Friday, June 28, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 17 June 2013 - 23 June 2013

Fun week, even if I did feel sort of lazy by the end.

This Week in Tickets

It's the strangest thing; bright, summer officially begins, and my nose starts running like crazy. Had to keep sniffling it back during The Good Son with Boom Boom Mancini there, and it and the rain more or less put the kibosh on hitting a second movie that night. It rained a lot Tuesday, and I half-joked with the folks at work about going to Fenway to spread contagion, but it was the funniest thing - by the time I got to Kenmore, I was feeling good, the weather had cleared nicely, and it was a great night for baseball.

The Red Sox took advantage, playing a crisp game thanks to the rare efficient start by Felix Doubront. Of course, it was apparently as hard for the manager to conceive of a complete game from Doubront, because he brought in Andrew Bailey, Bailey gave up a game-tying homer, but then Johnny Gomes of all people hits the walk-off. I've felt great since, which just goes to show baseball cures all ailments.

Thursday's plan was to catch Stories We Tell before its run at the Coolidge ended, but that can be harder than you'd think when it's on a screen with a mere fourteen seats. So, since I was there when it sold out, I opted to go for Before Midnight and buy a ticket for the later show at the same time. Still had time to stop for a slice of pizza at Otto's in between. I wasn't the only one trying to get it in; the 9:40 was sold out to the point where a fifteenth person came in during the previews, saw there was no seat, and went down to get an usher, who asked us to produce tickets. Someone "couldn't find" hers, and wound up seeing another movie. First time I've seen that happen.

I wound up being sort of lazy on the weekend, reading comics and responding to ads for Montreal sublets, so I didn't see as much as I'd planned (and the T moved just slowly enough that I couldn't fit one more in before The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. It wound up being a so-so weekend for mainstream film, although it was kind of interesting to see that Monsters University has a climax that seems to get what makes a scary movie work better than World War Z.


Before Midnight

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 20 June 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

There were times when I felt like I've screwed up during Before Midnight; go back and read my reviews of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and I've got a personal experience that I can relate to Jesse's and Celine's brief intial meeting and later reunion, whereas their situation here is pretty much alien to me. I'm okay with that, especially since it highlights just how great these movies are - it's not just a trick of recreating something familiar, but telling a good story.

Not a complex story, no, but the audience has a decade or two invested in these characters and the friction we see in an early scene, as they start to bicker while driving from the airport (where they've sent Jesse's son home) to the Greek villa where Jesse is participating in a sort of writers' retreat. It's fascinating to watch; we've been prepped to see Jesse as perhaps reaching the age where "boyish" isn't a particular positive any more, while Celine is talking about taking a job with more security than the nonprofit she works at offers. And while that's kind of a standard thing - how many times has one seen the sensible woman/man-child pairing - there's hints that it's not going to be quite that simple.

They won't fully pay off until later; writer/director Richard Linklater and co-writer/co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy know what the audience wants to see and deliver it: Yes, Jesse and Celine now have friends to talk to, but there's a very nice scene as they play tourist, checking out the sights that lay on the road between where they've been staying and the hotel room where they've been promised a night without their kids. It's different from the previous movies, of course - the pair are now familiar with each other instead of discovering and learning new things. There's a level of fun to it - Celine seems to have a much more eccentric sense of humor than she did before, almost reminding one of her Two Days in Paris/New York character (it's worth noting that her mother's death is a catalyst here, much as it was in Two Days in New York), and it's easy to fall back in love with Jesse again. But the cracks are clearly there.

Which is why that last set of scenes feels so horrible, as something small finally lets a huge amount of resentment out, and this group proves itself just as good at angry talk as the lovey-dovey stuff. It's surprising how much this doesn't just play the standard notes, though - Celine can do some fierce jumping to conclusions, and as it goes on, the audience comes to see it as a very real possibility that the movie will end with them breaking up, despite the twenty years the filmmaker, cast, and crew have invested in them.

SPOILERS! In fact, I'm not sure that the end isn't a cheat - it's too cutesy; the reconciliation almost feels unearned. But it's also quite possible that Linklater & company know this is false hope, a desperate attempt for the pair to make things work, and come 2022 we'll see that they've been split up for years when some sort of family emergency brings them together in Before Noon. !SRELIOPS

Or maybe they'll go a different way - imagine if the next one is about Jesse's son Hank introducing them to the girl he wants to marry? I get the sense, though, that this series has shifted from being the product of opportunity to that of ambition, and while it won't wind up on the scale of 7x Up, there will be little else of similar scale by the time we see one character mourning the other's death.

Stories We Tell

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 June 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre GoldScreen (first-run, digital)

I don't think there's any filmmaker out there who continually manages to surprise like Sarah Polley. As a young actress, she gained a bunch of art-house cred but was able to do the likes of Go and Dawn of the Dead without anyone accusing her of selling out. As a director, she did a movie about growing old when she was rather young, and just as it's getting to be time to stop dropping "for someone so young" from her praise, she's still getting to the autobiographical movie rather early, while there's still a fair amount of youthful recklessness to bring to bear.

Now, she's not reckless in terms of not knowing what she's doing - even as she's telling the story of the mother who died when she was a child and how the missing pieces of that story affected her own life, she's giving it more structure than one might initially think - but there's a brashness to the project. There's a certain level of ego necessary for her to think she can present this story, out of all stories, objectively,.no matter how many times she cuts between people contradicting each other or notes the impossibility of the task, and as a result there will occasionally be moments toward the end when the audience wonders why Polley would put her loved ones through this. But by the same token, documentaries are time-sensitive things - father Michael Polley is not exactly young any more - and if this story is going to be told (and many within think it's worth telling, if not necessarily in the same way or to the same audience), there's no-one in a better position to do it.

And since she's inherited storytelling talent and learned how movies work, Polley does it well. It doesn't hurt that there is little or no rancor here, so she can find and inject the humor into the middle of what might otherwise be Sirkian melodrama. There's something rather reassuring about the way she and Michael interact, with evident love and respect. She resists the temptation to follow every side-story or theme, acknowledging life's messiness but still maintaining focus. And I was quite surprised to see there were dramatized segments in the movie - aside from casting folks who matched the footage she had (whether home movies or the product of a family of entertainers), she creates short bits that match the period close enough that they could be real.

The end result is a fairly complete success - both an engaging story and a smart-but-not-pretentious ruminationon what makes an engaging story. It's further proof that Sarah Polley is good at movies, showing us just how it's in her blood.

"The Blue Umbrella"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 June 2013 in Regal Fenway #10 (first-run, RealD 3D)

You hear the "uncanny valley" mentioned a lot when critiquing animation and special effects, where once something gets close to photo-realistic, it looks more disturbingly wrong than something more abstract. Usually, it applies to human characters or human-like ones, but those are shrouded in "The Blue Umbrella"; instead, it renders the environment perfectly, finds faces on inanimate objects, and then gives them life.

And it's kind of horrible - unlike the blue umbrella which is given a more classically cartoonish face, cheerfully smiling from how much it loves protecting its person from the rain, these rictuses are stiff and creak as they shift expression, like they've been cursed to not be able to express themselves. The umbrella seems like a friend, but the mailbox seems like something hiding and lurking and maybe meaning to do people harm as they help the umbrellas - not the people under them - unite.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit - the short is cute just as often as it's off-putting, and the music is catchy. It often plays more as a tech demo than a short film, though, and when compared to the rather similar "Paperman", it lacks a certain charm and personality that the Disney film had in spades.

Monsters University

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 June 2013 in Regal Fenway #10 (first-run, RealD 3D)

When Monsters Inc. had its 3D re-release last December, I was pleasantly surprised by what a good movie it was - I remembered it being fun, but just how well it managed to tell its story without really looking like it was following a script hadn't stuck with me, and while the underlying theme was stated outright - making someone happy is more powerful than making someone scared - it was darn effective in its sincerity.

Monsters University isn't nearly that well-done. Oh, it's plenty entertaining - director Dan Scanlon and his co-writers come up with a ton of fun gags, some well-defined characters, and good voice-acting. The animation is fantastic, often in ways the casual viewer might not notice (there's a sequence where monsters getting stung by a spiky creature puff up like balloons, and it's easy to forget that this sort of cartoony deformation is hard for CGI).. But there's prequel issues - revisiting certain elements is gratuitous, and by dint of not appearing in Monsters Inc., certain supporting characters just feel less important - and a script that too obviously sets up a goal and then lines up set-pieces meant to be steps on the way. Plus, the underlying message of "teamwork is important!" feels a bit more like something directed at kids than which might resonate for everyone, and its clearest expression is perhaps too focused on what someone can't do.

On the other hand, I kind of love the big set-piece at the climax. For as much as I worry that, like the short that ran before the movie, it has Pixar too much in uncanny-valley territory, it also surprises by being as pure a love-letter to scary movies as anything from last year's barrage of horror-inspired animated family films. Scanlon and company sneakily demonstrate how a good scare comes not just from a good special effect (Sully), but by how a storyteller/director (Mike) sets things up deploys his monster to maximum result, because scaring the otherwise-jaded adults is powerful

That's actually pretty clever, encapsulating what's great about horror movies much better than the next day's selection, and you can explain it to kids without things being to meta. Maybe not exactly what six-year-olds will get out of it, but a nice little bonus for movie lovers.

World War Z

* * (out of four)
Seen 23 June 2013 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, 4K DCP)

Get horror fans together, and they'll debate fast zombies versus slow zombies like it's something more than philosophy but something more akin to religion. Well, actually, they won't - they will acknowledge that 28 Days Later is a pretty damn great movie, but point out that its "infected" were not living dead of any sort. It's kind of a nerdy fanboy argument most of the time, but I think it's important when considering World War Z.

The living dead in the original novel are slow zombies, and that reflects what the book is about: Finding ways to survive, slowly chip away at the problem, getting multiple perspectives of the same period that emphasizes that this is a global environmental catastrophe that requires significant changes to human behavior to survive. Max Brooks specifically structured the book as "An Oral History of the Zombie War" to emphasize this, and that's where the sweep and grandeur of the story comes from.

The movie's antagonists, on the other hand, are fast zombies, which is fitting for the plot, which this time is a race against time to find the source or a cure, with one guy, for the most part, crisscrossing the globe. It's like a videogame at times - go to one area/level, get through there to the goal, cut-scene traveling to the next area, repeat. As much as each location is impressive enough, the focus on Brad Pitt's Gerry Lane shrinks things. For all the massive effects sequences and talk of how bad things are, it feels small, nothing like the novel at all.

But, as one who tries to avoid judging a movie for what it's not but rather what it is, if we pretend that there was never a World War Z novel at all, how is it? Not great, honestly. Director Marc Foster and a small army of writers establish the situation almost too quickly - the plague seems to appear simultaneously across the "first world", and while there are hints that it was lurking elsewhere before hand, there's no time to consider the implications of this. Plus, it's a PG-13 zombie movie, so most of the blood and guts gets spilled just outside of camera range. Characters the audience knows who get bitten seldom if ever (visibly) turn for long enough to be a threat, eliminating a good chunk of the horror inherent in the genre. There's no meaning to the zombies as a threat; they might as well be anonymous robots or aliens, just CGI-multiplied into a swarm. The movie could make up for it with the human story, but Pitt doesn't have a lot to work with either - we're told Lane's smart in a generic way, and he's given a nice family to provide motivation, but he doesn't have a lot of personality or individual technique to grab the audience.

Essentially, there's nothing exceptional about World War Z aside from its price tag, and what do we as an audience care about that? Compare it to the source material (which, if was going to be adapted, seems like it should have been an HBO-style anthology miniseries akin to From the Earth to the Moon), and it seems like even more of a missed opportunity.

The Good SonRare Felix Doubront GemBefore MidnightStories We TellMonsters University (w/Blue Umbrella)The Golden Voyage of SinbadWorld War Z

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 28 June - 2 July 2013

The fourth of July is next week, which means lots of stuff exploding over the skies of Boston and Wednesday movie openings, so if there's something in theaters you haven't seen yet, get to it - there's churn coming up!

  • It's buddy movie week! And in the most potentially nutty take on that I can imagine, Jamie Foxx plays the President in White House Down while Channing Tatum plays cop on a White House tour with his daughter when stuff goes down, apparently winding up better protection than the entire secret service. I've heard that this is even more insane than Olympus Has Falllen, and that was out there. Plus, it's got Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Woods, and Richard Jenkins, with Roland Emmerich directing. It plays the Capitol, Apple, Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common, and the SuperLux.

    That means The Heat, with its all-female buddy-cop formula, is only the second-oddest take on the genre. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy star, and Paul Feig (who I'm told handled a female-led comedy well in Bridesmaids) directs. It's at Somerville, Apple, Fenway, and Boston Common.
  • The Coolidge opens up 20 Feet from Stardom, a very fun documentary that isn't quite Standing in the Shadow of Motown for back-up singers, but comes pretty close. Check the times, though - sometimes it's playing on the main screen, other times it's in the screening room. Also moving between screens is one of the two midnight movies: Maniac, a remake of a well-known serial-killer movie from the 1980s with Elijah Wood in the title role, is on screen two at midnight on Friday and Saturday, but moves to the wee Goldscreen for 10pm shows from Sunday to Wednesday.

    The other midnight movie is certainly a different kind of fun - a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pizza party! The first live-action movie based on the heroes in a half-shell is on the main screen in 35mm Friday and Saturday, and Otto Pizza from across the street will be supplying slices. Jim Henson's Creature Shop made good turtles, and Otto is good pizza. The main screen hosts the week's Big Screen Classic on Monday, with Raiders of the Lost Ark in 35mm, and guys, it's a rule - when Raiders plays in 35mm, you make plans to be there. Like, just now, I bought a ticket online (apparently this series isn't free for members anymore), because I suspect this will sell out.
  • 20 Feet from Stardom also opens at Kendall Square, which has another movie about singing playing as well: Unfinished Song (renamed from Song for Marion, its original title in the UK) has Terence Stamp as Arthur, a grumpy retiree pressured to join a local seniors' choir by his wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave). It's led by Gemma Arterton, and Christopher Eccleston plays Arthur's & Marion's son. Fun cast!

    They also pick up A Hijacking for a week (and it does look to be at least a week, with nothing opening here on Wednesday); it's a Danish movie that follows both the cook of a hijacked freighter and the executive negotiating for its release. It's got some good acting and does a lot of things well, although after I saw it at IFFBoston I thought it could show the passage of time better. Still, not bad at all.
  • The Brattle Theatrecontinues its DCP Debut series, showing off the new projector that a whole bunch of Kickstarter contributors helped them buy with great movies that it may be hard to find prints of. Things kick off on Friday & Saturday with a new restoration of one of Harold Lloyd's most well-remembered silent features, Safety Last!; there are separate-admission 9:30pm shows of Alien (Friday) and Phantom of the Paradise (Saturday). Sunday features The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, with West Side Story playing Tuesday, a new restoration of Badlands at 7pm Wednesday, and, because it's Massachusetts and July 4th, Jaws on Thursday (as well as a 9:15pm show on Wednesday). Monday is missing from that list; that's when the DocYard has their biweekly screening, in this case The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, It which a European filmmaker trying to cast a teenage lead scours the countryside and follows her subjects after the auditions. Director Tinatin Gurchiani will be doing a remote Q&A after the screening.
  • The Somerville Theatre, not having enough going on this summer, adds an "Affordable Family Flicks" program this weekend, showing a different DisneyNature documentary each Saturday morning at 11am for $2 whether you are adult, child, or senior; this week's is Earth. Cinema Slumber Party keeps chugging along, this week showing The Blair Witch Project at midnight on Saturday with an introduction by Toronto movie writer Alexandra West. She'll also be doing a lecture at 8pm, although with in being in the Micro-cinema, seating will be very limited. Also continuing is The Capitol in Arlington's "Summer Rewind" series; this week offering up Sixteen Candles on Friday and Saturday nights at 10:30pm and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure at 11am Saturday and sunday mornings.
  • The non-existent attendance at last week's Gathr Preview Presents... series doesn't mean it's over; this week's entry, La Playa DC, is a Colombian film about a black teenager searching for his younger brother in a dangerous, racist city. The program has moved back to Tuesdays, and it still plays at the Regent Theatre in Arlington (though it's not yet listed on their site).
  • The MFA's film program has one last screening of Sign Painters on Friday afternoon. Most of the weekend is given over to the 15th Annual Roxbury International Film Festival; that local festival dedicated to films by, with, and about people of color also has screenings at the Haley House Bakery Cafe in Roxbury (In Search of the Black Night, Friday 6:30pm), the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (two shorts programs and four features on Saturday) in downtown Boston.
  • Ghanchakkar is the iMovieCafe opening at Apple Cinemas; it stars Emraan Hasmi and Vidya Balanas a bickering married couple who rob a bank in a Bollywood little-bit-of-everything movie. It's in Hindi with English subtitles; Raanjhana is sticking around through Tuesday for late shows and you'd better speak Telugu for Balupu, also hanging around through Monday.
  • Belmont's Studio Cinema is a second-run theater through Tuesday, playing Star Trek Into Darkness.
  • The Boston Harbor Hotel has a weekly Music & Movie Fridays, with live music before a movie plays at sundown (probably just a projected DVD, but the atmosphere can be fun). This Friday's feature is Now Voyager. There are similar series at the Hatch Shell and City Hall Plaza, but they haven't started yet.


My plans? Much Ado, White House Down, Raiders, maybe The Heat, Unfinished Song, IMAX Trek, or some of the good stuff at the Brattle. I'd like to see La Playa DC, but I've got baseball tickets.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

I kind of don't want Chris to tell me whether he chose this as the Harryhausen tribute because (as mentioned in the review), it's one where you can draw a pretty direct line between Ray and the evil wizard. To be fair, almost all of Harryhausen's fantasies are going to have at least one scene where a villain brings an inanimate object to life, but how often is it so specifically his thing?

Not that I necessarily made this particular connection right away; I'd kind of liked that Koura's magic was consistent rather than all over the place, but the likely-silly connection came as I was writing the first paragraph of the review, deleting, having an idea come into my head and go nowhere, etc. The funny thing is, the first thing that made an impression on me was seeing Tom Baker's name in the credits; the last time I saw some Harryhausen, I noted that one of the cast members was Patrick Troughton and spent a good chunk of the movie saying "is that him? maybe..." It turned out to be the blind guy, and it never clicked for me. Tom Baker playing the villain was pretty obvious this time, fortunately, so I was much less distracted by it.

Anyway, another fun late night at Somerville on the big screen. I don't know that I'll do the Cinema Slumber Party this weekend - there's potentially a lot of stuff going on - but it's another different take on the midnight movie - The Blair Witch Project - with a potentially nifty lecture on found footage horror that evening at 8pm.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 June 2013 in the Regal Theatre (Cinema Slumber Party, 35mm)

Few people went to movies with special effects by the late, great Ray Harryhausen for the stories; they went to see him bring impossible things to life while his collaborators wove an entertaining enough tale of high adventure to make up for the fact that, back then, a movie couldn't just be an hour and a half of monsters fighting. He made a great many of these movies, but I suspect The Golden Voyage of Sinbad held a special place in his heart - and held it because he empathized with the villain.

First, though, we meet the hero. Sinbad (John Phillip Law) and his crew don't seem to be sailing anywhere in particular when they spot a strange animal flying over their ship; a bowman shoots it down and they find it is carrying a strange amulet. Visions lead Sinbad to a nearby port, where the masked Vizier (Douglas Wilmer) has a second amulet that links with the first, providing direction to the fabled isle of Lemuria and its magical fountain with a local merchant's layabout son (Kurt Christian) and a lovely slave girl (Caroline Munro) whose tattooed hand matches one of Sinbad's visions in tow. They are pursued by the wizard Koura (Tom Baker), who has reasons to find this fountain beyond his desire to take control of the city.

Wizards in fantasy stories - especially the evil ones - often have broad, vaguely defined powers, capable of doing anything the story requires until the writer realizes they're too powerful and says all that expenditure of mystic energy has worn them out, so they'll be of no use until the climax. It's noteworthy enough that Koura isn't like that - he's basically got one trick, and using it takes a visible toll on him. The fact that his main skill is bringing inanimate objects to life, seeing through their eyes, directing their actions, and feeling some sort of pain when Sinbad dispatches them... You have to admit, that's a pretty interesting guy to have as a villain in a Harryhausen movie, more human than the typical evil wizard, right down to having a henchman who seems genuinely concerned with his welfare.

Full review on EFC

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini

Hey, the Gathr Previews series had a guest:

 photo IMAG0386_zpsccf55c52.jpg

That's the film's subject, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, doing what he can to drum up interest in a film he helped produce in addition to serving as its primary subject. He mentioned a limited theatrical release as well as plans for the film to play VOD outlets later in the summer, making the by-now familiar calls to blog/tweet/upvote the picture. Always awkward when one did not particularly love the movie.

Well, I think he actually just said to get the word out, as he is rather the picture of the a certain sort of Italian-American fellow who has had a certain level of success and come to enjoy the fame and success that goes with it, and it's hard to imagine them talking about the internet. Right accent, big grin, off-the charts charisma that makes you think it would work on anybody he comes in contact with, no matter how much or how little they have in common. He has grown into being just perfect as the nightclub owner who you don't believe is involved in anything shady even after there's no doubt, should anyone ever offer him that role.

Given the typical attendance at this series, a number of folks were quite clearly coming for Mancini in particular, as a lot ore of the questions in the Q&A had to do with his boxing career than what we saw in the film. That's where some of my amazement at how well he seems to recall specific fights comes from; he pointed out that he got out of the fight game early enough that he can still spell "fight". And it's kind of fun to see him work a crowd; he shook hands with nearly everybody and amended his answer on what he thought of UFC-style fighting pretty quickly.

Wish I liked his movie a little more, but then again, if it were a more exciting movie, he might not be such a relatively happy and content person, and isn't that better?

The Good Son: The LIfe of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2013 in the Regal Theatre (Gathr Previews Presents..., digital)

Ray Mancini was at this screening for a Q&A, and he mentioned that when Mark Kreigel approached him with the idea of doing the book on which this movie was based, he wasn't particularly interested; he'd told his story a number of times and didn't feel like there was anything new to say. And while Kreigel had an angle that led Mancini to relent (fathers and sons), the feeling of this well being dry is still there, even for those who only vaguely recognize "Boom Boom" Mancini's name.

And once upon a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that name was huge; he was boxing's lightweight champion back when the sport was on broadcast television weekly and the lower weight classes were often followed as closely as - and considered more exciting than - the lumbering heavyweights. He took his nickname from his father Lenny, who had been a fighter himself before being injured in World War II. Ray never wanted to be anything else, pledging to win the title for his father even back in grade school. It was a great story, at least until he fought Korean boxer Kim Duk-koo in Las Vegas, landing a knockout blow from which Kim never awoke before dying four days later.

Ray Mancini's family history certainly isn't boring from the perspective of a random guy sitting next to you on a plane or in a bar and describing what put him there, but it can seem kind of ordinary by the standards of people who have biographies written about them: There's a mill town that goes to seed when the mill closes, a father who drinks a little too much, and a kid who goes off to New York to see if he can make it on the big stage, where his father made an attempt but never quite broke through. It's a good story, and it's got some good subplots, but it's hard to tell compellingly. Thirty years after Ray Mancini's career hit its zenith, everybody who could talk about him and Youngstown, Ohio when he was younger is middle-aged and sort of comfortable-looking: His old friends are nice, although the filmmakers are lucky that actor Ed O'Neill is among that number or just happens to be a guy who grew up in Youngstown around the same time, because having a guy who is used to being on camera on-hand to communicate what the town was like certainly helps. Go back far enough to be talking about Lenny Mancini Sr., and it gets drier, with just a few stock photos to tell the story. It is, up until the Kim fight, a fairly standard local-boy-makes-good story, and despite Kreigel's enthusiasm and director Jesse James Miller's basic skill, it just doesn't make the leap to being more.

Full review on EFC

Friday, June 21, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 10 June 2013 - 16 June 2013

What you should take away from the following page: Screen #1 at the Somerville Theatre is a great place to see a movie, both in terms of showing good things and high quality.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Kill Bill Volume 2, 16 June 2013, 10pm-ish, in the living room.

Can I go to the "they called it a 'cinema slumber party' but wouldn't let me crash there until The Kid" joke one more time? No? Sorry.

Before that, though, things got a little wonky. As I mention in the "QT Chronicles" post (covering Jackie Brown, Foxy Brown & Kill Bill: Vol. 1 from last week and Lady Snowblood, Death Proof, and Kill Bill: Vol. 2 from this one) got sort of derailed by not feeling particularly well. Shame, I might have enjoyed seeing more, but trying to give a series one's entire week is filled with pitfalls. The reason that I was trying pull some clever scheduling was to see More than Honey on Monday; it turned out to be a nifty documentary and also reminded me that bees freak me out.

Saturday, I half-joked, was Fantasia training, cramming four movies into the day, knowing that some were short-timers (An Oversimplification of Her Beauty & Errors of the Human Body), rightly suspecting it of others (Shadow Dancer, and figuring that I might as well fit Man of Steel in there while I knew it was playing 35mm on Somerville's big screen and that it would have me in the right area for Errors afterward.

(Also, can I mention how great it is that MoviePass now works at Somerville? It's great. I've given them a heads-up that they should add the Arlington Capitol to their list of Discover-accepting theaters, but it's not available yet)

Sunday started where Saturday ended, with me heading to Somerville to see a Charlie Chaplin program that included "The Rink", "The Bond", and The Kid, which as usual for Somerville's silent programming was accompanied by Jeff Rapsis and presented on 35mm film with Dave Kornfeld manning the projector in the booth, which meant he couldn't wisecrack about me swiping his favorite seat as he did for Errors. Note to self: If that's the projectionist's preferred seat, it's probably not a bad place to sit.

Also cool to see: Both Man of Steel and The Kid got enough people coming that they opened up the balcony.

After that, I headed downtown to check out The East, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. I've wanted to like Brit Marling's previous co-written/co-starring roles, but this one actually managed it. After that, the plan was to get to the Coolidge in time for Stories We Tell, but when it's in the 14-person room, it sells out in a hurry. Second sell-out of the weekend, as I got turned away from This Is the End on Friday.


Man of Steel

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

I really want my friends at the comic shop to go see this one, because I've got opinions that I want to discuss where it's concerned, and they're of the variety that I can't really pussyfoot around with - I've got to be able to talk about the ending. You'll hear some comic book fans and pros rip into it, and my instinct is to do the same, although I don't think it undoes the number of things this movie does right.

And let's be clear - it does a lot of things right, from the very start: Its take on Krypton, for instance, is among my favorites in any medium, finding a way to fuse the sci-fi wonder of the "Silver Age" Superman comics with the sterile world that had already all but died even before its core exploded. I absolutely love what they did with Lois Lane, which is in many ways the exact opposite of what DC did when re-launching their line a couple of years ago, but which frees her of decades of nonsensical baggage and frees her to give the movie's final, perfect line. I like Henry Cavill as Superman, and think that as future films are less of an origin story, he'll fit the classic conception of Superman/Clark even better.

And surprise, surprise, Zack Snyder rises to the occasion. I may not be a particular fan of his early work, but he pulls back from his tendency to try and get noticed here and does some excellent mythmaking (an excellent soundtrack by Hans Zimmer that makes a clean break with the familiar but often-used-as-a-crutch John Williams themes is a great help). The movie is covering familiar territory, but I felt thrills of excitement throughout. Even the initial decision which I had a little hesitation on, playing this as a first-contact story turns out okay - a logical take on it for the twenty-first century, although one which shifts certain elements a little more than I'd like. I'm not hugely fond of what it does to Jonathan Kent's character, for instance; even if it's not a deal-breaker the way it seems to be for some of my friends, I don't think it would have worked if a lesser actor than Kevin Costner had been in the role. But I can't lie - making it more science fictional worked for me.

And in some ways, I don't really mind the level of destruction we see in the finale. In part, it's because it is in fact pretty close to the sort of thing I read in comics on a weekly basis; Snyder and company capture the grandiose, larger than life sense of the comics. I do really wish that they'd been able to also capture the fun of it, and the way that the superhuman heroes' determination and ability to save everyone is the same scale as the threats. Think back to The Avengers, where this is a specific part of Captain America's battle plan, or Iron Man 3, where the "barrel of monkeys" sequence was all about this being what superheroes do. You don't have to write yourself into the corner that screenwriter David Goyer did, where the only way out made me think he'd completely missed the point.

But he did, and while I think the immediate aftermath of that scene made it work a bit better, it meant I was still using phrases like "on balance..." when recommending it to Tony and Ken yesterday. And I shouldn't have to, as so much of it didn't need any sort of qualification.

"The Rink"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

This Chaplin film is from 1916, which is early in his career, although he'd still cranked out enough movies since arriving in America to have his sense of what worked mostly down. What worked, apparently, was mostly strings of gags that don't necessarily have a whole lot to do with each othe/ Tthis short casts Chaplin as a trouble-making waiter who meets a girl while skating on his lunch break, gets invited to her evening skating party, and then finds trouble because a bunch of the people he'd upset earlier in the day are there too.

A lot of the gags work, and the roller-skating physical comedy is quite impressive. A lot of it is knockabout humor which Chaplin choreographs as well as anybody ever has; there's a reason we remember him as one of the all-time great physical comedians almost a century later. He hadn't quite figured out how to merge great characterization with slapstick yet, though; his character here is more than a bit of a jerk, so we as an audience are mostly impressed by the choreography rather than laughing along with the characters in the situations. Which isn't nothing, but it's not what Chaplin was capable of, either.

"The Bond"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

1918's "The Bond" isn't a whole lot more sophisticated than "The Rink" - in fact, as filmmaking goes, it's a lot closer to just shooting vaudeville than anything else - but it does show Chaplin having figured out how to make a personal connection to the audience. You might think that characterization wouldn't matter nearly as much in this collection of short skits - some of which basically amount to a live-action editorial cartoon - but in fact, that's what makes them work as well as they do: The audience gets them pretty much instantly.

The movie's aims are simple; it's a propaganda film through and through. But Chaplin knows how to make it go down easy; "The Bond" softens the audience up with pure music-hall silliness and whimsy even as it's trying to separate its audience from money needed to buy guns to go to war with. By the end, Chaplin is bonking the Kaiser with a great big hammer, exhorting the audience as directly as possible without sound to buy Liberty Bonds.

For something screened relatively rarely (or because it's something screened relatively rarely), the print which screened looked quite nice, even though Dave mentioned it dates from ~1962. Given the short's simple, high-contrast color scheme, strong blacks and whites are essential, and video wouldn't have looked quite right.

The Kid

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

It's been just a bit more than a year and a half since I last saw this, so it's probably not surprising that my opinion about it hasn't changed much at all - it's a template for many movies that would come later, most of which would add needless filler without making any particular improvement. It's amazing how many things Chaplin skips because they're neither funny nor important to the story - how Edna rose from where she started to becoming a well-known actress, for instance. The only real indulgence in the movie is the "Dreamland" section, but it's just odd enough - and filled with wire work that must have impressed in 1921 - to at least be a fun diversion.

Mostly, though, this movie gets by how well Chaplin and Jackie Coogan (as the title character) work together. Coogan's a special delight, never asked to play things too grown up but also not overly cutesy; just a very likable kid who brings joy to an initially unwilling father's life.

The East

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2013 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, 4K DCP)

I've been wanting to like a Brit Marling-starring movie ever since I saw Another Earth, if only because it's pretty cool when any young actors look to generate good movies and roles for themselves, but a young woman doing character-oriented genre work is not something we see a whole lot. Unfortunately, her first two attempts were split between flawed (Another Earth) and utterly misguided (Sound of My Voice), and the latter gave plenty of reason to be worried about The East - she'd be reuniting with co-writer/director Zal Batmanglij in another story of infiltrating an underground group. This one works, though.

Why? I think the main reason is that Batmanglij and Marling have a better handle on her strengths - that she's easy to relate to even in peculiar situations. Her character is not exactly an audience surrogate, at least for the audiences at the boutique-house cinemas where this is mostly running - the radio in her car is tuned to the Christian station and she probably votes Republican at the start - but her drive and youthful certainty should be familiar to most. She is easy to empathize with, even if one doesn't necessarily agree with her.

Which, in general, is the strength of the movie in general. Batmanglij and a very solid cast - including nice turns from Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Shiloh Fernandez, Danielle Macdonald, and Tony Kebbell - get pretty comfortable in moral gray areas, tapping into the appeal of idealism and direct action but being rightly nervous of the extreme ways The East goes about striking back. That the movie is willing to point out that both the East's slogan of "you hurt us, we hurt you" and Sarah's trust in the system are somewhat childish may lead to a a less visceral finale than one might like, it beats the film devolving into a screed.

It does push things a little far at times - even if Patricia Clarkson's job is to personify corporate self-interest, it would be nice if her character had the charisma necessary to keep Sarah's loyalty. And the members of the East are a strange combination of wealthy drop-outs and folks who wear their injury on their sleeves. It may keep them from being righteous enough to tilt the balance too far in one direction, but even tense, the group is kind of bland.

Really, it would be nice if there was something more active and thrilling about this movie; it's often competent and capable rather than really exciting. Which isn't bad; I'd just rather see the team behind it do something great rather than just move in that direction.

More Than HoneyLady SnowbloodDeath ProofShadow DancerAn Oversimplification of Her BeautyMan of SteelErrors of the Human BodyThe KidThe East

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 21 June - 27 June 2013

Ah, a busy enough week that the This Week post comes after the Next Week post (which is owing its existence to the Man of Steel soundtrack). Confusing and mixed up. Also confusing and mixed up? The way several boutique-house openings for the week are also popping up in the multiplexes (he says, although one of the "boutique houses" in question actually has more screens than one of the "multiplexes").

  • Of course, there's no doubt which ones are genuine wide-release movies; there the ones with a bunch of three-dimensional CGI. For the kids, you've got Monsters University, which flashes back to well before of the events of Monsters Inc. to show Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan first meeting at college (so, yeah, guys in their sixties voicing teenagers - the magic of animation!). Folks worry about Pixar these days, but the 3D re-release of Monsters Inc. was better than I remembered, so this could be worth a shot. Plays 2D & 3D at the Arlington Capitol, Boston Common, Fenway, and Apple.

    For the grown-ups - though not necessarily so grown up as to surpass a PG-13 rating - there's World War Z, featuring Brad Pitt as a UN epidemiological investigator tracking down the start of a zombie plague that is threatening to consume the world. Max Brooks's novel was kind of brilliant, but I've got no idea how it gets streamlined down to one man's action movie. It was also post-converted to 3D, and plays in both two and three dimensions at the Capitol, Fenway (including the RPX screen), Boston Common, Apple, and the SuperLux.

    Getting a somewhat larger release than I figured is Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, in which a group of Los Angeles teenagers take to robbing celebrities homes while they're tweeting their location as being elsewhere; they, naturally, become celebrities of a sort themselves. It's playing Somerville, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Fenway.
  • Joss Whedon's made-in-a-weekend-in-black-and-white-at-his-house adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is also opening in a variety of different places - the Coolidge, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and the SuperLux - but the Coolidge is the one that has the IFFBoston award winner in 35mm. And speaking of things related to that, they also have 2012 IFFBoston selection Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himselfplaying in the smaller digital rooms, with directors Luke Poling and Tom Bean popping by for Q&A after the 7:45pm shows on Friday and Saturday and the 2:15pm and 4:45pm shows on Sunday. And while Whedon won't be showing up, it's also the weekend where the Coolidge (and other theaters around the country show Serenity to raise money for Equality Now and collect non-perishable food for Rosie's Place. That's Saturday at midnight, a good movie for a good cause.

    No special causes associated with the weekend's primary midnight screening, but really, do you need one? How often do you get the chance to see Killer Klowns from Outer Space on 35mm? Not enough, even counting this Friday and Saturday! Really, it kind of stuns me that the Chiodos never made another movie, even the guy behind The Room (which has its monthly screening Friday) got another chance! They've also got a special preview of Fruitvale Station on Wednesday
  • Kendall Square, meanwhile, is getting more than just Much Ado and The Bling Ring: Fill the Void was Israel's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year, a drama about arranged marriages among Hasidic families in Tel Aviv, including a proposed match between a widower and his late wife's sister. The one-week booking comes from France in the form of Augustine, in which the title character is a maid in the late 19th century who, after a seizure, is sent to a psychiatric hospital where the doctor may not always have her best interests at heart. They've also got a single-night booking for Tuesday the 25th of Free China: The Courage to Believe, which focuses on Jennifer Zeng and other Falun Gang practitioners being persecuted in mainland China.
  • The Brattle Theatre has an amusing juxtaposition of movies this weekend - the matinee and 7:30pm shows from Friday to Sunday are Journey to Italy, a Roberto Rossellini classic about a British couple's marriage falling apart on a trip to the Neapolitan countryside that was once a staple of the Brattle's programming until prints became difficult to acquire. Then, at 9:30pm, another Brit comes to Italy only to find his sanity disintegrating in Berberian Sound Studio, a pretty great little giallo tribute featuring Toby Jones as the sound engineer come to edit a new movie that's more grotesque than he's used to. A movie sort of like Suspiria, which plays at 11:30pm on Friday and Saturday - and which also features Jessica Harper as an American coming to Italy to encounter strangeness. Suspiria is in 35mm; the other two are DCP.

    That new projector gets a workout over the coming week, as the theater will be running a DCP Debut series to demonstrate that not only is it more or less necessary for booking new films, but that it does make a lot of repertory programs available. For instance, they'll be showing Double Indemnity on Monday, The Guns of Naverone on Tuesday, and La Dolce Vita on Wednesday. The program will continue through the next week, but is interrupted on Thursday for The Best of the First Ten Years of Open Screen, touted as a send-off for the originators of this "filmmaker open mic night", although others will keep the flame alive after they show their favorites.
  • That's an event that usually happens at the Somerville Theatre, although it seems to be on hiatus based on their website. Not on hiatus? Cinema Slumber Party, which after an oddball new release last week shifts gears to pay tribute to Ray Harryhausen with a 35mm print of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Their sister theater, the Capitol in Arlington, continues their "Summer Rewind" series with Ghostbusters on Friday and Saturday nights at 10:30pm and The Mighty Ducks at 11am Saturday and sunday mornings.
  • Once again, the Regent Theatre just has the one film program this week, the Gathr Preview Presents screening of Broken on Monday evening. It's based upon Daniel Clay's novel and follows a young girl losing her innocence as she begins to take notice of some of the uglier things going on in her neighborhood. Eloise Laurence plays the girl, Tim Roth her father, and the cast also includes Rory Kinnear and Cillian Murphy. There's nothing on the schedule beyond it, which confuses me a bit since I bought a second four-week membership one week ago; hopefully they're not taking more than a couple of weeks off.
  • The MFA's program continues mostly as it was from last week, with documentaries The Iran Job and Sign Painters each having single shows on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday, with Sign Painters also running Thursday afternoon. That evening (the 27th), the 15th Annual Roxbury International Film Festival, dedicated to films by and about people of color, kicks off with Things Never Said, which follows a spoken-word poet as she dreams of moving from California to New York. Cast members Shanola Hampton, Elimu Nelson, and Michael Beach will be there, and the series continues through next weekend at the MFA and other venues.
  • iMovieCafe's Hindi-language, English-subtitled movie this week is Raanjhana, which stars Dhanush and Sonam Kapoor as two childhood friends whose romance is threatened when she goes to university and meets another man played by Abhay Deol. They also have scattered shows of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which is subtitled, and Telugu and Tamil movies which aren't.
  • Belmont's Studio Cinema continues to do the second-run thing, picking up Now You See Me, while the Capitol gets The Great Gatsby (2D only) from Somerville. And, most importantly, the Aquarium will be running Star Trek Into Darkness in IMAX 3D from Thursdays to Sundays through at least 14 July, which is a big deal because I believe they're still showing genuine IMAX film, which several segments of the movie were shot on, so it's our first chance locally to see the movie in all its glory.


My plans? Monsters University, Much Ado, Broken, World War Z, and it's a crying shame I can only hit two midnights (I'm thinking Sinbad and Killer Klowns). Maybe give Star Trek a double-dip on the giganto screen.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Errors of the Human Body

Well, I would have liked to talk about this one earlier, but as you can see from the last couple of posts, Saturday was a pretty crazy smallish-movie-watching day (and that's not even including the Superman movie). This was the very tail end of it, at midnight at the Somerville, leaving me ready to drop because it got out after the Red Line stopped running my direction.

Still, it was a nifty way to begin the Cinema Slumber Party series at the Somerville Theatre, which looks like it's going to be a fun one. Chris Hallock, one of the guys behind the "All Things Horror Presents" series, has lined up what looks like it could be an interesting line-up in that it started off with something new and unusual and will have everything from Day of the Dead to Pitch Perfect over the course of the summer (note that the schedules on the Cinema Slumber Party and Somerville Theatre websites are slightly different). This coming Saturday should be a different kind of fun with a 35mm print of Ray Harryhausen's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

It was a somewhat quiet first week, but to be fair, they did have the rotten luck to open up against the Bruins playing overtime in the Stanley Cup finals. I'm guessing that won't throttle this series in its crib the way I'll always (somewhat irrationally) feel the Red Sox' 2004 championship run did for the Boston Fantastic Film Festival.

Speaking of... Well, let's save spoilers for after the review!

Errors of the Human Body

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Cinema Slumber Party, digital)

There's a pattern to movies like Errors of the Human Body - scientist arrives at secretive new lab, discovers his research being used for secret programs, confronts the results of the perverted and monstrous use it is being put to, maybe stops it, maybe doesn't, delivers a speech about how men shouldn't be playing God, etc., etc. And while there's a lot of that in this movie, writer/director Eron Sheean inverts and twists enough of it to make things interesting. Not always exciting or scary, but interesting.

In this case the scientist is Geoffrey Burton (Michael Eklund), who has been forced out of his position at the University of Massachusetts for the fringy research he has been conducting into genetic screening ever since his newborn son died from a rare and horrible condition. He's hired by a laboratory in Dresden, with his supervisor Samuel Mead (Rik Mayall) suggesting he work with his former student Rebekka Fielder (Karoline Herfurth) on her cellular regeneration project. He also attracts the attention of Jarek Novak (Tomas Lemarquis), a suspicious-looking guy who runs the "mouse house" and seems to be hijacking Rebekka's work.

For all that there are mutated genes, retroviruses, and other science-fictional devices in the story, Sheean and co-writer Shane Danielsen opt to keep much of the focus on the office politics and other interpersonal drama. It proves to be a rich vein of tension even next to the horror elements, in part because of the particular dynamics of a research laboratory - the competitive publish-or-perish atmosphere, the graduation from mentor-student relationships, the eccentric people that the field attracts, the knowledge that one is working on something that could potentially change the world but will more likely leave one in unappreciated anonymity. On top of that, these characters' backstories may occasionally be kind of familiar (of course Geoff and Rebekka were more than teacher and student!), but even if their interconnections aren't complicated, they're enhanced by the characters' intense feelings about their work.

Full review on EFC

SPOILERS!

As much as I have a few issues with the movie, I do kind of have a twisted love for how things play out in the end. Whenever the subject of assisted suicide or "death with dignity" comes up in real life, I always say that I want none of that, because the day after I take my own life would be the day that scientists announce that they've made a really awesome discovery involving stem cells, and it was kind of gratifying to see Eron Sheean more or less play that scenario out, albeit in the most horrifying and heartbreaking way possible. The trope of scientists being called out for "playing god" for trying to discover and apply knowledge - as opposed to, say, "having faith" - is one that annoys me much more than it really should, and I found the idea that Dr. Burton ending his baby's suffering winds up as the worst thing he could do, rather than somewhat noble if painful, was a very welcome twist.

And that's not the only way that the last scene turns conventional horror movie storytelling on its head, either - I love that when the audience sees Geoff awake, strapped to a hospital bed, our first impression is that we're getting the almost-expected dark ending, where the evil pharma company is harvesting the Easter Genes his system is producing for their own nefarious purposes, but, no - friend/lover/student/peer Rebekka is just worried about him and trying to help. Then she hits him with the bombshell that his son would have lived... And as she says it, she figures out what he did herself. And then that last shot is kind of beautiful, with us looking through a window to get an even more exaggerated widescreen framing, so that we're even more aware of the horizontal spacing between Geoff and Rebekka, just pointing out how the course of his life from here forward is going to be determined by whether she walks toward or away from him. Is he forgiven, loved, treated as a valued member of the scientific community, or is he a damned outcast?

Sheean winds up holding the shot and fading to black; it's the audience's decision to make. But the length he holds it for emphasizes the difficulty of it, and that's a much more effective way of getting the point across than all the movies that wring their hands over the moral complexities involved.

!SRELIOPS

I kind of love that, but I wonder how it plays to others. I suspect it will help make Errors of the Human Body even more of a niche picture than it already is. I'm glad I fall in its niche, though.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

I'm kind of surprised I was able to write as much on this movie as quickly as I did - even with documentaries, I tend to be a story-and-information guy, and there's precious little of that here. And, I admit, I might have passed this one by if not for a couple of things: First, there's a fair amount of animation in it, and when images from it started showing up on the Brattle's screen before other movies, they looked quite nice. Second, writer/director/editor Terence Nance was announced as being present for a couple of screenings, and when you've got a sort of art-house-y movie, it's nice to have the opportunity to ask questions.

Sandy Alexandre & Terence Nance photo IMAG0384_zps7506f951.jpg

That's Nance; Sandy Alexandre from the MIT Literature Department is out of frame to the left. I see that one of her specialties is African-American literature, and while there is a title card that one of the financiers/supporters is dedicated to the cinema of the African Diaspora, that's not a topic that was touched upon during the movie or discussion very much. Well, other than how, in one scene, someone on the bus asks Terence and his platonic lady friend Namik (who, at the time, had the same sort of 'do as Nance) whether they were going to be having big-haired babies, or how one segment about his comfortably middle-class upbringing referenced The Cosby Show. I would be curious to hear if there are bits of it that resonate specifically to African American viewers, because it seemed pretty universal to me.

There were a few interesting subjects touched upon worth noting. He mentioned that he lived in South Africa for a year or two between the events of the movie (2006) and the present, which explained why a couple of the other relationships mentioned were "halfway around the world". Interesting context, at least, as I figured they were pre-Namik, maybe foreign students he knew during college (and maybe they were; not a lot of information).

One other thing that kind of fascinated me was how he talked about how the animation, as it is wont to do, particularly when you don't have a lot of money, took a long time. This meant that as he waited for it to be completed, he was working on the movie in other ways, and as a result he was growing and maturing while the animators were working based on the way he was thinking at an earlier point in his life - a big deal, for a movie as thoroughly drawn from his own life as this one was.

There was a fair amount of other conversation, too, although a fair amount of it sounded like liberal-arts-major overthinking of things to my engineer's brain. I am glad I saw the movie with the Q&A (and at all), though; it was a nifty little work that might not otherwise have been on my radar.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement, digital)

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty began life as a short film, "How Would You Feel?", and goes about building that work up to a feature in an unusual way, not so much expanding it but responding to it. It's an interesting idea, although dangerous - the original piece was sort of self-centered as it was - but filmmaker Terence Nance (along with a team of animators) has put together something striking and entertaining enough that many will enjoy it, even if it does just annoy others.

"How Would You Feel?", at least as presented in this movie, was a riff on a reasonably simple idea: Terence gets home from a long day at his job and the workshop (where he is attempting to fabricate a bed for himself based upon a novice's understanding of Japanese wood joinery), having looked forward to spending the evening with a girl he's known for a few months who certainly seems like may be as attracted to him as he is to her. Instead, she calls and says she won't be coming over, and if that happened to you... Well, how would you feel?

It's an amusing premise for a short, and while it's got a fair amount of potential to be kind of presumptuous and whiny, there's a certain amount of self-deprecation to it - the deep-voiced narrator could come straight from one of those "How to..." Goofy cartoon, and while the structure is often a loop of running through the same series of events with a little more detail added to (supposedly) make Terence's situation sound more sympathetic, the tone often becomes a little more mocking, though not flagrantly so. It's a fine balance between earnestly depicting a young man in love and suffering a tiny heartbreak that feels like it may be the missed opportunity and having a little fun with the structure of the thing.

Full review on EFC

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Shadow Dancer

So, there's this guy I see at the Kendall Square 'plex every few weeks, often winding up in the same theater I do because if you go to the movies often enough, you'll be seeing a lot of movies opening weekend, and so your paths will cross with the other frequent cinemagoers. We've had the same conversation a few times, involving him asking me if I see a lot of movies and how they play a lot of good movies here. It's a short conversation, because I'm not really a gregarious guy. Anyway, this time he wound up seated two seats away from me, with a big bag full of lunch, and he actually got a flashlight out while the movie was running to rummage around in it and brush his crumbs off and such. Poor form, guy, way worse than the seniors on my other side who had to fill every moment between previews (and a few quiet moments in the film) with talk.

Anyway, he buttonholed me afterward (he had a big old cane and needed someone to find the Diet Coke he dropped midway through the movie) and started asking questions. Not necessarily bad questions, although he didn't get to the ones that were really worth discussing. Since they tend to involve the end of the movie, I'm going to talk about them after the review.

Anyway, it's sort of a weird thing - as much as I go to the movies in the theater in large part to experience it with a crowd of strangers, I don't necessarily want to talk to them, and I'm sorry if I came across as brusque or rude to this guy. But, still - he had a flashlight!

Now, here's hoping that I don't wake up tomorrow and find a note from the EFC contributor who lives in Northern Ireland saying I don't know what the heck I'm talking about!

Shadow Dancer

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

There's a twenty-year jump early in Shadow Dancer, from 1973 to 1993, and another twenty years between then and the present day, and there's something appealing about that sort of symmetry, especially with the reminders in the background that this was sort of a turning point in the area's history. What's left of the Provisional Irish Republican Army is pretty quiet these days (at least, not in America), and it makes me wonder if the events of this nifty little spy story feel closer to the past or the present.

What happened in 1973 certainly had an impact on Collette McVeigh; when we see her in 1993 (Andrea Riseborough), she's taking a trip to London, eventually dropping a satchel in the middle of the Underground. The cops are on to her, though, and she's offered a deal: Spy on the IRA cell that includes her brothers Gerry (Aidan Gillen) and Connor (Domhall Gleeson), and she an go back to living quietly with her mother (Brid Brennan) and son (Cathal Maguire). She reluctantly agrees, but she's attracted the attention of IRA ratcatcher Kevin Mulville (David Wilmot); meanwhile, her handler Mac (Clive Owen) discovers that his supervisor (Gillian Anderson) has not briefed him on the entire operation.

Shadow Dancer is a fairly short movie, but it's just big enough to have multiple angles, shifting its focus from chess match to questions of personal loyalty for both Collette and Mac and back again so that even though the two are intertwined, the audience can focus on one or the other in a given moment. It's a delicate balancing act, especially once the director James Marsh and writer Tom Bradby (who penned both the screenplay and the novel it was based upon) pull away from the walls tightening on Collette and move on to dropping some revelations and reversals on the audience. It's the sort of twisting that can leave some in the audience confused as the movie ends, but is still quite satisfying, especially as the actions of relatively minor characters seem more important in hindsight.

Full review on EFC

SPOILERS!

The movie does merit a little discussion of the details that may not be clear. I kind of think the questions this guy wanted answers to were more or less irrelevant, but there's something underneath that bugs me.

First question: Who actually killed Collette's brother in 1973, which arguably set her on the Republican path? My answer was "it doesn't matter", and it really doesn't - Collette thought it was the Brits, Mac showed her evidence that it was IRA friendly-fire to try and turn her, but who cares? Each fact did its job of motivating Collette, and while I don't know that MI-5 could have faked the evidence convincingly in 1993, it almost doesn't matter: In 1973, who actually fired the shot that killed Sean wasn't as important as the fat that a fight for which she blamed the British took him, and in 1993, the fact that Mac used it was crass.

Second question: Why did the PIRA kill Mac with the car bomb? Well, I don't figure they need any reason beyond him being MI-5, and when the PIRA knew where one of those guys was going to be, he got a bomb in his car. I suppose, technically, they might have been covering up some loose ends - he was the only one who could figure out that Collette was a double agent, thus leaving her out of danger - but it might just have been a crime of opportunity. Or, alternately, Collette feeding the PIRA where and when a British spy would be could be her price for not ending up with a bullet in the head like her mother.

I don't think the latter is the case - these guys don't seem like the types to consider her books balanced against Brendan's death just because she gave up one Brit. But if it's not, that means she was a double agent all along. I'm pretty sure that's what the idea of the film was, and in fact, they pretty much lay the possibility out right in the beginning with Mac describing how she might have deliberately not set the bomb's timer (or subconsciously not done so). Of course, he's just arrogant enough to think that's because she doesn't have it in her to be a killer or that she (like her mother presumably does) sees this as a way to hasten the end of the conflict, when, instead, she's trying to gain his trust in the hopes of shaking the real traitor loose.

And... I don't know if that makes a whole lot of sense. On the one hand, it seems like something of a high-risk move on the IRA's part; if it doesn't work, then Collette's in jail and for what? If she gets someone like Kate as her handler who can't be easily manipulated, they're similarly out of luck (although maybe they can eventually use Collette to send false information, so it's not a total loss). Plus, if you figure that this is ultimately Kevin Mulville's plan, he certainly seems to go through a lot of theater to pretend that he really thinks Collette is a traitor. Then again, I don't know if he ever does so when it's just the two of them.

It works, I guess, but I suppose I'd have to give it a second viewing to see if it really fits together, or whether important bits are just being played out for the cinema audience. That's always a tricky thing with stories that rely on this sort of misdirection, and while I think it's more likely than not everything holds together, that's more a 60% level of certainty than a 90% one.

!SRELIOPS

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The QT Chronicles: Jackie Brown, Foxy Brown, Kill Bill, Lady Snowblood, Death Proof

Ah, I was hoping to have this done an hour earlier so that it could still technically be a tenth-anniversary post for the blog. Not that I want anybody to go back and read entries from its initial incarnation as "... is to write", but ten years... You've got to say something, right, even if it's wondering what you've been doing with all this time.


For the last two weeks, the Brattle's "QT Chronicles" series has been a big chunk of it. I didn't get to the whole thing; Django Unchained is still pretty fresh, as are Reservoir Dogs and The Killing. I wanted to do both Kill Bill double features, but knew that More Than Honey was going to knock out Volume 1. So, I figured I'd watch that at home and be roughly prepped for it's "influence" (Lady Snowblood) and the next night's double feature, Volume 2 and Fists of the White Lotus. So what happens? I have trouble staying awake through Lady Snowblood and just enough of a headache not to go the next night (I justified it to myself by noting that when I saw White Lotus at Fantasia, the print was in pretty bad shape and the only other available one was English-dubbed, and was either one worth being at the theater until midnight when I had to work the next day?). I actually wound up re-watching Volume 2 as I wrote the last few parts of this post, and it's interesting to me that it's clearly a better movie than its predecessor, but not engrossing in quite the same way.

Also interesting, to me, is how I'm approaching Tarantino (and cinema in general) differently now. I like to say that this blog is ten years of me educating myself about movies - I don't often get a chance to, but I do like to say it - and for better or for worse, I have gotten more analytical and actually skilled with that analysis where movies are concerned. Better at writing, certainly, even if cross-posting to eFilmCritic has given these reviews more of a set structure than they maybe should have. I wasn't a huge fan pre-Kill Bill - I never saw Reservoir Dogs until recently, considered Pulp Fiction energetic but gimmicky, and didn't see what the big deal was with Jackie Brown (I think I dug Michael Keaton crossing over between it and Out of Sight more than anything else in the movie). With Kill Bill, he turned more toward action, and while that certainly pleased the version of me that had just turned thirty and had been soaking up the various older movies that played the Brattle and Coolidge on occasion since moving to Cambridge, I argue below that it's where he becomes a full-fledged filmmaker as opposed to a guy who writes a lot of words and films people saying them. Not that I saw it that way at the time - in fact, the end of Volume 2 was possibly where I really started to grasp, vaguely, that action wasn't just there for its own sake, but how you tell a story: That having the whole final confrontation between Bill and the Bride happen while sitting down emphasized that conversation could be as deadly and dangerous as gunplay, and that ultimately the character died of a broken heart.

So, anyway, here's to Tarantino, who is a kindred spirit to many of us, taking in a ton of movies, pulling them apart to both save the pieces he likes the best and to see how they work. He may build Frankenstein's Monsters of movies, but at least the wholes are tending to be equal to the sum of their parts.

And here's to ten years of writing about movies and maybe starting to understand why I love them so much. It's kind of been a side effect - I started this blog to get better at writing by doing so every day, but don't think that really started happening until I abandoned that as the goal. Now I just keep track of the movie's I've seen and what I thought about them, and maybe, after ten years of that, I've actually got something worth saying.

Jackie Brown

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 June 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (QT Chronicles, 35mm)

The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA, just had a series where they paired each of Quentin Tarantino's movies with one of its influences, and Jackie Brown was one I wanted to see in particular, because I remember it being not such a big deal to me when it came out - just another movie. Fifteen years later, that's what makes it special - it is "just another movie", and in a career filled with formal trickery and genre homages, it's the one that shows what he can do without gimmicks.

It's also the only time he's adapted a single novel, Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch. Despite now being the title character, Jackie (Pam Grier) is initially shuffled off to the side as the focus falls on Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), a small-time gun-runner whose associates - dismissive moll Melanie (Bridget Fonda), former cellmate Louis (Robert De Niro), and motormouthed dealer Beaumont (Chris Tucker) - aren't exactly impressive Indeed, he needs to use bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to bail the latter out. It's when he also has Max bail out Jackie - the flight attendant who smuggles Ordell's money in and out of Mexico is less down on her luck than never up on it - that things get interesting: Max takes an immediate liking to her, and she sees an opportunity to not be the pawn that both Ordell and the Feds think she is.

Robert Forster had better send Quentin Tarantino a very nice Christmas present and card every year, because it's not difficult to imagine a parallel universe where he's got the dopey sidekick role and Robert De Niro is the co-star of the movie, rather than vice versa. It likely wouldn't have been as good - when was the last time De Niro was able to convey the sort of low-key, lived-in sincerity as Forster? - but you can easily see a studio wanting that, just looking at their star power at the time and the number of lines in the script for each. Fortunately, it didn't go down that way (although I seem to recall that when it was still being called "Rum Punch", Sylvester Stallone was attached to one of those roles; that might have been interesting). Forster is the working-class heart of the movie, delivering the solid support both Jackie Brown the character and Jackie Brown the movie need to accomplish bigger things without ever seeming less important.

Full review on EFC

Foxy Brown

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 June 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (QT Chronicles, 35mm)

Huh - given how this movie is the one people usually bring up when talking about how awesome early-seventies Pam Grier was, I figured it came before Coffy, which was trying to recapture what made it work, when in fact Foxy Brown came out a year later (and was originally intended to be a sequel). Now, neither of those movies are really good, but imagine what they'd be without Grier: Even if she isn't really much of an actress yet and is getting parts mostly based on her bust, she's still got the sort of charisma that makes a B movie more entertaining than it has any right to be.

As this movie opens, Foxy Brown's good-for-nothing brother Link (Antonio Fargas) is in deep trouble, and needs his sister (Grier) to bail him out. She does, and while he insists he's on the straight and narrow - except that he had to borrow money from loan sharks to get there - it's not long before he realizes that Foxy's new boyfriend (Terry Carter) is the missing-presumed-dead informer (undercover cop, actually) with plastic surgery. Soon enough, he's back in the hospital and Foxy's looking for revenge. Fortunately, the people responsible - boss Katherine Wall (Kathryn Loder) and her chief enforcer Steve Elias (Peter Brown) run a prostitution ring, and that's something the curvaceous Foxy can infiltrate pretty quickly.

Let's be frank: Despite being plenty memorable, this movie isn't really good at all. Writer/director Jack Hill was working for Roger Corman's American-International Pictures, where the goal was to serve up sex & violence and cut whatever other corners can be cut. As a result, pretty much all the performances are terrible - Loder, in particular, makes for a flat, dull villain - and the story is tremendously haphazard, just dropping new bits in randomly. Plus, it is downright ugly at times, especially in how it treats its heroine, just not recognizing the line between fun action/enjoyable skin and the stuff that makes the audience want to take a shower.

Full review on EFC

Kill Bill: Vol. 1

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2013 in Jay's Living Room (QT Chronicles, Blu-ray)

Quentin Tarantino likes to present his films' events out of chronological order, so it makes perfect sense that I would review the first half of Kill Bill nine years after the second, right? Still, it's interesting to look at this movie in light of how his career has progressed since - as much as he'd always loved genre, who expected this to be just the start of a full-fledged dive into action filmmaking? Fortunately, he's a very quick study.

It seems like a strange thing to say about a movie that is so plainly built as a genre homage mash-up after three much-praised features, but this may be the movie where Quentin Tarantino became a great filmmaker. Oh, sure, he'd gotten a lot of praise for his screenplays before, and getting fine performances out of guys that nobody expected much from, but from the very start of this one, where Vivica A. Fox opens the door for Uma Thurman and they start wailing on each other, it's crazy action time, and that's great.

After all, before Kill Bill, Tarantino's films were known for their violence, sure, but it was always about how quick and shocking it was - "holy crap, that came out of nowhere!" - as opposed to the elaborate, exciting action scenes choreographed by Yeun Woo-ping (and animated sequence directed by Katsuhito Ishii). There are only a few of them, but they're great. More importantly, he's using action to let the audience understand these characters; from that first great fight, we learn about the Bride not just from what she's willing to do, but the relentless way she does it. Same for Vernita, O-Ren, and all her henchmen. And while it's easy for critics to talk about how the strength of Tarantino is in his dialogue - that's the part that's obviously writing, and thus easy for them to understand - the fact that he is really starting to get the job done with movement and action here means that he's mastering an essential tool.

Full review on EFC

Shurayukihime (Lady Snowblood)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (QT Chronicles, digital)

As I mentioned earlier, I was in and out of this, so I can't really give it a fair shake. Crying shame, really, because I re-watched Kill Bill: Vol. 1 in order to be ready spot quotations and similarities. And, by coincidence, I'd read the new omnibus-sized edition of Kazuo Koike's Lone Wolf and Cub manga a day or two before, so I was primed for this. But, long day.

Still, I'll have to pick it up to watch again someday, as what I saw was pretty darn good. Koike came up with a great storyline here - a beautiful woman raised with no other purpose than to avenger her parents' death - and the filmmakers fill it out with a well-cast lead actress in Meiko Kaji, and plenty of well-choreographed violence, complete with plenty of gushing arterial blood as the limbs come flying off. It's classic Japanese blood & guts, and it's not hard to see how how it has come to be considered a classic of sorts.

Death Proof

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (QT Chronicles, digital)

I haven't seen this one since its original release as part of Grindhouse, and in fact even held out on getting it on video for a longtime because the Weinstein Company initially only made it and Planet Terror available in separate, extended cuts. I reviewed Grindhouse (second one down) when it came out, and spent most of the time talking about Tarantino's contribution.

My opinion on the movie's strengths hasn't particularly changed upon seeing it with a half-hour more footage; if nothing else, the two-hour extended cut certainly seems to emphasize that eighty-odd minutes is the appropriate length for this particular movie. That's especially true with most of the restored footage seeming to come during the film's Austin-based first half. That addition is even rougher the second time through, when the viewer knows just how much what happens here will really matter.

It does make for an interesting demonstration of how pacing can be a fragile thing, though. In the Grindhouse version, that first half is just long enough to get the audience interested in the characters, care about them in spite of how selfish and unpleasant they can be, and sort of recognize the genre trappings he's playing with. Here, it's easier to get annoyed with Sydney Tamiia Poitier's Jungle Julia and Vanessa Ferlito's Arlene, the actual lap dance isn't nearly as entertaining as suddenly cutting away from it. Plus, while Tarantino has never been shy about showing off his record collection or telling you his favorite movies, there are long stretches of this segment that are seemingly nothing but that, and it's annoying.

But then the second half kicks in, and the new crew is fun - I do love Rosario Dawson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Tracie Thoms, and Zoe Bell. It leads up to an insane car chase, all the more crazy because having Bell in the main role means they can do some quite frankly insane stuntwork, that's not actually quite as long as it seemed the first time through, but is still amazing, especially when you consider that Tarantino spent the film's first action scene telling you just how the musicians do their tricks - and now he's going to do them well enough that it doesn't matter.

Kill Bill: Vol. 2

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 June 2013 in Jay's Living Room (QT Chronicles, Blu-ray)

Ugh, don't read what I wrote nine years ago. I mean, I haven't changed my mind about any of it, but... Well, I'd like to think I've gotten better at writing in the past decade.

It is interesting to look at that right after rewatching the movie and notice one thing - I said Volume 2 wasn't wall-to-wall action like the first, and, wow, that's not the case. In fact, I'd actually argue that the second volume has more action, with several well-executed fights, some noteworthy violence that doesn't rise to the level of a fight, and plenty of sparring, while the first actually bookends with action while the middle is actually fairly quiet.

Watching these two movies again makes me wonder just how much Tarantino had certain themes in mind before and after the split. The first movie is very much concerned with what might have been - the Bride confronts Vernita, who has the life that had been denied to her, and O-Ren, who is the sort of monster she might have become without the moment of clarity that came with knowing she was pregnant. Ellie is obviously another reflection, this time of what she was, while Budd... Well, that's where it breaks down, isn't it? I suppose one could say that Budd is an extension of Bill, so maybe it's fitting that the Bride doesn't exactly complete the dry run, while Elle does to him what she's wanted to do to Bill.

Maybe that means the movie merits another revisit, only all in one gulp this time. There'd be worse ways to spend an afternoon/evening.