Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I had a pass for a preview downtown, but it was pretty clear even before heading to work that I was not getting there by the time the movie starts, let alone in time to wait in a line full of other passholders. Heck, I was kind of shocked that I managed to make it to the 7:05 screening of Quartet.

Then, it came time to sleep fast, because company meeting was the next day and I had to be at work an hour earlier than usual for a day that wouldn't end until nine pm.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 January 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run, 2K digital)

Quartet is directed by Dustin Hoffman, who has spent roughly the last forty-five years in front of the camera with just one abortive attempt to go behind it. So it should be no surprise at all that he sticks to what he knows and makes a movie that is just full of acting. The good news is, it's also full of fine actors who are well worth the price of admission.

The Beecham Home for Retired Musicians is pretty nice, as those places go: A beautiful old house, well-maintained grounds, and a chance to live out one's latter years surrounded by friends with whom one shares a common interest. Among the residents are Wilfred Bond (Billy Connolly), whose roguish nature is only exaggerated by the stroke he suffered some years back (or so he says); Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilf''s best friend who fills his time teaching opera to local teenagers; Cicely "Sissy" Robson (Pauline Collins), a bubbly sort whose dementia is getting worse; and Cedric Livingston (Michael Gambon), who is busily planning the annual fundraising gala held on Verdi's birthday. They're soon joined by Jean Horton (Maggie Smith), famous in part for a Verdi quartet she performed with Reg, Wilf, and Cissy - and for having briefly been married to Reg - who naturally has trouble adjusting to her new circumstances.

There is, of course, talk of how Beecham may have to close without the funds raised by the gala, and wouldn't a reunion of these four great operatic voices on stage be a fantastic draw, but to the credit of Hoffman and Ronald Harwood (adapting his own play), that's not a source of suspense so much as it's a reason to keep the characters from staying where they start the movie - a little push in the right direction, not a large one. It's there, it gives the movie a logical place to end and reason to do certain things simultaneously rather than in sequence, but the problem to be solved never comes close to overshadowing the actors and their performances.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Monday, January 28, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 21 January 2013 - 27 January 2013

I've been seeing a whole bunch of people talking about the pace at which they're seeing movies to start the year, and I must admit that I am not keeping up a comparable pace:

This Week in Tickets

Just a couple of movies seen this week: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters on Friday and Parker on Saturday. Truth be told, there wasn't a whole lot playing before they opened that I was excited to see even if the commute didn't tend to work out as too late or too early depending on the theater. There was Amour, but it's kind of hard to psych oneself up to see Michael Haneke's latest crushing opus.

I wound up writing eFilmCritic reviews for both, likely in part because the guy who normally covers the new releases, Peter Sobczynski, is one of a number of Chicago critics who is helping Roger Ebert out while he's at reduced capacity. So, while he's doing work for the Sun-Times, there's a hole to be filled at EFC (which may be getting a few more visitors with one of its main guys having a higher profile). That led to mornings and early afternoons the next day spent writing, followed by... well, spending a few hours reading comics. The French sci-fi I read Sunday was particularly fun.

I was going to see one more, but Sunday night was kind of a mess. I kind of knew I was cutting my attempt to see Barbara close, at least by the times listed on the phone's bus-tracker app, and as I stood waiting and rode on the bus, it slipped until "five minutes to spare" became "ten minutes late", which doesn't get you into one of the small screening rooms even if you're inclined to miss the first few minutes. So, onto the T to head downtown, where I figure I'll use MoviePass to see Movie 43, but the universe appeared to have pretty strong ideas on that: First, the mobile site wouldn't confirm my location, forcing a call to customer service. Then the kiosks were having connection issues with the credit card company, then one wouldn't authorize payment from the card, prompting another call to customer service. Then I tried the box office, where the person manning it said they'd been having trouble with cards all day, then no authorization, then when I call customer service, the system appears to be flooded or down, so... Well, back home. From the reviews, I was done a favor. And since I'm not likely to have a lot of time this week to catch it again, I'll never know how big a favor.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Does one movie being released help get related ones on video any more? Because if so, maybe Parker can do the world a little good by getting Point Blank released on Blu-ray. And maybe the original theatrical cut of Payback as well (I like the "Straight Up" Director's Cut quite a bit, but wouldn't mind having both in HD). And the ones with Jim Brown and Robert Duvall as well. Similarly, I'd love it if The Last Stand convinced some enterprising distributor to finally put A Bittersweet Life out on region 1/A-friendly media, especially with Lee Byung-hyun showing up in a couple English-language movies this year as well (G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Red 2).

But, anyway, about Parker: There's a moment in this movie (mentioned in the review) which feels tremendously off to me to the point where I want to figure out who, exactly, is to blame, because it seems like it represents a fundamental bad decision being made, and I don't know whether it was casting Jennifer Lopez or what the writer and director wanted her to do. It's when she's figured out that Parker isn't who and what he says he is, confronts him, and she takes him up to the office to lay her situation in front of him. She gives a pretty great speech, about how her ex-husband and divorce put her in debt, she's pushing 40 and knows her opportunities aren't going to keep coming, and she's stuck with her mother who won't kick off, and it's during that last bit that the words, at least, suddenly resolve themselves as being noir as hell - it is a classic femme fatale "this is what turns a woman hard and now I'm just as dangerous as any man" monologue. I suspect it comes straight from the book, and the only problem is that Jennifer Lopez seems all wrong for it; too nervous and almost sobbing and vulnerable. Was she just the wrong choice here, or did Hackford and writer John J. McLaughlin have the wrong approach, trying to make too many of the characters in a hard-edged crime novel nice?

Admittedly, I haven't read any of the Parker novels recently; my exposure to the character mostly comes from Darwyn Cooke's great comic adaptations and the two filmed versions of The Hunter, but there's a reason Payback was tagged with "time to root for the bad guy": Parker's code is less moralistic and more stubbornly about seeing that accounts are square with him. The way he talks to hostages isn't necessarily a sign that he's a nice guy underneath, but a skill he's developed to keep the situation under control because cops spend a lot more time on crimes where civilians die than where they don't.

It does kind of strike me, though, that there aren't a whole lot of great choices for casting someone like Parker right now. The joking about Mel Gibson having a real cro-magnon look to him in Payback was funny but also sort of exposes that there aren't necessarily a whole lot of rugged-looking guys playing lead parts in the movies right now. Daniel Craig and Clive Owen could be Parker, I guess (as could Gibson if he wasn't utterly radioactive), but who from the US? We seem to be cranking out blandly handsome leading men these days without a whole lot of variety. My first thought when trying to figure out who'd be better than Statham was Matthias Schoenaerts, but if Statham's accent struck me wrong...

Oh, and speaking of casting: I like Jennifer Lopez, but the shots of her butt in this were kind of weird. I get that a big part of her appeal is that particular asset, but there was a shot or two that was just 'hey, Leslie's got J-Lo's ass!" that, aside from getting a few whoops from the audience kind of take the viewer out of the movie for a second, reminding them of the actress rather than the character. Seems like something you shouldn't be looking to do.


* * (out of four)
Seen 26 January 2013 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, digital)

On its own, Parker isn't a particularly terrible movie. It's kind of filler on the calendar, and not close to the best work of stars Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez, but also far from their worst. There's worse ways to spend two hours. But consider that this can be considered a sequel to Point Blank or Payback, and it's apparent just how far off the standard it is.

Parker (Statham) is a veteran thief who, working with a new crew, heists roughly a million dollars from an Ohio state fair as the movie begins, although it doesn't go as smoothly as he would like - and that's before Melander (Michael Chiklis), one of his fellow thieves, pulls a double-crosses, takes the money to invest in a new caper, and leaves Parker for dead. He should know better, as Parker survives and tracks Melander and company to their next job in Palm Beach, eventually falling in with struggling realtor Leslie Rodgers (Lopez) as he plans to hijack the new score.

The protagonist of a long-running series of novels by Donald E. Westlake writing as Richard Stark, Parker has come to film before in many forms and under a variety of names (the only time Westlake allowed the character to be called "Parker" in an adaptation is in Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel versions; this adaptation of Flashfire was produced after Westlake's death), and that puts Jason Statham in an tough spot - Lee Marvin especially casts a long shadow (not to mention Mel Gibson, Robert Duvall, and others) even though Statham is playing a very different conception of the character. Statham's Parker has not so much been softened as smoothed out compared to the blunt force of nature he is elsewhere, and even done well, that's going to seem less exciting.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

I try to ignore box-office stuff, but I just read that Mama is leading the weekend again, and... really? It's kind of a not-good mess, and it's going to beat out both The Last Stand - which is a darn good action movie - and Hansel & Gretel - which is far from perfect but does as good as any movie at delivering loopy fun? That's just not right. It's not right at all.

Anyway, I talk in the review about how Hansel & Gretel director Tommy Wirkola has some pretty clear Sam Raimi influence in his work, but stopped after a bit because if I don't control myself, I'll look at the entire genre through Sam Raimi-tinted glasses. Still, it's pretty direct. I mentioned in my review of Dead Snow that bits of that reference Evil Dead 2 directly enough that I expected to learn the Norwegian word for "groovy"; that makes Hansel & Gretel something akin to his Army of Darkness - set in medieval times, taking great pleasure from tossing his stars around, and lots of big practical-make-up monsters and witches. It's also pretty funny.

I kind of wish this was the sort of movie that could do well enough to really boost some careers. Not necessarily Jeremy Renner's - I sort of waver between thinking he's kind of bland here and that he's doing something really clever in playing Hansel as a weirdly virginal swashbuckler who just represses everything. He doesn't talk about his parents, seems just thoroughly confused by a girl showing interest in him, and states that he tends toward the set on fire and ask questions later school when it comes to accused witches. I half-think that the movie was going for a spoof on religious zealotry, where people with little experience with human interaction try to determine what is and isn't reasonable behavior, but it never quite comes together. Meanwhile, Gemma Arterton is pretty darn good, although her accent distracted me a bit; I know she's English but she goes North American to match Renner, and it's almost like she gets all the inflections right but doesn't quite know how to emote with it, so her normal accent pops back up in spots. I liked her here, but I think I'd kind of like to see her in something more challenging again; looking at her filmography, there's not much there that's nearly as good as The Disappearance of Alice Creed (although Tamara Drewe is pretty decent). She's certainly built for this sort of mainstream part, and you might as well do them while people are paying you to be pretty, but enough of that may make people forget you're capable of more.

Speaking of, I saw on IMDB that Famke Janssen took the villain role because her house needed paying off. Gotta respect that, actually, especially since she didn't half-ass her way through it. It was odd seeing her use an accent, though - I've been a fan since she appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the only time I can recall her sounding anything other than American is GoldenEye, where the Russian accent was rather put-on. Heck, when she appeared at IFFBoston for Turn the River, she sounded like a native rather than someone from the Netherlands.

Anyway, I had fun with this, and it was nice to hit the Somerville Theatre again for the first time in a while (MoviePass's changes have really skewed where I see movies over the past few months). Dave The Projectionist mentioned on the Boston SF message board that he had the 3D looking pretty good for digital, and it did look fairly good for 2K resolution. I half-wonder how adjustable the lighting is for digital projectors and if Dave cranks it up for 3D; he's known for projecting things bright while 3D is known for suffering for lack of brightness. I've read a few comments in various places about how 3D-ifying a movie that has so much action at night was a horrible idea because as a result you can't see much, but I didn't have any issues with that.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 January 2013 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, RealD 3D)

When last we saw Tommy Wirkola, he took the high concept of "zombie Nazis" and made Dead Snow, a low-budget Norwegian action-horror movie that made up for a lot of shaky elements with sheer enthusiasm. It got Hollywood's attention, and after a bit of a delay he's back with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, whose high concept is right in the title, and while more in the way of resources doesn't mean perfection, the glee at making a nutty movie still helps a lot.

The Brothers Grimm published the fairy tale two hundred years ago: A brother and sister are left in the woods, find a house made of candy with a witch who wants to fatten them up and eat them, only to have the tables turned and wind up in her own oven. After the fairy tale ends, the orphans kept killing witches, and making good money at it to. Now, the mayor of a small German town has hired Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) to find the witch who has kidnapped ten local children. The Sheriff (Peter Stormare) thinks an immigrant, Mina (Pihla Viitala), to be a likely suspect, but the siblings soon find something bigger is going on: Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) has big plans for the upcoming Blood Moon.

The tone of the movie is established early on - yes, the young Hansel and Gretel have a decidedly non-slapstick fight for their lives, but the audience's first glimpse of the movie's "present day" is illustrations of the missing children tied to glass milk bottles in a bit of obvious but kind of amusing anachronism. Historical verisimilitude is not given a whole lot of consideration, especially once you get to Hansel's machine guns and the generally informal twenty-first century speech. It gives the movie a laid-back feel - they're not even pretending that this fits in any unnoticed corner of real history, just going for what's going to be fun for the audience.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Talk Cinema: Blancanieves

I missed the last Talk Cinema screening while I was in London, but since Quartet opened today, that's just money spent rather than opportunity lost. I actually didn't get much of a chance to look forward to this one, since it wasn't announced until pretty much the day before. The description didn't even say that it was an actual silent, just that it was silent-influenced, so that was a nifty surprise.

Gerald Peary introduced, and I kind of groaned a bit when he spent a lot of time talking about The Artist both before and after the movie. Sure, it's the obvious comparison, but it seems like an easy one that doesn't really tell us anything, especially since the two films were made roughly simultaneously. It seems like there would be much more to talk about by discussing the influences, both general and specific.

Also, it's not like The Artist is the only recent silent film. I get that very few people have had a chance to see Louis - from what I gather, it's not getting a release until it can play with Bolden!, which has finished shooting but the filmmaker anticipates screwing around with editing and post-production for another six months to a year - but Call of Cthulhu exists and I've seen a fair amount of silent shorts at festivals. Heck, just last year two Chinese films used silent movie bits for flashbacks (The Bullet Vanishes and Tai Chi Zero) - there's actually enough modern silent stuff to talk about to notice patterns.

For instance, one thing I've noticed is that expository intertitles are almost non-existent in modern silents compared to those made back in the day. If you watch an old silent movie, the title cards are actually used for much more than just dialogue, or introducing a character (which does occasionally happen in the new ones). At times, those old movies can feel a little like reading a book, as the scripter expands on a character's motives, explains what's going on, or fills in things that happen off-screen. Some of this is material that sound films will use dialogue to fill in, but modern silents will try to depict it visually in one way or another - either by doing the "show a newspaper" or adding an extra scene scene or just expecting the audience to take in and process more background detail. In some ways, it resembles how modern comics differ from their "Golden Age" ancestors (including the elaborate newspaper strips that preceded original comic books) - static images with captions has given way to dynamic action, thought balloons (often serving more as asides to the reader than what the character would actually be thinking) are gone, etc. Part of it's technology and budget; you can shoot (or draw) more elaborate things because of new devices, more comfort in reproduction, and longer schedules with more resources. But it's aesthetic, as well - modern moviegoers really do expect to be shown rather than told.

Anyway, there's a starting point. Here's the review of the movie for EFC; if you've seen the movie, stick around afterward for discussion of the ending, where the movie really lost me.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, digital)

Two movies based on Snow White came out in the United States last year, and that seemed a little excessive. That wasn't the extent of it, though - aside from the inevitable direct-to-video knock-offs, Blancanieves came out in Spain, and was even submitted as the country's entry in the Oscars' Foreign-Language Film category. And give it its due - as a silent, black-and-white film that imagines the characters as bullfighters, it won't be easily confused with other versions.

Once upon a time (roughly 1910), there was a great bullfighter, Antonio Villata (Daniel Giménez Cacho), who had a beautiful wife (Inma Cuesta), but their child would enter the world in tragic circumstances. As "Carmencita" (Sofia Oria) is raised by her grandmother (Ángela Molina), Antonio is seduced by his nurse Encarna (Maribel Verdú). Eventually the three are all living in the same house, and Encarna sees her now-grown stepdaughter Carmen (Macarena García) as a threat, and sends her driver and lover into the woods to dispose of her. Left for dead, she's discovered by a traveling troupe of midget bullfighters, who nurse her back to health and make her part of the act.

"Snow White" has been adapted as a feature-length film any number of times not just because it's public domain and famous and thus very appealing to cheap, risk-averse producers, but because the idea at its core - an woman who used her looks to get where she is feeling threatened by a younger, prettier girl - will probably always be something the audience will be able to hook onto. The trouble with the story is, it can tend to leave the Snow White character something of a blank, since any sign of actual ambition would serve to legitimize the villainess's fear and potentially make her too sympathetic a character. Sometimes the queen/stepmother/witch ironically makes Snow into an enemy by her actions, but that's not what happens here - Berger actually seems to go out of his way to prevent Carmen from actually doing anything besides learn bullfighting: He spends a long time on her childhood, doesn't establish a strong personality before the attempted murder, and then finds a reason for Carmen to just hang out with her new friends rather than address it.

Full review on eFilmCritic.


Blancanieves is a pretty good movie, even if it does have the Snow White problems I mentioned in the main review. I really do think they're kind of intrinsic to the concept and tough to get around - I remember being kind of frustrated with Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs even before I really started trying to work out how plots worked; I always think of Snow not doing much of anything active and the end really being pulled out of nowhere. I only saw Mirror Mirror out of last year's Snow White double feature - Tarsem Singh directing the funny one, I figured, had to be seen to be believed - and they had to work hard to get Snow active while still mostly sticking with the Disney story.

The end of Blancanieves is annoying beyond that, though. Carmen has to be given amnesia so that she doesn't do much to actually deal with Encarna, and then the traditional last act winds up hyper-compressed - Carmen starts to get snippets of memory back, Encarna hits her with the poisoned apple, dwarfs chase her to her death, then the coma and glass coffin. And then... nothing. No Prince Charming, no idea how long Carmen stays in the freak show with Rafita (I think), the handsome dwarf who loves her; no definitive resolution at all. Even a dark ending would be better than that, I think, especially since Rafita's affection was a minor enough subplot brought up late enough in the game that it's tough for the audience to feel anything but "that's kind of creepy" as he tends to her in the circus; there's just not enough to it for it to feel romantic or tragic. And while the dwarfs do chase Encarna down so that she's trampled by a bull, it is so completely off-screen that even if one doesn't argue that she could have escaped (highly unlikely), the audience still doesn't get the emotional release of seeing her done in, even if that does mean that both Encarna and Carmen & the dwarfs score a pyrrhic victory.

For that matter, the jump to the freakshow is awkward; as much as the reference to Freaks is probably well-intended, it's a new situation given very little time to establish itself, and not clear at all - several in the audience, including Peary, didn't quite catch that the person running the show was Carmen's agent, who tricked the illiterate Carmen into signing a lifetime contract. It's too fast, the illiteracy seems kind of odd itself (it seems hard to believe that neither her grandmother or father would have taught her to read in the twentieth century), and the shyster agent is a side story that the movie really doesn't need, especially since it's already got a villain in Encarna.

Basically, even the things that are resolved at the end don't feel resolved, so when the screen fades to black and the credits start rolling, it's unsatisfying, like Berger just ran out of time, and it really deflates what he'd been doing until then.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 January 2012 - 31 January 2013

Before getting to the stuff opening this weekend, its worth highlighting a couple of other ways to consider giving local theaters some money, as both the Brattle and the Coolidge are running fundraising drives to add DCP projection to their booths. Both are still committed to 35mm, but with studios dropping film even for their catalog, it's becoming sadly necessary, even for repertory engagements. The Brattle's fundraiser is a Kickstarter that also covers the installation of a new HVAC system; the Coolidge's is a Digital Cinema Challenge that is tied to state funds. Both are non-profits, and could really use the help by the end of February.

  • But what's playing at the places that already have digital? Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters has been delayed a few months both for a 3D conversion and because Paramount figured Jeremy Renner would be a bigger draw after The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy. It's also got Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, and Peter Stormare in a fun-looking story from the guy who did Dead Snow. It's at Somerville (3D only), Fresh Pond (2D & 3D), Boston Common (2D, 3D, and Imax-branded 3D), and Fenway (2D, 3D, and RPX 3D).

    As crazy as Hansel & Gretel may seem, it may not be the iffiest proposition this weekend - consider Parker, in which Jason Statham steps into the role of Richard Stark's master thief Parker (previously played under various names by Lee Marvin in Point Blank and Mel Gibson in Payback, among others). This doesn't adapt The Hunter, but another book in which Parker wants the money his partners in crime didn't give him. Jennifer Lopez is his unlikely ally, Michael Chiklis his antagonist. It's at Fenway and Boston Common. So is Movie 43 (also playing Fresh Pond), which crams 14 shorts and a whole mess of stars into 97 minutes.
  • The Brattle is having a Monty Python week, with the primary attraction being A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman, based on Chapman's book of the same name, built out of audio clips from Chapman, other Pythons, friends, and colleagues set to animation. It plays all week, with double feature screenings of And Now for Something Completely Different (Saturday), The Life of Brian (Sunday), The Holy Grail (Tuesday), The Meaning of Life (Wednesday), and Yellowbeard (Thursday). Liar's Autobiography is projected digitally; the co-features are listed as 35mm.

    In the middle of that is a Monday DocYard screening, Only the Young, which follows three teenagers in a California town that has been hollowed out by foreclosures and isn't close to anything. One of the directors, Jason Tippet, will be there for Q&A after the movie.
  • Kendall Square offers up Quartet, Dustin Hoffman's first film as director. It features Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins as former opera singers at a home for retired musicians who find old emotions coming out as they plan a benefit performance tied to Verdi's birthday. (Not to be confused with A Late Quartet). They also have a pair of single screenings: Bill W. runs again on Tuesday the 29th, and Sound City, a documentary-with-performances about a California recording studio where many of the greats cut rock albums.
  • Things pretty much stay the same at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, aside from Barbara taking back the 9:30pm show from the departing Searching for Sugar Man. The midnight show on Friday and Saturday is John Waters's Female Trouble; there's a Science On Screen presentation of Rushmore (Dr. Steven Scholzman will discus the adolescent brain) on Monday, but it's sold out except for maybe a few seats released that night. The same goes for the Sundance USA screening of The Lifeguard on Thursday the 31st, with director Liz W. Garcia on-hand for a Q&A after her Kristen Bell-starring movie about a girl who retreats back to her hometown when life in the city goes south.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues its Susumu Hani retrospective all weekend, with Hari in person for screenings of Nanami: The Inferno of First Love on Saturday, The Morning Schedule on Sunday, and Children Hand in Hand on Monday (all at 7pm). The series also includes She and He and The Song of Bwana Toshi on Friday and a set of short documentaries on Sunday afternoon.
  • ArtsEmerson has a weekend of films about transsexuality in all its various forms: Boys Don't Cry Friday evening, Paris is Burning Friday night and Sunday afternoon, Tomboy Saturday afternoon, XXY Saturday evening, and Transamerica Saturday night. Most play on 35mm, although Boys Don't Cry is projected from a DVD.
  • The MFA finishes its January calendar with the rest of The Boston Festival of Films From Iran, including The Iran Job (Friday & Saturday), One. Two. One (Friday), Nessa (Saturday), The Last Step (Saturday & Sunday), Reluctant Bachelor (Sunday), No Men Allowed (Sunday), and Modest Reception (Wedesday & Thursday).
  • iMovieCafe is offering an English-subtitled Hindi movie at Fresh Pond this week; Race 2 features Saif Ali Khan moving from South Africa to Turkey to avenge the death of... Well, I guess the folks who didn't survive Race. Abbas & Mustan Alibhai Burmawalla return as directors, and what looks like a pretty A-list cast of Anil Kapoor, John Abraham, Deepika Padukone, and Jacqueline Fernandez join them.
  • If you want to gear up for the upcoming Boston Sci-Fi Marathon and Film Festival, MIT is hosting their own 34th Annual Science Fiction Marathon on Saturday for $8 in Room 26-100, including Wall-E, Looper, a 50-minute surprise, The Andromeda Strain, and Galaxy Quest. The price goes down to $5 after Looper, pizza orders will be taken after Wall-E for midnight delivery, and all films are listed as 35mm (aside from the surprise, which is 16mm). Not a bad deal, especially if you can blend in with the college kids.

My plans? I've already got a ticket for The Lifeguard. Add Hansel & Gretel, Parker, Movie 43, and Quartet; maybe I can fit Barbara and Amour in as well.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 14 January 2013 - 20 January 2013

No, I didn't miss a posting; I just had one of those rare weeks where I didn't see movies due to low churn at the boutique houses and uninspiring choices at the multiplex. Plus one of those colds that borders on being the flu. Can't really say you're sick, since the food stays down, but you're not going to please anyone by leaving the house. So one page in the scrapbook stays blank until you get to this:

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Blancanieves at the Coolidge on 20 January at 10am.

Still not a big week, though one which (aside from Blancanieves, which has a mark on a multi-show pass instead of a ticket) divides into two parts. First was a bit of catch-up, seeing Promised Land on 35mm before it left the Coolidge (and the area, I think) and then Beasts of the Southern Wild on its re-release so that I could have one more movie to vote on before the Chlotrudis Awards nomination meeting. After that, mainstream releases that I would have seen anyway even if they didn't need reviewing on EFC: The Last Stand was a pretty darn good return for Arnold Schwarzenegger and English-language debut for Kim Jee-woon; Mama had its good moments but also its moments where things happen mroe because they happen in horror movies rather than they make sense.

In between, I went to the Chlotrudis nominations meeting, which was weird in that every previous year I've gone, it took place in at least six inches of snow which is still coming down on a cold, gray day. Having the walk be easy and then seeing things finish up in a relatively timely fashion (even if we never did get around to whether or not sequels/continuations are considered original or adapted screenplays) was kind of nice

Here's the list of nominees we set; I'm doing okay in being qualified for voting on most categories despite not having seen The Sessions or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. My nomination for Buried Treasure was A Simple Life, and, guys, I really thought it was available to watch on Hulu, though I apparently had it mixed up with A Beautiful Life (curse you, generic names!).

Promised Land

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, 35mm)

Promised Land presents itself as being about environmental and business matters: The dangers about extracting natural gas from the land via a process known as "fracking" and how casually corrupt corporate interests can run roughshod over small towns that need something to prop up their rickety economies and ways of life. And that's there, although the movie seems to carefully avoid taking any stance strong enough as to require defending. What it's really about is Matt Damon being charming.

It's not quite a vanity project for co-writer/producer/star Damon (who, apparently, was also slated to direct at one point, but a busy schedule passed that job to Gus Van Sant, who could probably use something commercial like this to fund some slow, artsy experiments) as much as it is him knowing his strengths and playing to them. And Damon is good at playing this kind of smart guy who's basically good not far under the surface; it's easy to like his Steve Butler and hope for his eventual awakening more than his defeat.

The rest of the cast is like that, too - Frances McDormand, John Krasinski, Rosemarie DeWitt, Titus Welliver, and Hal Holbrook all play folks the audience can understand and sympathize with even when they don't agree. And Gus Van Sant works with that nicely, with cinematographer Linus Sandgren catching the beauty of rural America without over-romanticizing it. Still, all that niceness makes the movie rather toothless, and what cleverness it displays in explaining why Krasinski's activist seems absurdly oversimplified doesn't make up for it. And the end is just too soft - not only does it reduce the protagonist's crisis of conscience to "will this girl like me?", but it pushes the very real questions it raises about how much of a future rural America has right out of the audience's mind, even though they should be genuinely troubling.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 January 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (awards re-issue, 2K digital)

During the Chlotrudis meeting (and in various other things I've read), there was some discussion about nominating Quvenzhané Wallis for Best Actress awards - does a fourth-grader really have the skill to act, to consciously make decisions about how to express a character's inner feelings, or is it more a matter of casting someone who matches the role, directing them closely, and then getting the good stuff in the editing room? Having watched Beasts of the Southern Wild, I suspect the latter is the case, but as I said in the meeting, the category is actually for "Best Performance by an Actor/Actress in a Leading Role", and we're awarding the end result, not the means by which the performer got there.

Wallis does, for the most part, get there, there's a very enjoyable toughness to Hushpuppy that complements her childish simplicity of thought well. Even when we're seeing Hushpuppy be self-reliant or independent, it feels like a kid with the capabilities of a kid, not someone who is mature, let alone wise, beyond her years. It makes a nice complement to Dwight Henry as her physically and emotionally unstable father Wink. Wink lashes where Hushpuppy retreats, and Henry does a pretty great job of making him as big and complete a mess as the post-flooding delta without ever seeming to play for the balconies.

Director Benh Zeitlin and the other filmmakers do pretty spiffy things with that environment, too. It's shot beautifully, as you may have heard, and the practical but effective effects used in conjuring Hushpuppy's imagined aurochs are nice too, but it's the way the part of Louisiana that the characters call "The Bathtub" is presented as a place with people in it that most impressed me. In last week's post, I mentioned not warming to Blues for Willadean in part because it seemed to look down on its characters in a way beyond them being flawed human beings, but Beasts avoids that. Certainly, the filmmakers don't always show their characters in the best light, but they do a very good job of showing the characters' world, warts and all, without ever seeming to condescend.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, digital)

This one will get a little more detail in a couple of days when I write up a full review, but my main reaction was that writer/director/producer Pablo Berger had a nifty idea for a movie to do in silent style, but really didn't have enough material for a feature. That seems an odd thing to say when there have been a whole bunch of other Snow White films made (including two others released last year), but most seem to struggle to give Snow any sort of standing as the protagonist, and that's what happens here - Berger actually seems to go out of his way to prevent Carmencita from actually doing anything.

There's other fun to be had - Maribel Verdú is a sexy, funny, villainous Wicked Stepmother, and I sort of love that at least one of the dwarfs is more than just part of an assemblage of sidekicks. Kiko de la Rica's cinematography is pretty nice, even if (like a number of recent silents) it does feel more modern than pastiche. Alfonso de Vilallonga's score is terrific, a nice blend of traditional bullfighting fanfares, flamenco, and orchestral silent scoring that does an excellent job of holding the film together.

At least until the end, when... Man, I don't know what Berger was trying to get at. I'm not saying you have to go for the neat, happy Disney ending, but you need some kind of resolution. This thing just stops, and I honestly can't see how the rest of the movie could be said to be leading to that.

Full review at EFC.

Promised Land
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Last Stand

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Last Stand

The Last Stand seems like something of a fatalistic title for a movie whose star is attempting a comeback and whose director is trying to break into a new market, doesn't it? Not that I'd blame it for the movie's fairly disappointing opening weekend; there seemed to be a lot of factors there.

I think a big part of it goes to Arnold Schwarzenegger being old, the trailer playing that up, and age and experience isn't exactly what sells action to audiences. Oh, the Expendables movies do all right, because they've got a critical mass of star power and play on both real and inherited nostalgia. Just seeing an old guy try and succeed at a young man's game - and an old guy who isn't considered much of an actor - isn't quite what audiences are looking for.

And that "not considered much of an actor" bit is surprisingly important, because, when you think about it, we don't really have any people like Arnold Schwarzenegger today whose main function is to look the part of a guy who can handle himself in a big fight. He's been supplanted by Matt Damons, Jeremy Renners, and Liam Neesons, good actors who can play a lot of roles but don't bring the instant association with butt-kicking with them. That's not necessarily something you need for a movie like The Last Stand - it's not that bad acting would be considered a positive (Johnny Knoxville and Forest Whitaker both kind of hurt things, actually) so much as "good enough" is good enough, and feeling something intangible is just as important as any finer detail an actor with more varied talents can give.

It's a shame that people seemed to dismiss Arnold this weekend, because he gets the job done and there was a heck of an action movie built around him. Plus, this tanking probably means it will be some time before an American studio decides to give Kim Jee-woon the money to play with the big Hollywood toys again, and while I am perfectly okay with him continuing to make great movies in South Korea, I'm not going to be the guy that says there's any sort of inherent virtue limited means: Having North American resources didn't hurt Kim, and I'd have liked to see what he did with an even bigger budget.

Minor regret about the eFilmCritic review: I never did find a good spot to say, when talking about how the movie is occasionally played broad, that Kim/the movie isn't afraid of a little corn. Folks who have seen it will know why I wanted to.

The Last Stand

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2013 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, digital)

The Last Stand is an action movie for the folks who love action movies enough to look for the good ones. It doesn't try to clobber the audience with sheer size or try to trick them into thinking they've seen something cool with quick cutting. It may not even look like anything special to audiences jaded by the continual one-upmanship of blockbusters, but its ambition is to do most things a little better than one might expect, and it succeeds often enough for this to add up.

It starts at two ends of the road: In Las Vegas, FBI Special Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) is hoping for a quiet prisoner transfer of Mexican cartel boss Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega); down in Sommerton Junction, New Mexico, Sherriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his three deputies (Luis Guzman, Jaimi Alexander & Zach Gilford) are expecting a quiet weekend while most of the town heads on the road with the high school basketball team. Cortez escapes, of course, fleeing for Sommerton Junction and the border in a souped-up sports car, but a hitch in the plan implemented by his hired gun Burrell (Peter Stormare) may have Sherriff Owens waiting for him.

Cortez's escape plan is, of course, needlessly elaborate - it requires a ridiculous number of mercenaries at both ends and at least one point in between using some fairly specialized equipment - and the circumstances necessary on the other end for Owens and company to put up a fight (a mostly-empty town and a helpful gun nut) are just as unlikely. They at least have the virtue of being amusing, involving cranes and electromagnets and cars going two hundred miles per hour and machine guns where you'd least expect them. Andrew Knauer's script seldom uses absurdity as a short cut or a way to back out of a difficult situation; it always leads to something that is fun to see.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


It may mark me as a bad person to have even thought of this, but you've got to admit there's some truth in it: Given that this movie is about two practically-feral little girls taken from the woods and placed in a suburban home, it's continually surprising whenever the family's dachshund pops up safe and sound after last being seen with the kids. Heck, every time a scene with the dog ended, I'd check my watch, thinking this was the moment when the kids kill that wiener dog and eat it.

Which isn't to say I was disappointed when "Hansel" showed up later - who the heck wants to see that happen to a cute dog? - as much as I was disappointed that the movie wasn't going in the direction of creepy kids rather than ghosts. After all, kids who might be damaged by horrible trauma is disturbing; ghosts aren't quite in the same ballpark, especially since movies like Mama tend to make the rules up as they go along.

I spent some time thinking about how I approach horror movies and tweeting it; it's something I started thinking about when reviewing Buddy Giovinazzo's A Night of Nightmares at Fantasia this summer, wondering off-hand whether it's better for horror movies to have a consistent mythology or to embrace randomness. I tend to favor the first; I'm a right-brained person and I tend to feel like suspense comes from knowing what the options are, or at least thinking you do until the writer comes up with something that fits but the audience hadn't considered, for the characters' good or ill. I understand, though, that sometimes sheer randomness and unfairness is much scarier, and besides, if you cared about the mechanics of it all, you'd be watching science fiction rather than supernatural horror, right?

I think the happy medium for telling a good horror tale comes down to making sure that everything is based on a solid emotion, and the supernatural elements are that physically manifesting. So randomness works if the movie is based upon the fear of the unknown, but that's not really what's going on here. I figure every paranormal thing in Mama should be the result of a twisted maternal instinct, and I think the movie mostly works when that's what's going on. It's when other stuff happens of necessity - possessions, attempting to lure kids off a cliff, etc. - that things seem off, and not in a scary way. In some ways, it becomes less scary because these particular situations don't have the emotional backing to it and the audience can see the writer's hand. A lot of the last act of Mama has the title entity doing things not because they're an extension of its central urge, but because they are things that happen in horror movies. Why does Mama touching Annabel and Lucas slow them down and apparently drain their life force? Just because. The movie needs them to be rendered mostly helpless, and people have seen and accepted this happening before, but it doesn't feel earned, because it's not a part of what this ghost is about.

At least, that's the way I see it. Of course, it may be a fool's errand to try and break what makes horror work like this, but I think that even when there aren't specific rules to the game, there are forces at play, and knowing how to use them makes a horror story more effective.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2013 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, digital)

Did I miss some sort of event where moths became a primal human fear? They've been popping up in horror movies more and more lately, apparently as something creepier than a nuisance, so I guess they must scare someone. Granted, moths aren't the only part of Mama's mythology and story that seem random, but at least a fair amount of the rest seems to come from somewhere. Not all of it, though, and that's what makes Mama less than it could be.

It starts when an unhinged man takes his very young daughters and heads out of town, only to... Well, anyway, five years later, just as the man's brother Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is running out of money to continue searching for his missing family, the now-eight-year-old Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and six-year-old Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are found, practically feral. This is not the sort of instant family Lucas's musician girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain) was looking for, and the girls' aunt Jean (Jane Moffat) is seeking custody, but the scientist helping to re-acclimate them (Daniel Kash) offers them the use of a house if he can continue studying them - although he soon becomes convinced that the "Mama" whom Victoria says helped them survive might be more than an imaginary friend.

Andrés Muschietti directs and co-writes the script with Barbara Muschietti and Neil Cross, and while the main character arc he's basing the movie on isn't exactly original - Annabel is extremely pleased when a pregnancy test comes up negative at the start, so of course she'll have to assume responsibility for these kids! - it's something that speaks to enough people to work. Having up-and-comer Jessica Chastain (who, after Zero Dark Thirty, can probably be said to have up-and-arrived) is likely a huge help; she and Muschetti make Annabel unprepared and a little immature without making her ever come off as a terrible person. They even hit the right "unconventional, improvising single parent" notes without veering into sitcom territory.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

This Week Month and a Half In Tickets: 19 November 2012 - 6 January 2013

Didn't I make a resolution about this not happening outside of festivals this year? But, hey, cut me some slack - there were holidays and vacations and catching up at work from those things involved!

19 November - 25 November
26 November - 2 December
3 December - 9 December
10 December - 16 December
17 December - 23 December
24 December - 30 December
31 December - 6 January

This Week in Tickets

Busy, busy week - you'd hardly believe looking at the crowded nature of the page that I found time for a day-and-a-half trip to Maine for Thanksgiving. That was kind of weird, actually - all my brothers spent it at their in-laws, and while I got to see a couple of nieces for a while on Friday before they went down for a nap and I generally like most of my Dad's wife's family, it wasn't the same.

To Kill a Mockingbird

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Universal Centennial, 35mm)

Somehow, I had managed to miss seeing this one ever before, which is a crying shame. It is, as everybody knows full well, awfully close to a perfect movie.

That is, I think, because it pulls off its extremes with a grace that is quite frankly amazing. It builds up such a pure sense of goodness around Atticus and Scout and any number of other characters before delivering a crushing but inevitable injustice. That's the standard pattern of innocence shattered, and yet it plays less as devastation and destruction of illusions than a hope and belief that the next generation can do better.

Plus, Gregory Peck. He plays the greatest movie dad ever, and it's a performance that could be pure corn in lesser hands, but is just perfectly admirable here. The rest of the cast is fantastic, too, especially Mary Badham as Scout, and Robert Duvall is always welcome, even if it's a small (but crucial) role like Boo Radley.

The Thing (1982)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Universal Centennial, 35mm)

Let me tell you: One gets a lot of false positives searching this blog for "The Thing" to see if I've written about it before. It turns out I have - briefly, when it played the Marathon two and a half years ago , and in more detail when I watched the HD-DVD three years before that. Yeah, I know, HD-DVD.

Anyway, the movie hasn't changed, and the prequel/remake has come and gone without any ill effects on this one. It's still thoroughly creepy, and the special effects have aged pretty well. They don't necessarily look more realistic than modern CGI, but the 1950s-styled-but-much-better-looking spaceship in the opening sets a tone when combined with the Ennio Morricone score, and the way that the practical effects must be built winds up implying that conservation of mass is still in effect, and the bounds make things more tense.

The Sting

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Universal Centennial, 35mm)

It's not hard to love The Sting; its player-piano score, detailed Edith Head period costumes, precise explanatory titles, and basis of familiar tropes marks it as a throwback but not one intent on either mocking or deconstructing its genre or period. It's a 1930s con movie - nothing less, and nothing ostentatiously more.

Now, the score (Marvin Hamlisch and Billy Byers making good use of Scott Joplin compositions) isn't actually produced by player pianos, or wind-up devices of any sort, but it sort of has that mechanical feel at times, and while that can often be a bad thing, it works very well for this picture; it helps build the feel of a well-oiled machine whose workings the audience is invited to inspect. And yet, that's only half the movie; big chunks of the plot are cleverly improvised and the filmmakers demonstrate a fine knack for knowing just what to hold back to create surprises and twists without feeling like they're cheating the audience.

Plus, of course, Paul Newman & Robert Redford. It's one of those master & apprentice relationships where neither party seems to think too much of the other, likely because of how one is basically the other plus twenty-odd years, and they both turn on the charm in ways that make this pretty clear but not the point of the whole movie.

Slap Shot

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Universal Centennial, 35mm)

Slap Shot shares both a director (George Roy Hill) and star (Paul Newman) with The Sting, but where The Sting was a well-oiled machine, this one is apparent anarchy. It's one crude joke after another, and the storylines that could serve as an overarching theme or something redemptive show very little interest in going that route. It goes for the joke at every opportunity.

Of course, it's smarter and better-put-together than that. You don't have to scratch it much, if at all, to see that underneath the story about appealing to the baser impulses of the audience is a look at the desperation of the working class in hard economic times. Moving it slightly to the side takes the edge off, so it's not depressing in the way movies about factories closing down are, while still getting the idea across - a candy coating on a bitter pill. And while it always goes for the joke, it does so with the right tone for the moment, rather than being one size fits all.

Silver Linings Playbook

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2012 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, digital)

I'd forgotten that The Fighter was a David O. Russell film; someone else wrote the screenplay and it lacked the layer of absurdity alongside the drama that was a hallmark of the movies Russell did between 1994's Spanking the Monkey and 2004's I Heart Huckabees. Silver Linings Playbook is a lot closer to those movies, so it can, perhaps, be described as a nice return despite the existence of The Fighter.

Interestingly, it very pointedly lacks a stable center for the insanity to play against. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play characters with real mental health issues, and the way that's presented can sometimes be worrisome; their disorders manifest in ways that almost seem too entertaining. It's a thin line between feeling properly guilty when you laugh at their eccentric behavior and feeling the filmmakers are doing mental illness a disservice. Maybe Russell could have done better showing Cooper's Pat following his med schedule or otherwise recovering rather than just seeming to have a eureka moment when he figures the plot out.

I don't think you can say "that aside, this is a good movie", because that permeates the whole thing, but it does only make things shaky rather than knock them over. Cooper and Lawrence are both pretty fantastic, and there's a great supporting cast around them (including, yes, Chris Tucker). I kind of love that sports fandom plays more as a positive thing than an unhealthy obsession, and the way the movie embraces its Hollywood ending is quite nice indeed.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: London's Museum of Natural History (most of Sunday 2 December 2012).

Quite the short movie week, but for a good reason - as you can see from the gigantic tickets at the bottom of the page, I went on vacation in December. My flight to London left Friday night, with the idea being that I would stay up all night Thursday, fall fast asleep in my airplane seat at around 8:30pm, and then awaken when it touched down at about 7am, refreshed and ready to start the day.. This, it turns out, was not a good plan, even considering that I was at work until 10pm Thursday night because something Had To Be Done within a very short window.

I did see a few movies - the delayed CineCache screening of The Loved Ones and my last in the Universal series, Lonesome on this continent, and the remake of Gambit across the pond. Gambit wasn't my first choice that night - Google had me believing a certain cinema was nearby rather than far away, so I redirected myself to this one when I found it not there, and found myself amusingly confused by the horizontal posters, assigned seating, and lobby that operated more like a convenience store than a traditional concession stand.

The Loved Ones

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (CineCache, DVD)

Finally, this movie hits Boston. I saw it at the 2010 Fantasia Festival, saw Paramount sit on it until The Devil Inside was a surprise hit, only to have the "release" be "making it available via Tugg" (honest question - is Tugg useful for anyone outside Austin?), that be an edited version, and the home video release only be DVD rather than Blu-ray. Seriously, Paramount, this is a great movie and you punted most of the year? That a snowstorm wiped out CineCache & the Brattle's Halloween screening was just insult to injury.

Fortunately, it's still a pretty great movie. The promotion for this screening tagged it as a horror-comedy, which I think does it a great disservice - it's not jokey in the least, and the character that might otherwise be played as comic relief is there as much to tie saddest character in the movie to the action as make the audience laugh. Indeed, what I think is exceptional about The Loved Ones, even more than the inventive violence (which is not for the squeamish), is that for what seems like a mere slasher or torture-porn flick, it's as much concerned with getting how devastating a loss can be across as traditional thrills.

Full review at eFIlmCritic.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 November 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Universal Centennial, digital)

Lonesome is a pleasant, interesting curiosity from the period when silent movies were awkwardly evolving into talkies, a simple thing about a man and a woman who live workaday lives, meet, get separated, and, well, anybody can probably guess how it ends. It's got occasional Harold Lloyd co-star Barbara Kent as the girl and likable Glenn Tyron as the guy, and there's enough spark between them that the I-know-we've-just-met-but-this-may-be-true-love urgency works.

At least, during the silent sequences. With sound starting to hit theaters, Universal added three or four scenes with sound, and only one really matters to the plot; the others just have Mary & Jim sitting in one spot, declaring how sad it is to be lonely and how much they love each other as much to the audience as each other. They're static and repetitive and kind of dull compared to the creative and active screen when the soundtrack is just used for underscore. Even the police station scene which at least has a purpose in the plot seems to go round and round in circles.

It's a cute movie, fun if you like silents and interesting for how the switch to sound had its bumps.

Twelfth Night

Not a movie, but a play, although a large part of what drew me to it was that it featured people I knew from film and television: Stephen Fry, most notably, but also Colin Hurley from Black Pond. Plus, I've loved Shakespeare since junior high, and though The Globe wasn't doing shows when I was there, this one had premiered there and was an "original practices" production - all-male cast, costumes and props made with period-authentic materials and techniques, seating on the stage and the musicians on a balcony above.

Sadly, I couldn't get any pictures aside from this one of the theater itself; a "no photography" rule was being enforced even before the play started, probably because the actors were having hair, makeup, and costuming done right on the stage, which was actually pretty cool (it was neat to see a company that was working together on two shows simultaneously joking and laughing with each other), but we really don't need photos of a bunch of middle-aged actors in their boxers flooding the internet. After the show, they hung out again, auctioning things off for an actors' charity.

The show itself was pretty good, although I wish I had seen it on a different date - I think I had had four or five hours of sleep in the previous fifty-five or so. Fortunately, I wasn't in those on-stage seats (how bad would the occasional dozing off only to jerk back awake seconds later look?). Mark Rylance gave an exceptionally funny performance as Olivia, floating around the stage like a dotty Dalek and being wonderfully obtuse.

The next day was spent in the Natural History Museum, not far from the apartment where I was staying. You know it's a good natural history/science museum when the first thing visible upon entry is a dinosaur skeleton, and the rest of the building lived up to that - a whole exposition on dinosaurs, rooms full of other fossils, gems, a look into a storage room full of things preserved upside down in jars, Charles Darwin's pet tortoise (taxidermied and lost in the plentiful archives for a hundred years or so). My camera gave out by the end of the day, which was a crying shame.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: A second visit to the Natural History Museum (Monday 3 December 2012). The London Eye (Tuesday 4 December 2012), The Sherlock Holmes Museum (Wednesday 5 December 2012), The London Zoo (Wednesday 5 December 2012), The Benjamin Franklin House (Thursday 6 December 2012), The Cartoon Museum (Friday 7 December 2012), The British Museum (Friday 7 December 2012), Thames Tour (Saturday 8 December 2012).

I suppose I could run down all the cool, touristy things I did in London (which was awesome), but I think I'll just point you at my page of photographs on Facebook and piece it together from there. Otherwise, it's just a lot of "I saw that! It was awesome!

I'll also point to the reviews for Sightseers, The Hunt, and Skyfall, which I saw while on vacation as well.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: The Fifth Element (15 December 2012, Coolidge Corner Theatre #1)

After spending a week abroad, there was work to do. I didn't to much about catching up, either - it gets kind of nice to head to the office, come back, sleep, and repeat after so relentlessly entertaining oneself for a week. The only real exception I made for that was the Chlotrudis/CineCache presentation of Blues for Willadean, and... Well, I didn't rush to give it its own review despite there not being one on EFC like I did for Wagner & Me

Blues for Willadean

* * (out of four)
Seen 10 December 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché, video)

So, Chlotrudis folks, I know we've met her and she's nice and a decent character actress and it's kind of neat to spot her when she shows up in something, but can we agree that "featuring Beth Grant" is not a good reason to book a movie? Because while this probably wasn't worse than Sedona, it certainly wasn't good, and having to politely act like it was afterward because Ms. Grant came to present it was just awkward.

Admittedly, some of the reasons I didn't enjoy it were just part and parcel of what it is: A movie about spousal abuse set in a trailer park, featuring the sort of characters one stereotypically finds there. Not folks I'd typically look to hang around with, or a particularly uplifting story, so it's a question of execution, and I think playwright/screenwriter/director Del Shores does a lot of things that hurt it. I think the biggest problem is that he never finds a way to get the audience to a place where they really can respect the title character; the story seems to be coming at its story from a place of "even these people don't deserve this"; she's just pitiable and pathetic and surrounded by other trailer trash, given a bit of a boost because she's able to align herself better with tolerance toward blacks and gays later on. And while, yes, nobody, no matter how little one might think of them personally, deserves to be the victim of violence... That's a low bar to clear, isn't it?

And still, Shores need a crutch or two to get over it. There's a point where Willadean's violent husband (David Steen) comes home, sees her black neighbor (Octavia Butler) is visiting, and drops an n-bomb. And, yeah, I believe this is a thing that happens, but when race has pretty much been a non-issue up until that point, it just sucks all the air out of the room, and suddenly it's like we're supposed to hate J.D. for being racist (and disowning his gay son), as if domestic abuse wasn't enough! And then, of course, Chekhov's gun shows up, and after a whole movie of violence being bad and inexcusable... Well, you can guess how it goes.

It's no fun to say this isn't a very good movie, not just because it features a friend of the club: It has worthy subject matter and at least makes the attempt to show folks who are under-seen on the big screen. It just doesn't give them the treatment they truly deserve.

The Fifth Element

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 December 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (@fter Midnite, 35mm)

Something to remember when watching The Fifth Element: It came out two years before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and for as much heat as that movie and its follow-ups take, their virtual sets and human-scale CGI characters did produce a sea change in the standards for creating full science fiction and fantasy worlds on-screen. From the other side, something like The Fifth Element looks a little rubbery, a little incomplete, compared to the new standard, even though at the time, its world-building was best-in-class.

It still is, in a lot of ways - Luc Besson and company have designed the heck out of it, from Jean-Paul Gaultier's costumes to having Jean "Moebius" Giraud work on other aspects of the film's look. Besson really does capture the sexy, anarchic feel of a European bande-dessiné, if not quite to the absurd, violently insane level of Moebius's collaborations with Alejandro Jodorowsky. The story's flimsy, but it's enough to hang a lot of fun moments on. It keeps Bruce Willis from getting complacent, and while Milla Jovovich isn't doing much besides look pretty (and have people comment upon how pretty she looks) yet, they've got a fun supporting cast: Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, John Neville, Tiny Lister, and more, playing their parts just a little funnier than you might expect.

Yes, including Chris Tucker. This movie would be a lot less entertaining if Ruby Rhod were turned down even just a little bit.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 December 2012 in Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, 48fps RPX Real-D)

I've sort of been reserving my comments on this one; I decided to go see it in the high-frame-rate presentation for which director Peter Jackson shot it and the look of the film was so peculiar that I had a really hard time thinking of anything else. My impression wasn't so much of soaps or sports as much as it was the sort of film clip shot for educational use or as an introduction to a tourist attraction. Not necessarily bad - indeed, there are some 3D shots I don't think could be done nearly as well in any other format - but so different as to be very distracting!

(Also: I suspect that shooting in 3D means that Jackson and company were able to do much less forced-perspective, leading to many more shots that were obviously accomplished with doubles.)

The thing is, I'm not particularly keen on giving this another three hours of my time. As much as I liked the more kid-friendly vibe - appropriate given the source material - the whole thing just seemed too spread out, and I wonder if the very-late-in-the-game decision to make this three movies instead of two didn't mean placing an anti-climax at the finale. It's fun and I think the kids will enjoy it - the big action scene in the goblin cave is a blast - but I wonder if they'd enjoy it more if it didn't feel quite so random.

To be fair: I'm no particular fan of swords & sorcery, and my resentment at how much of Peter Jackson's career has been consumed by these midget movies is only amplified by the fact that when Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch are working on them, they're not making Sherlock, which is obviously much more important!

Killing Them Softly

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 December 2012 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, digital)

Andrew Dominik and I just aren't going to work out, are we? I found his The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford a slog, and while Killing Them Softly isn't nearly as bad, that's mainly due to there being less of it; it's still leaden and dragged down by metaphor that in and of itself isn't as clever as he thinks.

That metaphor, in this case, being a lot of radio and television clips with Presidential candidates Obama and McCain talking about the economy (the film is set in late 2008), meant as a parallel for how crooks robbing a poker game has resulted in a loss of confidence in the local underground economy, especially since the logical assumption is that it was once again perpetrated by the "banker" (Ray Liotta). It's not a bad idea, but the metaphor becomes intrusive without becoming particularly illuminating.

The main problem is much more basic, though: Killing Them Softly is boring. Moments of characters accomplishing something of consequence often happen off-screen, while precious run-time is wasted on James Gandolfini as a hitman too depressed to actually get around to shooting people, or Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn as the small time crooks who precipitated all of this just getting high. Richard Jenkins shows up to disarmingly deliver bureaucratic delays to Brad Pitt as the picture's "fixer", but he's just blandly professional.

You look at the story here, and there's no reason for it to be this dull, but I guess that's Andrew Dominik for you.

This Week in Tickets

Monday - blah - spurt!, with some Christmas shopping in between. I wound up spending almost all of Sunday at the movies (with an EFC review of The Central Park Five to show for it). That Christmas shopping almost made me late on Monday, but, fortunately, Magic Beans is just steps away from the Coolidge.

Faust - Eine deutsche Volkssage (Faust)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 December 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sounds of Silents, digital)

I just barely got there in time for the show to start, so my seat kind of stank:

"Silent" Film photo IMAG0289_zps1fcd4d4c.jpg

... but that's a heck of a set-up for a silent film. It's the Berklee Silent FIlm Orchestra and Video Game Music Choir, all set up to play a score written by their fellow students. Several different students scored different parts of the movie, but it came together pretty well.

The movie itself is kind of an odd duck to me; like a lot of stories with their roots in folklore, it's essentially using a grand concept to tell a story with a relatively small scale, and on top of that, it often doesn't seem nearly as horrific as what the director is going for. Faust occasionally seems a little self-centered when it comes to using the devil's gifts, but seldom really corrupt, and it seems to take Mephisto until late in the game to remember that he's the devil and playing fair is just not his thing.

Still, the movie's got F.W. Murnau behind the camera, and that guy was good. His telling of the tale is grand and operatic; he knew how to make a moment larger-than-life, giving us great scenes like Emil Jannings's devil looming over the village that wouldn't show up years later because it's not meant to be taken literally. His vision wasn't necessarily as grand as contemporary Fritz Lang's, but he had a great way at humanizing iconic figures that often makes Faust much more affecting than it might otherwise be.

Monsters Inc.

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 December 2012 in Regal Fenway #9 (re-issue, Real-D 3D)

Because I bought some other Pixar movies on Blu-ray, Disney tossed me a "free" pass to see this one. I think the value maxed out at $8.50, though, leaving me wanting to know just exactly where that even gets a kid into a 3D matinee screening. Maybe it would have been enough at Arlington, but I'm not sure.

At any rate, it's been a while since I visited this one (I've come to accept that the massive shelves of DVDs and Blu-rays along my walls are insurance against wanting to see it right now rather than testament to watching it regularly), and it's nice to remember just how excellent it actually is. There's actually not a whole lot of plot to it, but the characters are nicely-designed and well-voiced, with Pete Docter and the whole Pixar crew doing a pretty amazing job of telling the story with jokes, even while doing a little bit of a heart-punch once John Goodman's Sully realizes just what he's been doing all his life. It's also got one of the great Pixar chase finales.

That finale also makes for a nice demonstration of why 3D post-conversion doesn't always stink; the whole job is pretty seamless, but having the vistas behind the opening doors actually be three-dimensional deepens the fantasy a bit, and the whole film is often set up in a way that makes 3D work nicely: Large but bounded environments, and action where movement in all three dimensions is important. It should be fairly interesting to see how well Monsters University does with that world in native 3D this summer.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 December 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Focus Features 10th Birthday, 35mm)

I think Rian Johnson became my favorite contemporary filmmaker with this. I'd already seen and loved The Brothers Bloom and Looper, so I was behind the times seeing the debut, but it really solidified what I love about the guy: He crosses genres and references the classics as well as anybody, but even when it's as extremely stylized as it is here, the result feels very contemporary, not wallowing in nostalgia. And no matter how mcuh style is on display, the guy can tell a story.

That's a huge part of why Brick is so much fun. Yeah, the underlying gag of transposing film noir to high school is clever, and both Johnson and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt make it work well past the point when a gimmick could have gone stale by speaking fluent Raymond Chandler. The most important thing a movie like this can do, though, is make the audience want to know what's going to happen next, and this movie never loses sight of that. It's a really great crime story.

Those don't come around often enough, and the fact that Johnson tends to combine that with the sort of crazy ambition that could send a movie flying off the rails? Huge bonus. You might even say that it makes me very curious as to what he's going to do next.

Jack Reacher

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 December 2012 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, 4K digital)

There's not much actively wrong with Jack Reacher so much as there is a great deal that's not as good as it could be, and it adds up to something kind of disappointing. Mostly, it seems to be a case of trying much too hard contrasted with folks who make it look easy.

Take Tom Cruise as the character. It doesn't really matter that he's not a match to how Lee Child envisioned the character physically at all so much as the way the message of the first half of the movie is "Jack Reacher is awesome", and not only do we get a bunch of testimonials to that effect, but the script puts him in positions which only seem to exist to show how awesome he is. We don't get a chance to appreciate it or be surprised by it, so it comes off as a little fake. Meanwhile, Werner Herzog shows up, spills his character's origin story in his Werner Herzog voice (I half suspect he's in this movie because some associate producer did a Herzog voice during auditions, leading the rest of the filmmakers to wonder if he'd be game), and maybe the character is a bit of a standard part, but he's hooked us. The same thing happens later with Robert Duvall; dude just shows up and we get him/want to see more right away.

The movie's more fun than it might otherwise be, though - screenwriter/director Christopher McQuarrie seems to know the material he's working with is male-fantasy pulp, and he's got a relaxed way of telling the story that doesn't quite wink at the audience but is well-enough aware of how this sort of movie works to walk around things he might otherwise stop through. He's got some skill with action, too - those scenes aren't quite dazzling here, but they're smooth enough. Like the rest of the movie, though, they're a little focused on showing us how cool Reacher is rather than harnessing and using that cool.

This Week in Tickets

Merry Christmas! I wound up taking this week off from work because my company's new owners only allow one week of vacation to roll over, compared to the two that I'd been carrying for a few years. Monday was spent doing a bunch of last-minute Christmas shopping (culminating, as always, in a bunch of money spent at the chocolate shop, as few have ever complained about getting really good chocolate for Christmas), wrapping, and heading north with my brother and his wife. The 25th was spent at the houses of two other brothers and their awesome little girls, with everyone - aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, etc. - meeting up at Travis's place.

Eventually, I got home and did a lot of nothing - well, unless making a dent in the pile of comics next to the bed counts as nothing. It kid of beat the movies I was seeing, though - there was a pretty blah stretch between Jack Reacher and Hyde Park on Hudson where everything seemed to be crafted well enough but lacking a certain spark that gives it a reason to exist. Django Unchained was a major corrective for that, but it was a bit of a bland week up until then.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 December 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, 35mm)

The trailers and other associated advertising for this made me cringe - Anthony Hopkinis impersonating Hitchcock just never seemed to strike me quite right, and I felt a kind of paralyzing fear that the filmmakers would, at some point, attempt to re-create the classic preview for Psycho where Hitch gives the audience a guided tour of the Bates Motel set.

That doesn't happen, fortunately, and one does sort of get used to Hopkins as Hitchcock, although at times it seems less a case of seeing Hitchcock instead of Hopkins as accepting that Anthony Hopkins is playing a Hitchcock-inspired character well. He leads an entertaining cast, most notably playing well off Helen Mirren as Hitchcock's wife and indispensable partner Alma Reville. At its best moments, Hitchcock taps into a great vein of energy where the very idea of Psycho is concerned: The idea of the bored master touching forbidden material on the one hand and making it commercial on the other. There's a great scene where Alfred asks Alma "what if someone really good made a horror movie?" that gets across just what a big deal it is.

The thing is, screenwriter John J. McLaughlin and director Sacha Gervasi seldom really sink their teeth into it; instead, there's some shallow recreation and an utterly standard (and, I gather, mostly-fictional) side-plot where Hitch worries about his wife being unfaithful. There's some amusing fourth-wall breaking at the beginning and end that references the unusual familiarity Hitchcock had with his audiences but doesn't persist through the very persistent middle, and the stuff with Ed Gein really doesn't go anywhere. Stars are stunt-cast as the stars of Psycho, but neither Scarlett Johansson nor Jessica Biel really gets to do anything, and James D'Arcy actually seems able to channel Anthony Perkins despite having nothing to do with it.

The movie's fun, and cute, and probably won't teach the film fans in the audience a whole lot, even if it does manage a few good laughs.

Les Misérables

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 December 2012 in Regal Fenway #12 (first-run, 4k Digital)

Here's a question I found myself asking a lot during this movie, and a lot of the other bland ones I saw around it: What is this thing about? What is the core idea and emotion that drives the story, that resonates with the audience even when the details don't quite work. What, to put it bluntly, is the point?

Les Misérables must have one; it's a story that has captivated audiences in multiple formats and languages for over a century, and the musical from which this film is adapted has a particularly rabid following - something must resonate! And yet, I can't really be sure what. It's not really a story about class, or obsession, guilt, sorrow, exploitation, or injustice. Hugh Jackman's Jean Valjean is the main character in that he's one of the two to appear in every segment of the story and makes most of the important decisions, but he's a cipher, a mostly-good man whom we only see at moments designed to remind us of that. And yet, his actions and motivations seem badly mismatched; tremendous operatic guilt that manifests as aiding one person.

Watching the film is a weird experience, too, even beyond all the singing. The pace never seems right; every section of this episodic movie feels strangely rushed despite the audience knowing they're in for a long sit, and it's never enough to really feel the weight of what's happening at that point in time - Anne Hathaway's character seems to go from losing her job to sinking into prostitution to dying of some horrible disease overnight, for instance. And there's no time to give context for why the heck they're removing her teeth or what the title cards say about the regime changes in France with every jump forward in time. Plus, for as much as shooting it with live singing does allow for some impressive performances (Jackman, Hathaway, and Samantha Barks especially), it seems to lock each monologue into a single take; director Tom Hooper can't go to a close-up or a reaction shot because the cut wouldn't work. As weird as it is to complain about a modern movie not being cut to bits, it almost makes the camera feel anchored, and the attempts to switch angles are clunky, giving us shots of someone's back.

Plus, there's a lot of things that just don't feel right. I half-think Russell Crowe should have played Javert, the cop who just can't let Jean's long-ago minor crimes pass, as more of a thorough villain; he comes off as just an honest man doing his job here when he really needs to be rigid and monstrous. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter feel like they belong in another movie entirely (one directed by Tim Burton, of course). And the whole last segment just seems to have its revolutionary politics wrong, with the happy ending being one character retreating from his principled stand to the bourgeoisie and another marrying him, while the girl who actually seemed nice and interested in him for more than infatuation at first sight dies.

Really, this story's a mess, and it doesn't all seem to be because of a flawed adaptation. I really wonder what I'm missing here.

De rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 December 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, 2k Digital)

Rust and Bone has a similar problem of not really seeming to have a strong center. About midway through, a metaphor does seem to arise of Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) being drawn to dangerous animals, whether they be the orcas at the water park where she's a trainer or Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), the Belgian single dad and underground fighter she connects with after a horrific accident, but not really paying the danger proper respect. It's not really a great core, but it's kind of interesting.

And then the end just cops out. SPOILERS! Not right away, and it takes the "shocking" route to get there, but the last few minutes give Ali a seeming redemption that is really tacked-on, aiming to make up for his general selfishness through the rest of the movie with a single heroic action. I'm not sure whether the kid falling through the ice or Ali crying after rescuing him is the more cynical move. !SRELIOPS

The movie's got its issues getting there, too. As good as both Cotillard and Schoenaerts are, director Jacques Audiard and his co-writers put almost zero effort into their pairing making any sort of sense. There's also the occasional feeling that the filmmakers are forgetting about Ali's son Sam beyond establishing Ali as being, at best, somewhat neglectful. All in all, it's hard to shake the feeling that this movie started from several very good parts but never really had them come together, leaving too much of a void in the middle.

Hyde Park on Hudson

* * (out of four)
Seen 30 December 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, 2k Digital)

I've grown to kind of hate viewpoint characters - the outsiders meant to give audiences a "relatable" viewpoint into a story of larger-than-life individuals, especially when the latter are real-world figures. Sure, maybe they accomplish that goal, but they also tend, by their nature, to be generic figures who take valuable screen time from actual interesting individuals. In this case, there's not really a single moment when Laura Linney's narrator Daisy is the character we want to see more of.

To be fair, she's fine in the role; it's not her fault that director Roger Michell and writer Richard Nelson play things way too coy, being as circumspect with Daisy's affair with FDR (Bill Murray) as a person in the time would have, so that when it becomes a thing toward the end of the movie, the audience is thinking "wait, what? You said they were cousins! Ew!" They were distant cousins, which wasn't as much of an issue back then, but that's a bit of detail that a modern filmmaker can't exactly assume the audience knows. It's also not her fault that she is almost completely inconsequential to the bigger story of Anglo-American relations on the eve of World War II, as personified by the Roosevelts and England's King and Queen. She takes the role she's given and plays it well enough that you can sort of understand the filmmakers not wanting to leave it on the cutting room floor, even if that's where it belongs despite the movie being based on her life.

She's good, but the rest of the casting is kind of unfortunate. Samuel West and Olivia Colman draw extremely short straws, in that it's going to take some time before audiences can watch this movie and not want them to be Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, who played the characters in The King's Speech. They do well, especially considering that they're highlighting the opposite side of the characters (Bertie and Elizabeth as royalty who have difficulty seeing Americans and commoners as equals versus basically being the same). Olivia Williams is fine as Eleanor Roosevelt. But Bill Murray... It's not an obviously terrible performance, but it's the sort of thing that may make a fan rethink some of the praise heaped upon him in the past decade or so. Is he really as good as we thought, or has he just been well-cast? Because here, it's impossible to see him as anything but "restrained Bill Murray", rather than a man who marshaled incredible charisma despite his infirmity.

There's an interesting movie here, but it's the one that's a sequel to The King's Speech rather than the underplayed affair. Pity nobody making the movie seemed to realize this.

Django Unchained

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 December 2012 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Say this for Quentin Tarantino: He's got no trouble finding the center of his movies, even when they're long, episodic yarns like... Well, like most of his movies. Here, there's no question: Django Unchained is about confronting slavery and the racism that allowed it (and its legacy) to fester - and doing so with all the metaphorical violence it deserves.

Sure, it may seem flip for Tarantino to use that as the background of a big, entertaining action-comedy, but it works because, even when he's mashing genres together and throwing out anachronisms, he's never doing it carelessly. Mockery is pointed; every moment of the often-comedic dialogue is polished precisely to say something about the person delivering it. The use of violence isn't quite so precise, but it's not scattershot, either: The revenge pieces are acts of action-movie fantasy, staged and stylized, but the racially motivated, real-world stuff is ugly and realistic.

I've got the feeling it's going to reward multiple viewings, too, to watch how Samuel Jackson's house slave Stephen speaks to different groups - practically minstrelry in front of a bunch of white people, more obviously intelligent but still somewhat subservient to his owner, and something else again when finally confronting Jami Foxx's Django alone. It's been a while since I've seen Gone with the Wind, but I wouldn't be surprised if Tarantino made the Candieland plantation house resemble Tara so that he could take pleasure in destroying it. And it will be fun to pay attention to Christoph Waltz as King Schultz - sure, he's pretty clearly a good man when he first appears, but he also puts Django in a less-than-equal position (he's liberal, but not necessarily sure the black guy is his equal); by the end, though, he can't even shake Candie's hand because he's so disgusted by the whole idea of racism and slavery... And it's a position he feels he can afford to take (or so he thinks), showing his distaste, unlike Django, who knows what careless words have consequences and thus takes the admonition to never break character to heart

This Week in Tickets

On the one hand, the Brattle's New Year's Eve Thin Man double feature got in between seeing Tarantino's and Spielberg's anti-slavery movies as the last and first movies of the year, but, on the other hand... Never pass up The Thin Man on the big screen. Ever. After that, a couple nights of movies about recent news-worthy events (The Impossible and Zero Dark Thirty), some classic Cronenberg, and a quiet period during which I can finish up writing up this thing.

The Thin Man

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 31 December 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (New Year's Eve with Nick & Nora, 35mm)

Somehow, I've never written a full review of this movie - heck, I can't even find a capsule-sized thing on this blog, which kind of astonishes me, because I know I've seen it a few times in the last decade and love it. But, no.

It's a bit difficult to write about, I guess, because it's basically perfect, an ideal fusion of screwball comedy and murder mystery with a great, bantering pair in William Powell & Myrna Loy. It's hard to think of a movie that has ever been better at getting laughs while taking the central homicide fairly seriously. In some ways, it's almost a spoof, with Powell's Nick Charles mentioning that his plan is to get all the suspects in a room and see what happens, which even this early in the life of the cozy mystery has become sort of a cliché.

One thing that always kind of amazes me about this movie is that its light-hearted, cozy-ness seems so antithetical to Dashiell Hammett's other work. He's the guy who was really moving pulp toward noir in the page of Black Mask (although "noir" would require translation to film and rediscovery by the French before it would have that name), and not really a funny guy; he didn't even tend to go in for Raymond Chandler's bitter wit. It's been a while since I've read The Thin Man itself, and maybe I should; I recall it being lighter than The Maltese Falcoln and certainly Red Harvest, if not quite as aggressively funny as this. But it's not a bad adaptation; the whole story is kept and the jokes just seem like director W.S. Van Dyke and his screenwriters teasing out what will work best on-screen.

After the Thin Man

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 December 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (New Year's Eve with Nick & Nora, digital)

Hammett's darker tendencies make me wonder about his story credit on After the Thin Man, which pushes the comedy just a little harder. Did he whip something up that the returning screenwriters fleshed out, or is this just a courtesy credit? It doesn't much matter; this is one of those rare, happy sequels that give the audience a little more of what they liked from the first without feeling like repetition or bloating up.

I do kind of wonder just where Nick Charles was supposed to have been a detective, though - in The Thin Man, they were visiting New York and wound up drawing in all of his unsavory (but friendly!) old acquaintances; here, they're back at Nora's home in California and the same thing happens! Then again, I don't know if he's ever specifically said to be an ex-cop; maybe he was an unusually successful and well-traveled Pinkerton man.

It's also fun to see James Stewart show up in an early role here - he's just starting to break out enough to be the first-billed after William Powell & Myrna Loy, but he's not yet playing "Jimmy Stewart" yet. It's an interesting "not-yet-a-movie-star" performance, making the end of this movie possible, if a bit surprising.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 January 2013 in Regal Fenway #6 (first-run, digital)

Why must movies have such generic titles? Lincoln is based in large part on Doris Goodwin's Team of Rivals, and is very focused on a specific time and story instead of the full sweep of Abraham Lincoln's life; why not reflect its actual story rather than make it sound like a generic biography?

I ask this because I found it was the parts that were least personal but most specific and procedural that most fascinated me. There's a scene where Daniel Day-Lewis's Lincoln walks the Cabinet (and thus the audience) through the paradoxical logic behind the legality of the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, and it's something I vaguely remember from high school history classes - teachers mentioned that Lincoln suspended habeus corpus and assumed quite a few wartime powers, but it seldom had the impact of that scene, which does an impressive job of making the specifics both clear and confusing. That's what the whole movie does, taking what seems like the driest parts of history and making all the tiny moving parts fascinating both individually and in the aggregate. It lets Day-Lewis show the parts of Lincoln that are actually somewhat morally questionable while still getting across just why he was so charismatic and able to make the ascent into legend.

Day-Lewis is fantastic, of course, with his tendency to disappear inside a role a perfect complement to Spielberg's attention to detail. It's an amazing part and presentation of a character, in that it feels improvised, but not on the actors' and filmmakers' parts, but that of the characters. Lincoln will tell stories in a way that might seem indulgent if not played exactly right - but they are, of course; everyone's too good. That extends to a quite frankly ridiculous cast, from Day-Lewis all the way down - there's a Kevin Kline credited as "wounded soldier", and it's not that one (although why the heck hasn't he worked with Spielberg yet?), but you wouldn't be surprised, would you? Tommy Lee Jones gets the showiest, most entertaining supporting part, and despite the amusement of Jones playing the Yankeest Yankee in the movie, it's a part that seems tailor-made for him. A lot of parts work that way, notably David Strathairn demonstrating that he makes every movie better as William Seward, but little parts like Bruce McGill as Edwin Stanton work that way too. And then there's James Spader, disappearing inside his political mercenary for a character that is hilarious even though he has to be taken seriously.

Could it have ended five or ten minutes earlier? Absolutely; it's got two epilogues that it doesn't really need. But they aren't nearly gratuitous enough to detract from the excellent two and a haf hours that come before.

The Brood

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 January 2013 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (@fter midnite, 35mm)

Watching The Brood, I found myself wondering if all these early Cronenberg body-horror movies all took place in a single shared universe. It came to me during the autopsy scene, where the coroner seems rather calm about the fact that he's doing an autopsy on some sort of biologically impossible homonculus. I picture an assistant freaking out while he shrugs, saying that, hey, last year in Montreal some girl drained people of their life force by hugging them.

Friends at the screening shrugged it off as "hey, it's Canada."

In a way, I think that's part of what makes Cronenberg movies so chilling - there's a bizarre logic to their paranormal elements that makes them forcing their way into reality seem believable, even if the characters can't see the metaphorical strength behind them. This movie, apparently, was based upon Cronenberg's own divorce and custody battle, and despite the chilly nature there does seem to be a little more anger, maybe a little more guilt to it than usual. It's got impressive gross-out moments, and some darn good suspense, but if it didn't have the underpinnings it does - fear of quack psychiatry, a family history of dysfunction that spans generations - it wouldn't be nearly as powerful.

Dragnet GirlA Late QuartetBrooklyn CastleRise of the GuardiansTo Kill a MockingbirdThe ThingThe Sting & Slap ShotLife of PiSilver Linings Playbook

The Loved OnesLonesomeTwelfth NightGambit

Churchill War RoomsShakespeare's GlobeLondon Film MuseumSightseersThe HuntTower Bridge ExhibitionSkyfallHMS Belfast

Blues for WilladeanThe Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyWagner & MeKilling Them Softly

FaustMonsters Inc. 3DThe Central Park FiveBrickJack Reacher

HitchcockLes Miserables
Rust and BoneHyde Park on HudsonDjango Unchained

The Thin Man & After the Thin ManLincolnThe ImpossibleZero Dark ThirtyThe Brood