Monday, May 28, 2012

Crooked Arrows

I admit to being kind of curious about this movie from the start, especially since when I saw Seediq Bale last week, there were a lot more posters up than one might expect for a movie that seems more or less self-distributed, including (I think) a table by the escalator.

I was kind of surprised to see it sticking around for a full second week, but it's actually got a wider release coming this Friday. I kind of suspect that it will do a good chunk of its business on group sales, with school lacrosse teams and Native American groups buying a fair chunk of tickets.

Of course, I'll half-joke that the thing that got me into the movie was seeing an ad on NESN which included a clip of Sean McDonough, former Red Sox play-by-play guy, playing himself covering the team. Nice comeback for him; I don't think he's been in a movie since he and Tim McCarver did the play-by-play in the opening sequence of Mr. Baseball.

Crooked Arrows

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 May 2012 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, digital)

Crooked Arrows is a button-pushing sports movie notable for both the sport being played (lacrosse) and the underdog school (a Native American nation in upstate New York). It's likely to be far from the best sports movie or "life on the reservation" movie anyone in the audience will ever see, but it's an amiable couple of hours that doesn't embarrass either of the niches it serves.

Native Americans of the Haudenosaunee nations have been playing lacrosse (also known as "the Creator's Game" and "the medicine game") for hundreds of years, but in the present, the Sunaquot Nation (a fictional equivalent of the Onondaga Nation) high school in upstate New York is getting its butt kicked by Coventry Prep in a pre-season scrimmage. When star player Jimmy Silverfoot (Tyler Hill) comes out with a sore shoulder, manager Nadie Logan (Chelsea Ricketts) inserts herself, only to have her ankle broken in two places. On the other side of the reservation, her older brother Joe (Brandon Routh) manages the casino, whose white developer (Tom Kemp) is leaning on him to get an expansion. A former star for Coventry, Joe gets the council to agree with a caveat - he must take over coaching the team from his father (Gil Birmingham), who describes it as a spiritual quest.

There's a standard template for high school sports movies, and this one never veers far from it: The viewer can check off the coach who's not really a bad guy but has had misplaced priorities, the showboating ball hog, the guy who rides the bench, the girl who loves the game more than many of the players, and so on. Writers Brad Riddel and Todd Baird aren't looking to subvert expectations here, and on occasion, things happen because it's the point in an inspiring sports story where such things happen. The portions of the movie that attempt to deal with the compromises Native Americans must make are even thinner.

Full review at EFC.

This Week In Tickets: 21 May 2012 - 27 May 2012

Fastest I've done one of these in months, if not longer. You can do that when you're only really carving time for Sunrise out of watching baseball:

This Week In Tickets!

As I write this, I am learning a valuable lesson along the lines of "when a friend offers you sunblock at a Red Sox game while you're in direct, bright sunlight, say yes." It makes a lot more sense than what Valentine is doing with Lin Che-Hsuan. Sure, he's mostly up as a defensive replacement, but is he so hopeless with the bat that Scott Podsednik and Little Nicky Punto are better options?

Nearly a great game - Buchholz pitched well (evidence in my head that his ability improves as Matsuzaka's return becomes more likely - Daisuke pitched a fine game at Pawtucket on Saturday), Adrian Gonzalez hit a clutch go-ahead home run... and then Aceves blew the save.

After that, it was a pleasant enough walk to Boston Common for Men in Black 3. That movie, by the way, had one of the longest trailer packages I've seen in a while (likely a result of seeing more movies in Arlington/Somerville, where they do tend to just get on with it). A big part of that was the 6-minute Amazing Spider-Man preview, which maybe hasn't made me a total believer in the reboot - it still looks a little Batman Begins-y for my taste, and I really would have liked to see what Sam Raimi, Dylan Baker, Bryce Dallas Howard, and James Cromwell would have done with much of the same material that was set up in Spider-Man 3. But there's little doubt that it's going to look amazing.

And, yeah, I'm joining the "Prometheus Now!" crowd. I've only seen a couple teasers for that before but the trailer made me quite enthused.

Men in Black 3

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 May 2012 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, Imax-branded DLP 3D)

One of the things that's surprisingly pleasant about Men in Black 3 is that it doesn't succumb to the temptation to wheel out Tony Shaloub or everyone else from the first two movies in order to try and recapture every detail of what people liked about them. Certainly, this may be less a matter of intent than practicality - it's been ten years since #2, and some folks just might not have been interested - but [credited writer] Etan Cohen's script does a nice job in reflecting time passing, so that Will Smith's Agent J is more seasoned and this second sequel isn't quite rehashing the same jokes the way Men in Black 2 did.

(Although, is it me, or does the chronology not quite add up? When talking to the young Agent K in 1969, J says they meet again in "24 years", or 1993, when the first movie came out in 1997. And given what we see at the end of the movie, J would have to be about 48 now, or five years older than Will Smith actually is. I suppose that the whole series could have happened "four years ago", but it's not the vibe I get from it.

That said, the script has some logical problems but holds together remarkably well for a movie that had to shut down for a few weeks so that the writers could figure out what the heck is going on midway through.)

By and large, the movie works because Cohen, director Barry Sonnenfeld, Smith, and the cast are pretty good at combining low-key humor with big, snazzy special effects. Rick Baker and company come up with cool, imaginative aliens, and everyone else hits a good spot between taking the weirdness for granted and reacting to it. My personal comedy rule of "nobody in the movie who is not at some point funny" is followed pretty well, including (effective) villain Jemaine Clement and Emma Thompson as the newly-promoted head of the operation.

And it's hard not to like Josh Brolin as the younger version of Tommy Lee Jones's Agent K. On the one hand, sure, it's in large part an impersonation, but it's such a good one (while also being slightly different in important areas) that the audience actually feels itself in J's position - that when K is off-screen and we're just hearing him, it's easy to be fooled into thinking it's entirely the same guy, but then the differences pop up and it's kind of a weird experience. It looks simple, but it seems like something that could have gone wrong.

Men in Black 3 isn't a great movie, but it resides comfortably in the "pretty good" range - the jokes are funny more often than not, the action's decent, the whole thing looks spiffy (including the post-converted-but-planned-for 3D), and it's comfortably familiar without feeling repetitive. A $17.50 Imax-branded ticket was probably a bit much, but it's likely well worth the $11.50 you'll pay at the Arlington Capitol.

One last thing (though it was one of the first things that struck me in the movie): Danny Elfman's Men in Black theme has to be one of his best, most catchy compositions. Not complicated, but it really covers both the humorous and thrilling halves of the property perfectly, from the very first frame of this movie.

SunriseAlmost a great gameMen in Black 3

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesdays: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

I got kind of lucky with this one; Sunrise was originally planned to be April's "Wordless Wednesday" screening at the Brattle, which mean I would have missed it in order to see Independent Film Festival Boston's opening night, but there was a scheduling issue of some sort and it got bumped to May. Of course, this does mean that I missed a different Murnau last month (City Girl).

I liked it quite a bit, although it did take me until I was actually writing the review to really appreciate its inside-out story structure. That's not to say I disliked it while watching the movie, even if I did look at my watch at a certain point because it seemed like the end of the movie but couldn't be. I found myself thinking that given bits were OK (and noting that it does sort of seem to have that "modular" feeling that many silents have), but because I felt like the movie was past its natural endpoint, I sort of discounted their worth.

A little knowledge, it seems, can be a dangerous thing.

Of course, it is subtitled "A Song of Two Humans", and songs don't necessarily have the same patterns as narratives. It does strike me as somewhat interesting that there's no real "written by" credit like we would typically see today. Hermann Sudermann is credited with the "original theme", Carl Mayer with the "scenario", and Katherine Hilliker & H.H. Caldwell with "titles", and none of those credits really seems to go to the story's structure.

I must admit, I find myself kind of surprised that this isn't available on home video except as an import - Fox put out a limited edition DVD ten years ago, but it's sold out at Amazon. Hopefully this new-ish restoration and a divisible-by-five anniversary year will have it available once again soon.

(Also: for some reason, I was under the impression that this was a long, stretched-out silent, but it's quite a manageable length. I wonder what I had it confused with.)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Wordless Wednesdays, 35mm)

F.W. Murnau's Sunrise has an odd-sounding subtitle ("A Song of Two Humans") which marks it as being decidedly from another era, and watching it confirms that feeling. It's from early enough in the history of cinema that its story is iconic rather than generic, but also comes from late enough in the silent era that its technique has been impressively refined. List-makers often call it "great" or "essential", and it's hard to argue with those categorizations.

During the summer, city folk often come down to the country for a vacation, and one woman (Margaret Livingston) has stayed longer than most. It's not so much for the fresh air, though; she's carrying on an affair with a handsome farmer (George O'Brien), who has sold much of his stock and put himself in hock to money-lenders for her. She wants him to come back to the city, but what, he asks, of his wife (Janet Gaynor)? Well, the woman asks, couldn't she possibly drown? A plan is hatched, but the man is not the murderous type, and soon finds himself literally and figuratively pursuing his wife anew.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Sunrise is that the story arguably reaches its emotional climax right around the midway point: Once the man and his wife have observed the young couple's wedding, it is clear that the most important journeys have ended and questions resolved, and it's not long until a perfect fade-to-credits scene appears; you could end the movie right there and it would be perfect, if short. And yet, Murnau and company keep going - in fact, most of the film's most memorable scenes happen after that scene, in complete defiance of conventional structure. It's a testament to the work of all involved that the second half of the film is not just an extended bit of wheel-spinning, but a frequently-delightful portrait of young love rediscovered that is beautiful in its own right. The movie is almost inside-out, and yet it works well enough that the audience either doesn't notice its unorthodox shape at all or wonders why movies have become so formalized.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 May 2012 - 31 May 2012

Long weekend coming up, and it looks like it's not going to rain! Which is good, because I've got baseball I want to see and heavy rain stinks for pedestrians trying to get to movies.

  • Main opening this week: Men In Black 3, ten years after the not-really-good MIB 2, and... man, have both Barry Sonnenfeld and Will Smith been keeping a low profile lately. Maybe that's why this seems to be sneaking into theaters, despite opening for a holiday weekend in 3D (postconverted). Or maybe The Avengers has just been a juggernaut blocking out all slightly-less-huge movies (fun fact - Men In Black 3 is technically also a Marvel movie, as they purchased publisher Malibu back in the 1990s, but I don't think they've done anything with the property in fifteen years). Opens at the Arlington Capitol, Fresh Pond, Harvard Square, Fenway, and Boston Common in both 3D and 2D. It gets the Imax-branded screen at Harvard Square, but the furniture stores give it a pass.

    Also opening at the multiplexes: Chernobyl Diaries, a horror movie set in the area around the Soviet nuclear reactor whose meltdown left miles of uninhabitable land on all sides. Expect mutants! Plays the Somerville Theatre, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and Fenway.

  • A couple of movies that played IFFBoston take up residence at the Kendall Square Cinema. I can heartily recommend the one-week booking, I Wish, the new film from Hirokazu Kore-eda; it follows a pair of young brothers whose parents divorce has left them living at cities on the opposite end of Japan's southern island, on a quest to make a wish at the point where the bullet trains pass each other. The also pick up Polisse (which I missed because Brian told me this booking would happen, a French drama about a reporter observing the Child Protective Unit within the Paris police. Also in French is Where Do We Go Now?, a comedy about a group of Lebanese women trying to build bridges in their village.

    They're also starting to run The Room at 10pm on the last Saturday of every month, but, c'mon, that is the Coolidge's thing (or was, since it's not on their schedule), and you'd think that a theater with the same ownership as Magnet Films could dig out their own wacky cult movies.

  • The Coolidge's own late-night show this weekend is Wayne's World, one of the relatively few movies based on a Saturday Night Live sketch that turned out to be a critical and popular success. It's in the big theater at 11:59 on both Friday and Saturday. And that, believe it or not, seems to be the entirety of their special events this week, with the program apparently staying pretty much the same until it turns over next Friday.

  • The Brattle continues their Reunion Weekend through Monday to coincide with Harvard's reunion/homecoming. That means double features and late shows of movies celebrating their 25th (Spaceballs & The Princess Bride on Friday, Hellraiser Saturday, Predator Sunday), 50th (Vivre Sa Vie & Jules and Jim on Saturday and The Trial & Lolita on Monday), and 75th (A Day at the Races & Easy Living on Sunday) Anniversaries. Predator is listed as digital, with the rest on 35mm.

    During the week, they have a quick group of movies by Wes Anderson: Fantastic Mr. Fox (digital) & The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou play Tuesday, Bottle Rocket plays late Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, and a special preview of his new one, Moonrise Kingdom, co-presented by IFFBoston on Thursday evening. The Wednesday-evening hole in the schedule is filled by the local premiere of For the Love of the Music: The Club 47 Folk Revival, a documentary on the popular and influential 1960s Cambridge venue.

  • With the academic year coming to a close, Emerson's ArtsEmerson film programming winds up for a while. The "Festival Focus" selection is Nana, a French film about a four-year-old girl mostly left to fend for herself in a rural area; it won awards at Istanbul and Locarno. It runs Friday and Saturday as does Elena and Her Men, which wraps up "Renoir in Technicolor". It features Ingrid Bergman as a countess torn between Jean Marais and Mel Ferrer.

  • The Harvard Film Archive doesn't shut down for the summer, though they are also finishing up a couple of programs. The School of Reis: The Films and Legacy of António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro concludes Friday (This Side of Resurrection & Blood) and Saturday (Glória & A Girl in Summer), all created by Portuguese filmmakers who learned from Reis & Cordeiro. The rest of the weekend is the Sergei Eisenstein program - a ddouble feature of Ivan the Terrible parts one and two on Sunday evening, and Alexander Nevsky on Monday.

  • The MFA is also wrapping up series at the end of the month, with The Story of Film's various chapters playing out from Friday to Sunday, and two other "Exclusive Screenings " later in the week: Wednesday's Louise Wimmer is a sneak preview of a movie from July's French Film Festival starring Corinne Masiero as a hotel maid; Thursday's Walking in the City is a free selection of short films that tie in with a Wendy Jacob photo exhibit.

  • The Regent Theatre in Arlington has one film program, an evening of animated shorts by Karen Aqua, a local animator who died of ovarian cancer one year ago; proceeds will go to the Ovarian Cancer Fun at Dana-Farber.

Huh, we don't get the animated Disney film from India? Kind of disappointing. Anyway, my plans like include Men in Black 3, Polisse, and Moonrise Kingdom.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This Week Month In Tickets: 23 April 2012 - 20 May 2012

I honestly thought I was only going to be skipping this for one week, but once you've slipped that second time, it's hard not to say "well, I stand a pretty good chance of catching up by the next one". And then... Well, it doesn't happen nearly as quickly as it should, and considering "have a regular schedule" has been a goal, I hate it.

So, let's get it started!

23 April 2012 - 29 April 2012
30 April 2012 - 6 May 2012
7 May 2012 - 13 May 2012
14 May 2012 - 20 May 2012

This Week In Tickets!

Independent Film Festival Boston! If you're in Boston, like movies, and have never been... Well, what's wrong with you? It's great movies at great venues with lots of special guests. I'd go a lot even if they didn't think eFilmCritic was worth a pass, and have put my money where my mouth is with a membership. You should too!

I said a lot about the festival in the individual pages, so here's the links to get to them:

Honestly, I'm more shocked at the quick turnaround between certain days as I am by the delays between others!

This Week In Tickets!

For the index for the last three days of IFFBoston, well, scroll up to above the page.

After that, you'd usually see me wanting to take a break from the movies and all, just retreating to the house for a relaxing writing coma, but the Somerville Theatre decides it's time to show the next four James Bond movies in 35mm, and I already had tickets for the Talk Cinema series purchased back in September, and 2 Days in New York wasn't one I was going to miss, especially since I couldn't fit it into my IFFBoston schedule.

And that wasn't even a planned bit of flexibility in the schedule; I don't think which movie was playing that day was announced until after I'd decided to go another direction at the festival.

So, I get out of that, and hop on the Green Line to Fenway to meet my brother, his wife, and their girls for the ballgame. They almost didn't come, as it would be the third weekend in a row that they came down to the city. That the girls (5-and-a-half and almost-2) made it through seven and a half innings was pretty impressive, but they got antsy, and as my brother said, it had the look of something that could go fifteen.

He underestimated.

Basically, the two teams played another whole game after my brother left. It got pretty bizarre by the end, with both teams emptying the bullpen and sending a position player to the mound (and, since they'd been playing the field, losing the DH). This was the first time I've ever seen a game have a 14th Inning Stretch. PA announcer Carl Beane had fun with that and some of the odd substitutions at the end, which is nice, since it wound up being his last; he would have a fatal heart attack while driving four days later. The next game I went to was really peculiar without his voice; he'll be missed.

This Week In Tickets!

The game went on so long that my initial plan to see The Avengers afterward was pretty much completely shot - heck, when I got to Boston Common, the next three or four shows were sold out on Sunday night. That's just some ridiculous success. I wound up going to the Capitol the next day, and going back a few days later for The Pirates! and Nesting.

That next game I went to was completely different, and not just because it was a win; it was crisply played and gorgeous out. More like that, please!

The Avengers

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 May 2012 in Arlington Capitol #1 (first-run, Real-D 3D)

As much as The Avengers deserves every bit of praise it gets for being both the culmination of an ambitious plan and an impressive ensemble action movie in its own right (a form that Hollywood really hasn't had much luck with since the likes of The Magnificent Seven and The Dirty Dozen), it's not exactly deep; the likes of The Dark Knight and Ang Lee's Hulk are, in their way, much more ambitious than it is. But in a way, that's fitting; as much as comic book fans will often defend their favorite medium by pointing out the emotional storytelling and formal invention that goes on there, 90% of what we buy is people in brightly-colored costumes beating each other up.

Which is fine - that stuff is fun! And The Avengers is the first movie, I think, that really gives an audience that has never read comics an idea of just how much fun it is. It follows the rules of the superhero crossover almost without deviation - something bad happens, the heroes come together to investigate but wind up fighting each other over a misunderstanding, the villain reveals himself, and the good guys then band together before the massive, splash-page-and-property-damage-filled final battle. Heck, at some point, the comic fans in the audience will see that writer/director Joss Whedon is, in a roundabout way, sort of doing Avengers #1, where Loki pit the Hulk against Iron Man and Thor (among others) before everything got sorted.

But the other thing to recognize is that Whedon pulls off the "crossover" element much better than most comic writers have recently - The Avengers picks up on threads from the Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America movies and has them legitimately intersect. The "shared universe" element of comics often gets a bad rap for making the medium "inaccessible" (sometimes you just want to read Superman without needing a primer on the WildStorm Universe!), but when it works it's exciting in a way no other medium has ever really captured before now.

It works here because Whedon does a lot of things right - as much as I like what Ang Lee did, he and Mark Ruffalo really nail Bruce Banner and "the other guy"; we also get a great Black Widow and a pretty terrific take on Captain America assimilating to the modern world. The action is well-done, and the filmmakers are able to go big without ever quite hitting the brain's reality filter.

Marvel pulled it off. I'm impressed.

Damsels in Distress

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 May 2012 in Somerville Theatre #2 (second-run, 35mm)

Boy, this would have been fun to see a couple of months ago with Whit Stillman in person doing Q&A. I was at the front of the line when they ran out of seats during his visit to the HFA! But, hey, there will inevitably be a Criterion Blu-ray with tons of good stuff.

And I'll want it; even though this is Stillman's first movie since The Last Days of Disco almost a decade and a half ago, his cinematic world is relatively unchanged, full of articulate but oblivious people who somehow overcome an utterly ridiculous amount of self-awareness by meaning well and somehow having a youthful innocence despite it. By all accounts, the long gap is because Stillman had actually wanted to do something different - he spent a lot of time developing movies set during the Revolutionary War and in Jamaica that never got funded - but there's not a whole lot of rust on him.

I do wonder if he's somewhat bitter about retreating back into this box, though. As much as the characters from Metropolitan, Barcelona, and Last Days of Disco were sometimes naive to a fault, they were seldom stupid. He's likely not really saying "you wanted more of these young twerps, well, have them!", but it is a slightly different take. As dopey comedies go, though, it's a lot of fun.

Here's hoping the next comes about much quicker.

This Week In Tickets!

And after that, we've got a couple in the "well, no-one else at EFC is going to review them" file. I hoped for a little more out of both Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale and Sound of My Voice for various reasons, but sometimes it's just not meant to be.

Whew. So this is what being caught up on ones writing feels like!

(Heads to Brattle)

IFFBoston Opening NightIFFBoston Day 2IFFBoston Day 3IFFBoston Day 4IFFBoston Day 5
IFFBoston Day 6IFFBoston Day 7IFFBoston Closing NightJames Bond Weekend II2 Days in New York17 Innings in Fenway
The AvengersDamsels in DistressThe Pirates!NestingA Quick Win!
Seediq BaleSound of My Voice

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Talk Cinema: 2 Days in New York

Just in case anybody from Magnolia is reading this and wants to get on me, eFilmCritic, or Independent Film Festival Boston - I'm not breaking the embargo imposed on the IFFBoston screening, because I wasn't there (I saw Think of Me instead) and didn't go to this screening to try and exploit some sort of loophole (I bought tickets for the entire Talk Cinema series last year). Besides, eFilmCritic has an international audience and this has already come out in the UK.

I mean, I'll take it down if you insist because I don't want of those entities to deal with any crap, but can we just take a moment to pause and think about the absurdity of embargoing film festival screenings, especially since every one with filmmakers present includes an exhortation to get the word out? That's basically an implicit amendment to what the guests are saying: "If you liked the movie, please vote for it on IMDB, tweet/Facebook/blog about it -- except you guys who people might listen to; you've got to wait!"

Anyway, now that that's out of the way, this was the last screening in the Talk Cinema series, which turned out pretty good. I likely would have seen most of the ones I got to anyway, and I regret missing the one I did for misreading the calendar. I'll probably do it again next year, although it is a bit of cash for movies that will likely be getting a local release soon enough. The feedback portion can be a mixed bag; the portion that a critic has prepared beforehand is usually pretty good, but I'm a bit skeptical about what we all say immediately after the movie. I need a bit of mulling-over time to really formulate my thoughts, which sometimes only really solidify as I'm writing (and aren't you glad that you mostly just see the result, rather than "I think A, B, and C... oh, wait, C totally changes A, select, delete, new words, control-end, blah-blah backspace backspace backspace..."?), so I don't contribute much.

The conversation at this one was a little like that, a lot of half-formed thoughts. There's a bit of a theme of how liberals can stereotype just as much as the conservatives who are often painted as racists - hence the way Marion's family acts kind of crassly around Mingus - but that sort of petered out, and it took me until I was actually writing the review to connect it less with politics than how these French people view America, kind of a counterpoint to how 2 Days in Paris had fun dashing American preconceptions of France.

I don't recall how many people in the room had seen 2 Days in Paris at all, for that matter; I'm guessing not that many, because the first movie barely came up in the discussion. In fact--

(SPOILERS!) when discussing the matter of who had purchased Marion's soul at auction, the discussion was mostly about what people thought of Vincent Gallo outside the movie. That's fair; it's all of those things that make his unbilled cameo very funny (although maybe kind of inside/obscure, as Marion actually has to say "you're Vincent Gallo" before things start to click), but saying "I hate Vincent Gallo so I hated this part" is kind of frustrating; it's such an over-the-top parody that it should be funny for exactly the reasons you hate him. Still, as much as I liked that gag, I was pretty much expecting it to be Adam Goldberg's character from the previous movie. Jack has sort of been hanging over things a little, much like Marie Pillet's absence has, and while I don't think the story really needed an appearance by the guy, it's a place I could see the movie going.

Or maybe a lot of other people had the same thought, and didn't raise their hands for the same reason I didn't.(!SRELIOPS)

Still, pretty good movie, and while I'm glad I saw Think of Me at IFFBoston - I've got my doubts as to that getting distribution - I do rather wish I'd been able to see Julie Delpy introduce/answer questions in person. (Haven't had time to watch this yet, unfortunately.)

2 Days in New York

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Talk Cinema, 35mm)

Sequels to independent films that didn't really break out are kind of odd things; the audience is as much those who heard the first movie was pretty good as the people who loved it, so even more than with studio productions, they've got to be accessible and familiar, though without actually repeating anything. 2 Days in New York manages this pretty well; it amuses whether you've taken the previous trip to Paris or not.

When we last saw Marion (Julie Delpy), she and her boyfriend Jack were visiting her family in Paris. Now they have a son but are no longer together; Marion and Lulu (Owen Shipman) instead share an apartment in New York City with new boyfriend Mingu (Chris Rock) and his daughter Willow (Talen Riley). Marion is having her first gallery show of her photography tomorrow (where, as a conceptual piece, she will auction off her soul), and has invited her father Jeannot (Julie's own father Albert Delpy) and sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) - who brings a boyfriend, Manu (Alex Nahon), who had been with Marion years ago.

While both 2 Days movies are rooted in the same thing - the hidden tensions between Marion and her boyfriend being brought to the surface and exacerbated by her crazy, crude family, at first glance New York seemed a bit less clever and subversive than Paris, which gleefully demolished the romantic mystique of Paris one horribly racist cab driver at a time - an ambition this movie seemingly does not share. Then it dawned on me that I'm an American, and thus wasn't looking at things from Rose's and Manu's point of view, which has them discovering that New York, Americans in general, and black Americans in particular, are not exactly the anarchic rebels they had imagined. It's not quite the same - Rose & Manu are such broadly-sketched characters that I somewhat doubt that French audiences saw them as surrogates (though, to be fair, Adam Goldberg's Jack was pretty weird, too).

Full review at EFC.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sound of My Voice

If nothing else, Brit Marling and her collaborators are good at manipulating expectations.

I don't completely believe that anybody who really liked Another Earth last year was tricked into it, but I really did feel that the people who made and marketed that movie found a canny way to use genre as a smokescreen. While a lot of genre films will use a fanbase that feels persecuted to try and "critic-proof" their movies ("it's just a fun sci-fi/horror/action movie so don't worry about all that quality stuff"), Another Earth had just enough science fiction in it to make it stand out among a sea of other movies about people suffering exquisitely, but the details were far enough from being integral that people (like myself) who pointed out their flaws would be told that they were missing the point, even if they also mentioned that the plot would collapse if the characters ever once did something reasonable and that the central relationship rang false.

Sound of My Voice goes for something similar - the possibility of time travel is dropped early, but once that's piqued the audience's interest, it's made into a sort of quiet buzz in the back. Which is fine, if you're Lars Trier and have something as great as Melancholia up your sleeve, but neither Sound of My Voice nor Another Earth has a main event nearly as good as their hooks.

Still, I found myself wanting to like Sound of My Voice quite a bit. I found myself slamming Another Earth more than I wanted to last year in response to over-praise and being ticked off that what I felt were legitimate criticisms were being dismissed because... well, see above. And I liked Brit Marling - an good actress writing roles she wanted to play, that are also science-fictional? That's great. So it took a while for it to sink in that it just wasn't very good.

And I still wasn't angry at the end, which is the reaction that sort of finale tends to give me. Just disappointed. Still, it's interesting that director Zal Batmanglij and Marling are finishing up another movie together - The East - that also involves inflitrating an extremist group. Maybe the second time will be the charm.

Unrelated, but come on, you're thinking it too - either Zal Batmanglij's family dodged a bullet by not shortening/anglicizing their name at Ellis island, or missed a great opportunity. /ImBatman

Sound of My Voice

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 May 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run, 35mm)

There were two films at Sundance last year that featured Brit Marling as both an actress and co-writer, and despite being quite different, both fit the pattern of using a fantastical premise to get noticed but ultimately focusing on more blandly conventional things. Another Earth was stronger throughout, but Sound of My Voice has better moments, even if both add up to less than their potential.

Somewhere in southern California, a small cult meets in a basement. The group takes careful precautions so that only the inner circle knows where they meet, but tonight four new members - Peter (Christopher Denham), his girlfriend Lorna (Nicole Vicius), Christine (Constance Wu), and her husband Lam (Alvin Lam) are brought in to meet Maggie (Brit Marling), their leader, who claims to be from the future. Peter and Lorna aim to infiltrate and expose it, with Peter especially motivated, although there's also a mystery at the school where he teaches - 8-year-old Abigail Pritchett (Avery Pohl) has bizarre spells and obsessively builds Lego towers when she gets home.

Sound of My Voice opens compellingly, with a sequence demonstrating the mechanics of secrecy and efficient introductions of the main characters, but once the scenario is in place, co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij and Marling don't really seem to know what to do with it. Maggie spouts simple pop psychology and vague stories that could do with being a lot more compelling for the effect they seem to have on her followers, and a scene that should be full of tension winds up slack, leading to a fair amount of predictable wheel-spinning. The movie does have a climax as opposed to just stopping, but it's the sort of ending whose ambiguities aren't nearly as clever as the filmmakers are trying to make them, while other mysteries are left dangling carelessly.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale

I was half-tempted to do a "indigenous people versus their conquerors" double feature, both in terms of what I saw and what I reviewed with Crooked Arrows, which also opened at Boston Common on Friday, but I'm kind of guessing that weighing the decapitations in Taiwan against the playing of lacrosse in America might seem a bit unbalanced. Maybe I'll take that one in later.

Very light crowd - the kid and his mother who were there when I arrived seemed to not expect anyone else, as he said "see, there's another" when I sat down. I noticed that AMC was using the "First Look Play!" pre-show generally used for family-friendly movies, as they always tend to do for Chinese movies, and, well, I hope this family had some idea what they were in for, as the Seediq people of Taiwan seemed to have very different ideas of what rainbows represent than most Americans do, more "warrior culture's bridge to Valhalla" than "beautiful sign of peace and friendship after a storm". The movie gets to the violence right away and then doesn't stop until the end, but so far as I can tell, this pre-teen stuck around.

I didn't find out until after I opened up the IMDB page to review it that the original movie was a two-parter, but I suppose that might explain a lot of the issues I had with it - what seems like an all-over-the-place script might just be the inevitable result of American editors trying to get it down to a length which theaters will play that includes most of the action and is still somewhat comprehensible. I'm curious to see how Well Go winds up releasing it on video; Magnolia took a similar tack with John Woo's Red Cliff, releasing a cut version in theaters but making the full version available on DVD/BD, although it and the US cut were separate releases. I saw the short one and bought the long there, though I haven't yet had time to watch the full version.

I don't know if I'll make any attempt to see the original cut, even if I can see a worthy epic there. To be perfectly frank, (SPOILERS!) the mass suicides toward the end of this one really soured me on the whole experience. As much as it's easy to equate the Seediq with the American Indians and Australian Aborigines whose histories parallel them in many ways and whom a lifetime of movie-watching has conditioned me to find especially noble and spiritual, there's an ugly streak of racism running through this movie's Seediq that is a match for the Japanese conquerors and which overpowers the valid messages about living in harmony with nature.

I hate finding myself agreeing with the villains who call these guys savages, but this cut, at least, presents a culture whose road to heaven seems to require murder and where the women all kill themselves and their children to not be a burden on the men who have launched a suicidal attack. One, who had assimilated into the Japanese, wails to her father about why they have to collect heads, but there's no follow-up. Oh, and this is after she somehow survives when the group of unarmed Japanese women she's in is slaughtered. It's tough for me to see the nobility there, (!SRELIOPS), and I don't know if an extended cut will make it better or worse.

Sàidékè balái (Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale) (US cut)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 May 2012 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

No matter the cultures involved, movies like Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale follow a certain tragic pattern: Conquest, valiant rebellion, inevitable clampdown. Here, the invaders are the Japanese, the natives are Taiwan's Seediq people, and the way they fight back involves a lot of decapitations. The mayhem is well-done, but at a certain point the bloodiness of the battle overshadows the rightness of the cause and the complexity of the situation.

In 1895, the Shimonoseki Treaty placed the island of Taiwan in Japanese hands, and just as young Mouna Rudo (De-Ching) is earning the tattoos that will mark him as a man, the Japanese penetrate to the Wushe are where Mouna's Mehebu clan makes their home. Some thirty years later, the older Mouna (Lin Ching-tai) is now the clan's chief, with an admirer in young Pawan Nawi (Lin Yuan-jie). The native people doing backbreaking labor for just enough money to pay for millet wine, although two members of the clan have taken Japanese names to work for the police - Dakis Nomin (Hsu Yi-fan) as Hanaoka Ichiro and Dakis Nawi (Soda Voyu) as Hanaoka Jiro. An incident with a non-native officer, Yoshimura Katsumi (Matsumoto Minoru), and Mouna's sons Tado & Baso, leads to Mouna contacting the other clans to launch a co-ordinated attack.

It may be unfair to judge the version of Seediq Bale playing in North American cinemas too harshly; like producer John Woo's own Red Cliff before it, what was released in Asia as a two-part epic has been cut nearly in half by its local distributor (IMDB lists a total runtime of 276 minutes in Taiwan; the US release runs roughly two and a half hours, with no word yet on how Well Go will release it on home video). It seems likely that very little in the way of action has been cut, so everything else likely takes an even harder hit. As a result, there are a bunch of characters who don't seem to do much (or seem redundant), storylines that seem to disappear for a long time, and sudden turns that maybe would have been foreshadowed earlier in the longer cut.

Full review at EFC.

James Bond Weekend #2: From Diamonds Are Forever to The Spy Who Loved Me

So, I'm sitting down in the front row of the theater, writing something or other while getting ready to watch Diamonds Are Forever on Friday night, and ten or fifteen minutes before the movie, I hear "obsessed lunatic?", and Dave Kornfeld is standing above me.

Dave's the head projectionist at the Somerville Theatre, who pulled him out of retirement as they upgraded the theater from second-run to first-run and also built out the booth. I've encountered him on the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival message board and heard stories of his encyclopedic knowledge of film aspect ratios from the folks at the Million Year Picnic, and, yeah, I have called him an obsessed lunatic on occasion. He can tend to make discussions one-sided with expertise and attitude. I have called him an obsessed lunatic on occasion, though I'm not sure how it got back to him.

But, let's be honest, I say "obsessed lunatic" with appreciation. My SXSW bunkmate from a few years back, Jason Whyte, was celebrating as his local theaters went digital not because he doesn't appreciate film, but because the 35mm projection at his local theaters was so bad that this was the best chance of presentation with any sort of consistent quality. As many will tell you, including and especially Dave, digital isn't really that sort of guarantee. The weekend I saw these movies, there was another note in the paper about the projection issues at the now-all-digital AMC Boston Common. This doesn't happen so much at Somerville, because Dave has extremely high standards. He'll grudgingly admit that prints were decent after projecting them, even if he was enthused about not finding any splices on the print beforehand. It is extremely unlikely that you'll ever hear complaints about the light being too dim there - heck, when they were showing silent movies last year, he pulled out a special extra-bright bulb to replicate the carbon-arc lamps they used back when those movies were made. He's got all the equipment for 70mm in the booth and is frustrated that the technicians haven't been out to hook them up yet. I often joke that we'll know when the Somerville Theatre has installed digital projection from the news reports of an armed standoff between Dave and some guys from Sony in Davis Square.

The upshot: If quality projection is your main concern, stop complaining about how the national chains are and head a few extra stops up the Red Line to Davis. The tickets are cheap and they put real butter on the popcorn, too.

So, that covers the presentation. How about the movies themselves?

Overall, not so great. The 1970s weren't a great time for the James Bond series. It's easy to blame it all on Roger Moore, but in many ways he's just a symptom of a larger problem or two. For as much as James Bond became the standard for this sort of picture, it seems like the series became awfully reactive. Diamonds Are Forever was pushing back against On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Live and Let Die tried to ride the Blaxploitation wave, Moonraker would be a response to Star Wars. Imitations and parodies had started to appear in earnest by then, and the producers seemed to be doubling down on the stuff that was identifiabley Bond.

Not that this sort of reactivity is always bad; Casino Royale benefited by integrating parkour and switching Bond's game of choice from baccarat to poker. The 1970s films were just rather obvious about it.

Plus... Well, by the time you get to the tenth movie in a series, even the most wide-open setting narrows as the desire to deliver a bigger threat, and it's apparently tough to top "space laser".

Diamonds Are Forever

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (James Bond Weekend, 35mm)

By itself, Diamonds Are Forever isn't a bad Bond movie, but it comes right after On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which is among the best. The opening, where Bond pursues Blofeld with ruthless zeal, is pretty terrific, but not long after that, it's like Bond has forgotten Tracy completely, like we can't even get a full movie of intense, angry Bond.

It's also the start of two or three consecutive James Bond movies that have big, destructive car chases that actually really suck, because they tend to just involve James Bond driving around while terrible pursuers basically drive off the road because they just are not very good at this sort of thing. It's tremendously frustrating, because there are great car chases being shot in the sixties and seventies, and this really isn't one of them.

The rest of the movie is frequently sloppy, too. Sure, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are a fun pair of assassins, but the story with Blofeld pretending to be a Howard Hughes analog always feels like Bond is too far behind what's going on, and the final confrontation with Blofeld leaves a little to be desired.

Live and Let Die

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (James Bond Weekend, 35mm)

At times, it seems like the switch to Roger Moore is going to herald a real shift in the series, with supernatural elements suddenly popping up in the script and imagery, Blofeld and SPECTRE nowhere to be found, and Roger Moore just not seeming to have any idea of how to do the rough-and-ready side of Bond.

But, man, all of that pales compared to how the plot and execution of this thing is right on the border of offensive, arguably tilted toward the bad side. Look at in context, placed between two movies about space lasers, and what is it offering as a threat on the same level? Black people. There's one black CIA guy, and every other African-American character is either part of Mr. Big's conspiracy to hook the entire world on heroin or looks on as they kill any interloper. Oh, and there's Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who is inexplicably popular enough to show up in the next movie, and throws a few "boys" out there. Sure, it's not likely meant negatively - this is the blaxploitation era and the 1970s, and meant to communicate something vibrant and powerful, but given how conservative a property Bond is by nature, and how it's nearly forty years later, this does not look good at all.

It's not all bad, of course. Though the picture manages to overuse it pretty severely, Paul McCartney and Wings contribute a kick-ass theme song. And Yaphet Kotto is a fantastic antagonist, with gravitas enough to be a worthy adversary, imposing physicality, and the ability to pull off a last-act swerve that highlights just how much he enjoys being the unrepentant villain of the piece.

This is probably as bad as Bond gets, and a pretty terrible start to the Roger Moore era.

The Man with the Golden Gun

* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 May 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (James Bond Weekend, 35mm)

The Man with the Golden Gun, meanwhile, isn't quite so tone-deaf - although it does feature what is perhaps Roger Moore's most embarrassing moment, when he's bailed out by a couple of teenage girls (who, in what's sort of an annoying "hey, 'oriental' is all the same" moment, are the niece of a Chinese character but apparently Thai and experts in a Japanese martial art). It's still not exactly good, but it's got Christopher Lee, which makes up for a lot of sins.

Lee's appeal here was roughly the same as Kotto's in the previous movie - he matched up well with Moore's Bond both as bon vivant and in the action sequences, and when it came time for the gloves to come off at the end of the movie, he wasn't afraid to just go for it. The writers make a wise decision in not making his Scaramanga good at everything (he may be ruthless and a peerless assassin, but he cheerfully admits to not understanding the science involved), and both henchman Herve Villechaize and moll Maud Adams add a gleeful amorality.

It's enjoyably big, at least, and has a few fun action sequences. It makes a nice ramp up for the next one.

The Spy Who Loved Me

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 May 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (James Bond Weekend, 35mm)

What's this, a good James Bond film with Roger Moore? So it is! Will wonders never cease?

There's a reference to On Her Majesty's Secret Service in this one, and it's related to what makes this one so good - it's one of the few James Bond movies to this point where the female lead is really an equal/complement to 007, and the story actually involves some sort of human interaction and motivation, rather than Bond just being this force of nature that the ladies are helpless against and for whom "be knocked unconscious" is a practical intelligence-gathering method. Watching Roger Moore and Barbara Bach's scenes is actually fun; there's something going on.

Richard Kiel's "Jaws" is a more memorable henchman than Curt Jurgens's Stromberg is a villain (although, man, there's the series being obviously reactive again), but Stromberg's got maybe the coolest villain lair in Atlantis of any of the movies. With the "tanker", it gives Bond and Agent XXX two big assaults to mount, and that's after a bunch of fun action scenes with Jaws. There is, I think, one of those "drive around until the other cars spontaneously crash" car chases, but otherwise, this is one of Moore's best Bonds, and one worth placing with the rest of the series.

Friday, May 18, 2012

This Fall in TV 2012: Sifting through what the networks will inflict upon us this fall

Remember what I said about writing being habit? Here's another example. I used to regularly write up the fall schedules based on the upfront stories for the Home Theater Forum, but even though I drifted away from that site a couple years ago (I joke that I was shunned after saying I really don't care about lossless audio), I did it last year and felt the itch again this year. So, let's go!

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


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

07:30 - Fox - The OT

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

08:30 - Fox - Bob's Burgers

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

09:30 - Fox - American Dad

10:00 - ABC - 666 Park Avenue
10:00 - CBS - The Mentalist

* Plus, you know, various cable series and Masterpiece Mystery while that's still running, as it should be finishing up its summer session with new Wallander while the network shows are premiering.

* I see 666 Park Avenue has Mercedes Masöhn from The Finder as part of its cast, which apparently means the writing was on the wall for that show a while ago. Bummer, it was much more fun than I expected after its poor backdoor pilot on Bones, and it had a downer ending. I may give this a sample for some of the supporting cast (her, Terry O'Quinn, Vanessa Williams), but it's a horror premise that doesn't do much for me.

* Man, that really just leaves The Amazing Race and The Good Wife for me. Good for them to keep chugging along.


08:00 - ABC - Dancing with the Stars
08:00 - CBS - How I Met Your Mother
08:00 - CW - 90210
08:00 - Fox - Bones
08:00 - NBC - The Voice

08:30 - CBS - Partners

09:00 - CBS - 2 Broke Girls
09:00 - CW - Gossip Girl
09:00 - Fox - The Mob Doctor

09:30 - CBS - Mike & Molly

10:00 - ABC - Castle
10:00 - CBS - Hawaii Five-0
10:00 - NBC - Revolution

* This will, believe it or not, be Bones's eighth year. That means that by the time it's over, David Boreanaz will have played Seely Booth more than Angel.

* Revolution's basic premise - oh no, electricity has stopped working! - is scientifically dumb. But the creative team of J.J. Abrams, Eric Kripke, and Jon Favreau certainly makes it worth a look.

* I should really have been watching How I Met Your Mother, what with liking everybody on it.


08:00 - ABC - Dancing with the Stars Results
08:00 - CBS - NCIS
08:00 - CW - Hart of Dixie
08:00 - Fox - Raising Hope
08:00 - NBC - The Voice

08:30 - Fox - Ben and Kate

09:00 - ABC - Happy Endings
09:00 - CBS - NCIS: Los Angeles
09:00 - CW - Emily Owens, M.D.
09:00 - Fox - New Girl
09:00 - NBC - Go On

09:30 - ABC - Don't Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23
09:30 - Fox - The Mindy Project
09:30 - NBC - The New Normal

10:00 - ABC - Private Practice
10:00 - CBS - Vegas
10:00 - NBC - Parenthood

* Tuesdays used to be packed. Now, just a couple of things I want to see. And they're sitcoms! Weren't those declared dead a few years ago?

* Vegas might get a sample, based on the nice cast (Dennis Quaid & Michael Chiklis). Weird thing is, Frank Darabont's got a different historical crime series coming out soon. How's this becoming a thing?


08:00 - ABC - The Middle
08:00 - CBS - Survivor
08:00 - CW - Arrow
08:00 - Fox - The X Factor
08:00 - NBC - Animal Practice

08:30 - ABC - Suburgatory
08:30 - NBC - Guys with Kids

09:00 - ABC - Modern Family
09:00 - CBS - Criminal Minds
09:00 - CW - Supernatural
09:00 - NBC - Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

09:30 - ABC - The Neighbors

10:00 - ABC - Nashville
10:00 - CBS - CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
10:00 - NBC - Chicago Fire

* Wow, Supernatural moves away from Fridays; has it actually become popular (by CW standards) rather than just dependable? But, of course, it's moved to coincide with something I'm already watching.

* Nashville and Chicago Fire may both get samples; I like Connie Britton for the former and would like to see another good firefighter show now that Rescue Me is done. Still, that's a high bar to clear.

* The Neighbors, with its aliens-in-the-suburbs premise, can't be anything but horrible, can it?


08:00 - ABC - Last Resort
08:00 - CBS - The Big Bang Theory
08:00 - CW - The Vampire Diaries
08:00 - Fox - The X Factor Results
08:00 - NBC - 30 Rock

08:30 - CBS - Two and a Half Men
08:30 - NBC - Up All Night

09:00 - ABC - Grey's Anatomy
09:00 - CBS - Person of Interest
09:00 - CW - Beauty and the Beast
09:00 - Fox - Glee
09:00 - NBC - The Office

09:30 - NBC - Parks & Recreation

10:00 - ABC - Scandal
10:00 - CBS - Elementary
10:00 - NBC - Rock Center with Brian Williams

* CBS is going to give me a weekly dose of Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu? Yes, please, thank you! I know some are up in arms about it, but many of them act like Steven Moffatt created Sherlock Holmes or was even the first to place him in the present day.

* On the one hand, Last Resort has Andre Braugher commanding a nuclear submarine on the run after refusing to fire missiles without confirmation and taking up residence on a tropical island. That's a cool premise for a movie, but I'm not sure how you make a series out of it.

* Maybe I'll check Person of Interest out again. I watched the first few episodes while waiting for something else to start last year, and didn't feel the need to stick around, but didn't really dislike it.


08:00 - ABC - Shark Tank
08:00 - CBS - CSI: New York
08:00 - CW - American's Next Top Model
08:00 - Fox - Touch
08:00 - NBC - Whitney

08:30 - NBC - Community

09:00 - ABC - Primetime: What Would You Do?
09:00 - CBS - Made in Jersey
09:00 - CW - Nikita
09:00 - Fox - Fringe
09:00 - NBC - Grimm

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

* Wait, Touch sticks around but The Finder doesn't? That is just unfair and wrong, as Touch drove me away after two episodes with its stupidity (as much as I liked Heroes, even to the end, hearing about the golden mean seemed to collapse Tim Kring's mind).

* Only 13 episodes of Fringe, which at least will get a proper send-off. Like most sci-fi shows, its mythology came to dominate too much, but it stayed consistently fun and clever throughout. Please have Brad Anderson direct the final episode.


08:00 - ABC - Saturday Night College Football
08:00 - CBS - Repeats (Crime)
08:00 - Fox - Sports
08:00 - NBC - Repeats

09:00 - CBS - Repeats (Crime)
09:00 - NBC - Repeats

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

* I hear TV networks used to actually try on Saturday nights, once upon a time.


The Bachelor
Body of Proof
The Family Tools
How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)
Last Man Standing
Malibu Country
Red Window
(Celebrity) Wife Swap
Zero Hour

* I'm already hoping for The Family Tools to be mercy-killed so JK Simmons can move on to something good.

* Red Window has Rhada Mitchell, and is thus worth a look. Zero Hour looks likely to be a stupid conspiracy show, but could be kind of demented in scale.


Friend Me
Golden Boy
The Job

* With Blue Bloods still on the schedule, is CBS really going to have two shows about New York City police commissioners once Golden Boy premieres?


The Carrie Diaries

* I said it last year, but... Ugh. Why is this network still here?


American Idol (Tentative Wednesday and Thursday 8:00pm)
Animation Domination High-Def (Saturday 11:00pm)
The Cleveland Show (tentative Sunday 7:30pm)
Cops (tentative Saturday)
The Following (tentative Monday 9:00pm)
The Goodwin Games (tentative Tuesday)
Hell's Kitchen

* The Following is mildly interesting for having Kevin Bacon, but the "network of serial killers" idea seems a little much. Maybe I'm getting squeamish in my old age.

* Looking at this list and the stuff premiering in the fall... Fox's most intriguing new show appears to be The Mindy Project, a sitcom starring Mindy Kaling. She's great, but whatever happened to the daring, try-anything Fox?


Betty White's Off Their Rockers
The Celebrity Apprentice (tentative - Sunday 9:00pm)
Do No Harm (tentative - Sunday 10:00pm)
Fashion Star (tentative - Sunday 8:00pm)
Howie Mandel's White Elephant
Next Caller
Ready for Love
Save Me
Stars Earn Stripes
Surprise with Jenny McCarthy
1600 Penn

* Man, what is the hold that Howie Mandel has on NBC?

* Somehow, I've never seen a Hannibal Lecter anything. I'm not starting now.

* Even taking into consideration that the network will have time to fill on Sunday, once the NFL season finishes, this is not the bench of a confident network. There's both a lot of filler and expectation of attrition here (several returning comedies only have 13-episode orders).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 May 2012 - 24 May 2012

So, I didn't do this last week as I went head-down on IFFBoston stuff, and neither heard complaints not saw a really noticeable downtick in hits, but I found myself losing track of what was playing and what I wanted to see. So I'm back at it, just because I need to do so.

That last sentence likely describes blogging and writing in general.

  • It looks like a pretty unimpressive week in the mainstream theaters, and that's even with me being one of the few people who had been looking forward to Battleship. The way I figured it, it was a big blank slate with which Peter Berg could do any insane thing he wanted, and, hey, that's a fun cast. But successive trailers have done less and less as it looked more and more Transformers-like. It plays the Arlington Capitol, Fresh Pond, Harvard Square, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    Another movie with a potentially decent ensemble cast, What to Expect When You're Expecting, gives us several couples with kids on the way. There's some good folks in it - Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock, Anna Kendrick, Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Banks - so it could be all over the place. Plays at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Fenway, and Boston Common.

    A couple other things have already opened - Dark Shadows last week and The Dictator back on Wednesday. Johnny Depp and Sasha Baron Cohen with stupid haircuts. Both play the Somerville Theatre, Fresh Pond, Harvard Square, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    Boston Common also has a few limited releases opening. The most notable is likely Warriors of the Rainbow - Seediq Bale, which was Taiwan's submission to the Academy Awards last year. It's a big action/adventure about the native Taiwanese who rebelled against the occupying Japanese (including Masanobu Ando). Down the hall (awkward segue alert!), Native American teens compete in a lacrosse tournament in Crooked Arrows, with Brandon Routh apparently the biggest name, apparently as the father of one of the girls. There's also Mansome, the new documentary by Morgan Spurlock about male grooming. Man, I bet other documentary filmmakers look at his ability to get movies into theaters with immense envy.

  • Over at the Coolidge, Marley opens up in the GoldScreen after a run in Kendall Square, and Headhunters moves over to the screening room after opening there last week. On film, the new opening is Bernie, Richard Linklater's strange-but-true tale of mystery with Jack Black as a funeral director who insinuates himself into the affairs of a local widow (Shirley MacLaine), and Matthew McConaughey as the sheriff. Lots of people are mentioning Fargo when referring to it.

    In terms of special engagements, there's a couple of midnights: Friday and Saturday at midnight, there's Event Horizon, with Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill in an early flick by Paul W.S. Anderson, while Friday also features a "video mixtape" by the Whore Church, with a live heavy-metal pre-show. Sunday morning, director Robert Thalmeim will be present for the Goethe-Institut screening of Westwind, his film about two East German twins in 1988 who may find themselves pulled in different directions.

    And, on Monday, the Big Screen Classic is a great one - Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, one of the all-time great screwball comedies, with Hepburn as a dizzy heiress fixated on Grant's paleontologist. Every minute of this is hilarious.

  • Bernie also opens at Kendall Square, as does another movie by a frequent pair of collaborators. Lawrence Kasdan directs Kevin Kline in Darling Companion, in which he plays a man whose wife (Diane Keaton) loves her dog more than him... and who loses it. Sadly, it's been getting toxic reviews. They also open Surviving Progress, a documentary about "progress traps", tempting advances that may have deleterious long-term effects, and The Hunter, with Willem Dafoe as a big-game hunter who comes to Tasmania to try to catch the last Tasmanian tiger.

  • The Brattle has a couple of small premieres for the weekend. The Color Wheel has director Alex Ross Perry and Carlen Altman playing bickering siblings trying to put up with each other as they help each other move, while God Bless America is the latest from Bobcat Goldthwait, featuring another male/female pair, this one fed up with modern American life and looking to kill the worst aspects of it. God Bless America has the late shows (9:45pm, with midnight on Friday and Saturday) while The Color Wheel runs earlier.

    After that, there are a number of one-night bookings: On Monday Night, the Massachusetts Campaign for a US Department of Peace & Nonviolence presents The Dhamma Brothers with filmmaker(s) in person to discuss their film about how a mediation program changed an Alabama prison. Tuesday's guest is the comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, who present their spoof Freak Dance. No guest Wednesday, because that's when the new 35mm print of F.W. Murnau's Sunrise finally arrives for a "Wordless Wednesday" screening. And on Thursday, "Reunion Weekend" begins, with a 25th Anniversary double-feature of The Princess Bride and Spaceballs.

  • ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater actually had The Color Wheel last year, and has more recent indie films this weekend as part of their "Festival Focus" series. Joachim Trier's Oslo, August 31st has single shows on Friday and Saturday; it follows a Norwegian man at the end of his drug rehabilitation program who may be on the brink as he heads to the city for a job interview. Neighboring Sounds comes from Brazil (and the consulate is making the Friday night screening a free one), with Kleber Mendonça Filho observing a tense neighborhood through the eyes of the private security firm hired to patrol it.

    Saturday and Sunday afternoon, meanwhile, are taken by French Cancan, a 1954 "Renoir in Technicolor" entry, with Jean Gabin as the founder of the Moulin Rouge who started the cancan craze.

  • Apparently, by not doing this last week, I missed the start of The Story of Film at the MFA, a fifteen-part series being (mostly) shown in chunks of two episodes. Episodes #3 to #10 play over the weekend, with #9 through #11 playing Wednesday and Thursday. The other "Exclusive Screening" is Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a re-presentation from the Boston Turkish Film Festival that starts out as the search for a missing person and expands into a broader examination of Turkish life; it plays Friday evening and Saturday morning.

  • The Harvard Film Archive presents "The School of Reis: The Films and Legacy of António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro this weekend and next; it features a more-or-less even split between movies made by the influential Portuguese filmmakers and the artists they influenced.

    Less heavy - a Sunday afternoon screening of BMX Bandits as part of "Bay State Bike Week", featuring a very young Nicole Kidman as one of a group of teenagers getting into mischief (and paired with an I Love Lucy episode, so you get bonus redheads on bikes!).

    Monday night's screening, part of their continuing "¡Qué Viva Eisenstein!" series, is two incomplete Sergei Eisenstein films: ¡Qué Viva Mexico!, shot in 1931 but left incomplete when the producer backed out and the director was recalled to the Soviet Union, is a mostly complete history of Mexico missing its climactic sequence (assembled by Grigori Aleksandrov after Eisenstein's death), while "Bezhin Meadow" only survives as a half-hour collection of stills.

  • The Regent Theatre has one more screening of Yellow Submarine, Saturday at 10:30am.

  • Fresh Pond opens a new Hindi action movie, Department, about a special police unit that is later accused of corruption. I can't find much English-language infomration on it, but director Ram Gopal Varma is a big enough deal that his new films are an event (though I must admit, the one I've seen, Rann, didn't do a whole lot for me).

My plans? Not really set in stone aside from Warriors of the Rainbow - Seediq Bale. I suspect that I will be weak and see Battleship and/or Darling Companion, even though I have been thoroughly warned. I also want to see Sound of Her Voice, and had better hop to it, as it's been cut down to half-a-screen at the Kendall after opening last week.

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.08 (Closing Night, Wednesday 2 May 2012): The Queen of Versailles

And the last night, as usual, comes at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, in the big room. We all know what that means - duck!

IMAG0097, Look out, the IFFBoston staff has prizes!
The IFFBoston staff has prizes for you - look out!

Apparently, the festival staff did not get rid of all of the previous year's t-shirts a week earlier at opening night. They also had plenty of chips from Utz and fruit bar things from another sponsor that they were determined were not going to sit around in their pantries. A surprising number of them found their way to the older lady sitting next to me, and I won't say that I wouldn't have preferred she snack on those rather than the gigantic, smelly pickle she did pull out.

IMAG0096, The IFFBoston staff at the Coolidge Corner Theatre

After that, the award winners were announced - find them here - and seeing as I didn't see many of them, I've got little to say about that, other than that Fairhaven may have benefited from a large contingent of locals voting in the audience award. Awards at film festivals are an odd thing, even compared to the end-of-year variety; when you see the laurel-leaves on posters or packages, you've really got no idea what the competition is or who the voters are. It's weirdly without context, but the potential is apparently tempting. Still, based on what I did see, some of these must have been pretty good to edge them out, so congratulations.

IMAG0098, "The Queen of Versailles" director Lauren Greenfield at the Coolidge Corner Theatre for IFFBoston's closing night

This is, I think, the second time I've seen Lauren Greenfield at IFFBoston; she was here six years ago with another documentary, Thin, which I quite liked, and she's had a documentary short here at some point in between. She answered a few questions about the subjects, with a great deal of the interest being related to one of Jackie's friends back in her home town and her comment to Greenfield (alluded to in the view) that the director perhaps knew her husband's mind better than she did at that point. Greenfield talked about finding a somewhat unexpected love story in the movie, which wasn't exactly what she expected. For the most part, though, the film spoke for itself.

And so, the festival ended, the folks in those top two bits of Horrible Photography had a good night's sleep, and got started planning the 2013 festival the next day. For my part, it's time to start focusing on Fantasia Festival -- anybody want to split a room in Montreal this July/August?

The Queen of Versailles

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

Times are tough for everybody, although "tough" can be a relative concept. The further you get from the bottom, not only does it get further from what many would consider really difficult, but harder to sympathize, at least in the abstract. The Queen of Versailles aims to make the abstract specific, and if not sympathetic, at least interesting.

Jackie and David Siegel can be seen as the epitome of conspicuous, wasteful consumption. As the film opens, Jackie is 43 and David is 72, with seven kids of their own and one niece of Jackie's that has come to live with them. David is a billionaire, having built a time-share empire from the ground up, and while they currently live in a twenty-six thousand square foot home, they are building a much larger Versailles-style mansion - at ninety thousand square feet, it would be the largest single-family home ever built in America. At least, they are until the financial crisis, when people stop spending on things like timeshares just as David is trying to open a massive new property in Las Vegas.

The Siegels live large as the movie begins, arguably grotesquely so. The parties with every entry in the current Miss America pageant are kind of amusingly grandiose at times, sure, but it's the ingrained excess in other places that may make the audience uneasy. It's not enough to have one badly-trained, yappy little dog, for instance; Jackie has many and has had many more. A comment she makes about nannies making it easier to have kids kicks that feeling up to the next level. The palace that they intend to build is the most obvious example, but in some ways, as much as it's gaudy, it's just building a nice house with all the amenities they can afford; it's amplified, but not different, compared to a random audience member's desires and experiences.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Independent Film Festival Boston 2012.07 (Tuesday 1 May 2012): Paul Williams Still Alive and Rubberneck

Ah, the Tuesday of IFFBoston. The "showcase day", when the festival shows two movies that aren't deemed to be opening/closing night material but are worthy of being shown without alternative screenings. During the three previous years, a different venue got this day (the ICA in 2009-2010, with a tendency toward documentaries on the creative process; the Stuart Street Playhouse last year, in what amounted to the venue's swan song); this year, it was at the Coolidge, although upstairs rather than in the main theater.

IMAG0092, Paul Williams Still Alive director Stephen Kessler at the Coolidge Corner Theatre for IFFBoston 2012
See? "Cooldige" behind Paul Williams Still Alive director Stephen Kessler.

This was kind of an interesting Q&A, if only because it occasionally made me wonder whether Kessler completely recognized what film he was making. He mentioned at one point that Paul saw it as a film about recovery, but the expression he gave indicated that he really didn't see it that way. Talking with my friend Beth afterward, though, she sort of had the idea (which I, admittedly, run with in the review) that it was less about Paul's recovery then Stephen's, with Paul as the counselor who eventually weans him off low self-esteem and fantasies. It's perhaps an unusual take, and from the way he talked about working with his editors (who had to convince him to put himself into the movie), it almost seems to have made it into the movie completely as subtext.

Or at least, it sounds that way from the way he talked about it. I doubt that one can make a movie that holds together that well by accident, especially since that seems to be such a major theme. Maybe he, much like Paul, doesn't really want to talk about himself, and so downplays that.

There were, of course, the inevitable questions about whether Paul is working on anything, leading to the much-repeated news that he's collaborating on something with Daft Punk, which should be interesting, if nothing else. And whether they still hang out together, which led to this:

IMAG0093, Paul Williams Still Alive director Stephen Kessler phones Paul Williams during the Q&A

Mr. Williams seemed surprised by the call, but really, you'd have to think this was inevitable.

(Yeah, I know that photo looks worse. I have no idea why the Coolidge uses those red lights during the Q&As other than maybe wanting only the official photographers with huge flashes to have usable pictures. I have no idea how that first one came out well.)

After that, a quick trip to the lobby before it was time for Rubberneck:

IMAG0094, Cast & Crew of Rubberneck, Coolidge Corner Theatre, IFFBoston 2012
Cast & Crew of Rubberneck, with writer/director/star Alex Karpovsky holding the mic.

As you might expect for a movie shot and set in Boston with a ton of local actors and crew had a lot of guests.

I kind of wish I liked it more. I saw what I think is Karpovsky's first feature, The Hole Story, at the same festival (in the same room!) about seven years ago, and while he's got access to some better equipment and has improved technically in many ways, I think that in some ways, Rubberneck is weaker in part because it's more sound. The Hole Story wound up losing the plot but had Alex playing a main character that was something of an individual, while there's nothing terribly odd or illogical about what happens in Rubberneck (by true-crime standards), but it winds up very generic.

And with that, it was time to get home and sleep fast before work and the last day of the festival.

Paul Williams Still Alive

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

It's okay to look at the title of Paul Williams Still Alive and have a reaction somewhere between dismissal and dread. Documentaries about musicians who have faded into obscurity in part due to substance abuse are so common that festivals might as well list them as their own program. This one, at least, finds a couple of ways to present things differently, although the results are a somewhat mixed bag.

It's easy to be wary of these differences from the start, when director Stephen Kessler's description of Williams's career as a singer/songwriter/celebrity in the 1970s focuses just as much on how he viewed it as an awkward kid in New York as it does on Williams's actual work, if not more so. For all that he was a huge fan, Kessler assumed (as many did) that Williams had died sometime in the 1980s, only to learn of the man doing an appearance at a screening of Phantom of the Paradise (the truly bizarre 1974 Brian De Palma update of The Phantom of the Opera in which Williams played the villain as well as writing the songs) in Winnipeg. Once there, Kessler asks permission to tag along and make a documentary on Williams's life and career, although Williams often proves to be a reluctant subject.

Paul Williams Still Alive won't necessarily be disappointing to those looking for a straightforward biography, but there's a lot of Stephen Kessler in the movie, even if he does not always appear on camera all that much. It's a balance that the movie quite often struggles with; having an idea of just how intrusive and annoying having someone chronicle your life can be makes Williams's clear annoyance at various points funny as opposed to really uncomfortable, but Kessler lays it on rather thick at times. The filmmaker's initial fannish excitement at hanging out with Williams the way he'd dreamed of doing as a kid giving way to the discovery of a real human being rather than just a celebrity persona eventually becomes the actual story the movie tells. There are a lot of times, especially toward the start, when many in the audience will wish for Kessler to fade into the background because he's not what they came to see, and even when he starts to feel more integral, that first impression can be hard to shake.

Full review at EFC.


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2012, digital)

It doesn't happen very often, but Rubberneck is almost too simple to classify. It's got characteristics of both a thriller and an indie drama of the character-study variety, but the only thing that seems unique about it is the setting, which doesn't contribute much to making the action interesting.

One night after a research laboratory's holiday party, scientists Paul (Alex Karpovsky) and Danielle (Jaime Ray Newman) hook up. That's enough for Danielle, but eight months later, Paul is still hung up. Kathy (Dakota Shepard), the girl he sees on occasion, bears a strong resemblance to Danielle, who finds herself attracted to new hire Chris (Dennis Staroselsky), not aware of just what sort of issues Paul has had since he and sister Linda (Amanda Good Hennessey) were abandoned by their mother.

Simplicity can be a fine thing for a movie like this; it would be easy for Karpovsky (who also directs) and co-writer Garth Donovan to pile subplots and twists on top of their story, but they opt not to. If there were more to that story, that would be admirable, but Rubberneck is so straightforward that some sort of digression might be welcome. Instead, it follows an uninspiringly logical outline, maybe not quite predictable but seldom surprising, with one thing leading to another without any sort of random event that might make the audience reconsider what is going on.

Full review at EFC.