Thursday, September 29, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 30 September 2011 - 6 October 2011

It's my birthday this weekend; let's see what the movies have for me!.

(And my niece, and my cousin, who both share the day with me. And Sting, Groucho Marx, Ghandi, and more. 2 October is a legitimately cool day to be born!)

  • It actually looks like a potentially weekend; perhaps the surest bet is Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in 50/50, in which the former is given that prognosis for surviving his cancer and chemotherapy. Doesn't necessarily sound funny, but Rogen and his co-writer based it on events they lived through (so, the folks who complain about Rogen always "playing himself" can at least point to a good reason), and early reports have it as honest and well-observed.

    The more conventional comedy coming out this weekend is What's Your Number?, in which Anna Faris (for some reason or another) decides that one of her ex-boyfriends is her soulmate and tries to figure out which one; I'm guessing that the best pal played by Chris Evans is more likely. There's also a familiar-sounding horror/thriller type, Dream House, in which a family moves from the city to a small New England town only to find out their house was the site of a grisly murder. It's got a nice cast (Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz), but, man, doesn't it sound an awful lot like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark from just a month ago, with a title that's easily confused with Hong Kong gross-out real-estate movie Dream Home?

  • Meanwhile, Boston Common is plugging a lot of different things in, apparently to kill time until Real Steel comes out next week. Specifically, the faux-IMAX screen is pushing Contagion down to one or two shows a day, filling the gaps in with hits from the last few years - Star Trek, Inception, and Fast Five. Each gets one show a day, with times alternating, so check before you go. The good news is that the returnees are only $7 each (though Contagion is still full price). They're also keeping the 3D-ified Lion King around for an extra week beyond the limited two week engagement, but it's done so crazy well that everyone is.

    Not everyone is picking up Bunraku, a Sin City/The Warrior's Way-looking movie starring Josh Hartnett and Japanese singer Gackt along with the likes of Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore, and Ron Perlman. It's apparently based on a Japanese legend, but I'm still kind of surprised that they didn't rename it, since it's apparently heavily Westernized. It closed the Boston Film Festival last week, so take that as you will.

    Also opening: Courageous, a movie about four police officers who are also fathers finding themselves growing apart from their sons and turning to God for help. It's distributed by Sony (albeit TriStar Pictures, which now seems to be mostly an acquisition label), but developed and produced by an Alabama church. Which is cool, but if that's not your thing...

  • Boston Common and Kendall Square both open Machine Gun Preacher, wihch has been doing a frighteningly hard sell on my inbox. It's the story about an ex-biker who goes to East Africa to do volunteer work and chooses to take action against the groups terrorizing the populace and recruiting child soldiers. It's got some nice people involved - Gerard Butler is in the title role, supported by Michelle Monaghan, Kathy Baker, and Michael Shannon, with generally pretty-good Marc Foster directing - but early word is that it's trying too hard.

    Kendall Square also picks up The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 as the one-week booking, which combines a bunch of unused footage shot by a Swedish TV network during the time in question with new interviews into what is apparently an electric look at the Black Power movement during those years.

  • With Drive and The Debt sticking around in the main theaters at the Coolidge, the new releases are opening up in the smaller video rooms. The most fun is likely Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, a backwoods-slasher movie reimagined as door-slamming farce that absolutely deserves more than one show a day at 9:45 (plus a midnight on Friday and Saturday) on digital video. Instead, it shares a screen with Girlfriend, in which a man with Down Syndrome comes into some money and tries to reconnect with his high-school crush, now an unemployed single mother with an abusive boyfriend. Could be really good or really schmaltzy. Lead actor Evan Sneider will be in town for a Q&A after the 4:30pm show on Sunday (2 October).

    The other digital screen is playing Restless, the new one by Gus Van Sant. It's about the romance between a terminal cancer patient and a dropout businessman whose best friend is the ghost of a kamikaze pilot - and I'm sure that Van Sant will put his stamp on it. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I'll leave up to you.

    The midnights for the week at least look fun - Friday night's (aside fromTucker & Dale) include the monthly screening of The Room and Deadbeat at Dawn, a 1988 exploitation film about an ex-gang-leader woh goes straight, has his girlfriend killed, and exacts revenge. The Boston Underground Film Festival guys are co-presenting it, and writer/director Jim Van Bebber will be there in person. Saturday night, J. Cannibal will be presenting his "Feast of Flesh XI", a multimedia presentation that includes music by metalcore group Acaro, sexy dancing by the Black Cat Burlesque, and a 35mm presentation of Demons, produced by Mario Bava and directed by Lamberto "not Mario" Bava. And while it doesn't run at midnight, the Science on Screen presentation on Monday (3 October) is the original Roger Corman Little Shop of Horrors (complete with very young Jack Nicholson).

  • If you couldn't get a ticket for Pearl Jam Twenty during its successful Brattle Theatre run, you've got one last chance; it has a final screening at 6:30pm on Friday, after which Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle returns. It's a six-and-a-half hour work, five parts presented in three programs (though they were originally produced out of order), all reputedly very strange and non-linear, and never to appear on home video. Its various bits run through Tuesday the 4th; on Wednesday the 5th, the Cambridge READS program presents a classic comedy double feature - Duck Soup and Dr. Strangelove.

  • The Harvard Film Archive finishes up its "Risorgimento on Screen" program on Friday night with Luchino Visconti's The Leopard. On Monday night, they've got British "experimental filmmaker and radical ethnographer" Ben Rivers, who will introduce two of his recent short films, "Slow Action" and "Sack Barrow". And in between, there's the first three films from a two-month retrospective on 16mm documentarian Frederick Wiseman - Basic Training and High School on Saturday and Domestic Violence on Sunday.

  • Saturday is also the start of a long Katharine Hepburn series "Kate the Iconoclast/Katharine the Icon", which will run through December. October covers 1932-1938, with matinee screenings of the 1933 Little Women on the 1st and 2nd, while Saturday night has two screenings of Hepburn's debut, A Bill of Divorcement, where George Cukor cast her opposite John Barrymore and Billie Burke as a bride-to-be who is surprised by the return of her unstable father (Barrymore). Before that, on Friday (30 September), film historian Eric Schaefer presents Herschell Gordon Lewis's Scum of the Earth!, which seems like a wonderfully hypocritical exploitation film about a young girl lured into the dirty-pictures business.

  • The MFA kicks continues Celebrating World Cinema starting on Saturday, with The Hunter from Iran over the weekend and Curling from Quebec starting Wednesday the 5th. Sunday afternoon also has a series of selections from the Manhattan Short Film Festival, while Wednesday also begins a run of The City Dark, a highly-entertaining documentary about the expected (and unexpected) problems of light pollution. Thursday also features an evening screening of Benda Bilili, about a Congolese band made up entirely of musicians suffering from polio.

  • The Omni theater at the Museum of Science switches its programming up with the new month - "Adrenaline Rush", "Coral Reef Adventure", and "Tornado Alley" have their last shows on Friday, with "Alaska: Spirit of the Wild", "Greece: Secrets of the Past", and "Ring of Fire" returning to take their place on Saturday.

  • The Regent Theatre has live music Friday and Saturday, but next weekend will host the Arlington International Film Festival, which kicks off on Thursday night with We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân, a pretty good documentary about the attempts to revive the Wampanoag language in Eastern Massachusetts. It will be followed by a panel discussion with director Anne Makepeace, subject Jessie Little Doe Baird, and MIT linguist Norvin Richards III.

My plans? Well, since the Red Sox have gone and made watching baseball less important this week, I'll have some extra time. I'm thinking 50/50, Moneyball, and Bunraku. Maybe A Bill of Divorcement. And probably Star Trek, because that is a lot of fun on the big, big screen, and it's been a while since I've seen it; I might have actually had to play my Blu-ray!

Martha Marcy May Marlene

It's a little fitting that a Red Sox game (even in rain delay) kept me from doing this right after the review was posted to EFC, it's a sort of payback for turning my back on the team for a couple of hours on Monday - they're going to take my attention right back for the night, then lose in spectacular fashion and give me an early start on missing baseball.

Anyway, Martha Marcy May Marlene was the first film in this fall's CineCaché program, co-presented by the Brattle and the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film; it's the successor to the Sunday Eye Opener and alternates with the DocYard series. It looks like this program will be a pretty good one; they've already got a large chunk of the line-up set and it sounds mostly pretty good. This one was packed, in large part because it was free (which made paying for a series pass before the movie a bit odd), and unfortunately didn't offer much chance for discussion afterward, as the Brattle is doing all they can to pack Pearly Jam Twenty shows in .

I think I got most of what I want to say in the review, anyway. The movie's scheduled to open in about three weeks, and I think that the 21st of October is a semi-national roll-out (it's Fox Searchlight and theaters have been putting displays out, indicating a solid push). Well worth seeing.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 26 September 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché)

There's maybe a little license taken with the shifting timelines of Martha Marcy May Marlene, in that it's a little convenient that the title character's relevant flashbacks and reactions are triggered in just such a ways as to make both stories fairly linear. But if that's the extent of issues one has with a movie that is excellent in just about every other area, then the filmmakers have done very well indeed; it's no exaggeration to say that Sean Durkin and company have made a gem.

Even though we're only given a brief, but telling, look at the farm in upstate New York where Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) has been living for the past two years at the beginning, she seems to walk away unusually easily, with the housemate sent to town after her not doing much at all to bring her back to Patrick (John Hawkes), the leader of this group. Instead, she's picked up by sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), who brings Martha to the lake house that she and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) have rented for the summer. Right away, it's an uncomfortable fit, with Martha unwilling to talk while Lucy and Ted are slow to realize that her erratic behavior signifies that the bad breakup story she's given them is at the very least incomplete.

The supporting cast in this movie is kind of interesting, in how they tend to invert expectations somewhat. John Hawkes, for instance, never really goes big when one might expect the charismatic cult leader to do so; when he starts lecturing, he seems weak; he's at his most powerful when he's casual (his biggest alpha-male display comes playing guitar). On the other side of the movie, Hugh Dancy makes common sense and compassion seem sort of heartless, while Sarah Paulson does a very nice job of playing Lucy's guilt and shallowness side by side.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This Week In Tickets: 19 September 2011 to 25 September 2011

I swear, this is not an "I want to get TWIT done quickly" reaction to falling so far behind before:

This Week In Tickets!

The company that I work for has been in the process of being acquired for the last what-seems-like-an-insanely-long-time, and last week there were folks from the new home office in Texas in town to get to know us. Which is nice, I guess, although I must admit to not really caring about the structure of the company beyond my manager in one direction, the other folks in my department in another, and the unit we pull data for in a third. So, yeah, this means extra meetings and a Wednesday-night "get-together" which was a cocktail hour and two-plus hours of eating food fancier than I usually go for. Sure, our table won the trivia contest, but... Well, some situations are more or less guaranteed to bring out the worst in me. Enforced socializing is one of them.

So, that means that there was no getting out early to get to potentially interesting stuff. It's kind of a shame, because there were actually a couple of movies I would have enjoyed seeing at the Boston Film Festival on Wednesday - pretty much the only day when the announced schedule had stuff that interested me. I would have been down for the last-minute closing night feature of Bunraku, but getting to a 6:45pm show in downtown Boston would have been tough enough if I'd caught the 5:08 bus out of Burlington, but of course a new problem reared its ugly head at 3pm and kept me late.

So no BFF for me, and I was surprisingly OK with that. My disgust from last year didn't really carry over; I just didn't have much interest in the schedule or feel much obligation to support the event even in a lean year. At least, I assume it was lean - I'd be interested to hear what it was like from anybody who was there. The line-up looked much less impressive than even last year, the website didn't talk up the parties and passes that usually seem to be the focus of the event, and the venue hadn't shown a movie since Jig played there for a week back in mid-June. That certainly seems like a recipe for a quiet festival.

Interestingly, I was having lunch with the Chlotrudis folks on Saturday, and apparently the idea of the smaller festivals pooling their resources to put together a major festival to rival Toronto and SXSW is kicking around. If this were to happen, I suspect that they'd want the Boston Film Festival name, but I suspect that getting hold of that would be difficult unless the event was in financial trouble. I wonder what the name would be worth in this scenario.

Anyway, after that lunch, I went back home and spent the rest of the weekend watching baseball, even though it was sort of torture. But, hey, there might not be much baseball left. So the only movie I wound up seeing this week was the midnight show at the Coolidge on Friday night (and I was probably pretty dumb to walk there in the rain). It had me kind of wiped out for the rest of the week, but at least it was a good one:

Balada triste de trompeta (Balada triste de trompeta)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 September 2011 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (@fter Midnight Fresh Cuts)

Alex de la Iglesia's new movie certainly qualifies as a circus - it's filled with bright colors and daring displays that look joyful while also tempting the audience with sex and violence. This makes perfect sense; De la Iglesia's best work has always come in the form of polished chaos, so these particular big tops are a fine place for him to do his thing.

The first circus we encounter is in 1937, where a Happy Clown (Santiago Segura) is entertaining children as the occasional gunshot from the Spanish Civil War is heard in the background. The performance is interrupted as the Nationalist forces show up to draft every able-bodied man into the army, including the clown, who is thrown into battle while still wearing his costume. In the aftermath, he tells his son Javier that even though clowning is in his blood, he will likely never be able to play the happy clown; he's seen too much to be anything but the sad one. And, indeed, when we meet Javier (Carlos Areces) again in 1973, that's the job he's taken with a struggling circus, being the butt of the smiling clown's jokes. Of course, behind the scenes, happy clown Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) is an angry drunk, and Javier being attracted to his girl Natalia (Carolina Bang) doesn't help matters.

In other hands, The Last Circus might be a simple tragic love story, maybe avant-garde (the likes of Fellini certainly liked their circuses back in the day). But this is an Alex de la Iglesia movie through and through - his first without his usual co-writer, Jorge Guerricaechevarría - and it is just packed with his signature slick camerawork, bizarre characters, and pitch-black comedy. It's the sort of movie that scores big laughs throughout, although one may be reluctant to relate just exactly which gags got them; a lot of bits just don't work out of context. De la Iglesia's movies have always had a bit of an edge to them, but this one seems to have the cynicism much closer to its heart; there's a meanness to it that parallels the way circus audiences laugh at the Happy Clown tormenting the Sad Clown.

Full review at EFC.

The Last Circus

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 23 September 2011 - 29 September 2011

So, who would believe me if I said that I totally meant to take a long time getting This Week in Tickets up to date because the stuff at the top makes a really nice segue to the thing showing this week that I want to draw people's attention to? Nobody? You think I'm just behind?

Fine, you're right. But we might as well take advantage of it!

  • I refer, of course, to my not-quite-recent-any-more trip to Montreal for the Fantasia Festival, where one of the two films I saw opening night was Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, which opens this week at Kendall Square and is awesome. Sure, it's a movie that caters directly to my personal tastes - it's about a kung fu-fighting 9th Century Sherlock Holmes type trying to unravel a series of mysterious spontaneous combustions, with a revitalized Tsui Hark directing and action choreography by Sammo Hung - but, seriously, a whole crowd of not-me people in Montreal loved it, and it was a huge hit at NYAFF a week or so earlier. It is a ton of fun.

    The Kendall opens another two foreign films as well, both of which look fairly entertaining: My Afternoons with Marguerite features Gerard Depardieu as a nearly-illiterate middle-aged man who discovers that there is a difference between being intelligent and being educated when he happens upon a little old lady reading aloud. The (intended) one-week booking is for Happy, Happy, a Norwegian film about a woman who is relentlessly upbeat even in the face of her husband's indifference and the sort of neighbors that usually provoke envy.

  • One of the films they've got playing midnights this weekend at the Coolidge Corner Theatre is one that I'd hoped would show up at Fantasia but didn't; The Last Circus is the new one by Alex de la Iglesia - his first in years without his usual co-writer - which starts with a clown being drafted to fight the Spanish Civil War while still in costume and just gets weirder from there. I suspect you either love de la Iglesia or you don't, and I find him to be a guy who makes funny, exciting movies, so I'm thrilled to get a chance to see it on the big screen before it, too, quickly heads to video. The midnight screening for the other theater is Clueless, which I've heard is also pretty good. Otherwise, things stay pretty much the same there, the only addition being a program from the Manhattan Short Film Festival in the digital rooms; there will also be a live jazz performance on Monday.

    (Note: At one point, the schedule included a screening of Kevin Smith's new movie Red State on Sunday, but it appears to have been dropped.)

  • The Brattle has a different sort of music on tap, with the Cameron Crowe-directed documentary Pearl Jam Twenty getting the bulk of screenings this week. Bands that were popular when I was in high school having twentieth-anniversary shows makes me feel old, but this was a big enough deal to sell a preview out a few days ago. Take heed and buy tickets early, as pre-sales have evidently been unusually high!

    It doesn't have the theater completely to itself, though; at 6pm on Friday night, The Runway screens in association with the Irish Film Festival; it's a family film about a South American pilot who crashes in a small Irish town, with only one person in the village able to speak Spanish. It's family friendly, with free popcorn for the first fifty kids. On Monday, the CineCaché program returns with a free preview of Martha Marcy May Marlene, in which an escaped cult member must confront both her recent past and the events that drew her to the cult in the first place. Wednesday evening, there's a presentation of of "The Greenhorns", a short documentary about young American farmers, with director Severine von Tscharner Fleming present. Thursday, there's a Harvard Book Store talk at 6pm, so the last showings of Pearl Jam Twenty will be at 8:30pm and 11:00pm.

  • The stuff at the smaller theaters is the most attention-worthy stuff this weekend, but it's actually not a bad-looking week at the multiplex, either; even the lesser-looking stuff has interesting things about it. Abduction, for all that it looks like a watered down mash-up of The Bourne Identity and I Am Number Four, has some good people in its cast and John Singleton in the director's chair. The Killer Elite has a pretty ridiculous top three in the cast - Jason Statham, Clive Owen, and Robert De Niro - although we all know too well that the none of the three are particularly discriminating in the projects they choose these days. Dolphin Tale also has an impressive cast - Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Jdd, Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristofferson - and the aquatic setting often makes for impressive 3D. All of them are in solid "can go one way or the other" territory.

    The surest bet looks to be Moneyball, which lost Steven Soderbergh as director but gained Bennett Miller (who did nice work with Capote) and has a script by Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin. The book's been on my shelf for a while without being read, but most everybody interested in baseball has heard plenty about it. The trailers look pretty exceptional, so here's hoping it lives up to them.

    Boston Common also has Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football opening; it's a documentary about a high-school football team in a Detroit suburb with a large Muslim population, whose big game coincides with the end of Ramadan.

  • John Malkovich is going to be at Emerson's Paramount Theater on Thursday and Friday (the 29th and 30th) for two performances of The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer, so this weekend, they're running several of his films in the Bright Screening Room: The Killing Fields, A Talking Picture, Empire of the Sun, and Being John Malkovich. Saturday night, there will also be a "Radical Light" anthology, a set of short films spanning thirty-plus years that feature unusual storytelling techniques; Kathy Geritz of the Pacific Film Archive introduces it.

  • Ms. Gertiz will also be introducing different "Radical Light" programs at the Harvard Film Archive on Monday (the 26th) and at MassArt on Wednesday (the 28th); the HFA screening caps their "American Punk" series. The main series running this weekend is Viva l'Italia! The Risorgimento on Screen, with Paisan and The Bandit of Tacca del Lupo on Friday and Little Ancient World Sunday afternoon. Director Matt Porterfield will be in town on Saturday to screen his new film Putty Hill; his previous film, Hamilton (also named after a Baltimore neighborhood), screens on Sunday evening.

  • The Museum of Fine Arts kicks off a month-long series Celebrating World Cinema this Friday; films screening over the weekend include The Green, Miral, and The Lips, with Shadows and Faces and Lights Out joining the lineup on Wednesday. The Art on Film series also continues through the weekend, including screenings of Wild Style on Sunday in tandem with a lecture on Graffiti and Contemporary Art.

  • One Hindi-language movie (with subtitles) at Fresh Pond this weekend, Mausam. It's a dramatic love story that takes place over a ten year period between 2000 and 2010, incorporating real-world events in the narrative.

  • All Things Horror presentations generally take place once a month in the small screening room at the Somerville Theatre, but this weekend it appears to have moved up to one of the larger screens to present the Viscera Film Festival, which celebrates women in horror filmmaking. Both Friday and Sunday nights will include different programs of Viscera-selected short films; Friday night director Maude Michaud will introduce her documentary Bloody Breasts, while Sunday will feature a program of shorts by Izabel Grondin and Karen Lam's feature Stained.

  • The Regent Theatre in Arlington has two film presentations this week: FIX: The Ministry Movie, a documentary about one of the best-known and loved industrial rock bands, plays Wednesday (28 September) at 8pm; "Reel Rock" is an adventure film tour whose latest installment plays Thursday (29 September) at the same time.

My plans? The Last Circus is actually the one I'm most excited to see, although I'd really like to get a second viewing of Detective Dee in. Moneyball will probably grab some time, and I intend to be at Martha Marcy May Marlene. And I'll probably catch The Killer Elite from among the other new openings. Anything else depends on just how much it rains and how much baseball disgusts me between now and the upcoming end of the regular season.

This Week Month Late Summer In Tickets: 11 July 2011 to 18 September 2011

For the thing that I tend to think of as the signature element of this blog, This Week has certainly gotten away from me a few times. When festival time starts up again next year, I'm going to have to figure out how to not let that happen.

No film festival knows how to derail a posting schedule like Fantasia:

This Week In Tickets!

This Week In Tickets!

This Week In Tickets!

This Week In Tickets!

I've written about this in pretty exhausting detail, so let's assume you know the drill: Click on the ticket or part of the schedule, get to its blog entry. The last one, here, has the stats and wrap-up.

As mentioned on the last day, I took the 11:30pm bus, which got me into Boston around 8am, giving me plenty of time to rest up for a 4pm Red Sox game (sadly, the ticket has since gone through the wash. The Sox beat the Yankees, despite John Lackey being on the mound, but they naturally did it in long, grinding fashion. It left us barely enough time to "murder a burger", as my friend Justin put it, before the restaurants closed for the evening, but I was fortunately able to introduce him and his girlfriend to Boston Burger Company. Mmm...

Then it was time to start catching up on stuff that I missed, as well as hit the last film of the Somerville Theatre's summer Buster Keaton series:

Captain America: The First Avenger

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2011 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, digital 3D)

I wouldn't say Marvel's movies have been disappointing of late; more that the first Iron Man was one heck of a tough act to follow, and to a certain extent, recent entries have introduced the general movie audience to some of the more frustrating elements of reading comics - the way other books encroach on the one you're reading, or how what's happening now seems like set-up for what would come later. Fortunately, Joe Johnston and company are mostly able to avoid that in Captain America - this one stands on its own, and is a pretty great adventure movie.

What makes it work? I think a large part is that writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely did an impressive job of synthesizing several takes on the character of Steve Rogers into one that works extremely well: The look most closely resembles Bryan Hitch's designs from The Ultimates, and the relationship between Steve and Bucky Barnes brings to mind the way Ed Brubaker has redefined them during his current run on the book(s), but the big, adventurous stories and WWII can-do spirit of the Joe Simon & Jack Kirby originals. It's potentially a tricky alchemy, but Johnston and the writers make it work.

And tone's kind of a big deal with this movie; it's big pulp adventure that is wonderfully sincere as it throws big Saturday-Serial menaces at Cap and his allies pursue the Red Skull and Hydra (as bad as the Nazis, but not making the movie too somber). The ties to other Marvel movies give the feeling of a larger world but don't hamstring things; if you've seen Iron Man and Thor, there's easter eggs, but if not, it's still a blast. Chris Evans hits the right humble, sincere attitude as Rogers.

He's got a bunch of nifty people around him, too - despite my fears that Tommy Lee Jones would be sacrificed early as the inevitable lost father figure, he sticks around, and even if there's a bit of a weariness to him that suggests he might be a bit too old for the role, I can't come up with a better fit. Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Shaw, Neal McDonough and more are good supporters (and speaking of McDonough, who plays Dum Dum Dugan, I love that the Howling Commandos seem done right, keeping their distinct personalities while shedding the feeling of being stereotypes); Hugo Weaving is a fine villain.

It looks pretty good too. I'm not sure what miracles the folks who told me that the 3D adds nothing expect the technology to perform; I think it added a little more pop to the action scenes and gave a bit of an extra sense of scale to some of the more fanciful environments. Johnston didn't shoot in 3D - he switched back after finding the cameras too difficult to wrangle - but did have a smaller camera to use as second-eye reference, so it feels a lot closer to native 3D than many upconversions (like, say, Thor).

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 August 2011 in Somerville Theatre #1 (special engagement)

I reviewed this back in November 2004 (yikes!), though it's very easy to read that more as "Jay learning to appreciate silent movies" rather than something specifically about Steamboat Bill, Jr., I stand by it and my great fondness for the movie. Accompanist Jeff Rapsis talked about how, at the time, it was a sort of nostalgic image of small-town America; and yet, for all that it's very much of its time and before, it never feels old or irrelevant. It's still sweet and funny and an amazing production.

As per usual, Rapsis did a fine job with the soundtrack, both for this and the two Keaton shorts that preceded the movie. It was also good to see that the series had built some momentum; with enough people in the auditorium to open up the balcony. It doesn't look like there's going to be any September show, but Jeff did talk about doing something cool for Halloween.

This Week In Tickets!

Hey, I'd seen something like 75 movies in the month before and had a huge pile of comics and stuff awaiting me when I got home - I felt like staying in!

Cowboys & Aliens

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 August 2011 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first run; digital projection)

Cowboys & Aliens isn't a bad movie at all; it's just tough to shake the feeling that it could be better. It's the sort of movie where six writers (not counting the ones who wrote the original comic) and another dozen producers pound at it until any truly distinctive voice is gone. These producers spend a fair amount of money that shows up on screen, but a certain spark is missing.

I talk about "fun" at the movies a lot, which can be sort of a cheat - it's a terribly vague term and an extremely subjective thing - but I think it's a large part of what's missing here. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are both stony-faced protagonists of few words, and neither Sam Rockwell nor Olivia Wilde are in much of a position to be an upbeat counterbalance. This movie really needs someone who sees tracking down a ship full of creatures from outer space and rescuing their loved ones as an adventure as well as a grim mission, and the kid played by Noah Ringer can only do so much to counteract that. He's one Robin to a half-dozen Batmen.

There are moments when it works - when the posse is told just why the aliens are there, Harrison Ford snorts "that's ridiculous". The audience sort of agrees with this, sure, but it's an acknowledgment of the goofy pulp origins of this sort of tale, and we're expected to be fine with it, so why can't the movie be a little cheerier even while being thrilling and suspenseful? Ford is the main joy of this movie, looking and sounding like a guy who should have done many more Westerns than he has, and the filmmakers maybe should have sacrificed some "realism" for a chance to really let the audience take pleasure in what's going on.

SPOILERS: That includes letting certain characters live in the end. This is not a movie that needs to pay for the pure joy of watching the alien ship blow up with losing a character the audience likes. :SRELIOPS

This Week In Tickets!

A bit more of a "back to normal" week, the relatively short weekend the result of heading north for my niece Maisy's first birthday party. I apparently further solidified by status as the weird uncle by giving her an Uglydoll. Apparently, even though I've seen them at toy stores for the past few years, it's just not a brand that all parents are aware of.

(Allow me to take a moment to mourn the passing of the Tokyo Kid store in Harvard Square, which will make it much more difficult to someday give a niece a totally kawai stuffed toy that is actually a monstrous character from a very adult series.)

The ballgame was cool for a while, but turned out to be one of Erik Bedard's less impressive games in a Sox uniform. But, I got to see the Red Sox turn an around-the-horn triple play, which was pretty awesome.

The two other tickets here have been covered elsewhere, so see Point Blank and Attack the Block if you wnat more on them.

Der Räuber (The Robber)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (Recent Raves)

I joked with a friend after seeing this that whoever described this as a thriller must have had a very low threshold for getting excited, much like the guy right next to me who jumped and gasped at the least provocation. Of course, after saying that, I'm not really able to find evidence of anybody ever calling it a thriller, so the joke is on me for assuming that a movie about a distance runner who robs banks would be an exciting crime movie.

Looked at for what it is, rather than what I was expecting it to be, it's certainly no failure. Andreas Lust gives a nuanced, thoroughly believable performance as Johann Rettenberger, the gifted runner/thief of the title, and he has to, because that's the movie, with everything else meant to work alongside it. It's a well-realized portrayal of a man controlled by obsessions; while it would be easy to suggest that Rettenberger is addicted to the adrenaline of the heist with the running a personal detail, enabling him to escape on foot, that's actually secondary to the elite athlete's obsession with improving his skills; we can actually believe that robbing banks is mainly the way of earning money that allows him to have his rigorous training schedule.

After a while, though, this intense internality becomes quite a lot to bear. Lust's performance is perfect but that sort of obsession makes his character static; once we get Rettenberger, the film doesn't have a whole lot more to show us until it's time for things to start going wrong. Sure, at that point, co-writer/director Benjamin Heisenberg does a pretty nifty job of tightening the noose visually, but even then, the arc seems pre-ordained and a bit standard.

This Week In Tickets!

There would have been more tickets here, but what can I say - Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene shut everything down on Sunday, including the MBTA. Honestly, it wasn't that miserable out Sunday afternoon - wet and windy, sure, but by the time I got cabin fever that afternoon, it was actually kind of bracing.

The hurricane also meant that the Red Sox ticket marked "Sunday" was actually the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, and that wound up being a long day of baseball - the first game started at 1pm, endured multiple delays, driving me nuts as I waited for an announcement - which finally wound up being "come on down, we'll even let people with tickets for the second game in before the first finishes". Later on, with not a lot of us in the stands, the Sox evidently tweeted that gate C was open for anyone in the neighborhood. Hey, might as well - can't sell beer to people who aren't there.

So, not a lot of movies seen that week; the ones I did make it to were the last shows in the Bernard Hefrmann retrospective. I love the Brattle's old-school vertical schedules in the summer; too bad it so often conflicts with my trip north.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 August 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (Bernard Herrmann Centennial)

SPOILERS: Hey, you may not know this, but Brian De Palma really likes Alfred Hitchcock - especially Psycho; he spent much of his early career talking little bits of Norman Bates's insanity and sprinkling it into his villains. Of course, there's a certain logic to "If you're going to steal, do it from the best", and it's not like he regurgitates this stuff lazily. :SRELIOPS

Even without that sort of reference, this is a thoroughly De Palman movie, with an opening that is both risqué and tongue-in-cheek, some shocking violence, a somewhat unconventional amateur sleuth, and an enjoyably twisty/bizarre storyline. Actually, that may undersell it; when you add the sheer number of just absolutely crazy things that go on in this movie together, the end result should be utterly laughable - and, really, the use of hypnotism in the last act is absolutely ridiculous - but somehow De Palma stitches it together into an entertaining, cohesive whole.

But, hey, I dig it. It's a crazy movie but it keeps its crazy going through to the end.

Twisted Nerve

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 August 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (Bernard Herrmann Centennial)

Now, here's a pretty brilliant way to cap off the Bernard Herrmann series (or at least come close to doing so) - a movie that is probably best known for the bit of Herrmann music that Quentin Tarantino lifted to drop into Kill Bill, creating a tremendously effective earworm. To be quite honest, it's the part of this movie that most deserves to enter the general public consciousness. Well, that and "good lord, was Hayley Mills a cutie in her early twenties".

After all, the plot is more than a bit ridiculous, with Martin Durnley (Hywel Bennett) apparently thinking that the best way to get close to pretty young librarian/med student Susan (Mills) is to pretend to be mentally handicapped. Of course, he turns out to be insane in other ways, which leads to an expositional outburst that reminds the modern audience that forty-odd years ago, people used to use the term "Mongoloid" and attribute all sorts of psychosis to this. It is, shall we say, a product of its time.

That's not entirely a bad thing; director Roy Boulting and his co-writers are generally able to negotiate the border between "anything can happen" and "what the hell?" pretty well, and when it comes time for a character to snap, he snaps very well indeed. I can't say I was terribly impressed with the movie, but it certainly has moments, and who knows, maybe if I saw it on a non-terrible print (this one was very, very red), it might make a better impression on me.

This Week In Tickets!

Yes, I saw a great deal of this homestand, although not a whole lot of winning. The funny thing? Early in the season, when it seemed like the Red Sox wouldn't win a game all year, they always seemed to win - and decisively! - when I went.

Sunday, though, was so rough that my Dad and brother who came down for the game left early. Well, they had to catch a train back home, but they left early enough to make sure they had plenty of time to do so. Can't say I blame 'em.

Following that, I took the B line to Harvard Street, had some BBQ at SoulFire, and then hit The Debt at the Coolidge. I've got to admit, the BBQ wound up being the highlight of the day.

This Week In Tickets!

Labor Day on Monday, and since I didn't want to pay a whole lot of money for what looked like a thoroughly mediocre movie, I went to Fresh Pond for Shark Night 3D. Big mistake. The movie wasn't completely beyond salvage, but as much as I would have liked to write about what a great value 3D shows at that spot are, it wound up being more "you get what you pay for".

Then it was a bit of a layoff until the weekend, where I caught a couple of new releases from China, a couple of old releases from Germany, and thought I was going to get to the cheap show of Contagion in not-really-IMAX, but misread the schedule and wound up seeing, well, something else.


* * (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2011 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, digital projection)

Remember how a few weeks ago, while reviewing Point Blank, I built the blog entry around how the French had pretty much taken over the mid-level action film, and referred to the then-upcoming Colombiana (co-written by Luc Besson and directed by Besson protege Olivier Megaton) as an example? Never mind. Colombiana isn't quite a disaster, but it's not very good.

How is it a letdown? It takes what seems like forever to get started, for example. This sort of Europa-Corp. action movie tends to have a pretty straightforward plot, but this one feels the need for a long prologue where we see what makes Zoe Saldana's Cataleya what she is. It's got a pretty spiffy chase scene where the ten-year-old Cat escapes from her parents' killers, but even after all that, the "I want to be a killer" scenes still feel wrong, like an oddly specific thing to ask. As the movie goes on, we get two separate scenes of Cat vomiting something up, her doing jobs that seem to rely on both gaining information she had no time to research and a lot of luck, and then, when we've been prepped for an extremely clever infiltration - the villains have even commented on just how good she is at that sort of thing - the finale is just a brute-force attack. And Olivier Megaton is not the most talented action director Besson has found; he's the type that is generally competent, but also does things like shake the camera and cut quickly when the really good ones would give the audience a good look at what's going on..

It's not a total loss - Zoe Saldana is good at the action-girl thing, and Lennie James handles what is a relatively thankless role as the FBI agent tracking her down with aplomb. It looks good, has a couple good action sequences. It's not close to Europa's best, though - this sort of movie is straightforward and familiar enough that the execution needs to be flawless to stand out (see: Taken), and that's not the case here.

This Week In Tickets!

Another time mix-up; I somehow got it in my head that The Driver was starting at 7pm on Saturday, instead of 6:30pm, so I wound up missing that and taking the T to Somerville for Contagion instead. I'm kind of disappointed by that - it looked like a good warm-up for Drive. A little disappointed about missing the other pre-code Raoul Walsh film at Emerson this weekend, too - even if Me and My Gal wasn't that great, "not available on video" is always tempting.

Sunday was a bit of a repeat of two weeks earlier - ugly Red Sox loss, supper at SoulFire, movie at the Coolidge. It wound up being a loop, since I went there for the 10am Talk Cinema series. Anyway, packed weekend of movies:

The Lion King

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2011 in AMC Boston Common #5 (3D rerelease)

I expected from the start that this specific 3D upconversion was a particularly bad idea, but seeing as there was a $10 early show ($6 admission + $4 tack-on for 3D) and AMC and Disney were running a program where they'd put $5 on the rewards card for seeing it, I figured that I was $5 worth of curious as to how it turns out, even if I do have the Blu-ray coming in a few weeks.

And how does it turn out? Interesting tech demo, at least, albeit one that exposes the technology's flaws as much as its potential (if not more). The opening number, "Circle of Life", looks impressive, given that it's full of things that 3D shows well, and that upconversion handles well - multiplane set-ups (that is, where you want to show that various sets of objects are different distances from the viewer but don't want them breaking that plane), establishing a distance to the horizon, uncomplicated flight, etc. It's easy to watch that and think, hey, this might work.

What the opening doesn't have a lot of, though, is character animation, and it's when we get to close-ups of the characters that things start to seem very ill-advised. Though I imagine The Lion King was easier to deal with than some older cel-animated films might be, in that the CAPS coloring system gave them shading and textures to work with as opposed to flat colors of previous decades, the current state of the art for stereo-conversion is basically mutliplane, which leads to an effect much like 3D comics, where a head will seem like a two-dimensional object separate from the body, just on a nearer plane. The stereographers try to get around that, but trying to made a 3D model out of a 2D object is tricky, and things like the feline characters' snouts often look vaguely wrong, poking out too far or not far enough depending on the "camera angle" being used, or wobbling as heads turn.

And part of that may come from how cel-based animation, unlike CGI, stop-motion, and the like, does not use rigid models. I remember how, when Beavis & Butt-head was popular, the guys making the action figures wound up having fits because it turned out that the title characters actually are designed differently when seen head-on or in profile. I don't know whether this is the case for any characters in The Lion King or not, but I could see animators flattening the characters' faces a little when seen from the front, humanizing them slightly. When Tangled came out last year, producer and longtime lead animator Glen Keane described how producing it meant developing new software to make the character models more malleable so that it would more closely resemble the animated films of the 1990s in style, but the tech for going the other way is apparently a bigger challenge.

Ultimately, the experience doesn't take much away from The Lion King, the movie - it's still better than the sum of its parts, even if those parts seem a bit weaker now than they did on its initial release - and I'm different too; the "normalcy restored by person reclaiming their birthright" really annoys me today, when it just seemed a bit off back then. I suspect many in the audience won't even feel that something is slightly amiss with this movie, but honestly, I'd still recommend the 2D version if that's playing theaters nearby (here in Boston, it is at Regal Fenway) and not springing the extra dough for the 3D Blu-ray. The converted image nifty at points, but the process is a net negative; not enough to compensate for the extra cost or the picture as a whole looking vaguely (or specifically) wrong.

Me and My Gal

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2011 in the Paramount Center, Bright Family Screening Room (Movies Matter)

Me and My Gal is an old movie, and that's what one has to call it. It's not a classic, and "vintage" implies that, like wine, it ages well. Not all seventy-year-old movies do that; some, like this, were just made in 1932, taxied around the country to fill a screen for a week or two, and then vanished into relatively deserved obscurity. It's not all bad; in fact, it's just good enough to show what doesn't work.

We start with Danny Dolan (Spencer Tracy), a cop walking a waterfront beat. In one day, he meets Helen Riley (Joan Bennett), a sassy diner waitress, and saves an annoying drunk (Will Stanton) from drowning. This earns him a promotion but pulls another cop away from keeping tabs on the boat carrying Duke Cartega (George Walsh), a gangster that the law hasn't been able to make charges stick to, returning to the country after being away a year. It turns out he used to go with Helen's newlywed sister Kate (Marion Burns), and wants to use her respectable job at a bank to help rob the place while her sailor husband is away.

Or at least, it seems that way. The movie spends a lot of time talking about "the numbers" that the Cartegas want Kate to get so that they can burgle the appropriate safe deposit boxes, but even though Duke looks to have Kate hide him after the robbery, I have no idea whether she ever did actually supply him with these numbers. This whole half of the movie is a real mess, the plot of a gangster flick uncomfortably jammed into a romantic comedy as the B story, with neither actress Marion Burns or generally-respected director Raoul Walsh able to give us much of an impression of where Kate stands one way or the other.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2011 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run)

Part of what makes Contagion such a thoroughly nifty movie is how, even though panic is a large part of what it's about, along with some other strong emotions, writer Scott Z. Burns and directer Steven Soderbergh maintain a tight leash on any sort of outburst. Moments which could be used for cheap drama are allowed to pass as we watch the characters just try and make it through the next minute; Soderbergh allows shots to linger on possible surfaces on which a virus could rest for half a second without any sort of musical sting. We get the idea; there's no need to hammer it home.

Even with the quite frankly ridiculous cast - there's a lot of folks used to starring roles taking ensemble/supporting parts here - that's a really tricky balance to maintain. Contagion is as much about crisis management as crisis, and it's likely that as much as the filmmakers wanted to make a movie that salutes the level-headed problem solvers, their every instinct is likely to push for more obvious drama. Soderbergh is probably uniquely qualified to handle it; despite being much better than most at wrangling the scale of a large, complicated movie like this one, he's still and indie filmmaker at heart, so he can make the scenes with, say, Matt Damon and Anna Jacoby-Heron sing.

Not all of the half-dozen threads or so the movie has going for it are created equal; we both seem to see Jude Law too often and not really feel the impact his character is making. But, man, so much of it is good, emotional, and at least within shouting distance of being scientifically sound that it's able to stimulate our curiosity as well as the more primal fears, an unusual combination that makes the movie even more exciting.

(Random aside - is World War Z shooting yet? Seeing this movie done so well make me wonder if those filmmakers could back up and make something closer to the anthology feel of the book rather than the more straightforward sci-fi/action/horror movie being planned.)


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2011 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run)

I forget - which award, exactly, is it that Drive's opening sequence should make it a shoo-in for - sound mixing or sound effects editing? Whichever it is, Nicolas Winding Refn and his team put on a clinic of how to grab the audience with audio - a thumping bassline gives way to the Lakers game that the movie's nameless Driver puts on for background noise, minimalist but natural dialog enters, and loud, harsh sound effects highlight the danger. Add slick direction by Refn and taut editing by Mat Newman, and it's an early sign that the audience is in for something special.

The funny thing is that on the face of it, Drive isn't that exceptional. The plot could be a fourth Transporter movie; it's just that Refn sees pulp as beautiful, so he goes all in, paying loving attention to every tiny detail, taking cues from 1970s and 1980s car noir, and not backing off from the violence. It's a surprisingly harsh action movie - Refn doesn't go in for elaborate car chases quite as much as one might expect, but instead gives us up close and personal violence where guns and knives can be seen to really mess a body up.

Part and parcel of that is Albert Brooks as a villain and, man, is he fantastic. It's a wonderfully entertaining performance that separates itself from all the other cheery psychopaths in short order, especially since we initially think we've got the dynamic between him and business partner Ron Perlman figured out. Ryan Gosling makes the Driver an intriguing nut to crack; there's an almost childlike simplicity to him that we almost want to see him as some sort of idiot savant where cars are concerned, except that he's also clearly no stranger to the world of violence. Gosling does a very impressive job of making this guy seem like a whole person despite there not being a whole lot of information about him.

Each of those elements is a part of what makes Drive exciting to watch - it's a simple action movie, but one with art to it. Refn doesn't see any reason why this sort of picture can't have flourishes and embellishments even when the film itself is relatively straightforward.

The Lion King 3DMe and My GalContagionThin IceWakefield is DONEDrive
Shark NightMy KingdomLove in SpaceColombianaWorld on a WireWorld on a Wire
Last time at the top of the AL EastI hate John LackeyThe Debt
Sisters & Twisted NeverRain!
Point BlankTriple Play!The RobberAttack the Block
Cowboys & Aliens
Fantasia (1 August)Fantasia (2 August)Fantasia (3 August)Fantasia (4 August)Fantasia (5 August)Voltaire @ FantasiaCaptain AmericaSteamboat Bill Jr.
ExpoRailFantasia (25 July)Fantasia (26 July)Fantasia (27 July)Fantasia (28 July)Fantasia (28 July)Fantasia (29 July)Fantasia (30 July)Fantasia (31 July)
Fantasia (18 July)Fantasia (19 July)Fantasia (19 July)Fantasia (20 July)Fantasia (21 July)Fantasia (22 July)Fantasia (23 July)Fantasia (24 July)Pointe-à-CallièreMontreal Science Centre
King of Devil's IslandDetective Dee and teh Mystery of the Phantom FlameFantasia (14 July)Fantasia (15 July)Fantasia (16 July)Fantasia (17 July)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Talk Cinema: Thin Ice (aka The Convincer)

The Talk Cinema series has been going on for a while - a few years at the Coolidge, and I think it was at one of the mainstream multiplexes before that (Fenway, maybe, back when it was a GCC theater). As tempting as some of the things that play there sounded after the fact, I just started going with this series, as its Sunday morning schedule tended to conflict with the much closer (and cheaper!) Eye-Opener at the Brattle. With that having become the Monday evening Cinecaché series, I decided to give this a try.

So far, I can't say I necessarily love the choice of movies; Thin Ice is just not very good. The conversation afterward may also be something to get used to; will I get to know these folks and where they're coming from for seeing them once a month as opposed to every week for a couple months in a row?

Still, this installment at least had the benefit of a moderator who had seen The Convincer at Sundance in January and could describe the differences. Apparently the soundtrack was a big one, with the new score making the big turn the film takes midway through less jarring. It led to a somewhat interesting discussion on whether the director should always be the person in complete control over a movie, with the implication being that The Convincers was flawed enough that some work should have been done.

(Amusing - the moderator brought up Donnie Darko as perhaps the best recent example of how maybe the director isn't always the best judge of when a movie's done, and explained the reference. I'm not used to people not just knowing it.)

Thin Ice

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2011 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema)

Thin Ice started life as The Convincer (and played Sundance under that name) before being re-cut and re-scored to its current form, and that name would have put a bit of a target on its back. The movie requires we be believe that a character is charismatic and persuasive, and that's just not there. Calling the movie "Thin Ice" doesn't make it better, but it manages expectations a little.

Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) sells insurance out of a small office in Kenosha, and he's apparently good enough at preying on strangers' fears to lecture on the topic at the regional convention. While there, he poaches a young up-and-comer from a rival, although nice-guy Bob (David Harbour) has a tendency to talk people out of overinsuring themselves. That's how it's going with Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), an eccentric and half-senile farmer, at least until violin expert Leonard Dahl (Bob Balaban) shows up to examine the apparently rare instrument in Gorvy's attic, but only talks to Mickey. Circumstances lead to Mickey believing he can keep the money from the sale of the guitar for himself, but a series of miscommunications lead to Mickey and locksmith Randy Kinney (Billy Crudup) being involved in something a bit nastier than fraud.

Mickey's not a good person; even considering that he's in a business that thrives on misrepresentation, he lies reflexively and is utterly unconcerned about other people. And while it's not necessarily important that the main character be likable, it would help a great deal if he were interesting. Whether because of sisters Jill & Karen Sprecher's script (Jill also directs) or Greg Kinnear's performance, though, that never really happens. His scenes with Lea Thompson as Mickey's soon-to-be-ex-wife don't do anything to add nuance to the character, nor do any others; there's no hint of a tragic flaw that put him in his financial hole. He's just a generically selfish guy, and Kinnear plays him that way, desperation covered with practiced pitches. There's no moment where we see him really good at this sort of thing, and he's such a blank that it's tough to either hate him enough to root against him or develop a sneaky admiration for his cunning or ruthlessness.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 16 September 2011 - 22 September 2011

So, tell me - who reads these things even when they're weeks old? I constantly see them on my stats page, but I honestly can't figure why anybody would have any interest in them past Thursday.

Once again, the big release this weekend is opening all over the place, both in the multiplexes and some of the independent places. That's often the sign of something set up to be both a critical and box-office smash, potentially an awards contender. Although, then again, The Debt opened that way a couple of weeks ago.

  • That movie this week is Drive, the next step in Nicolas Winding Refn's steady-but-unorthodox infiltration of the Hollywood mainstream. It stars Ryan Gosling as a stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night, who finds everything going sideways after a botched heist. I missed my chance to see Pusher 3 at Fantasia one year, but Refn's previous two English-language features have been intriguing and he's got a very nifty cast, so while the trailer for this one didn't do a whole lot for me at first, it's got serious potential. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, Coolidge Corner, Harvard Square, and Somerville.

    Other new releases include a remake of Straw Dogs, whose trailer looks OK, but why do you even bother remaking Peckinpah, even with a decent-looking cast. Plus, I kind of feel like I've seen variations on the "class warfare bringing out the worst in everybody" movie a lot lately. Its polar opposite would appear to be I Don't Know How She Does It, a comedy about a woman who juggles a high-finance job and motherhood. Sarah Jessica Parker stars, with a pretty nice-looking cast behind her. Including Christina Hendricks, who is also in Drive.

  • Also opening at the multiplex: The Lion King 3D. On the one hand, it's a chance to see a pretty good movie on the big screen, spruced up nice. On the other hand, I can't really think of any movies more thoroughly built for 2D than traditional cel-animated features. Fenway will apparently be having 2D features, while AMC theaters showing it will put $5 on your Stubs card if you've got one.

    Boston Common also has some smaller releases on tap: Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain, a stand-up/documentary from a comedian who appears to have "next big thing" status. It opened in a several other cities last week to packed crowds, and will actually be showing on two screens during the evening. They also open Farmageddon, a documentary on the supposed war on small farmers who produce and sell raw milk by the FDA, and have Chinese films My Kingdom and Love in Space held over for daily single shows. And, holy crap, is that Bad Teacher back again? I think that's third-run by now.

  • The Brattle is programmed almost like a regular theater this week, with Rapt starting Friday and running through Thursday. It's a thriller by art-house favorite Lucas Belvaux starring Yvan Attal as a mover and shaker who is kidnapped and held for ransom - but whose scandalous affairs leave his family wondering if he's worth paying to get back. It runs at 4:30, 7:00, and 9:30pm Friday - Monday (with 2:00pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday), but shorter times midweek to accommodate special events: 8:00pm on Wednesday so that Craig Thompson can discuss his new graphic novel at six, and 4:00pm on Tuesday and Thursday for special preview screenings.

    The Brattle's website reports that the Tuesday premiere screening of Pearl Jam Twenty is already sold out (but it will open there on the 23rd), but there should still be tickets for Tucker & Dale vs Evil on Thursday the 22nd. I've got no idea if Tucker & Dale will be getting a larger release in Boston, but it should - it's funny, suspenseful, and, yeah, kind of gross at times, a fun inversion of a certain type of horror movie.

  • Opening Drive shifts Circumstance to a digital room at the Coolidge, withThe Debt remaining on the other 35mm screen. The special screenings include midnights of The Warriors on Friday and Saturday, presumably the original version as opposed to the one that's recently appeared on video with comic book-style transitions. Also at midnight on Saturday is the Betsi Feathers Burlesque Show, which is pretty much what it sounds like, but has the unusual cachet of having a member of the Boston Ballet (Betsi Graves) in the troupe.

    Sunday morning features the first entry in the Talk Cinema series; get there early for Thin Ice, which played Sundance this year under the name The Convincer and has Billy Crudup, Greg Kinnear, Lea Thompson, and Alan Arkin in a thriller about a rare violin. And on Monday evening, The French Connection appears on the main screen in its original 35mm glory - worth noting, because the movie on Blu-ray is much different than the one on film; William Friedkin changed the entire look of the film for that release. And on Tuesday night, there is a special Deaf Awareness Week event, with director Ann Marie "Jade" Bryan screening her film If You Could Hear My Own Tune, a romance between a deaf fashion student an a musician.

  • Relatively quiet week at Kendall Square; they don't get Drive but do get Gun Hill Road, with Esai Morales as a parolee who must both attempt to go straight while his son challenges his beliefs on manhood. The one-week booking is also focused on the inner city, with documentary The Interrupters telling the tale of former gang members in Chicago who have set themselves up as "violence interrupters", intervening to prevent strained situations from erupting into violence. One of those interrupters, Tio Hardiman, will be appearing at the theater in person for the 6:35pm show on Friday (16 September).

  • School's back in session, which means ArtsEmerson starts their film programs back up again! They kick the season off with a weekend of movies chosen by film critic Dave Kehr, including a double feature of pre-code movies by Raul Walsh on Friday - Me and My Gal with Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett, which also runs Saturday the 17th at 2pm, and Sailor's Luck with James Dunn and Sally Eilers, which also runs Sunday the 18th at 2pm. The Saturday movies include The Driver, directed by Walter Hill, which is over a quarter car chases, and Wim Wenders's The American Friend, an adaptation of Ripley's Game with Dennis Hopper in the main role.

  • They're also busy at Harvard, with the bulk of the weekend at the Film Archive reserved for Viva l'Italia!: The Risorgimento on Screen, which features a number of films chronicling the nineteenth century unification of Italy from various city-states. That's Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon; Sunday and Monday evenings are a program called "For My Crushed Right Eye - The Visionary Films of Toshio Matsumoto". Matsumoto was originally scheduled to visit, but it appears he has cancelled, although the psychedelic, experimental films may be a draw on their own.

  • The MFA has a quiet week - no screenings on Friday, Saturday, Monday, or Tuesday, and just a short film program running Sunday as part of the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Arts Open House. Also Wednesday and Thursday feature documentaries on artists whose works are posted in those wings - Ellsworth Kelly, Alex Katz, and El Anatsui, as well as a Wednesday (the 21st) screening of Kenya: Passing the Baton, a short documentary on the surprising breakdown and reconstruction of the nation over the past five years, with a panel discussion after the screening.

  • There's actually several notable things happening at the Regent in Arlington: Saturday evening features two showings of "The Restaurant", a short film starring Lenny Clarke, Tony V, Patty Ross, Frank Santorelli, and many other local comedians as the waiters and customers in a Boston restaurant hear that a director who likes to cast unknowns is in town and angle to get discovered. On Tuesday the 20th, the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival presents the "Radical Reels" program, a collection of short adventure-sport films, a theme that continues on Wednesday and Thursday with two Women in Adventure Sports film packages. All three of those nights figure to be action-packed, while "The Restaurant" promises red carpets and meet & greets with the cast.

  • You know who else likes red carpets? The Boston Film Festival; I half-suspect that getting to hobnob with celebrities is the entire reason that this current iteration of the festival exists. It's a pretty thin-looking line-up this year, with Eric Shaeffer's new movie - After Fall, Winter - appearing to be the big World Premiere. Wednesday night does look somewhat promising, with The Trouble with the Truth and Fort McCoy, and Thursday Night's closing film still unannounced.

    I've been bagging on and bailing on this festival more and more over the past few years (and I'm tempted to try and guess the winners of its awards by listing the highest-profile people scheduled to be there in person), but I honestly take no pleasure in how thin it looks in 2011; it's honestly sad to see what it's reduced to, with nothing that looks terribly likely to crack theaters, a venue in the Stuart Street Playhouse that hasn't actually shown a movie in months, and even the usual list of expensive parties missing in action.

My plans? Drive. Rapt, I think. Maybe Contagion. Some of the stuff at ArtsEmerson, though I'll likely miss the Friday night double feature (Burlington to Downtown Crossing by 6pm just ain't happening). I'll probably go for The Lion King in 3D, because I have a hard time denying curiosity. And, who knows, maybe I'll even check something out at the Boston Film Festival out.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Little-seen German films: World on a Wire and Nathan the Wise

I can't say I planned for these two back-to-back; as much as I keep an eye on the special presentations at Boston's smaller venues, I stumbled on each of these films as I was making up last week's Next Week in Tickets and found myself intrigued (so even if I'm not getting the hits on Next Week the way I used to, writing it up is certainly useful to me!).

Both had a surprisingly good turnout, although I'm not sure what the yardstick one would normally use is. The Harvard Film Archive seems to know its audience pretty well, so my having to sit down in front and a bit to the side for World on a Wire wasn't completely unexpected when I arrived at ten minutes to the scheduled start, but it is still a movie where you're going to leave about four hours after you come in, and that's not for the faint of heart. HFA must have known there were plenty of Fassbinder fans, since it was also scheduled to play Sunday night.

Nathan the Wise seemed to catch many of the presenters by surprise - it's an obscure foreign silent movie being shown at 11am on a Sunday, but it got a very nice crowd. I suspect that it was able to draw from a lot of mailing lists - about five people got up to the podium to introduce their group before the movie started - which is always nice.

Both films were restored, as well, and looked pretty nice. Nathan the Wise being complete is a really pleasant surprise - the copy found in the Russian archive was under another name (which really only described the beginning of the movie), and had replaced the title card, but that apparently was it. It was projected on digital video, but looked OK. World on a Wire appeared to be on film (with a Janus logo up front), and at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which is interesting. It was shot for TV, which generally means a 1.33:1 ratio, and occasionally did look a bit like the top and bottom were cut off. Not sure whether this is a mistake on the Archive's part or how Janus is distributing the movie. Maybe Fassbinder was thinking about potential theatrical exhibition when he shot it, but how likely is that? At any rate, with Janus distributing, a Criterion DVD/BD seems likely, so we'll see how they encode it then.

Welt am Draht (World on a Wire)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2011 in the Harvard Film Archive (special presentation)

Even though the novel being adapted was released ten years earlier, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's World on a Wire still manages to be ahead of its time for having been released in 1973. Neuromancer was eleven years in the future when it aired on German TV, and the phrase "virtual reality" wouldn't even be used in this context for another four years after that. And while parts of it certainly seem quaint in hindsight, it remains a surprisingly current bit of science fiction today.

Professor Henry Vollmer (Adrian Hooven) has spearheaded the creation of an extraordinary computer; a "simulation engine" which can create an astonishingly detailed likeness of the real world, with over three thousand autonomous individuals within. On the day he and agency head Herbert Siskins (Karl-Heinz Vosgerau) are demonstrating it to the secretary of state, though, Vollmer is erratic and mentally unstable; by the time the day is out, he will be dead from an electrical accident. That leaves Fred Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch) as the new head of the project, and while he initially enjoys the perks of the promotion, things soon get very strange for him: Head of security Guenther Lause (Ivan Desny) warns him that Vollmer's death may not be an accident, but vanishes before he can explain fully; Siskins appears to be making inappropriate deals with the head of United Steel, blatantly placing his assistant Gloria Fromm (Barbara Valentin) in Stiller's office as a spy when Stiller's secretary Maja (Margit Carstensen) mysteriously falls ill; and Vollmer's daughter Eva (Mascha Rabben) has her own mysterious comings and goings.

Though recently restored and playing a few dates on film, World on a Wire was originally produced for German television as a two-part miniseries, complete with a cliffhanger at the halfway point. That can make for a long evening when the whole thing is viewed in one sitting, and not just because of the sheer length of the thing (a little over three and a half hours): As an early example of this subgenre, it was made for an audience that had not seen this sort of science fiction very much, so while its original audience might have needed several hints dropped, even somebody who isn't a particular science-fiction fan in the twenty-first century will almost certainly guess where Fassbinder is going much earlier than the cliffhanger. It's a credit to Fassbinder as a filmmaker that he can keep things interesting anyway, but waiting for the supposed smartest character in the movie to catch up can be frustrating.

Full review at EFC.

Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 September 2011 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sounds of Silents; digital projection)

Nathan the Wise has had a tumultuous journey to reach modern audiences: The original play (based on a narrative poem) was first performed two years after writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's death, and though this film version was very popular in many other parts of Germany upon its 1923 release, it didn't open in Munich the ascendent Nazis threatened violence against any theater that ran it. In 1933, after they came to power, they destroyed all known copies, and it would be over sixty years before one was found in a Russian archive. The film itself isn't quite on the level of its history, but it's well-made, interesting, and heartfelt; well worth seeing.

The story takes place in twelfth century Jerusalem, during the time of the Crusades. Sultan Saladin (Fritz Greiner) takes the city over the efforts of his brother Assad, who had converted to Christianity and fought with the Knights Templar. In the chaos that follows, pacifist Jewish merchant Nathan's seven sons are killed when rioters set fire to the synagogue. He despairs until a fleeing soldier presses Assad's newborn baby into his hands. Fifteen or twenty years later, Nathan (Werner Krauss) has raised "Recha" (Bella Muzsany) well; both father and the pretty, cheerful girl are known for their kindness and chairty. Saladin, meanwhile, has successfully defended the city from Crusaders again, and though most have been imprisoned, he frees one (Carl de Vogt) for his bravery and resemblance to the Sultan's lost brother.

The paths of these people will cross, naturally; given what we have seen in the prologue, it is destiny. Interestingly, that opening sequence was not part of the original play, and in some ways it's an awkward compromise between what works in a written story or play and what works in a silent film. Screenwriter Hans Kyser and director Manfred Noa essentially show the audience how all the characters are connected before the title card for Act One appears, and while it likely reduces the number of later scenes that are just walls of intertitled exposition, it certainly reduces the number of later surprises while casting a shadow over the scenes with Recha and the Templar.

Full review at EFC.