - if you enjoyed Santa Sangre at the Brattle on Monday, you may want to check out Alejandro Jodorowsky's other crazy 1970s midnight movie, El Topo. Man, I thought his bandes dessinéees were screwy, but his movies make them look quite sane. Sunday morning, the Goethe-Institut presents Vincent Wants to Sea (yes, that apparently is the proper translation of the title), about a Tourettes-afflicted young man who flees the sanitarium where he lives with two friends for a road trip with his mother's ashes.

  • The Harvard Film Archive is back doing what it does today, when it starts Play It As It Lies, a two-weekend retrospective of the films of Hong Sang-soo. Director Hong is not a man I'm terribly familiar with, but he is very well-regarded and will be at the archive in person next weekend. For this weekend, four of his films are on tap: The Power of Kangwon Province and Hahaha tonight; The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well on Sunday, and Tale of Cinema on Monday. If Sunday's Brattle event isn't enough Harvard Square and Boston film critics for you, they have a screening of For the Love of Movies hosted by director Gerald Peary and "followed by a panel of prominent Boston-area critics who will be discussing the state of film criticism in the era of the Internet". I was not invited (not surprising; it makes sense to go with someone who does this full-time rather than as a hobby), but am tempted to go and see if they have any pure on-line guys or if it will just be old people complaining about us. Admission is free for HFA members. VES re-starts their free screening series in February, with The Beaches of Agnes on Tuesday and a selection of early short films on Wednesday.

  • Emerson programs some good stuff at the Paramount Center, especially if you like Robert Mitchum. Charles Laughton's excellent Night of The Hunter plays Friday and Saturday nights, while the original Cape Fear is the back end of Saturday's unofficial double feature before playing at 7pm Sunday. The family-friendly program Saturday afternoon is a Passport Shorts Program from the Children's Film Festival Seattle. It's 77 minutes of short films from a half-dozen or so countries, featuring "real-life kids who are making a difference."

  • The MFA wraps up the Boston Festival of Films from Iran today and tomorrow, around one show per day of The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector. In February, they launch a Cinema and the City series; it runs through the entire month and starts with Vertigo on Thursday afternoon.

  • The ICA has a pair of short programs this weekend: Saturday at 5pm is The 48th Ann Arbor Film Festival Program One, a collection of short films from the continent's "longest-running independent and experimental film festival". Sunday afternoon (2pm and 4pm), they have a program from The Ottowa International Animation Festival, one of the most prominent animation-focused festivals in the world.

My plans? Well, crap, there's a lot going on tonight. I think I'll likely take in Zenith on my way home tonight, see how much time getting Sox tickets takes tomorrow, and then shoot for The Mechanic, Nuremberg, and The Kids Are All Right on the weekend. Probably The Illusionist, too, because the new commute is going to make getting to Kendall Square in time on a weekday iffy.

This Week In Tickets: 17 January 2011 to 23 January 2011

"2011" still looks funny up there, doesn't it? And, let me tell you, though you don't see any change here, I'm still a little thrown by the opposing page in my desk calendar/scrapbook being mid-twentieth century advertisements instead of pin-up girls.

This Week In Tickets!

It wound up being a slow week, in part because of weather. After what seems like a few years of "wait, why should climate change be considered a bad thing" winters in Boston, it's been really cold and snowy on a regular basis in 2011. I worked from home on Wednesday, hitting Finale and the comic shop (just as it was closing for lack of customers) at the end of the day out of pure cabin fever, and on Friday I was one of about a half-dozen to come to an office that holds considerably more than that number. It wasn't that nasty out, but people had packed for the move on Thursday in anticipation of a storm, so why come in, take stuff out of boxes, work a few hours, and then put them back in again.

Gantz is an advance ticket - I think I bought it back on the 9th, when I saw Season of the Witch - and it's a good thing . Between staying at work unexpectedly long on Thursday and the buses being a bit unpredictable, I arrived at the 8pm show at something like 8:02, although there was fortunately a pre-show being beamed out from L.A., where the film's stars had flown in to introduce the screening and take questions after mere hours after doing so in Tokyo (well, with flight time, probably more than "mere" hours, but that just makes it a little more crazy, right?). Fortunately there was an open seat fairly front and center that I could get to without having to climb over people - the show was sold out, and the people who arrived after me wound up sitting on the floor rather than break their group up.

I can't quite say my experience was as frustrating as Boozie Movies from Twitch's. To be honest, his talk about moving seats makes me think he wasn't helping the environment, but I can't say I could really complain about the smell. I do think, though, that otaku used to consuming their anime in the comfort of their living room may need a bit of a reminder that, while it's okay to yell at the screen when you're getting together with your friends to watch the new DVD you've imported or torrent you've downloaded, the rest of us did not pay $12.50 to hear you. And while you may think "I paid $12.50, I can do what I want"... It really doesn't work that way.

Anyway, I find myself genuinely hoping that there will be some sort of early announcement that Fantasia or NYAFF will announce that they're playing both Gantz movies subtitled super-early, so that I can avoid even the temptation to see it with this crowd again.

GantzThe Company MenThe Way BackPrimal


It's past midnight, and although I'm not certain that I've written about a movie where a attractive young people go nuts and start trying to eat their friends before, it seems pretty likely. And if I have, anything I write about Primal is just going to be me repeating myself. So what say I call it a night and come back strong writing "This Week" and "Next Week" on the way to work and during lunch?


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2010 at The Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (@fter midnight, Blu-ray)

I suspect that the script for Primal was, even more than most horror movies, dictated by resources - they could get this location for filming, a little bit of simple CGI, a reasonably straightforward make-up job for every shooting day but a few more impressive gore effects on occasion, and a director with an animation background. It feels that way, at least - like filmmaker Josh Reed saw what he could make a movie with, connected the dots as best he could, and figured that enthusiasm is more important than coherence in this sort of movie, anyway.

So we start with three pairs of kids in their twenties. Dace (Wil Traval) is an anthropology grad student driving the van to see some cave paintings that an ancestor of his girlfriend Kris (Rebekah Foord) described 120 years ago. Along for the ride are Mel (Krew Boylan) and her boyfriend Chad (Lindsay Farris), who as expected are making their tent shake within minutes of pitching it; Anja (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith), nervous and claustrophobic after an ugly incident with her old boyfriend; and Warren (Damien Freeleagus), a friend whom one suspects would rather like to be more, but recognizes that now is not the time. Aside from finding a rabbit with huge, sharp teeth, things are going swimmingly - that is, until Mel goes skinny-dipping in a nearby pond. Even though the leeches are pulled off quickly, she starts running a fever, losing teeth, and regressing to a more primitive - and violent - state.

As groups of college students about to get chewed up and spat out by ancient evils go, it's a pretty good group. Not perfect - Chad is more or less "Mel's boyfriend" and Kris is "Dace's girlfriend/Anja's friend", although to the credit of Reed, Farris, and Foord, they do manage to make themselves more than filler with which to increase the body count. The other characters are not particularly deep, granted, but they're familiar-enough figures that are likable enough - or, in the case of Wil Traval's Dace, thorough-enough pricks - to keep the audience amused before things go screwy and afterward. Special credit to Krew Boylan, who takes what is basically the bimbo of the group and makes us like her just enough that the audience doesn't slip into "that thing's not Mel anymore!" mode right away.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The lost art of the "big indie": The Company Men and The Way Back

Back in the nineties or early aughts, both The Company Men and The Way Back probably would have been released by Miramax; they're technically independent films but have more the "mini-major" feel about them: Name directors, casts of movie stars working below their usual pay grade, platform releases designed to just catch award eligibility in L.A. and expand to the rest of the country after the holiday pictures have blown out.

Now, The Weinstein Company releases The Company Men, and I don't think that it got an Academy-qualifying run - at least, I don't see any release dates before 21 January 2011. It's a startlingly low-profile release, when you think about it: The Weinsteins have always been canny marketers, and they've been sitting on this Ben Affleck picture for a year (they acquired it at Sundance '10), and The Town has rolled back a lot of the joking people did about him. However, they didn't seem able to nail down a fall release date, and instead this hits theaters in January, without much fanfare. It got creamed at the box office, and I suspect that a good chunk of what it did get came from here in Boston (we can be pretty loyal to movies shot here with local talent, and native Affleck, transplant Chris Cooper, and Harvard grad Tommy Lee Jones all qualify). The Weinsteins used to be able to open movies like this, but they seem to have lost their mojo.

The Way Back actually did a little better at the box office, despite being a bit of a tougher sell: Jim Sturgess is the lead, Ed Harris and Colin Farrell aren't guys that open movies themselves, the word doesn't really seem to be out about what a great young actress Saoirse Ronan is(*), and "people walk across various harsh environments, several dying" doesn't necessarily appeal to the folks looking for a fun night out. It was #15 in its semi-wide opening, and probably won't expand much farther, since the only Oscar nomination it got yesterday was a well-deserved bit of recognition for its make-up, and technical awards don't put butts in seats. It's a shame, because it's a very good movie, and watcihng it on Blu-ray won't do it justice.

(*) Hopefully Hanna will do the trick. The trailer for that played in front of The Way Back, and while I fear that the public won't be all-in for an action movie starring Ronan and Cate Blanchett, it looks like a lot of fun, and a chance for Ronan to announce that she's here and awesome to all those who missed Atonement. And The Lovely Bones. And even City of Ember. But mostly Atonement.

Anyway, the message is to see these movies while you can. The Weinstein Company and Newmarket aren't the forces that they once were, they're not getting awards bumps, and other movies are going to push them off screens fairly quickly.

The Company Men

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2010 at AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run)

The Company Men is a perilous balance of schadenfreude and nostalgia for a saner world. It might be better if writer/director/producer John Wells was a little more overtly rabble-rousing, but maybe he's too conscious of his own success in the entertainment business to do so without feeling a hypocrite.

In 2008, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is on top of the world, an executive at Boston-based GTX (which stands for "Global Transportation Enterprises", sort of, but has long since diversified from its shipbuilding roots), but that is all about to fall apart as a merger of two divisions makes his job redundant. His severance is reasonably generous, but as he works on finding a new job at an "outplacement" center - sharing a cubicle with engineer Danny (Eamonn Walker), who has been at it for a few months - his colleague Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) frets that he may be the next on the block (he makes senior salesperson money and his numbers have been slipping). Meanwhile, the company's vice-president, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) frets over the good people being let go, especially since CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) seems far more concerned with the value of his stock and fighting a buyout than the actual operation of the company.

There is, without a doubt, a certain amount of pleasure at watching Bobby get taken down a peg or three. The smug, entitled yuppie getting his comeuppance is one of the things that Ben Affleck does extremely well, in part because he knows how to measure those qualities for what the role demands - Bobby starts out more crass than cruel, and his reluctance to see what sort of bad shape he's in is generally on the more palatable side of the border between pride and arrogance. Wells uses the characters of Bobby's family to good effect - Rosemarie DeWitt's pragmatic wife both softens him and highlights his impracticality, while Kevin Costner's blue-collar brother-in-law and his constant stream of why we hate big business is both saying what much of the audience is thinking and overly combative. It's a nice job by Wells, Affleck, and that part of the supporting cast, really - a tricky but believable transition from enjoying Bobby's failure to rooting for his success.

Full review at EFC.

The Way Back

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2010 at AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run)

In a more just cinematic world, The Way Back would be playing on IMAX screens and The Green Hornet would not. This is not a comment on the quality of Michel Gondry's film versus that of Peter Weir's, simply an observation that The Way Back aims to transport the audience to a different environment above all else, and that's what a screen that extends to the limits of one's peripheral vision does best. So, it goes without saying, this merits a look in theaters before it is reduced to home video.

Janusz (Jim Sturgess) is Polish, a difficult thing to be in 1939, as Hitler is approaching from one side and Stalin from the other. Winding up on the Russian side of the line, he is accused of being a spy and shipped off to a Siberian gulag. There, he immediately begins to plan his escape alongside several other political prisoners - among them Tomasz (Alexandru Potocean) and Zoran (Dragos Bucur), a pair of fellow Poles; Khabarov (Mark Strong), an actor imprisoned for a role he once played; and Mr. Smith (Ed Harris), an American engineer. A late addition to their party is Valka (Colin Farrell), a murderer fleeing the debts he racked up in camp. And then there's Irena (Saoirse Ronan), a young Polish girl they meet along the way south to Mongolia who claims to have escaped from a collective farm. Any pursuers or potential traitors in their party pale in danger to the elements, though - Janusz is the only one with particularly well-honed wilderness skills, and prisons are located in Siberia because the environment is a better deterrent to escape than the guards.

The Way Back has a plot, and some nice performances, but this is a movie about scale - Weir and company aim to demonstrate how impressive the accomplishment of the survivors is with wide shots of inhospitable environments, whether they be tundra, desert, or mountain. Against these backdrops of terrible natural beauty, the escapees are often tiny, underscoring the immensity of their challenge. Weir and cinematographer Russell Boyd compose these shots beautifully, and while the film isn't entirely about showing off shots of harsh environments, or even contrasting them with the tight, oppressive scenes of the gulag, they are the centerpiece, and are suitably impressive.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I went into Gantz kind of hoping for a mid-winter Fantasia preview - perhaps literally; I wouldn't be surprised at all to see subtitled versions of the Gantz movies playing that festival, especially since it doesn't look like the NCN/Fathom Events presentation extended to Canada, thus potentially making them Canadian Premieres. Instead, though, I got a preview of the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival.

Not so much in terms of the content - I've suggested it, but even with the week-long festival now preceding the marathon, I sort of suspect American crap will trump interesting foreign films most of the time (trivia about a cat who appeared in old b-movies gets more interest than any attempt I make to bring up contemporary indie/foreign sf on its message board) - but in terms of the audience. As much as I liked that there was at least one guy who dressed up in a homemade Gantz suit for the event, there was a lot of people yelling at the screen, which I'd kind of hoped might not be the case. For the 'thon, it's sort of expected, but any other time - good lord, folks, I paid $12.50 for this ticket, and it wasn't to listen to your jokes. Granted, you paid $12.50 as well, and maybe you think that paying such a relatively high price makes you entitled to something more, but remember - it's not like you paid more than anyone else, and the rest of us just expected to watch a movie.

Of course, it's kind of hard to be completely upset about it - the terrible dubbing job was practically begging for mockery. As I say in the review, I'm not sure quite why you release a film like this dubbed - while I suppose there are going to be some "civilians" who see the preview and figure that looks like a good bit of sci-fi action, the bulk of the audience is going to be pre-existing fans of the manga or anime, or general J-pop fans, and they are going to want it subtitled. Well, maybe not some of the anime fans (I gather there are people who prefer their anime dubbed, but I've never actually met them), but in spots like Boston, the theater would not have had to worry about lost sales with Japanese dialog. Heck, it could have been a fun experiment - dubbed at Boston Common, subbed at Fenway, or vice versa - see which sells out first!

Anyway, here's hoping that a chance to see the subtitled version pops up, or if Gantz: The Final Secret will play subbed when it comes out in April. I'm not holding my breath - this isn't the first time Viz has released movies via Fathom, and they're still running dubbed - but when the Q&A at the end has the stars saying they hope the next one features their voices, the buzz on Twitter has few if any thanking for the dubbed presentation compared to those who wanted the original Japanese... Well, maybe it's a tipping point.

Like the 20th Century Boys flicks, it was fun to watch Gantz just from the perspective of how it compares to a manga that I've been reading for the past couple of years. As I mention in the review, I think they've toned it down quite a bit; the original book is a pretty hard-R sort of thing, and while much of the violence is still there, they've stripped out some of the silliness, a lot of the nudity, and made most of the characters a few years older so it's not so much about teenagers killing as it was. The first film mostly stops short of where the current American releases of the manga are (volume 15 is the latest to hit these shores), but one bit seems to either come from later volumes or be made up for the movie - I don't think we've seen the "100 point menu" yet, and what the movie shows happening when time runs out doesn't seem familiar (it would certainly effect the story that's going on right now).

There are budget and time issues as well - the statue sequence was pretty drastically pared down (but done well), and the teaser at the end suggests there won't be dinosaurs or crazy bikes in the next movie. That's fine, as I kind of suspect that going all-in with the CGI would have destroyed the budget and maybe worked against the somewhat grounded feeling that the film somehow manages to retain, despite its fantastical, often nutty elements. I would be kind of curious to see an American studio option the series and give adapting it a shot, though; depending how many volumes there are to the manga, it could be a good-sized franchise, and seeing a little money thrown at it might be interesting.

Also, I noticed that they cast a more conventionally attractive actress as Tae than what we saw in the comics. I'm not complaining, but it's a different vibe - in the comics, you can really see that an outsider would wonder what Kei was doing with her, whereas here, yeah, she's sort of an otaku, but she's the pretty, has-it-all geek girl (and, wow, Yuriko Yoshitaka was Fufumi in Adrift in Tokyo? I had no idea!).


* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2010 at Regal Fenway #8 (Fathom Events digital presentation)

It's a funny thing that the first live-action Gantz film feels kind of old-school; considering that the director's last project was a CGI feature, the original manga does not hide that it is produced with digital tools, and the story structure is something straight out of a video game, it wouldn't be surprising for Gantz-the-film to look and feel like something a computer spewed out. Instead, it feels like a refugee from the eighties, even if it is dressed up in post-Matrix black leather.

College student Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) is waiting for the subway when he sees an old friend, Masuru Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) who he hasn't spoken to in years. When an old man falls onto the tracks, Kato jumps down to rescue him, but himself needs rescuing when the train approaches. The next thing they know, they're in a nondescript apartment with several others - including high school kid Nishi (Kanata Hongo), hottie Kishimoto (Natsuna Watanabe), and salaryman Yoshikazu Suzuki (Tomorowo Taguchi) - and Gantz, a black sphere that tells them that their lives are no longer their own. They are to take the guns and bodysuits it proffers and finish off the "onion alien" - that's the way the cookie crumbles, and just the first mission for any survivors.

It was almost inevitable that Gantz was going to be toned down somewhat during the transition from page to screen - the action scenes in the manga are immense and varied, and would have stretched an American blockbuster's budget, let alone a Japanese one. The original serial occasionally reads like creator Hiroya Oku decided to draw monsters one month, got tired of it, switched to dinosaurs, then vampires, then whatever else caught his fancy, including plenty of gratuitous nudity. At times, it straddles the line between satire of adolescent fantasy and engaging in it. The movie shaves a fair amount of the edge off - the main characters are no longer teenagers and the more potentially sexist elements have been toned down - but not all. Dialing back the more exploitative elements does allow writer Yusuke Watanabe and director Shinsuke Sato to focus more on the idea of how the average person can be pushed to violence with surprising ease.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 21 January 2011 - 27 January 2011

It looks like things are starting to get back to normal after the winter's nap - multiple films being released in multiplexes, the boutique houses back on calendar schedules, and the academically-affiliated venues back showing films.

Now, getting to and from them could be interesting, what with the snow and all - this certainly feels more like a traditional New England winter than any I can remember in years.

  • Talk of winter leads logically to talk of Siberia (right?), Peter Weir's The Way Back may not be the biggest opening this weekend - in Boston, it's only showing up at Boston Common and Fresh Pond - but it's probably the safest bet. Weir tends to make interesting movies, the scenery and cinematography in the preview is gorgeous (somewhat to be expected, perhaps, with the National Geographic Society involved), and the cast is awfully solid: Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, and Saoirse Ronan may not jump off a poster, but they're all folks I would like to see walking four thousand miles from a Russian gulag to freedom in India.

    Maybe not quite so prestigious but also likely worth a look is The Company Men, which features a similarly noteworthy cast. Writer/director John Wells is mostly known for well-respected television (E.R., The West Wing), and the preview kind of looks like it's trying a bit too hard, but the cast is excellent: Aside from local guys Ben Affleck and Chris Cooper, it seems like it's been forever since Tommy Lee Jones showed up on movie screens. And, hey, Kevin Costner, who I think could be pretty good in this sort of blue-collar supporting role now that his leading man days are apparently done.

    The other big opener is No Strings Attached, with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. I've got to say, the preview makes it look like something I've seen before. In fact, at various points in its development, it went by the names "Friends with Benefits" and "F--- Buddies". There was a Friends (With Benefits) at the Boston Underground Film Festival last year that I liked quite a bit, which also went by "F--- Buddies" while being made, that seems to have the exact same plot, and there's another "Friends With Benefits" (sans parentheses) coming this summer with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. I suspect the best of the three will not contain any members of the That 70s Show cast (or, if you want to be less snarky, the Black Swan cast), but I've got to admit, I will probably see this one on the basis of "Kevin Kline is in it" alone.

  • Over at Kendall Square, they actually got back into the announced one-week bookings last week with Partir; this week the one-week warning is also on a French movie, Nénette, a documentary by acclaimed director Nicolas Philbert about an orangutan who has just turned 40 and has lived in Paris's Jardin des Plantes for most of her life. It looks charming, and while not long (about 70 minutes), it's presented with a short film, "Night Falls on the Menagerie".

    The higher profile opening is Another Year, the new film by Mike Leigh which chronicles a year in the life of a married couple in his typically low-key way. It features Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, and Lesley Manville.

  • The week's Indian opening is Dhobi Ghat, which actually looks fairly conventional for a Bollywood product: A story of intersecting relationships in Mumbai, it's not a musical and runs a relatively comfortable 95 minutes. It played the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, so if you've been curious about Indian cinema but nervous about its odd reputation, this might be a good place to start.

  • The Brattle Theatre begins a two-week "(Some of) The Best of 2010" series tonight with Inception. It continues through Wednesday with a Chloe Moretz double feature on Saturday (Let Me In & Kick-Ass), a pair of great leading ladies on Sunday (Isabelle Huppert in White Material and Tilda Swinton in I Am Love), Bong Joon-Ho's fantastic Mother on Monday, Cesar winner A Prophet on Tuesday, and Exit Through the Gift Shop on Wednesday. Several of the screenings will have introductions by members of the Boston Society of Film Critics. Check the calendar, because there have been some schedule changes to accommodate a couple special events.

    Those events include a nifty-looking screening of Alejandro Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre on Monday at 9:30pm; it's presented with the Boston Underground Film Festival and includes a special guest, actress Sabrina Dennison. Wednesday at 5:30pm, Race to Nowhere makes another appearance in the area, and someday this documentary about the unhealthily competitive environment in our schools will play at a time when I can get to see it. If you can make it to this screening, there will be a discussion with parenting/education expert Alfie Kohn afterward. And, on Thursday night, the Found Footage Film Festival comes to town with a program of oddities from the VHS age.

  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre basically carries its programming from last week over, but has a couple of special presentations. The midnight show tonight and tomorrow is Primal a new bit of old-style Ozploitation featuring folks trying to survive a friend going nuts in the Outback. It's a quick preview booking before a Tuesday video release (they're actually screening the Blu-ray), but it sounds like fun. Monday night's Science On Screen program is Full Metal Jacket, which will have an introduction and Q&A by psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, a "nationally known expert on combat trauma". And, on Thursday night, filmmaker Jesse Peretz flies out from Park City, UT, for the "Sundance USA" screening of My Idiot Brother, which has a heck of a cast (Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer). It's sold out on-line, and probably at the box office, so consider this a reminder for those who already have their tickets.

  • The Harvard Film Archive opens back up after a winter break with a massive presentation, the 25th Anniversary re-release of Shoah. Saturday and Sunday, both parts will screen - Part One at noon, and Part Two at 6pm. Part One also screens tonight at 6pm, and Part Two also runs Monday at 6pm. It is a titanic work - nine and a half hours, all told - but also a clearly important one.

  • Emerson's film program also returns with a pair of Hungarian films. Tonight, director János Szász is present to screen and discus his second feature, Woyzeck, his 1994 adaptation of early nineteenth-century playwright Georg Büchner's most famous work (though his version is set in contemporary times). Tomorrow, they show 1972's Red Psalm by Miklós Jancsó. The family-friendly matinees are also back, with The Wizard of Oz showing Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening on genuine 35mm film.

  • At the Museum of Fine Arts, the Boston Festival of Films from Iran continues. Note that Salve has been dropped from the schedule, with tonight's screening replaced by Please Do Not Disturb. That festival will be running through the 29th, but The Agony and Ecstacy of Phil Spector will be starting on the 26th for a five-day run (with one screening a day, at various times). The director will be present for that first screening, but on the others, it's "just" an hour and a half long interview with the legendary (and now infamous) record producer conducted during his first trial.

  • I've failed to mention it several times, but the ICA has been presenting "The Art and Technique of the American Commercial" on and off for the past month as part of their film program; the screening on Thursday loks like it may be the last chance to catch it.

  • The second-run shuffle has All Good Things popping back up at the Somerville Theatre, sharing a screen with The Social Network, despite not being very good. At FEI's other theater, the Arlington Capitol, Casino Jack grabs a screen, as does Tron: Legacy (in 3-D). The Studio Cinema in Belmont opens Black Swan, while the Stuart Street Playhouse bumps Love and Other Drugs in favor of more shows of the out-on-video The Social Network (which is also playing on full screens in Arlington and Waltham). Apparently, there are a lot of folks as lazy about seeing that movie as I have been.

My plan? Well, I've already got my ticket for My Idiot Brother, and the priority for the new releases is The Way Back, The Company Men, then No Strings Attached. In between, maybe I'll do the Brattle Saturday night (I never did get around to seeing Kick-Ass) and find a spot for Nénette in between.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Week In Tickets: 10 January 2011 to 16 January 2011

Busy week at work + snow + all-day Chlotrudis society meeting =

This Week In Tickets!

After a whole day spent discussing independent film, seeing a couple of mainstream movies seemed like a good idea. And both turned out to be firmly in the "good enough" category - not great examples of their genres, but pretty ably handled. The particular genres are common enough that a good job isn't enough to make a person really fall for a movie, but when folks ask you about it, you can say "yeah, that was pretty good."

They at least aren't upstaged by the previews, although the ones before Green Hornet gave it their best shot. For example, I'm actually finding myself pretty excited about Thor, even though it's never been a comic I ever followed (and quite honestly, I tend to scratch my head when the guy shows up in other Marvel books). It looks like a really fun movie, though, and I'm kind of excited by the look of the thing - the safe thing to do would likely have been to give it a realistic, Viking-influenced style, but Kenneth Branagh has opted to Kirby it up much more than I expected. That, I think, is going to make it a lot of fun.

And the Transformers 3 teaser... I think I've seen it three times now, and every time, every time, it fools me into thinking it's going to be for something a lot cooler than Transformers 3. Fortunately, it's scheduled to come out while I'm usually in Montreal, so I suspect I'll be able to resist the temptation to spend $20 and/or a lot of time getting to it.

The Green Hornet

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 January 2011 at AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, digital Imax)

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I respect the heck out of how Sony, Seth Rogen, and company have handled The Green Hornet. Rogen dropped enough weight that it wouldn't just be gags about a fat superhero - indeed it was going to be a straight-out action movie at one point. Then Stephen Chow got attached, wanted more comedy, and writers Rogen & Evan Goldberg had the good sense to say "Stephen Chow wants funny, we add more funny!". Chow drops out, and instead of getting some pliable non-entity - a Brett Ratner or Martin Campbell - they hire Michel Gondry, and apparently rejigger it to be a Gondry film. This could have been homogenized and forgettable, but for all its faults, it's not that.

The main fault, I think, is that the "clueless" dial is turned one notch too high on Rogen's Britt Reid. On the one hand, I admire how uncompromising they are in that - Britt is a danger to himself and others when he tries to be a superhero, and Rogen, Goldberg, and Gondry aren't going to back down from that with a prefab plot about him just needing to gain confidence in himself. On the other hand... Well, I didn't much dig it the last time Rogen went this way, in Observe & Report. The unpleasant lead can be a really hard sell, even when it is the honest route.

Still, there's plenty else to recommend the film: Jay Chou is a really great Kato, and actually does the buddy-comedy stuff as well as the action. Christoph Waltz is a hilarious but still threatening villain. And while there are only a few moments that are absolutely and obviously Gondry's, his distinctive visual style does show up, and the finale is a rather nifty alchemy of silly, cartoonish slapstick and clear, well-directed action: It displays a sense of the absurd that more conventional directors wouldn't have in them.

The $12 ticket was likely an overpay - though I suspect the 3-D conversion is pretty good as far as such things go, it's clearly not built into the film's DNA the way it is for others, aside from a very nifty end credits sequence. It's a worthwhile matinee, though, maybe more if the idea of

The Fighter

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 January 2011 at AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run)

The Fighter is a more conventional movie, and perhaps works better for that. It's a boxing movie, but a good one; I generally don't have much patience for the genre, but this one's got a nice cast, a straightforward storyline that doesn't so much avoid hysterics as it keeps them on a leash. You can see director David O. Russell and his cast walking the fine line between playing to the rafters and chewing the scenery. It's the sort of sports movie where the hero's athletic technique perfectly matches what's going on in his real life (take all the punishment life gives you, strike back when you're counted out), but that's okay, because there's no speech about it.

It's got some pretty nice performances, too. Mark Wahlberg does well as the film's stable center, giving us full and heartfelt emotion without yelling too much, Amy Adams does trashy & sarcastic better than one might expect, and Christian Bale leverages his eating disorder to even better effect than usual. Add very nice supporting performances by Melissa Leo and Jack McGee as the parents of Wahlberg's Micky Ward, and you've got a nice portrait of a loving, but far from perfect, family.

The Fighter isn't a great movie, but in a year as relatively unimpressive as 2010, it looks pretty good. It gets the job done, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

The Green HornetThe Fighter

Friday, January 14, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 14 January 2011 - 20 January 2011

Happy birthday, Mom. I'd absolutely take you to a movie this weekend if you weren't way down in Florida.

  • Only two major films open at the Boston multiplexes today - we are, apparently, spared The Heart Specialist, even though it apparently won the audience award when it played the Boston Film Festival way back in 2006 under the title "Ways of the Flesh" (Yes, I saw it then). We do get The Dilemma, though, and Brian's review at EFC intrigues me because he seems to be suggesting that the terrible preview is miscasting it by just showing the broad comedy I hope so, because I like Ron Howard and the cast enough to want it to be good.

    The other major opening is The Green Hornet, and buying a ticket for this is a gamble on whether the January release date is Sony dumping the movie or grabbing a slot where they will have the IMAX and 3-D houses for three straight weeks. The things that make me nervous abot this one are also what makes it interesting - for all "Seth Rogen, crimefighter!" sounds ridiculous, he's apparently made sure to tailor the script toward his director and co-star, and I'm very curious to know what a Michel Gondry superhero movie looks like. The question is whether or not to see it in 3-D; from reading reviews, it seems that the exact same scenes are convincing people that 3-D is either optimal or a disaster.

  • Only one film opens at Kendall Square this weekend as they keep potential award contenders in place (sometimes by a thread, with 127 Days playing once a night for a second straight week): Leaving (or, in the original, better-sounding French, Partir), which features Kristin Scott Thomas attempting to leave her bourgeois husband Ivan Attal for the more exciting Sergi Lopez. For a while, I found it kind of amusing and telling that Thomas has more or less moved to France over the past few years, grumbling that there just aren't many parts in English-language movies for a woman of a certain age, a look at her IMDB page shows that she's basically been going back and forth across the Channel for her entire career.

  • The Brattle Theatre opens Steven Soderbergh's tribute to Spaulding Gray, And Everything Is Going Fine, and runs it through Thursday. Soderbergh is taking films of the famed monologist and cutting them into one virtual performance, after having previously worked with the late Gray on Gray's Anatomy. In a different sort of post-mortem story, Gaspare Noe's Enter The Void plays late shows - 9pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; 8pm Monday. Note that although the print calendar lists the full 3-hour director's cut, apparently the only print of that in North America is in New York this week, so the theatrical cut (which runs a mere 161 minutes) will be playing instead. On Sunday afternoon, there will be a special presentaiton of the documentary Zeitgeist: Moving Forward.

  • The main shows at the Coolidge - The King's Speech and Black Swan - stay the same, with I Love You Phillip Morris moving to the 14-seat "GoldScreen", but there are some special features to check out. The winter horror series of late shows continues with Dead Snow, a Nazi-zombie movie with a major debut to Evil Dead 2. I didn't love it when I saw it a year and a half ago, but that was on a screener in my living room versus a crowd at the Coolidge. That's midnight tonight and tomorrow; Saturday night also has a midnight show of The Room. Saturday morning has a kid's show of Babe, and Sunday morning is the "Talk Cinema" screening of Bride Flight.

    The Coolidge is also running a selection of short films that played the Sundance Film Festival in 2010; the only one I've seen is Don Hertzfeldt's "Wisdom Teeth", but that's worth the price of admission on its own. Here's the list of what's included. It's a nice warm-up for the actual 2011 Sundance Festival, which even those of us who sure aren't going to use precious vacation time to go someplace even colder and snowier than Boston can follow, with five movies playing on demand and the Coolidge hosting a special screening of My Idiot Brother on the 27th (and yes, I don't mind telling you about it now as I already have my ticket).

  • Speaking of one-night screening events that I already have tickets to, the Fathom Events presentation on Thursday (20 January) is Gantz, an adaptation of the ultraviolent manga. That's roughly 75% cool, in that it's a fun comic with crazy action, and this showing is actually roughly concurrent with the film's Japanese premiere. That it's being made by the director of the cute Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror is also amusing. The uncool 25% is that it's being presented dubbed. Honestly, who wants that? This is a likely hard-R sort of movie whose main market is people who buy chunks of comics that they read right-to-left for authenticity's sake. We can handle subtitles.

  • The MFA has final screenings of Typeface and A Walk Into the Sea this afternoon and evening, but the bulk of the week will given over to The Boston Festival of Films from Iran. The festival runs from today (14 January 2011) to roughly the end of the month, with Mondays and Tuesdays off.

  • Yamla Ragla Deewana is the Bollywood film opening at Fresh Pond today - or at least, the one with English subtitles. It's apparently about a Canadian-raised Hindu who learns he has a con-artist family in Varanasi, only to become entangled in his new brother's romance with a pretty Punjabi girl. That's not including the two Tamil-language and two Telegu-language films playing various times without subtitles, of course - I only track what I have the slightest chance of understanding.

  • The second-run shuffle has The Social Network hanging on at most of its venues despite being out on video already, so those of us prone to procrastination still got a chance to see it on the big screen. The Somerville Theatre picks up The Tempest, which merits a second chance, while the Arlington Capitol gives Megamind some 3-D matinees. I hope they do the same for Tangled in a few weeks; I wouldn't mind seeing that in 3-D again.

My plans: Maybe get to that first night of Enter the Void tonight, especially if doing so means I have 23 nominations per category at tomorrow's Chlotrudis nominating meeting rather than 22. Get to a cheap-ish AM showing of Green Hornet in 3-D Saturday or Sunday morning. Fit in a couple award contenders in between then and Gantz on Thursday. Catch the Sundance shorts. Maybe actually for real start watching the screeners I've had piling up for the past couple years.

This Week In Tickets: 3 January 2011 to 9 January 2011

The first full week of the new year was, in fact, a full week:

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: The Matsugane Potshot Affair (Friday, 7 January 2011, 7pm, at MIT E51-151) and A Gentle Breeze In the Village (Saturday, 8 January 2011, 7pm, MIT E51-151)

One more reason why I hold that Making Lists Is Stupid: The time spent working on This Year In Tickets over the past few days could have been used on full reviews of these films, many of which seem to have terribly little written about them.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 January 2011 at the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché)

Todd Haynes's first feature is interesting, and in some ways seems to be making a concerted effort to be interesting. It draws its inspiration from the works of playwright and novelist Jean Genet, and intercuts quotes from his work while switching between three apparently unrelated stories that take place in different time periods. The stories are not just different genres, but vastly different styles: "Hero", the story of a young boy who apparently killed his abusive father and then flew out the window, presents itself as a television documentary; "Horror", wherein a scientist disfigures himself and fears spreading this disease, as a 1950s B-movie pastiche; and "Homo", a tale of love and jealousy in a 1940s prison, recalls Ken Russell's more historical pictures.

At the time, Haynes was considered more of an artist than a filmmaker, and his ability to mimic these various styles is impressive, especially since what he's doing is not merely empty, mocking parody, but solid storytelling, coaxing convincing performances out of his cast, especially in "Hero". As co-editor, he also does a fine job of moving us between stories despite how potentially jarring the transitions could be.

Strangely, though, even though time is divided relatively equally between the three strands and the entire film clocks in at just under an hour and a half, it still drags a bit about midway through. All three segments start to grind at about the same point, which means that there's no relief going from one to another for a fifteen or twenty minute stretch.

Cluny Brown

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 January 2011 at the Brattle Theatre (20th Century Fox 75th Anniversary)

I wish it were possible today for movies to end like Cluny Brown: The last five minutes (if that) are (1) the moment that you have been waiting for since meeting the two main characters, (2) a quick "happily ever after", and then (3) an equally quick last gag. Then "The End" comes up and you go home satisfied, with no endlessly scrolling credits.

And the ninety-odd minutes that get us to that point aren't bad, either. We know, from the very start, that sparkplug Cluny Brown (Jennifer Jones) does not naturally fit the sort of world where one's role is very much determined by the sex and economic class of one's birth, and we know that Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer) is instantly smitten with her. Cluny must, however, remain oblivious of this so that she can have an awkward courtship with the local chemist (Richard Haydn) who is entirely wrong for her, so that we can laugh at this Jonathan Wilson's priggishness, Belinski's annoyance, and Cluny's misplaced enthusiasm.

This is the sort of thing producer & director Ernst Lubitsch did so well; farce that has its participants exaggerated but not outrageous, with one joke following another in orderly sequence in a way that pokes fun without ever seeming mean-spirited.

All Good Things

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 January 2011 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

I certainly hope All Good Things was inspired by a true story, not because I would necessarily wish any of the events of this movie on real people, but because the existence of it then makes some sort of sense. It's a story that features almost every sort of weirdness you could want from a thriller - a writer must take a look at the machinations of the last act and think he would never get away with all that if he made it up.

But, wow, does it not pull together. Director Andrew Jarecki does not see this insanity and dive head-first into it like, say, a young Brian De Palma. Instead, he tries to go the "chilling because of the seeming normality" route, even after the normality is well and truly done away with. Ryan Gosling doesn't help; his character is completely lacking in personality, displaying just the briefest flashes of charisma necessary to get Kirsten Dunst's to fall for him. Dunst is OK, which likely makes her the best part of the movie. She's at least not a sad waste like Frank Langella and Phillip Baker Hall, showing up to collect paychecks between projects where they're probably great additions to the cast.

Matsugane ransha jiken (The Matsugane Potshot Affair)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 January 2011 in Room 151 of MIT's Tang Center (Nobuhiro Yamashita retrospective; projected crappy video)

Most of the people who came out for this retrospective were fans of Nobuhiro Yamashita's previous film, Linda Linda Linda, and thus likely found this off-kilter mix of crime and family rather odd. As screwy Japanese movies go, though, it's almost straightforward in plot: Hikaru (Takashi Yamanaka) accidentally hits a woman with his car, and while she's initially believed to be dead, it turns out that she and her boyfriend are looking to recover a box of lost gold.

It's a straightforward plot, but Yamashita and his cowriters build an intriguingly tight set of relationships around Hikaru, his brother Kotaro (Hirofumi Arai), the rest of their family, and the small town that they live in. At times, it seems like two stories awkwardly tied together, and while they don't necessarily come together to become one larger story, it does present a perfect feeling of how a tight-knit community or family can create pressure on a person.

One thing I do wonder about is the sound mix, which tended to emphasize background noises to a strong extent; a lot of the times what was happening just off-screen is almost louder than what's going on right in front of us. This may be the relatively lousy source being projected, though - the subtitles on the legitimate DVD were apparently lousy, so an alternate source was used, one which had a lot of pixelization, so maybe the mix was screwy, too.

Tennen kokekkô (A Gentle Breeze in the Village)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 January 2011 in Room 151 of MIT's Tang Center (Nobuhiro Yamashita retrospective; projected DVD)

A Gentle Breeze in the Village is likely closer to what one might expect of the director of Linda Linda Linda, in that it's another coming of age story, but it also shares a fair amount of DNA with The Matsugane Potshot Affair in that it focuses on the denizens of a very small town, so small that the elementary and middle schools consist of single rooms in the same building, more than enough for the community's seven children. The tiny size of the community is a crucial part of the story, in that Migita Soyo (Kaho) finds herself attracted to Hiromi Osawa (Masaki Okada) not just because he's a good looking young man, but because he's the only person in town close to her own age - which also means that there is almost inevitably pre-existing ties between their families.

It's an intriguing set-up, although one that Aya Watanabe's screenplay perhaps doesn't take full advantage of. As good as the young cast is, Kaho in particular, it feels a bit constraining to limit things to Soyo's point of view. The end also feels a bit rushed - there's one thread that just takes up time without a resolution, and while the very end may be honest, it perhaps deserves a little more elaboration.

Still, the film as a whole is a clever look at growing up in miniature - the small community lets us see every piece of the social web that touches Soyo and how they interact.

Season of the Witch

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 January 2011 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

Man, I hope that this turd doesn't deter anybody from seeing Black Death when it comes out in a couple of months. They're superficially similar - dark ages knights heading through unknown territory to deal with a witch accused of being behind the plague - but Dominic Sena doesn't have the directorial skill of Christopher Smith, Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman combined aren't as awesome as Sean Bean for this sort of role, and let's face it... Witches aren't nearly as scary as witch-hunts, as we use the term in the modern sense.

(Similarly, it's tough to get really worked up over the preview for The Rite if you've already seen The Last Exorcism, or so I've found.)

Still, I think that even if you don't have trouble with the whole supernatural angle, it's not a particularly thrilling movie. It starts off goofy, with Cage's Behmen and Perlman's Felson going soldiering in the Crusades for a dozen years before seeing an innocent woman get cut down, at which point, whoa, wait a minute... No-one said anything about people getting hurt in this war! The party escorting The Girl (Claire Foy) is a pretty standard-issue group, and the final twist is a dud.

Black Death will be hitting theaters in a couple of months, so wait for that. It's a lot better.

The King's Speech

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 January 2011 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run)

The previews for The King's Speech make it out to be a very narrowly focused film about a man with a stammer who gets help from an unconventional therapist so that he can give a rousing speech to lead his country during World War II. It is that, of course, but the speech impediment turns out to be the least interesting thing about Colin Firth's "Bertie" - while watching him learn to get his words out is very nice, the reasons why he must are more interesting. This is the story of a good, but timid, man who becomes a reluctant leader because he has a sense of duty that his brother (Guy Pearce) lacks.

And, of course, he's surrounded by sensible people - Geoffrey Rush's Lionel Logue, of course, but also his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter). Rush gets the flashy, funny role, and he makes the most of it, playing up the exaggerated lack of bowing and scraping but also letting us see how quietly impressed he is, respecting the man rather than the office. And it's an almost-unfamiliar joy to see Carter in a good role - she's seemed to be in nothing but Harry Potter and Tim Burton freakshows for so long that one can be forgiven for forgetting that she is capable of playing something other than a Living Dead Doll.

PoisonCluny BrownAll Good ThingsSeason of the WitchThe King's Speech

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This Year In Tickets: 2010

The official position of Jay's Movie Blog is still "Making Lists Is Stupid", so I'm offloading the year-end round-up to eFilmCritic. It's still not really a top ten list - it has 27 entries, goes back and forth between good and bad films, and is restricted not to films with an official 2010 release date, but covers anything I happened to see last year. Thus, it is probably the only year-end round-up you'll find on-line that includes three silent movies, digressions on how much fun it is to read Raymond Chandler, and contrasts I Am Love and The Good, The Bad, The Weird (no, I'm not letting go of that anecdote any time soon).

So, go read This Year in Tickets: 2010 over there, and then come back here for a quick rundown not of which movies I saw, but of where I saw them.


Back already? Well, here we go:

Landmark Kendall Square: 57 tickets

That number is boosted a little bit by the Boston Underground Film Festival - 17 films in seven days - and a little by seeing all three parts of Red Riding there one long Sunday. That this is on top is not surprising - if you live in the Boston area and like foreign/independent films, Kendall Square is your workhorse theater, with nine screens, fair warning on when things are only likely to run a week, and things tending to be handled pretty professionally.

An amusing statistical oddity is that, once you take the BUFF screenings out of the equation, which screens I see things on aren't close to evenly distributed. Somehow, I never saw anything on screen #8 at all, and over half of the remaining forty were either on screen #4 or screen #9. The latter, I get - I tend to see a lot of stuff last-minute, and so it's often migrated to the smallest screen - but I'm not sure why twelve of my forty non-BUFF trips there wound up on one particular screen. I'm guessing that's where the new releases tend to go, but not the big ones.

Brattle Theatre: 42 tickets, 10 for double features

Not necessarily all tickets - there's an IFFBoston show or two in there, as well as stuff like CineCaché where I don't necessarily get a ticket. Every time I go, I consider myself lucky to have the Brattle, a fantastic place to increase one's knowledge of film as a whole and see movies in the environment for which they were designed.

Concordia University, Theatre Hall - 43 "tickets"

Plus 31 at Salle J.A. de Seve across the street, and one at Place des Arts. Fantasia mades up about 22% of the movies I saw in a theater this year, which is a lot to cram into three weeks. And I'll likely do it again this year, and this time I'm going to go back to working in the office a little less and getting around the city a little more.

Somerville Theater - 40 tickets

I believe that all but one of those is special event related, whether it be SF/35, the Alloy Orchestra, IFFBoston, or the TerrorThon. It wasn't until November that I just went there to see a first-run movie, Love and Other Drugs. I suspect this will change in the new year, as they are on my way home from the new office space and have the best prices in the Boston area.

AMC Boston Common - 40 tickets

Roughly half of those are "AM Cinema" tickets that cost $6 (plus any 3D or "Imax" surcharges), because I am cheap thrifty. Unlike Kendall Square, these are pretty evenly distributed, although there are probably spikes around the 3D-equipped screens.

There's also some interesting outliers in what you'll find there; it's not just the mainstream stuff, but a few independent flicks, some foreign films (the Millennium movies all played there, for instance), particularly stuff aimed at the local Chinatown audience.

Stuart Street Playhouse - 13 Tickets

11 of those were for the Boston Film Festival, because I have a really hard time giving bad habits up.

Stuart Street is really the most frustrating Boston-area theater. It's a very nice room and lobby, the folks who work there are friendly and helpful, the snacks are reasonably priced, and I absolutely never go there because, despite proudly proclaiming themselves to be the only art-house theater in Boston proper, their programming is less adventurous than their neighbors on the Common (because it's a lot easier to take chances on one screen out of nineteen than one screen out of one) and their prices are still pretty high - $8 before 4pm, $10 after. That's especially irksome considering that these are often second-run films, stuff I've already seen somewhere else.

I wish I had good advice on how to make the place more enticing other than just being close. A friend suggested playing to the Chinatown audience (perhaps with cheap double-features one night a week) or the college kids. I think they need to update their website in a more timely fashion (it's often impossible to know what's playing that evening if you check the site on Friday morning). I hate the idea that a place like this perhaps can't be profitable, but I worry about it seeing 2012, quite honestly.

Coolidge Corner Theatre - 9 tickets

That's kind of crazy, to be honest - I think of myself as going there far more often, I know a bunch of people who work there, and I really like the place. I'm definitely going to get more value out of my membership this year.

Harvard Film Archive - 8 tickets, one for a double feature

I wind up going to the HFA in spurts, as they tend to have one or two programs be quarter that draw me in, and whenever I do, I think I really should get a membership and save some bucks. But, looking at the numbers, I don't really go all that much. Of course, if I had a membership and movies there cost a few bucks less, that would change the calculus, wouldn't it?

Regal Fenway - 9 tickets

Expect this to go up a bit in the new year, as I think their 3-D prices are a bit better than Boston Common's, their afternoon prices are about fifty cents less, and they are an easier walk home. The new RPX screen is also pretty nice, although I suspect it will take a particularly special occasion to get me to go there rather than the furniture store.

Entertainment Cinemas Fresh Pond - 4 tickets

Two Indian sci-fi musicals, two pieces of crap. I may go there more often this year, either because the Bollywood stuff continues to intrigue me or because they have decent prices and my new route home will have me changing buses at Alewife anyway, but probably not that much - it's got a lot of rooms set up in an unappealing fashion, with aisles down the middle and screens too high in narrow cinemas. It's a sad example of how partitioning large theaters can make for really crappy small ones.

Still, as much as I didn't like Echo's Pond and Ca$h!, I like the idea of them grabbing movies that don't fit the big multiplexes or the boutique houses well. Just find better ones (I have no idea why they haven't had the AfterDark HorrorFest there for the past few years). When I first moved to Cambridge, I went to this place all the time, but the new theaters that opened up at Fenway and Boston Common were worth the extra dollar. To get me to come back regularly, these guys are going to need interesting movies.

Institute of Contemporary Art - 4 tickets

Half for IFFBoston, half for Oscar shorts. I love going there, because the set-up of the theater is one of the coolest you'll ever see - curtains come down to block out the panoramic view of the harbor, and the suspended screen gives a sense of unreality - but they don't have many film programs.

Jordan's Furniture Reading - 4 tickets

The premium local movie theater experience, with the big, genuine IMAX screen, TempurPedic chairs, and individual "buttkicker" subwoofers for each person in the audience. The place to see big movies, although the trip to and from can eat the day.

Lincoln Center - 4 tickets

Done on one day, for the New York Asian Film Festival. I must admit to being a little disappointed at the move from the IFC Center, which is more conveniently located (or at least, it is for people taking the bus in from Boston). The AC was also going full-blast that day, too.

Museum of Fine Arts - 4 tickets

Like the HFA, I find myself going in spurts, as the programs grab my interest. I probably would have gone twice as often, truth be told, if they would program a few more screenings - just last week, I was talking to someone grumbling about how it was almost impossible to see Summer Wars there if you had a job.

That I missed the closest bus stop entirely on at least two occasions is entirely my fault, though.

New England Aquarium - 4 tickets

I love going here, either for the cool science docs they run during the day or the second-run IMAX films they run at night. Although, wow, they do keep some of the latter running for a long time. I was pretty sure that they would swap Inception out for Harry Potter 7.1 either when Tron: Legacy hit the other IMAX screens or Inception hit video, but so far, no plas to change that.

AMC Harvard Square - 3 tickets

One would think it would be higher, as they're an easy ten minute walk from me and a little cheaper than the other national-chain theaters, but the thing is, while the main screen is big and very nice, the other four have issues - as either converted balcony or backstage areas, they have funny shapes (the "balcony" theaters have the seats angled to face a larger screen) and spotty projection.

Chinatown Gate - 2 tickets

Well, shows, as "Films at the Gate" is an outdoor event that encourages audiences to grab snacks at local eateries before setting up in a vacant lot or park. It's always a cool event (weather permitting).

Paramount Center - 2 tickets

Despite some warnings about the Bright Screening Room, I like this new addition to the Boston film scene quite a bit; ArtsEmerson is curating interesting programs, including attempts to expose kids to a broader variety of film.

Two suggestions to those heading there, though: (1) There's no concession stand, so the nut roaster across the street is your friend. (2) If it's on video, sit fairly far back. That's good advice everywhere, but The Azemichi Road really didn't look great from my perch fairly close to the front.

Regent Theater - 2 tickets

Both for Spike & Mike shows. Prior to this year, I had no idea Spike & Mike was still a going concern; I though that its disappearance was one of the main motivations for Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt starting The Animation Show. The Regent is kind of a nifty venue, but their film programs are irregular, so you have to watch their site to see if anything good is scheduled.

Apollo Theater - 1 ticket

Easily the coolest place I've ever seen a movie, and likely the coolest place I ever will see a movie. I could kick myself for not getting my ticket earlier, as I wound up pretty close to the aisle rather than the center. When a publicist sends you information about a new silent film playing one night at a legendary venue with an amazing group of musicians accompanying, well, that's one of those situations where you should see the ticket confirmation email in your inbox an hour later with no clear memory of actually ordering it, because doing so is an entirely involuntary reflex action.

Arlington Capitol - 1 ticket

... and that was back in January. That will go up this year, as the 350 bus I'll be taking home from work starting in two weeks runs right past it, they've got an ice cream shop, and the prices in general (and 3-D in particular) are more than reasonable.

Liberty Hotel - 1 screening

There are a number of video-based screening series in the city, and I don't keep up with most of them because they're video and not always easy to get to. I got a specific invite to this one at the Liberty Hotel (an IFFBoston sponsor which is actually a former prison), and... well, I've got no idea what happened to the series afterward. It was a nice idea in a nice spot, but I was never really sure who it was for; it didn't have an "open to the public" vibe, but I don't know if the guests at the hotel are really going to be down for unreleased movies.

... and there you have it, 330+ movies saw before we even get into video (which wouldn't add that much; I almost don't know what I even own a Blu-ray player). I'm half-tempted to make averaging one movie seen in a theater per day a goal for the new year, but , well, that would be nuts. So, of course, I'll probably end up doing it anyway.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 7 January 2011 - 13 January 2011

Hollywood likes to get into the new year slowly. Expand some awards contenders (or would-be awards contenders) from their small New York/L.A. qualification runs, put out stuff that has been sitting on the shelf for the better part of a year, and maybe give something a quick re-release to re-establish its awards buzz while also pushing the imminent video release a bit. Next week, things start to move a little more, but for the most part, we're in the January/February doldrums.

  • It doesn't just seem like I've been seeing previews for Season of the Witch for a solid year; the first trailer appeared back in November 2009; I believe a March 2010 release was initially planned. This sort of delay can mean a lot of things, from a bad movie looking for a slow weekend to contract clauses related to Universal selling their Rogue label to Relativity Media, and I half-suspect Relativity is looking to get it out before Magnet's similarly-themed Black Death. Still, it's Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman in a Dark Ages action/adventure, and even in bad movies, Cage seldom turns in a boring performance.

    The other large opening is Country Strong, which apparently had a qualifying run last month. I don't know if that will get it much notice for things other than "original song" - the trailer makes it look like a pretty basic "musician with addiction problems" movie (I'm tempted to make that a genre tag) - but that's not nothing. I'm a little curious, because I like Gwynneth Paltrow (this may be an excellent reason to get to that DVD of Duets I bought because I like her and Huey Lewis but never watched), wonder if Garrett Hedlund can do better than Tron: Legacy with a director who specializes in dealing with actors, and have enough country music fans in my family to know that Tim McGraw is a big deal.

  • Some more typical expansion happens at Landmark Square. I half-wonder if Blue Valentine would have gotten the attention it did if not for the MPAA initially handing it an NC-17 rating for what is allegedly pretty mild material, even accounting for "Americans panic over sex but not violence". It wound up rated R on appeal, though, so now it's not only opening on a couple screens at Landmark, but two at Boston Common as well. It's a movie about a marriage in trouble with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, who are usually pretty good.

    The other opening at Landmark is Casino Jack, a biopic starring Kevin Spacey as a Washington lobbyist who was the feature of a similarly-titled documentary (Casino Jack and the United States of Money) just a few months earlier. It's also noteworthy for being the final film by George Hickenlooper, who died at the relatively young age of 47 back in October.

  • Hollywood may be serving leftovers, but the Bollywood film opening at Fresh Pond looks interesting: No One Killed Jessica is a crime story based upon an actual case that is apparently getting good notices pre-release. Director Raj Kumar Gupta's first movie was well-liked, and this certainly has the most interesting title of anything coming out this week.

    Another Hindi movie is scheduled to open on the 14th (with a Telegu release coming on the 12th), so this might be a one-week-and-done release or get consigned to spotty showtimes starting Wednesday. In related "foreign films arriving on U.S. shores quickly" news, If You Are the One 2 continues to do fairly well at Boston common; even with four screens worth of new movies coming in, it's hanging around for a third week, albeit only for early and late shows.

  • The Brattle splits their week down the middle. Friday through Monday they are presenting a new 35mm print of Todd Haynes's Poison for the film's 20th anniversary. It was also the film which closed out the fall CineCaché series this Monday, and it's certainly an interesting one. It's worth seeing; though fairly draggy in the middle, it's an impressive early piece of work from a director determined to play with the medium as well as tell interesting stories.

    In contrast, the matinee on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is the last show of the 20th Century Fox series, Fantastic Mr. Fox. This bit of family-friendly stop-motion comedy is the best thing Wes Anderson has done in years (you may decide how much of a compliment that is on your own), with a cast that certainly merits the "fantastic" in the title.

    Tuesday through Thursday, in dual commemoration of the director's death and the film's 50th anniversary, the Brattle screens Breakfast At Tiffany's. Not that one needs any sort of excuse to play that movie, but it's as good a reason as any. More Blake Edwards fun can be had on Saturday at 11am, when the free Elements of Cinema show is Edwards's original The Pink Panther.

  • As mentioned last week, the MFA will be rotating Summer Wars, A Walk into the Sea, and Views on Vermeer for the next week. Friday night they add one other art-related documentary to the group, Typeface, about a midwestern print shop and museum dedicated to keeping traditional printing alive.

  • The Coolidge mostly shifts a few things around in their smallest theater (see below), but they start midnight screenings for the new year with Let Me In, the unfairly overlooked Hammer remake of Let the Right One In. I found it an interesting alternate take on the story, and I doubt that all of the people who ignored this fairly intelligent vampire story the first time around did it because they'd seen and loved the Swedish movie. Second chance, folks.

  • The second-run shuffle this week is mostly about The Social Network, which is getting a bit of a theatrical push even though the DVD & Blu-ray come out on Tuesday. In addition to getting a few more showtimes at the Somerville Theatre and Capitol Theater in Arlington (and hanging around at the Stuar Street Playhouse in Boston), it will also get a couple evening shows at the AMC theater in Harvard Square and a screen and the Landmark Embassy in Waltham.

    In addition to shuffling its other films around, Somerville is also picking up Inside Job on a full screen after that ends its run at Kendall Square tonight. The itty-bitty screen at the Coolidge splits White Material and Tiny Furniture.

The plans for the weekend will likely be snow-dependent here in Boston, but I'm going to make a genuine effort to see The Social Network before it hits video (I really mean it this time!), probably on a trip to Arlington that lets me hit No One Killed Jessica on the way back. Similarly, I'd like to get out to Coolidge Corner for The King's Speech, but I've been saying that for the better part of a month, too. Around that, I'm planning on a matinee of Season of the Witch and maybe hitting Breakfast at Tiffany's at some point.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

This Week In Tickets: 27 December 2010 to 2 January 2011

Here's something you don't see every week: A T.W.I.T. page that not only has two new movies starring Jeff Bridges (first-billed in both although, arguably, his younger co-stars should be), but two movies featuring characters named "Beef".

This Week In Tickets!

Pretty good week - two award contenders, and two movies, that while really not great, are at least visually interesting. I maybe would have preferred that Tron not eat the entire day on Tuesday, but you live and learn on that.

Saturday was spent on a day-trip to Maine, seeing a bunch of extended family that, most years, I hardly see at all, but between weddings and family get-togethers, I saw them a bunch in '10. This is a cool thing, really, although it made my holiday weekend movie viewing sluggish. Of course, part of that was just me - I have no idea what I did with December 31st, although I do recall looking up and realizing that grocery shopping was going to have to be put off if I wanted to get to Phantom of the Paradise. It was that kind of lazy long weekend.

So, this closes the book on another year of movie-going. I'm planning on writing up a "This Year in Tickets" piece for eFilmCritic this weekend, and will have some stats up here when it goes up. The 2010 weekly planner isn't quite as ready to burst as 2009's was, but that is in large part the result of switching to a model that is able to take being stuffed full better. I note that I have pretty much failed on my "watching the backlog" resolution from last year, but I'm going to try again anyway - look for a "Fantasia in January" series soon. I'm also going to try and check out more of what I can find online; the new laptop makes it a much less painful experience than trying to feed things through the SlingCatcher.

The theaters I go to will probably shift a bit, as my employers are moving offices from Waltham to Burlington this month. I probably won't go to the Burlington Mall AMC very often (unless its suburban prices are much better than the city's), but I suspect I'll be hitting the Arlington Capitol a lot more, as new bus route will make it and Fresh Pond places that are on my way home, rather than out of my way. It'll also leave me less time to write, though, as I won't have the nearly one hour on the same bus that I do right now.

But, that's a couple weeks away. In the meantime, here's my last movie of 2010 and my first of 2011:

Phantom of the Paradise

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 December 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (20th Century Fox 75th Anniversery)

You look at the description for Phantom of the Paradise and you know it's going to be screwy: Brian De Palma doing a glam-rock version of "The Phantom of the Opera" with diminutive Paul Williams as the villain. Even taking that into account, this is a seriously screwy movie. Fortunately, it's the sort of screwy that is energetic as opposed to just weird.

Rock impresario Swan (Paul Williams) is about to open a new club in New York, The Paradise, but he needs a fantastic opening act, and what fifties throwbacks The Juicy Fruits are playing just won't cut it. He hears a great piece from singer/songwriter Winslow Leach (William Finley), but rather than actually doing business with him, swipes the sheet music, starts auditioning singers, and throws Leach out of his house and into jail when he tries to clear things up. Leach escapes, is deformed, and makes a deal with Swan to have the talented Phoenix (Jessica Harper) sing his music - although Swan opts for a rocker who goes by "Beef" (Gerrit Graham).

Laid out like that, Phantom sounds ridiculous, and that's before seeing the slapstick details and truly bizarre last-act left-turns that things take. De Palma's screenplay really makes almost no sense whatsoever, especially where Swan is concerned. Sure, there is a certain purity in being completely evil, even when being honest - or even merely extortionate - is clearly of greater benefit, but if the idea is even partially satirical, then De Palma overshoots the mark by some distance. Then he heaps some more silliness on top, but, hey, at this point, there is no point in being less deranged.

Full review at EFC.

True Grit '10

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2011 at AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run)

No individual movie is truly necessary, but few recent films have likely seemed as unnecessary as a new adaptation of Charles Portis's novel True Grit. At least, until after one sees it; at that point, having Joel & Ethan Coen apply their distinctive voice to this particular story seems the most natural thing in the world, and the movies would be a poorer thing without it.

Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is a fourteen-year-old girl, but who else is going to put the affairs of her recently gunned-down father in order? Her siblings are younger than she is, her mother is certainly not up to it, and her head for sums and determination means she will likely be taking control of the business anyway. It is not just money that concerns her, though - she wants Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man responsible, to hang, which means hiring a marshall to track her down. Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) is described as the meanest in the territory, which appeals to her, even if he is a fat old drunk. Their party is crashed by Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who wants Chaney for the murder of a Texas state senator, but even with their combined experience and determination, catching Chaney will be difficult - he has fled into Indian Territory and allegedly hooked up with Lucky Ned Pepper (Barry Pepper).

This initially seems a very talky western; Mattie's years-later narration is initially plentiful, and there is a wonderful bit of black humor that comes from the last words of three men about to hang. We see Mattie's talents as a hard (and pushy) negotiator, many jokes are made about how LaBoeuf (pronounced "La Beef") does like to run on, and even Rooster turns fairly chatty after a bit. The words come in big, chewy chunks, the sort that gives the audience a clear indication of the level of education nd sophistication the various characters have (or wish to project). More often than not, the exact words are not nearly so important as the grammar and way it rolls off the tongue.

Full review at EFC.

Tron: LegacyRabbit HolePhantom of the ParadiseTrue Grit '10