Thursday, June 30, 2011

I like IMAX 3-D: Cars 2, "Under the Sea", and "Born to Be Wild"

For just the second time ever, it seems, the MBTA has adjusted their schedules in a way to make getting to and from Jordan's for a movie relatively painless (the first was when they decided to actually run the 136/137 bus tandem on Sundays). Even cutting things a little close on the Orange Line, the bus dropped me off at 55 Walker's Brook Drive just in time to climb the hill and get my tickets, and it wasn't more than a 15 minute wait on the other end. I was able to just tear through my book that day, too, so that was satisfying all around.

Especially since, despite all the negative reviews I've seen, the movie was darn good. It doesn't transcend the "kid's cartoon" genre the way many of Pixar's other recent films do, but it's an exciting adventure that can bring a smile to an otherwise sour puss if accepted as such. By that I don't mean to lower one's expectations of quality, but to judge it for what it is rather than what one wants it to be (especially if what one wants it to be is "nonexistent, because it's a sell-out sequel to a movie I didn't much like anyway!"). There are bits that put a big, stupid grin on my face - the black humor of Finn McMissile being presented with a crushed cube of metal, the toy airplanes that scatter when cars drive through a park in Rome, and Bruce Campbell showing up in a Pixar flick are just a few - and they don't feel like pandering.

Without walking back how much I enjoyed the movie, one thing that surprises me upon reflection is how my perception of John Lasseter has changed upon looking at the Cars movies. Back when Toy Story popped up, it was easy to place him aside Windsor McKay, Walt Disney, Usama Tezuka, and Hayao Miyazaki as animation pioneers who not only revolutionized animation as a medium but were also brilliant storytellers; now, seeing what sort of brilliant and emotional movies Pixar is making with him in a supervisory role (and how the "main" animation department at Disney has improved ever since he was placed in charge), the perception is a little different - he's still a very good storyteller, but he's arguably an even better mentor and developer of raw talent.

One more amusing thing - with the IMAX theater at Jordan's gaining another new sponsor (this time, Posturepedic), Elliot recorded a new pre-show teaser, this one taking pains to point out that they project using 70mm film. I don't know if that's necessarily a reaction to the recent wave of dissatisfaction at how digital projectors equipped for 3D can create a sub-par experience (with Boston cited at a specific example), but I kind of like to think it is.

The next day wound up being about using my tickets for the IMAX shows at the Aquarium up. I kick myself a little for not using one earlier and seeing Hubble 3-D again, but both movies I did see were solidly enjoyable science documentaries, worth the $5 I paid and probably the $9.95 full price. I may not wind up using the ones for the Museum of Science, depending how this weekend lines up, but if I don't, it will because I'm doing something else that's cool.

Cars 2

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 June 2011 at Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, IMAX 3-D)

There's no getting around the fact that Cars 2 exists because of Disney's merchandising machine, and unlike the Toy Story sequels, which also exist in large part because the stuff on the shelves could use a refresh and a boost, the original Cars wasn't well-received by critics. As a result, there's less anticipation and more cynicism where this one's concerned, as few are saying "well, I don't like sequels as a rule, but I really love Lightning and Mater" the way they did with Buzz and Woody. For as clear as the mercenary motives behind it's creation are, though, Cars 2 succeeds at being an entertaining adventure.

Somewhere in the South Pacific of the Cars world (where cartoon vehicles live without human drivers), British Intelligence operative Finn McMissile (voice of Michael Caine) has come upon a secret base where a colleague has disappeared, and he barely escapes from the clutches of Professor Z (voice of Thomas Kretschmann) himself. Meanwhile, back in Radiator Springs, stock racer Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) was planning on some R&R after another successful season, but the goading of open-wheel racer Francesco Bernoulli (voice of John Turturro) has him sign up for the World Grand Prix, this time with his new friends from the first movie as his pit crew, including his loyal but far-from-worldly best bud Tow Mater (voice of Dan "Larry" Whitney). Things get hairy, though, once they arrive in Tokyo - Mater's cornpone antics are kind of embarrassing to McQueen, while McMissile and his assistant Holley Shiftwell (voice of Emily Mortimer) mistake Mater for the American spy they were sent to meet, sweeping him into a world of intrigue.

Cars 2 is kind of an odd duck compared to other recent Pixar movies, and even its own progenitor. It's the first feature from the studio that really doesn't have an emotional gut-punch since, well, Cars - even the moment where Mater recognizes that others often see him as a buffoon is muted, either not looking or not succeeding in getting the audience to cry like Up and the Toy Story sequels managed. Even without bringing those into the picture, it's in many ways the inverse of director John Lasseter's original Cars. Lasseter and his co-writers move McQueen from lead to supporting and Mater in the other direction, crafting the story around Mater at odds with big international cities rather than McQueen in small town America. The tone is completely different; where Cars was often quiet and pastoral, the sequel is loud and packed with action.

Full review at EFC.

"Under the Sea"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 June 2011 at the New England Aquarium (repatory, IMAX 3-D)

I saw this one about a year ago, and wound up giving it somewhat higher marks than I do today. Of course, the movie itself hasn't changed; I just didn't find myself reacting quite so strongly as I did. It could be the audience, it could be that I was using a coupon up before it expires and thus seeing it more out of obligation than enthusiasm, it could be that I was sitting in the second row and that's really too close for this sort of giant-screen presentation. Or because it's a science doc aimed toward young children and while the picture was still dazzling, the information wasn't new.

One thing that often amuses me with some of these things they show at the Aquarium is just how much hot fish lovin' gets into them. I'm half-kidding, of course, but I remember seeing one with my brother and joking afterward that one of the centerpieces of the movie was a squid orgy. This one makes audiences go "aawwww!" at the sight of two cuttlefish kissing (no small feat, because the cuttlefish is a supremely grotesque creature, almost certainly the visual inspiration for many depictions of Lovecraft's Cthulhu, whose very visage is said to be enough to drive men mad), while narrator Jim Carrey jauntily points out that this is all it takes to fertilize the females eggs. The implication is clear enough that when we return to the cuttlefish later, and Carrey talks about how it is trying to avoid the claws that pinch as it stalks its crab dinner, I have a hard time not shouting out that you would too, if nature had decided to place your reproductive organs in your mouth! I mean, avoiding spicy foods would be the least of your concerns.

And with that thoroughly inappropriate detour amid reviews of G-rated movies, let's move on...

"Born to Be Wild"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 June 2011 at the New England Aquarium (first-run, IMAX 3-D)

Even the coldest, meanest of people has a soft place in their hearts that wants to see this movie. After all, it's about orphaned baby animals and people who have made it their life's work to raise these cuties and return them to their habitats; who can argue with that. The filmmakers are banking on an immediate emotional reaction to the lovable animals followed by appreciation for the nobility of the cause, and once you've got those, dissecting it as a film is beside the point.

Director David Lickley presents us with two women doing this good work in parallel: In Kenya, we meet Daphne Sheldrick, who grew up on the grounds of a national park and now rescues baby elephants whose parents have been killed, mostly by poachers for their ivory. On the other side of the Indian Ocean, in Borneo, Dr. Birute Galdikas tends to orangutans, who are seldom hunted as such but have been crowded out of their habitats by expansion and deforestation. Both are intelligent women with dedicated teams, and neither aims to domesticate their charges; these animals will remain in their care only until they are able to fend for themselves in the wild.

Lickley and screenwriter Drew Fellman tell the story in a reasonably straightforward manner; we're given an introduction to each of these women, shown a rescue, some scenes of how the orphans are cared for, and a return to the wild. The details are interesting and informative, whether it be how these elephants require a lot of sunblock for their ears (normally, they would be shaded under the females of the herd or how orangutan "graduates" will often come back to visit Galdikas's camp. Narration (by Morgan Freeman) is used sparingly, mostly to set up a scene which plays out on its own.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 29 June 2011 - 7 July 2011

Someone at Paramount needs to explain to me why, with two big action/adventure franchises due for release in July, the one that features a man dressing up in the American flag is pushed off until almost the end of the month while the one with the talking robots is opening for the Fourth of July? And don't give me any logic about there already being two superhero movies playing theaters right now (with the outside-but-real possibility at the time that the schedule was made that Thor would still be hanging around) - the summer should have been built around Captain America on the 4th of July!

  • Instead, we get Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which actually opened at around 9pm on Tuesday. The teaser trailers that played for a long time would constantly trick me into thinking they were for a different movie, and knowing Michael Bay's history with the previous movies in this series would always be a gut kick when I saw his name come up. But, hey, maybe this one will be different - maybe shooting in 3D will force Bay to hold the camera steady and not edit the movie with a lawnmower. It could happen.

    The rest of the openings for this week happen on Friday. The big name is Larry Crowne, which Tom Hanks stars in, co-writes, and directs. He plays a blue-collar guy who goes to college after being laid off, and winds up romancing one of his instructors (who is played by Julia Roberts). This is the sort of thing that is right in Hanks's and Roberts's wheelhouses, and I suspect they'll do just fine. Those guys tend to skew a little toward the older side, though, so Hollywood also offers us Monte Carlo, a teen-oriented comedy in which three friends are whisked off to the titular city after one is mistaken for an heiress. I am too old to recognize any of the three leads (I've seen Katie Cassidy on Supernatural, but Selena Gomez and Leighton Meester are stars of shows for younger people), but Andie MacDowell's in it somewhere. Glad to see her getting work.


  • Over at Kendall Square, the Friday openings include two graduates of IFFBoston. Page One: Inside the New York Times is a documentary which focuses how the most traditional of traditional media outlets adapts to the new online reality. Trollhunter is a mock-documentary in which a group of students find and follow the man tasked with hunting down trolls for the Norwegian people. Audiences may decide for themselves which is more of a horror movie!

    Those have relatively open-ended bookings; the one-week booking is for The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls. This documentary is about New Zealand entertainers Lynda and Jools Topp, a modern day vaudeville act (they sing, yodel, tell jokes and act in skits) notable for being lesbian twin sisters. And though that sounds like a niche act, they apparently have plenty of mainstream fans down under, with this film including a fair amount of footage to show us why.


  • The Aap Ka Manoranjan calendar shows two movies opening at Fresh Pond on Friday in Hindi with English subtitles. Buddah... Hoga Tera Baap, from what I can glean, is an action comedy that stars Amitabh Bachchan as a man in his sixties who refuses to act his age, with mayhem naturally ensuing. Delhi Belly appears to be a raunchy (at least by Bollywood standards) madcap comedy involving gangsters, chases, and an arranged marriage. For the weekend (Friday-Monday), Delhi Belly will play evenings while Buddah has matinees; on Tuesday, they swap their 5:30pm and 10pm shows and run that way through Thursday.


  • The Somerville Theatre continues their summer series - the midnight film on Friday and Saturday night is Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School, with a live pre-show "featuring Kristen Ford Trio, Comedian and MC Mehran Khaghani, and a special HOT FOR TEACHER dance number!". It's on the big screen in the main theater, so that means it will likely be paired with Larry Crowne rather than its logical partner Bad Teacher. The weekend's classic, playing Sunday the 3rd at 11am and Monday the 5th at 5pm & 8pm, is The African Queen, so if you missed it at the Brattle this week, you've got another shot to see it on 35mm film, along with "two Technicolor short subjects"


  • Meanwhile, the Brattle continues on with the classics, presenting a frighteningly straightforward schedule this week: Taxi Driver. 4:30, 7:00, and 9:30 from Friday through Thursday (the 9:30pm show is skipped Monday because everybody will be at fireworks anyway, and there are 2pm matinees on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday). It's Scorcese, De Niro, a great supporting cast, and a score by Bernard Hermann.


  • The Coolidge is pretty much sticking with what's working this week - Midnight in Paris and Tree of Life on film, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop and Cave of Forgotten Dreams on digital video, and Hobo with a Shotgun at midnight on Friday & Saturday. They, like the Brattle, shut down early for fireworks on Monday.


  • Things are quiet at the MFA, too, as they wrap up their "Art on Film" series with an 8pm screening of Big Shoes: Walking and Talking the Blues tonight (29 June) and a 4pm screening of Cameraman: The Life and Times of Jack Cardiff tomorrow (30 June). Then their screens are dark for the holiday weekend, but they open the Boston French Film Festival next Thursday (7 July) with The Women on the Sixth Floor; director Philippe Le Guay will be there in person to introduce his movie about a Paris businessman who hires a Spanish maid in 1960 and has his life turned upside down.


  • And, finally, I apparently missed this bit of second-run shuffling when it happened, but the New England Aquarium's IMAX theater is now showing Pirates of the Caribean: On Stranger Tides during the evening (7:15pm Sunday-Thursday, 5pm & 7:45pm Friday-Saturday). This fits their mandate perfectly, as mermaids are marine life, after all! It's cheaper and better looking to see it there than at the Boston Common AMC. Speaking of, they're apparently keeping The Beginning of the Great Revival around for matinees this week, and continue to show Yellowbrickroad Wednesdays at 10pm and Fridays at midnight through the 8th.



My plans? Fairly set - I've got three tickets for the Omni Theater at the Museum of Science that must be used by the 3rd, so I'll be seeing a few science docs on Saturday. I'll probably head north to see family on Sunday, especially since my niece count doubled last night (welcome, Naomi Nicole and Makenna Danielle!). Around that... Probably Trollhunter and Larry Crowne. And, lord help me, I'll likely give Transformers a look even though I skipped the second because that teaser is, in fact, really good, and word is that it will at least look amazing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Noir Nights at the Paramount Center

Their "Noir Nights" series doesn't quite bring ArtsEmerson's first year of operation to a close, but I'll hopefully be out of town when they pop up again for another weekend "mini-festival" in July, so it's a good enough place for me to look back. I'm not certain if it can be called a complete success, but I've been fairly impressed. The Bright Screening Room is a small but enjoyable place to see a film, although one caveat applies: While it's generally good advice to sit a little bit closer to the back when a movie is projected digitally than from film, that's doubly true here; my first experience with The Azemichi Road was tremendously disappointing because of this. It's a relatively short, wide room, so it's easy to get off-center fast if you like sitting close to the front.

This particular series was pretty great, though. Five of the six films advertised are not available on home video in the U.S. (Beyond a Reasonable Doubt got a Warner Archives release in May; Amazon's got an entry in their streaming store for Alias Nick Beal, but it is apparently not available right now), but all were presented on excellent-looking prints, whether archival or restoration. Admittedly, the reason why these movies aren't available on video is that they're not quite essentials; they are, in general, competently made but flawed in some way that kept them from becoming classics. Most are still worth watching - even the one stinker of the batch, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, is Fritz Lang directing Joan Fontaine, so it's at least interesting as part of a catalog - but they aren't things you need to have on your shelf.

It's nice to see them cleaned up and looking so nice, though. It was even a perfectly rainy, miserable evening for the opening night screening of Cry of the City (bad enough that I begged co-workers for a ride into town rather than wait for the bus). After all, clear skies don't make for proper noir.

Cry of the City

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2011 in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room (Noir Nights)

Cry of the City offers up traditional heroes and anti-heroes, making for a decent if unremarkable film noir, and if that's all it had, it's current unavailability on home video would just be unfortunate. Its last act is pretty clever, though - director Robert Siodmak and his fellow filmmakers know how to use a sledgehammer with finesse.

Marty Rome (Richard Conte) is going to the chair; he killed a cop in his latest robbery. Lt. Candella (Victor Mature) grew up in the same Italian-American neighborhood and is watching him like a hawk, and with good reason - corrupt attorney W.A. Niles (Berry Kroeger) wants him to take the fall for one of his clients, and though Rome initially says no dice, he thinks again when he escapes from prison and sees in the payoff the possibility of starting a new life with his sweet girlfriend Teena (Debra Paget). Thing turn sideways on him, though, and even though his little brother Tony (Tommy Cook) and old flame Brenda (Shelley Winters) will help him out, he's got to move faster than some crooks a lot meaner than him, the relentless pursuit of Candella and the police, and the bullet wound he sustained during that last robbery.

Siodmak and screenwriter Richard Murphy start the movie where they do for a reason - rather than being engaged in a shoot-out, Marty is being rushed through the hospital, preyed upon by an opportunistic lawyer; it's not hard to muster up a little sympathy for him then, especially once we see the angelic Teena at his bedside. Conte milks that initial good impression for all it's worth, but he also needs it, because he plays Marty like a shark, a carnivore always moving forward. He's got an easy charm and charisma, but there's always a sneer ready to come out when he thinks he's got the best of someone.

Full review at EFC.

So Evil My Love

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2011 in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room (Noir Nights)

Ray Milland had several distinct phases to his career, and as the title may suggest, So Evil My Love comes toward the start of his villain years. It's a role that suits him, and while this particular heel is not quite so well-remembered as his turn in Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, the film is an enjoyably pulpy bit of gaslight crime.

The film opens with Olivia Harwood (Ann Todd) returning home to London via steamship, a widow who's missionary husband died of malaria in Jamaica. Some on the ship are suffering from the malady as well, including Mark Bellis (Milland), an artist ahead of his time who supplants his meager sales with crime. Though Olivia initially denies the attraction, she agrees to ask her school friend Susan (Geraldine Fitzgerald) for money when Mark is tapped out, his eyes really light up when he learns about some indiscreet letters Susan had written Olivia which the latter had saved - the sort Susan's domineering husband Henry (Raymond Huntley) would rather not come out.

These sorts of plans seldom come off without a hitch, of course, and writers Ronald Millar and Leonard Spigelgass (working from a novel by Joseph Shearing) throw all manner of obstacles in Olivia's and Mark's way. Indeed, one can look at the way Mark Bellis's schemes go sideways over the course of the movie and wind up wondering if maybe he wouldn't be better off getting into the forgery game like his partner-in-crime Jarvis (Leo G. Carroll) suggests, even if respect for the work is apparently the one scruple he has. So Evil My Love doesn't play like a bumbling-criminal movie, though - director Lewis Allen and the writers always make sure that one plan leads into another. Maybe Bellis doesn't plan it this way, but he's ready to seize new opportunities as they come.

Full review at EFC.

Alias Nick Beal

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2011 in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room (Noir Nights)

At one point in Alias Nick Beal, a man actually says "I'd sell my soul", followed moments later by the entrance of the demonic title character; all that's missing is the thunderclap. Sure, there were sixty fewer years of general snarkiness and tired screenplays when the movie was released, but it's a good bet that moments like that had whiskers on them even back then.

The frustrated man in that example is Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell), an honest district attorney trying to put a gangster away for good; the man who walks through the door is Nicholas Beal (Ray Milland), who would seem to be to slick and prosperous to meet people in a dockside bar. That's where he does his business, though, not just to offer Foster his chance at some incriminating ledgers but to recruit Donna Allen (Audrey Totter), a lady of the night that he dresses up as an heiress. After all, this conviction wll make Foster the front-runner in the upcoming governor's race, and if Beal's going to have a man inside the governor's mansion, it can't hurt to have a woman inside Foster's campaign.

Ray Milland is billed first, being in the title role and all, but the movie is really about third-billed Mitchell's character (Totter is listed second). Sight-unseen, that probably says more about the relative popularity of the three main cast members at the time: Milland was a star, Totter a familiar-enough face who never quite broke through to the A-list, and Mitchell a reliable character actor. That about describes their performances, too. Milland steals what scenes aren't straight-up handed to him with his slick demeanor; there's an assured but impersonal sense of malice to Nick. He doesn't lose his temper, but occasionally sets it aside when a little intimidation may wind up useful. Audrey Totter was a professional bad girl, and she's got all the tricks down for Donna - a brassy sense of self-reliance, even when she's taking Nick's largesse; enjoying her taste of the good life but still letting her coarser nature peek through; and realizing that she may not be the greatest person in the world, but that she's working with a monster. And Thomas Mitchell doesn't make a mis-step as Foster; he keeps the saintly attorney grounded at the start and manages the descent into corruption quite believably.

Full review at EFC.

Tight Spot

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 June 2011 in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room (Noir Nights)

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that most people, when one or the other is mentioned, don't really associate Ginger Rogers and film noir. Surprisingly, Tight Spot doesn't show them as terribly incompatible, but even if Rogers does play a better tough dame than one might expect, she's doing it in the middle of a thoroughly mediocre story that leads to a groan-worthy last scene.

Sherry Conley (Rogers) used to be a model, but she sports a prison jumpsuit these days, at least until she's called to the warden's office and then spirited off to a hotel by matron Mrs. Willoughby (Katherine Anderson) and detective Vince Striker (Brian Keith). There, she meets with district attorney Lloyd Hallett (Edward G. Robinson), who asks her about a trip she took on a man's yacht some years ago. Her testimony could be the key to revoking the citizenship of mobster Benjamin Costain (Lorne Greene), but Sherry's no dummy - even without having seen the first scene of the movie, she knows how guys like Costain deal with potential witnesses, and while she doesn't mind ordering some room service, she'd like to go back to her nice, safe cell.

And for a while, that's how things stand - Sherry, Vince, and Mrs. Willoughby in a hotel suite, with Hallett occasionally showing up to implore Sherry to consider her civic duty while Sherry shoots back with questions about what the law has ever done for her. There's a false alarm or two in regards to Sherry's safety, some painful comic relief in the form of a telethon playing on TV, and some token "opposites attract" banter between Sherry and Vince that would play a lot better if the two did more than just look nice and bark at each other. Things pick up in the last act, when things of real consequence start happening, but before that, there's a lot of time when the most tension comes from just what dish Sherry will indulge in for supper.

Full review at EFC.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 June 2011 in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room (Noir Nights)

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt was Fritz Lang's last American movie, and while I doubt that it, individually, was what soured him on Hollywood enough to send him back to Europe, it's not the triumphant note a master should leave on, but a ludicrous thing that trades away its chance to make a point for an absurd plot.

The film opens with a man being brought to the electric chair, a sight that makes quite the impression on writer Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews). He was sent to witness the event by his former employer, newspaper editor Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), who has been using his editorial page to crusade against the death penalty, especially when applied on the basis of circumstantial evidence. He hatches a plan, which could form the basis of Garrett's next book: Frame Garrett for an unsolved murder, and then, after sentencing, reveal how they did it. It's the big city, so one naturally turns up - a burlesque dancer found strangled at the side of the road - and they put their plan in motion. Of course, they keep Tom's fiancée - and Austin's daughter - Susan (Joan Fontaine) in the dark about it so that her reactions will be genuine. How could such a plan fail?

Well, obviously, in any number of ways, since it's idiotic. Even ignoring some of the dated elements of the script, such as how Austin thinks the courts should rely more on eyewitness testimony (which has since been found to be far less reliable than the circumstantial evidence railed against), it is only able to succeed because apparently this city's police force doesn't secure its crime scenes at all and doesn't do any real detective work until the apparent perpetrator has made the absurd claim that he framed himself after his case has been sent to the jury. It's a stupid premise with plot holes that one could drive a truck through - and that's before taking into consideration just how convenient it is that the cop investigating the case is Susan's ex-boyfriend.

Full review at EFC.

The Dark Mirror

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2011 in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room (Noir Nights)

For a movie whose entire plot is driven by deliberately created ambiguity, The Dark Mirror springs an unusually small number of surprises on the audience without fair warning. It's maybe not quite the thriller it could be because of that, instead opting to flesh out some of the bits thrillers leave out or negate in order to get one more shock. It's an approach that works surprisingly well, even if the style does seem a little dated sixty-five years later.

A doctor has been murdered in his own home, but a some good detective work by Lt. Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) quickly identifies the likely perpetrator - his girlfriend Teresa Collins (Olivia de Havilland), who works at the newsstand in the man's office building. Two eyewitnesses identify her, but several other eyewitnesses place her at a Central Park concert around the estimated time of death. Stevenson is baffled, at least until he stops by Teresa's apartment and meets her sister Ruth - more specifically, her identical twin sister. The pair refuse to clear up just which of them was actually at the concert, leaving the police without a case. Not wanting to believe there is a such thing as a perfect murder, Stevenson asks Scott Elliott (Lew Ayres), a colleague of the murdered man who has published several papers on the psychology of twins, to talk with the Collins sisters and see if finding the answer is possible, even if it can't be used in court.

Playing twins is a tough gig, and when you consider just how dated performances from this era can seem to modern eyes used to a more naturalistic, less theatrical style, the quality of Olivia de Havilland's performances becomes all the more remarkable. Though the filmmakers helpfully tag the two characters (with letter broaches and necklaces that say "Terry" and "Ruth"), the audience is able to tell the two apart with relatively ease quickly enough. There's a cool confidence to Terry and a sweetness to Ruth that's reflected in their body language, but de Havilland doesn't exaggerate these traits; the ladies are similar enough in manner that one could easily see people being confused despite their individuality.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 June 2011 - 28 June 2011

I'm not the world's biggest defender of 3D, although I seem to like it more than 90% of the critics and film enthusiasts I know. I do like it, but let's face it - very few people outside of James Cameron like it as much as its detractors hate it. Guys I generally like and admire, such as Roger Ebert and Scott Weinberg, allow their disdain for the technique to overwhelm their discussion to a painful degree; you can expect the first paragraph of any review of a 3D movie or the bulk of their first tweet to be along the lines of "3D is evil see it in 2D". They pick up and repetitively retweet anything that suggests 3D Is Fading Away Like The Fad It Is with glee, even when the same data might also point to other conclusions.

(Honestly, I think that the theaters and studios shot themselves in the foot when they bumped the 3D premium up from $3 to $4 or $5. Three bucks seems fair, but kicking it up an extra dollar or two per person just comes across as gouging.)

That said - there is some actual evidence this week that there's some 3D fatigue going on; check out how the Capitol Theatre in Arlington is programming Cars 2 - one screen, alternating 3D and 2D showings. That's a little worrisome, as switching out the lenses between showtimes is often impossible, and the 2D screenings often suffer for it

Surprisingly, the only deluxe screens it will be opening on in the Boston area are IMAX screens at the furniture stores in Reading and Natick - the digital IMAX screen at Boston Common is keeping Super 8 and the RPX screen at Fenway is sticking with Green Lantern. Both are probably holding their screen open for Transformers 3, which opens Wednesday (which means "Next Week" will be a couple days early next week, too).

  • As mentioned, Cars 2 is opening in IMAX 3D at the furniture stores, digital 3D at most other venues, and generally one 2D screen for every two 3D screens (so most theaters haven't given up on 3D as a cash cow). It's a weird state of affairs when the new Pixar movie and the new Transformers movie seem like a match - vehicles with personalities in a movie that seems more driven by merchandising than creativity. Still, I'm hopeful - Pixar gets the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, and Michael Caine as a James Bond car may prove an adequate replacement for Paul Newman. Plus, Disney is almost certain to attach the Muppets trailer!

    Also opening in the multiplexes: Bad Teacher, with Cameron Diaz as the title character. Not getting good reviews, I'm afraid, which is too bad; the previews made me laugh and it looks like the filmmakers understand that the premise of an indifferent teacher has to be tasteless in order to work. Hopefully it works better than expected.


  • Hey, check it out - that Conan O'Brien Can't Stop review that got embargoed a couple months ago can go live! It's a fairly entertaining documentary about O'Brien's "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television" tour that closed IFFBoston this year. Bigger fans of Conan than me will probably enjoy it even more than I did. It's in the screening room at the Coolidge, as well as at Kendall Square.

    Conan closed IFFBoston; the movie that opened the Boston Underground Film Festival, Hobo with a Shotgun, plays the Coolidge midnight on Friday (the 24th), as well as next weekend. It's plenty fun, and since BUFF is co-presenting, there will probably be fun events around it. Saturday night's midnight show is Serenity, part of the annual "Can't Stop the Serenity" fundraiser, raising money for Equality Now; they will also be collecting non-perishable items for the New England Food Bank.

    And, finally, on Monday night (27 June), there's a restored print of La Dolce Vita. Not a particular favorite of mine, but it's supposedly a gorgeous print, and the Coolidge is a place to see it.


  • As mentioned, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop is also playing at Kendall Square, one of four documentaries opening there this week, two with tentative one-week bookings. The other expected short-timer is Pianomania, a documentary about Steinway & Sons Master Tuner Stefan Knüpfer, who is charged with matching and calibrating instruments with some of the world's greatest pianists.

    There's a more open-ended booking for Buck, which I missed at IFFBostson but heard great things about. This one follows Buck Brannaman, a cowboy who knows horses better than just about anybody and eschews traditional "breaking" for a kinder, more humane way of interacting with these animals, in part because of his own abusive childhood.

    And, finally, there is The Last Mountain, which covers a West Virginia community's attempts to stop "mountain top removal", a strip-mining technique linked to health problems and environmental devastation. Filmmaker Bill Haney is local, and will be at the theater in person for the 7:10pm show on Friday 24 June to introduce the movie and answer questions.


  • The Aap Ka Manoranjan folks are actually opening three movies in different languages on their screen at Fresh Pond, but only Double Dhamaal has English subtitles, so we'll focus on that. It's apparently a sequel to the 2007 comedy Dhamaal, and looks to be on the zany side - something with a bunch of disguises and slacker comedy - with a third Dhamaal movie allegedly already in the works.

    If Chinese is more your speed, The Beginning of the Great Revival opens at Boston Common. When it first appeared on China Lion's website, it was called The Founding of a Party, and all reports have it as a complete propaganda piece made by the Chinese Communist Party for its own glorification. It is, however, notable for its amaing cast, including Liu Ye - recently seen in A Beautiful Life and City of LIfe and Death - as the young Mao Zedong, along with nearly every other big name in the Chinese film industry. A very strange choice to have a near day-and-date opening in America, making me almost suspect that it's a contractual obligation of sorts (the promotion has been very quiet as well).


  • There's greatness at the Brattle, as a restored print of The African Queen plays afternoons and evenings through Thursday. It is Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, it is wonderful, and as it only very recently became available on home video, it hasn't been seen nearly as much as it should. The 9:30pm slot, at least until Wednesday, is IFFBoston Audience Award Winner 13 Assassins, Takashi Miike's take on the classic samurai film. It is fantastic in an entirely different way.


  • A similar line-up will be making appearances on the Somerville Theatre's big screen: The cult classic is Rubber, playing Friday and Saturday at midnight. It is fantastic, and midnight showings with an enthusiastic crowd is its natural environment. The Somerville Theatre website indicates a special live pre-show on Saturday, and if previous weeks are any indication, you can see it as a double feature with the 10pm Bad Teacher (note: do not pitch a fit with the good people there if I'm mistaken on this; I'm just going by what they've done previously). There will also be midnight showings of Super 8 and The Hangover Part II.

    The more conventional classic film is Double Indemnity, which plays Sunday morning at 11am and Monday evening at 5pm and 8pm. If last week's screening of Captains Courageous is something to go by, there may be classic cartoons or other short subjects before the movie.


  • The Harvard Film Archive has classics of a different sort as they finish their Luis Buñuel retrospective. Last weekend focused on the extremes of his career; this one covers what is arguably his peak, from 1962 to 1974: Friday night is The Exterminating Angel at 7pm and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie at 9pm; Saturday features Belle de Jour at 7pm and Phantom of Liberty at 9:15pm; Sunday's 7pm show is Diary of a Chambermaid; and Monday has a repeat of Tristana at the same time. After that, they take off for a summer break, returning in late July.


  • Art on Film begins its last week at the MFA, with scattered screenings of Cameraman: The Life and Times of Jack Cardiff and a screening of big Shoes: Walking and Talking the Blues on Thursday (29 June). The weekend also includes the last dates for Armadillo and Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?.



And that is close to it. I will be attempting to get out to Reading to see Cars 2 on the big IMAX screen, maybe doing the Bad Teacher/Rubber double feature if there is such a thing, and otherwise playing catch-up.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

Hey, remember how I mentioned being embargoed on Conan O'Brien Can't Stop a couple weeks-plus ago? Well, according to EFC, it's the movie's release date somewhere, so be free, review, be free!

...

Oh, you want more? Okay, funny group of odd connections here: While director Rodman Flender mostly does TV work, he's done a few features and documentaries before, including Let Them Eat Rock, a fun documentary on Cambridge novelty act The Upper Crust that was a huge success at the Boston Underground Film Festival five years ago. A fair amount of that film involved the band doing a spot on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. In my original review, I got a couple of the band members mixed up, only to be corrected in the eFilmCritic/Hollywood Bitchslap comments by Nancy Campbell, whom I can only assume is the same person I regularly say hi to at the Coolidge and serves as Managing Director of IFFBoston.

Small world, eh?

Oddly, Let Them Eat Rock never seems to have found distribution, which is a shame; it's a fun movie. Maybe it could be included in the deluxe edition of the Can't Stop DVD/Blu-ray.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2011 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (IFFBoston 2011)

People reading this in the future, or other countries, or who just have a more sensible relationship to pop culture may find this hard to believe, but for a good chunk of 2009 and 2010, a lot of people spent time obsessing over who should make jokes about the events of the day and lob softball questions at celebrities promoting new movies and albums on NBC at 11:35pm, even those not connected with the network. It was a whole thing. That's the background for Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, an entertaining documentary about a performer who needs a stage in more ways than one.

As mentioned, Conan O'Brien was the host of The Tonight Show until NBC opted to return Jay Leno to the job. He would soon find a new job, but a non-compete clause in his old contract would keep him off television until the fall of 2010. In between, he embarked on his "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television" tour, a hugely successful comedy tour that was in many ways O'Brien's first real direct interaction with a live audience, despite his long tenure hosting late night talk shows.

Conan O'Brien is a funny guy, and since he's putting on a comedy show, he surrounds himself with other funny people. We see plenty of that in both the performance clips and the behind-the-scenes footage - there probably isn't a five-minute period without at least a small laugh. What we also see, though, is that comedy often comes from angry places and can often be a job that requires putting on a false face. O'Brien lets director Rodman Flender show us the man warts and all, giving us a close look at how much baggage he's carrying around from his long, public, losing battle with his former employers and how going on a tour around North America with very little down-time is perhaps not the best way to deal with it.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mia and the Migoo

I always feel pretty weird seeing movies at the Museum of Fine Arts. Not so much because they have sub-par facilities - both the Remis and Alfond Auditoria are nice places, actually - but because you have to walk through the museum to get from the Huntington Avenue entrance to the screening rooms. So there's all this fine art on both sides, and because I'm usually arriving at the MFA with just minutes to spare (if that), I'm rushing past it, feeling like a boor who ignores great works in order to see some lesser art forms. Which I'm not, even if I were one to consider cinema a lower art form - the museum programs interesting, often challenging films. But then, on the way out, I feel like I'm sort of stealing if I do linger on the way to the exit - I bought a ticket to the films, after all, not the exhibits.

On top of that, there were just three of us at the Mia and the Migoo screening, and I was likely the youngest there at 37. Thus, I've really got no idea how kids would react to this movie. I think they'd enjoy it, but we adults who don't have them around all the time can be pretty poor judges of that.

Mia and the Migoo

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 June 2011 in the Museum of Fine Arts Alfond Auditorium (special engagement)

Mia and the Migoo isn't a new film; it played the festival circuit and various markets two and a half years ago, including the New York International Children's Film Festival. Apparently Matthew Modine saw it at one of those festivals, because when it popped up at that same festival two years later, his name was on it as a producer and he was doing a couple of the voices. That's the version that's popping up in some American theaters now, and that makes sense: It's mainly for young children, and even those old enough to read subtitles easily might not want to be distracted from the beautiful animation.

A construction site somewhere in South America suffers a series of strange accidents - or what would be accidents, if not for the giant footprints found nearby. The latest has trapped Pedro (voice of Jesse Corti) under a landslide. On the other side of the country, his daughter Mia (voice of Amanda Misquez) wakes up with a start, gathers her late mother's good-luck charms, and sets out on foot to find him, even though everybody warns her that the mountains and forests are populated by monsters. On the other side of the world, news of this disaster can't come at a worse time. The developer behind the project, Jekhilde (voice of John Di Maggio), is trying to raise money from new investors, and is stuck bringing his son Aldrin (voice of Vincent Agnello) along, what with the boy's mother at an Antarctic research station and his grandmother off with her new boyfriend.

Computers have become the predominate tool among those creating animated features today, but Jacques-Rémy Girerd appears to be an exception to the rule, at least where Mia and the Migoo is concerned. Though there are digital artists mentioned in the credits, the bulk of movie is created by hand, and the results are remarkable to behold: Mia's world is a painting, lush in color and detail but with visible brush strokes; it's never unreal but doesn't endeavor to be photo-realistic the way many other animated films do. The characters, meanwhile, are charmingly illustrated, with red cheeks on the children and a rounded solidity to all. The effect is akin to a children's book come to life, although the motion is more natural than most attempts to actually adapt those books.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 June 2011 -23 June 2011

Here's something that bears watching beyond just "next week": iPic Theaters Looking at Borders Site in Downtown Crossing, reported by Boston Restaurant Talk. Weird place to hear about new cinemas, and iPic's website certainly suggests an upscale place (the Herald story suggests it will easily be the priciest theater, with tickets running up to $29!). Still, I've been hoping for an Alamo/Keystone-style restaurant/cinema for a while.

Kind of a bummer that it comes at the expense of the Downtown Crossing Borders. Sure, nobody really laments the closing of a franchise place the same way that they would a locally-owned place - heck, my shopping there of late has been "use email coupons to get ridiculous deals", which gives them the cash infusion they're looking for but probably doesn't help with profitability in the long term - but it means that there will be no mainstream bookstore left in the Downtown Crossing area once it closes. Plenty of used and antiquarian spots, and I suspect (hope!) that the Borders in the Cambridgeside Galleria and the Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Center aren't going anywhere, but no downtown big bookstore.

  • Speaking of downtown theaters and places I'd rather not close, there are signs of life at the Stuart Street Playhouse this week! It's been pretty much closed up in the month and a half since its IFFBoston night, which is a shame, as it's a nice facility whose economics were tricky. The last time I walked by, there were no posters in the windows and the marquee just talked about it being available for rental, so I suspect that Jig booked the theater rather than vice-versa. It's a documentary about the an international Irish dancing competition in Glasgow, focusing on several groups of young women who have been competing with each other for years, fly-on-the-wall style. It looks exuberant, and Patrick Doyle's doing the soundtrack, so that's at least going to be pretty good.

    I'm not saying to go see this and buy a large popcorn even if you have as little interest in the subject matter as I do. But I'll be there at some point, even if only to try and prove Stuart Street can be a viable place for independent movies not opening elsewhere in Boston.


  • Across the river, in the usual place for independent movies (Kendall Square), things get a little bit closer to back to normal, with the Malick and Allen films dropping down to a reasonable number of screens to make room for some new arrivals that had brief appearances in the Boston area earlier in the year. The single-week booking is for Bride Flight, which played the Coolidge as part of the Talk Cinema series. It's about three Dutch girls who emigrate to New Zealand looking for a better life after World War II, although I'm guessing that not all of them will wind up living happy, uneventful lives with the fiancés awaiting them.

    The Trip and Submarine both played IFFBoston; of the two English films, I've only seen Submarine, a nifty-looking but often-grating coming-of-age story, while The Trip was a difficult cut. It features Steve Coogan on a restaurant-reviewing road trip with Rob Brydon, and as these are very funny guys, improvised hilarity likely ensues.


  • Another IFFBoston alum opens at the Brattle: Stake Land is a pretty darn good post-vampire-apocalypse road movie directed by Jim Mickle, starring Connor Paolo as a teenager traveling with the man who rescued him (Nick Damici) when vampires killed his family. Mickle's a rising star in the horror genre (or at least, he should be), and though it's probably not fair to compare this to the inexplicably-popular Zombieland (they do very similar things in different ways), I can't help but think that this one does it right.

    That plays evenings (and 11:30pm late shows on Friday and Saturday nights); for weekend matinees, there's some John Huston classics. Treasure of the Sierra Madre plays Saturday and Sunday (18-19 June) at 12:30pm, while Sunday afternoon also features a double feature of The Maltese Falcon and The Asphalt Jungle.

    On Monday evening, the DocYard presents The Kids Grow Up with director Doug Block at the theater. It's an autobiographical tale, as Block films the last year before his daughter Lucy goes to college. He'd previously garnered a great deal of praise for documenting his relationship with his parents in 51 Birch Street, so this can be seen as a sort of bookend.


  • AMC changes things up a bit, booking The Art of Getting Byat Harvard Square rather than Boston Common. It's a Sundance veteran (I believe it played there under the title "Homework") about a kid who is a talented artist but just does enough in school and life to, how should I say this, get by. It's got an impressive cast - the suddenly grown-up Freddie Highmore as the boy, Emma Roberts as his crush object, Rita Wilson and Sam Robards as his parents, Michael Angarano as a mentor - although it sounds sort of generic-quirky.

    They get that in lieu of what's opening in the bigger theaters, Green Lantern and Mr. Popper's Penguins. Both are getting poisonous reviews, which saddens me, because there should be potential there. I remember Mr. Popper's Penguins being a charming children's book, and as much as I like Jim Carrey, I don't think zany is what this story needs. Similarly, I like Ryan Reynolds, and I think Green Lantern is one of the great comic book concepts (space cop has a ring that can make anything he can imagine), but it's one that has often struggled to find a personality in the comics, and the movie looks pretty thin on that account. Here's hoping that the effects which look kind of hokey in the previews look good in 3D.


  • They were shooting a movie at the Somerville Theatre last Tuesday; here's hoping that winds up playing there. Of course, what with Ted being directed by Seth MacFarlane, it will likely be a bunch of unwatchable non-sequiters. For now, they've got the usual assortment of first-run material, including Super 8 looking great in the main theater. They're also using that spiffy 500+ person room for their summer programs - Kick-Ass is the midnight movie on Friday and Saturday, while Captains Courageous plays Sunday (the 19th) at 11am and Monday (the 20th) at 5pm and 8pm. That one looks pretty good, a 1937 Victor Fleming adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling story about a spoiled boy (Freddie Bartholomew) who falls off a luxury yacht and is rescued by a fishing boat whose crew includes Spencer Tracy and Lionel Barrymore. Good old-fashioned adventure, and since the people at the Somerville are maniacs about obtaining quality 35mm prints and projecting them properly, it should look incredible.


  • The Coolidge is also mostly staying the course with their current bookings (they do pick up City of Life and Death for the tiny GoldScreen room), although they too have some nifty event bookings. Friday and Saturday night at 11:59, for instance, they are running Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D. Probably anaglyph, as I don't think any other sort of prints of this movie exist, but, hey, it's Jason Vorhees coming right at you. Sunday (the 19th) at 11am, they have the finale Goethe-Institut German film of the season, The Man Who Jumped Cars, about an escaped mental patient walking across Germany who inspires those he meets to shake up their humdrum lives. And on Monday, the Big Screen Classic is Fiddler on the Roof, celebrating its 40th anniversary in its full 35mm, three-hour glory.


  • Art on Film keeps chugging on at the MFA; this week's selections include Women Art Revlution, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem (tying in with their ongoing Dale Chihuly exhibit), and First Face: The Buck Starts Here. Also playing scattered times are hand-painted animated film Mia and the Migoo, with two new documentaries enter the rotation on Wednesday (the 22nd): Armadillo (which I believe played the DocYard earlier this year) is a documentary from the Netherlands about soldiers on their first dangerous mission in Afghanistan, while Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? investigates Colony Collapse Disorder, although the description seems to indicate that there's more philosophy than hard science.


  • The Harvard Film Archive begins a retrospective of Luis Buñuel this weekend. The aptly titled Buñuel - The Beginning and the End includes both his first film ("Un Chien Andalou", co-directed with Salvadore Dali and screening with L'Age d'Or at 7pm on Friday the 17th) and his last (That Obscure Object of Desire, screening Saturday the 18th at 9pm). Several other films widely regarded as classics play this weekend - Tristana Friday at 9pm, Viridiana Saturday at 7pm, a pairing of "Land Without Bread" and "Simon of the Desert" on Sunday the 19th at 7pm, and The Milky Way on Monday the 20th at 7pm. The series will resume again on the 24th and continue through the 27th before the Archive shuts down for its summer vacation.


  • The Regent Theatre in Arlington will play host to the Adventure Film Festival on Tuesday the 21st and Wednesday the 22nd. Each day features a different program of short films celebrating "outdoor adventure and environmental activism"


  • And, finally, I believe "Rescue" is a new release at the Museum of Science's Mugar Omni Theater this weekend. It's an IMAX presentation that follows emergency response teams from around the world who are summoned to Haiti after last year's massive earthquake. That likely makes for an exciting double feature with "Tornado Alley" (or triple feature with the 9pm-only "Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk").



My plans? I'd love to say I have the willpower to avoid Green Lantern (see what I did there?), I'll probably do an early (and thus cheaper!) 3D screening at some point, probably Sunday. As I mentioned, Jig gets my support, and around them... Hmm. I've got some free tickets to use at AMC, the Aquarium, and the Museum of Science, so maybe I'll play some catch-up there.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yellowbrickroad

Huh; sometime between when I saw Rammbock and when I saw Yellowbrickroad, AMC's "Bloody-Disgusting.com Selects" became "Night Terrors". It got posters and standees hung up around the Boston Common theater as well, which I don't remember seeing for Rammbock. Interestingly, AMC's website shows it as "B-D.com Selects Night Terrors", although the signage in the theater didn't have any mention of the website.

The shift is interesting, and I'm curious as to the reasons behind it. Was the name Bloody-Disgusting off-putting to some would-be audience members, making its inclusion in the title counter-productive (though somewhat recognized as an authority by those familiar with the site, the name means little to others)? Or was it just considered inaccurate? After all, while Rammbock had some zombie gore, Yellowbrickroad only really has one gross-out moment, and the movie doesn't really wallow in it. Cold Fish, next month, is going to earn the Bloody-Disgusting label, though.

Anyway, it's interesting to see what seems like a bigger push for Yellowbrickroad. Of the initial three movies, it's the English-language one, and the one that is a conventional length (Rammbock is German and short; Cold Fish is Japanese and long). I'm kind of surprised that it wasn't the first in the series, to be honest, especially since this really seems like an audition, with nothing on the schedule beyond July right now. This one at least got more people into the theater, and I'm hoping it gets good word-of-mouth - beyond liking the idea for the series, I dig this movie on an individual basis. It's kind of a mess, but it gave me chills, and that's hard to do. Kept me fairly awake and alert after very little sleep the previous night (hey, the Red Sox start a rain-delayed game you think you're going to miss at 10:30pm, you accept the favor and enjoy the seventh inning stomping of the Yankees, no matter how late it gets), a full day at work, and two films noir down the street earlier in the evening. That's an uphill battle, and I strongly suspect this movie could have done the job even without the big ol' Coke Zero.

That said, I don't mind that I'll probably be able to avoid the late, late night next month - I saw (and dug) Cold Fish at BUFF, and will happily purchase a Blu-ray (or DVD, if that's all they'll offer me) rather than stay up until roughly 3:30am watching the movie and then walking home. Everyone else should do that, though, because it's pretty great Sion Sono stuff.

YellowBrickRoad

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2011 in AMC Boston Common #15 (Night Terrors)

Yellowbrickroad is a movie constructed out of every tangentially-related spooky idea that its makers could graft onto the setting, and that grab-bag approach can be a dangerous way to put a movie together, even one where the usual rules may not apply. The demand for rigor can go out the window if a movie can at least give the audience goosebumps, though, and this one does regularly succeed at lowering the temperature of the room.

In 1940, the film posits, the residents of Friar, New Hampshire, all left their homes and walked into the woods. Most were never seen again, others were found brutally killed, and the one survivor was driven insane. In the present day, Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino) gets hold of the government's records on this with the intent of putting together a book on the subject. He'll photograph, while his wife and co-author Melissa (Anessa Ramsey) will be the field leader. Also along are their friend Walter Myrick (Alex Draper), a psychologist studying the group's reactions; Cy Banbridge (Sam Elmore) from the Forestry Service; Daryl (Clark Freeman) and Erin Luger (Cassidy Freeman), sibling cartographers; Jill the intern (Tara Giordano); and Liv McCann (Laura Heisler), the one local interested in helping. As they go deeper into the woods, things start to get weird - Jill's GPS becomes extremely unreliable, Daryl finds an old-fashioned but new-looking hat, and the sound of seventy-year-old music seems to be coming from the end of the trail.

If the trail even has an end, of course. The woods can seem disorienting and impossible to escape in real life; in a movie that allows for the supernatural, well, everybody knows the drill by now. To their credit, filmmakers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton don't push that angle early - the GPS which alternately puts them in Guam, South American, and Australia may just be busted, and having a pair of mapmakers along both pushes it off and means that when it does appear, the characters are extraordinarily screwed. In the meantime, the audience isn't stuck being told that the characters are lost when they can't visually tell one bit of woods from another.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 10 June 2011 -16 June 2011

Thursday was weird, hot enough to set your clothes on fire and rainy enough to put them out. It looks like this weekend will mostly be going with the rain, but both of those are valid reasons to spend the afternoon in climate-controlled theaters. It does sort of effect what movies to see and where, though - is it worth making the hike to Reading if it means standing in the rain to catch a bus?

  • I may wind up doing that, weather permitting; it's been a while since I've hit a movie up on the genuine IMAX screen at the furniture store, and there's something delightfully perverse about seeing a movie by the name of Super 8 blown up to gigantic size. I'm down for it anyway - even if his main talent is surrounding himself with good people, J.J. Abrams has earned a lot of goodwill with Mission: Impossible 3, Star Trek, Alias, and Fringe, and the idea of him doing an Spielberg-style boys' adventure with the man himself looking over his shoulder is an appealing one.

    The other thing opening on a bunch of screens is Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer. It's based on a series of kids' chapter books, and beyond that and Heather Graham being in it, I know about zero, but that's okay, because it's not really for me, is it? Still, considering it opens against Super 8, there's something telling about that - although Super 8 and the movies that inspired it are about kids and mainly targeted toward young boys, they're for everybody, whereas this seems very targeted.


  • Those are the big openings; the big expansion is Tree Of Life, which picks up a couple screens at Boston Common and one at the Coolidge after being exclusively at Kendall Square for a week. Also playing the Coolidge on Friday and Saturday are midnight showings of Wet Hot American Summer, which will be preceded by roasted marshmallows in the parking lot and an on-stage talent show. The other special events this week aren't movies: Sunday morning (12 June) features a "Europe's Grand Operas" presentation of The Magic Flute, and Cuban folk musician Carlos Varela will be doing a show on Thursday (16 June)


  • Kendall Square continues to open things on multiple screens, this week giving two to Beginners, a decent-looking movie with Ewan McGregor as a man shocked when his elderly father (played by Christopher Plummer) comes out to him. Plummer looks like he's going to be fantastic in this role. Another unconventional parent is the subject of the one-week booking, The First Beautiful Thing, in which a middle-aged teacher returns home to deal with his dying, eccentric mother.


  • ArtsEmerson is not doing movies every weekend during the summer break, but they've got an excellent Noir Nights program going on this weekend with a half-dozen classic crime films not available on DVD. Friday night's program is a Ray Milland double feature with Victorian "gaslight" noir So Evil My Love at 7pm and Faust story Alias Nick Beal at 9pm; Saturday night is a "Hand of Justice" double feature that features Edward G. Robinson, Ginger Rogers, and Brian Keith in Phil Karlson's Tight Spot at 7pm and Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine in Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt at 9pm; Reasonable Doubt repeats Sunday at 5:30pm with Olivia de Haviland (x2!) in Robert Siodmak's The Dark Mirror at 7:15pm. I missed Dark Mirror on Thursday, but did see Cry of the City, and if it's a fair representation, the prints are gorgeous.


  • The Brattle is kind of like a regular theater this week, with an all-week booking of Nostalgia for the Light, in which Chilean documentarian Patricio Guzmán looks at two quests for knowledge in the Atacama desert: Astronomers who use the spectacularly clear skies to study the stars, and widows searching for "disappeared" political prisoners whose remains may be mummified at the base of the mountains.

    For something a little more fantastical, there are "Hooked on Who" screenings of Doctor Who episodes at 9:30pm all weekend - Tom Baker in "Terror of the Zygons" on Friday, David Tennant in "The Hand of Fear" and "School Reunion" on Saturday, and Matt Smith in "The Eleventh Hour" and "The Doctor's Wife" on Sunday.


  • Harvard Film Archive continues their The Radical Visions of Jerzy Skolimowski program this weekend with five more films from the Polish New Wave director, although his visit to Cambridge has apparently been cancelled. With Q&A time no longer necessary, the HFA has added two free screenings: Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water runs Saturday at 9pm, and (presumably) Skolimowski's version of Torrents of Spring runs Sunday at 9pm.


  • Art on Film continues to continue at the MFA this week, with more screenings of Art Safari, The Woodmans, and First Face: The Buck Starts Here scattered through the weekend and Wednesday (the 15th). New movies enter the rotation then - Women Art Revolution on Wednesday and the amazing-looking hand-painting-animated Mia and the Migoo on Thursday.


  • The second-run shuffle this week basically involves two movies - Jane Eyre and Win Win moving from the Somerville Theatre to the Arlington Capitol. Which I guess makes them third-run.


  • Warning for Bollywood fans: Ready will be hanging around for a couple shows daily at Fresh Pond during the weekend, but will only be playing 4:30pm matinees Monday-Thursday as Telegu-language film Bhadrinath takes many prime showtimes.



My plans: Well, I've already bought a bunch of tickets for the noir shows at Emerson, so that's what I'll be doing for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. Already being downtown, that will give me good reason to hit up Yellowbrickroad Friday at midnight and some IMAX stuff at the Aquarium and Science Museum at other points. As mentioned before, Super 8 gets fit in somewhere, the only question being where and when. And then... catch-up and maybe a preview at some point.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Somerville Silents: "One Week", "The Scarecrow", and Our Hospitality

Sunday was a good day - got up, went to North Station to meet my mom and her husband who were down from Maine for the day, had brunch with them, my brother Matt, and his wife Morgan, saw the Red Sox win a game against the A's despite the fact that John Lackey came off the DL to pitch the game, had really good fish & chips for supper, and then got Mom & Bill to their train in time to catch mine to Davis Square for this program.

So, I probably can't say this set of films was the highlight of my day, but it was certainly a highlight. It's part of the Somerville theater's summer repatory and classic program, a three-pronged attack which includes Sunday morning/Monday evening classics, Friday/Saturday midnights, and a monthly silent film program on Sunday nights. All are playing on their main screen, all in 35mm (at least - there are hints that some may be 70mm).

Let me just say - if all the prints look as nice as the ones we saw Sunday night, it's going to be pretty nice. These are 90-year-old movies, and the prints seemed to be at least second-generation from the copyright notices (maybe newer - the intertitles had a digital look to them), but they looked as good as anything playing at the Somerville, and they are right up in the top tier of presentation in the Boston area. It wasn't a great turnout, but a good one, and I do hope that even more show up for Seven Chances (with "Neighbors" and "The Goat") on 10 July.

Especially the girl behind me who enjoyed it, but admitted she was mostly a big Harold Lloyd fan. Call me. That's the sort of thing that makes me develop a crush more or less instantly.

One bit of terrible photography before getting to the reviews:

Jeff Rapsis
Jeff Rapsis at the keyboard, warming up for the big show. He was really impressive tonight - his music for the prologue to Our Hospitality was especially terrific, and I'm sure my musical brothers will tell me that playing to fast-paced movies for two hours straight (no break between films), at least partly improvising, is difficult, and he did an excellent job.

"One Week"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2011 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Somerville Summer Silents)

As frantic and nutty as silent comedy features are, the shorts are oftentime even more so. "One Week", for instance, starts as a goofy little concept - a new groom (Keaton) and his bride (Sybil Seely) attempt to build their house from a kit with her old suitor (Joe Roberts) lurking about making trouble. In just twenty minutes, it becomes an increasingly elaborate series of set pieces as the house gets screwier and screwier.

Keaton and co-writer/co-director Edward F. Cline keep the jokes coming, and for a twenty-minute comedy short, the kit-house is a remarkably intricate construction, with some jumbo-sized slapstick in the latter half of the movie. They also have a little bit of fun with a bathtub scene, breaking the fourth wall with a wink and a smirk.

"The Scarecrow"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2011 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Somerville Summer Silents)

More or less the same cast and crew are together again for "The Scarecrow"; this time, Keaton and Roberts are farmhands living in a different elaborate house (this one complete and multi-functional) competing for the affection of the farmer's daughter (Seely), though neither really has the approval of her father (Joe Keaton). It's a bit of a thin story; indeed, much of it comes down to "Buster Keaton gets chased by a dog".

Not that there are very many people that you would rather see spend ten minutes getting chased by a dog, especially when you consider that this is Fatty Arbuckle's dog and quite a talented one, running, jumping, and climbing to keep up with Buster. Many of the other gags in the movie are based on the Rube Goldberg contraptions built into the farmhands' bunker - not quite as elaborate as the house of "One Week" in some ways, but still quite amusing in their ingenuity.

Much of the rest is knockabout humor, sort of akin to the Three Stooges. You don't really see this sort of "smacking-each-other-around" comedy that much these days, and that's probably a good thing, all told, but there's a sort of pure, rapid-fire, "nobody really gets hurt" innocence to it that absolutely works in this sort of unreal context.

Our Hospitality

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2011 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Somerville Summer Silents)

Consider this: There is roughly as much distance between the present day (the 2010s) and the time when Buster Keaton's Our Hospitality was made (the 1920s) as there is between when it was made and when it was set (the 1830s). Strange, right? It gives a little extra kick to some of the jokes, too. And while a little perspective doesn't hurt, you do not need this in the front of your mind to enjoy the movie: This early Buster Keaton feature is highly entertaining even without that sort of context.

In the early 1800s, blood feuds weren't uncommon, and the one between the Canfields and McKays got particularly ugly one night in 1810, leaving the widow McKay to flee north with her baby to live with her sister. Twenty years later, son Willie (Buster Keaton) gets a letter telling him he has inherited the McKay estate, and he hops a train to claim it - with his loyal dog following - the feud something his urban mind doesn't take seriously. But old Joseph Canfield (Joe Roberts) hasn't forgotten, and has passed it down to his sons (Ralph Bushman & Craig Ward). Naturally, the nice girl Willie meets on the train (Natalie Talmadge), who invites him to dinner, turns out to be Canfield's daughter. It's a good thing that the Canfields' code of honor won't let them kill Willie while he's enjoying their hospitality. After dinner, though, all bets are off.

Our Hospitality is among Keaton's first feature-length comedies, and it shows some growing pains. The train trip between Jersey City and Rockfield at times seems to be shown in real time, with beats and gags that we see more than once but which don't necessarily benefit from the repetition. In some ways, time has hurt it - some of the gags are visual things that would work well in later cartoons, the weird, elastic worlds of 1930s animation that themselves look odd and dated now - but even then, it was a longish sequence that doesn't really involve or tell us anything about Willie. Like many silent comedies, it seems quite modular - the various segments likely break quite cleanly on reel marks, so that if the projectionist had any trouble with the switchovers, the flow of the movie wouldn't be broken.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, June 06, 2011

IFFBoston 2011 Closing Night/Wrap-up: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (except when reviews are embargoed)

Embargoes are a weird fact of life for the film-critic community - you see a movie early, but with the agreement that the review you write about it will be held to the day of release. For most traditional - that is to say, print - outlets, this isn't a big deal; opening weekend is when the article is most relevant for their readership. The same holds true for online outlets, though to a lesser extent; we're more easily searchable, so it's whether we get more hits for "new & relevant" than for "new" and "relevant" separately is a question best answered on a case-by-case basis.

Films being embargoed at festivals, though, is a really weird thing. Films that already have distribution play festivals to get word-of-mouth, so why try and keep that buried, especially for a film like Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, which is pretty decent? It's also a willing, insidious corruption of the press - it makes critics act a bit more like part of the distributor's publicity plan, rather than outside observers.

It also, in some ways, puts the critics, the ones who can be your best advocates - enthusiastic SQL programmers aside - at a disadvantage. I was asked to hold my review because I attended on a press pass, but by next year, it's not impossible that eFilmCritic will either cease to exist (unlikely) or the festival's standards for who they credential will rise (certainly possible). When that happens, I'll buy my own pass and then post the same sort of thing here and/or on EFC as I did before, only I won't know I'm not supposed to. I'm not exactly sure why I should be treated differently in those cases, much less effectively be trusted more as an unquestioned amateur.

(You may think this unlikely, but it's actually happened - a couple years ago, when attending the Boston Film Festival on my own dime, I saw a movie called Motherhood and wrote a review of it. This got my editor at EFC an email, asking why I was breaking embargo. He wrote back, saying basically that the screening was open to the public, so trying to keep wraps on it was pretty silly, and besides, you weren't complaining about Variety already having run a review, were you?)

As silly as this is, I'm going along with it, because I don't want to be the one that keeps other EFC guys from getting credentials or IFFBoston from being able to book movies. This does leave me without a review to run here, though, so I'll have to do something else, other than whine about not being able to run a review. So, let's bring on some graphs!

IFFBoston 2011 Review Lag Graph

There's not a whole lot to be gleaned from this graph, other than that I do, by and large, crank out reviews at a pretty steady clip, although it's obviously not quite the rate at which I see movies. Even with that in mind, though, I'm pretty ashamed at how wide the gap between the two lines gets, almost 32 days long at The Whistleblower. That's pretty bad practice; it's not close to fresh in my head. I think I did all right when you look at the reviews, for the most part; I didn't find myself punting things as is occasionally the case with Fantasia.

There are a couple of odd blips there. The one around "Shorts 3: Narratives" comes from the shorts program being the first thing I saw that day but the last thing published, as it had to wait for the blog post to be done as there really isn't a place for it on eFilmCritic. Even if its publication date were set to when I actually finished writing it, the higher slope around We Still Live Here comes from me trying to strike while the iron was hot on some things that would likely have limited runs: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Rammbock, Queen to Play, and True Legend. There's another sharp upslope between Bellflower and Stake Land, as I write up Legend of the Fist and A Beautiful Life. The zig-zag at Sons of Perdition is me bumping it up in line to have something on EFC, at least, in time for its opening in Boston.

IFFBoston 2011 Venue chart

If you're going to max out your pass, certain parts of this are a given: 4.76% at the Coolidge, 9.52% at Stuart Street, at least 23.8% at the various Somerville rooms. The rest is just a matter of how much the Brattle takes up and how the Somerville stuff is distributed.

I am, tongue-in-cheek, a little disappointed that I spent something like a quarter of the festival in the even numbered rooms in Somerville. I like many things about that theater, but when the eccentric millionaire gives me the cash to build my own, I'll be doing my best to avoid many of the things that make the even numbered rooms, uh, "memorable". They've got center aisles, the rows are very close together, and in an attempt to squeeze as many people as possible in, the front rows are very close to the screen (that's also where the main wheelchair spaces are). If you've got a pass, you're getting in early, so getting the best seats (near the center) means people are going to be climbing over you for the next twenty minutes - many getting in, putting their stuff down, going out, and getting a beer.

It is kind of amusing that I wound up with tickets for all five screens, despite the fact that only four were being used for the festival at any given time. I'll be the ushers and projectionists got sick of hauling that Water for Elephants print around.

IFFBoston 2011 Ratings

I think I did pretty well with my time, though - as you can see, a good two-thirds of the movies I saw rated three stars or higher. I, personally, tend to consider movies 2.5 stars (out of four) and up worth seeing - I'm easy that way - so all and all, this looks like a pretty successful week (and month).

Saturday, June 04, 2011

IFFBoston 2011 Day #7: Terri and The Whistleblower

The second-to-last day of the festival was a bit of a change-up from the past couple years, where the night would be spent at the Institute of Contemporary Art watching films about art and artists. That wasn't the case this year, with the venue moving a couple stops up the river to the Stuart Street Playhouse for a couple of higher-profile narratives.

Not a bad night. Both movies were good enough to recommend, though not exceptional. Both directors appeared for a Q&A, and it's always nice to see something at the Stuart Street Playhouse - it's a great facility and the people there are quite nice.

I'm a bit worried about the Playhouse, quite frankly - a couple days after this, they had a preview showing for Jumping the Broom, and then after that, they just seemed to vanish from sight. Not necessarily in terms of there being a hole at the bottom of the Radisson or anything, but their website has been saying "check back later" for the past month and there's been no listings in the paper. Given their hidden location (underneath a hotel; at least on foot, you've got to navigate some tricky traffic to get there), reducing visibility that way isn't going to do them any good.

Hopefully they haven't shut down; I'll be down there at some point in the next couple of days, so I may take a look. If they have shut down, it's a weird way to do it, especially since the festival staff was talking the theater up like it would be showing movies this summer.

The environment elevates my photography from terrible to merely poor, though:

"Terri" director Azazel Jacobs at IFFBoston 2011
Azazel Jacobs doing Q&A for his film Terri. If you've got the name Azazel, you sort of have to have hair like that.

"The Whistleblower" director Larysa Kondracki at IFFBoston 2011
Larysa Kondracki doing the same. As you might expect, this was as much about the subject and the differences between the film and real life as the movie itself.

Terri

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2011 in the Stuart Street Playhouse (IFFBoston 2011)

Earlier in this festival (and on many other occasions), I saw a movie about an eccentric kid growing up, and it was kind of annoying; even if inspired by actual people, the characters seemed like adult screenwriters. So it's something of a relief to say that Terri, for all its oddball tendencies, does have the ring of truth about it. It's not an all-time great coming-of-age movie, but it's at least populated by recognizable human beings.

Terri (Jacob Wysocki) is kind of isolated from the other kids; not only is he overweight, but he lives way off the main road with his uncle James (Creed Bratton), and Uncle James is getting to the point where his memory (among other things) has a pretty wide gap between the good days and bad days. When he shows up late for school wearing his pajama top for a shirt, he's sent to the principal's office, and Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly) decides to take a personal interest in him, meeting up with him once a week, like he does with some other kids such as Chad (Bridger Zadina). And while Terri's not in any particular trouble, he does manage to sort of be around it, when his staring leads to a kid with the charming nickname of "Dirty Zach" (Justin Prentice) being caught fingering his girlfriend Heather (Olivia Crocicchia) in home ec class.

Though Terri and the other characters can be kind of unusual at times, it's never a particularly forced oddity. These kids (and educators) are distinct individuals with their own particular issues and quirks, but should at least feel like familiar types from one's own school days. Director Azazel Jacobs, screenwriter Patrick Dewitt, and the cast manage the tricky balance between the familiar and the unique here, with the only real exception being Mr. Fitzgerald - even by the standards of dedicated and unorthodox film educators, he's a bit on the odd side.

Full review at EFC.

The Whistleblower

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2011 in the Stuart Street Playhouse (IFFBoston 2011)

The Whistleblower has a good cast and a topic that provokes a strong emotional reaction, and when a project starts with that, making a memorable film can often come down to not screwing up. Co-writer/director Larysa Kondracki doesn't screw up; she makes a movie that's a notch or two above average, and the "based on a true story" factor doesn't hurt it at all.

It's 1999, and two women on different sides of the world have no idea they're on intersecting paths. Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is a police officer in Nebraska, very good at her job but frustrated because she's having a hard time finding a department to transfer to near Atlanta, where her ex-husband is moving with her daughter. The lead she gets - working for a UN contracter to assist local law enforcement in Bosnia-Herzegovina - is a few thousand miles in the wrong direction, but the pay is good enough to give her a cushion when her hitch is up. Raya (Roxana Condurache) is a recent high-school graduate in Eastern Europe, whose friend Irka (Rayisa Kondracki) has lined up a chance to go west, working as waitresses and au pairs. Kathryn thrives - after helping the locals with their first successful domestic violence prosecution, UN Mission official Madeleine Rees (Vanessa Redgrave) gets her a post handling "gender issues". Raya and Irka, on the other hand, wind up in a situation where they need Kathryn's help badly, which is made more difficult because both the local police force and the contractors are thoroughly corrupt.

The cast won't necessarily bowl audiences over, but it may raise eyebrows. Rachel Wesiz, for instance, seldom disappoints, and she doesn't here. It's a precisely-pitched performance; there's never any doubt that she is very good at her job or that she is passionate about helping the women she finds in Bosnia, but she's not one-note or overly intense about it. She lets the audience see something developing with fellow "adviser" Jan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) without gushy moments and similarly builds the increasing stress she's under.

Full review at EFC.