Monday, April 30, 2012

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.03 (Friday 27 April 2012): Burn and V/H/S

This Week in Tickets will be taking this week off for a double-shot next week. After all...


... those dates plus the two days at the Coolidge straddle a weekend on the calendar pretty evenly, so it makes sense to let them run together.

As to Friday specifically... In retrospect, this probably should have been the Detroit double feature I'd had as one of the options when sketching out my schedule, and maybe if I weren't attending on a press pass I'd have done that. But while I'm usually pretty good at keeping similar movies seen at festivals separate, I was concerned with Burn and Detropia bleeding together by the time I wrote about them. But, I'd heard nothing but good things about V/H/S from the Austin contingent of Twitter and the picture IFFBoston used for Detropia in the program and slides had a sort of forced eccentricity to it I didn't dig.

Speaking of photos...

IMAG0072, "Burn" directors Brenna Sanchez & Tom Putnam and executive producers Jim Serpico & Dennis Leary at IFFBoston 2012
Directors Brenna Sanchez & Tom Putnam; executive producers Jim Serpico & Dennis Leary.

Leary came out solo to do an introduction before the movie, but the first thing he did was go at the guy from in front of me "is that a motherf---ing tripod? Are you motherf---ing taping this you f---ing pirate motherf---er?" (paraphrased, with the number of cuss-words reduced). No way on Earth I was pulling out my camera to get a few quick snaps after that.

It was a pretty good Q&A; a lot of folks asked questions about the Detroit FD instead of the movie, but the filmmakers handled it all right. Some of the questions about the movie itself were actually fairly interesting - one connection I wouldn't necessarily have made was that Putnam, at least, had a background directing extreme sports events, which turns out to be a good training ground for directing this sort of documentary. Both involve riding herd over a bunch of cameras capturing the same event, getting them to stay out of each other's way while capturing everything, because there's no retakes for a burning building. Also, if there were actually film involved in capturing and projecting this, they would probably be saying it was still wet (we need a new idiom for the digital age), as the final cut was locked not long before they showed at Tribeca the week before. They won the audience award there, and Leary was campaigning to get two in two weeks.

So, I passed on Detropia and headed a few steps down the Red Line to the Brattle for V/H/S. Sadly, the most entertaining part of that was probably Ned Hinkle's introduction, because he still seemed to be shell-shocked from dealing with the audience for the other movie that played there that evening. It was kind of the perfect storm - locally shot flicks bring a more rambunctious audience to film festivals, and the audience for music docs tends to reflect the musicians' fans, so when playing a movie called All Ages: The Boston Hardcore Film... Well, I wasn't surprised to see it clearing out about an hour after when you might expect from the start time and length.

Or that the staff seemed kind of frazzled.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

It's sad to say but true - Detroit has been known for its fires for a long time, and the recent economic tumult which has hit the Motor City especially hard has not slowed that activity down in the least. Burn doesn't sugar-coat what a difficult task the city's firefighters are faced with, but does a fine job of not painting it as hopeless.

The statistics it presents at various points are staggering - though Detroit was a city of 1.8 million in 1950, that population has shrunk to 713,000. As a result, there were 80,000 abandoned buildings when Burn began filming in early 2011. As the number of fires has trended upward, the number of firefighters has stayed roughly the same. A staggering percentage of building fires are arson, because as one veteran puts it, a gallon of gasoline still costs less than a movie ticket. These and other numbers are spread throughout the movie rather than presented as a large chunk of data, but each still has its effect, making sure that the audience grasps the enormity of the situation. The film's subtitle - "One Year on the Front Lines of the Battle to Save Detroit" - does not seem like hyperbole.

If this is a war, then directors Brenna Sanchez and Tom Putnam are embedded in Engine Company 50, located in the city's East End. The filmmakers do a good job of introducing the audience to the company as a whole to the extent that they can, although an 80-minute movie doesn't give them enough time to go in-depth with everybody. In fact, as it turns out, only one of the three men whom the film focuses on is stationed there. That's Dave Parnell, a Field Engine Operator with over thirty years of service planning to retire and travel with his wife. Brendan "Doog" Milewski used to work there, but was paralyzed on the job the previous year; we follow his rehabilitation and grappling with a life that has strayed far from his plans for it. Time is also devoted to Donald Austin, the newly-appointed Fire Commissioner who, while Detroit-born, is seen as a suit-wearing outsider from Los Angeles by the rank and file.

Full review at EFC.


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2012 in the Brattle Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston After Dark 2012, digital)

V/H/S is an anthology film with six segments (including the spine), each of which is the product of up-and-coming independent [horror] directors, and each of which makes an attempt to do something interesting with the "found footage" conceit. For a horror movie, it's pretty long, at almost two hours. There should be a lot to say about it, but I find that my thoughts keep getting boiled down to two words: "not scary".

That's not necessarily completely damning; it is on occasion many of the other fine things this sort of movie can be: Funny, gory, surprising, weird, and even exciting. After all, there is a fair amount of talent working on the movie, so it's not likely to be a bore all the way through. Still, what every good horror story has at its center is something genuinely unsettling, and none of the segments have much to offer besides a fairly well-worn story being told using a device that is by now well-worn and which actually obscures the good stuff.

Take Ti West's "Second Honeymoon"; West is pretty great at doing a slow burn with characters whom the audience can get behind, and having Joe Swanberg and Sophia Takal in front of the camera is a great boon for that sort of picture. They're tremendously undercut by the format, though - the found-footage conceit means that things stop recording just as it's getting exciting, and that climactic moment is blurry and hard to follow. It's a lot of build-up for nothing. "Tuesday the 17th" by Glenn McQuaid is similar; it's got an amiable cast In Jason Yachanin, Normal Carroll, Jeannie Yoder, and Drew Moerlein, but even though McQuaid does his damnedest to put a distinct spin on the monster in the woods, it's so familiar that most will just acknowledge the quality of its gore effects without being much shaken by them.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.02 (Thursday 26 April 2012): Pelotero and The Imposter

The anecdote in the first paragraph of the Pelotero review is the truth; I was going to give the movie a pass because I've seen enough other baseball movies on similar subjects that I didn't necessarily feel the need to see another until Brian Tamm basically said "you're not seeing the baseball movie? C'mon, Polisse is going to play the Kendall!"

So I saw it. Heck, it's a better recommendation than what I was toying with earlier - having people tweet to me and @eFilmCritic what I should see an making the best schedule I can from the winners. If I can get our follower counts up for next year and have the same sort of "well, it all looks good" feelings about the schedule, maybe I'll try it then.

In the meantime, have some horrible photography:
Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, Jon Paley, "Pelotero" directors Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jon Paley at the Somerville Theatre, 26 April 2012
Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jon Paley

Interesting Q&A, at times. There was one older lady who accused the directors of making an exploitation film, although I'm not sure how you can look at this and think it was on MLB's side - while I admit that it could have been much harsher toward the organization, I think it makes very clear how MLB rigs the system in their favor and even then tries to take further advantage.

Most seemed to like it, though, and the directors implied that they had gotten some distribution, and would likely play at the Coolidge in July.

It wound up making an interesting double feature with The Imposter (hey, Indomina, would you mind correcting the spelling of "Impostor" before releasing it, even if you're going to book it in places that call themselves "Theatres"?); both wound up with themes of identity theft and presenting yourself as younger than you are. The Imposter was the slicker production, but oddly omitted the big question of why Frédéric Bourdin did this at all never backed out when he saw the mess he was in. The obvious answer, that he's mentally ill or compulsive in some way, will have to suffice, but it's not nearly as solid as the economic reasons displayed in Pelotero.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

I've already seen and reviewed a couple of movies about Dominican ballplayers trying to make the American major leagues - one fairly decent documentary (Rumbo a Las Grandes Ligas) and one feature (the excellent Sugar) - so I nearly passed on this one until a festival director reminded me that my first choice would have a regular theatrical run soon enough and, you know, baseball! And I'm glad; Pelotero ("Ballplayer") got lucky where its subjects are concerned, but the filmmakers still deserve credit for piecing it together so well.

Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano were, when Pelotero was filmed in 2009, two Dominican teenagers who play shortstop and practice with neighboring trainers. Jean Carlos works with Astin Jacobo and is a solid, hard-working prospect, while Miguel Angel works with "Moreno" Tejada, and is such a cocky natural talent that he's known as Bocaton ("big mouth") and widely expected to garner the highest signing bonus a Dominican player has ever received. That is, if Major League Baseball's investigators can be convinced that he will only be celebrating his sixteenth birthday in the months leading up to the July 2nd signing day.

This is not an idle concern; not only is Sano a big guy with an advanced skill set, but many Dominican prospects have been caught lying about their age or, when that became harder to do as the United States implemented more stringent immigration controls, assuming others' identities. We are told that 20% of all professional baseball players come from the Dominican Republic despite the island having a population just 2% the size of that of the U.S., but even considering that, the vast majority of these teenagers will go unsigned; the difference between dropping out of school to concentrate on baseball full-time for nothing and receiving a life-changing bonus can be razor-thin. Even discounting the prospect of fraud, these kids and everyone around them are highly motivated.

Full review at EFC.

The Imposter

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

The very title of The Imposter seems like it might be giving the game away, but it's not hard to argue that this is entirely appropriate. Director Bart Layton opts to make the film a mystery only after all the facts have seemingly been laid out, and often seems to seek out the shaky ground when presenting those. This documentary politely rebuffs clarity as others strive for it; combine that with stylish production and you get an often-fascinating feature.

On the 13th of June in 1994, 13-year-old Nicolas Barclay vanished less than two miles from his home in San Antonio, Texas. As missing-child cases go, it wasn't unusual - many go unsolved if there is no break in the early hours - but it took a strange turn in October of 1997, when a young man found in Linares, Spain claimed to be the missing boy. He was not - where Nicolas was blond-haired and blue-eyed, this 23-year-old Frenchman was neither and spoke with a noticeable accent - but it's hard to blame a family that has lost a child for wanting to believe.

That this man cannot be Nicolas is made quite clear from the beginning, but what Layton sacrifices in suspense by making that explicit is more than compensated for by how this knowledge combined with the time that elapsed between the actual events and the making of the film colors audience perception of the interview segments. There's a subtle difference to how Frédéric Bourdin (the imposter of the title) is handled - he seems to be telling a story rather than answering unheard questions, and has variations in camera angle compared to others who get a single, straight-on setup - that hint that he is not just one of several interview subjects, but a narrator and protagonist. Laytonalso seems to spend much of the movie selecting interview footage that suggests that even over a dozen years later Nicolas's family still thinks of the months when Bourdin impersonated Nicolas with some strange fondness.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 April 2012 - 3 May 2012

If you're in the Boston area and like quality films, especially indie and documentary, you probably already know what you're doing all week. Heck, so does practically everybody but the big multiplexes, as they bend over backwards to stay out of the festival's way. I love this festival so much that I don't mind pushing stuff off, falling even further behind in Japanese class, and eating Monday's Red Sox ticket. I'll get crushed by all that later.

  • "This festival" is Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, which kicked off Wednesday night at the Somerville Theatre and uses all five screens there until Monday the 30th before moving to the Coolidge for the 1st and 2nd, with the Brattle joining the fun Friday the 27th through Sunday the 29th. I can vouch for Beyond the Black Rainbow and I Wish; I'm looking forward to BURN, Knuckleball!, 2 Days in New York, Headhunters, Keyhole, and Paul Williams: Still Alive, even though it's likely not actually possible to see them all.

  • I don't know if IFFBoston has caused a dip in the business of Kendall Square's new releases in the last few years, but they're standing pretty pat this week. The main new opener is Turn Me On, Dammit!, a Norwegian comedy-drama about a 15-year-old girl with a voracious sexual appetite. Likely a one-week booking, as is a re-release of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which promises both a digital restoration and twelve minutes of "lost" Terry Gilliam animation.

  • The theaters involved in IFFBoston go the previously-viewed route when they're not hosting as well, with The Coolidge giving a new print of The Graduate a four-day run from Friday to Monday and picking The Fairy up from Kendall Square (it plays in the wee GoldScreen room). The midnight screening on Friday and Saturday is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, oddly enough presented by the Boston LBGT Film Festival (or maybe not so oddly; my knowledge of 1980s slashers is close to zero).

    That festival will take the Brattle over come next Friday, but the gap between the two fests will be bridged by John Carter in 2D on 35mm film, which was tough to come by in its release a couple months ago. A shame, because the 3D wasn't all that and film just looks better and this film deserved a better chance than it got.

  • The studios and chain multiplexes care not for our local film festival and open four movies this week. The surest bet is likely The Pirates! in An Adventure with Scientists... uh, that is, Band of Misfits in North America, because the presence of Charles Darwin will make parents think twice about bringing their kids to a movie about thieving, murderous outlaws. Name aside, it's from the brilliant folks at Aardman, so the stop-motion animation is built for 3D, and a great voice cast will have plenty of good material. In 3D at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Fenway, and Boston Common; the Capitol and Fresh Pond also have 2D shows.

    Vibes are also good for The Five Year Engagement, which re-unites Jason Segel with his Forgetting Sarah Marshall director and The Muppets co-writer Nicholas Stoller for a comedy about how his character's plans to marry Emily Blunt keep going awry. It plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, and Harvard Square.

    The other two don't inspire quite so much optimism. Safe has Jason Statham sporting an American accent as a former New York cop who has to protect a little girl with an eiditic memory from every low-life in the World It's Statham doing Statham-y things, and plays Fresh Pond, Fenway, and Boston Common. Those theaters also have The Raven, featuring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe in a story that posits a serial killer re-enacting his stories. Cusack seems to really be into it, but the reviews have been poisonous.

    In better news, Boston Common is keeping A Simple Life around another week for a full slate of screenings (see it, it's good). And most AMC theaters are building up to the release of The Avengers next week with a Marvel Movie Marathon on Thursday, with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America, finishing up with the new one at midnight.

  • ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater also has a quiet weekend, settling for two screenings of Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon on Saturday the 28th (2pm, 7pm). This entry in the "Gotta Dance" series features Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse as an old-school hoofer and ballerina trying to succeed despite changing tastes.

  • The Harvard Film Archive also runs a reduced schedule; it's not open to the public on Friday or Saturday. The Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Cinema Novo and Beyond retrospective picks back up after that, with El Justicero and A Very Crazy Asylum on Sunday and the three-hour Memories of Prison on Monday. The series has one more weekend booked after this (with dos Santos appearing in person starting on May 4th).

  • Fresh Pond splits the Indian screen between two movies. You'll need to speak Telegu to know what's up in Dhamma, so good luck with that, most people reading this post. Tezz is in Hindi but has English subtitles, and co-stars Anil Kapoor (whom American audiences will recognize from Slumdog Millionaire, 24, and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) and Ajay Devgn and Kanguru Ranaut in what's described as a cat-and-mouse action thriller.

  • In part to accommodate IFFBoston, The Cabin in the Woods moves from the Somerville to the Arlington Capitol.

My plans? Living at IFFBoston, and most likely taking Thursday "off" to rest before a weekend of Bond, baseball, and The Avengers.

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.01 (Wednesday 25 April 2012): Sleepwalk with Me

Picked my press pass up on the way from work Monday, got out of work with plenty of time to spare on Wednesday, and saw (most of) the usual suspects doing their thing while waiting in line. Still, there just seemed to be something missing...

IMAG0060, Jon Bernhardt, 04/25/2012

THEREMIN! I mean, how can you call it a party until someone is making music by waving their hands through an invisible electromagnetic field?

IMAG0061, Jon Bernhardt, 04/25/2012

Seriously, I love Jon Bernhardt's stone-faced-even-when-going-nuts performance on this unique instrument. There was a bit of an awkward pause as he got to the end of his set list before the festival crew was ready to really get things started - but soon enough door prizes were being thrown at the audience and it was time for the movie to start, then finish, and make way for a Q&A.

IMAG0063, Megna Chakrabarti & Ira Glass do a Q&A after "Sleepwalk with Me".
Megna Chakrabarti & Ira Glass

I'm not a big listener to NPR; my exposure to the radio is basically (1) Red Sox games and (2) the brief moments of talk radio that my alarm clock plays to motivate me to get up, cross the room, and turn it off. After all, it's not like I've got a car, and do people listen the radio anywhere else? I kind of suspect I wouldn't be a big fan of Glass anyway, because I kind of found him annoying during the Q&A. A funny guy at times, but sometimes a person in one of these things will have a set of things he wants to say and he'll do that rather than respond to questions directly. He also had this thing where he would interrupt the audience member to repeat his question to the rest of the audience, and then go off on a tangent even before the question was finished. Good information, but weird presentation.

Also - it doesn't affect me that much as a guy with a pass, but it always amazes me how the first show of the festival, the only thing in that theater at all, can wind up delayed 35 minutes before introductions even start, but the rest of the festival when they've got five films running at once can run relatively smoothly. If I were buying tickets to individual shows, opening night would have me in sheer panic about getting to see the rest.

Sleepwalk with Me

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

Sleepwalk with Me may not have a large built-in audience, but fans of writer/director/star Mike Birbiglia and the National Public Radio segments from which this movie evolved may be the exact right niche for an independent film like this to have; who's going to be more aware of its existence or ready to see it in theaters? They likely won't be disappointed by how it translates to the big screen, and the good news is that it's both funny and substantial enough to appeal to a larger audience.

Matt (Birbiglia) and Abby (Lauren Ambrose) have been dating for eight years, since meeting in college, and in that time they haven't exactly wound up where they expected: Matt aspires to be a comedian but is still tending bar; Abby is a vocal coach instead of a rock star. Still, they're pretty comfortable after moving into a new place together, at least until Mike's sister gets engaged and everyone, especially his parents (James Rebhorn & Carol Kane) starts asking when they'll finally tie the knot. That he starts sleepwalking right about then probably isn't a great sign.

Birbiglia has been honing this autobiographical material for a while, presenting it as part of his act, stories on NPR's "This American Life", and as a one-man show. There are plenty of remnants of those other media in the finished product, as Birbiglia tends to address his audience directly; he opens and closes the movie with Matt in a car, addressing the audience as if they're sitting in the passenger seat, jumping back there on occasion for an aside or a little bit of explanation. Sometimes this narration can seem a little on the nose (following "that's my mom, she does this" with his mom doing that), but telling stories is the thing that Birbiglia does well, and it would almost be wasteful to insist that someone with that sort of skill limit himself to just acting as if the camera wasn't there.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 16 April 2012 - 22 April 2012

Hey, rest of the country, why don't you have Patriot's Day like Maine and Massachusetts do? Sure, it's more of an elective holiday than one that everybody gets these days, but if you do take it, it's a day off when spring is just getting nice, an excuse for day baseball, and, when things fall just right, an extra day you can procrastinate on your tax returns. Plus, as you can see...

This Week In Tickets!

... it's as good a reason to hit up a weekday matinee as any. Heck, for me it's almost mandatory, as the direct route between Fenway Park and my house crosses that of the Boston Marathon, and I can tell you from personal experience that there's no crossing it on foot. On a day as hot as that one was, there is no good reason not to jump into the theater and wait it out for a couple of hours.

I wish I could say Patriot's Day was great from start to finish, but the Red Sox lost and Lockout was only so-so. Things improved quite a bit when I made it to Davis Square, though - a "King" at Boston Burger Company and scoring the big room and a decent crowd for a Monday to see The Cabin in the Woods on 35mm improves pretty much any day.

Tuesday's game - ugh. On the one hand, I got to hang out with my brothers on top of the Green Monster for a while, with Dan plenty excited about Private Stage, the local music show he's been trying to get off the ground practically ever since he started working for a TV station in Portland, Maine, and that's always good. On the other hand, it was an ugly loss (a prelude to the incredible ugliness to come on Saturday) and got kind of chilly by the end of the game.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 April 2012 in Regal Fenway #8 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

Why, I wonder, does somebody make a movie this high-concept and goofy and give it a name as generic as "Lockout"? It begs for something self-awarely pulpy, like "Assault on Space Prison One!" (the exclamation point is crucial; without it, you're open to being called blandly descriptive, but with it, you're winking at the audience). Heck, even "Lock-Up" would be okay, because, get it, up, like in orbit? But, no, instead you've got "Lockout", reflecting what a kind of generic movie this is despite the makers' best intentions.

Don't get me wrong, it's fun - stars Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace are a quality odd couple, the type that get on each others' nerves because they're more alike than their different backgrounds would suggest. They banter well, and directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger (who wrote the script with Luc Besson) use that without making a joke of the action. And while some may sniff at the action scene that opens the movie and its bargain-basement effects, I kind of dig it; it says that Mather & St. Leger have more crazy than money and aren't going to let them hold them back. They seem to know just how goofy "space prison" sounds.

But, boy, could this movie have used some better villains. The two brothers leading the riot on Maximum Security One might as well just be called Scottish Nutjob and Scottish Gangster, and the framing story is even more generic. None of the action scenes are staged in a particularly memorable manner, and forget having one make use of free fall or the threats of decompression or radiation, which sort of defeats the point of setting it in orbit.

Back when Escape from L.A. was coming out, John Carpenter talked about wanting to make that a trilogy with "Escape from Earth". I'm not sure latter-day Carpenter would have had something cooler than Lockout in him, but for all this one wants to remind of us Carpenter's Escapes with its loner sent into a high-concept prison to liberate the President's daughter, it needed to use its setting more and create some memorable characters.

The Cabin in the Woods

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 April 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Well, that was a ton of good fun, with a very nice cast, a clever premise, and a few moments that put a big smile on my face for how absolutely right they are. I love the injection of guys like Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford into this riff on The Evil Dead; they're talented guys who wouldn't be near this movie unless it was more than it appeared to be. And I am very impressed how the movie eventually turns me around on a character I just hated at first sight.

It's good enough that I wish it were perfect, but it's got a few problems that are not exactly small. The main one is that, like a lot of horror movies with a comedic component, it undercuts its scares too much. The kills too quickly cut to a punchline, and while writers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon initially do a good job of shifting the horror to a new target, it doesn't really stick.

Somewhat related is how (SPOILERS!) going meta makes the movie just a bit hollow. Everything in Cabin is about horror movies themselves, sort of making the point that they've become formulaic out of laziness, which is too bad, because we need scary stories as an outlet to keep the real monsters (Elder Gods/darkness of the human soul) chained up. It's a bit problematic, though; as much as the main thrust is about wanting more creativity and less been-there-seen-that, there is a strong stick-to-the-template message. And then there's the same issue I have with The Midnight Meat Train - I want the optimist/atheist ending, the one where the survivors give the monsters the middle finger and say that they might have been hot shit back when people were primitive with no understanding of the universe, but we're through sending you human sacrifices and if you try to breach our dimension again, we'll drop a nuke in yours. In short, we solve problems in the twenty-first century rather than appease monsters.

Sure, that's not really what the movie is about, but in some ways, the meta-commentary is subtle and contradictory enough that it's not hard to think of what Cabin says about people rather than its genre. (!SRELIOPS)

Mirror Mirror

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2012 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

Well, that's what a Tarsem Singh Dhandwar family movie looks like. Just strange all around - having previously gone an average of five years between films, all of which were thematically dark and gritty, this pleasantly fluffy concoction comes just a few months after Immortals. While I knew Tarsem was doing one of the dueling Snow White movies coming out this year, up until very recently I would have bet on Snow White and the Huntsman Kristen Stewart, just based on the looks of them.

Still, Tarsem does all right here - like most of his movies, he embraces artificiality, whether in terms of elaborate and absurd costumes or not caring if a set looks like a set. The whole movie has a nifty storybook look, and when the script by Jason Keller and Melisa Wallack hits a snappy patch, he and the cast do pretty well by it. That's especially true of the seven actors playing the dwarves - it's almost like having the whole lot on-screen at once forces the filmmakers to pick up the pace a little, while the space Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, and Armie Hammer are given in their more spacious sets seems to isolate them timing-wise.

The kids in the theater seemed to dig it, though, and it is kind of their speed: Clever enough, but not requiring a whole lot from the audience.

Patriot's DayLockoutThe Cabin in the Woods (w/spoilers)Just UglyJiro Dreams of SushiI WishA Simple LifeMirror Mirror

Monday, April 23, 2012

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012 Mini-Preview: I Wish, "It's Such a Beautiful Day", and Beyond the Black Rainbow

Here's what my schedule looks like for IFFBoston 2012:

Opening Night: Sleepwalk with Me (no choice is an easy choice!)
Thursday: Pelotero & The Imposter (I may go different directions with the first slot, like Polisse or Liberal Arts especially since I've seen a fair number of Dominican baseball stories)
Friday: BURN & Detropia (maybe V/H/S in the second slot if I'm Detroit-ed out)
Saturday: Time Zero, Gregory Crewsdon, Knuckleball!/Kid-Thing, 2 Days in New York/Think of Me, Booster, Beyond the Black Rainbow (aaaarrrrggghhh!!! I want to see both Knuckleball! and 2 Days with guests, but they are packed in tight, sure to be packed, and involve the Red Line co-operating. It may make more sense to just hit the smaller movies)
Sunday: Fairhaven/Downeast, Ai Weiwei/The Whirlpool, Girl Model/From Nothing, Something/Without, Keyhole (or, I have no idea what I'll do other than the Guy Maddin movie)
Monday: Your Sister's Sister, Headhunters (may go with The Revisionaries in the first slot if I'm out of work early enough)
Tuesday: Paul Williams: Still Alive, Rubberneck
Closing Night: The Queen of Versailles

I'll be honest - I'm going to make a lot of decisions about what to see while waiting in line at the Somerville Theatre, considering how little chance it seems like I've had to study and obsess over the schedule. And quite frankly, I'm kind of shocked that having seen these three movies doesn't buy me a whole lot of flexibility.

Beyond the Black Rainbow, for instance, plays pretty much unopposed late Saturday night, and I'm kind of surprised, digging through my Fantasia reviews, that I not only found it kind of middling, but I did so in late afternoon. Honestly, I remember it as being pretty freaking nifty, although such a dead-on re-creation of chilly 1970s sci-fi as to be kind of off-putting. If I had trouble dealing with that at 5pm, I'm not sure how I'd do at 11:30pm.

I also feel kind of bad that I would have found time for the animated shorts program if I hadn't seen "It's Such a Beautiful Day" a few weeks ago at the Coolidge. Sorry, other filmmakers, I'm sure your stuff is great, but that's the one that was getting me in the theater.

Unfortunately, Hertzfeldt himself won't be there; he'll be taking a well-deserved break after touring with the new short. Too bad, because he does a nice Q&A; it always surprises me when guys who do strange movies are that this open and friendly.


See? Despite the black humor on the one hand and crazy philosophizing on the other, that guy seems normal.

And, finally, I can recommend seeing I Wish whole-heartedly; it's a pretty excellent movie.

Kiseki (I Wish)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Talk Cinema, 35mm)

I Wish wanders away from its main story on occasion, following side stories that in a lesser movie would seem like an attempt to disguise just how wispy its main story actually is. And while that maybe the case here, it more often serves to show just how rich the world Hirokazu Kore-eda has created around two separated young brothers is.

Those brothers are Koichi (Koki Maeda) and Ryonosuke (Oshiro Maeda), who have been separated since their parents' divorce. Koichi is eleven or twelve and lives in the relatively quiet port city of Kagoshima with his mother Nozomi (Nene Otsuka) and grandparents (Kirin Kiki and Isao Hashizume); Ryo is a couple years younger and lives in Fukuoko with his father Kenji (Joe Odagiri), who still dreams of being a rock star. Though the boys talk over the phone daily, their cities are on opposite sides of the island. A bullet train will soon connect them, and a tall tale going around Koichi's school about how wishes made at the point where the two trains pass may come true soon has Koichi plotting a trip to the line's midpoint in the hopes of miraculously reuniting his family.

That, at least, is the framework, but Kore-eda does not make a quest out of it except for relatively brief stretches. Instead, he has the audience watch the boys and the people around them, allowing the connections and reflections to sink in. Kor-eda is very careful not to allow either to have anybody in their circles of friends who could serve as any sort of substitute for the other: Though Koichi's friends are not quite so solemn as him, that are, like he is, often defined by the desire for an impossible relationship; the Fukuoko characters are younger and more energetic, with most involved in something creative, whether it be gardening or acting. By building these sets up in parallel, the film not only makes it clear that the brothers are each missing something, but lets the variations on a theme develop all the characters at once. It also implies two halves to human nature - one searching for connection even though it will often end poorly, and the other looking to create something for oneself even if that can be somewhat callous.

Full review at EFC.

Boston Underground Film Festival 2012.04 (1 April): Gandu, Some Guy Who Kills People, and Klovn

Sorry, folks, no Horrible Photography; as great as BUFF is, it didn't quite draw Bengali and Danish filmmakers out to do Q&As, and I have to imagine that everybody involved with Some Guy Who Kills People is onto their next project by now.

As I mentioned back when I recapped the weekend for This Week In Tickets, it's not a proper Underground Film Fest if things don't get a little freaky, and while the rough economy means that the days of sex toys being tossed to the audience are past, Gandu delivered the Sex More Explicit Than I Bargained For, which was made doubly uncomfortable by coming at the point in the movie when people in the audience were starting to abandon the theater. It stopped one of them in his tracks, and he just stood there at the end of the aisle so that those of us left in the theater could watch him watch the sex scene. Awkward! But it finished, and he left; I guess it held his interest while it was going on but didn't instill the desire to see more.

Anyway, this was a long day of movie-going - it kicked off with a 10am screening of Monsiur Lazhar at the Coolidge followed by a little dawdling before seeing Intruders at Boston Common. Good stuff, both of them. I actually wound up saving a little for later, picking up a couple of $10 movies at the merchandise stand (The Stunt Man on DVD and the original Inglorious Bastards on Blu-ray).

Anyway, good festival as always, and here's hoping that it did well enough (and the world around us is doing well enough) that they can scale themselves back up again next year. I didn't like everything I saw there, but as I've said many a time, it would be a lousy underground festival if I did, as I've actually got very mainstream tastes (I just don't mind looking around to satisfy them). It is one where you can absolutely feel the enthusiasm, and the risk-taking means that for every lousy movie you see, there's likely an incredible one to counter it.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Gandu is almost more interesting for what it is - an "anti-Bollywood" movie - than as a movie with characters and story and all. Shot in stark black-and-white, and musically propelled by hard-edged Bengali rap, it focuses on everyday life rather than a strong plot or story. It's not likely to be similar to any Indian movie the audience has seen before, for better or worse.

"Gandu" means "asshole" in Bengali slang, which makes it kind of a crummy nickname for a guy to have, but that's what the title character (Anubrata Basu) is stuck with. He spends his days hanging out with Ricksha (Joyraj Bhattacharya), the neighborhood's aptly-monickered Bruce Lee-worshipping rickshaw puller. His mother is the mistress of a wealthy man, and while they're screwing Gandu picks the man's pocket, although he mostly spends the money at the internet cafe owned by the same man. He dreams of making it big in the hip-hop world.

And repeat. Early on, Gandu falls into a sort of rhythm, and that's not exactly a bad thing. Filmmaker Kaushik Murkherjee - credited as "Q" - does an impressive job of showing the characters' lives basically going nowhere without feeling slow. Part of it is how he uses music; where Bollywood musical numbers come in predictable patterns and tell are generally fluffy filler, Gandu's raps are angry, direct, and serve as exclamation points. They're a thudding bass-line to the rest of the movie, with subtitled lyrics leaping right to the center of the screen and keeping it moving for quite a while.

Full review at EFC.

Some Guy Who Kills People

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Funny thing about the festival circuit; a movie can be there for a while - I missed seeing this at Montreal's Fantasia Festival last July, catching The Innkeepers instead. I don't regret seeing that at all, but I was lucky to get a second chance to see Some Guy Who Kills People on a big screen with a crowd, because it is hilarious. Heck, it would be a pretty darn entertaining movie even without all the murder.

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) has recently returned from an extended stay in a mental hospital, and he's living a quiet life - working at the local ice cream shop with his high-school buddy Irv (Leo Fitzpatrick), drawing comics in his spare time, and enduring the withering sarcasm of his mother Ruth (Karen Black). He's about to have his quiet routine thrown by a pair of ladies entering his life - Stephanie (Lucy Davis), who is just out of a bad marriage; and Amy (Ariel Gade), the twelve-year-old daughter he's never had any contact with. And if that's not complicated enough, the Sheriff (Barry Bostwick) is making time with Ken's mother, and he can't possibly miss the correlation between Ken's late-night excursions and the dead bodies of the guys who tormented him in high school forever.

This movie has a lot of things going for it, but tops among them is the ensemble cast. Barry Bostwick, for instance, has been playing puffed-up doofs for years, but his sheriff is a masterpiece of the form. He hits every joke square on the nose, but also makes a character that could be nothing but a deadpan goof surprisingly well-rounded as the movie goes along. Karen Black absolutely kills as the mean mom character, which can often be played as just nasty, but here is genuinely funny as well. And Ariel Gade is absolutely fantastic - she pours boundless energy into Amy, making the precocious girl everything that's wonderful and optimistic about kids without ever getting on the audience's nerves and occasionally showing us the character hurting. They all play well against each other, too - Bostwick's banter with Eric Price is fantastic, while Gade bounces off Black and Davis just as well as she does star Kevin Corrigan.

Full review at EFC.

Klovn: The Movie

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 April 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Speaking of stuff that played Fantasia last year, I saw this there and nearly busted a gut laughing. It absolutely holds up to a second viewing, even when one is somewhat prepared for just where Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen are willing to go. The initial shock is perhaps gone, but the anticipation of the forthcoming wrongness makes up for it.

Someone, get the TV series on Region 1 DVD/Region A Blu-ray, because this is hilarious. And not just because Danny McBride is apparently going to remake it, which is... Man, I don't know. It's not like the comedy here is too sophisticated for McBride, but I've yet to see him demonstrate the kind of precision the comedy in this movie displays. It's crudity married to great skill, and I just don't see McBridge as the guy for that.

Plus, if you want to cast based on looks, you want Drew Carey in the Frank Hvam role. Or you could just go with the fantastic original.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Simple Life (Tao Jie)

In short, this is an all-around really good movie that you should check out if you're in one of the cities where it's playing - Boston, New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, L.A., Santa Monica, and Seattle in the U.S, with Houston being added next week; Toronto and Vancouver in Canada; presumable all-over the place in the Chinese-speaking world. If it got wider visibility, a lot of people would be touting Deannie Yip for awards later this year, she's just that good.

A few of things I quite liked but didn't get to work into the review:

(1) Along the lines of how the retirement home in the movie is occasionally just the worst example of warehousing the ugly you'll ever see, there's a great scene of New Year's celebrations in Hong Kong that is just beautiful shots of the city with fireworks going off all across the widescreen frame... And then cut to Ah Tao sitting on a couch, watching it on a crappy old tube TV. Just a further illustration of how this sort of life is a pale imitation of what the elderly had and deserve.

(2) A fun little in-joke is that the movie Roger is producing with Tsui Hark and Sammo Hung is a "Three Kingdoms" movie, and apparently Hollywood is not the only mmovie industry which is eating its own tail, as a character hears this and rolls her eyes - "again?" Making it further amusing is that Andy Lau starred in one with Sammo just a few years earlier.

(3) I found myself wondering about Roger and his family a bit. His opening narration mentions that he went to America to study at 20 and came back about ten years later, and we later find that his entire family seems to have emigrated to San Francisco. I suspect that this would be around the time of the handover, which would be an interesting bit of shading to it: Nobody in Hong Kong today would make a movie suggesting that people would rather leave home than live under Beijing's rule, but it does make for an interesting subtext, that the privileged abandoned Hong Kong while the common people like Ah Tao and the other people in the home had to fend for themselves.

(3a) I also sort of idly wondered if Roger were gay. It's pretty irrelevant to the movie, sure, but it's interesting that there are a few age-appropriate female characters in the movie that often would be paired off with him, but that doesn't happen here. Scenes with his family show him as the anomaly in not having a wife, kids, etc. And while maybe things have improved since Leslie Cheung's suicide ten years ago, I get the impression Roger's solitude might be the path of least resistance for a gay man in Hong Kong.

Or maybe Hui and company just figured that not every movie needs to be a romance and maintained focus. Either way, it's an interesting performance on Lau's part.

Tao Jie (A Simple Life)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 20 April 2012 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

A Simple Life opens with a screen of text explaining how these characters got to this point in their lives, but is intriguingly silent on why its two main characters are mostly alone except for each other. That's fine; it means that the focus stays on the relationship between a woman and the man whose family she served for her entire life, and figuring out what it is.

Chung Chun-Tao (Deannie Yip Tak-Han) was orphaned when just a child, soon entering into service with a well-to-do Hong Kong family. Now, sixty years later, the only one remaining in Hong Kong is Roger (Andy Lau Tak-wah), who works in the movie business and shares a small apartment with "Ah Tao" and her cat Kaka. Just as he's returning from a business trip to Beijing, Ah Tao has a stroke, immediately retiring and planning to move into an old persons' home. Roger is not quite ready to part with someone who has been there for his entire life, and Ah Tao may eventually be grateful for that.

It's a bit odd typing the word "service" in this context for a picture that takes place in the present day, and "master" was plenty jarring when used in the film; maybe it seems less anachronistic in Hong Kong or in wealthier circles. Even if that's the case, director Ann Hui, writers Susan Chan Suk-Yin and Lee Yan-lam, and the cast get across what a profoundly strange, inherently asymmetrical relationship this can be. There are plenty of moments where Ah Tao seems to actively fight Roger and his family having any further involvement in her life; this and how she barks at another resident when he says it sounds like she has a servant's name makes it sounds like she's ashamed of a life spent subordinate to others. As the movie continues, and the audience sees other members of Roger's family, we get an impressively even-handed view of how they see each other differently - how well-earned generosity can seem patronizing and other disconnects.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Last week, the teacher of my Japanese class told me that she had found my blog sort of by chance (I'd mentioned that I reviewed movies here and for eFilmCritic, and it certainly didn't escape her attention that eiga was one of the Japanese words I already knew when class started, but she hadn't been looking for it specifically). I wound up distributing a few cards with the URLs on them, which is nifty and all, but you'd better believe that writing this review made me a little more nervous than usual, and Sunday's screening of Hirokazu Koreeda's Kiseki? Yeah, no pressure at all!

I did, however, do a little better than usual in picking up Japanese vocabulary, in that I was able to pick oishi ("tasty") and tabemashita ("I ate") out on occasion, along with the occasional number.

Nifty little movie, anyway. Maybe I'll have to give sushi another chance sometime, although the irony is that I figure I'd be a lot more interested if it was more like what we mostly see here - seafood, some spices, and rice - rather than the rolls with vegetables and ingredients whose names I do not recognize which seem much more common in American spots. Maybe if I'd been able to tear myself away from work earlier, I could have joined the rest of the Chlotrudis folk for dinner beforehand, though there really wasn't time.

Instead, I wound up going home afterward and heating a frozen pizza while I started writing the review. I felt like a monster, as well I should have.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

I can't say I'm a particular fan of sushi; in fact, I'm quite the culinary coward. But you don't have to like a particular food to admire fine craftsmanship and dedication, and those are things that Jiro Ono has plenty of. David Gelb's documentary on the man isn't exactly short on them, either.

Jiro Ono is 85 years old, and has been making sushi for about seventy-five of them. Despite being located in a Ginza subway station, his restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, may be the world's best. It has a mere ten seats and is booked for lunch and dinner at least a month in advance - and that meal will run a visitor roughly three hundred dollars, depending on what is available at the fish market that morning. Many of Jiro's former employees have gone on to open their own well-regarded restaurants, including his younger son Takashi, but elder son Yoshikazu still toils alongside his father after thirty years as the designated successor to a man who appears to have no interest in retiring.

There are several different threads running through Jiro Dreams of Sushi, but the most important is perhaps that a job done well brings pleasure. Though food writer Masuhiro Yamamoto does, eventually, describe innovations Jiro made in how a meal is structured, that is given less attention than how Jiro is shokunin, a true master who feels responsible to do his best. Throughout the movie, director David Gelb gives us further examples of how Jiro makes a bit more effort: He deals with the seafood and rice merchants that have the highest standards, cooks the rice under higher pressure than anyone else, has his staff massage the octopus for twice as long, and he and Yoshikazu sample the wares constantly to maintain quality control. A scene at the end demonstrates how this attention to detail extends all the way to how he places his morsels on each individual customer's plate.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 April 2012 - 22 April 2012

It's a relatively quiet weekend, almost as if Hollywood knows not to saturate Boston with movies because the big event for local movie enthusiasts starts next week.

  • That event, of course, is Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, which kicks off Wednesday at the Somerville Theatre with Sleepwalk With Me, Mike Birbiglia's adaptation of his "This American Life" segments. The festival will continue through May 2nd at various venues, including all five screens at Somerville on Thursday.

    (Don't confuse it with the Boston International Film Festival, which runs through the 22nd at AMC Boston Common. Two completely different things.)

  • The Coolidge will be host to the last couple of days of the festival in May, but in the meantime they have two new films in the big rooms. Bully opens a bit late, but they're also opening Damsels in Distress, the long-awaited fourth film by director Whit Stillman. This time around, Greta Gerwig, Analeigh Tipton, Megalyn Echikunwoke and Carrie MacLemore are college students running a suicide prevention program with unusual methods.

    They will have an IFFBoston preview of sorts on Sunday at 10am, when the Talk Cinema screening is Hirokazu Koreeda's I Wish, with the renowned director tackling the story of a family going through a divorce the leaves the two young sons living in separate households. There are also a pair of special screenings on Wednesday night - Documentary From Place to Place, presented by the Massachusetts Chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America, and thriller Claustropbia, presented with open captions by the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Film Club with director Harlan Schneider attending. And it's apparently too late to get tickets, but all four (!) midnight shows of The Room with writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero hosting on Friday and Saturday have been sold out.

  • Damsels also opens at the Landmark theaters in Kendall Square and Watertown. In addition, Kendall Square is also getting the quite excellent Monsieur Lazhar, which has an old-fashioned Algerian immigrant taking over a class in a Montreal elementary school after its teacher dies in horrifying fashion. There's also Marley, a documentary on the legendary reggae musician, and The Fairy, a Belgian comedy about a mild-mannered hotel clerk who meets a funky young lady who claims she can grant him three wishes (it's the one-week booking).

  • The multiplexes for the most part take a break from action/effects-oriented fare this week. Think Like a Man (playing at Fresh Pond, Fenway, and Boston Common) springs from comedian Steve Harvey's best-selling relationship book, with four friends finding themselves having to raise their game once their girlfriends have started taking Harvey's advice to heart (because not playing games just isn't an option!). The Lucky One (playing at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Harvard Square, Boston Common, and Fenway) is the latest Nicolas Sparks adaptation, with Zac Efron as a soldier returning stateside seeking the girl in a photograph that served as a lucky charm in Iraq.

    Earth Day falls this week, so Disney pulls out its annual nature documentary. Chimpanzee follows a young primate who gets separated from his family group and adopted by an older male. It plays the Capitol, Fenway, and Boston Common. Boston Common also opens Hong Kong's A Simple Life, which was their submission to the Oscars, not making the final cut but picking up other awards along the way. It stars Deannie Yip as a former maid who retires to move into an old folks' home after a stroke, with Andy Lau as the son of the family she worked for who looks out for her.

  • Another release likely tied to Earth day is "To The Arctic", an IMAX documentary that opens at both the New England Aquarium (in 3-D) and the Museum of Science (projected on the spherical "OMNIMAX" screen). It follows a family of polar bears about the frozen (but changing) north. Meryl Streep narrates the 40-minute featurette, which plays alongside "Tornado Alley' and "Dolphins" at the Museum of Science and "Born to Be Wild", "Under the Sea", and "Deep Sea 3D" at the Aquarium for those looking for a double feature of amazing large-format photography.

  • I'm a bit surprised the Brattle has been closed for much of school vacation week rather than extending the Muppet Madness series that kicks off on Friday back to last Monday. It runs this weekend, with new entry The Muppets playing Friday and Saturday, running as a double feature with a sing-along screening of The Muppet Movie on Friday and Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey on Saturday. Sunday is a triple feature of the original movies made by Jim Henson - The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan - while Monday features his funky fantasies, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

    Special events fill the rest of the week. The Balagan screening on Tuesday the 24th, The Castle (Il Castello), seems rather conventional for them, as directors Massimo D'Anolfi and Martina Parenti (attending in person) take their cameras inside the operations of Milan's airport to show the overwhelming challenges and post-9/11 bureaucracy that face the staff. The "Wordless Wednesday" screening is 1930's City Girl, F.W. Murnau's follow-up to Sunshine (originally scheduled, but delayed until next month), which has a farmer meeting and marrying the title character, who may not adapt so well to the country. Thursday night features the short documentary film "A Civil Remedy", about a girl who escaped from sex traffickers, and will be followed by a panel discussion with journalists and filmmakers working on sex trafficking stories.

  • ArtsEmerson's "Gotta Dance" program has a big entry this weekend, with Gene Kelly as An American in Paris. That classic Vincente Minnelli musical plays Friday evening (when it is introduced by Minnelli biographer Mark Griffin) and Saturday & Sunday afternoons, in a spiffy restoration 35mm print. Saturday evening features a pair of restored 16mm prints: "Print Generation", in which one minute of footage is presented fifty times, with the film processed differently in each; and "Notes for Jerome", a forty-five minute tribute to Jerome Hill.

  • The MFA continues Jewishfilm.2012: The National Center for Jewish Film's Festival, with The Policeman, Never Forget to Lie, How to Re-establish a Vodka Empire, a program of Max Davidson silent comedy shorts from the 1920s, My Australia, Women Unchained, and Punk Jews.

  • The Harvard Film Archive begins Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Cinema Novo and Beyond, a program spotlighting one of Brazil's most noted filmmakers. Friday features Barren Lives and Who Is Beta?; Saturday's films are Golden Mouth and Rio, 100 Degrees; then the program takes a week off.

    There's a repeat screening of William Kentridge's animated films on Sunday at 5pm, though the director will not be in attendance as he was last week. The husband-and-wife team of Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán will be present for the 7pm show that day, Jean Gentil, which follows an unemployed Haitian accountant deeper into the jungle. Monday evening, they move out of the main screening room for Anthony McCall's installation film Line Describing a Cone, which makes the projection beam of light itself part of the presentation.

  • The Bollywood film opening at Fresh Pond this week is Vicky Donor, which features Ayushmann Khurrana as a prolific sperm donor at a New Delhi clinic, which inevitably complicates things when he meets a pretty girl played by Yami Gautam. It mostly runs evenings, with the held-over Houseful 2 continuing to have matinee showings.

  • Sing-Along Grease wraps up its run at the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Friday and Sunday, with Friday night's show featuring a "Live Shadow Cast" leading the audience.

My plans? A Simple Life on Friday, I Wish and Damsels in Distress on Sunday, and maybe "To The Arctic" in between. With IFFBoston coming up on Wednesday, I'd probably better catch The Fairy and catch up on some other stuff early. You guys should all get to Monsieur Lazhar before joining me in Somerville on Wednesday and Thursday.

(Taking my nieces to the Brattle's Muppet stuff while my brother and sister-in-law are at a concert and after-party would be cool, but they'll probably be at their grandparents' instead.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 9 April 2012 - 15 April 2012

Okay, I'm past having to watch absolutely every Red Sox game that comes on TV. 50%, 75% max will do.

This Week In Tickets!

Not much more to go with here, as all three movies I saw last week (The Lady, Detention, and L!fe Happens) are covered in last night's post. If you're reading this wile they're still in town, they've all got their merits, and it's kind of a drag that the latter two were only playing for one week.

I'd like to talk a little bit more about Detention, just because I feel a little bad about not talking it up as much as I could have earlier. I saw it last year at Fantasia - and, wow, after El Sanatorio and Klovn, that was a good day - and didn't file a review; Jason Whyte already had one on eFilmCritic that was about as positive as mine would have been, and at roughly halfway through, I was falling behind and this was an easy one to punt.

Seeing it again about nine months later, I didn't assign it quite the same star rating; it's got some story issues that weren't quite so obvious the first time through, when I was just trying to keep up. It was interesting that what stuck with me was the sci-fi elements; though I remembered that it was mining Scream territory, my memories were mostly of a surprisingly tight time-travel story. It is that, but that turns up fairly late in the game.

It was good to hear that the fairly sparse audience really seeming to dig it, though. It wasn't promoted much, so I think it had to be stumbled upon, and the folks who did find it were laughing pretty solidly from start to finish. Maybe it'll find a bigger audience on home video, but it would have been really nice for it to do well on film; the director put his own money and heart into this (at the Fantasia Q&A, he mentioned that he was basically directing music videos without much pause between them to pay for it).

Anyway, I liked it, and saw it again in the theater because (a) it does look pretty spiffy and (b) I like to give movies I see at festivals some kind of financial support; I don't know that I'm influential enough that a few good words from me is better than paying for a ticket.

I wound up going from Detention pretty much straight into L!fe Happens, not even getting my ticket ripped. I hope whoever does the counts at the end of the day doesn't have any issue with missing one stub, although I've got no idea what they do with those stubs (when I worked at Showcase Worcester, a fussy older usher did this at the end of the night, and I guess the stubs were used for auditing, but honestly, those were tiny and almost completely unreadable). A double feature like this is when it's a good idea to get that large soda with free refills, although it's a funny thing: Coke Zero is a perfectly acceptable soft drink at the 12oz can size; not bad at all when you get a 20oz bottle, and acceptably wet and non-corn-syrupy as the size of a theater soda, sometime around that 40th ounce, it becomes really disgusting.

Very thin crowd for L!fe Happens. The guy in front of me started talking to himself midway through. It was uncomfortable, but that's kind of who you share the theater with on a Sunday night.

The LadyDetentionL!fe Happens

Not long for Boston: The Lady, Detention, and L!fe Happens

I'll keep this short because these movies really aren't long for Boston: The Lady will be hanging around with half a screen at Kendall Square next weekend, but Detention and L!fe Happens won't be hanging around past Thursday. A shame; although Detention is the only one of the three I can really recommend whole-heartedly (and that with the "it may move faster than old farts like us can handle caveats). They've all got something to recommend them, though, and if you've got Thursday evening free, you could do worse than my Sunday evening double feature.

The Lady

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 April 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run, 35mm)

In addition to directing his own films, Luc Besson has spent the past decade or two writing and producing action movies tailored to their stars; Michelle Yeoh was arguably the biggest female action star in the world during the 1990s. So it makes perfect sense that they would team up for the biography of a pacifist who sticks to her principles. They do surprisingly well, though, at least to a point.

In 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi (Yeoh) is living in Oxford, married to historian Michael Aris (David Thewlis), when she gets a call that her mother has had a stroke back in Burma. When she arrives, she gets more scrutiny than usual from the security services, because as the daughter of martyred national hero Aung San, she could rally the country's pro-democracy movement. She tries to stay focused on her family, but a crackdown that spills into the hospital has Suu Kyi drawn in. Of course, while she makes sure to adhere to the law, the military junta has no such compunctions.

Suu Kyi, as portrayed here, is pretty close to a saint, and saints can be difficult to get a handle on - a constant stream of doing the right thing in the right way for the right reasons is the way we would like the world to work, but it can be kind of dull, dramatically. What Besson and writer Rebecca Frayn do that makes it work is to underplay Suu Kyi is the daughter of a martyr doing something extraordinary as opposed to a good woman making an almost reflexive attempt to help. Comedic cutaways to Michael having trouble with household tasks or the kids being average teenagers help this - it makes Suu Kyi someone we can understand rather than an unattainable paragon, smoothing over the irony of someone who is effectively a princess leading a campaign for democracy.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 April 2012 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DLP)

Some things about Detention make me think that director Joseph Kahn isn't just making a movie for young audiences, but taunting ones my age. A movie that asks "how hard is it to be cool in 1992?" (my high school graduation year) while moving at such a relentlessly 21st Century pace will either trigger early onset Grumpy Old Manism or challenge us to catch up with the next generation (or over-praise it to look like we're not dinosaurs). I opt for the second; Detention may be flawed, but not for being frenetic.

After a fourth-wall-obliterating opening gambit leaves the most popular girl at Grizzly Lake High School dead, attention shifts to Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell), a loser with her foot in a walking cast and a crush on boy-next-door Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson). That classic underachiever is dating 1990s fetishist Ione (Spencer Locke), to the consternation of raging jock Billy Nolan (Parker Bagley), who intends to beat Clapton to a pulp after school. Despite being suicidal and not thinking much of Sander Sanderson (Aaron David Johnson), the guy who does like her, Riley fights back when the killer targets her next. With nobody believing she was targeted, she's going to have to find the killer herself, and a movie-copying serial killer isn't the strangest thing going on in this school.

Really, not by a long shot. Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo have kids building time machines, reports of flying saucers, Canadian debate champions, kids who have had Saturday detention for decades and principal Dane Cook. The theory appears to be that everyone in the audience knows the basics of a high-school-set film even if they're old enough that the real thing is a fairly distant memory, and any time that might otherwise be spent telling people what they already know can be spent on something that is actually entertaining. This isn't always a great idea; sometimes, that seeming filler would be pretty useful for making Riley's suicidal feelings come off as something more than a tacky plot device, and some of the tangents are just a different kind of bloat. More often than not, though, it means that something not just funny or exciting (or at least going for that), but unexpected, is happening during every minute of the film.

Full review at EFC.

L!fe Happens

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 April 2012 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DLP)

Krysten Ritter tends to make everything she's in better, and as a result she's been a go-to girl for best friends and sidekicks in romantic comedies and the like. It's steady work, but if an actress doesn't take her career into her own hands, it's all she'll ever have, even if she's got the charisma and talent for lead roles. Ritter seems to have figured this out, co-writing and producing her own star vehicle in Life Happens.

About a year ago, Kim (Ritter) and Deena (Kate Bosworth) found themselves with a guy in each of their bedrooms and just one condom between them, so now they're not just sharing a house with roommate Laura (Rachel Bilson), but Kim's son Max. On the surface, not much has changed, but Max's surfer father heading out on tour and her boss (Kristen Johnston) not liking babies as much as dogs means she's leaning on Deena and Laura more and more, and when she meets a nice guy (Geoff Stults) who might not be looking for a single mom, well, what's a little white lie?

Kim may not be a great role, but it's a good one, and Ritter clearly knows her own strengths. Both her expressive face and sharp tongue are put to good use; she can get more laughs out of rolled eyes and self-deprecating one-liners than others can get from pages of material. She's good at the sort of self-centeredness that can be grown out of, and her particular charm is neither abrasive not based on being any sort of shrinking violet. She's funny and sweet and adds life to every scene she's in.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Boston Underground Film Festival 2012.03 (31 March): Manborg and Inside Lara Roxx

Let's have some Horrible Photography!

BUFF: Manborg, BUFF's Nicole McControversy, MANBORG's Steven Kostanski, "The Transmission"'s Brian Lonano, and "Puzzleface"'s Spookey Rubin

That's Manborg's Steve Kostanski along with the directors of the shorts that preceded his movie, both of which were pretty good. They were all united by a sort of lo-fi throwback aesthetic, although expressed in different ways. Brian Lonano (who did last year's BUFF bumper video) made a nicely atmospheric little ghost story in "The Transmission" that's worth seeking out. Spookey Ruben's was a little less my speed; it's apparently one of a series of videos he's done that are built around the band that guest stars, and my roughly zero knowledge of contemporary mainstream music, let alone what's cool enough for an underground film festival, wasn't a lot of help.

I'm a little more sanguine to Manborg winning a festival award than I was when they were announced, as writing about it helped clarify what they did well, which is more than my initial reaction. Looking at these three films, though, I must admit that I'm not quite sure how to approach them at times. The filmmakers exist in a weird position between professional and hobbyist (as much as filmmaking can be a hobby) these days.

Of course, that's not really why Manborg being awarded initially irked me. To admit my own bias, I can't help but wonder what Kostanski and company could have made if their goal was not to replicate every positive and negative attribute of 80s schlock, but to make a movie as good as the ones his predecessors were trying to make. There's enough talent and creativity on display here that they don't need the crutch of "it's supposed to be cheesy", and this kind of tribute always strikes me as a very backhanded compliment. It's got to be a little awkward to be loved as much for what you did poorly or fell short of your ambition and imagination as for where you really nailed it.


And here's Mia Donovan, who just really wouldn't move to a spot where I could snap her on my camera phone without the microphone blocking her! Other than standing in a way inconvenient to a guy second-row-center of the theater, she was very nice, and it was clear that she was genuinely close to "Lara".

One thing I found interesting was the use of Lara's real name - they don't make any particular attempt to hide or edit around when somebody uses it, but never formally identify her by that name. Even in the Q&A, I don't think I remember her Ms. Donovan referring to her subject as anything but Lara, which is interesting to me - as much as they'd clearly become close, that's something that puts her friend at arm's length, but it also perhaps speaks to just how much she has finally put her old life behind her.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

For what it is, Manborg is damn impressive. Director Steve Kostanski estimates that he and his friends made the movie for about a thousand dollars, although I suspect that is the sort of estimate that severely underestimates the value of one's own time. Those who share Kostanski and the Astron-6 team's affection for 1980s VHS are in for an entertaining hour.

In the near future, the forces of Hell are invading Earth, laying waste to human armies. We see one soldier (Matthew Kennedy) make a valiant stand until he's cut down. But! In the less-near future, he emerges from a techno-coffin cybernetically enhanced. He is now... Manborg! Soon hooking up with freedom fighters #1 Man (Ludwig Lee with the voice of Kyle Hebert), Justice (Conor Sweeney), and his somehow less-Australian sister Mina (Meredith Sweeney), they attempt to fight back against the local Baron (Jeremy Gillespie) and Draculon (Adam Brooks), the demon who took Manborg's first life.

Manborg is cheap and looks it, embracing the 1980s VHS aesthetic by shooting actors in front of a green screen at less-than-HD resolution even as Kostanski and company use digital tools to pile their cast and stop-motion creations onto one other. It's actually some fairly impressive work, technically; while many of these throwback movies feel like the filmmakers allowed themselves to get lazy because the original inspiration didn't look that great, Kostanski puts genuine effort into his craft. The individual elements are hand-made, but they are meticulously constructed and composited with great care. Some shots have more layers (which interact well) than expensive blockbusters, clear and well-staged in ways that people with a couple hundred thousand times the resources could learn from.

Full review at EFC.

Inside Lara Roxx

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

Hey, festivals, I know all I really want to know about the porn industry. Really, you can stop screening docs about it and films that are set there; folks give me funny looks after I tell them what I saw. Well, after this one, I suppose; it's an impressively personal look at someone who survived it at great cost.

"Lara Roxx" is the stage name of a young Quebeçoise who made her way to Los Angeles in early 2004 to try to hit porn's big-time after having stripped and done some videos back in Montreal. Like most, she planned to only work for a few years to earn some money, but her plans were cut even shorter when the industry was shut down by positive HIV tests. Lara had performed with patient zero and contracted the virus herself. Soon after she returned home, photographer Mia Donovan (who had done projects featuring Montreal sex workers) contacted her, and they had their first meeting in a mental health facility, where it's clear that Lara has problems other than the disease she contracted, and this project could take a long time if it's to have a happy ending.

Director Mia Donovan doesn't make much of a pretense of distance or objectivity where her subject is concerned. The film wouldn't work otherwise; as much as Lara has some exhibitionist tendencies and is comfortable being on camera, getting this sort of access requires a tremendous amount of trust, which just isn't going to be there if Lara suspects that Mia will sandbag her. That's not just about her talking to Donovan in the first place, but continuing for the next five years, through highs and lows - it's a very delicate balance, as Donovan must back off at difficult times to retain Lara's trust and friendship.

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 13 April 2012 - 19 April 2012

This is kind of a crazy weekend at the movies - stuff that's been hiding for a while, stuff that likely won't last more than a week, heck, stuff I'd like to see a second time but likely won't because just when do you fit it in?

  • The Cabin in the Woods finally emerges from distributor purgatory - it's been in the can for over two years, but first MGM was going to give it a 3-D conversion, then MGM didn't have the money to properly release it, and finally wound up selling it to Lions Gate, who didn't see the need to mess with it at all. It's the directorial debut of Drew Goddard, who wrote Cloverfield after a lot of TV (much done with co-writer Joss Whedon), and the teasers indicate that it's much more than the Evil Dead knock-off the title suggests. It's playing Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    The Three Stooges by the Farrelly brothers seems to have been in development forever, and I'm kind of shocked that it's actually been finished. The way I figure it, it's not a disgrace because the Stooges can't be reproduced, but because they were never that funny to begin with. It's at Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, and Harvard Square. There's also Lockout, a new Luc Besson-produced sci-fi/action/adventure that looks like the Escape from Earth movie John Carpenter wanted to make fifteen or so years ago. It has Guy Pearce trying to rescue the President's daughter (Maggie Grace) from a riot on a space prison. It plays Boston Common, Fenway, and Fresh Pond.

  • Strangely, not a lot of multiple-screen action for those three movies, so the multiplexes need to fill out a few more screens. Fenway picks up The Raid, while Boston Common keeps it and Love in the Buff around. Boston Common also picks up the much-in-the-news Bully, the documentary on school bullying that got a lot of publicity for challenging the MPAA until they caved and bleeped a few naughty words to get a PG-13. It also plays at Kendall Square.

    Two films open to capitalize on their co-stars' other projects. Detention features Josh Hutcherson from The Hunger Games, although it's really Shanley Caswell's movie, which I found to be a very fun teen comedy/horror/sci-fi mashup - even if it does use the year I graduated from high school as the time that seems unfathomably far in the past for its teen characters. Life Happens features Krysten Ritter (who just had a sitcom start this week) as a single mother trying to maintain her regular life after getting pregnant.

    They've also got Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day, which appears to have nothing to do with Women Thou Art Loosed aside from being produced by the author of the book it was based on. This one has Blair Underwood and Sharon Leal as the parents of a kidnapped girl, and Pam Grier as the detective looking for her. There's also The Boston International Film Festival, not to be confused with the Boston Film Festival or Independent Film Festial Boston (that one's in two weeks), which has some interesting movies if you can sift through their terrible website.

  • Getting back to Kendall Square, they're opening a couple I've already seen as well as one that really seems like it should be getting more attention. We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam) is an interesting idea - the selection process for a new pope and what happens if he has a crisis of confidence - that strings it out for too long. Hipsters, which played IFFBoston in 2010, is a bouncy, fun musical about kids in 1955 Moscow who have a taste for American rock & roll.

    They also open The Lady, with Luc Besson directing Michelle Yeoh as Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi and David Thewlis as her husband Michael Aris. That's a heck of a team, and something a little more substantial than the disposable action scripts and animated movies he's been doing for years. Hipsters is the only one specifically marked as a one-week booking, but I wouldn't expect the others to last either.

  • The Coolidge gets Jiro Dreams of Sushi a week after the Kendall, mostly playing it in the large cinemas but with some screenings in the video rooms. The 11am screening on Friday the 13th is a "box office babies" screening, while the 7pm screening on Tuesday the 17th is an "Off the Couch" screening with post-film discussion led by members of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society.

    They also open Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, a documentary on the San Diego Comic Convention, which has expanded beyond comics to become one of the largest pop-culture events in the world. It mostly plays in the video rooms but will be in the main theater for the 3pm show on Sunday so that director Morgan Spurlock can come in and do a Q&A afterward. And, also splitting time between screens is Goon, which plays at 10pm in the video rooms (and in one of the main cinemas on Friday at midnight, though the Saturday midnight show is in the screening room). It's about a brawler (Seann William Scott) who is signed as a hockey team's "enforcer" despite not being able to skate.

    The other midnight screenings this week include Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood on both Friday (the 13th!) and Saturday, and a special screening of The Wizard of Oz in 35mm co-presented by the Boston LGBT Film Festival on Saturday night (there's a "Kids' Show" presentation on Saturday morning). The Goethe-Institut German film screening on Sunday is Hotel Lux, about a comedian who flees Germany when Hitler comes to power, only to wind up running into the arms of Josef Stalin. The Science on Screen show on Monday is 8 Mile, with Dr. Charles Limb discussing how the brains of rappers and jazz musicians work as they improvise.

  • Those looking for more Friday the 13th on Friday the 13th can hit the Brattle earlier in the evening, as they kick off their Schlock Around the Clock weekend with a double feature of Jason Vorhees - part IV ("The Final Chapter") at 8pm and part VI ("Jason Lives") at 10pm. Team America: World Police plays at midnight. Saturday kicks off with a Godzilla double feature, before moving on to Trog, Schlock, Amazon Women on the Moon, and The Hidden; Sunday is all about Roger Corman with A Bucket of Blood, Death Race 2000, Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, and The Big Bird Cage. According the Brattle's website, only Trog is presented digitally; the rest are presumably 35mm.

    They'll be closed to recover for a couple days later in the week, but there's still two more special screenings: Marathon Boy is the Monday DocYard screening, a Gemma Atwal film about a boy trained to be a distance runner from the age of four, and Thursday's Indie Game: The Movie is an IFFBoston presentation about videogame creators who work outside what has become a studio system as massive as Hollywood. Filmmakers will be on hand for Q&A and Adobe will be giving away prizes.

  • ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater is mostly given over to one movie this weekend, with The Dish and the Spoon playing Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon. It features Greta Gerwig and Olly Alexander as an American woman and a British teenager who meet in a nearly-abandoned seaside town. Director Alison Bagnall will be there in person on Friday evening to answer questions. On Saturday afternoon, they will be running an encore of Babes in Arms with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland for those who missed it last week.

  • The MFA's film program spends much of the weekend wrapping up things that started earlier in the week - a few more screenings of Gerhard Richter Painting and the rest of the Hollywood Scriptures series - Viva Cuba, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Circumstance. They also preview the Roxbury International Film Festival (and tie in to the Boston Marathon) with The Athlete, which switches between archive footage and recreated scenes to tell the story of marathoner Abebe Bikila, the first black African to win Olympic Gold - who was later left unable to walk.

    On Wednesday, they kick off Jewishfilm.2012 with Never Forget to Lie, with Joanna screening twice on Thursday. Thursday also has free screenings of SMFA Student Films and Animations.

  • The Harvard Film Archive and the DocYard has Michael Glawogger in person to present his Globalization Trilogy, which will be running backwards - new entry Whore's Glory on Friday, Workingman's Death on Saturday, and Megacities on Sunday. There will be a different guest on Monday, with South African artist and animator William Kentridge presenting a selection of his animated films.

  • There's a little second-run shuffling going on, as Friends with Kids and Mirror Mirror move from the Somerville Theatre to the Arlington Capitol, which also picks up A Separation as that leaves Kendall Square. Also note that The Artist will not run in Somerville on Saturday and Sunday to accomodate live shows (though it will still play in Arlington)

  • As they do on school vacation week, the Regent Theatre in Arlington is running a sing-along movie from Monday through next Sunday; for April vacation, it's Grease

My plans? Good lord, I don't know. Probably Cabin in the Woods before spoilers get out of control, then try and see Life Happens (because I really like Krysten Ritter a lot) and The Lady while I can. Maybe catch Lockout while waiting for the streets to become passable post-baseball on Monday (tickets to two Red Sox games this week!). And, man, I'd like to see Detention or Hipsters again, but I don't know where I'll find the time.