Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Boston Underground Film Festival 2011 Day 2: Machete Maidens Unleashed! and The Twilight People

Friday night turned out to be my wimp-out night: I think I nodded off a bit during The Twilight People, and then when it finished, I looked at the half-hour plus until Wound started and had a hard time mustering enthusiasm. After all, I didn't watch it at Fantasia, didn't have any idea whether the title was referring to an injury or emotional state, and, hey, I may have missed an important plot point in the last movie (inasmuch as The Twilight People had important plot points) by being asleep.

Nothing to do with it looking a bit past the amount of nastiness I was looking for. Nope, no sir.

Machete Maidens Unleashed!

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

I wonder where Mark Hartley's next stop will be. Hong Kong? Thailand? Indonesia? After spotlighting the exploitation cinema of Australia in Not Quite Hollywood and the Philippine Islands in Machete Maidens Unleashed!, there must be other spots on the Pacific rim that he can give a look-in. Machete Maidens Unleashed! is maybe a little less informative than Not Quite Hollywood, but it's certainly one of the more energetic movie-history docs you'll see.

As the opening narrative crawl tells us, the Philippines had a thriving film industry throughout much of the twentieth century. Starting in the 1960s, and especially the 1970s, it became a popular place for American exploitation filmmakers for its combination of skilled professionals, cheap labor, and varied environments. Roger Corman's New World Pictures, in particular, shot many of their most famous pictures there, sometimes with American directors like Jack Hill, other times with local talent like Eddie Romero.

Many viewers may come away wishing that the film focused more on Romero. His interview segments are fun to watch - he's one of the directors that looks back on his time working with Corman without shame and laughs nostalgically as he recalls making blood & guts pictures. When others talk about him and his work, though, it's with unusual respect; Corman and others describe how his shots would be beautifully framed and lit, and how he would put more effort into things like story and character development than Corman thought necessary (or even really desirable). His career extends many years in either direction away from his American exploitation pictures, and as the movie points out, he is a grandmaster of Filipino cinema.

Full review at EFC.

The Twilight People

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

The Twilight People is one of the movies featured in Machete Maidens Unleashed!, and it's a good example of how well Hartley cut his picture together - the clips of this film in the documentary make it look fast-paced, fun, and perhaps surprisingly good, especially with all the positive words said about director Eddy Romero. And... It's not good. To be fair, it's got potential. Romero shoots the jungle quite well, and there's both some actual tension to the last act and some well-shot action.

The animal people, in particular, are an entirely watchable combination of cheese and restraint; there is a nice blend of bestial and human to them. Nobody but Pam Grier (who has a more or less silent part) would really go on to bigger and better things, but they're mostly adequate. If the first half of the movie were a little better, it might fit solidly into guilty pleasure territory, but it's not quite there.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Boston Underground Film Festival Opening Night: Hobo With A Shotgun

Last year's BUFF opening night film was a bit sparsely attended, which is likely to be expected from a four-hour Japanese movie. That absolutely was not the case this year, where the opener was something that had a bit of a higher profile and would not be such a test for people who had to be at work the next day (such as myself). It also meant that it was possible to get to the opening night party close to the start if one was so inclined.

Not that I was so inclined; work the next day, can't pick out voices in large rooms, don't drink, etc. It was still a good time, though - the movie is a pretty good example of the genre/style it's homaging, and the director and producer who did a Q&A afterward were great and enthusiastic.

Strangely, the movie doesn't seem to be getting much of a release in the USA - it's got booking starting in May, but they're scattered, and the only New England location I saw was in Salem, and that will probably just be for midnights. Meanwhile, in its native Canada, it opened semi-wide (50 screens) yesterday. Those up in the Great White North could probably do much worse this weekend.

Hobo with a Shotgun

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #1 (Boston Underground Film Festival 2011)

Hobo with a Shotgun arrives with one of the most straightforward, descriptive titles for an action movie since Snakes on a Plane. That simplicity serves it fairly well; it's exactly the sort of 1980s exploitation pastiche the name implies, as good as a movie about a shotgun-wielding hobo can be.

Why the hobo (Rutger Hauer) gets off the train near Hopetown doesn't matter, although one might wonder why he doesn't hop the next train out when he sees that the town's name is far from accurate is unclear. As soon as he arrives, he sees local crime boss Drake (Brian Downey) and his sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) executing Drake's brother as an example to the populace. When one of the boys tries to rape a hooker (Molly Dunsworth), he steps in to make a citizen's arrest. The whole police force is on the take, though, so he's beaten and mauled, the word "scum" carved into his chest. Soon, he snaps, and instead of getting that lawn mower he's always wanted, he gets himself a scattergun and starts rampaging.

From the opening titles on, the filmmakers create a fairly dead-on recreation of bloody action flicks from the old school. They never specifically place things in the eighties with gratuitous pop-culture references or nostalgic musical cues, but the Miami Vice fashions that the villains favor and the eight-bit games in the arcade place us in that time period, or at least its frame of mind. Many pieces will seem immediately familiar - the crowds overlooking a vacant arena, the gratuitous blood and nudity, and the goons that are one step away from being supervillains (or at least their henchmen). Blood and gore are all over the place, with main characters bleeding a lot but soldiering on while the body parts of of minor characters more or less explode when struck.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 March 2011 - 31 March 2011

It's festival time! Two noteworthy festivals begin in Boston tonight (well, one in Boston and the other in Cambridge, and the one in Boston soon moves to Somerville, but you get the general idea), and unfortunately it's hard to make both of them, let alone the other worthwhile things playing this weekend.

  • The bigger festival is The Boston Underground Film Festival, in its lucky thirteenth year. The annual orgy of strange and transgressive cinema will be occupying to screens at Kendall Square, and it's actually possible to see every feature there with a little effort - the only things not having repeat showings are today's opening night screening of Hobo with a Shotgun and Lucky McKee's The Woman on Friday (the 25th). Other notable features (to me, at least) are Indonesian exploitation documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed (paired with an example of the genre, Twilight People); Chop, from the writer of Deadgirl; two bits of madness from Japanese cult directors in the shape of Sion Sono's Cold Fish and Yoshihiro Nishimura's Helldriver; recent Chlotrudis honoree Larry Fessenden presenting (and appearing in) James McKenney's Satan Hates You; and Argentinian post-apocalyptic dark comedy Phase7.

    Some of these may not seem totally underground - Phase7, for instance, comes pretty directly from SXSW - but few are likely to show theatrically elsewhere, and the environment can be raucous. For a festival of its size, it's extremely well-run, with a well-thought-out schedule and a great option for those who would like to see a lot of movies for not a lot of money (the $35 "recession special" pass, which gets you into all the encores from Monday the 28th to Thursday the 31st). The films themselves may not be for everyone, but many are surprisingly good.

  • The other festival this weekend is Irish FIlm Festival Boston, which opens tonight (Thursday the 24th) with Parked at the Stuart Street Playhouse before moving to the Somerville Theatre for Friday through Sunday. If you're going, be careful with your schedule; its shows sometimes have about ten minutes of turnaround time in between, which means one starting late can mess up the rest of the day.

  • Just to potentially confuse matters, Kendall Square adds White Irish Drinkers to Kill the Irishman on its marquee. Writer/director John Gray will be introducing/QA-ing the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon shows, but remember - the festival at Kendall is the Underground. Irish is in Boston and Somerville.

  • Also opening at Kendall Square and the Coolidge Corner Theatre is Win Win, a Sundance comedy starring Paul Giamatti about a part-time high school wrestling coach who thinks he has found a way to parlay that into a payday. It's got a nice supporting cast, too, including Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Jeffrey Tambor, and Bobby Cannavale.

    The Coolidge also opens Orgasm Inc., a documentary about shady goings-on at a pharmaceutical company searching for a Viagra for women. A "classic" intersection of horror and blaxploitation plays midnights Friday and Saturday with Blacula. The Goethe-Institut Sunday morning movie is Mahler on the Couch, a comedy about the composer driven to consult Sigmund Freud over his wife's infidelities. And Monday night, there is a special presentation of Gen Silent, a locally-produced documentary about homosexual elders facing a return to the closet in order to get by in the assisted living system.

  • It's a relatively quiet week in the mainstream theaters, with just two new releases. Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch gets a whole bunch of screens, including most of the premiums. It's certainly spiffy-looking, with every frame looking like it was taken out of an exceptionally cool comic; whether there's steak to the sizzle - or just cheesecake - seems to be a different question. For the kids, the adaptation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules appears pretty close to exactly one year after the movie of the first, but what can you do - there's five books in the series and kids grow up so quick. Boston Common also picks up Jane Eyre on a pair of screens, and reduces The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman to one show a day (at an awkward 5:10pm at that).

  • The Brattle, Harvard Film Archive, and ArtsEmerson seem to be handing things off between each other during the coming week. First, the Archive will have Aaron Katz in town on Friday and Saturday; he'll introduce his new film, Cold Weather on Friday and a double feature of his two previous films, Dance Party, USA and Quiet City; the Brattle opens Cold Weather on Wednesday for a five-day run that stretches to Sunday April 3rd. I'm looking forward to this one; Quiet City was pretty good and Cold Weather is described as having a big Sherlock Holmes influence.

    With Katz at the Archive, the Claude Chabrol series moves to the Paramount Theater on Friday and Saturday, with 2004's The Bridesmaid and 1970's La Rupture playing both nights (but not, I don't think, as a double feature). The series concludes Sunday evening back at the Archive, with 1975's Pleasure Party.

    Before it gets Cold Weather, the Brattle has a set of interesting screenings. Friday through Sunday, they will alternate a new print of Sally Potter's gender-bending fantasy Orland with early and late screenings of Black Swan. On Monday, Independent Film Festival Boston hosts a special (and free!) preview of Super, James Gunn's comedy about a loser who becomes a superhero to impress his girlfriend; Gunn will be there for your edification and interrogation. And on Tuesday, the DocYard has director Darius Marder on-hand with Loot, a documentary about World War II vets who stole and hid treasures during their service and the amateur treasure hunter helping them to recover them.

    ArtsEmerson sticks to the classics for their family-friendly Saturday afternoon show, with a pairing of Albert Lamorisse's "The Red Baloon" and "White Mane". On Sunday night, they present their regular Avant-Garde Showcase; "Images of Nature, or The Nature of the Image: Canadian Artists at Work", eighty minutes of experimental short films culled from forty years of Canadian explorations of film and the environment.

    Which just leaves the Archive, who on Monday will have visiting lecturer Dominique Cabrera in person for Folle Embellie, in which a French asylum is evacuated as German troops approach during World War II. Their schedule also lists Ross McElwee present during a VES screening of Bright Leaves on Tuesday the 29th; no guests are expected for Teinosuke Kinugasa's A Page of Madness on Wednesday, which is to be expected, as it is a Japanese silent film from 1927.

  • The MFA wraps up their Francophone Film Festival Friday night (the 25th), but starts the Boston Turkish Film Festival tonight. Twelve different features an a collection of short films will screen intermittently between now and 10 April. There will also be screenings of Mahler on the Couch on Saturday, rescheduled from two weeks previously (the tickets from 11 March screening will be honored), and Bill Cunningham New York, a preview screening of a documentary on the 80-year-old fashion photographer.

  • It's a bit out of the way for car-less people like me, but the Monogamy opens at the West Newton Cinema. It's about a wedding photographer who starts a service in which people hire him to stalk them. Odd. It's only playing two shows a day out there in the suburbs, so it's really being buried. Also out in the burbs, Oxy-Morons continues its unlike run, down to one show a day at 10pm (and weekend midnights) at the Showcase Cinema in Revere.

  • Stuart Street hasn't put their schedule for tomorrow out yet, so the second-run shuffle looks pretty small - Biutiful opens at the Arlington Capitol.

My schedule is pretty simple - I'm at BUFF all week. Say hi if you see me, though I likely won't recognize you. I may try and catch one of the early shows at Boston Common on Saturday or Sunday, or use the open day in my schedule on Wednesday for something else, but I suspect sleep will be a more attractive option.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This Week In Tickets: 14 March 2011 to 20 March 2011

I would just like to say, to all those reading who may have attended the Chlotrudis awards or found the musical number on YouTube, that I did not attempt to nominate The Human Centipede: First Sequence for "Best Ensemble Cast". I haven't even seen the thing!

This Week In Tickets!

(As always, click on the tickets to jump to that film's write-up)

As always, the Chlotrudis awards were good fun, although it's always amusing how the guests never seem to know what they're getting into. Here's the list of winners; it's not a bad group.

Barney's Version

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 March 2011 in Arlington Capitol #6 (second-run)

Looking at the IMDB page for Barney's Version, I find myself much more interested in the little, trivial bits than the movie itself. For instance, ubiquitous Canadian actor Maury Chaykin shows up in a tiny role, presumably just to keep busy for a couple of days. Barney works on the set of a Canadian TV show which stars Paul Gross as an RCMP constable, amusing for those who will always remember him from Due South, and the on-screen directors are played by Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg. The director of the film itself, Richard J. Lewis (no, not the self-pitying stand-up comic), shows up in a late scene as a pathologist, there to figure out the circumstances of the title character's life.

Clever bits all, and Barney's Version is, by and large, a movie made up of clever bits and pieces that doesn't quite add up to a whole. Part of that's by design; one of the main threads in the present day is how the title character (Paul Giamatti) is losing his memory, which means that there's a very real possibility that the mystery that occasionally pops up is one that can never be solved (only Barney knew, and now that's going). Nifty idea, almost no execution. And then there's the set-up in the past, which interestingly does interesting things with Barney's first two wives - a wonderfully acted of betrayal and guilt in Rome, and a perfectly stifling picture of Barney retreating into conformity in Montreal - which gets us to the meet-cute with Rosamund Pike's Miriam and the possible murder. That's a nifty way to get the movie to a very conventional place.

The conventional place is where the movie spends most of its time - Barney becomes a blandly jealous and inattentive husband, Miriam is better than he deserves, and neither their courtship nor the eventual collapse of their marriage is nearly as interesting as what got the movie there.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2011 in AMC Boston Common #13 (second-run)

One thing Paul has going for it: It's back-loaded. The end of the movie features a bunch of snappy gags leavened with a little bit of earned sentiment, pop culture gags that actually work, and generally snappy back-and-forth that almost feels like the movie was shot in sequence and the cast and crew have finally clicked. That more likely means that I as an audience member have just gotten used to director Greg Mottola's and co-writers/co-stars Nick Frost's and Simon Pegg's rhythms. Well, that and the start of the movie being a bunch of tired "look at the nerds" bits.

The end winds up being impressive enough to more than make up for the start, and it's a pretty slickly-produced movie to boot. The gray alien of the title looks pretty good for a mid-tier comedy, and Mottola and company come up witha good look for the movie that gives an idea of the grandeur of the American west but also feels like a movie as opposed to the real thing, a nice compromise for a film that is in many ways a love letter to genre flicks.

Barney's VersionPaulThe Butcher, the Chef, and the SwordsmanI Saw the DevilI Will FollowChlotrudis Awards

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Will Follow

I made a bit of an effort to get through the entire review of I Will Follow without mentioning the characters' skin color. I'm not really proud of that; in the twenty-first century, that should be more or less irrelevant information, but we're sadly not quite there yet. Still, it really wasn't that hard to do; the only real temptation I had to mention it was when describing Beverly Todd's character; she reflects an archetype of elderly women, sure, but she makes me think of older black women in movies specifically. It did seem a bit unusual to have this old black lady talking about U2 as opposed to some 1970s soul group, and the character of her daughter did make a bit of a point about it, but soon after that, the point dropped. That the bulk of this film's characters are African-American became a part of the backdrop, not a point of contention.

I mention that here both because I like that sort of approach to race and because, for all that I Will Follow should be a thoroughly accessible movie to anybody who cares to watch it, that the cast is predominately African-American (as, I presume, are the filmmakers) does play into how it gets seen. I don't think it's quite so bad as it used to be - the other day, a friend was telling me about how movies with black stars and filmmakers always got shown in Boston's worst theaters (I wasn't here then, but in Worcester, they always wound up at the Main South Showcase Cinema, and opened on a Wednesday, with the reason given being that it spread the gang presence out). Part of that may just be unfortunate demographics - if a city's black population is centered around crappy neighborhoods, well, crappy neighborhoods tend to have crappy theaters. Of course, if it's because the bookers presume that correlation, that's a different thing.

I wouldn't be too surprised if some of that still goes on; my gut feeling is that a small, independent film with the themes of I Will Follow is more likely to play boutique theaters if it's in Japanese than if it has a black cast. My gut feeling, of course, is almost certainly wrong; I'm pretty sure that if I went over what opened at Landmark Square over the past year, I wouldn't find a whole lot of movies like I Will Follow anywhere, no matter what the demographics; that particular sort of indie just don't play much, period. And while movies with predominately African-American casts do show up, they don't seem to be

Still, I do find myself glad that the group involved in the release of this movie - the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement is around and appears to be one of many that has struck a deal with AMC. It's not as ambitious as some other film series - the website has them releasing a modest two films a year - but it's a useful one, I think. I don't personally have any sort of obvious stake in seeing more African-Americans represented on screen, but if I'm going to say I want more good movies of any stripe or origin to get seen on the big screen, that absolutely includes things like I Will Follow - and if a good movie like this needs some sort of push to get in front of audiences, I'm glad for any help it receives even as I regret any need for it.

I Will Follow

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 March 2011 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run)

Ava DuVernay's I Will Follow is a fairly traditional independent film of a certain type: A close, quiet examination of family ties and other relationships, the sort made with a small budget, a single location, and the desire to do something real. That can be a recipe for tedium or self-indulgence, but that's seldom the case here, in large part because there's just as much warmth as turmoil.

Maye Fisher (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) has been putting this day off - it's time to pack up her house and move. Only it's not really her house - she's spent the last year caring for her aunt Amanda (Beverly Todd), who has finally succumbed. Some of Amanda's things have been donated to a music museum in Seattle (she was a session musician), but Maye hasn't touched her room yet - she's waiting for Amanda's daughter Fran (Michole White), who arrives with teenage son Raven (Dijon Talton) and two other kids in tow. They clash, as usual, and Maye is also playing phone tag with her ex-boyfriend Brad (Blair Underwood).

Although she doesn't make a formal, stylistic point about it, DuVernay builds this picture as a series of people ostensibly playing against Salli Richardson-Whitfield's Maye. Richardson-Whitfield is in nearly every scene, although no matter whether she's alone or talking with someone else, Amanda is usually there too, invisible but always in the back of the characters' minds. It's an impressive shadow to cast, as DuVernay doesn't show us much of the larger-than-life figure that Amanda must have been in her prime; Maye's flashbacks are to a woman who, while likely being caught on a good day, is shrunken and weakened; it's through the way everybody else talks about her that we feel her loss.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Asian exodus: The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman and I Saw the Devil

I hadn't meant to do back-to-back Asian films Saturday afternoon, but you know how I said yesterday that work would have to screw me over but good for me to miss I Saw the Devil on opening night? Maybe work didn't quite screw me over, but the afternoon was spent looking at the bus app on my phone, seeing yet another one pass, and growing more fearful that I would not catch the one I needed.

One thing I couldn't help but notice yesterday afternoon was the large number of walk-outs. The couple that left I Saw the Devil was perhaps to be expected; it establishes itself right off the bat as not being for the squeamish and considering how crowded the room was, someone was going to object to it. Announcing that they were in the wrong movie loud enough for the rest of the auditorium to hear seemed to be poor form, though.

The walk-outs for The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman were a bit more of a head-scratcher, though. Maybe not on their own - it's a weird, screwy movie that doesn't always succeed in what it sets out to do, and the folks in the audience who looked like they might have come from nearby Chinatown looked like a bit of an older crowd. I know I'm painting with several broad brushes here, but that audience can be fairly conservative, and Wuershan's style is anything but. What's interesting to me, though, is that this isn't the first time I've seen this happen at a Chinese movie - What Women Want and (to a lesser extent) If You Are the One 2 both had a fair number of people leaving as the film went on. At least, I think they did - my memory isn't perfect. Still, I sort of wonder if this may be a cultural thing; are Chinese and Chinese-American audiences less likely to stick through a movie they don't like all the way to the end than others? It's something to watch out for next time.

One interesting thing to note is that China Lion does seem to have given this movie a bit more of a promotional push than some of their previous releases. I noted back in December that If You Are the One 2 seemed to have snuck into American theaters, while this one had previews, English-friendly posters, and partnerships with comic shops. Part of this is selling an action-adventure versus a romantic comedy, I suppose (though the L.A. Times writer who lumped Boston in with the "potential fanboy audience" could perhaps have done a little more research), but the harder push is noted and I hope it eventually pays off - they may not have yet released a movie that I've loved, but when they do, it's going to be great seeing it on the big screen rather than waiting and hoping for a festival showing or English-friendly DVD release.

Dao Jian Xiao (The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2011 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run)

The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman certainly doesn't lack for style; it's got more styles than you can shake a stick at. At times, overwhelmingly so - though the movie is often quite funny and exciting, director Wuershan might have been served by a little more clarity and a little less flourish.

The title characters each have their own story, united by a cleaver made of black iron. The Butcher (Liu Xiaoye) is smitten with a lovely courtesan, Madame Mei (Kitty Zhang Yuqi), but even if such a lowly person were to be allowed near her, he would have to fight his way past the brutish "Big Beard". A grotesque eunuch with a reputation for killing those whose cooking displeases him is coming to sample a chef's signature eight-course meal, so the chef (Mi Dan) chooses a mute but talented kitchen servant (Masanobu Ando) to be his apprentice. And Fat Tang (You Benchang), a village blacksmith who was once the kingdom's greatest swordmaker, is approached by a swordsman (Ashton Xu) who wishes him to forge him a blade out of a lump of iron melted down from the weapons of five great warriors.

The nested telling of these stories is actually very well-done, which is not the case for many movies that tell multiple stories and jump around the timeline. Wuershan and his co-writers (working from a short story by An Changhe) make this feel like the natural way to tell the tale, and the relationship of characters and events is always fairly clear, even when we're four levels deep in flashbacks and unreliable narrators. The frantic cross-cutting, switching of film stocks, and stylization is a good match to the film's broad, zany sense of humor. It's a movie filled with broadly defined and played characters, occasional fourth-wall breaking, and the sort of mugging for the audience that can seem unsophisticated but which are a direct descendant of the Chinese opera which occasionally shows up in the movie.

Full review at EFC.

Akmareul Boatda (I Saw the Devil)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run)

A colleague of mine described Kim Ji-woon's last film, The Good, the Bad, the Weird, as an attempt to make an action movie with nothing but the Good Parts. Kim brings that same attitude to I Saw the Devil - it's like a serial killer movie that starts at the moment when others kick into high gear, and then keeps going for nearly two and a half hours. It's dark, bloody, and intense, not for the weak of heart (or stomach), but electric nearly all the way through.

We open with Jang Ju-yeon (Oh San-ha) in a car with a flat tire, on the phone to her fiance Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun), an officer in the Korean equivalent of the Secret Service. A tow truck is on the way, but a seemingly helpful man offers his assistance. He is Jang Kyeong-chul (Choi Min-sik), and he is a serial killer. In the aftermath, Soo-hyeon tells his boss that he only needs a couple weeks off from work, but instead of grieving, he intends to hunt Ju-yeon's killer down, but not just to kill him - Soo-yeon means to terrorize Kyeong-chul the way he terrorized his victims.

This is a bad idea, and to director Kim's and writer Park Hoon-jung's credit, it's obvious as a bad idea from the start, but it's also seductive and the sort of thing that fits Soo-hyeon's character more as we see more of him (and seeing him demonstrate his skills as the movie goes on reinforces our hopes that he can pull this off even as the situation threatens to spin out of control). Without waxing overly philosophical, the story ponders a bit about the psychology of serial killers, and even throws in a side plot that could work as its own movie to push that along. The movie is in post-plot-twist, anything-can-happen mode practically from minute one, without much time for untested righteousness, and the tale is told through action rather than hand-wringing. We don't see Soo-hyeon agonizing over his questionable actions, we just see situations where his thirst for revenge may get innocent people killed.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 March 2011 - 24 March 2011

What we have here is a week in which I clearly have to stop whining about how my new commute messes with my moviegoing and start finding ways to work around it, because there's a ton of stuff that looks like it might be worth seeing and a clear reason not to put it off.

  • Of all the nifty things opening this week, I'm probably most excited for I Saw the Devil, the movie with the one-week warning at Kendall Square. It's the new thriller by Kim Ji-won, who did the excellent A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Here he reunites with the star of the last two, Lee Byun-hun, as an obsessed detective who digs deep into his own dark side while chasing a serial killer (played by Oldboy's Choi Min-sik). Director Kim makes great movies, and this one is said to be dark even by Korean revenge thriller standards. It's only booked for one week, so don't miss it.

    At the end of the week, Kendall will play host to the Boston Underground Film Festival, which starts on Thursday the 24th and runs for a week thereafter. The opening night film is Hobo with a Shotgun, which started as a fake trailer made in a contest to promote Snakes on a Plane and became enough of an internet sensation to spawn this feature starring Rutger Hauer as, shall we say, an avenger who literally has nothing to lose.

    Also opening this week at the Kendall are Of Gods and Men, in which a group of French monks must decide whether or not to leave their monastery in war-torn Algeria; and Kill the Irishman, a true-crime story starring Ray Stevenson and a whole bunch of recognizable names/faces (Val Kilmer! Vinnie Jones! Vincent D'onofrio! Christopher Walken! Linda Cardellini!). And, oh, yes, two screens for Jane Eyre.

  • Jane Eyre also opens up at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Early on, its previews and advertising got some negative buzz from English lit crowds for making it look like a horror movie, but I've got to admit - it's some of the most effective advertising for a period/literary classic I've ever seen. An impressive cast (Mia Wasikowska, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins, Judy Dench, Michael Fassbender) and direction by Sin Nombre's Cary Fukunaga doesn't seem to hurt, either.

    The midnight show Friday and Saturday is a no-doubter horror movie - a spiffy new print of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead. Even though the sequels are likely better known and more popular, calling this one "the ultimate experience in grueling horror" wasn't just tongue-in-cheek; it's a tense, well-executed example of the genre that is actually able to benefit from its raw young director and cast. There are also a couple of preview screenings on tap: Monday the 21st's "Science on Screen" feature of Transcendent Man with director Barry Ptolemy and subject Ray Kurzweil has already sold out of pre-sales, but there will be some on sale at the box office (free for Coolidge members) on Monday. Thursday night features a preview of Orgasm Inc., a documentary on the search for a "woman's Viagra" which played last year's Independent Film Festival Boston and opens for regular screenings on the 25th. Filmmaker Liz Canner and several others will bet here for a Q&A after the movie on the 24th.

  • Three movies get wide releases today, all of which at least look to have potential. Paul, for instance, features the team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the leads, and since only sad, humorless people don't like Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz, that's a good start. Now, to be fair, this one is directed by Greg Molotta rather than Edgar Wright, and by its nature is going to feature a lot of nerd comedy (two Brits on a road trip to ComicCon meet up with a real alien), so it may not be for everyone.

    The other science fiction-ish wide release is Limitless, which plays to one of the more obnoxious pseudo-science things that people keep repeating despite there being little evidence ("we only use 10% of our brains; imagine if we could unlock it all!"). Still, it's got Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro, which is also a good start, and if the filmmakers can handle superintelligence well (and creating a capable character more intelligent than oneself without giving him an obvious psychological blind spot is one of the hardest things for a writer to do), it could be something pretty impressive.

    A more conventional thriller opens as well in The Lincoln Lawyer, with Matthew McConaughey starring as a lawyer who works out of the back of his car possibly getting in over his head with his latest case. It looks like a solid mystery/crime story, it's got a pretty great supporting cast, and McConaughey can be pretty good when he's on his game.

  • Over at Boston Common, they've got a few other screens to fill out, including a day-and-date premiere for China's The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman. It is, arguably, the thing a lot of us have been waiting for since China Lion started doing these same-day releases in the USA: A big, crazy action movie, with people punching and kicking and chopping at each other with swords and knives (the thing that China does better than pretty much anybody else), and I gather this is more quirky and stylized than many period epics. 20th Century Fox and Doug Liman are "presenting" it, and if that gets people in the door, great.

    Also opening is I Will Follow, a drama about a grieving woman starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield. Ebert likes it, and the bottom of his review mentions that it's part of a series, the "African Film Festival Releasing Movement", placing these movies directly in theaters without a studio (I think it may be another AMC-supported series).

    And, finally, they've got Lord of the Dance 3D for a week, which actually opened yesterday and is also plalying one show a day at Fenway (though at 4:25pm). It's easy to joke about Lord of the Dance, but you know what? It's replacing Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D on most screens. Take that as you will - improvement, same thing/different demographic, whatever.

  • The Brattle and Harvard Film Archive each continue their celebrations of Famous French Film Folks. At the Brattle, it's a week of Belle Toujours: The Films of Catherine Deneuve - A Christmas Tale and The Hunger (digital) Friday, 8 Women (digital) and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg for a musical double feature on Saturday, Time Regained on Monday, Dancer in the Dark on Tuesday, and a double feature of Repulsion and Belle de Jour on Wednesday. The Harvard Film Archive presents more Murderous Art of Claude Chabrol, with This Man Must Die and Betty on Friday, Le Boucher and Innocents with Dirty Hands on Saturday, and Story of Women on Sunday. Color me kind of shocked that these two series don't intersect anywhere, but the pair only worked together once.

    The Archive also features Promised Lands by Susan Sontag on Monday night (the 21st), while the Brattle has a sold-out Henry Rollings show on Sunday night and the Boston Cinema Census, showcasing recent locally-produced films, on Thursday (the 24th).

  • The MFA began their Francophone Film Festival last night, and it continues through next Friday, with eight different films from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Haiti, Tunisia, Chad, and Mali.

  • The ICA brings back the Oscar-nominated short films for animation and live action for matinees on Saturday (the 19th).

  • The Regent Theatre wll have Winston Churchill: Walking with Destiny, a documentary by Richard Trank, Monday the 21st through Thursday the 24th. After the film, historian Daniel J. Moulton will be answering questions.

  • Saturday and Sunday (the 19th-20th), the Somerville Theatre offers a double feature of Robocop and The Terminator on their big screen. It's two days only (tonight, the room is used for a concert), with Blue Valentine reclaiming a screen on Monday. AMC, meanwhile, will be digitally projecting Taxi Driver in their Harvard Square and Boston Common theaters on Saturday the 19th and Tuesday the 22nd.

  • The second-run shuffle is quiet this week, with Stuart Street adding Biutiful to its daily screenings of True Grit and Inside Job. They also host the opening night of Irish Film Festival Boston on Thursday the 24th with Parked, featuring Colm Meaney as a man living out of his car whose life turns around when a young man in a similar situation parks next to him. The Irish Fest will continue through next weekend at the Somerville Theatre.

  • And, finally, the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film will have their annual Awards Ceremony on Sunday (the 20th). 5pm at the Brattle Theatre, with Larry Fessenden on hand to receive an award for all he's done for independent film - both highbrow (Wendy and Lucy) and horror (The Last Winter, etc.). The members vote on the awards, and I'm one, so there will be at least some small amount of sanity to the process. It's a fun, laid-back event that Boston fans of independent film should enjoy.

My plans? I Saw the Devil tonight is non-negotiable (and with the 8:10 start time, work would have to screw me over but good for me to miss it), and I will likely go for The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman, Paul, and some Chabrol tomorrow. The Lincoln Lawyer will be in there somewhere, as I got in on those $6 Fandango tickets on Groupon (sorry, it's expired), and I may wind up doing two movies a night at Kendall Square to catch up before BUFF eats next week.

And Thursday is nasty - I've already got my BUFF pass, but if I get any inkling that Hobo with a Shotgun will play Boston elsewhere, I might head to Stuart Street for Parked instead. This "two festivals in one weekend" thing wasn't funny when Boston International Film Festival decided to overlap with IFFBoston, and it's not terribly amusing now.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

This Week In Tickets: 7 March 2011 to 13 March 2011

I strongly suspect that Adrianne Palicki will never have as perfect a role as she has in Women in Trouble and Elektra Luxx, and I suspect that Sebastian Guitierrez's annual movie with Carla Gugino at SXSW this year suffered for her absence:

This Week In Tickets!

Not only was Saturday the only time I got out to the movies last week, it was also (just) warm enough throw a steak and potato on the grill outside. And I finished the book I've been reading for what seems like the last month. Sometimes, you've just got to power through 300 pages of people playing games in a casino with the author acting like the cards have some sort of spiritual component beyond chance to get to what one hopes to be the sci-fi action at the end.

And then, you go to a midnight movie, daylight savings time hits, and Sunday is gone right before it starts. But, hey, look at Saturday:

Battle: Los Angeles

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 March 2011 in AMC Harvard Square #5 (first-run)

It's a good thing for the world at large that things arranged themselves so that I wouldn't have time or inclination to write a full review of Battle: Los Angeles. Not that it's quite so bad as the reviews on EFC (especiall) and elsewhere have it; rather than the affront to God and Man some paint it as, it's just an old-fashioned war movie, with aliens substituted for terrestrial villains so that it can be set in present-day Los Angeles.

I'm not sure whether that makes it bad satire or bad science fiction. As science fiction goes, it really is head-thumpingly awful, falling apart as soon as you apply even a few seconds of thought to it: It actually pulls out "aliens are attacking Earth for its liquid water supply", which is so idiotic that even Star Trek Voyager backed away from it after the pilot. And I'm not sure where "bad science fiction" and "bad tactics" ends, but I don't get why these aliens did a ground attack first, and then went for aerial bombardment. If you're looking to crush a relatively ground-bound civilization, pulverize them from orbit, and keep your command & control center there, rather than underground. From orbit, you've got a clear line of sight to all your units, human defenses have a hard time hitting you, and you're way less vulnerable to a plucky group of marines sneaking in and wreaking havoc.

Maybe "satire" isn't quite the correct word for what this movie might have been going for, if the idea was to show gung-ho American audiences a role reversal ("hey, now you're the ones watching your homes be leveled by a technologically advanced enemy who wants your resources! Sucks, doesn't it?"). If that's where the filmmakers are going, they're being awfully subtle about it, and maybe undercutting themselves with the ending. I don't expect them to be quite so bleak or on-the-nose as, say, Brian Wood's and Riccardo Burchielli's comic DMZ, but playing this as a chance to do a war movie without getting into politics could be seen as a bit of a missed opportunity.

Not that there's anything really wrong with that; without actually glorifying war, it's a fine environment for telling stories of duty, sacrifice, et al, and the cast here is pretty good. It's just a shame that, despite it's sci-fi trappings, it winds up being so generic in execution.

Elektra Luxx

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 March 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

Although Elektra Luxx is being released in markets where Women in Trouble didn't play theatrically, and you can probably follow along well enough without having seen the other one. And despite it picking up on threads from that movie, that may be the best way to see it - that way, the viewer won't be thinking of how much better the first one was.

We open on Bert Rodriguez (Joshua Gordon-Levitt) lamenting the retirement of Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino) on his porn-oriented vlog. Elektra is pregnant, see, and though she's not ashamed of her old job - she even teaches a course on how to spice up one's marriage at the local community center - it's not the life she wants any more. She's about to get an odd reminder of it, though - Cora (Marley Shelton), the flight attendant who was in the middle of a tryst with the rock star father-to-be when he died (really, see the first movie) arrives and offers her the lyrics he was going to use for his next album (all of which are about Elektra) if she'll help assuage her guilt by seducing her fiance. Meanwhile, Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki), one of Elektra's old co-workers, is heading out on vacation with her best friend (Emmanuelle Chirqui), which has the potential to be awkward because Holly's starting to think she may want to be more than friends.

Though the title implies that this movie will focus solely (or at least primarily) on Elektra, that turns out not to be the case; both Bert's and Holly's stories go their own way without intersecting very much. That's a problem, because all three are decidedly not created equal: Bert's segments are filled with tedious, played-out jokes about bloggers who present themselves as experts but live with their parents and have nothing outside their obsessions, and neither Bert nor Holly gets nearly as much good material as Elektra. That's as it should be - she is, after all, the title character - but if their stories are going to be such slight reflections of hers, then maybe writer/director Sebastian Guitierrez shouldn't spend so much time on them.

Full review at EFC.

Gone with the Pope

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 March 2011 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (@fter midnight)

Gone with the Pope is a genuine oddity, shot in the mid-seventies in whatever time and supplies writer/director/star Duke Mitchell had available. Being shot on such a shoestring, finding money for post-production was similarly difficult, so it was still uncompleted when Mitchell died in 1981. The footage sat in his garage for nearly a decade and a half, when his son mentioned it to Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski. Murawski spent another decade and a half piecing it together between other jobs. The result is, quite honestly, terrible, but give it credit - it's memorably terrible.

It opens with one group of gangsters plotting to kill another; they hire Paul (Mitchell) to do the job. Just released from prison, he'd really like to just spend time with Jean (Jenne Hibbard), an old girlfriend who's now a rich widow. But he figures this is a way to make some money to help his friends Luke (Jim LoBianco) and Peter (Peter Milo). Eventually, he comes up with a scheme of his own, where they will sail to Italy and kidnap the Pope (Lorenzo Dardado), with an affordable enough ransom: One dollar from every Catholic in the world.

That's a reasonably clever hook, actually; or at least it seems clever enough that it's initially frustrating that the movie spins its wheels for half its running time before actually getting to Rome and getting started on it. In actual practice, though, it's not so exciting; the actual kidnapping is not a particularly memorable caper and what follows does not turn out to be a thrilling battle of wills or chase or the like. It's almost as if Mitchell had the idea for the story and jumped straight from that to shooting, eventually getting many bits that didn't add up to an actual plot.

Full review at EFC.

Battle: Los AngelesElektra LuxxGone with the Pope

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cinemath - Multiplex Loyalty and Indie Films Programs

Last week, Bloody-Disgusting.com announced a partnership with AMC to debut at least one new horror film per month. A few days before that, AMC and Regal formally announced the formation of a distribution company, "Open Road Films", that would acquire and distribute roughly eight to ten independently-produced but mainstream-friendly movies per year. Dating back to last October, AMC has a relationship with China Lion Films to open roughly one Chinese film per month the same day it opens in China.

Meanwhile, AMC is also replacing its loyalty program, which previously offered awards every five films seen, with one that offers $10 back on every $100, including money spent at the concession stand, while also offering other benefits. In most markets, this change kicks in at the end of the month. These two sets of developments are likely unrelated, although I do find it somewhat interesting that the theater chain I go to most often (they have 24 of the 67 screens in metro Boston) is making this shift while at the same time investing heavily in independent films.

Most large theater chains have loyalty programs now - visit the theater so many times, or spend so much money, and get a free ticket, popcorn, or soda (or, as is the case with AMC's new program, flat cash value). Their presumed main function is right there in the name - by offering better perks, you'll go to their theater rather than another when the choice is there. The new program is potentially a less rewarding one, value wise, especially if you don't spend a lot at the concession stand - $10 for every $100 is an easy 10% to figure out, whereas the previous program would alternate between soda, popcorn, and tickets every five tickets. Figure a soda is $4, a popcorn is $5, and a ticket is $9, and the average reward is $6 per $45 spent, or a bit over 13%. Of course, if you are spending as much at the concession stand as tickets, you were only getting 6.5%. Considering that these awards expire, that's not necessarily a bad payout for getting the audience to see a movie at your theater rather than the one down the road (or, as I've seen in Manhattan, directly across the street).

However, I suspect that in many cases this may actually be a secondary purpose, especially now that nearly every chain has a rewards program. After all, if you've got a card for every theater in your wallet, and they all pay out at roughly the same rate, you'll still get bonuses at the same clip, just spread among theaters. So I suspect that AMC expanding their program to include concessions may indicate that these offers serve another valuable function: They can be market research goldmines.

Now, admittedly, this may just be a case of my work history giving me a skewed perspective - as a student, I worked in a theater and saw first-hand what a crazy profit margin soda and candy has there, and my day job in the present is taking information that has been generated for one purpose and reporting on it for someone else entirely. But let's face it - while you only have to give out some basic-but-useful information when you sign up for one of these programs (age, sex, address), you're almost inevitably asked to complete a survey that nets the chain much more (income, race, marital status, preferred genres, etc.).

There is tremendously useful information to be mined from this, especially for a large chain that has other ways of gathering data. If they find that a certain type of movies attracts high-income customers, that's useful (especially when they're selling advertising time before the show). If they find out that, say, the Bloody-Disgusting series is regularly drawing people with ZIP codes 40 miles west to Boston, they might consider expanding it to Worcester. Combine the two, and you can find spots on the map that are ripe for expansion. Heck, you can compare the movies people say they're anticipating in your survey with their actual buying habits to adjust the tracking information you purchase from other sources.

From the theater's perspective, though, probably the most important information doesn't have much to do with demographics: It's which movies translate into the most popcorn sales. After all, that $10 ticket doesn't do a whole lot for the theater. They may keep one dollar's worth the first week (with the other nine going to the studio) and though the split becomes more favorable to the theater as weeks go by, only the really big hits stick around for much more than a month or so; the studios have gotten very good at front-loading a movie's box office. But the popcorn and soda are almost pure profit; the small $5 popcorn is, what, a dime's worth of corn in a bag that costs five cents? That's where they make their money, and when you present your rewards card at both the box office and concession stand, it takes a half-decent database guy something like five lines of SQL to figure out which movies are doing the sort of business that really matters.

By and large, there probably won't be a whole lot of variance, but the outliers might turn out to be spots where a theater or chain can really help themselves. For instance, kids' movies sell cheaper tickets, but if you sell $2 more per person in snacks for tickets where you keep twenty cents less per capita, you're doing all right. If you're finding that people in Harvard Square buy 30% less in snacks when seeing action-adventure movies than people at Boston Common, you know where to open your next action movie. And while the numbers likely aren't quite that definitive, every little bit counts, especially when the studios are squeezing the exhibitors in every way they can.

Which brings us back to the start, with AMC and Regal forming a distributor and picking up more independents besides. I'm going to go out on a limb, but I'm going to guess that China Lion does not get the same sort of deal Paramount gets; they need the theaters much more than the theaters need them, rather than vice versa. And while the theater gets to keep more of the box office for those films, there's a good chance that the concession money fluctuates more (what with the relatively small sample size) and is more important: At the end of the year, if the "Bloody-Disgusting Presents" movies and Chinese movies are doing about the same ticket sales, but one is selling more popcorn, I strongly suspect the latter is more likely to have their relationship with the chain continue.

One thing I am very curious about is how much effect all this gathered information will have on Open Road. Specifically, if Open Road's acquisitions guys have a number of movies they're looking at, will questions of which one (based upon similar movies in AMC/Regal's ever-expanding database) is more likely to sell the most popcorn be more important than, say, which one is likely to have a long life on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming?

Heck, just given the company's ownership, will they act in odd ways, like setting an unusually low split? Which is better for AMC and Regal - if they were to go nuts and set a 50% split, the chain that sells each ticket ultimately gets 75% minus overhead, a far cry from the 10% they get now. Will these movies have an unusually long window between theatrical release and home viewing options? Will the theaters be able to use individual acquisitions as leverage against mid-range studio films?

This is probably more interesting to me than it really should be, as I don't own a theater, and I suspect that there's a fair amount of people reading this somewhat horrified at the very idea of there being a big database somewhere that tracks not just your moviegoing history, but what snacks you bought for which movie. Heck, as much as I don't really feel that I can object to this without being a hypocrite, the notion that ultimately the movies available for me to see will not be chosen on great direction, or even projected box office, but the likelihood that the people going will buy the large soda rather than the small is a little bit worrisome.

This is a business, though, and the more information a business has, the better decisions it can make, and the less likely we'll be seeing theaters close down. And if getting this sort of granular data means that chain theaters start to find that the screen they've got showing foreign and independent films is deceptively profitable, we all benefit.

And, hey, now that we've got the whole thing laid out here, maybe we can use it to our advantage. Certainly, from now on, I'll only be purchasing a popcorn and soda at movies where I'm really enthusiastic, or which are part of a series I'd like to support. The flicks I'm just seeing because I'm bored that afternoon and they looked okay, I can wait until later.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 11 March 2011 - 17 March 2011

Last week was fun at the movies! This week can be fun, too, if only because so many of the same movies from last week are still playing!

  • I kid, a little. It's a good week at the multiplex if you like fantasies of various stripes. Battle: Los Angeles looks like it could be a sci-fi action movie with all the obligatory set-up and predictable story arc bits that such things usually stumble over cut out, just skipping straight to the action. Granted, if its alien-invasion scenario were a little more well thought-out, this might be a very short movie as any alien force capable of crossing the stars to attack the Earth would obliterate us from orbit instead of jumping straight to a ground war, but, hey, that wouldn't be quite so much fun.

    There's also no intelligent life on Mars, but I suspect that's not very important for Mars Needs Moms. It looks like it could be a fair amount of fun, though, and as a fan of Bloom County, anything that gets Berke Breathed paid is okay by me. It's one of those motion-captured animated films build for 3D, and is also moving into the IMAX screens at Jordan's.

    And, finally, there's Red Riding Hood. Honestly, I don't have much trouble with the basic idea behind this, but the execution just looks... not very good. And, geez, what is it going to take for Amanda Seyfried to show up in something I want to see again?

  • One thing that I am looking forward to seeing is Elektra Luxx, which opens at Landmark Kendall Square. I enjoyed the heck out of Women In Trouble, the previous film with the title character - a porn star who has to rearrange her life after becoming pregnant - when I saw it at SXSW two years ago, so I'm happy to see the follow-up. The first is streaming on Amazon and Netflix right now if you want to check it out before seeing Elektra Luxx, but by all appearances it should stand alone pretty well. It's got a great cast, and anything that gives us Carla Gugino in a lead role is OK with me.

    Also opening at the Kendall is Heartbeats, the second film from French-Canadian writer/director/actor Xavier Dolan. I didn't love his first, I Killed My Mother, quite so much as some friends did, but he's got some talent and he's ridiculously young (he turns 22 in a week or so), so even if this is only decent, it will make me feel like I've done very little with my life. It's the movie officially tagged "One Week Only!" at Kendall Square this week, although I wouldn't assume Elektra Luxx or last week's held-over one-week booking, Poetry, are in for a longer haul.

  • The same goes for The Last Lions, which opens on the big screen at the Coolidge theater after having been at the Kendall for a week already. It's majestic and beautiful jungle cats, narrated by Jeremy Irons, and maybe a bit more pointed than the upcoming Disney doc on the same subject. Jane Eyre is on the schedule for next week, and there are some special engagements using the big screen on Monday and Thursday, so see it while you can. Also opening this week (in the video rooms) is Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune, a documentary on the passionate but troubled musician.

    The Monday special is Breakfast at Tiffany's, which absolutely earns its designation as a "Big Screen Classic". There will be a Holly Golightly costume contest before the screening. Thursday's special is a live broadcast of Frankenstein as directed by Danny Boyle. It's sadly sold out, although it's worth following @coolidgecorner to see if any more tickets will become available. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the Creature and Jonny Lee Miller plays the monster, although the roles will be switched when they do this again on April 4th.

    The midnight movie this weekend is Gone with the Pope, in which a gangster plots to kidnap the pope and ransom him for "a dollar from every Catholic in the world". Goofy premise, and the execution should be interesting, as it was shot in 1975 but apparently didn't finish post-production until last year (15 years after Bob Murawski started trying to put the pieces together). The monthly screening of The Room is at midnight on Friday (isn't it usually Saturday). There's also a Talk Cinema screening of Win Win on Sunday morning at 10am, and early birds can also bring their kids to 10:30am screenings of Looney Tunes on both Saturday and Sunday.

  • There are a number of live events at the Brattle this weekend - a conversation about "Death and the Powers" Friday evening, the Women in Comedy Festival on Saturday, and a premiere screening of FIddles, Fiddlers, and a Fiddlemaker: Childsplay Live, a concert documentary about a group that plays violins by the same instrument builder (Bob Childs, hence the name). There will be a reception afterward. Tuesday night, three may or may not be guests for the DocYard presentation of David Wants to Fly, in which a German director comes to America to meet David Lynch and learn about Transcendental Meditation.

    Around those, the Mental Machines series finishes up over the weekend, with a screening of the 2003 Battlestar Galactica miniseries on Friday night and Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence on Sunday (note: Minority Report has been canceled due to a distribution issue). I'm particularly excited to see A.I. on-screen again, as I tend to feel it got a bum rap because the real and excellent Spielberg movie couldn't possibly compete with the imaginary Kubrick movie it was constantly compared to.

    On Wednesday, the Brattle starts their next repatory series - Belle Toujours: The Films of Caterine Denueve with a double feature of The Last Metro and Mississippi Mermaid. It continues Thursday with Le Sauvage, and then through the next week.

  • Over at Fresh Pond, the Hindi movie of the week is Tanu Weds Manu, which looks like a straight-up romantic comedy. Well, with songs, of course. This is India.

  • The Harvard Film Archive gives us The Murderous Art of Claude Chabrol. The late French filmmaker made entertaining "nouvelle vague" films in part because he never forgot that a murder mystery can be about anything. This tribute runs for the next three weekends; the first set features Les Bonnes Femmes and La Cérémonie (Friday the 11th), La Femme Infidèle and À Double Tour (Saturday the 12th), Les Cousins (Sunday the 13th), and Le Beau Serge (Monday the 14th).

  • ArtsEmerson pays tribute to another famed European filmmaker, Roberto Rossellini, this weekend at the Paramount Theater. Friday and Sunday night, they play Rome, Open City; Saturday night is Europe'51 (aka The Greatest Love), featuring Ingrid Bergman. The latter, according to ArtsEmerson's site, is not on video and seldom-seen; they will be running a rare 16mm print.

    The family program is 1979's The Black Stallion, playing Saturday afternoon.

  • Over at the MFA, the Jewishfilm.2011 series wraps up tonight (11 March) with Mahler on the Couch, a comedy inspired by the idea of the famed composer being driven to visit Sigmund Freud because of his wife's infidelity. Immediately after, they begin a series of New Films From Quebec.

  • The Somerville Theatre busts out an archival print of The Friends of Eddie Coyle for the weekend; this small-time crime picture by Peter Yates is widely considered one of the best movies ever made in Boston. It's only running through the weekend (127 Hours takes the screen back on Monday), and word is that the print is beautiful.

  • Somerville also picks up Blue Valentine, which had been playing at Stuart Street. Stuart Street, in turn, fills that vacated space with Inside Job

Plans? Most likely Battle: Los Angeles and Elektra Luxx, maybe saving Mars Needs Moms for some time on the way home from work. A.I. at least, and most likely Minority Report, even if I do have the Blu-ray on order (benefit of being an usher-level Brattle member: You've already spent the money, so why not check something out on the big screen even if you can watch it any time?). And, depending what fits, hopefully some Chabrol, or getting lucky with Frankenstein.

This Week In Tickets: 28 February 2011 to 6 March 2011

I should start marking the days I made it into the office, the days I got as far as Alewife and just missed the bus, and the days when I realized after looking at the weather or the clock that it just wasn't happening that day, if only so I know why certain weeks are barren and certain other weeks look like this:

This Week In Tickets!

Notice the two different-colored Brattle tickets? Yeah, my Brattle membership card went through the wash sometime last week, and instead of just asking for a new one, I opted to renew my membership early. In between, though, that meant paying full price for a ticket there. Let this be a lesson to everyone - don't just shove things in your pocket when you're done with them, but put them back where they belong. Not that non-morons need this advice, just scatterbrained people like me.

I probably can't reasonably write much more about Metropolis other than to say it remains awesome and I am very glad that I finally got a chance to see it with the Alloy Orchestra. I stupidly waited long enough that the ticket I bought was way the heck in the upper balcony, though not far off-center, and seeing as there are apparently no film prints of the restored cut in the Western Hemisphere, a certain amount of distance isn't a bad thing. Maybe they'll dig up another in the next few months, as there was an announcement before the show that the Alloy will return to Somerville this fall, as the film was sold-out and they'd like to provide another opportunity for us to see it. It's not on their tour schedule yet, but... we'll see.

In the meantime, I'm bummed that my Blu-ray doesn't include that Alloy's score, because I think I like it more than the "official" score on the disc and the one from Montreal. A CD or an MP3 playlist that I could sync with the movie's playback is something I'd pay some cash money for.

Robbery (1967)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 March 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (Tribute to Peter Yates)

Not available on video, and this print was very red, so if it ever does get released in the US, it will have to be taken from another source.

It's a nifty little heist flick, bookended by a pair of very impressive heists, both on moving targets - a car in the beginning, and a train in the end. The car chase is pretty fantastic, and is a large part of the reason Warner Brothers and Steve McQueen would bring director Peter Yates to the United States the next year to direct Bullitt. In between, the movie features the sort of terse, tense character work that another popular Yates movie (at least around these parts), The Friends of Eddie Coyle, is known for - not a lot seeming to happen, but each small scene revealing a great deal about its characters. It's the sort of crime movie that actors must love, with a nice caper structure but lots of chances to bring out little details of their characters.

It's not perfect - the early part of the film spends a fair amount of time building up a character who turns out to be relatively unimportant, and the train robbery feels like a whole lot has been left to chance - but it's nifty, at the very least; good enough that I'd like to see it with the colors intact.

The Adjustment Bureau

* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 March 2011 in Regal Fenway #12 (first-run)

I must admit, I was a little skeptical of this one - the previews make it look a lot like Dark City (only less imaginative); as pretty as Emily Blunt is (and as good as many of the movies she's been in are), she's usually less than captivating; and to be honest, the central premise isn't all that interesting. The question of whether or not we have free will sounds important, but when you get right down to it, it's of little practical use.

Still, the movie is pretty good. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt work very well together; they'd be a lot of fun to watch in a more conventional romance. The supporting cast is nicely put together - even John Slattery, the middle-management "agent", has a comfortable and fresh presence on screen that made his absence notable in later scenes. And while a certain amount of the world-building writer/director George Nolfi does around Philip K. Dick's original short story feels kind of arbitrary, there are some clever bits to it, as well: Not soon after I start feeling annoyed that Damon's David does something unilaterally, Blunt's Elise calls him on it, even though a lot of female leads would let it slide. And what seems like a simple happy ending has a bit of a sour center - it implies that the triumph is less a victory for David and Elise taking what they want than events simply following the course of least resistance, or you can posit that "the Plan" is more elaborate, with the "agent" characters maybe more rooks than pawns, but still just playing pieces to the "Chairman".

And, of course, by "agent" and "Chairman", I mean "angels" and "God". Nolfi manages to make that connection early on without getting too cute about it, and having titular Bureau be angels makes the magic hats seem like a bit less of a goofy random detail (not that I connected hats and halos until this very moment, mind you...). Still, as much as I like the meme going through pop culture recently about how angels are, really, sort of dicks (see also: Knowing, Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica), the movie uses it to set up the "when mankind is left to itself, the world goes to hell; God in charge makes things work" idea. It annoys me in real life, and I think this movie's themes really require contradicting it a bit more.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 March 2011 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run)

For all the well-deserved recent hand-wringing about what a cowardly lot Hollywood studios have been lately, it's good to see that sometimes a movie like Rango can make its way through the system. After all, this thing is not only not based on some existing property, but it's downright bizarre; I'd estimate that roughly once every ten minutes, there's something to make the audience wonder how Paramount, at every stage of the process, would look at John Logan's script, or at the renders coming out of Industrial Lights and Magic, and say "yes, this is the direction we want to go."

It's amazing and to be lauded that they did, though. As much as the weirdness is sometimes off-putting, it's also the sort of thing that occasionally just stops the audience's ability to process dead - when moles riding bats are chasing down lizards in a convoy wagon being pulled by some sort of rodent or chicken, it's just so gloriously strange (though also a darn good action scene) that you've got no choice but to just go with it. The movie is basically a cartoon-animal version of Chinatown, but somehow director Gore Verbinski and company walk the meandering line between slapstick and surreality without often being too clever for their own good.

A Somewhat Gentle ManRobberyEvangelion 2.0The Adjustment BureauMetropolisMooz-lumRango

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Man from Nowhere

Wow, check it out: I ordered a Blu-ray, received it, watched it, and reviewed it. All (except the ordering) within a 24-hour period. This almost never happens. But, I was excited to see this one; I'd started seeing advertisements for it a couple months ago and saw that it featured the son from Mother and the little girl from A Brand New Life, and that's more than enough to get my interest.

It's a pretty darn good movie, although not one for those used to sanitized action. It was given an R rating during its brief US release, and earns it with the sort of violence that you don't necessarily see in today's action movies, which even if they aren't looking toward the PG-13 rating still seem to see the really gruesome violence as the domain of horror movies. Even in R-rated movies, the violence has to be somewhat clean and escapist, whereas in this one, I found myself often looking away.

(Note - more details than you may want in the next paragraph; skip down to remain un-spoiled/un-grossed-out!)

That's not entirely a bad thing, even it does seem in part to be because the jolt needed to shock the audience is greater these days. If we want to really show that a loved one dying messed our main character up, it's not enough for her to be run down by a car - she's got to be pregnant, and crushed, and her husband has to see an awful red liquid that looks even worse than blood flowing from the wreck. It's effective, sure; while a lesser moment might have just registered as a plot contrivance, this lets the audience feel just how badly it hits a person in a visceral way. But, man, I 've got to be honest - I winced the tiniest bit less than I did at That Awful Sound in Dream Home. I shudder to think that, as far as seeing it in movies is concerned, I may someday need worse trauma to have this reaction.

(Welcome back!)

I can't blame Lee Jeong-beom for going there; it ultimately works, even if some of the gross-out bits in the final action sequence are a bit too much. Just saying.

On a related note, Well Go USA's Blu-ray looked very nice, even if the chained bonus material seemed to be a bit odd, and not the greatest quality - I half suspect that the trailers for The Man from Nowhere in the supplements weren't even the resolution you'd find on a standard DVD (or at least, not an anamorphically-encoded one), which was quite strange, considering that the ones that played before the film looked pretty good.

And about those previews... Two were for Ip Man 2 and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. The first one didn't play Boston, and I'd just like to use this platform which may or may not ever be noticed by the distributor to ask that they rectify this with Chen Zhen. Aside from how I want to see it on the big screen, it's worth mentioning that the China Lion-distributed films have done OK here, and even though this wouldn't be on the beat-the-pirates schedule, Donnie Yen is considered a local boy made good around here, with respected family in the area, and his films almost always a part of the Films at the Gate program in the fall. It always struck me as crazy that none of his movies since the Miramax issue of Iron Monkey really got any sort of play here. Fix that!

Ajeossi (The Man from Nowhere)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 March 2010 in Jay's Living Roonm (Blu-ray)

One thing that I've noticed from reviewing Korean movies is that action movies are fairly likely to have the same person credited as writing and directing, whereas in Hollywood (and elsewhere) there will be many more names in the credits. It's an admittedly biased sample, but it perhaps explains why movies like The Man from Nowhere, despite featuring familiar plots and character types, are both a bit sharper and a bit more self-indulgent than their American counterparts - there's no conflicting vision to tone things down. The end result is maybe a bit bloated and gross, but also undeniably thrilling.

It starts with cops staking out a Seoul strip club, waiting for some drugs and money to change hands. Nobody's plans are going well that night, though, as a dancer, Hyo-jeong (Kim Hyo-seo) intercepts the heroin and makes off with it. This leaves the police without anybody in custody and two groups of criminals very angry. Meanwhile, back at her apartment building, Hyo-jeong's daughter So-mi (Kim Sae-ron) is pestering their neighbor Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin). Things come to a head when the crooks track Hyo-jeong down and figure she's left the bag with the drugs in Tae-sik's pawnshop. Just taking it proves difficult, though, as Tae-sik rapidly disarms one thug, and their best man, Ramrowan (Thanayong Wongtrakul), notes that the pawnbroker doesn't flinch at gunshots. Still, they've got Hyo-jeong and So-mi as hostages, so Tae-sik has to play along... right?

In some ways, this is a little (maybe a lot) more complex than necessary. Eventually, writer/director Lee Jeong-beom does reduce this movie to "former assassin cuts bloody swath through underworld to save kid", but at various points the viewer has to keep two law enforcement agencies, two criminal organizations, some small-time crooks, and more straight, mostly in the beginning; at points, he seems to run out of character gimmicks for his crooks, repeating the well-dressed, vain gangster. He also raises the stakes well past showing the audience that these guys mean business - for instance brothers Man-seok (Kim Hee-won) and Jong-seok (Kim Seong-oh) don't just use kids in their business, they harvest organs! And it's not enough to show an occupied car getting pulverized, it's got to leak like a crushed can of tomato puree afterward. In both of those areas, filmmaker Lee could maybe have used another voice suggesting he dial it back.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


It's not often that a movie really gets a chance to sneak up and surprise you these days. Previews are available all over the place, there are specialty websites for just about every genre of film, and even independent films have usually been well-scoped-out on the festival circuit before hitting theaters (if they hit theaters at all, but that's a whole different issue). Still, Mooz-lum managed to reach Boston without much, if any, fanfare; less, even, than the other small film that opened the same week (The Grace Card). Still, it appears to have done well enough to have made it to a second week. It's currently sharing a screen with Unknown, but it's arguably got the prime spot (the 7pm screening).

That's the sneaking up. The surprise comes as the movie starts and the first scene between Evan Ross and Roger Guenveur Smith turns out to be really good. It's not like I expected the movie to be sub-par or anything, but it's not that often that it gets you to sit up and think "hey, this one might be something special". Heck, sometimes even the really good movies don't do that; they may be excellent and affecting, but often, they're honed to the point where they don't surprise at all. There's a slight sense that Qasim Basir is unpracticed, not exactly sure how to get the effect he wants but smart enough not to push it, for what shows up to seem spontaneous and real.

The end result isn't perfect - it's got real problems, in fact; Basir seems to know what he wants his movie to be about but not what he wants his characters to do - but it does its job well enough that as the credits rolled, some of the other people in the audience were asking the ushers how long the film would be playing, as they wanted to push it on their Facebook pages and otherwise tell people to come. That strikes me as an unusually strong emotional reaction - one that may only come from the movie being discovered, rather than served up.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 March 2010 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run)

Mooz-lum opens with "based on actual events", and it does wind up feeling like the sort of the sort of movie that such a label gets applied to. It's well-observed and at times fascinatingly authentic, but also clearly the work of a young filmmaker who may feel the need to grab that extra hook into the audience. Writer/director Qasim Basir is a little rough at points, but he's got good material and gets great results fairly often.

As the film opens, Tariq (Evan Ross) is starting his freshman year at college after having been home-schooled by his father Hassan (Roger Guenveur Smith) for the past few years. He's less than enthusiastic about some of the people he encounters - Cedric (Vladimi Versailles) across the hall made his life difficult back in public elementary school; both Hamza (Kunal Sharma), the Muslim roommate his father insisted upon, and his girlfriend Iman (Summer Bishil), are far less conflicted about their religion than he is; and his sister Taqua (Kimberly Drummond) has decided that this is the perfect time for her and their mother Safiyah (Nia Long) to become a part of Tariq's life again.

There's plenty more going on - a nice girl (Maryam Basir), a challenging professor (Dorian Missick) and the dean (Danny Glover) who doesn't like him, and flashbacks to Tariq's childhood in the early 1990s (which does mean, yes, that Tariq is starting college in August of 2001). It's as if Basir is attempting to fit every detail from his own life and anecdote others have told him in, and at times that makes for an extremely busy movie: There's a lot of flashback time, the culmination of the subplot with Professor Jamal and Dean Francis, and the climax of the 9/11 segment rests not on any of the main characters, but a pair of students we've barely seen.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance

I'm half-tempted to tell the same stories I did back when I saw the first "Rebuild of Evangelion" movie back in August of 2009; I did, in fact, go into this movie with more than a little trepidation; the first was not that great and my memories of that screening and Gantz served as a reminder that, as much as I love Japanese sci-fi and animation, my fellow fans can make for a pretty crappy movie audience. Not always, but when you're used to seeing something in the comfort of your own living room (or on a computer screen in your bedroom), you sometimes take your at-home behavior to the movies.

It was better, this time around - although there was some laughter at bad English-language dialogue in the beginning, the audience mostly behaved. Still more cell-phone checking than usual and one guy in the exact center of the audience needed to hit the restroom twice (seriously, know your bladder and sit on the aisle if that's going to be an issue), but better. It was at least a fairly packed house; niche films like this may not be a great idea for a full week's booking, but two days at the Brattle will net some decent-sized audiences - and more importantly from a theater's point of view, those guys will spend a little at the concession stand; the show started about ten minutes late because there was a line up the stairs for popcorn.

One thing I do worry about with this series (aside from writer/producer/supervising director Hideaki Anno tending more toward his worse instincts than his best ones) is how, for what is essentially a serial, there are some pretty big gaps between episodes. Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone had a 2007 release in Japan; it made it to North America in 2009, roughly the same time this movie hit Japan (I could have seen it at Fantasia last year, if I'd arrived in Montreal a bit earlier; according to my schedule, seeing Mandrill opening night would have left Evangelion's only showing open). Though there's a tease for "Evangelion Q" at the end of this movie, IMDB has that not opening until 2012. Those aren't unusual gaps between films and sequels, especially considering how labor-intensive animation in general is, especially cel-based animation that looks this good, but for a series that is this tightly-connected and makes few concessions to the casual moviegoer, two or three years seems like a long time to go between episodes.

Evangerion shin gekijôban: Ha (Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 March 2011 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement/Premiere; digital projection)

I didn't think much of the first "Rebuild of Evangelion" movie when I saw it a couple years ago, but there might have been mitigating circumstances - the version I saw was dubbed, and it was the first of a projected four-film series, so it had a lot of set-up to do. This second film, You Can (Not) Advance runs somewhat smoother, because it trusts the audience a bit more. Whether it's trusting that the audience is made up of fans who already know what's going on or trusting that they can figure it out, and whether that trust is well-placed, is a trickier question.

As the film opens, humanity is still using giant "Evangelion" devices to defend the earth from attacking aliens, including the leviathans referred to as "Angels" which seem particularly intent on reaching material stored in a base underneath Tokyo-3. The Evas are piloted by teenagers, notably Rei Ayanami (voice of Megumi Hayashibara), the shy pilot of Eva-00, and Shinji Ikari (voice of Megumi Ogata), pilot of Eva-01 and son of Gendo Ikari (voice of Fumihiko Tachiki), the scientist in charge of the defense and part of a larger secret organization. They are joined by Asuka Langley Shikinami (voice of Yuko Miyamura), pilot of Eva-02, a gung-ho teen raised abroad certain that Rei and Shinji were selected for their connections to Gendo while she was chosen on merit.

Many sequels and second parts begin with some sort of recap, or drop in a few bits of dialogue to get the audience up to speed, but Evangelion 2.0 is having none of that. The properties' previous iterations in print and on television were serial, and the films are too, despite the long wait between installments. Hopefully, when all four are completed, the result will be a single cohesive narrative; for now, it means that the movie opens with a scene of a character who is clearly meant to be important but will not be seen again until at least the next installment. The big revelations from You Are (Not) Alone are pushed to the background for now, and the movie ends on something of a cliffhanger (two, actually, once the sequence after the closing credits is factored in). This is clearly a movie and series designed for dedicated fans, who are either going to re-watch the first before seeing this one or have watched it and/or the original Evangelion enough recaps and explanations would just slow them down.

Push the complex mythology back a little, and there's a pretty decent movie underneath. The abrasive Asuka gives the withdrawn Rei and the self-pitying Shinji the necessary kicks in the pants while learning some about connecting with other people herself; it's a straightforward-enough story arc, but it plays out well enough; there's a nice subplot for one of the adult characters, too. And that mythology (in some ways literal; the Angels' name is not completely random) is impressively vast but starting to pull together a little; writer/supervising director Hideaki Anno gives the tale some epic sweep while still grounding it in relatable emotions, and manages to throw in some humor without undercutting the story's high stakes.

The animation is technically superb as well, with the character designs simple but effective. There are some impressive flourishes throughout - little things like demonstrating how an underground city simulates sunrise - and very seldom are there obvious places where Anno and company scrimped (if something on screen is staying still, it's for emotional impact rather than to save money). The integration of digital work with the predominately traditional animation is very impressive; only one object (one of the Angels) really looks like a digital construct in a hand-drawn world. The action is staged very well indeed, no matter whether it's the tremendously fun (but still tense) battle where all three pilots have to work together or the more wrenching sequences near the end).

For all that, Anno's picture still has some serious flaws that might yank non-fans right out while reinforcing certain prejudices against anime in general: The gratuitous (and occasionally underage) T&A fanservice, while often played with a winking bit of self-parody, sometimes works against a film that otherwise wants the audience to take it seriously. A fair amount of what seems like basic information is left out or downright illogical, and though Anno does manage to throttle back on it fairly quickly, the start of the movie has its share of awkward dialogue and internal monologue and philosophizing. And then, on the other end, what could have been a genuine we're-not-messing-around-here shock is muted because it follows a long, heartfelt conversation that might as well have subtitles saying "I have reached the end of my character arc so now something tragic is about to happen to me".

Though likely utterly bewildering to the person who goes in cold, it's an improvement over the first film, to be sure. What it does well at least hints that when all is said and done, the "Rebuild of 'Evangelion'" series could be a pretty spiffy epic taken as a whole.

Full review at EFC.