Tuesday, May 31, 2011

IFFBoston 2011 Day #6: El Bulli: Cooking In Progress and Sons of Perdition

First, and most important: If you're reading this in Boston on or before 2 June 2011, Sons of Perdition is still playing at the Kendall Square Cinema, and is pretty darn good. It was only booked for a week, so it would probably not have survived the ridiculous way they've booked Tree of Life this weekend anyway (and boy, is that a rant for this week's Next Week...).

No Q&A for it there, of course, which is a shame; Tyler Measom gave a thoroughly charming one to cap off the festival's run in the Somerville Theatre (thanks to his bright shirt, you can almost make him out in the obligatory Horrible Photography™). I found myself impressed by the even, accepting tone he maintained throughout the conversation, considering the subject matter of his and his wife's film, I would have been pretty much 100% pure anger. I'm not a big fan of superstition to begin with, so I can't really say that there's a special place in Hell for the people who manipulate their followers like this, but it ticks me off - both for it's a crappy thing to do and how it never seems to lead to people questioning their own religious beliefs.

That was the second half of the night; the first was what was possibly the surprise hit of the festival; El Bulli: Cooking in Progress got upgraded from one of Somerville's smaller theaters to their main screen, and while it didn't sell out, it got fairly crowded. No filmmakers in attendance, so it was on Brian to mention during the intro that they always hope to book something that strikes a chord with audiences, and this one exceeded all expectations in terms of ticket sales.

Maybe they set their expectations a little low; Adrià was a visiting lecturer at Harvard last fall, giving the project even more local interest even if cooking programs weren't popular. Plus, there's a science angle, which was a big part of what got my attention (for all I grumbled about all the performer-related docs, I grabbed a seat at any science-related one I could find, although there were never two or three of those running at once). It's a lot of reasons for people to be interested in the movie, and it seemed to bring them all out.

Just one horrible picture today:

"Sons of Perdition" director Tyler Measom
Tyler Measom, from fairly close up, so I got an unusually decent shot.

(And, man, is it a said thing that dropping Warren Jeffs's name into Amazon brings up multiple books about his cult.)

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 May 2011 in Somerville Theatre #1 (IFFBoston 2011)

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress has a strange start for a documentary about a famous chef and his equally famous restaurant: The kitchen is disassembled and packed away. This is not, however, a precursor to a jump back in time to tell us a story of failure; it's a fittingly unusual beginning to an examination of Ferran Adrià's unusual process.

Yes, Adrià's El Bulli restaurant did close in October of 2008, but that's a regular occurrence, as he and his staff retreat to their Barcelona test kitchen to begin development of the next year's menu. Though the words are never mentioned in the film, Adria is one of the main practitioners of molecular gastronomy (though he prefers the term "deconstructivist"), a form of cooking that embraces technology and scientific procedures. Adrià and his assistants will spend the next months painstakingly researching and quantifying the tastes and textures that come from preparing different foods in different ways, developing a menu theme that coalesces into the "Year of Water" when the restaurant re-opens in June of 2009.

There's an old joke among scientists that the scientific method is best defined as "make the grad students do all the work". The various assistants and sous-chefs we meet are likely a bit higher up the totem pole than that, but the principle holds: For much of the film, we are not watching Ferran Adrià, but his staff - Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, Eugeni de Diego et al. They're the ones who do the repetitive but crucial work of iterating through various combinations of ingredients, equipment, and parameters in order to discover the best ones to present to Ferran, and are often the ones who find a new dish, whether by happenstance (mistakenly using carbonated water when flat was originally called for) or trial and error. In some ways, though, this is more instructive - with Adrià off-site or just off-screen, we see pecking orders on the one hand and comradeship on the other. Some on the staff are relatively new, so there is talk of "what Ferran will think".

Full review at EFC.

Sons of Perdition

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 May 2011 in Somerville Theatre #4 (IFFBoston 2011)

Most of the time, when the modern westerner encounters or hears of polygamy, it's an individual case, and thus he or she thinks about the individual psychology involved. Make it more commonplace, though, and a numbers issue emerges: A potential surplus of young men. In a polygamist community in the American southwest, this excess is cast out (or at least, men who leave are not pursued nearly as much as women), considered "sons of perdition", and the film of the same name is a fascinating look at these exiles' struggles.

The exiles come from the town of Colorado City, Arizona, a town populated by Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, a Mormon splinter group under the leader ship of Warren Jeffs. Jeffs - called "The Prophet" - is a second generation cult leader who controls the town absolutely. When girls reach child-bearing age, they are given to the men Jeffs selects; fall out of favor, and your wives and children may be distributed to someone else (and, since you'll no longer need such a big house, you'll likely be ordered to move, as well). Extra boys who are not among the chosen elite are either dropped outside town or allowed to run. Many end up in St. George, Utah. The filmmakers spend most of their time with three: 17-year-old Sam, his 15-year-old cousin Bruce, and 17-year old Joe.

Generally speaking, documentaries come in two main flavors - fly-on-the-wall and interview/archive-driven. Directors Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten mostly favor the former, following the boys around as they experience and try to find a place in the outside world. There are basic bits of information to fill the audience in on, though, and it's delivered in a couple of interesting ways. We get an idea of what sort of indoctrination the members of the FLDS receive by listening to clips of Jeffs, and it's remarkably, unnervingly seductive - the delivery is clear and simple with consistent logic that almost makes sense from a certain starting position; it does a good job of short-circuiting any contempt the audience might feel for the majority of the FLDSers. Outside of that, the information seldom seems spoon-fed; only a former FLDS social worker really seems to be a straightforward interview. The rest come from the boys and the people they meet, the information seeming to come out as asides as the subjects go about their business.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, May 30, 2011

IFFBoston 2011 Day #5: The City Dark, Circumstances, Littlerock, and Another Earth

You know, you'd like to think film festival crowds would be better than average. They've often paid a premium price (although IFFBoston is quite reasonable; generally less than what the mulitplexes charge and only a couple bucks more than what the host theaters charge, if that) and they're seeking out smaller movies, heck, smaller documentaries. This is the sort of crowd that would be great to share a theater with, right?

And, truth be told, it generally is. But just like you have to watch out for seniors just as much as the more-frequently-maligned teenagers in the multiplex, there are a few bad apples in the festival crowd. For example, before The City Dark, the festival staffer who introduced the film pointed out that it would be a terrible, absurd irony if people were checking their flashlight-like smartphones during the movie about light pollution. That kept the things sheathed throughout most of the movie, but about two-thirds the way through, yep, someone gets out their iPhone and starts checking their email.

Now, it's been roughly a month since that date, so I don't remember whether the person who did this was male or female. But if you did this, and you're reading this, you have my disdain. Seriously, not only is this basic theater etiquette, but the festival's title reel specifically says "no talking / no texting / no tweeting", and the audience was told in no specific terms not to take out their phones. What the heck were you doing that was so important that you had to ignore all those warnings, but apparently not urgent enough for you to get out of your seat?

Arrgh. Not the way I want to think of IFFBoston, but... really?

Anyway, before getting to the requisite awful photography and then the reviews, I'm a little disappointed that we only got the director of Another Earth, as opposed to co-writer/lead actress Brit Marling. I would have loved to hear them talk about how they collaborated.

Plus, upon seeing that there's also a sci-fi bent to the other movie that Ms. Marling co-wrote and co-starred in which played Sundance this year and also got picked up by Fox Searchlight (Sound of My Voice), I'm curious to see if this is a particular area of interest to her or whether these are just the stories she was working with that happened to get picked up. Because if it's the former, well, I don't want to encourage the "ohmygod, pretty girl who likes geek stuff" crowd, but she could probably make it work for her, especially if she gets herself involved with a more high-profile genre project.

Anyway... Horrible photography!

"The City Dark" director Ian Cheney
Ian Cheney, director of The City Dark. I'm not going to say I felt any special kinship with him, but I too grew up in a small town in Maine, loved astronomy when I was little, and miss the stars living in the city.

"Another Earth" director Mike Cahill
Mike Cahill, writer/director/cinematographer/editor/producer of Another Earth, ready, willing, and obviously able to answer any sort of question the audience might have about the making of this movie, but extremely enthusiastic to do so; he seemed over the moon about getting distribution from a major studio, although quite worried about his moving coming out the same day as Captain America.

The City Dark

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2011 in Somerville Theatre #3 (IFFBoston 2011)

Every few weeks, Space.com will mention a meteor shower or comet, and I'll stay up late and eagerly make my way out to my back porch before remembering that I live right across the river from Boston, and the city lights more or less blot out the sky. I accept this as part of the trade-off for all the great things that the city brings close to me, and know I will get the stars back the next time I spend the night with my family up in Maine. Maybe I shouldn't take that for granted, though - as The City Dark informatively and entertainingly points out, there are bigger issues involved than just my frustrated interest in astronomy.

Why do the stars disappear when you enter the city? Basically, the illumination from streetlights and windows reflects off particulate matter in the atmosphere, creating a diffuse glow from which the stars (whose apparent brightness is in large part a result of contrast with perfectly black surroundings) can't stand out. We all know this in general, but director/host Ian Cheney makes sure to explain it in clear language. That's a particular strength of his and the film's; though the concepts being communicated are not exceptionally complicated, they could be made so. Cheney avoids context-free numbers - at times, specifically, as when he tells the audience that there is a technical way to quantify light pollution but he is just going to use letter grades.

In addition to speaking in layman's terms, The City Dark is broken up into sensible chapters which are each interesting in their own right. After showing how artificial lighting makes the stars harder to see, "Islands of Dark" introduces us to a community of enthusiastic stargazers who have banded together to create a community in Portal, Arizona, with strict controls on light pollution. There are segments on how artificial lighting and urbanization is throwing the natural world off, and not just with animals; straying too far from the day/night cycle seems to be harmful to human beings as well. The effect is not like an anthology film - the segments flow into each other naturally and build upon what we've previously learned - but it keeps the various topics from competing with each other for the audience's attention.

Full review at EFC.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2011 in Somerville Theatre #3 (IFFBoston 2011)

Circumstance is sneaky. It starts out as a simple tale of teenage idealism and perhaps forbidden love, and that thread certainly continues throughout the entire film. The clever thing that writer/director Maryam Keshavarz does is to show a repressive society not just as an exterior threat, but a cage its prisoners have a part in constructing.

Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri) and Shireen (Sarah Kazemy) have been best friends their entire life, and as teenagers, they're becoming lovers as well. Of course, they've got to be careful; modern-day Iran is not a place where such relationships are smiled upon, especially with Shireen living with her uncle because her dissident parents died in prison. Still, Atafeh knows all the places where they can dance, smoke, and listen to rock & roll; her wealthy parents (Soheil Parsa & Nasrin Pakkho) tend to look the other way. Still, they're well-aware that this can go too far; Atafeh's brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) has just returned from rehab. Like many recovering addicts, he has turned to God, and his God is strict.

Keshavarz develops the two halves of the story in parallel, and it's interesting to see how they compare. "Ati" and Shireen act with the enthusiastic abandon of youth; they're often careless and Atafeh, especially, has more confidence than is perhaps warrented. Their idea of freedom and rebellion is mild, occasionally funny in its naivete. It's an attitude that perhaps father Firouz and mother Azar are not doing enough to temper; though basically liberal, they've been isolated enough to not have to worry. Meanwhile, Mehran is spending more time at the mosque and feeling like he doesn't fit in among his family. We meet him as he is humbled in both senses of the word, and those two emotions feed on each other. It's interesting that the main characters don't really do a lot for the first half of the movie or so, but there's still something engrossing about it as the bulk of the characters stand still while Mehran moves inexorably toward the lure of fundamentalism. The two threads occasionally tie together, creating moments of tension that increase every time.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2011 in Somerville Theatre #3 (IFFBoston 2011)

I wonder and worry a bit about how Littlerock will play outside the festival circuit. It's a wonderful little film, but it would be easy for a well-meaning distributor to drastically change the experience. Of course, I'm also kind of curious as to what it might be like to see it after that Japanese language class I've been meaning to take - or hear how it plays in Japan, with the subtitling situation reversed.

Littlerock, California, is basically a wide spot in the road; Rintaro Sakamoto (Rintaro Sawamoto) and his sister Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka) wind up there after their rental car breaks down, with the next bus to San Francisco a couple days away. There's a party going on in the next room, and that's where they meet Cory Lawler (Cory Zacharia), a local with dreams of being a model. He's quickly infatuated with Atsuko, despite the fact that they need her brother to translate for them. When the bus comes, Atusko tells Rintaro that she wants to stay, crashing inn Cory's father's spare bedroom and helping out at the family business - and being rather more interested in Jordan (Brett Tinnes) than Cory - until Rintaro returns so that they can make the last leg of their trip before going home together.

Subtitles are generally a part of the movie-watching experience that most don't give a lot of thought to, other than their blanket presence or absence, but co-writer/director Mike Ott deploys them very carefully here; with few exceptions, they only appear when Atsuko and Rintaro are talking to each other or Atsuko is writing a letter to her father - that is, when her words are going to be understood. When Atsuko is with Cory or Jordan, what she says is left untranslated. The height of this is during a scene behind the Lawler burrito shop, when Atsuko, Cory, and cook Francisco (Roberto Sanchez) are each speaking a different language. And yet, the scene isn't confusing at all - though we may not understand two-thirds of the words used, we get the gist of what Atsuko and Francisco are saying through tone and body language, and more importantly, we get that they can follow each other, even though Cory seems almost willfully obtuse.

Full review at EFC.

Another Earth

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2011 in Somerville Theatre #1 (IFFBoston 2011)

I'm not sure which part of Another Earth annoys me more - the terrible science or the weird relationship that develops over the course of the film. Though stranger things than the latter have happened in real life, it still seems to fly in the face of common sense almost as much as an Earth-sized planet suddenly appearing in the night sky without severe tidal effects. And yet, large chunks of the movie work anyway; as unlikely as the main story is, the two leads sell it amazingly well.

Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) was a young woman with a lot going for her - including a full ride scholarship to study physics - until she gets in an accident while driving drunk one night. She serves out her sentence for vehicular manslaughter without a fuss, taking a job cleaning her old high school upon release despite being qualified for much more. Soon, though, she's going to the house of John Burroughs (William Mapother), the man whose wife and child she killed, representing herself as a cleaner whose firm is offering one free appointment. She returns for many more, helping draw Burroughs out of the pit he's dug himself into and growing much closer while also considering another possibility - an eccentric billionaire is mounting an expedition to the carbon copy of Earth that has just appeared from behind the sun, and wants at least one of the members to be an ordinary person.

That last bit seems like a heck of a big thing to drop in there, doesn't it? In the Q&A after the film, director and co-writer (with Marling) Mike Cahill said that the second Earth was one of the first elements they came up with, but up until the final scene, it feels extraneous: Rhoda's previous interest in science doesn't come into play (either in terms of being re-awakened or being crucial to understanding the planet's odd orbit), and few if any hints are dropped to suggest that it may be a fantasy or coping mechanism on her part. Even if one doesn't necessarily feel that it's wasteful to use a big science-fictional idea to tell a small story - and even if one isn't inclined to call shenanigans at the absurd physics of the thing - it's a distracting subplot for the bulk of the film.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 May 2011 - 2 June 2011

What's up with the releasing new movies on Thursday, Hollywood? You've already got an extra day of weekend thanks to the holiday on Monday; trying to grab an extra day on the other side is just being greedy and probably a pain in the neck for projectionists who have to build up and break down prints two days in a row.

Of course, in a lot of cases, they probably just spent last night mounting and unplugging hard drives. If that's the case, I'm a lot less sympathetic. Just make sure to use the right lens, OK? I seriously don't need another week of Roger Ebert and company retweeting a hundred variations of a story on how 3D is ruining everything because Boston theaters are having trouble with implementation.

  • Two movies are opening today, Kung Fu Panda 2 and The Hangover Part II, and it strikes me that Panda is getting a pretty raw deal. It's opening on few, if any, IMAX screens because those are all still clogged with Pirates 4, and it seems to be getting a whole lot less coverage than Hangover (at my eFilmCritic stomping grounds right now, there are 4 Hangover reviews to 0 Panda reviews). This despite the fact that the original Kung Fu Panda was good and the original Hangover, well, wasn't.

  • In addition to the two sequels, AMC Boston Common opens what is basically another franchise installment, Midnight In Paris, on two screens this Friday (the 27th); it also opens at Coolidge Corner and practically cleans house at Kendall Square, occupying three screens there. It's Woody Allen's latest, this time with the character of Woody Allen being played by Owen Wilson.

    I kid, a bit. Wilson plays a writer on a vacation to Paris with his finacée, apparently finding himself much more enraptured by the city and the thought of the famous people who have lived there than Rachel McAdams. It seems to be getting some of Allen's best reviews in a while, and Sony's apparently got enough faith in it to give it a serious push.

  • Three other movies open at Kendall Square, two of which have played local festivals in the past few months. The single-week booking is Sons of Perdition, an intriguing documentary about a polygamist cult's excess sons who live in de facto exile from their families. That one played IFFBoston; Hobo with a Shotgun made a stop as the opening night selection at BUFF. The title is a pretty concrete example of truth in advertising - Rutger Hauer plays a hobo who fights crime in a corrupt town with a shotgun. And then there's L'amour Fou, a documentary on the late Yves Saint-Laurent, framed by his longtime companion's sale of the couple's art collection.

  • The Coolidge has two special screenings of Midnight In Paris; a "Box Office Babies" screening Friday afternoon and an "Off The Couch" show on Tuesday (31 May), after which you can discuss it with members of the Boston Psychiatric Society. The movie most likely to drive the audience to look for psychiatric help, though, is the weekend's late show, A Serbian Film (11:59pm Friday and Saturday). Widely described as both depraved and provocative, it follows a retired porn actor who agrees to one last job, not realizing how horrific it will be. You've got two options, running more or less simultaneously: The cut (but still NC-17-and-we-really-mean-it) version will play screen #1 in 35mm downstairs, while the uncut (and unsubtitled) will run off a Blu-ray Disc on screen #2 upstairs. You're on your own for this; I had the opportunity to see this at Fantasia last year and fully own my cowardice.

    Other special screenings there over the next week include The Poll Diaries on Sunday the 29th at 11am; it's a German film about a family vacationing on the Baltic coast in 1914, just before war explode in Europe. On Monday, A Streetcar Named Desire plays at 7pm as part of the Big Screen Classics series; and for those who like their plays on stage where they belong, there's a simulcast of the new Broadway staging of The Importance of Being Earnest on Thursday (2 June).

  • As was made painfully clear by the crowds in and around Harvard Square and on the Red Line last night and this morning, Harvard University graduates the class of 2011 today, with plenty of reunion activity going on around that. The Brattle jumps in with their Reunion Weekend series of noteworthy movies released 52x years ago. Blue Velvet (x=1) plays Friday; a double feature of Divorce, Italian Style and One, Two, Three (x=2 for both) runs on Saturday; and the x=3 pairing of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and My Man Godfrey on Sunday. Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law (x=1) plays 9:30pm shows Friday and Saturday, while a double feature of West Side Story (x=2) and Pretty In Pink (x=1) closes things off on Monday.

    After a day to recover, the Brattle starts their next series on Wednesday, with Amblin Adventures showcasing the fun adventure movies either directed by Steven Spielberg or produced by his company. Wednesday (1 June) is a double feature of Spielberg's two first contact tales, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; as near as I can tell,the runtimes indicate the "special edition" of Close Encounters (the one with scenes inside the ship) and the original version of E.T., but it can sometimes be hard to predict which cuts the distributors will actually send. Thursday (2 June) is a double feature of two Spielberg produced - Men In Black (directed by Barry Sonnenfeld) and The Goonies (directed by Richard Donner)

  • It will be difficult to go wrong at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater this weekend: The Searchers plays Friday and Saturday night at 7pm, and it's one of the greatest Westerns ever made (in retrospect, my 2005 review underrates it). The 1935 Max Reinhardt adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream plays Saturday afternoon and Sunday night, tying in with Susurrus, the play interpreted as a guided walk through Boston's Public Gardens that runs through June 5th.

  • The Harvard Film Archive presents Masterworks by Kaneto Shindo, a roughly chronological survey of the Japanese director's work that starts with 1952's Children of Hiroshima on Friday and ends with 2010's Postcard. Of the group, I can only vouch personally for Saturday night's Kuroneko, but that one is very good indeed.

  • At the MFA, the Global Lens series wraps up with films from Georgia, Bosnia/Herzegovina and India. It is playing alongside Great Directors, which as the title implies centers on conversations with renowned filmmakers, including David Lynch, Ken Loach, Agnes Varda, and Todd Haynes. Both run through Sunday the 29th.

    The next series is Art on Film, which opens Wednesday (1 June) with Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and "To Kill a Mockingbird" and Secret Museums; also playing Thursday (2 June) is The Roundup, a co-presentation of the Boston Jewish Film Festival that tells the tale of how Paris's were arrested and imprisoned before being sent to Auschwitz. It features Jean Reno and Melanie Laurent and garnered both ticket sales and tremendous respect in France last year.

  • Remember that The Somerville Theatre is playing Inventory again on Friday night in the "microcinema"; they also have a screen of second-run stuff that is moving over from the Kendall: Jane Eyre afternoons and at 7pm, and the thoroughly awesome 13 Assassins at 9:30pm. Still playing the Kendall but getting a jump on the second-run is Meek's Cutoff, which moves into the small digital room at the Coolidge. Over in Belmont, The Studio Cinema runs Rio for matinees and Water for Elephants and The King's Speech in the evening. Google even shows The King's Speech as being the original R-rated version.

My plans? Kung Fu Panda 2, using up expiring tickets at the Aquarium and Science Museum, and maybe catching up with Bridesmaids and Incendies (because, obviously, those two go together). And it will probably be difficult to avoid seeing Midnight in Paris; six or seven local screens is a lot, even by studio standards.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

IFFBoston 2011 Day #4: Shorts, We Still Live Here, Windfall, The Future, Bellflower, and Stake Land

It makes sense that the long day is going to take a long time to write up, doesn't it? It's mildly amusing that the delay in getting this post done because there were things I saw in theaters and wanted to recommend before they left means that I may very well wind up scrambling and reviewing films/days out of order because the release of one of the movies I saw on Monday (day #6) that seemed comfortably far away is now coming right up.

Anyway, this was a long day that started late; the walk home from The Catechism Cataclysm the night before wasn't as bad as I remembered it from a couple years ago (and, wonder of wonders, there was actually a pizza place open when I went through Harvard Square! That serves really good pizza, even when closing at 2am!), but it did get me home at around half-past two, so after reading comics because the walking had my blood flowing too much for immediate sleep, it was something like 3:30am before I finally dropped. Apparently I got 15 minutes too much sleep, because I arrived at the Somerville Theatre too late for Convento at noon. The narrative shorts were scheduled to start at 12:15, and were a pretty good group, so I didn't feel too shortchanged.

(Especially after I read the program and read that it wasn't actually about monks installing robotics in dead animals to make them move again, but just a group of artists living in an abandoned monastery doing such things. A minor distinction, it may seem, but the monks would have made it much cooler, though Ned told me that it was, in fact, excellent anyway.)

I spent a bit of time talking with Ned between shows at the Brattle, where I spent much of the afternoon and evening watching a couple of interesting documentaries and one rather dire feature that we'll get to later. The docs were the science-for-the-socially-conscious ones that attract me and the folks with a vested interest, but are well worth the time for the curious. Both were full of good information. Both were short, which made time for long Q&As with filmmakers and experts.

(Aside: The other day, I saw a preview for a documentary on local people fighting coal mining which prominently featured images of windmills during the "there are alternatives! segment. Yeah, that's not a perfect solution.)

That left me there for The Future, a decision I regretted almost immediately. It was one of the two Chlotrudis presentations that day, and I skipped out on Trigger because, no matter how nice the recently-passed co-star had been to the group in the past, there was no way I was seeing a movie about "two grunge queens reuniting for one last show" if she wasn't my personal friend. Maybe it is as great as people have been saying, but... no. I should have said the same to The Future, which actually is more than a bunch of forced quirk trying to convince the audience of its significance, but that element is so far toward the forefront as to be suffocating.

I didn't realize it until after writing the reviews, but it's actually got a lot in common with Bellflower; both are movies that use fantastical tropes to dramatize the end-of-the-world feeling of a break-up. The thing is, Bellflower actually has characters with actual human emotions and reactions. I hated the people in The Future even when they were doing good things, but hoped for the best for the characters in Bellflower even when they were spiralling out of control. That one offered up cars shooting flames forty feet in the other air and the other offered up deliberately ridiculous dance was just the icing on the cake.

Sadly, I didn't get to see the car that shot the flames - though director Evan Glodell had "Mother Medusa" with him, it was going to take a while for it to warm up enough to shoot fire, and sticking around for the Bellflower Q&A meant getting into Stake Land was actually kind of a close thing - I honestly didn't even go out to the lobby; I just went straight from Theater #3 to #5 and found myself a seat pretty close to the extreme front.

As you can see, being up close didn't help with the photography when Jim Mickle came out to do a Q&A for Stake Land. Unless you've got a real camera with an eye-searing flash, you're just not going to get good pictures in those rooms. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Cast & Crew of "We Still Live Here"
Filmmakers and subjects of We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân. The little girl is Jesse Littledoe Baird's daughter, being raised bilingual as the first native speaker of Wampanoag in over a century.

"Windfall" Q&A
Filmmakers and experts for Windfall. An interesting movie and a spirited Q&A. I always find it amusing that activists in the audience always ask the filmmakers if they plan to make a sequel about this thing that got shorts shrift in the documentary; I strongly suspect that most documentarians would rather focus on anything else next after spending 5+ years immersed in one subject.

"Stake Land"'s Jim Mickle
Mickle's a nice guy, staying to answer questions until around 2am and talking about making the movie (it's good to find a guy with a train!). Stake Land opens at the Brattle on June 17th and hits video about a month later.

Shorts 3: Narratives

Seen 30 April 2011 in Somerville Theatre #2 (IFFBoston 2011)

This is a pretty solid selection of short films, with no particular theme to them beyond maybe something about victimization. And improper urination, although that only lasted through the first three or so. Still, once you get to that third, you do start to wonder if the festival programmers are having a bit of a laugh at this. Anyway, I thought the group peaked with the first movie, although it was other things that won the awards.

"Deeper Than Yesterday" - This one was my favorite, putting us inside a Russian submarine that has clearly been out to sea longer than is particularly healthy for its crew's sanity. Director NAME gives us a strong feeling of walls closing in, with even the main character who tends to break fights up starting to lose it, before something strange happens. At that point, we're in the characters' heads enough that it's not hard to start thinking that there wouldn't be much actual harm in exploiting the situation. It's a nifty, well-polished story that avoids melodrama despite its somewhat bizarre plot device.

"Boy" - A fairly simple rite-of-passage story, as a young boy spending the day with his farmer dad spends a lot of time practicing shooting but finds the real thing to be a bit different. Nice-looking and straightforward.

"Baby" - A woman intervenes in a mugging, only to have the perpetrator start following her onto the bus. It's not a bad little story about intimidation, shifts in the balance of power, and how the application of the ability to do harm to others must be managed extremely carefully. My biggest complaint here is less about the film than the "short package" format; the last twist in this one deserves a little bit of time to sink in, which a quick jump to the next short doesn't get you.

"The Strange Ones" - That next one is a prize-winner, and another one that trades on an ambiguous ending that merits some mulling time. In it, a young man and a boy run out of gas and start walking, stopping at an isolated motel. The young woman watching the place tries to help, but something the angry kid says makes her very unsure what to do next. It's pretty good for a movie that builds not to a climax but a question mark.

"Fracture" - Believe it or not, this French short was close to the only thing at the festival that I saw on film. In it, a man on vacation with his wife and daughter starts to feel his irritation at the life he finds himself in grow. It's a slow build, believably portrayed, which does a surprisingly good job at keeping the ending from feeling like it comes out of nowhere.

We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2011 at the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston 2011)

A few years ago, one of the documentaries that played IFFBoston (on, I believe, the same screen at roughly the same time) was a film by the name of The Linguists, about linguists seeking out dying languages before they disappeared forever. This time around, we look at whether these languages must necessarily remain dead, or whether they can be revived.

The language in question is Wampanoag (wom-pah-nog), spoken by the peoples of the same name in what is now Massachusetts. The last native speaker died over a hundred years ago, but one night Jesse Littledoe Baird, a Mashpee Wampanoag, has a dream about her people returning, and she is later inspired to study and learn more about the language. She is soon studying linguistics at MIT, alongside Ken Hale, a much-respected linguist whom she had previously snapped at when he came to the island to offer his assistance. They wind up developing mutual respect and friendship, though, and find that Jesse's quest is far from a lost cause, as there are written records and similar languages to draw from.

Comparative linguistics is probably not the sexiest of the soft sciences; it relies on minutia and specialized notation, and unlike the subjects of The Linguists, Baird isn't goiing to far-flung locations. Filmmaker Anne Makepeace assists Baird and linguist Norrin Richards in explaining the theory and the practice of reconstructing a language (Hale, sadly, passed away before filming), and they prove to be fine teachers. We see some of the more academic, theoretical work, but also get clear explanations of how Biard would use what data is available to piece together what the Wampanoag word for something would be.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2011 at the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston 2011)

Windfall was not quite the movie I expected to see. The usual narrative about wind power here in Eastern Massachusetts involves liberals who support green energy until it threatens to become a part of their expensive sea views, and though the movie seems to start from this perspective, it soon shows that wind turbines are becoming big business, with all the unsavoriness that can entail.

The film focuses on the town of Meredith, New York. It's a scenic place, although like many farming communities, it has seen more prosperous days. It does, however, feature strong and regular wind. An Irish power company, Airtricity, expresses interest in building some turbines there. One of the first people they make an offer to is Frank Bachler, a beef farmer who also serves as town supervisor, and who at least initially doesn't think it's a big deal until he mentions it to neighbor Ken Jaffee over coffee. Jaffe, a retired physician, isn't nearly so sanguine about this, and soon there are meetings being held, and an angry debate pitting neighbors against each other.

Certainly, a lot of what we see initially comes down to "Not In My Back Yard", but it soon becomes clear that NIMBYism isn't all that's at work. As townspeople and director Laura Israel dig deeper, they discover a number of concerns, both about the effect having these turbines in a community may have on the residents' quality of life and the entangled politics and business of building them. It turns out that there are many reasons to be skeptical about whether the benefits of wind farms outweigh their negative impact in many situations, and that's before getting to what appears to be an inherently corrupt system of private companies making generous offers to town leadership so that they will hopefully grease the way through the system.

Full review at EFC.

The Future

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2011 at the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston 2011)

The Future is kind of amazing, in its annoying little way. It finds the shortest possible path from its characters doing something nice to them being ridiculous and insufferable, and then spends the next hour or so finding ways to make them more aggravating. What's worse, filmmaker Miranda July can't just make a movie about unpleasant people; she has to try and be clever.

Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) have just rescued a stray cat, whom they name "Paw-Paw" and who serves as our narrator. One of the cat's legs is broken, so it will have to stay at the animal shelter for a month. Upon getting home, they realize that this means they're settling down, which scares them, so they decide to quit their jobs (which they don't much like anyway) and spend the next thirty days doing something fulfilling. For Jason, this means going door to door selling trees for an environmental initiative; for Sophie, posting a new dance clip on YouTube every day. They get distracted, though - Jason by a nice but lonely old man who sells him a hairdryer on craigslist (Joe Putterlik) and Sophie by Marshall (David Warshofsky), who is on the other end of a phone number she stumbles upon.

I'm sure many couples have the idiotic conversation that sets this movie into action at some point or another, but even the ones without the self-awareness to realize how spoiled they sound will recognize that their grand plan doesn't actually make any sense. Not Sophie and Jason, though - they go an do things like canceling their internet access for no reason other than forcing an issue in their movie's contrived plot (Sophie needs to feel properly isolated and lonely as she does her ridiculous dance thing). Even if you grade on a curve for the movie being full of off-beat, exaggerated characters, nothing that these people do has a good reason behind it.

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2011 in Somerville Theatre #3 (IFFBoston 2011)

The end of a relationship can certainly seem like the end of the world, and while Bellflower is not explicitly post-apocalyptic, it takes a number of its cues from that direction. It's not the first love story to do so, but it does an impressive job of hammering its particular point home: It may be easier to deal with the whole world falling apart than the end of things with that one other person.

Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Milly (Jessie Wiseman) don't really meet cute, unless you count competing against each other in an insect-eating contest at the Mad Dog bar cute. They hit it off, though, and after a first date that involves driving from California to Texas for the worst diner food Woodrow has ever seen - which best friends Aiden (Tyler Dawson) and Courtney (Rebekah Brandes) don't find hugely out of character, although it seems to annoy Milly's roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw) - things seem to be going pretty well. The thing is, when the people in a relationship either build flamethrowers in their copious spare time or have a long history of self-destructive behavior, two thing can happen: Either they'll be a perfect match, or the end and fallout will be ugly. Maybe too ugly to make things right.

Bellflower makes a series of big-time right turns in the middle, and while they don't completely come out of nowhere, their suddenness is as much a punch in the gut as it is fitting. The first half of the movie is a wild love story, full of impulses and grand gestures, but genuine enough to get the audience genuinely invested in Woodrow and Milly. Glodell and Wiseman have quick and excellent chemistry, and the characters complement each other well; even the audience that isn't big on matching tattoos, modifying a car to dispense whiskey from its dashboard, or looking for trouble can appreciate the happy effect these two have on each other.

Full review at EFC.

Stake Land

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2011 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston 2011)

Jim Mickle's first feature (also with co-writer/star Nick Damici), Mulberry Street, was as low-budget and do-it-yourself as you're going to see, and pretty impressive even when not grading on that sort of curve. Stake Land doesn't quite represent a move up to the big leagues for Mickle, but offers a pretty strong case that he deserves to be there sooner rather than later.

There's a zombie/vampire virus going around, spreading fast and far enough that American society has more or less collapsed. On a micro level, that means Martin (Connor Paolo) watching his family get wiped out, surviving mainly because of the timely appearance of "Mister" (Nick Damici), who is just a vampire-slaying machine. He takes Martin along with him, training him to fight the infected. They're on the road to New Eden, up in Canada, but vampires aren't the only monsters they'll have to face along the way: Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) is a doomsday preacher reveling in doomsday actually coming. Mister's and Martin's path will take them through Loven's territory, picking up new companions along the way - a pregnant girl (Danielle Harris), a good-hearted nun (Kelly McGillis), and a disgruntled veteran (Sean Nelson).

Just as Mulberry Street was basically a zombie siege movie with some interesting details, Stake Land is a post-apocalyptic road movie that's a little bit more clever than the vast majority with the same template. At some points, a lot more clever - like an actual virus, the vampire plague mutates and has different symptoms, and rest assured, when the narration mentions people loading vampires onto helicopters and then dropping them on enemies like bombs, you will get to see it and it is pretty darn cool. Mickle and Damici have a nice handle on using the structure of the road and horror movies to switch between focusing on Martin and Mister alone as well as add other perspectives on the world they now live in; they also do an unusually good job of working characters back in when they might usually be left behind.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Two sides of Andrew Lau & Shu Qi: Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen and A Beautiful Life

People in show business work in China. Andrew Lau, for instance, has 40 credits as director on IMDB since 1990 (including his second English-language feature for later this year). Shu Qi is credited there for 64 movies since 1996, and while many of those are likely smaller roles, it worth noting that both listings are likely quite incomplete; because IMDB is by and large crowd-sourced, and most of that crowd is in the US and UK, non-English language films in particular often have incomplete data. As an example, A Beautiful Life has two entries, one for both its Chinese and English names, and both have very sparse data, not even including Shu Qi, arguably the star of the movie.

(Aside - get on this stuff, China Lion! If you're going to distribute movies in the United States, it really behooves you to make sure that there are full entries for them at IMDB; that's the first place people go when an unfamiliar movie appears in listings.)

Doing so many movies likely gives filmmakers a chance to do different things, at least - to look at them side by side, you might not believe that Legend of the Fist and A Beautiful Life were the work of the same filmmaker. There are similarities - Shu Qi plays the female lead in each (and hits some of the same notes in her performances), and Anthony Wong has a supporting part - but they're different genres, and while Legend is a heightened, constructed reality, Life is very down to earth. Both look beautiful - Lau is also a cinematographer, photographing Legend and likely having at least some input on how Life was shot. Based on just these two movies, I might suspect that drama is more up Lau's alley, but the guy did also co-direct the Infernal Affairs movies, so I suspect Legend is just him being a little off that month.

It's an interesting coincidence that the two movies opened the same day in Boston; while A Beautiful Life opened day-and-date, Legend of the Fist followed more of a conventional foreign-film track - it opened in China, played the Toronto Film Festival, got acquired, opened in New York, and then made its way to Boston a month later. As I've said before, I'm not sure how viable a plan that is in general any more - Chinese pirates are fast and this put eight months between the movie's Hong Kong release and it playing Boston. It still got a fair crowd, though, possibly from the local-guy angle. A bit disappointing that it wound up being digital projection, likely from the consumer Blu-ray or DVD being released next month; seeing compression artifacts on the big screen is not cool at all. Here's hoping that it did well enough for the Brattle to schedule more Asian action films again; I gather they were at one point a staple of the theater, but that seems to have faded as those movies have become more readily available as opposed to cult films that one really has to search to find. A Beautiful Life had a scattered audience when I saw it, perhaps a bit disappointing compared to If You Are the One 2 and considering that nothing but Pirates 4 opened this weekend, but better than some other "crowds" I've seen for Chinese openings in Boston Common.

Well Go seems to realize that the traditional import system is less effective; they've announced that their next major acquisition, the Jackie Chan-starring 1911, will open in the US day-and-date with its Chinese release.

According to China Lion's website, their next release seems to be The Founding of a Party in mid-June, and... Good luck with that. As much as it will probably be a star-studded, epic thing, I wonder who the audience is. Americans don't particularly like Communism in general, and I strongly suspect that a good number of Chinese-Americans (the usual audience for these releases) are here because they want nothing to do with the Chinese Communist party. It's been impossible to miss the increasing nationalism that's been popping up in Chinese movies over the past few years as Hong Kong gets absorbed and the trend toward bigger-budget blockbusters seems to make filmmakers more beholden to state-controlled studios, but a movie about the founding of the Party seems like almost hubristic egotism.

Jing wu feng yun: Chen Zhen (Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 May 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (special engagements)

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen starts off in a familiar way, with text explaining a bit of Chinese history, this time involving how Chinese laborers served in Europe during World War I. Most aren't trained as as soldiers, so they're getting pinned down and picked off, until Donnie Yen's Chen Zhen suddenly remembers that he's a kung fu superhero. Then things get kind of awesome. It's a shame this doesn't happen more often, because the movie could occasionally use some more of this sort of larger-than-life fun.

Seven years after that battle, Chen Zhen has returned to Shanghai using the name of a fallen comrade. It's a contentious time, with Japan looking to expand its influence on the mainland, European powers making their presence known, and local factions splintered and fighting among themselves. In Shanghai, the Casablanca club is the center of everything, and owner Liu Yutian ("Anthony" Wong Chau-sang) brings Chen on as manager and partner. Information seems to be leaking from the Casablanca to Colonel Takashi Chikaraishi (Ryu Kohata), but can Chen Zhen find the source of the leak before the Japanese run through everybody on their "death list" - especially with the club's sultry headliner Kiki (Shu Qi) certain that "Qi" is more than he seems.

The Chen Zhen story is a popular one; the character has been played by Bruce Lee (Fist of Fury) and Jet Li (Fist of Legend; co-written and directed by the new film's screenwriter, Gordon Chan); heck, Yen himself played Chen in a TV series fifteen years earlier. This movie in many ways feels more like a sequel to those projects than a remake of them; it's mentioned that Chen Zhen fakes his death because he's wanted for killing the man who murdered his teacher, more or less how Fist of Fury and Fist of Legend end. That Chen apparently fakes his death twice - once in Shanghai and once in Europe - is unfortunately an example of how sloppy Chan's script is. Perhaps a Chinese audience will have more familiarity with the basic story and thus be better equipped to fill in the blanks, but it too often seems like Chan has more ideas than he has room for. For instance, a lot of time is spent on two Chinese generals negotiating (with a third, unseen one referenced quite a bit), but all this talk never really matters. We're quite deliberately pointed to the scarring copper bracelets that the soldiers in the opening segment wear, but then we never really see the scars and the bracelets that do matter are more or less unrelated. The last act is really just a complete mess until the inevitable showdown between Chen and Chikaraishi (and half the Japanese army).

Full review at EFC.

Mei li ren sheng (A Beautiful Life)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 May 2011 in AMC Fenway #12 (first-run)

You've got to sort of admire a movie like A Beautiful Life. It's filled with characters that could easily be defined by how they are handicapped or burdensome, and yet it's not a pity-baiting exercise. Well, not more than any other romantic drama; that's their stock in trade. The point is, even when things start going bad, it's more a film about people we like than people we feel sorry for, and that makes up for a few flaws.

Li Peiru (Shu Qi) moved to Beijing from Hong Kong to start work as a real-estate broker a year ago; Fang Zhendong (Liu Ye), "Dong" to his friends, has been a policeman there for fifteen years. They meet outside a karaoke bar, a plastered Peiru needing Dong's help to get home, and since he's a good guy, leaving a party early so that he can make sure his little brother Zhencong (Tran Liang) is okay, he helps her out, even when she's looking for help cooking for her married boyfriend. She finds herself taken with Dong, and likes the withdrawn Zhencong and his mute would-be girlfriend Xiaowen (Fairy Feng), but the drinking is only part of her troubles, and they may consume her even though Dong is going to find himself in need of support himself.

It's a somewhat specialized skill, but Shu Qi plays drunk well (interestingly, she played a character I called "boozy" in her last movie with director "Andrew" Lau Wai-keung). She's sexy and funny at first, but always gives the feeling of someone careening out of control. It's a tricky role, I imagine, as we get to know Peiru by her being demanding and taking advantage of Dong pretty shamelessly, but Shu pulls it off in a way that highlights her as being ambitious and energetic as much as selfish, and she is able to work the moments of Peiru being low or honestly charmed by the Fangs and Xiaowen to show another side of the character without making her feel schizoid.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

This Fall in TV: Sifting through what the networks will inflict upon us this fall

It's a funny thing, habit. I haven't logged onto The Home Theater Forum in months, and yet, as the TV networks began making their upfront presentations to advertisers, I felt like I was shirking something by not putting together a forum thread on what the networks were doing. It wasn't an official duty of mine, but just something I'd done for the past few years, and enjoyed doing. Now, though, I don't really have a place where I talk about TV. But, on the other hand, this is my blog, and I can hijack it if I want.

I suppose I could go back to HTF; I didn't exactly quit. It was just last year's casualty of Fantasia - I go to Montreal, I do nothing with my computer but write reviews between days of seeing movies, and when I come home, I've got so much to catch up on elsewhere that something online just looks too daunting.)

As per usual, the information comes from The Futon Critic. The bolded selections are the things I plan on watching, comments follow.


07:00 - ABC - American's Funniest Home Videos
07:00 - CBS - 60 Minutes
07:00 - Fox - The OT
07:00 - NBC - Football Night in America

07:30 - Fox - The Cleveland Show

08:00 - ABC - Once Upon a Time
08:00 - CBS - The Amazing Race
08:00 - Fox - The Simpsons
08:00 - NBC - Sunday Night Football

08:30 - Fox - Allen Gregory

09:00 - ABC - Desperate Housewives
09:00 - CBS - The Good Wife
09:00 - Fox - Family Guy

09:30 - Fox - American Dad

10:00 - ABC - Pan Am
10:00 - CBS - CSI: Miami

* I'm really pleasantly surprised to see The Good Life make it to a third year; I got the impression that its sinking ratings might end it after two. It's been remarkably good and remarkably consistent since the start, and the politics gives it a unique angle.

* Good lord, does Allen Gregory look insufferable.

* ABC's Once Upon a Time looks a whole lot like the great Vertigo Comics series Fables, which is especially interesting considering that ABC had optioned Fables about a year or so ago. I hope Bryan K. Vaughn and Mark Buckingham and company are getting paid a little. Also, Pan Am doesn't look great, but it's got Christina Ricci, and gets a sample for that.


08:00 - ABC - Dancing with the Stars
08:00 - CBS - How I Met Your Mother
08:00 - CW - Gossip Girl
08:00 - Fox - Terra Nova
08:00 - NBC - The Sing-Off

08:30 - CBS - Two Broke Girls

09:00 - CBS - Two and a Half Men
09:00 - CW - Hart of Dixie
09:00 - Fox - House

09:30 - Fox - Mike & Molly

10:00 - ABC - Castle
10:00 - CBS - Hawaii Five-0
10:00 - NBC - The Playboy Club

* Those two hour unscripted shows are ridiculous, just filled with air.

* Amber Heard is not enough to get me to watch The Playboy Club; Kat Dennings may get me to sample Two Broke Girls.

* Stephen Spielberg and dinosaurs certainly gets me to give Terra Nova a shot. Shame about Brannon Braga's involvement, though - how he keeps getting work after running Star Trek into the ground is beyond me.

* Nice job spoiling Castle's finale in your press release, ABC.


08:00 - ABC - Last Man Standing
08:00 - CBS - NCIS
08:00 - CW - 90210
08:00 - Fox - Glee
08:00 - NBC - The Biggest Loser

08:30 - ABC - Man-Up

09:00 - ABC -Dancing with the Stars Results
09:00 - CBS - NCIS: Los Angeles
09:00 - CW - Ringer
09:00 - Fox - New Girl

09:30 - Fox - Raising Hope

10:00 - ABC - Body of Proof
10:00 - CBS - Unforgettable
10:00 - NBC - Parenthood

* ABC's 8pm hour of henpecked-men comedies make me ill just reading about them.

* Ringer, from what I gather, actually started life as a pilot for CBS before getting bounced to CW. I guess Sarah Michelle Gellar just doesn't get to sit at the big kids' table, no matter how convoluted her new show's premise is.

* As much as I'm tempted to start watching Parenthood, what with its cast filled with people I like and the show no longer up against The Good Wife, I really like Poppy Montgomery, so Unforgettable gets a look.

* Why the heck do I feel obligated to give New Girl a look because Zooey Deschanel stars? When was her last good work? And with Jake Kasdan directing the pilot, too.


08:00 - ABC - The Middle
08:00 - CBS - Survivor
08:00 - CW - H8r
08:00 - Fox - The X Factor
08:00 - NBC - Up All Night

08:30 - ABC - Suburgatory
08:30 - NBC -Free Agents

09:00 - ABC - Modern Family
09:00 - CBS - Criminal Minds
09:00 - CW - America's Next Top Model
09:00 - NBC - Harry's Law

09:30 - ABC - Happy Endings
09:30 - Fox - I Hate My Teenage Daughter

10:00 - ABC - Revenge
10:00 - CBS - CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
10:00 - NBC - Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

* H8r? Really? Shouldn't this be on MTV or something?

* Up All Night, Suburgatory, and I Hate My Teenage Daughter all have better casts than their generic premises deserve.

* Revenge actually has a pretty nice cast, and Philip Noyce directing the pilot. But it's pretty clearly a single-story serial without an apparent mechanism for done-in-one stories, so I don't see how it avoids becoming a train wreck.


08:00 - ABC - Charlie's Angels
08:00 - CBS - The Big Bang Theory
08:00 - CW - The Vampire Diaries
08:00 - Fox - The X Factor Results
08:00 - NBC - Community

08:30 - CBS - How to Be a Gentleman
08:30 - NBC - Parks & Recreation

09:00 - ABC - Grey's Anatomy
09:00 - CBS - Person of Interest
09:00 - CW - The Secret Circle
09:00 - Fox - Bones
09:00 - NBC - The Office

09:30 - NBC - Whitney

10:00 - ABC - Private Practice
10:00 - CBS - The Mentalist
10:00 - NBC - Prime Suspect

* Apparently The Vampire Diaries and The Secret Circle have the same producers and are adapted from books by the same author, but one is not a spinoff of another. Weird.

* Person of Interest doesn't do much for me from the description, but it does come from J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan.

* Prime Suspect terrifies me. It has a hell of a supporting cast, Peter Berg directing, and I really like Maria Bello. However, she's competing with Helen Mirren in the role that made everyone stand up and take notice - in large part because she made herself look like every case was killing her. I honestly don't know if you can keep that pace up over a 22-episode season with anyone.


08:00 - ABC - Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
08:00 - CBS - A Gifted Man
08:00 - CW - Nikita
08:00 - Fox - Kitchen Nightmares
08:00 - NBC - Chuck

09:00 - ABC - Shark Tank
09:00 - CBS - CSI: New York
09:00 - CW - Supernatural
09:00 - Fox - Fringe
09:00 - NBC - Grimm

10:00 - ABC - 20/20
10:00 - CBS - Blue Bloods
10:00 -NBC - Dateline NBC

* Wow, Jonathan Demme directed the pilot of A Gifted Man? Biggest case of apparent slumming since Spike Lee did episode 1 of Shark. Shame it seems to be CBS's designated Friday night "communicating with the hereafter" drama, because it's got Margo Martindale.

* The guys who have to watch every sci-fi/fantasy show must hate 9pm. Grimm looks like the odd one out for me, despite Angel's David Greenwalt in charge. I'll probably wait on the Blu-rays for Supernatural as I have with the last two years, leaving Fringe the clear winner.

* Supposedly Chuck is having "final season" and "13-episode order" tossed around again. That would get it right to the 100-episode area, although I'm not sure just how crucial that is any more. I do hope they find ways to keep Timothy Dalton around, because he has been killing it on this show (Linda Hamilton, not so much).

* I wonder if Blue Bloods got better in the second half of its first year. I liked it well enough, but when it got scheduled against something else, it lost its space on my DVR, and I never felt a particular need to keep up with it.


08:00 - ABC - Saturday Night College Football
08:00 - CBS - Rules of Engagement
08:00 - Fox - Cops
08:00 - NBC - Repeats

08:30 - CBS - Repeats (Comedy)

09:00 - CBS - Repeats (Crime)
09:00 - Fox - Repeats with the occasional "America's Most Wanted" special
09:00 - NBC - Repeats

10:00 - CBS - 48 Hours Mystery
10:00 - NBC - Repeats

* Poor Rules of Engagement; it looks like it either has a multi-year renewal order CBS couldn't get out of or it just needs to get over a hump for syndication.


Apartment 23 (tentative - Tuesday 9:30pm)
The Bachelor
Cougar Town (tentative - Tuesday 9:00pm)
Good Christian Belles
The River
Secret Millionaire
Work It

* Apartment 23 has Krysten Ritter and a somewhat offbeat premise. I'll go for that.

* Missing and The River both seem like Revenge, in that they're single-premise shows that will be stretched out forever if successful. It just doesn't seem like a good way to do business.


The 2-2
Undercover Boss

* CBS never seems to need a deep bench these days, between their solid and predictable hits and a bunch of crime shows that they can use for re-runs.

The Frame
One Tree Hill

* Ugh. Why is this network still here?


Alcatraz (tentative - Monday 9:00pm, House to 8:00pm)
American Idol (tentative - Wednesday 8:00pm)
American Idol Results (tentative - Thursday 8:00pm)
Bob's Burgers
The Finder (tentative - Thursday 9:00pm)
Napoleon Dynamite (tentative - Sunday 8:30pm)

* Alcatraz is J.J. Abrams again, and has the one guy I liked a lot from Lost. But like Fringe, it's got a central mystery that also lends itself to single-episode stories, so it's got a chance.

* I liked Heroes for longer than most, but Tim Kring's Touch looks like a disaster. And if the backdoor pilot that aired as part of Bones is any indication, The Finder is going to be really, really annoying.


The Apprentice (tentative - Sunday 8:00pm)
Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea
Best Friends Forever
Betty White's Off Their Rockers
Dateline NBC (tentative - Sunday 7:00pm)
Fashion Star
The Firm (tentative - Sunday 10:00pm)
Smash (tentative - Monday 10:00pm)
The Voice (tentative - Monday 8:00pm)
Untitled Brian Williams Newsmagazine

* I'm almost certain I've seen the premise for Awake used in a graphic novel recently. The guy jumping between parallel universes with important differences seems like the sort of thing that would make a great pilot but would run out of steam, especially once the audience encounters "married in one universe, widowed with love interest in the other" for very long.

* Smash could be a really nifty idea - following the process behind mounting a Broadway musical - and has Steven Spielberg behind it. The cast seems to be people who can sing, too, so if "musical drama" means "show where people burst into song" as opposed to just "drama about a musical, with in-story songs", it could be something interesting. It could also be a trainwreck, of course, and I sort of hate the idea of Glee inspiring imitators.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 May 2011 - 25 May 2011

Seriously, Hollywood? One wide release this weekend? I know it's a popular franchise, but... really? No counter-programming at all, except for those of us that missed Bridesmaids last week?

  • So, instead, let's look at what's coming out of China, the source for a fair amount of entertainment playing the Boston area this week. The Brattle gives most of the weekend over to not-quite-local-but-we'll-claim-him-as-our-own Donnie Yen, whose latest, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, has him as the masked vigilante of the title, fighting for justice in 1930s Shanghai. It's a part most famously played by Bruce Lee in Fists of Fury (this version clearly tips its hat to Lee's time as Kato on The Green Hornet< as well), but which Yen has also played before, on a TV series back in the 1990s. It plays Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but check the schedule, as the times vary from day to day.

    This is in part to make room for a Saturday afternoon double feature of more Donnie Yen martial arts action somewhat connected to Bruce Lee, as he takes on the part of the man who taught Lee wing chun in Ip Man and Ip Man 2. There's some pretty amazing action in these pictures - Wilson Yip directs and Sammo Hung choreographs the martial arts (and squares off against Yen in the sequel). The first is flat-out fantastic, and while the second only really suffers when compared to its predecessor. (Note that according to the Brattle's site, all but Ip Man 2 appear to be digital projection.)

    If you like Chinese movies but don't feel like a whole lot of punching and kicking, the latest day-and-date release from China Lion, A Beautiful Life, opens at Boston Common Friday night. There's not a lot of information to be found about it in English, but it appears to be a romantic comedy/drama starring Shu Qi (who also co-stars in Legend of the Fist), and one of those - If You Were the One 2 - has thus far been the importer's biggest success in North America. It might well be worth a look; Shu Qi certainly manages the "beautiful" part well enough.

  • The Brattle also has a couple other things programmed. On Wednesday the 25th and Thursday the 26th, they will have Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, an interesting film by famed Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul about a man dying of kidney failure who opts to spend the time he has left with family - living and dead. Very odd, but pretty good. Sunday night, the Alaska Wilderness League presents a simulcast of Bears of the Last Frontier, an episode of PBS's nature series focusing on the bears of Alaska's North Slope. And on Tuesday, acclaimed author China Miéville will read from his new book Embassytown at 6pm and introduce a screening of Jan Svankmajer's Alice (a retelling of Alice in Wonderland in Svankmajer's surreal style) at 8pm.

  • Three new movies open at Landmark Kendall Square. The one-week warning is for Blank City, a documentary about underground cinema in 1970s New York, back when Manhattan was less gentrified and independent cinema didn't have a national network getting its pictures into major theaters.

    Going from 20th-century New York to 16th Century France, we see The Princess of Montpensier, a story about a beautiful woman in love with one man, promised to another, and placed in the care of a third. It looks like a grand-scale period melodrama, and it's getting exceptional reviews that promise a contemporary pleaser rather than a stodgy period piece.

    The First Grader, on the other hand, takes place in contemporary Kenya. It's the story of an eighty-year-old man who, now that the country he fought for long ago is offering free education, would dearly like to learn to read. It looks like a warm crowd-pleaser.

  • The Coolidge's new releases will be a bit familiar from the last few weeks, although they become a little more accessible. Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams has been playing at Boston Common, for instance, but if 3D gives you a headache, you can now see it on flat 35mm film. They'll also be giving a one-week run in the digital rooms to These Amazing Shadows, a documentary on film preservation that was part of their Coolidge Award festivities a week ago.

    The midnight show this weekend is Dream Home, a not-perfect but extremely bloody (especially in this uncut version) tale of a woman who will do anything to get an apartment in an exclusive Hong Kong building. It's pretty good, although it's kind of strange that there are enough older horror fans that they are now making movies about the high cost of home ownership.

    There's also a special screening on Wednesday the 25th of Eric Metzgar's Reporter, which follows New York Times reporter Nicolas Krisof during the summer of 2007, when he went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and reported on the dangerous poverty and violence there. A student and a teacher also shadowed him, and the student, Leena Wen, will be there to introduce the film.

  • You may have heard about Tree of Life getting booed at Cannes, but that's just France for you. Those curious about its iconoclastic director's earlier work can catch up with three of his four previous features with ArtsEmerson's Terrence Malick retrospective at the Paramount Theater - Badlands and Days of Heaven both play Friday and Saturday night; The New World plays Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening.

  • The Harvard Film Archive continues its look at the careers of mother Sharmila Tagore and daughter Soha Ali Khan in Two Generations in Indian Cinema. Soha Ali Kahn will be appearing in person on Saturday the 21st to introduce and discuss 2006's Bollywood hit Rang de Basanti, and also plays in Khoya khoya chand on Friday the 20th. Sharmila Tagore will also be in town, introducing and discussing Satyajit Ray's Days and Nights in the Forest on Sunday the 22nd; she also appears in The Goddess on Friday and The Hero on Monday the 23rd (both also directed by Ray).

  • At the MFA, the Global Lens Film Series continues, with encore screenings of Dooman River and The Invisible Eye on Friday, along with Kyrgyzstan's The Light Thief (Friday and Saturday), Iran's White Meadows (Saturday and Sunday), Brazil's The Tenants (Saturday and Sunday), and Uruguay's A Useful Life (Sunday and Wednesday).

  • The Somerville Theatre's "microcinema" will be playing Inventory, an independent comedy produced on the South Shore for the next three Friday nights (20 May, 27 May, and 3 June). It's a slacker comedy with Clerks and The Breakfast Club DNA about slackers who are supposed to be counting the stock at a local furniture store. Somerville also opens Win Win, which isn't done with the Boston area after a pretty good run at Kendall Square, the Studio Cinema in Belmont, and the Coolidge.

    Also, while the first screening is a month away, the Somerville has put up their schedule of classic films that will be playing in 35mm on their big screen this summer.

  • The Studio replaces Win Win with Jane Eyre, but also has special Saturday and Sunday afternoon screenings of Akkara Kazhchakal - The Movie, a feature version of what is apparently a popular web series about a family of Malayali immidgrants in New Jersey. It's not clear from the description whether there are English subtitles to this Malayalam-language movie.

    (Also not clear - whether anything is running at the Studio's sister cinema on Stuart Street in Boston. Update your website, guys, I'm starting to get worried!)

  • Oh, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens all over the place, in 3D and 2D, on the IMAX screens at Jordan's Furniture, the IMAX-branded screen in Boston Common, and the RPX screen at Fenway. I don't want to rain on anybody's parade, because I like writers Elliott & Rossio and co-stars Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, but... Well, Rob Marshall directed Chicago and Nine, which were pretty awful (and I've heard little good about Memoirs of a Geisha). And putting Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow front and center seems to be a mistake; as much as I recall people complaining about Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom being boring in the previous Pirates movies, I suspect he'll be too much here.

    Plus, if this tanks, maybe that will make Warner reconsider the whole "have Marshall and Depp remake The Thin Man" idea, because that's got to be stopped.

My plans? Legend of the Fist and A Beautiful Life, for sure, and after that mostly catch-up - probably Bridesmaids and 13 Assassins, which given my recent work schedule will probably be enough until Kung Fu Panda 2 and a lesser sequel open next Thursday.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Two good shows in New York: True Legend and the Sox beat the Yankees

The last time I went to ballgames in New York City, it was to see the previous Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium before they met the wrecking ball. I was kind of surprised just how subdued Yankee Stadium was; sure, it was an interleague game against the Reds, but I always got the impression that New Yorkers were like us in Boston, baseball-mad east coasters who really got into the game; instead, it seemed like the crowd did nothing unless the jumbotron told them to.

So this time, I went to a Yankees-Sox game. I took precautions, of course. I got a seat 180 degrees away from the bleachers, where the rowdiest fans sit and where you generally see the clips of people being hauled out after altercations. I didn't wear a cap. My Sox t-shirt mostly stayed hidden under my fleece out of necessity - there was some wind, so it wound up a bit chilly - but if anyone had seen it, it would be for #9, and while they may get on you for the team you support, few mock Ted Williams. (Although the original plan, when Matsuzaka was pitching, was to wear the shirt with his name and "Red Sox" spelled out in kanji, all stealthy-like.)

Because I am who I am, and had plenty of time to kill in the afternoon, I opted to take in a movie, and it was mostly a happy coincidence that this was the week Indomina opened True Legend in New York. After all, something new is going to open up in New York that doesn't open elsewhere every week, and if I just happen to get a press release about the Yuen Woo-ping movie, well...

Unfortunately, Indomina's website doesn't state anything about plans to release it beyond its current four or five cities, and they as a company aren't quite secretive, but have occasionally seemed less than forthcoming - they spent much of last year acquiring US rights to movies without much talk about how they are being distributed. A look at Indomina's website indicates a few pretty interesting pickups, but everything other than True Legend has "TBD" in the information fields. There is, as yet, no word on whether it will come to Boston.

Which would make my spending a good chunk of an afternoon in NYC and $13.50 a little silly, but then again, I would have just used it on another movie otherwise. Although maybe with a less expensive movie ticket; that $13.50 for a show at 2pm in the afternoon that wasn't 3-D or large-format (sure, it was 4K digital and comfy seats, but that's not quite "premium" if you ask me). Apparently the Regal E-Walk on 42nd street just doesn't have matinee prices, the cost goes up from there if you want the 3-D, RPX, or, good lord, 3-D RPX (where you're basically looking at a $20 movie ticket).

It does, however, include the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, which I'm a bit split on. Yes, it was very cool that I got to mix my own soda out of a whole bunch of different options (I went for about 90% Raspberry Coke Zero and 10% Lime Coke Zero), but I can see this becoming a real bottleneck on a busy night; instead of the concession crew just putting your cup under a tap and letting it fill while they get the rest of your meal (several at once if you order different kinds of soda), you've now got every guy with a drink confronted by a touch screen interface that is not necessarily intuitive. I had a guy come up to explain it to me, which I appreciated but likely didn't need. Multiply this by a couple hundred, and it sounds like a potential mess.

(Note: I still want them in Boston theaters, even if it did overwhelm the bladder which shrunk to the size of a pea on Saturday. And if you don't care about sports, jump down past the baseball stuff and photos to the review.)

After that, I pondered spending some time in a museum or something, but wound up just heading to the Stadium. It absolutely should not have taken three trains for me to get there, but I looked at the map wrong and initially took the wrong one, and then when I was on a D train it switched to express and I had to get off and wait for the next.

New Yankee Stadium is weird. The Bronx neighborhood around it is sort of like the area around Fenway, in that you get off the train and you're surrounded by baseball, but even outside the park, all the vendors are official Yankee employees; there's nothing like the guys hawking Boston Baseball or the sausage guys aside from some people selling $1 bottled water. It's also enormous inside; the concourses are huge and each concession window seems to be twice as wide as its Fenway equivalent. As much as I'd like to describe it as an evil, horrible place to visit, it's not; there are guys with "How May I Help You?" signs everywhere, and if you arrive early enough, they'll let you get down close to the field to take pictures and look around.

Although I admit, I wish I'd brought a bag to hold my books and stuff in; I'd heard that the Stadium's policy on them was more draconian than it actually is. It's mostly weird - you have to demonstrate that your bag can fit in a receptacle like they use at the airport, and for some reason they don't let you bring a laptop, tablet computer, or e-reader in, which is just silly, and would annoy the heck out of me if I was trying to see a game after work there. Seriously, how's a Kindle worse that the big hardcover I had?

I didn't get much trouble from the fans, although, as I said, I made sure not to set myself up for it. The game helped; it wasn't the blowout it looks like from the final score until after Adrian Gonzalez hit a three-run homer to that short porch in right, and I was pretty nervous up until then - even though the Red Sox had grabbed two runs, it seems like C.C. Sabathia was on his game but Josh Beckett couldn't seal the deal with individual hitters, even as he racked up six scoreless innings.

The crowd was a lot more involved this game, although it's kind of interesting how, despite this palace of a park and a great team with a bunch of dedicated fans, the Yankees often seem to be trying too hard. There are trivia contests and promotions every half-inning that feel kind of minor league to me, and noise between practically every pitch. What really boggles the mind is the "Make Some Noise" things that go up on the scoreboard every once in a while; I'm used to Fenway, where the people running the show assume I know when to clap. Plus, it's almost like they're not sure when to place the emphasis; they'd flash "make some noise" when a Red Sox hitter was down 0-2, but also when the Yankees are in the same position. There are big, animated things on the scoreboard whenever someone got a hit, even if it's late and they're down 6-0. It's like a movie director who doesn't know what to emphasize, so he makes everything big and loud. Fortunately, the crowd didn't always respond robotically this time, for which you've got to give them a little credit - they could see the situation wasn't good and weren't pretending otherwise.

(Interestingly, at the Sox-Orioles game in Fenway that I just got back from, you could really see the difference. The music choices responded to the mood of the crowd and didn't get bombastic until the game was close and such things were earned. Plus, we never were told when to applaud.)

It was fun, though. There was a kid screaming behind me, and I had to smile whenever he got started. Sure, he was rooting against my team, but it's a kid excited about baseball; he's got no control over fate putting him in a situation where the local team is the Yankees. And I completely missed all the hoo-ha about Jorge Posada asking out after being insulted by being penciled into the ninth spot of the order until I was checking Twitter the next morning - I suspect Joe Buck and Tim McCarver beat it to bloody death.

After that, it was time to take the subway back to where Megabus picks up and wait out a couple hours until the 1:30am bus (mostly in a 24-hour diner; bless such things). I got into Boston at 6am, and was back a my house just in time for my brother to pick up up for a trip north to Maine for another brother's baby shower. I suspect I'm going to be tired all week, but the day was worth it.

And now, merely mediocre photography:

New Yankee Stadium
New Yankee Stadium, Gate 6. An imposing, monolithic thing, compared to the homey brick of Fenway Park. I must admit to a thrill of excitement, going into enemy territory, that I absolutely did not feel when going to see the Sox play at Camden Yards last year.

Batting practice
I got close enough to watch the Sox take some batting practice. Neat to get so close behind home plate with relatively few crowding the place at this point. I then started walking through the stadium to check out Monument Park, but it was apparently closed to visitors that day, thus depriving you of a picture captioned "bastards all".

My seat
My seat for the game; a $29 seat I paid rather more for, but it was in the front row of its section, so a pretty nice view.

Su Qi-er (True Legend)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 May 2011 in Regal E-Walk #7 (first-run)

As the English-language title suggests, True Legend is based upon an actual historical figure, although I strongly suspect that he is, as they say, being "used fictitiously". After all, you don't go to a Yuen Woo-ping movie for historical accuracy, but for martial-arts madness, and on that count, he delivers - perhaps more than the movie can handle.

A prince has been kidnapped, and it's up to the kingdom's bravest soldier, Su Can (Chiu Man-cheuk, credited as "Vincent Zhao"), to save him. This he does, with the help of friend Ma Quingfeng (Guo Xiaodong) and foster brother Yuan Lie (Andy On). He declines a promotion in order to return home to wife Ying (Zhou Xun) - also Yuan's sister - and start a family and teach wushu. Five years later, Yuan returns, not to see his nephew, but to avenge the death of his father at the hands of Su's. Body and spirit broken, Su will need the ministrations of the reclusive Dr. Yu (Michelle Yeoh) and the training of the mysterious "Old Sage" ("Gordon" Liu Chia Hui) and "God of Wushu" (Jay Chou) in order to return home and rescue little Feng from the clutches of his ever-more deranged uncle.

Many will recall Yuen Woo-ping for his work as action director for films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Matrix, and Kill Bill and expect gravity-defying wire-fu. And while he hasn't directed a movie in nearly fifteen years, longtime fans will remember some of Yuen's earlier Hong Kong work, which while not so elegant, have an over-the-top, anything-goes energy like little else. True Legend has a heaping helping of both, with the opening gambit amazing but too disrespectful of the laws of physics, but once Yuan returns, we're getting stuff like "Five Venom Fists" and "Black Gold Armor" that are even more outrageous than they sound.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 13 May 2011 - 19 May 2011

Not many movies for me this weekend, as I'm going to be spending a bunch of time traveling. Not to be too negative, but it's kind of a good weekend for it to work out like that. Not that the stuff opening is bad...

  • ... in fact, my friends who went to SXSW quite liked Bridesmaids, a new comedy co-written by and starring Kristen Wiig, directed by Paul Feig, and produced by Judd Apatow. Everyone I've talked to says it's one of the funniest mainstream comedies they've seen in a while, especially considering that its sub-genre - the female-oriented comedy - has taken a lot of hits in the past few years for seeming to have an active disdain for its target audience, even when women are writing and directing.

    Priest, on the other hand, is not getting the same sort of love. It didn't screen for critics and the last time Paul Bettany worked with director Scott Stewart, the result was the much-reviled Legion. Folks who read the original manhwa about a priesthood fighting vampires in a dystopian future tell me it's good stuff, but it's not going to be available anymore because TokyoPop, the rights-holder and one of the companies producing the movie, shut down their publishing division. Even if it looked good, I might stay away just because this being a success might be said to validate Stuart Levy's decision to make his company nothing more than a rights-holder. If he doesn't want my money for the comics, I'm willing to not give it to him for the movie, either.

  • Boston Common is keeping a surprising amount of it's boutique-y stuff around - Cave of Forgotten Dreams, There Be Dragons, and The Beaver are still playing, even though the latter has already left Kendall Square - and bolstering that line-up with a couple new ones. Everything Must Go is based upon a Raymond Carver story, and features Will Farrell as an alcoholic whose wife (Rebecca Hall) throws him out with his stuff, leading him to set up a yard sale to purge his old life. Not a big fan of Farrell, but he does his moments.

    Also opening is Hesher, which... Hey, it's about another guy setting up shop outside a house where he's not really wanted. This one's more metalhead the rummy, though, with Joshua Gordon-Levitt as the title thrasher who begins squatting in someone else's garage and teaching them life lessons. The movie also features Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, and Piper Laurie.

  • Those two also open at Kendall Square, which also has the Canadian nominee for the Foreign Language Film category at this year's Academy Awards, Incendies. It's the story of two siblings who receive two envelopes at the reading of their mother's will, addressed to their father and brother - the thing is, they believe the former to be dead and had never heard of the latter. It sends them on a quest to the middle east to learn more about their family history. It looks excellent.

    Also on tap are Forks Over Knives, a documentary espousing a natural, vegetarian diet, and The Robber, a German film about a marathon runner who found a use for his unique talents in robbing banks. That one has the official one-week tag on it.

  • Incidines also plays at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, which also opens Last Night. That one features Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington as a married couple whose relationship suddenly becomes complicated when Knightley's character sees that one of her boyfriend's colleagues is a beautiful woman and encounters one of her own exes soon after. I'm kind of curious to see how Worthington is in this; he's basically been a functional good-looking guy who doesn't mind working against a bunch of effects in his American career, but supposedly he showed himself capable of much more back in Australia, and this is a movie that perhaps demands a bit more. Just make sure you check the schedule; depending on the day and time, it may be playing on any of the Coolidge's screens, either on 35mm film or digital video.

    The special programs this week include Oldboy at midnight on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th. It's excellent, and you can't really go wrong with Park Chan-wook directing Choi Min-sik. (Yes, I know I gave Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance one star; I intend to re-evaluate that soon, considering I've loved absolutely everything else Park has done). Also playing at midnight on Saturday is the monthly screening of The Room.

    On Sunday evening, there is a special program Honoring Eleanor Roosevelt, to raise money to preserve the late First Lady's home. It includes a film, as well as guest speakers and awards presentations. Less pricey is Monday's specialPublic Speaking, a new Martin Scorcese documentary about New York writer Fran Lebowitz, who will be present to answer questions.

  • The Somerville Theatre, in addition to their usual mix of first- and second-run movies, is having a Charlie Chaplin Weekend - from Friday the 13th through Sunday the 15th, their main screen will be showing City Lights, Modern Times, and Limelight, all classic movies that have recently had new 35mm prints struck.

  • The Museum of Fine Arts and Brattle Theatre wrap up the 27th Annual Boston LGBT Film Festival; Sunday the 15th is the last day. It finishes during the afternoon at the Brattle, while running all day at the MFA.

    Afterward, the Brattle will be featuring a Mini Green Film Festival as part of Cambridge Climate Change Week. Panel discussions will be part of the screenings of PBS documentary Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization and Food, Inc., while Winged Migration stands on its own. The screen will be dark much of the rest of the week, with an as-yet-unannounced screening Wednesday evening and "Best of Open Screen" on Thursday.

    The MFA, meanwhile, will be beginning its Global Lens Film Series on Wednesday afternoon with Dooman River, a Chinese film set along the border with North Korea, and The Invisible Eye, set in an Argentine private school during the military regime of the 1980s. The evening will feature a preview of The First Grader, about an old man who enters elementary school at the age of eighty to learn how to read.

  • It's a relatively quiet week at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater, for film at least. West Side Story plays once again on Saturday night, while Friday night features two screenings of We Are What We Are. It's another one that may call for a re-evaluation; I wasn't very fond of it at Fantasia last year, but it got enough acclaim that I wonder if I missed something while trying to maintain that 25 film/week pace.

  • The Harvard Film Archive runs a Berlin School Now series, showcasing a new wave of German filmmakers who are bigger on formal experimentation than melodrama. Notable directors included in the series are Christoph Hochhäusler and Isabelle Stever, who each have two films playing in the program; Hochhäusler will be there in person on Saturday to introduce and discuss The City Below. On Monday, the program switches to a series spotlighting two generations of Indian actresses, mother and daughter Sharmila Tagore and Soha Ali Khan, starting with Tagore's first appearance in Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu. That series will continue next weekend.

  • That would be a great way to seque into the Indian movies playing at Fresh Pond, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, as near as I can tell, all three are unsubtitled, so unless you know Tamil (Ko) or Telegu (Mr. Perfect and 100% Love), you're out of luck.

  • The Regent Theatre in Arlington has one film program this week, the 2nd Annual Family-Friendly Bike Film Festival, a program of short films about bicycle travel.

  • The second-run scene is quiet, with Of Gods and Men opening at the Arlington Capitol. Something may be playing at the Stuart Street Playhouse, but their website has been ominously blank for the past week. Has anybody been by there since IFFBoston to see if the lights are still on?

My plans... Extremely light. I'm heading to New York on Saturday to see the Red Sox and Yankees at the new Yankee Stadium (pray for me!), and then up to Maine on Sunday for my brother & sister-in-law's babies (plural) shower. I refuse to even ponder the situation where the ballgame is rained out and rescheduled for Sunday. I refuse!

Around that... Maybe something Friday night - I really would like to give We Are What We Are another chance, but I'll probably just watch the game. In New York, I may catch True Legend, a martial arts flick directed by the legendary Yuen Woo-ping and starring Michelle Yeoh, among others. After I get home, hopefully at least The Robber and 13 Assassins, with Bridesmaids put off until next weekend when the big opening is something I really don't care about at all.