Friday, August 30, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 30 August - 5 September 2013

Labor Day weekend is just a crazy one at theaters - instead of opening big movies to take advantage of the long weekend, you get stuff being dumped, re-releases, stuff opening at both the multiplexes and the arthouses, even if it's got subtitles... It's madness!

  • For instance two of the things opening at Kendall Square are also opening elsewhere. Closed Circuit, for instance, is also at Somerville, Boson Common, Fenway, and the SuperLux. And, fair enough, it's a thriller with a cast of recognizable actors - Eric Bana & Rebecca Hall as defense lawyers who were once lovers, with Jim Broadbent, Riz Ahmed, Julia Stiles, and Ciaran Hinds also in there - discovering a conspiracy that also likely plays into how many cameras there are recording one at any given time in London.

    The Grandmaster, meanwhile, also plays at Fenway and Boston Common. It's Wong Kar-wai's take on the Ip Man story with Tony Leung Chiu-wai in the title role and Zhang Ziyi as a rival master, and Yuen Woo-ping both appearing and choreographic the fights. It's been in the works for so long that I'd practically forgotten about it when I saw the preview a week or two ago, thinking "another Ip Man movie... oh, right!" Fair warning, the version playing American screens is about twenty minutes shorter than the original Chinese release, because Harvey Weinstein is just plain evil.

    On top of those, three other movies open at Kendall Square: Short Term 12 stars Brie Larson in a film about a young supervisor at a home for at-risk teenagers that is being much-lauded for its extremely intimate focus. There's also Austenland, in which Keri Russell plays an American tourist staying in and English manor where all the guests role-play as if they were living in a Jane Austen novel, with actors to court them (although I'm guessing this one finds something real). Finally, the one-week booking goes to Thérèse Desqueyroux (just called Thérèse for its American release, although that's needlessly confusing with another movie of that title coming out in a month's time. This one features Audrey Toutou as a woman of status who finds that lost in a marriage which demands subservience.
  • It's possible, though, that the Brattle Theatre has the best movie opening this weekend, with I Declare War running from Friday to Wednesday. The opening film at the Boston Underground Film Festival this year, it's a pretty fantastic movie about kids playing "war" in the woods, although this particular game may change things for them in a big way. I kind of loved it. Though it features pre-teens, it's not entirely for them, which is probably why it's playing in the evening while the matinees from Friday to Monday are instead a 35mm print of Singing in the Rain, almost universally held up as an all-time classic musical about the transition from sound to silents, with Gene Kelly starring and directing with Stanley Donen, alongside Donal O'Connor & Debbie Reynolds as co-stars. A musical film of a different type takes over on Thursday the 5th, with a 40th Anniversary screening of The Harder they Come, featuring Jimmy Cliff as a young reggae singer running afoul of the law to make it in the big city. As a bonus, folks who attend will be able to enter a drawing for tickets to Cliff's 25 September show at the House of Blues.
  • If you miss The Harder They Come there, it will run again the next night (the 6th) at The Regent Theatre. Before that, though, they've got another entry in the Gathr Preview Series on Tuesday at 7:30pm. It's a bag-of-money thriller by the name of A Single Shot, which has a nice cast - Sam Rockwell as the guy who finds a dead woman in the woods and steals her money, William H. Macy as his divorce lawyer, Kelly Reilly as the soon-to-be-ex-wife, and Ted Levine, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Wright, and Melissa Leo lurking elsewhere.
  • So, aside from The Grandmaster and Closed Circuit, what else is opening at the multiplexes? Well, there's Getaway, which is unrelated to the Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger and Steve McQueen/Ali McGraw movies; this one features Ethan Hawke as a former racecar driver who carjacks Selena Gomez's vehicle to track down his kidnapped wife. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, and Apple. The other wide-opener is One Direction: This Is Us, which follows the most popular boy band with today's tweens as they go on tour. Morgan Spurlock, of all people, directs, shooting in 3D. It's at Somerville (2D only), Apple, Boston Common, Fenway, and the SuperLux. Yeah, the last one's a head-scratcher for mee, too, but I'll bet young girls really will pay that place's prices for this.

    There's still more screens to fill out, so Boston Common opens a couple more: Instructions Not Included stars Eugenio Derbez as an Acapulco playboy who has a baby daughter dropped in his lap, travels to Los Angeles to find the mother, and failing that becomes a stuntman - until the mother returns six years later. It's from Mexico, so presumably it's mostly in Spanish, although there may be a lot of English if it's going for crossover status. That plays all day while The Lifeguard just has evening shows, which is fair; I wasn't a particular fan of this movie at its January "Sundance USA" screening, thinking it really didn't fit together well at all.

    But wait, there's still more screens to fill, so it's time to haul the summer's bigger hits out for one last bow. At Fenway, that means cheap-ish screenings of Despicable Me 2 and Man of Steel in 3D on the big RPX screen (and at $6 each, that's not a bad deal). Meanwhile, Paramount is re-releasing Star Trek Into Darkness and World War Z as a double feature, with Apple and Boston Common picking them up here, both in 2D. Disney is also re-releasing Monsters University (just in time for back-to-school) for matinees at the Capitol, Apple, and Boston Common - again, all in 2D
  • Labor Day marks the end of summer, so it looks like we'll be bidding adieu to Cinema Slumber Party, although they've got one last hurrah coming: A 35mm print of Don Coscarelli's original Phantasm at midnight on Saturday on the big screen at the Somerville Theatre. The Somerville will also be showing Adjust Your Tracking on Tuesday, which is a completely different VHS nostalgia documentary from Rewind This! (which played the Brattle a week or two ago); this one focuses on collectors.
  • The Coolidge is also staying pretty steady for the holiday weekend, finishing up their 1980s August midnight series with The Last Dragon, with African-American kung fu enthusiast Bruce Leroy (Taimak) needing to defeat Shogun Sho Nuff (Julius Carry) to rescule a beautiful singer (Vanity). It plays midnight Friday and Saturday, I believe in 35mm. The end of summer also means the end of weekly Big Screen Classics, but they finish it off the way you'd want them to, with a 35mm print of Jaws on Monday night. Last screening of Jaws of the summer!
  • With the kids going back to school, the MFA's film program finishes its reprise of The Boston International Children's Film Festival, which is not just for kids, especialy since there are two screenings of Starry Starry Night, one of my favorite films from last year, at 5:30pm Friday and 3pm Saturday. Go to one. There's also two selections of short films, Zarafa (Friday morning), Meet the Small Potatoes (Sunday morning), The Zigzag Kid (Sunday afternoon), and A Letter to Momo (Sunday afternoon). There are also a couple of music-oriented pictures: Low Movie (How to Quit Smoking) assembles the music videos and other footage Phil Harder shot for the band Low; it plays Friday night and is preceded by David Michael Curry playing songs by and inspired by the band. The more conventional rock-doc Ain't in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm starts a run on Wednesday the 4th, playing again on the 5th and into next weekend. Also starting a little run on Thursday the 5th is Matías Piñeiro's first The Stolen Man; it also continues into next week and kicks off a retrospective of his works.
  • The Harvard Film Archive is continuing their retrospectives, with the Burt Lancaster Centennial featuring two of his most famous: The Swimmer at 7pm Friday and Run Silent Run Deep at 5pm Sunday. The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, meanwhile, offers wartime spy movie Saboteur (featuring a script by Dorothy Parker and a character best described as "mini-Hitler"!) at 9pm on Friday with French-language propaganda film "Bon Voyage" running beforehand. They finish the sub-series of showing his British films on Sunday night with Murder! at 7pm, one of his first talkies.

    They're also planning a Noir All Night on Saturday the 31st, although they're only hinting at the contents. Still, it looks like at least six movies on 35mm to keep you up from 7pm to 4am, much like last year's pre-code marathon. Not a bad deal for $12. You could also spend $12 on Monday, when animator Susan Pitt will visit in person to present and discuss an hour and a half of her short films spanning over forty years.
  • It looks like Bollywood is going to be a thing at Fenway for the near future, as they will be opening the more dramatic film Satyagraha this weekend. It features Kareena Kapoor, Ajay Devgn, Amitabh Bachchan, and more in Prakash Jha's story of idealistic and ambitious people clashing over principles in modern India. It also plays the iMovieCafe screen at Apple, which is also showing matinees of Chennai Express, late shows of Madras Cafe, and a little of both for Telugu-language romanceAnthaka Mundu Aa Tarvatha.
  • Another sign of the end of summer: The outdoor film series are more or less over, with Anchors Aweigh at the Boston Harbor Hotel's Music & Movie Fridays pretty much the last of them. There are a couple of foreign films playing outside on Friday - Nicostratos Pelican at Christopher Columbus Park and Maria in Nobody's Land at the El Salvador Consulate. (All listings from Joe's Boston Free Films, which also includes a bunch of other screenings happening indoors)
  • Fruitvale Station ended its run elsewhere, but The Capitol picks it up second-run this week.
My plans? Well, even though I'm hoping for the original cut later, I can't miss The Grandmaster on the big screen, and I am very curious about Short Term 12. I'll probably also check out Closed Circuit and Getaway, use the long weekend to recover from midnights of The Last Dragon and Phantasm, and use my already-purchased ticket for A Single Shot. Murder looks to be a must as well. As to all the return engagements, I'm tempted, but the only one I'm sure to hit is Starry Starry Night.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 19 August 2013 - 25 August 2013

The HFA's Hitchcock series is a fantastic thing to have available when the mainsteram releases are disappointing or things you've already seen:

This Week in Tickets

Other than that, not a whole lot going on. The weekly preview at the Regent was the pretty-okay Papadopoulos & Sons, where having a co-presenter meant I wasn't there alone. I opted to check out Chennai Express at Fenway as opposed to Apple, and have to kind of admit that the trailer for Krrish 3 was my favorite part, right up there with "staring at Deepika Padukone". There's also the fun of giggling every time "Eros Entertainment" comes up as a production/distribution company in the previews and credits; does that mean something different over there?

Missing: Red 2. I was going to catch it at the Capitol on Monday, and had something planned out - get a much needed haircut across the street, maybe grab something to eat at the restaurant next door, and be there for the 8pm show. But, of course, the barber shop closes at 4pm on Mondays, and I really wasn't down for killing an hour and a half, already being kind of tired from Sunday's late-running Red Sox game. So, I guess I'll be catching that on video.

The weekend, meanwhile, was a bunch of writing and sitting out on the deck reading backlogged comics and such with the HFA in the evening:

Dial M for Murder

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

You know what's always a very pleasant surprise? John Williams in this movie. Oh, certainly, the above-the-line talent is very nice - Ray Milland is delightfully sneaky and reptilian; Grace Kelly is, of course, inhumanly beautiful and invests her character with something very winning that counteracts how one may judge her for either the adultery that drives much of the movie or her passivity later on (which, admittedly, I had an issue with my first time through); Robert Cummings is an American puppy dog of affection. But when Williams shows up on the scene, his Inspector Hubbard is all dry English resolve, somehow worthy of the audience's respect even as he's being led down the garden path by Tony Wendice.

And in some ways, that's a great illustration of what is great about Dial M. It never subverts expectations - the characters are all exactly what they seem to be from the start - but Hitchcock nudges the audience into feeling surprising things about them, whether it be respecting the cop who is seemingly being made a fool of of identifying with the cold-blooded murderer. All the stagy affectation, odd use of 3D (which isn't as busy in 2D as one might expect, though it has a lot of the same telltale look modern 3D films do), and the like falls away surprisingly well as a result.

EFC review from 2005

The 39 Steps

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

Sometime, I'm going to bite the bullet and see The 39 Steps on stage. I've passed up chances to do so in New York and London (including when it first opened On or Off Broadway with David Hyde Pierce) because I'm very uncertain about seeing it as a gimmicky comedy. The Hitchcock version, you see, is quite funny, but it's also legitimately thrilling and kind of romantic in an understated, charming way - so why make it just be one thing?

As I mention in the review, it may not quite be the source of all chase movies, but it's an early example of getting them right - refined enough to go down easy but just raw enough in places to jolt a bit. It's occasionally a bit sloppy - in particular, I always feel terrible for Mr. Memory in the end; he seems so nice that I wonder what the Steps have against him as leverage - but that's far more than balanced by all the times it's just about perfect.

EFC review from 2012

I Confess

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

Someday, I'm going to hear a really good explanation for why reporters will spend time in jail for not giving up their sources but priests don't. I suppose, in this case, "Quebec!" may be the explanation, but that's actually a question for another time. The important thing is that Hitchcock, his writers, and Montgomery Clift do an impressive job of taking this familiar moral dilemma and executing it in a way that doesn't make the priest in question look kind of ridiculous.

Plus, while "priest hears confession of murder but the rules of his religion mean he can't report it" is where the movie starts, it winds up being most interesting for where it winds up going. The past relationship between Clift's Father Michael and Anne Baxter's Mrs. Ruth Grandfort starts out as a red herring for the police, of course, but turns into a story that fascinates for what is unsaid - did her marriage push him toward the priesthood, or did the war torpedo their relationship, pushing her toward another? It's beautifully ambiguous. So, too, are the actions of the murderer; does he sink further out of mere self-preservation, or did he aim to frame one of the priests to start and have better luck than he could imagine?

In other cases, Hitchcock and other directors would spell this out, but perhaps its fitting that in this cross between a procedural and a crime drama, the motives are unknowable but the characters and story are still fascinating.

Jamaica Inn

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

One of the things about seeing stuff at the HFA that can be both a positive or a negative at times is that you'll get a lot of context before seeing the movie, whether you want it or not. I guess I'm about to add to that, so skip ahead a couple paragraphs if you just want to know who does well and who does poorly.

Anyway, this movie is known for a number of things - it's Hitchcock's last British film before leaving for Hollywood, his first adaptation of a Daphne De Maurier story, and one of his very few period pieces (he didn't like them much), as well as the product of a contentious collaboration with star Charles Laughton - but one thing I don't particularly recall being mentioned in the introduction is what a strong heroine Maureen O'Hara's Mary is. It seems relatively rare for the female lead in any sort of adventure movie, particularly one made in the 1930s, to feature a woman who is such a self-starter, but Mary initially rescues the hero just because she sees it needs doing, and later saves the day without the job being assigned to her. Why? Sheer awesomeness.

It's not entirely the female newcomer's movie, of course - Charles Laughton is some kind of something in this, playing his Sir Humphrey Pengallan as both the fop and the villain and somehow making both ends of the character work. It's a downright deranged performance, almost incomprehensible at times, and yet it never tilts the mood into full-on parody. Leslie Banks is playing it just as big as the guy who gets his hands dirty, an almost-hilarious brute of a man. Against those two, Marie Ney is shrunken as his wife Patience almost by default, and while pales compared tot he vitality that O'Hara gives to her niece, it's an apt piece of the movie.

In a lot of ways, this doesn't really feel like Hitchcock, for several good reasons. It's a fun little adventure, though, especially since it's a lot loopier than the typical oh-so-serious gothic it first appears to be.

Young and Innocent

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

A 1937 movie Alfred Hitchcock made in the UK seems like an odd thing to connect to movies and comics from contemporary Japan, but Young and Innocent approached something a couple Japanese flicks I saw at Fantasia in a separate direction, in that it's kind of strange how specifically, regimentedly transitional the life of a present-day American teenager is. It's fairly common for Japanese pop culture to show high-school students living on their own, while I have a hard time imagining their American contemporaries doing the same thing, while I had a bit of trouble pinning down the age of this movie's main character because she's introduced in a way that suggests adulthood even though she's probably younger.

It creates an interesting, unusual effect - where we usually see the protagonist mature over the course of the movie, Erica Burgoyne seems to get younger. We're first introduced to her as thoroughly capable, perhaps more so in certain areas than the police, but as the movie goes on, it becomes clear that if accused killer Robert Tisdall isn't her first crush, he's right up there, and as she comes to trust him more, her cynicism actually seems to fall away. She doesn't actually become more foolish, but it's an odd thing to see things progress that way.

It works, in part, because Nova Pilbeam and Derrick De Marney do have quite pleasant chemistry, and even as Hitchcock and the rest are emphasizing her, well, youth and innocence more as the film goes on, they're not pushing him in the other direction. Perhaps he's realizing the same thing as the audience, that Erica is in many ways still a child, and that he opts not to exploit that is what keeps things smooth.

There's a lot of other fun stuff in there as well - Edward Rigby is kind of fun as the homeless guy who joins their party, for instance. There's a child's birthday party that might have become a lot more tense in another Hitchcock film, and a nifty tracking shot to reveal the true villain in the end - nifty enough, really, to make the audience ignore the blackface, which is very much of the "wait, what? you're weird, 1937!" variety.

Papadopoulos & Sons
Chennai Express
Dial M for Murder
The 39 Steps
I Confess
Jamaica Inn & Young and Innocent

Monday, August 26, 2013

Actual people at a Gathr Previews screening: Papadopoulos & Sons

One way to get a bigger crowd for a series that has not always drawn particularly well: Co-present with someone else whose local mailing list is a bit larger. In this case, that was Belmont World Film, a series I've been meaning to catch something from one of these years - I've only tended to remember to check the Belmont Studio Cinema's site sporadically, generally toward the end of the event - and it was a bit of a reminder that the Boston area has a fairly splintered film audience: The crowd it drew was older than the Brattle/Coolidge audiences, but not the same as the HFA regulars.

It turns out to be a pretty good match for the movie, at least in by the standards usually used for designating something a movie for grandma: Sweet, not experimental, not particularly rude (IMDB says it got a 15 rating in the UK, but I can't for the life of me think of why), a little exotic (those excitable Greeks!) but not overly so. And that's fine; it's good to have the occasional movie that hits that target.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see if there's any carry-over. This week's movie - Breath of the Gods is also co-presented, this time by the Arlington International Film Festival, and might get interest from the big yoga center just around the corner. Perhaps a more interesting test might be the first two announced for September - both A Single Shot and And While We Were Here have reasonably noteworthy stars (Sam Rockwell and Kate Bosworth, respectively), and while they've been On Demand, they're distributed by Well Go, which seems to be doing a fairly good job of bridging the mainstream and boutique markets, although not so much here of late. I really, really, really would like to drag people here to Drug War and some of their other Asian movies, so getting them to see Boston as a viable market would be pretty excellent.

Papadopoulos & Sons

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2013 in the Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Presents, digital)

I was recently reminded that my grandmother reads what I write here, which may be why one of my first reactions to Papadopoulos & Sons was that it would be a good movie to bring parents or grandparents to; it's fairly pleasant, uncomplicated, and mild in content. But then I figured that's kind of selling one's elders short; as much as this is a likable movie, it doesn't always put in the work to earn it.

Harry Papadopoulos (Stephen Dillane) has certainly put in the work; the man who immigrated to the UK as a child is being honored as Entrepreneur of the Year for his line of Greek food products and forthcoming retail center. The economy suddenly takes another turn, though, and it turns out that Harry has overextended himself so that not only is the company put into administration but his home is taken as well. Where can he and his kids - heiress-in-training Katie (Georgia Groome), would-be-horticulturist James (Frank Dillane), and pre-teen day-trader Theo (Thomas Underhill) - go? Well, it turns out that there's one property the government can't touch because it's still half-owned by estranged brother Spiros (Georges Corraface) - who thinks that re-opening the old "Three Brothers" fish & chips shop would be a brilliant idea.

It's not a bad idea, really - returning a rich man to his roots both to connect him with what he left behind (which, almost unfailingly, is what's Really Important) and to introduce his spoiled children to hard work is a story that pretty much everyone can relate to in some way. And writer/director Marcus Markou introduces an interesting wrinkle or two, in that Harry is offered the choice of seeing the company he spent his life building disassembled to support the project which bankrupted him or remain intact in someone else's hands. I also got a kick out of the first shots of the Turkish owners of the kebab place down the road looking like he's been waiting twenty years to put the Papadopoulos family in its place.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Chennai Express (and some Fantasia catch-up)

I tell you, sometimes I just don't understand why one thing is popular and another isn't. I didn't get around to seeing Chennai Express until its third week in release - and that's its third week at Regal Fenway as opposed to Apple Cinemas, and they never play foreign-language stuff. Boston Common will, but with a mere thirteen screens Fenway sticks to what's safe. And yet, here it is, and while it's probably on its last week with the matinee screening I went to not particularly full, that's a heck of a lot more staying power than a number of pretty good foreign-language films have had, if they even opened. I guess it's a testament to how Bollywood studios have a good thing going opening on the same day world-wide, especially now that they've got their audience expecting it - the occasional Chinese/Korean/Japanese movie that pops up in America day-and-date is not regular enough to be habit-forming.

I'm somewhat curious to see just how often Fenway picks up Indian movies. The trailer package before Chennai Express was all Hindi stuff, including Krrish 3 (no, there wasn't a Krrish 2, but apparently they're using the "Rambo" numbering system). I'm not going to lie: Even though I had issues with both Koi... Mil Gaya and Krrish, I'm totally down for this - the preview looks like goofy fun (and like something that's probably in 3D as well), and seeing Koi... Mil Gaya at the old Bombay Cinema - it ran for about two months, by the end of which Clinton McClung and the rest of the guys who occasionally did "Allston Cinema Underground" shows there were admitting that it was just as completely nuts as the stuff they were programming.

Anyway, it's not great Bollywood, but I've seen worse, and at the very least, Deepika Padukone is really pretty. Scroll down underneath to catch some of the reviews I've finished for eFilmCritic for stuff I saw at Fantasia about a month ago - Confession of Murder, It's Me, It's Me; Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend; The Last Tycoon; The Complex; How to Use Guys with Secret Tips; and Zombie Hunter.

Chennai Express

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2013 in Regal Fenway #4 (first-run, 4K DCP)

I'm not sure quite how far we are into Chennai Express when the indicator of where the intermission would be comes up (the movie just kept going in Boston but likely paused in India), but the realization that the movie was roughly only half-way done was kind of deflating. It didn't seem to have gotten very far and I didn't want a whole lot more. There's a decent romantic comedy to be made out of this story, but I don't think it's almost two and a half hours long.

It starts with Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan), who lost his parents as a child and was raised by his grandparents, who loved him but have a way of shutting down any chance he has at romance. His grandfather dying just short of his hundredth birthday has Rahul taking the train south to scatter the old man's ashes, although his plans change a bit when he sees a pretty girl (Deepika Padukone) rushing to catch the train. He helps her on, but he also does the same for the four goons behind her, and it turns out that this Meena Lochini Azhaddgu Sundaram (Meenamma for short) is the daughter of a southern crime boss (Satyaraj), fleeing an arranged marriage. This, naturally, leads to her claiming Rahul is her fiancé, which does not go over so well with her massive, muscular betrothed Tangaballi (Nikitin Dheer).

Of course, it's not so straightforward as all that; there's a lot of flab on this movie, such as an opening act that takes the most indirect route to getting Rahul on the train with "Meenamma" possible, and the one quality gag that comes out of it isn't close to being worth how unpleasant it makes Rahul. There is a great deal of running around in circles, and while the various writers set up some potentially fun farcical situations, it's often with characters who just seem to be there to fill out scenes and will not make any impact on the movie otherwise. A lot of gags are set up by Rahul ignoring what Meenamma just said for no good reason at all.

Full review at EFC.

Naega Salinbeomida (Confession of Murder)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

If movies were graded on a strict plus-minus system, Confession of Murder would grade out as average; it's packed full of silly and unbelievable plotting and twists along with a feeling of missed opportunities with its media satire, and a few good action scenes don't necessarily make up for that. What that doesn't necessarily take into account is that this movie is most fun when it's at its most insane.

The first insane part, perhaps, is that South Korea has a statute of limitations on murder. Why would you have that? It does, though, fifteen years as of 2005, when the case of a serial killer of ten women - one that particularly tormented detective Choi Hyung-goo (Jung Jae-young), leaving him with scars literal and physical - was dropped. Two years later, Lee Doo-suk (Park Si-hoo) publishes I Am the Murderer, confessing to his crimes in great detail. Handsome, telegenic, and superficially sincere in his desire to make amends, Doo-suk is an instant celebrity, which maddens Choi no end, especially since the book doesn't reveal the location of the last body. Also livid - the families of the victims. And there's no time limit on wanting revenge.

There's a smart, subversive satire of a movie about celebrity culture, equal protection under the law, and the reality of the modern media to be made from that premise. Occasionally, writer/director Jung Byoung-gil decides that he's going to be the one to make it, and whenever he does, Confession of Murder sinks like a stone. It's just strange to have a movie that plays on how screwy people get about celebrities set five years ago - did it get less ridiculous in the Republic of Korea between 2007 and 2012? Jung is also too happy to play into cop-movie tropes to be credible in talking about law enforcement's role in society but also a little too dry when dealing with the media. That part is absurd enough in its way, but far too restrained.

Full review at EFC.

Ore, Ore (It's Me, It's Me)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival Camera Lucida, HD)

There's clear intent to make a clever movie in It's Me, It's Me, from the opening shots of identical buildings, insistent posters about a rat infestation, and other bits that tie into the high concept of a young man multiplying across the city which seem to have started with some form of identity theft. Unfortunately, screenwriter/director Satoshi Miki stumbles putting the strange concepts together, and the movie has a hard time becoming more than a set of well-executed moments.

The young man in question is Hitoshi Nagano (Kazuya Kamenashi), one of those anonymous protagonists who starts out pondering a jump from a bridge because there doesn't seem to be much chance of life offering a better alternative. Instead, he goes to a restaurant and takes off with the phone of one Daiki Hiyama - a salaryman about his age who placed it on Hitoshi's tray because he didn't notice Hitoshi was there - eventually running a scam on the man's mother, but when he feels guilty and attempts to return the money, Daiki's mother (Keiko Takahashi) recognizes him as her son. Then, when he goes to see his mother (Midoriko Kimura), there's someone visiting who looks exactly like him! Hitoshi and Daiki find another guy with their face, student Nao Motoyama, and soon it seems like other people are becoming Hitoshi as well. As he starts spending more time with Daiki and Nao, he also finds himself flirting with Sayaka (Yuki Uchida), a married customer at the store where he sells cameras.

Throughout the movie, Miki seem to be poking at the idea of urban anonymity and/or how having a group of friends that are just like oneself is seductive but ultimately unrewarding He and original novelist Tomoyuki Hoshino have certainly found an interesting way to make these concepts literal, but I'm not sure it's much more than a clever idea. What is Miki really saying about swarms of people becoming effectively interchangeable? That eventually the delight of finding someone who gets you can be diluted to the point where a person can suddenly feel anonymous again? That (perhaps as a result) it's a thing that leads to cutthroat competition? Is it all a reference for him giving up his dream of being a photographer and working in a big-box store (it's worth noting that the best thing to happen in his life comes from Sayaka wanting him to take pictures)? Maybe, although the presentation of it is so fantastical and fuzzy that it's hard for the metaphor to really shine through.

Full review at EFC.

Figyua na Anata (Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend)

* * (out of four)
Seen 21 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend (Figyua na Anata in the original Japanese) is just as bizarre a movie as its name makes it sound, and it gets a little stranger if you start following hyperlinks on the online movie database of your choice and discover that star Tasuku Emoto had a bit part in Air Doll. The latter may not have been a great movie, though it has its partisans, but how do you look at the script for this one and see it as a much more crass version of that? It's got the potential to be something, sure, but filmmaker Takashi Ishii seldom gets far enough out of the gutter to even start to realize that potential.

Emoto plays Kentaro, an office worker who gets fired in part for surfing to porn sites on the company's internet connection, and when he gets home... Well, you know those figures of busty anime characters that make you shake your head and say "oh, Japan!" when you encounter one in a pop-culture shop? An apartment full of them isn't just kind of tacky, but downright icky. Soon, Kentaro is drunk in a scuzzy part of the city, skipping out on his bill and being chased by various toughs. He eventually ends up in a storeroom full of various mannequins, and when he's cornered, an unusually realistic one comes to life and fights his assailants off. He takes it home, and soon enough his worlds seems to have shrunk to just himself and Kokone (Kokone Sasaki), who is sometimes real and sometimes plastic.

I don't necessarily want to have this in my head, but when a character spends a lot of time talking about whether the extremely lifelike mannequin he's pawing has a vagina (or, really, any sort of hole down there), it's kind of weird to have the area in question blurred out when it is in the camera's view, right? Okay, forget I just wrote that. But there's no denying that for a movie that is pretty constantly shoving sex in the audience's face, backing off the question relatively visibly is kind of distracting. And there's a lot of sex in this movie; remove the blurring out of the actual penetration and maybe cut it down some (I get the impression 112 minutes is pretty long for an adult movie), and it would be easy to suggest that that's all it is.

Full review at EFC.

Da Shanghai (The Last Tycoon)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Introducing this film, Fantasia programmer King-wei Chu promised us that it was the return of "Chow Yun-fat the way you like him: shooting guns." It does deliver, although there's a fair amount of "Chow Yun-fat looking regal" and "younger actor shooting guns" before getting to the main attraction. The lead-up is often quite good, though, and the latter half of the movie is so gloriously over-the-top as to blot out a number of faults.

In 1913, Cheng Daqi (Huang Xiao-ming) and Ye Zhiqiu (Feng Wunjuan) were teenagers in love whom fate took along different paths: Zhiqiu to Beijing to follow her dreams of starring in the opera and Daqi to Shanghai, where he soon becomes apprentice to Hong Shouting (Sammo Hung), who conveniently controls both crime and law enforcement in the city's biggest port. Zhiqiu visits only to be horrified by the violence of Daqi's lifestyle and leaves him. They won't meet until twenty-odd years later, when Daqi (now played by Chow Yun-fat) is Hong's second-in-command and Zhiqiu (yuan Quan) arrives with her husband Cheng Zhaimei (Xin Bai-qing). It's a dangerous time, as the Japanese are moving toward the city and a former ally, Zao Zai (Francis Ng Chun-yu) has sold out to the invaders, who would like Daqi to serve as a figurehead mayor - although, barring that, Mao will settle for Daqi's wife Bao (Monica Mok Siu-kei).

There's more going on, as well - for a movie that clocks in at under two hours, this thing is riddled with subplots and supporting characters - and it all seems to be happening at once, since co-writer/director Wong Jing not only tells the 1913-1915 and 1937-1938 stories in parallel, but actually starts things out with a flash-forward to the end of the latter to which the film will eventually catch up. To his credit, it's not particularly confusing at any time, although sometimes the structure is a bit frustrating: There's a point where, in extremely rapid succession, Daqi nobly allows someone else to escape to Hong Kong in his place, somehow gets himself there anyway off-screen, and then immediately returns to Shanghai - which may have happened, but seems really pointless in the film.

Full review at EFC.

Kuroyuri Danchi (The Complex)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

Hideo Nakata's new one seems to start out with such promise - creepy visuals, a likable lead, the possibility of a whole apartment complex haunted with ghosts, and a knack for building tension out of small, real things - that it's disappointing to see just how bland it becomes by the end. It doesn't quite descend into the "random creepy things" school of lazy horror, but just becomes the sort of ghost story whose twists are all too familiar.

The new family moving into this apartment building is the Ninomiyas - father Isao (Masanobu Katsumara), mother Sachiko (Naomi Nishida), daughter Asuka (Atsuko Maeda), and son Satoshi. Asuka, attending vocational school to become a nurse, is awakened every morning by noise from the apartment next door - whom neighborhood kid Minoru (Sosei Tanaka) calls "grandfather" - and the noises don't stop when she finds him dead. Fortunately, one of the guys who comes to pack away his things has experienced something similar, and this Shinobu Sasahara (Hiroki Narimiya) can recommend a good exorcist or two. Which is good, because there seems to be a lot of weird stuff going on.

From the name of the movie and the hushed way some of the kids at Asuka's school reference the building being haunted, one might expect The Complex to be almost an anthology of sorts, or for the building's history to be interesting. That's not really the case, though; Nakata and co-writers Junya Kato & Ryuta Miyake instead hew more to the idea that people are haunted more than places. All well and good, except that the ghost story being told is one that the audience has seen before - quite possibly quite a bit - and even the things meant to pull the rug out from under the audience seem well-worn. It's a ghost story that seems inspired by other ghost stories, and while the angle they seem to be pursuing early on (a twist on the occasional story of elderly folks dying in their apartments and not being discovered for months or years) isn't complicated, it would have meant something, rather than being so mechanical.

Full review at EFC.

Namja Sayongseolmyungseo (How to Use Guys with Secret Tips)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, HD)

As much as the sort of candy-colored romantic comedies that make it into this sort of festival can be little more than silly, they're some of my favorite parts, a nice break from darkness and violence while sill being fun things that Hollywood just doesn't produce. They aren't always good, but this one, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips, is a little gem: The jokes are darn funny, the cast of characters is enjoyably eccentric, and the bright colors and tangent-filled storytelling give it a great screwball energy.

It follows Choi Bo-na (Lee Si-young), a hard-working assistant director for a company that produces television commercials, the sort putting in so many hours for director director Yook Bong-a (Lee Won-jong) as to be both essential and constantly overlooked. That she tends to dress in shapeless hooded sweatshirts doesn't help. After getting left behind on a shoot with demanding actor Lee Seung-jae (Oh Jung-se) because she's getting stuff done, she comes upon a man selling old videotapes at a newsstand, including a multi-tape set called "How to Use Guys with Secret Tips". The things Dr. Suwalski (Park Young-gyu) suggests strike her as silly and kind of sexist, but when trying one gets her out of hot water, she decides to see just how far they can take her.

The first thing this movie reminded me of was 200 Pounds Beauty, another Korean comedy where a thoroughly winning lead performance did a great deal to counter some of the questionable thinking in the premise (in that case, finding success through extreme cosmetic surgery), but this one is better in almost every way. It uses the fourth-wall breaking goofiness of its dated self-help tapes to playfully mock the idea that men can be so easily manipulated, but staying just grounded enough to also have fun with the reality of how sometimes these small, superficial behaviors actually can have a big effect on people. When properly balanced - which is most of the time - it's an empowerment fantasy with some barbs on it.

Full review at EFC.

Zombie Hunter

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2013 in le Cinéma Impérial (Fantasia Festival, DCP)

Good news, independent filmmakers: Recognizable character actor Danny Trejo will be in your movie. He may not do a whole lot to elevate it, but does this thing get into festival midnight showings and a much higher-profile home video release than many better movies without him? Maybe - it's also got an actress with some potential and some decent gore & CGI effects - but it's very much the sort of thing you watch to laugh at, rather than love.

This particular zombie apocalypse is the result of a new street drug gone wrong, but the important thing is that a year or so later, Hunter (Martin Copping) is driving across the American southwest, scavenging what he can, especially liquor, and putting down the undead. A trap laid along the road has him brought in by a group of surviovrs, more or less led by priest Jesus (Trejo) and including jackass Lyle (Jake Suazo), ex-stripper Debbie (Jade Regier), nice girl Alison (Clare Niederpruem), and her kid brother Ricky (Jason Wixom), although circumstances will have them on the run again.

By now, zombie movies don't need much in the way of explanation - in fact, this movie's backstory of some sort of weird drug is probably more than typical. Co-writer/director Kevin King still handles it in a weird way, though: The opening prologue is long enough and pointed in a different enough direction - grimy drug-den nasty rather than the sort of escapist post-apocalyptic scenario where the characters' lives are in constant danger but they get to be free and kick butt that dominates the rest of the movie. Even beyond that, though, the writing is pretty bad, even by no-budget zombie movie standards, the sort of thing where new dangers aren't mentioned until moments before the characters are going to have to deal with them, and the dialogue... It isn't good.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 23 August - 29 August 2013

Folks, it's a great weekend to go to the movies. I say this a lot because I am basically an optimist when it comes to movies (it's more fun that way), but because I saw two of the things that open this weekend at Fantasia and they're both pretty great.

  • The World's End, for instance, is a pretty great sci-fi comedy from the guys that made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz - stars Simon Pegg & Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright - joined by Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, and Martin Freeman. Plus more. It's good peoplemaking a damn good movie, and you can catch it at Somerville, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    The other thing I saw there is You're Next, which has been awaiting release for a while - it played Toronto and Fantastic Fest in 2011 - but is well worth the delay for Lionsgate to find it a good release date. This one's a home-invasion thriller that twists in clever ways and has a set of surprisingly good performances at its center. This one plays Fenway, Boston Common, and Apple.

    The thing getting the most screens, though, is The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the latest adaptation of a series of young adult novels about a teenager who discovers that she's a not-quite-human chosen one destined to fight the forces of evil. Lilly Collins was okay in Mirror Mirror; the rest of the cast is young good-looking people, with Lena Headey and CCH Pounder as the character actors getting some work in. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Boston Common, and Fenway.
  • In addition to The World's End, Kendall Square picks up Ain't Them Bodies Saints, with Casey Affleck as a man just released from prison having taken the fall for his pregnant girlfriend (Rooney Mara). Ben Foster and Keith Carradine are in it too. There's also Cutie and the Boxer, a documentary on artist couple Ushio & Noriko Shinohara, that's playing for one week. Of course, that might be five days, as Closed Circuit opens up on Wednesday the 28th.
  • They've also got In a World..., which the Coolidge also picks up for the screening room. Aside from that, there's special screenings starting with The Monster Squad at midnight on Friay and Saturday, which brought the Universal Monstersback for a moment in the eighties, and even those of us who didn't see this Fred Dekkar movie when it came out can remember that Wolfman's got nards for the advertising. It's in 35mm, as is Monday Night's Big Screen Classic, The Blues Brothers, which... Yeah, I think I'd like to see that on the big screen.
  • the Brattle Theatre has the local premiere of Spark: A Burning Man Story, both for those who love the festival and those of us who aren't quite sure just what it is. It runs Friday to Monday, although Friday's the only day it has the screen to itself: There are 35mm matinees of The Princess Bride on Saturday & Sunday, while the Burt Lancaster series has Local Hero (35mm) on Monday and a double feature of Trapeze (35mm) and The Sweet Smell of Success on Tuesday. Wednesday wraps up the Recent Raves summer series with the restoration of Journey to Italy and the most recent check-in on Jesse & Celine in Before Midnight.
  • Cinema Slumber Party is close to wrapping up, but they've got a couple more weeks to go, including this Saturday night's 35mm screening of The Warriors. Not sure, but this seems pretty likely to be the original version rather than the new cut with about a minute more footage and weird comic-book scene transitions. Afterward (or before), go to Scouting New York for an impressively exhaustive comparison of the path the Warriors take and the actual city.
  • The Harvard Film Archive is so mainstream-friendly this summer that they're actually selling t-shirts at the box office. there are designs for The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, which offers Dial M for Murder (7pm Friday, 2D), The 39 Steps (7pm Saturday), I Confess (9pm Saturday), a Sunday night double feature of Jamaica Inn & Young and Innocent, Lifeboat at 7pm Monday with Hitch's propaganda short "Adventure Malgache" as a special added attraction, and North by Northwest on Thursday, and one for Burt Lancaster, although his Centennial Celebration is limited to The Train at 9pm Friday and Verz Cruz at 5pm Sunday this week.
  • The MFA's film program includes a couple screenings of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan on Friday and Saturday afternoons, and finishes up the Wong Kar-Wai retrospective with My Blueberry Nights, thus far his only English-language feature, on Sunday afternoon. The rest of the week is given to The Boston International Children's Film Festival, which features Meet the Small Potatoes (Sunday morning), Kirikou and the Men and the Women (Sunday & Wednesday afternoons), the pretty darn spiffy A Letter to Momo (Wednesday evening, when even folks sans kids can see it!), Zarafa (Thursday afternoon), Wolf Children - that's the new one by the director of The Girl Who Leapt through Time and Summer Wars (Thursday evening) - and two groups of short films on Wednesday (for 8-14 year-olds) and thursday (5-10 year olds) afternoons.
  • Chennai Express, is displaying some impressive staying power at both Fenway and Apple, although it will be splitting the screen at the latter as iMovieCafe opens Madras Cafe, a "political-action-thriller" starring John Abraham as an undercover agent and Ronnie Lahiri as an investigative reporter; apparently both find a rebel group fronting for an even bigger conspiracy.
  • Gathr Preview Presents continues on at The Regent Theatre, and hopefully this week's good turn-out can carry over to Breath of the Gods, which traces the source of modern yoga, primarily looking at Krishnamacharya's work. It's co-presented by the Arlington International Film Festival and plays Tuesday at 7:30pm. They've also got a film on Wednesday, The Voice of Silence, which is co-presented by the Armenian International Women's Association and presents the life of a survivor of a violent attack.
  • Free and outside: From Here to Eternity at the Boston Harbor Hotel's Music & Movie Fridays and Oz: The Great and Powerful at the Hatch Shell's Free Friday Flicks (also Saturday at Marine Park in South Boston, Tuesday at the Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex in Roxbury, and Thursday at Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester). Robbins Farm Park in Arlington has Cars on Saturday, while Hoodwinked is at the Prudential center that night. The Iacono playground in Hyde park has E.T. on Monday. There's a not-yet-announced movie to accompany storyteller Rona Leventhal in the Landsdowne Quad portion of Cambridge's Central Square on Tuesday (Cambridge hasn't announced the film at the Back-to-School Bash on Thursday at Green Rose Heritage Park, either). Wednesday has National Lampoon's European Vacation at North Point Park in Cambridge. Thursday closes out the SomerMovie Series in Somerville's Seven Hills Park with a viewers' choice. (All listings from Joe's Boston Free Films)
  • Belmont's Studio Cinema switches out Planes for Blue Jasmine, while The Capitol picks up The Way, Way Back from Somerville.
My plans? Lots of Hitchcock. Breath of the Gods, Wolf Children, maybe The Blues Brothers and Monster Squad. I haven't caught Paranoia, Chennai Express, or The Conjuring yet. You guys all need to see The World's End and You're Next, though. They're great.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 12 August 2013 - 18 August 2013

It's funny - I head out of town for the better part of a month, and I figure there will be a lot to catch up on when I get home, but that's not really the case. Stuff has come and gone, or is down to inconvenient-enough times that it might as well have, and mid-August isn't when the studios are opening the must-see attractions, anyway.

This Week in Tickets

Still, there's some good stuff: Europa Report is quite good and the rare bit of "hard" science fiction to make it to theaters, and I kind of wonder if it might hae hung around longer if it had opened in Boston a couple weeks later, when the MIT and Harvard students got back. Ah, well; it's on VOD and will be out on video in October.

Can't say quite so many good things about Savannah; it's got a nice cast but just doesn't know how to make its subject interesting. It's another Gathr screening where I was alone, though this one was not a Film Movement selection. It is available on some VOD platforms, though (Amazon, at least), and while something like Europa Report can get an audience despite that, Savannah couldn't.

Only got to one Hitchcock movie at the HFA this week, but that's okay; Rebecca is kind of terrific. I kicked around the idea of seeing more, but when I got back from my niece Maisy's party on Saturday, I was worn out - and waiting to hear back as to whether I'd left my phone in my brother's car, to be honest. I'd intended to catch The Lady Vanishes on Sunday night, but ESPN decided it wanted the Red Sox-Yankees game, so that was at 8pm. I did record the BBC/Masterpiece remake that coincidentally aired the same night, and I'm interested to see how that plays.

As to the game... Ugh. I must admit, I haven't exactly enjoyed when the Yankees visit Fenway for a few years now; for as much as these games can represent a big swing in the standings and how the Yankees tend to have players I legitimately despise, even if only for being pod people, it brings out the worst in the crowd - more drinking, swearing, and booing; seemingly less enjoying baseball. The current drama with Alex Rodriguez made it worse; I'm certainly no fan of Slappy, but rooting for someone to get hit makes you a bad person, and while the runs that scored because he was put on base instead of gotten out weren't the entire margin of victory for the opposition, they tied the game up and were infuriating.

As much as I hated giving up the run, I did kind of like him doing the Big Papi sky-point after annihilating a ball whose pieces quickly made the center field bleachers; the crowd needed and deserved showing up, especially the idiots near me who were acting like only the Yankees would employ such scum. I mean, remember how awesome the 2004 World Series was? Manny Ramirez was the MVP. Red Sox fans aren't unique in terms of being hypocrites here, but, really, this acting like athletes turning to pharmaceuticals to find an edge is the worst thing ever has got to stop.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

This will probably get a more complete review in a few weeks, when I'm finished with Fantasia reviews and can attack Hitchcock as a project, so I'll just leave the basics of how Rebecca is a great, great movie here.

It doesn't quite start and end with how fantastic Joan Fontaine is, but this is a lot of movie to rest on a relative newcomer's shoulders, and Fontaine handles it. What's most impressive, I think, is the way that the movie belittles her character - the man she loves is really quite patronizing - and it comes off as deserved without actually making the audience think less of her. Rebecca is structurally something of a gothic romance and uses many of the genre's trappings, but few manage the earnest, quiet growth of their ingenue quite so well as this one; the filmmakers and characters point out the tipping point, but they and Fontaine have been subtly moving her toward that moment throughout the film, and she has similar growth afterward.

Laurence Olivier is quite good, too; his bigger, more theatrical performance is rather precisely calibrated to overshadow Fontaine's character but not the actress herself, and he changes how he portrays Maxim just enough in the second half to reflect the character's new role (and the audience's new understanding) without invalidating everything the audience knew.

Plus, the story itself is rather a classic, especially considering how a lot of what Hitchcock and the four credited screenwriters/"adapters" take a structure that works very well in a novel - information and events relayed through exposition rather than action - and have it come out as a positive. The obvious and logical thing to do might have been to have flashbacks to Maxim's marriage to Rebecca, but having her completely off-screen is the right call, even if things do occasionally get rather wordy; her imagined perfection is used extremely effectively.

It's also worth noting that Hitchcock ends this movie the moment that there's nothing more to tell, not necessarily even closing certain narrative parentheses. Considering what an issue I had with him not doing so in Sabotage a few days earlier, the curtness was rather fantastic.

Europa ReportSavannahRebeccaRed Sox 6, Yankees 9


It's been a few weeks since I last went to a Gathr Preview screening - but, hey, Montreal was awesome - and although I can joke about there not being any point of running them if I can't make it, they actually did wind up skipping a couple weeks, as the local children's theater had booked the stage. There were a couple of regular screenings, I think, but the staff didn't mention any empty houses. Still, it was weird seeing that I was outnumbered three to one.

They're expecting something closer to a decent crowd tomorrow (well, tonight, 20 August 2013) for Papadopoulos & Sons; it's co-presented by Belmont World Cinema and there's apparently been some interest from the local Greek community. On top of that, the movie for the 27th, Breath of the Gods is about the origins of yoga, and there's a big yoga studio practically next door. Still, I don't know how that does anything for the Gathr Preview Series, much less Gathr's main business of booking movies on screens for a single night.

A shame; despite the disappointment that Savannah turned out to be despite a cast that raised my eyebrows with "hey, that's another pretty good actor" throughout the opening credits, $19 for four movies is generally a pretty good deal, and the Regent's a nice theater, even if it is out of the way. Here's hoping there are more folks over the next couple of weeks.


* * (out of four)
Seen 13 August 2013 in the Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

As with many movies based on true stories, Savannah ends with a few screens of text summing up the lives and accomplishments of its subjects, and for Ward Allen it states that he was an eloquent advocate of common-sense hunting restrictions. And while that's true enough and certainly a thread that the filmmakers give plenty of time... That's it? The filmmakers have spent the last hour and a half telling the audience how fascinating this guy is, and that's all they've got? It's a whopping anticlimax, although it does sum up the film.

It certainly seems like there might be a good movie in Allen's story; though born as the heir to a Georgia plantation and educated at Oxford, Ward Allen (Jim Caviezel) chose to spend his life as a market hunter, shooting ducks on the river to supply local markets and restaurants along with his partner Christmas Moultrie (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who had been born a slave. They occasionally exceed their quota, requiring Allen to make impassioned pleas in front of Judge Harden (Hal Holbrook), and occasionally work as river guides, though which leads to Allen winning the hand of local belle Lucy Stubbs (Jaimie Alexander) in 1918. The world is changing, though - both between then and 1924, and even more so by 1954, when a nonagenarian Christmas is living on land owned by the family of Jack Cay (Bradley Whitford), who tries to look after the man who taught him to hunt while his brother plans to develop the area.

Look at those dates, and those actors, and see if it quite adds up. Sure, Ejiofor is done up in old-age makeup in the mid-century scenes to be a believable ninety-two, and maybe it's not unreasonable to suppose that if Christmas lived that long, the man we see in the earlier segments could be in his mid-fifties to early-sixties. But Ward Allen was born in 1859, and there is no way Caviezel looks sixty-five for the bulk of his scenes. Sure, it makes Allen's courting and marrying Lucy - who, as played by Alexander, does not exactly come across as a spinster - palatable for a twenty-first century audience, but in doing so it means the whole movie feels slightly off, even if the exact years Ward and Christmas are born aren't made explicit until the end.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, August 16, 2013

This Week Month In Tickets: 15 July 2013 - 11 August 2013

Ah, Fantasia time, the most wonderful month of the year for genre movie fans. I've said it before, and I'll likely say it as many times as I can possibly bring the subject up: It's my favorite festival on the calendar, and a fantastic excuse for a summer vacation.

It does keep me from updating this regularly, as I'm not lugging the scanner up north and, besides, I do daily posts while I'm up there. So, because it doesn't start on Monday, here's four weeks of tickets:

15 July - 21 July
22 July - 28 July
29 July - 4 August
5 August - 11 August

This Week in Tickets

Remember the Harvard Film Archive's "The Complete Alfred Hitchcock" series from a month ago? That was a lot of fun and it's only half-over now even though I've spent weeks away. That supplied the last movie I watched on American soil before my trip, The Ring, a silent that I didn't love so much in the watching as I appreciated it after writing about it. That's either the mark of a good movie or talking oneself into something.

The day after that was the Barenaked Ladies/Ben Folds Five concert, at which I discovered that, you know, maybe I don't like Ben Folds as much as I thought. He'd seemed to be right in my wheelhouse, but something about the way he performs - melodramatic and overly precious, as if bored with rock & roll - rubs me the wrong way. I had much more fun with BNL, and the live show did a nice job of selling me on their new album, which I had liked but not loved so far.

The other fun thing about it was that my sister-in-law Lara works for the company that does tour support for the band, so that meant she was there with my brothers Dan & Matt and my niece Dagny, who was dressed in a volunteer t-shirt and got to go to the after-party. Not bad for a kid who turns seven this fall.

Wednesday night was spent on laundry, packing, and the like, and then it was on to Canada! Here are the first four days, if you can't see/click on the picture easily:

18 July: Shield of Straw
19 July: Drug War, Lesson of the Evil
20 July: Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo, Rurouni Kenshin, Confession of Murder, It's Me, It's Me, Frankenstein's Army
21 July: Key of Life, "The Outer Limits of Animation", Sweetwater, Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend

The press pass doesn't get you into the special opening and closing night films, so I had to buy a ticket for Shield of Straw, which I'm cool with. That was the last one, as a matter of fact, and only available because someone had returned it and I was flying solo. Nothing was getting me into The Conjuring, though, so I'll have to catch up with it later.

This Week in Tickets

Surprisingly, this turned into a pretty quiet festival for doing touristy stuff. I anticipated a lot more time for it during this week, but a bit of rain and chilly weather made it easy for me to stay inside and write, with my only venturing-out stop being to Pointe-a-Calliere on Tuesday for the annual look at the year's exhibits. As usual, it was fun and informative: The main exhibit was on the history of tea, and all the variations it has and had around the world, which runs much deeper than the British East India Tea Company, which is itself a pretty big deal. The spot across the street covered Beatlemania, centered (naturally) around their one very short trip to Montreal for two sets as part of a crowded bill. They actually never even went to their hotel, as Ringo received death threats for being an English Jew (which, sure, he isn't, but you don't mess with death threats). An energetic display, although by the end it does feel a little stretched. The most interesting part, I think, was how the influence of rock & roll changed francophone music in the province, shifting popularity from "chansons" to "zé-zé".

Aside from that, lots of movies:

22 July: The Garden of Words, The Burning Buddha Man, Secretly Greatly
23 July: Bounty Killer, Son of Sardaar
24 July: Uzumasa Jacopetti, OXV: The Manual, Black Out
25 July: The Last Tycoon, Missionary, The Machine
26 July: The Complex, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips, Big Bad Wolves, Zombie Hunter
27 July: Zero Charisma, Bushido Man, Machi Action, L'autre mode
28 July: The Lady Assassin, "Far East Fragments", Vessel, See You Tomorrow, Everyone, Doomsdays

Thursday was when one of the folks I see for a week or two at a time once a year, Kurt Halfyard of Twitch & Row 3, headed back to Toronto after a week and a press screening. A great guy to hang out with.

One thing I saw this week that I may have to work future Fantasia schedules around was the annual fireworks competition at La Ronde. I've sort of vaguely known that it overlapped the festival for a few years, but the temporary location at the Imperial meant that we could see and hear it when waiting in line outside - well, sort of; there were some buildings in the way. It sure sounds like a fun event, and I'll bet it's awesome to watch from the Vieux-Port.

This Week in Tickets

This was the "work week", where I pull out the office laptop, VPN in to the company network, and do some light report writing. Gotta pay the bills, after all. So, basically all week the thought process was that I'd finish up around 1pm, maybe write a little more, and then have time to grab some food before the movies started. Five times I learned that nothing goes quicker than expected, and wound up running to barely make the start of my first show.

29 July: Saving General Yang, Helter Skelter, The Dirties
30 July: "Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep", Library Wars
31 July: Ip Man: the Final Fight, Ritual: A Psychomagic Story, Antisocial
1 August: Number 10 Blues/Goodbye Saigon, The Dead Experiment, The Resurrection of a Bastard
2 August: Thermae Romae, Curse of Chucky, Raze
3 August: Berserk Golden Age Arc 2: The Battle for Doldrey, Berserk Golden Age Arc 3: Advent, Discoopath, The Rooftop, HK: Forbidden Super Hero, You're Next
4 August: 009 Re: Cyborg, Imaginaerum, Tales from the Dark Part 1, 24 Exposures, 5-25-77

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: The Stewart Museum, Thursday 1 August and La Cinemateque Quebecois, Friday 2 August.

5 August: When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep, War of the Worlds: Welles & Wells, Go Down Death
6 August: The World's End, Halley & Plus One
7 August: Bad Milo & Bad Film

And here, some blessed free time, as the festival ended Wednesday (and started relatively late for me on Tuesday & Wednesday, so I could run around like a tourist some.

I actually hit the Botanical Gardens twice; a singe ticket gives you two admissions and I wore myself out walking the first time. It was pretty well worth it, though; the "mosaiculture" exhibition being advertised around town - sculptures crafted out of plant life, looking like the world's most elaborate hedge trimming - was genuinely fantastic; my only real complaint was that the sun was bright enough that I had a hard time capturing some of the colors on my camera's phone (my stand-alone camera being left at home because it decided to choose "right before vacation" as the perfect time to turn into a brick). So, I came back Friday in the hopes that it being a different time of day or a little more overcast would improve conditions. In some cases, it worked out okay; I've done a big Facebook picture dump here.

Aside from the Mosaiculture, I also did the Chinese garden on Tuesday and the Japanese garden and the "tree house" on Friday. The latter two basically served as museum exhibitions to me, though interesting ones: I saw exhibits on Japanese papermaking and a guy who makes book-themed sculptures out of wood. I also headed for the Biodome on Friday, but that was kind of disappointing this time around; big chunks were under construction, it was crowded enough that most of the animals were hiding, and the crowd around the penguins and puffins was three deep.

Other museum-ing: The Stewart Museum is one I like to check out every few years, although I was drawn by a map exhibition this year. Some nifty stuff, although I'm going to have to say that the thing that sticks out was that, since I was apparently the last one to arrive for the day, I was mostly on my own and the exit was locked down with no-one in sight when I went to leave at ten minutes before closing. Fortunately, the heavy chain on one of the gates was set up so that I could open it wide enough to slip out.

Before leaving, Kurt mentioned a special-effects display near the Imperial with a bunch of Harryhausen stuff, as well as a pod from Cronenberg's ExistenZ and some other interesting items. It turned out to be the new "permanent" exhibition at the Cinematheque Quebecois (replacing the cool animation one from last year), and there was some keen material. The old TV display wound up spilling into the space where the Alternate History of Canadian Horror was last year.

On Saturday, I wound up mostly milling around the waterfront. I had intended to do a breakfast cruise on the St. Lawrence, but I ate late and large on Friday (ribs with root beer barbecue sauce at the Deville Diner Bar) and was perhaps not up to boats or brunch the next morning. There was a big line outside the deli where I was told the city's best smoked meat sandwich was served, so I figure it'll be next year before I try Schwartz's. It did give me a reason to stop into Buns, and now I feel like a fool for not heading into the one near Concordia on St. Catherine Street at any time during the past decade: While there are many burger places in the area with fancy toppings, these guys instead to the basics more or less perfectly, with a big wood-fired grill, toasted rolls, and mozerrella cheese and/or bacon if you ask. Pretty much perfect, and cheap, too.

As usual, the last thing I did was stop in a drug store to spend the last of my Canadian currency on Crush Cream Soda and Kit Kat flavors you can't get back home. And because I'm me and don't hit the night life, I saw three more movies before leaving Canada. I liked both theaters I went to, although the idea of a chain selling naming rights to a bank is bizarre. Still, the Scotia Bank Cinemas has a Tim Hortons inside, and, really, I'm not sure why Dunkin Donuts hasn't made a push to get inside theaters down here. I will admit to being a little confused when going to The Wolverine - I mistook the "13" on the ticket as the screen number rather than the rating and didn't know what was going on when I couldn't find a screen 13 (well, the Imax screen was unnumbered, but I didn't recall this movie having an Imax release). Thankfully, junior-high French from twenty-five years ago saved me and I recalled that "salle" meant "room". Ha-ha!

I saw three non-Fantasia movies while there - Only God Forgives, The Wolverine, and Elysium - and then got on the 11:30pm bus back to Boston. I thought I did pretty good at getting enough sleep on the bus, but I hit a heck of a wall during the Sabotage/Number 17 double feature at the HFA that night.

Only God Forgives

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 August 2013 in Cinema du Parc #1 (first-run, DCP)

I readily admit that I may have missed a bit of what was going on here, although the reason why is somewhat unusual for me: The listings for Only God Forgives had it as being in English with French subtitles, which it was - until one of the Thai characters starts speaking in his native language and I realize just how much/little I've retained from high school ("crap! what verb has 'pu' as its past participle?!"). The answer: More than expected, less than ideal.

Not that this is a movie that's exactly going to live and die based on characters' word choice. It's a strikingly gorgeous picture, beautifully photographed on the one hand and with the crew creating a bunch of open, empty spaces that that reflect the characters' frequent isolation and lack of a human connection. The electronic soundtrack adds to this, too - it never sounds like people working together.

And for as much as it successfully makes its point, that makes it a tough movie to love. The individual performances are compelling - Kristen Scott Thomas is a thorough monster as the Ryan Gosling character's mother, while Nicholas Winding Refn once again uses Gosling's blankness to great effect: This is a guy who has retreated deep within himself because he can't really stomach the family business. The trouble is, all of the characters are so precisely defined from the start that the movie can't do much other than play out mechanically. It leads to an unusual ending for this sort of crime picture, but it's from such a remove that it's hard to feel much but aesthetic appreciation for what Refn and company have constructed.

The Wolverine

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 August 2013 in ScotiaBank Cinemas Rue Ste. Catherine #1 (first-run, RealD 3D)

I must admit, I wasn't expecting much out of The Wolverine; Hugh Jackman's previous solo outing as the Canadian mutant was, to put it kindly, disappointing, the movie bounced between directors before settling on the pretty-decent-but-not-Darren-Aranofsky James Mangold; and the previews were uninspiring. And as an X-Men movie, there's something very much off about it; Jackman's Logan feels too handsome and centered compared to the comic character, while at the same time it seems very strange that he's so hung up on Jean Grey given how little play that got in the movies (not that I'm liable to complain too much about finding a reason to shoehorn Famke Janssen into a film).

And yet, without ever managing to find greatness, Mangold and company manage to be a little better than might be expected at every step. There are a number of fun action sequences, including a battle that breaks out at a funeral and a nifty number on top of a bullet train. Various new mutants pop up, and the tone of how these characters fit in is dead-on; the world doesn't feel too science-fictional but the fantastical elements don't come across as intrusions. The supporting cast is mostly unknown, but generally able to hold their end up. I particularly liked Rila Fukushima as Yukio; she may not be the greatest actress, but she has just the right sort of charisma for the character.

All of this doesn't quite translate to greatness, including the mid-credit tease for next year's Days of Future Past, and I always had the sneaking feeling that Wolverine could be replaced with a somewhat less iconic character without much change to anything but the mechanics of the action scenes. But it makes for a fair superhero movie that's enhanced a bit by its Japanese setting, and that''s nothing to sneeze at.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2013 in ScotiaBank Cinemas Rue Ste. Catherine (first-run, digital Imax)

I wonder, if at any point during the making of Elysium, writer/director Neill Blomkamp gave any thought to the idea that the MacGuffin at the center of his movie - that the residents, military, and society at large of the titular space station would apparently just accept their positions and policy being suddenly upended because the central computer had a different person's ID in the "President" field when it was rebooted - might be a sharper bit of satire than all the class-warfare and health-care topics that are right up front? Because, if not, then it's little more than a weapons-grade stupid plot device.

(Based on his two movies, it seems Blomkamp is really fond of idiotic plot devices - remember District 9's magic motor oil?)

Until that starts rearing its ugly head, though, there's quite a bit to like about the movie. Matt Damon, for instance, is quite enjoyable as the working-class hero who, for putting a life of crime behind him and trying to live right, is rewarded with a fatal dose of radiation (although it's Star Trek radiation that kills you all at once five days from now); William Fichtner is doing some corporate evil that seems at once thoroughly bloodless and quite entertaining. All three of the movie's villains, really, are at least memorable, with Sharlto Copley a sadistic cyborg sasquatch of a man who is going thick enough with his South African accent as to be almost incomprehensible at times, while I'm not sure what the heck Jodie Foster is doing, but, well, it's something.

And I appreciate that there's absolutely no thought of a PG-13 to be had here (although I gather it was actually rated "13" in Quebec); the characters fire the sort of future guns that explode their enemies into chunks and red spray, which is a whole lot more fun than it really should be. Even when not providing extra gore, Blomkamp directs a darn fine action scene, with a real feeling of solidity to everything and one beat leading to another in nice succession. It's energetic and earnest enough to get past a lot of the things that aren't well-thought-out, but Blomkamp's reaching the point where his good intentions won't be enough.

"The Clock Cleaners"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

Obviously, this Mickey Mouse cartoon is not an Alfred Hitchcock picture, but it was introduced as being by one of Hitch's favorite filmmakers, as evinced by another Disney cartoon showing up in Sabotage, and since we were seeing a 1930s-style double feature, including a cartoon was only logical.

It's a fun one, which goes for a lot of these shorts; they're based on a simple situation that sets up a bunch of fairly gentle slapstick for Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Mickey is fairly fully-formed at this point, as is Goofy, although Donald has some evolution to go, visually (his temper is pretty much as it should be). In this case, they're cleaning a clock tower, so Goofy thinks he's being attacked when mechanical figures come out to ring the bell - and dazed enough to almost plunge from a great height when the bell rings near him - while Donald finds a situation in the coiled mainspring he can keep making worse as mistakes cause him to react rashly. Mickey, naturally, is figuring his way out of tricky fixes only to look up and see he has to bail his friends out.

The set-up works, of course; these are great characters and Disney had a real knack for using animated deformation just enough to tell impossible jokes without highlighting their impossibility. As befits a cartoon set on, in, and around a clock that strikes the hour, sound, music, and rhythm are a major part of what makes "the Clock Cleaners" work - even when things aren't moving in obvious lock-step, Disney is always leading the audience to the next gag.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

I started hitting the wall here, so I wasn't absorbing Sabotage quite as well as I could. That doesn't matter too much - I've seen it before and it's far from a complicated story to begin with- but it's well-done enough that I'd like to be able to talk about it a little more.

In some ways, it's prototype Hitchcock and noir, centering around a villain who is just well-realized enough by Oskar Homolka that the audience starts to empathize with him: Life is full of nuisances, he hates running the movie theater that serves as a front for his illicit activities... It just makes one feel worn out, you know? He's a spy, but human. And then he's amazingly complemented by Sylvia Sidney as his wife, who carries around this air of not thinking she's good enough in every scene, even as the undercover detective next door nurses a crush on her. As she learns the truth toward the end, she just gets more and more quietly devastated.

I think how she reacts upon learning her husband is responsible for every horrible thing that happens reveals a rare misstep on Hitchcock's part: The movie needs to end with her at her nadir, but it keeps going on as if the climax was just a twist to set up a truncated third act. It also starts a swing into dark comedy that isn't dark or funny enough to work.

Number Seventeen

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

Every once in a while, even the greats stumble. Supposedly, Hitchcock really didn't want to do Number Seventeen, and while the program and introduction talked about how he seemed to make lemonade by experimenting here and there, it really is a slog, even at just over an hour.

To be fair, I missed the middle and don't have much idea how the start and finish connect, but neither particularly impressed. The cast is pleasant enough, but from what I can see, the package as a whole just doesn't work.

The RingBarenaked Ladies & Ben Folds FiveShield of StrawDrug War & Lesson of the EvilEvangelion 3.0, Rurouni Kenshin, Confession of Murder, It's Me, It's Me & Frankenstein's ArmyKey of Life, Outer Limits of Animation, Sweetwater & Hello, My Dolly GirlfriendShield of Straw

The Garden of Words, The Burning Buddha Man & Secretly GreatlyBounty Killer & Son of SardaarUzumasa Jacopetti, OXV: The Manual & Black OutThe Last Tycoon, Missionary & The MachineThe Complex, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips, Big Bad Wolves & Zombie HunterZero Charisma, Bushido Man, Machi Action & L'Autre MondeZero Charisma, Bushido Man, Machi Action & L'Autre MondeThe Lady Assassin, Far East Fragments, Vessel, See You Tomorrow, Everyone & DoomsdaysPointe-a-Calliere

Saving General Yang, Helter Skelter & The DirtiesSlipstreams and Ecelectic Sheep & Library WarsIp Man: The Final Fight, Ritual: A Psychomagic Story & AntisocialNumber 10 Blues/Goodbye Saigon, The Dead Experiment & Resurrection of a BastardThermae Romae, Curse of Chucky & RazeBerserk Golden Age Arc 2/3, Discopath, The Rooftop, HK: Forbidden Super Hero & You're Next009 Re: Cyborg, Imaginaerum, Tales from the Dark Part 1, 24 Exposures & 5-25-77

When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep, War of the Worlds: Welles & Wells, Go Down DeathHalley & Plus OneBad Milo & Bad FilmBotanical Garden & BiodomeOnly God ForgivesThe WolverineElysiumSabotage & Number Seventeen