Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gathr Previews Series: The Body

A lot of people joke about there being an inverse relationship between a movie's quality and its attendance (some more seriously and bitterly than others), but Tuesday night's screening of The Body seemed like a fairly literal example of it - it's the best movie that the Gathr Preview Series has shown since The Broken Circle Breakdown, but without a tie-in, it was one of the smaller crowds since the weeks when I was coming alone.

It maybe also didn't help that it was a Spanish-language film as well as being a thriller; I don't know if either of these alone will push this series's & venue's audience away, but a lot of the time I've seen that, outside the dedicated fan, those who like foreign/indie things and those who like genre material can each be a little wary of the other. It's a shame, because I tend to think that the overlap is often where a lot of the most exciting things happen.

So, because of that, it probably makes commercial sense that Gathr doesn't have a lot of genre material beyond this Halloween special. It's a shame, because there are a lot of folks making low-budget genre movies both here and abroad who would probably dig the exposure, even if it doesn't appear that a release is particularly imminent. Heck, I don't know if anybody's got the US rights to The Body at all - just because there was a Sony Pictures logo at the front doesn't necessarily mean Columbia/Tri-Star/Screen Gems/Sony Pictures Classics will pick it up.

They should; it's a good one, and even if it's hard to get into theaters, there's got to be a way to make it visible on VOD.

El Cuerpo (The Body)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 October 2013 at Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

The Body (El Cuerpo in Spanish) is the sort of thriller that to all appearances never lets the audience get too far behind - in fact, it often feels like the viewers are ahead of the characters. That may sound like a mistake, but director Oriol Paulo and co-writer Lara Sendim do such a good job of keeping the details that hold the structure that the audience sees together just out of reach that the movie's crimes would be fun to puzzle out even if it wasn't the well-polished production it turns out to be.

As it starts out, a couple of people have just arrived home to Barcelona after journeys abroad. Jaime Peña (José Coronado) has just been to Berlin to see his estranged daughter, and as the detective is called in on a late-night hit-and-run, it doesn't seem like things went well. But, as his partner Pablo (Juan Pablo Shuk) tells him, this isn't any ordinary accident - the victim was a security guard at the morgue who bolted from the building in fear. That brings them to Mayka Villaverde (Belén Rueda), the wealthy owner of a number of companies who returned home from a business trip to Los Angeles and promptly died of a heart attack. Except her body is missing from the morgue, and while the forensic pathologist (Cristina Plazas) who examined her wonders if maybe she had been cataleptic, Mayka's husband Alex (Hugo Silva) and his young lover Carla Miller (Aura Garrido) seem to have good reason to suspect that's not the case. But if it isn't... Well, what is going on?

That's the multi-million dollar question, and it is a deliciously tantalizing one: Paulo & Sendim set up a situation where an explanation that would be pretty outlandish in the real world seems to be the one that fits the facts the best, but doesn't fit them so well that nothing else would make sense. It gives the audience pieces to fit together but not in such a way that what's going on seems disconnected or random, and with Alex positioned as the protagonist most of the time, the audience gets to indulge in a tangy combination of rooting for the bad guy and schadenfreude as the box he's in grows tighter.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

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

Four movies worth writing about last week. Would have been more, but baseball and birthdays and such. I honestly don't know what I'll do with my evenings in a couple of days when the World Series is over.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Machete Kills, 27 October, 1:20pm. Actually, I have a stub, but after the first false start, the theater gave us all free passes, and after the third, they admitted that the movie just wasn't going to run and refunded our money. Or, since I paid with MoviePass, handed over another free pass.

The kind of funny thing about the whole thing was that when the sound cut out during the "Machete Kills Again... In Space!" fake trailer, nobody in the audience really stirred; we figured it might just be part of the fake-wear stuff from Grindhouse, where the Machete movies got started - it wasn't until things were silent during the main feature that that we knew something wasn't right and someone went for a manager. She and the projectionist tried valiantly to get the movie started, subjecting us to the previews for Neighbors and the Robocop remake three times, but eventually they gave up.

There's a rant from folks like myself who love 35mm on how digital sucks here, but I'm not going to make it; I spent a good chunk of Thursday and Friday at work trying to figure out why running the same data through the same code on the same hardware was producing different results, so I sympathize entirely.

As for what did wind up getting seen, it was a pretty good week. I used the extra day off between playoff rounds to catch up with Captain Phillips on Monday; I thought it was pretty good, but did come in with a chip on my shoulder in its favor due to some weird ranting about it that I'd heard before. Tuesday's Gathr preview was Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard, a standard for-the-fans rock documentary which is fairly unusual in focusing on the music.

Then there was baseball to watch Wednesday and Thursday, while Friday's choice was in part necessitated by my shopping for a niece's seventh birthday party. Still, unlike most cases when choosing by location and start time often settles you with a dud, I liked All Is Lost quite a bit.

It was a near thing getting to that birthday party - while it's normally a straight shot from my house near Central Square to South Station to catch the bus to Portland, there was work on the Red Line, so one stop on the train to Kendall, two on a shuttle bus taking a weirdly circuitous route to get to Park, and then two more on the train to South. It was a little late getting into Portland, and nobody had received my Facebook message saying I was coming (unusual, as most of the time I get messages from someone after opening the app for ten seconds on my phone), so I wound up taking a cab to my brother's house. It was fun to surprise them, at least, and I got to hang out with my brother, parents, and Awesome Nieces for the afternoon. I was psyched to see how excited Dagny and her friends were at the telescope I got her (little girls loving science is cool), amused at how they passed around another gift to show how heavy it was for the size, and relieved when I saw her open things from other friends and relatives that I had considered and then put back. Awkwardness averted!

I hung around there long enough that I missed the first couple innings of Saturday night's loss, and after the Machete Kills-related misadventures on Sunday, I made sure the DVR grabbed its game so that I could see Haunter at the Somerville Theatre as part of the Terror Thon. It's the only thing I made it to outside the actual marathon, but I'm willing to bet that Vincenzo Natali's new movie was the best of the bunch.

After that, I went radio-silent on the internet to avoid spoilers, and reached the end of the week. As much as I don't want this Red Sox series to end, I've got to admit that it will be nice to be able to see movies every night again as some of the good stuff starts arriving for awards season.


Captain Phillips
Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard
All Is Lost
Haunter

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

All Is Lost

This wasn't necessarily the movie I'd been planning to see that night, but it worked out that the toy store that I had the best chance of reaching before closing time was close to the Coolidge and this was the thing that started at the most convenient time. Fortunately, this was something high on my priority list anyway, as opposed to the usual "don't buy based on starting time" cautionary tale.

Before getting to the review, I have to admit I found something kind of odd - the DCP file (I presume this was DCP, as there were none of the usual reel markers, dropouts, etc., that even new prints tend to sport) ended with a screen saying the film had been rated R, which surprised the rest of us left in the theater; I actually heard some of the other folks trying to pin down where the other use of the f-word was, because that's the only thing in it that could really seem to get it that harsh a rating. I see online that it's apparently rated PG-13, which makes a lot more sense.

Its kind of amusing to stay through the credits for other reasons, too, from how it blocks off a "Cast" section for one line ("Our Man - Robert Redford") and a number of other credits that are kind of amusing for their playfulness: Listing "The Atlantic Ocean" and "The Pacific Ocean" as filming locations, or describing how the production purchased three yachts that all made the ultimate sacrifice over the course of filming stick out, but there were a few others.

So, as has become a bit of a trend for the weekend, give the main review a read at EFC, and then (if you've already seen it or don't mind being spoiled), come back for some speculation about the movie and talk about the ending.

All Is Lost

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 October 2013 at Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

At times, All Is Lost presents itself as pure problem-solving porn: No speaking, no backstory, not necessarily even much of a sense that filmmaker J.C. Chandor has anything else on his mind besides just showing what's happening to its nameless protagonist. That is, in fact, all it needs, but Chandor, star Robert Redford, and company put plenty more in for the audience to unpack.

Things start out simply enough: A man (Redford) is sailing in the middle of the Indian Ocean on his own, and is awakened by water sloshing around the cabin of his yacht. A container full of sneakers has fallen off a merchant ship, crossed the path of the Virginia Jean, and ripped a gash in the side of the 39-foot vessel, incidentally shorting out the electronic navigation and communication equipment. This doesn't seem like anything beyond our man's ability to handle, but that doesn't take an approaching storm into account.

That's not quite where the movie starts; it actually opens with a bit of pessimistic voice-over followed by an "eight days earlier" caption, and that may be Chandor setting himself up with a challenge: Some in the audience are going to start counting day/night cycles at that point, and it's a sign of just how good a job Chandor does as director that it's still quite possible to lose track of that number as the audience gets caught up in the moment on the one hand while on the other, the solitude and distance makes time meaningless. The audience gets locked into this man's perspective as to start seeing the world as he does, something a great many films try to achieve, though few do.

Full review at EFC.

SPOILERS!

It's a bit amusing to me that I saw this the same week as Captain Phillips, and so sort of laughed when one of the freighters that passes Our Man toward the end is from the Maersk Line company - I wonder if they were okay with their ship passing the man in the lifeboat without making a move, and if Chandor perhaps gave them a script that specified that it was impossible for the crew to see him. It seems like a little thing, but I think that's actually one of the most important points in the movie, and it doesn't necessarily reflect well on the large company.

Which, I think, is the point; without Chandor making a vocal stand, he does seem to be pointing out large corporations and globalization are destructive. Our Man's ship is damaged and ultimately sunk by a shipping container full of sneakers - things most audience members will realize come from an overseas factory - and when his lifeboat later moves through the shipping lanes, the two large freighters that we see pass not only don't acknowledge his flares, but they don't even seem to have any human occupants. And while we never get a particularly clear look at his eventual rescuer, it's easy enough to see that it's a smaller vessel, small enough that we can see a human hand and arm reach down for him.

This leaves a couple of other areas to look at - first, Our Man himself. He's older, retired, on this trip alone. The note he writes is apologetic, but eventually cast into the sea. In fact, the manner of how he goes about surviving on his own without feeling the need to talk to someone, even himself, suggests he's not connected to humanity much at all. It makes me wonder if, perhaps, the money that bought the yacht was made in the corporate sector, perhaps at the expense of a family life, and as a result the large ships ignoring him was doubly crushing - the realization that he is fundamentally unimportant to those he gave his best years.

Is that inferring too much? Perhaps. Still, the other interesting thing to me is how Chandor structures the end, with Our Man having to destroy the tools and materials which he's been using to try and survive in order to attract his rescuers. It's a nice way to represent a self-reliant man having to rely on others, although it's not something he's naturally able to do - hence the desperation to the point of giving up.

At any rate, it's nicely done. Somewhat backloaded, but not as obviously so.

!SRELIOPS

Monday, October 28, 2013

Haunter

Thanks to the Red Sox' progress through the playoffs (and a little time under the weather), Haunter is extremely likely to be the only in the Somerville Theatre's "Boston Terror Thon" program I see outside the actual marathon. That's kind of a shame, because I would really like to support genre film festivals like this, although on the other hand, Haunter certainly seems like it was the best of the bunch. That's why I put Game 4 of the World Series on the DVR and experienced it an hour or two behind everybody else.

Hopefully the attendance has been good enough that the Somerville Theatre and Zoetrope Productions folks (who I believe are involved, although no mention was made of them at the events I attended) aren't too discouraged; It would be quite disappointing if this went the way of the Boston Fantastic Film Festival, which debuted in October 2004 with an impressive line-up but was not going to draw a lot of people from the Baseball Ragnarok of the ALCS. I occasionally imagine a parallel universe where the BFFF is the fall's big genre film event while Fantastic Fest is kind of nice if you can't get to the Brattle, but in that reality the Sox traded Nomar away for nothing and the drought is approaching a century, and that sounds terribly sad.

At any rate, this particular movie is fun. If you've seen it or don't mind being spoiled, come back after the eFilmCritic review for a little talk about the ending and themes where I sort of contradict some of my usual horror movie stances. Heck, watch it now; as of late October 2013, it's available to watch on Amazon.

Haunter

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Terror Thon, digital)

Haunter is the kind of horror movie that is in many ways so well-built that it almost gets in its own way when someone sees it, likes it, and wants to recommend it: The film has a hook that does its job of intriguing an audience as well as one might hope, but one of its early delights is just how nicely it reveals what's going on. It's good enough to not just be a gimmick movie, though, but quite the nifty ghost story.

It's a Sunday night in mid-1980s Ontario, the day before Lisa Johnson's sixteenth birthday, and Lisa (Abigail Breslin) has just started to realize that this has been the case for quite a while: Every day is a repetition of the one before, from her brother Robbie (Peter DaCunha) playing Pac-Man to her father Bruce (Peter Outerbridge) struggling to fix the car and her mother Carol (Michelle Nolden) asking about clothes missing from the laundry. The phone is out and the house is shrouded in fog, and when the routine breaks one day, it's so that a creepy-looking man (Stephen McHattie) can ask Lisa how long she's been awake and warn her not to rock the boat.

The basics of what's going on is pretty clear, if only from the name of the movie and how malicious poltergeists have by and large fallen out of favor compared to unknowing emotional scars on a location, but director Vincenzo Natali and writer Brian King let the movie get to roughly the half-hour mark before spelling it out. Both the lead to and follow from that moment are filled with nuggets that build the story and a mythology that seems reasonably common-sensical compared to many supernatural stories. It's a nice set-up, with just enough scale and complication to give Lisa something to worry about beside herself, and while the story gets a bit messy toward the end, it seldom falls into the trap many horror movies do where the scares seem randomly assembled. There is at least an emotional foundation to what's going on.

Full review at EFC.

SPOILERS!

So, everybody reading this knows that Lisa's a ghost, right? Well, you probably can get that from the previews and synopses, but I felt like being extra careful for some reason. This is going to be a less-spoilery discussion of the ending than usual, but I don't want to tick anybody off.

So, anyway, I'm usually a big how-things-work guy, and I do kind of like that Haunter is fairly clear on its mechanism - Olivia connects to Lisa, and Lisa to Frances, by touching something important to the dead (or more dead) girl. In fact, it's something that identifies her in both cases, although Natali and King don't necessarily make that distinction explicit (nor do they put much emphasis on the parallel situations being important, although maybe that's just a given). I think one of the movie's weaknesses is that this is a little bit more mechanical than need be; the scene I mention in the review that could be a little more rousing is Lisa going through Edgar's trophies casually. The idea of Lisa doing this to summon an army is right, and my disappointment is that it could have been given a lot more thematic and dramatic heft - imagine if she's doing this and reading off the names of the victims and what the trophy tells her about them, and each one arriving starts to do the same. It would become a rebuke to Lisa's feelings about being alone and forgotten.

The other thing about the story winding up relatively rule-based is that there's a neat coming-of-age theme that winds up getting somewhat buried or negated. There are a lot of mentions of it being Lisa's birthday the next day, and I initially thought that was important, that maybe Lisa woke up because she was a teenager: She isn't trusting the way her younger brother is, or settled down the way her parents are. Plus, being a teenager is inherently a transitional state, and maybe something in her recognizes that it's not supposed to last.

To a certain extent, that's still there, but I think it's diminished a bit. I think it also speaks to how difficult it is to make this sort of horror movie today; it's a more skeptical and well-informed time, and we naturally expect a certain amount of logic and consistency that people initially didn't need in their scary stories, but we also still want it either somewhat irrational or purely emotional. Haunter does a better job than a lot of movies, but in doing so it demonstrates just how difficult it can be to appeal to both hemispheres of the audience's collective brain.

!SRELIOPS

Thursday, October 24, 2013

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

Hollywood, for some reason, just isn't offering much scary stuff for Halloween. Fine with me, as there's baseball to watch, but if that's not your thing, the local theaters are at least giving you some fun things to do this week.

  • The big one is at The Coolidge, who have their annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon at midnight on Saturday. They kick it off with an Ed Gein-inspired double feature of Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but for five bucks more ($20 instead of $15), you can hang around until noon watching give more 35mm prints, which they're keeping a surprise. For those looking for a less-intense Halloween experience, they'll have Beetlejuice on the main screen at midnight on Friday. Then on Monday, the 35mm Big Screen Classic is Rosemary's Baby, while Halloween itself features George Romero'sDawn of the Dead, and they'll even allow you to stick around afterward for a sneak preview of Birth of the Living Dead, a documentary that will be opening in one of the video rooms for a regular run the next day.

    If you're just not looking to be scared, there's a kids' show on Saturday morning, with Dr. Seuss's The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. The two movies they're opening on the main screens look pretty intense, though: All Is Lost (also opening in Kendall Square & Boston Common) features Robert Redford as a sailor who discovers his ship is sinking and has no way to call for help. 12 Years a Slave is a fact-based drama from Shame's Steve McQueen (who really should go by Steven) starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free black man in 1840s New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery, facing one cruel master after another. It's also at Kendall Square & Boston Common.
  • Off at The Somerville Theatre, the "new" Terror-Thon programming picks back up on Sunday, with a single screening of Haunter at 8pm. It's got a neat premise - a haunted house story told from the perspective of the ghost (Abigail Breslin) - and a pretty good director in Vincenzo Natali, who did Cube and Splice. I kind of wish it was getting as many shows as Dario Argento's Dracula 3D, which, well, tells you what it is in the title, and features Thomas Kretschmann, Rutger Hauer, Asia Argento. It gets to run Monday through Wednesday. Things look up on Halloween itself, though, with a double feature of The Exorcist and Near Dark, both on 35mm.

    Their sister cinema, The Capitol in Arlington, caps their month of horror classics off with John Carpenter's Halloween at 10:30pm on Friday & Saturday. They're not the only ones going with the obvious; Kendall Square has it at 9pm on Wednesday, Boston Common has it at 7:30pm the same day.
  • The Brattle Theatre, meanwhile, goes with Halloween III: Season of the Witch (which isn't really a sequel, but the studio deciding to try and make "Halloween" a brand rather than a series) on Halloween night; it's the back end of a double feature with a 35mm print of The Haunting for its 50th anniversary. Working backward, they'll also be celebrating Halloween week with live scores for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on Tuesday (with Brendan Cooney's Klezmer-inspired Not So Silent Cinema) and Night of the Living Dead (with the Andrew Alden Ensemble providing an "alternate soundtrack"). Unfortunately, the Monay night screening of Nosferatu has been canceled.

    Before that, they've got a new digital restoration of Terrence Malick's Badlands playing from Friday to Sunday.
  • So what's at the multiplexes? Apparently the big opening isJackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, which features Johnny Knoxville in old-age make-up traveling across the country with a kid, tricking folks into thinking they're seeing something awful. Well, they probably are seeing something awful, but planned. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, and the SuperLux. The other major opening is The Counselor, with Ridley Scott directing Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, and Brad Pitt in a story about a lawyer who dabbles in his client's illegal business dealings and winds up regretting it. It plays the Capitol, Apple, Boston Common, and Fenway. Boston Common also breaks out an extra screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at 10pm on Halloween, although the regular Saturday midnight show is still on.
  • Kendall Square's big openings were covered in the Coolidge's section, but they also have Zaytoun on a one-week booking. It stars Stephen Dorff as an Israeli pilot shot down during the Lebanese Civil War and Abdallah El Ekal as a ten-year-old boy who frees him in exchange for being taken to his ancestral home in Palestine.
  • That fits in nicely with The Boston Palestine Film Festival, which is finishing up at the MFA on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; check the site for details. After a few days off, they get a jump on their November calendar with Quebecois film Diego Star (about an Ivory Coast mechanic blamed for his ship being stuck in a remote Canadian port) and documentary Design Is One both starting runs on Thursday.
  • The Regent Theatre, meanwhile, has the back-end of The Arlington International Film Festival this weekend; I can vouch for Saturday night's Key of Life, a pretty darn funny flick from Japan. Tuesday, the Gathr Preview Series gets into the Halloween spirit, sort of, with The Body, a thriller about the disappearance of a seductress's corpse from the morgue. There's also American Promise on Wednesday, which documents two best friends as they go to a prestigious private school from kindergarten to graduation. The Halloween show isn't a movie, but alive performance of Orson Welles' version of War of the Worlds.
  • How sad is it that there's more to be excited about at the Arlington International Film Festival than the Boston Film Festival? But, man, that festival is down to three days running from Friday to Sunday, a month and a half later than its traditional mid-September slot, with at least one selection that looks really questionable. It's at "Theatre 1", underneath the Revere Hotel in downtown Boston (formerly the Stuart Street Playhouse).
  • The Harvard Film Archive has Ang Lee in person on Friday night, when Lust, Caution kicks off a retrospective. He's not scheduled for any of the other films, which include Eat Drink Man Woman and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on Saturday, The Ice Storm and Pushing Hands on Sunday, and Ride With the Devil on Monday (sadly, no Hulk on the schedule). They've also got a free screening on Thursday, when Phil Solomon introduces and analyzes his "tone poem" American Falls.
  • The first Ang Lee presentation was actually on Thursday, and kicked off the Boston Asian American Film Festival. The bulk of the program takes place this weekend at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theatre, with screenings Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday afternoon. There will also be some free screenings on Saturday afternoon at the Josiah Quincy School in Boston.

    The Bright Lights programs this week start with the "Basement Media Festival" on Tuesday, with curators LJ Frezza and Nicholas Tamburo introducing their celebration of lo-fi filmmaking. They also have a Halloween screening on Thursday, when they'll be showing The Conjuring
  • The ICA has some film programming this weekend, with its monthly "Art Over Politics: The Presistence of Dreams" series returning on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon with The Desert of Forbidden Art, which tells the tale of Igor Savitsky, who secretly purchased artwork not approved by the state during the Soviet period and made a covert museum for it in Uzbekistan.
  • If you dig the Indian movies, Ram Gopal Varma's latest crime epic, Satya 2, opens at Fenway. Or at least I think it does - its release has actually been delayed a couple weeks in India, so it looks like this flick with Punit Singh Ratn as a man trying to rebuild the mob after the city has been wiped clean may actually run internationally before it shows up in its home territory. It's not playing at Apple; iMovieCafe seems to be either avoiding direct competition with the big multiplex or playing to their base - I read that Telugu films do unusually well in Boston, and that's the language that Bhai uses.


My plans? Watching baseball, taking a trip north for my niece's rather belated birthday, and fitting movies in where I can. That's looking like Haunter (yeah, I'll DVR baseball for that), The Body, All Is Lost, and any catch-up I can manage.

Gathr Preview Series: Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

Not a whole lot to say about this one - I don't know anything about Rowland S. Howard's music and the more punkish stuff didn't really appeal to me. I did kind of like the story was told, but I should probably have a sarcastic "substance-abusing musician" tag by now (although everybody who reads this is probably sick of hearing me complain about that).

Anyway, I wouldn't have seen it if the World Series has started a day earlier, like I thought it was going to. Not terribly disappointed it worked out this way, though.

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 October 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

I strongly suspect that I have complained about documentaries which seem to argue that someone wrecking his life and those of the people around him is more tragic because he could play the guitar enough for it to become just as tiresome as the movies themselves. So let's give Autoluminescent its due: That material is pretty clearly there for Rowland S. Howard, but the filmmakers clearly feel his music is more important, sacrificing familiar emotional beats to focus on it to a degree that is oddly refreshing.

To a certain degree, Howard's story is somewhat familiar: As a teenager in the late 1970s, he displayed an early talent for songwriting. The band he was in, The Birthday Party, left their small pond (Australia) to try and succeed on the big stage (London), falling apart just as they were about to break through. Other bands and solo works follow, some brilliant, but his career (and life) is cut short.

There is often a sense, when looking at the structure of musician biographies, of them being organized around the songs, and while Autoluminescent seldom stops to actually play one in its entirety, they do serve as something akin to quotation marks, bookending the discussion of a certain part of his life with the sort of music he was making at that time. It's most obvious early on, as interviewees marvel that he wrote "Shivers" at the age of sixteen, while Rowland's claims that was meant to be ironic even if Nick Cave sang it with sincerity help establish a whole slew of themes, from the romantic heart underneath punk material to the friction in every band with multiple songwriters but somewhat rigid roles.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Captain Phillips

It's not often you go to a movie with a chip on your shoulder that has you determined to like it. But that's where I was with Captain Phillips.

Why? Basically, some comments on a mailing list got on my nerves. Captain Phillips played the New York Film Festival, this guy didn't like it, but rattled off a lot of fairly snobbish things that didn't seem to have much to do with whether the movie worked or didn't. Stuff about how featuring a mainstream Hollywood movie introduced by a big Hollywood star like Tom Hanks diminished the integrity of a festival, or how bringing out the real-life Richard Phillips destroyed the suspense, or how there was no attempt to make the Somali pirates sympathetic characters, and the whole thing was just an exercise in jingoism.

I disagree on most of that. While I've certainly mocked the Boston Film Festival for their apparent interest in celebrity appearances over actual movies, premieres and guests can be a lot of fun (and bring in good money to keep the fest running). I'm also going to guess that the filmmakers weren't exactly banking on the audience not knowing the ending, what with the thing being based on a true story and the posters crediting Phillips's book as a source. And, sure, there's probably a movie to be made about how economic pressures have pushed many Somalis toward criminal activity, this story isn't that one. There's also a discussion worth having about how movies like Captain Phillips sometimes seem like they're trying to give the audience the thrill of realistic military action by keeping the focus too close to question the situations that bring them in. But was that articulated? No.

And I still might not have really been annoyed, except that a reply came in saying that this was what the group represents, and... Jeez, I hope not. I've got no interest in being part of a group that spends time placing itself over the mainstream rather than just advocating for favorites.


Fortunately, I'm pretty sure that I'm legitimately fond of the movie. I don't think it's necessarily a great example of this sort you-are-there action film - it's tough to beat Black Hawk Down or Zero Dark Thirty - but I like it quite a bit.


Captain Phillips

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 October 2013 at the Arlington Capitol #1 (first-run, 2K DCP)

I wonder if movies like Captain Phillips (and other features, including director Paul Greengrass's Bloody Sunday and United 93) are causing the definition of a "docudrama" to shift. Traditionally, the word has simply meant any fictionalized presentation based on a true story, but the likes of Greengrass and Kathryn Bigelow in recent years have pushed it toward a more specific meaning: A focus on detail and procedure ahead of an overt character arc and a filmmaking style that suggests the fly on the wall more than the omniscient narrator. Captain Phillips is not the most extreme example of the style, but it is hands-on in a way it might not have been fifteen years ago.

The film starts in two very different corners of the world: In Vermont, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is reaching the end of his vacation and preparing to return to his work as a merchant marine captain, while in Eyl, Somalia, the head of the local pirate gang is demanding more production from his subordinates. The two collide a few hundred nautical miles off the Horn of Africa, as Phillips and his Maersk Alabama crew do their best to ward off an attack led by the cunning and determined Muse (Barkhad Abdi).

For all that the navies of the world are sophisticated, technologically advanced organizations, one of the more immediately striking things audience will learn - or be reminded of - when watching this movie is just how simple modern piracy tends to be. Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray sketch the important details out quickly - how the organization of the pirates is more akin to organized crime than the romanticized adventurers of the past, what makes the Alabama a tempting target, how greater speed and fire hoses are often enough to hold attackers like Muse's group off. Greengrass and company aren't giving a lesson on how to be a better pirate or avoid their attacks, but they excel at giving the audience information as they need it. It's great "how this works" material, smoothly presented.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

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

Ask anybody; I was the optimistic guy in every conversation about the Red Sox last year, but I sure as heck didn't expect to have any of their tickets in my scrapbook during mid-October.

This Week in Tickets

Sometimes things turn out pretty good, though, and you have to put the movie-watching on hold.

Of course, sometimes you wind up catching some bug over the weekend, coming home from work early on Monday because you literally can't stay awake at your desk, and then moving through a Tuesday of working from home like a highly unproductive zombie before something finally kicks in and you decide that you might just be up to using that Gathr season pass you paid for. Hopefully I didn't pass whatever illness I had on to too many people.

The movie was Big Sur, a not-too-bad adaptation of Jack Kerouac's novel by Michael Polish. I've got more interest in Polish than Kerouac, and that's pretty much how my enjoyment of the movie went.

I stayed home to watch baseball for the rest of the week, and then used the off-day on Friday to hit Chinese Zodiac, the latest from Jackie Chan. He's certainly done worse, but this one was kind of a mess, as Jackie's age, blockbuster ambitions, and interest in playing to multiple fanbases collide in such a way as to occasionally hide that there's some decent Jackie Chan action under the noise.

As kind-of-disappointing as Chinese Zodiac was, I did have a good time, both it and two other movies that would make a reasonable double feature with it (though they're not exactly a perfect Sunday double feature themselves). Escape Plan is a slight but enjoyable "old guys still have it" movie with Stallone & Schwarzeneggar, maybe a bit lighter on the action than one might hope for but with a fun cast. Drug War was another recent Chinese hit, but Johnnie To's latest is just as good as I expect from To, and certainly holds up to a second viewing after having caught it at Fantasia.

And on Saturday? Barring my winning any sort of contest in the next few days, my last game at Fenway of the year, and it was a pretty great one. I got a late enough start that I couldn't necessarily claim prime standing room real estate on the left field wall, but I was able to grab a couple feet of railing underneath the center field video screen, and the view was not bad:

Baseball! photo IMAG0584_zpscfb0f0ec.jpg

The game itself? Pretty nerve-wracking for a while; Buchholz was good, but then the inning turned over with a reminder that Scherzer and the Tigers are also, in fact, really good. We didn't even get to enjoy the one-run lead from Bogaerts's double and Ellsbury's single for long before Buchholz hit the wall and Morales made things worse. But, bottom of the second, Victorino got one over the other side of the monster, and the crowd went bananas and didn't stop until the game was over, the awards were given, and... well, it was still nuts when I was halfway home at quarter of one or so.

These are the first playoff games I've been to, and they've been a blast. I've been fortunate enough that all three games I got tickets for have been close wins, so there was never any chance of the crowd being less than enthusiastic, but the experience is highly recommended. The regular season is great because, hey, it's baseball, a good thing to have 1/3 to 2/3 of your attention while hanging out with friends or family, and while it sometimes develops into living and dying on every pitch, these have been like that from the moment the Dropkick Murphys finished singing the National Anthem and the Fenway Anthem ("Shipping up to Boston", complete with young ladies doing Irish step-dancing), straight through to seeing Pedroia start a crazy double play that ended with Prince Fielder flopping down like a panda and then all the way to the Japanese father and son next to me going extra-special crazy when Koji Uehara struck his first batter out.

Victory! photo IMAG0587_zps14fdbbe3.jpg

World Series starts tomorrow, and it's going to cut into some more of my movie-watching, but I can catch up on that later.

Escape Plan

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 October 2013 in AC Boston Common (first-run, 4K DCP)

For a movie starring two guys who made their rep on action, Escape Plan is surprisingly stingy in that regard. There are just a few moments that really get things picking up, while there are plenty that hinge on the audience believing that Sylvester Stallone's Ray Breslin is exceptionally clever, including an opening prison break that is somewhat frustrating for how it opts to explain things after the fact rather than as it happens

Of course, it doesn't help that this is the moment when the movie decides to serve up the first member of what should be a really fun cast who seems to be overselling it. That would be Vincent D'Onofrio, playing Breslin's partner in a security consulting firm like he's decided that every other character he's ever portrayed just wasn't eccentric enough. He probably should have switched places with Jim Caviezel as the warden of the super-secret black-book prison that Ray is sent to test (only to be locked away for good) - the character who needs to be kind of squirrelly is loopy while the one who needs to be a sadistic maniac is just a bit off.. Sam Neill, Curtis Jackson, and Amy Ryan show up and seem like they should be doing a bit more; I suspect that at some point director Mikael Hafstrom looked at Ryan and Stallone standing next to each other and couldn't decide whether they should be lovers or father and daughter and just backed off. Only Vinnie Jones really delivers exactly what the movie knew it needed when it cast him - good, straightforward, angry thuggery.

So what makes this work? Arnold Schwarzeneggar. For somebody who has been wasting away in a secret prison for who knows how long, Arnie's Eli Rottmayer is a surprisingly chipper fellow, managing to carry actual banter with Stallone despite Sly not really being that good at it. It's practically a sidekick role, something that would have seemed absurd for him back in his heyday, but he carries it off pretty well, hilariously chewing scenery in German in one of the movie's most memorable bits.

Of course, in one of its other most memorable bits, Hafstrom and company seem to suddenly remember why people buy tickets to movies with these guys and have him pick up a gun that is normally meant to be mounted and start getting rid of a whole bunch of thugs. It's maybe not a top-tier climax, but it's an acceptable one, and similarly leads to a coda that made me smile for all its obviousness.

I do sort of wonder if the not-quite-brute-force finale indicates that this movie was originally meant for stars who were, well, not Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzeneggar. There's an idea dancing around this movie - a lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key guy coming to realize that America's prison industry is ethically very problematic - that maybe someone less conservative than these guys could have run with.

Du Zhan (Drug War)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 October 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagements, digital)

Given that Drug War managed to turn up a pretty good audience for a Sunday night even after its home video release, it's a shame that it didn't get a chance to have a Boston release before that, when it presumably would have done even better. There may not be a huge audience for Johnnie To here, but there's a decent one.

Especially since this latest movie hasn't diminished much in my eyes at all since I first saw it in July. On a second viewing so relatively close to the first, I was maybe a little too cognizant of what was going to happen without getting an extra boost from seeing the structure more clearly, but I was even more impressed with Sun Honglei - the Mainland Chinese star really does a fantastic job of portraying a chameleonic character that nevertheless connects with the audience. And I still love "Crystal" Huang Yi as his lieutenant Xiao Bei; she didn't bowl me over as badass quite so much the second time through, but she looks like someone To can get a lot of use out of.

Anyway: New Johnnie To crime movie, as good as expected, out on DVD & Blu-ray. You want it and you know it.

Link to the review I wrote during Fantasia



Big Sur
Sox Win the AL Title
Chinese Zodiac
Escape Plan
Drug War

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gathr Preview Series: Big Sur

I mention in my review that it's director Michael Polish (here working, for what I think is the first time, without his twin brother Mark being part of the film in any capacity) that drew me to the movie, although that's not exactly the case. As with everything else in the Gathr series, it was on the list, I'd purchased a membership, and while they're cheap enough that skipping one every month or so won't rip you off, I do try to get to everything.

Still, I did kind of keep missing and/or forgetting that it was a Polish movie until a week or two before the show. The poster had a big picture of Kate Bosworth and the copy talked up Kerouac, which only makes sense; they're much better-known than the director. Still, based mostly on Northfork, that's what got me kind of excited to get to the theater, even before a guest was announced.

BIG SUR producer Jim Sampas photo IMAG0582_zpsf1554b9f.jpg

That's Jim Sampas, executive producer of the movie, who I gather is local given how he seemed to know the Regent staff by name. The email announcing his participation mentioned that he was a sort of relative-in-law of Kerouac, and he had previously done a documentary on Big Sur, the novel.

It was an interesting Q&A; he certainly demonstrated plenty of enthusiasm for working with Michael Polish and the job he did, especially noting that Polish brought in a lot of the people he'd been working with since Twin Falls Idaho. I was impressed by that; it would have been easy for someone involved with the project from the Kerouac side to try and hire someone who would have worked with the existing script or just tried to put the picture that the producer envisioned on-screen, but these guys let Polish make a film that fits in his own filmography.

He also talked a little bit more about the process of getting to Polish than I necessarily expected, mentioning that the first script for the movie - apparently superseded enough that there's no WGA credit for it - was done by Donal Logue, who retains an executive producer credit. I kind of wonder what that would have been like, as I don't know if Logue would have directed, but he likely would have starred. That would have been a very different Kerouac, less the handsome writer than the alcoholic destroyed by his disease.


This week, it's Autoluminescent, a documentary about an Australian rocker. Good thing the World Series doesn't start until Wednesday!


Big Sur

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

Mock me for my lack of appreciation for great literature, but my interest in Big Sur didn't come from it being an adaptation of a Jack Kerouac work. Instead, it was Michael Polish's presence as screenwriter and director that piqued my interest, and I suspect that the aspects I found most interesting come from Polish rather than Kerouac. Polish makes a striking film out of Kerouac's stream-of-consciousness ramble, if not always a penetrating one.

It opens with a quote from Kerouac, about how he is eternally 26 and hitch-hiking across the country in his readers' minds, when the reality is that of a worn-down forty-year-old. His friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Anthony Edwards) invites Kerouac (Jean-Marc Barr) out to his isolated cabin in Big Sur, California to unwind, and that may prove to be just what he needs. On the other hand, it also has him spending a fair amount of time in San Francisco with old friends, which involves a lot of drinking. In particular, he's reunited with Neal Cassady (Josh Lucas) and his wife Carolyn (Radha Mitchell). Neal introduces him to his mistress Billie (Kate Bosworth), who is immediately drawn to Kerouac, and there's basically zero chance that the bonds of affection between every pairing from that quartet aside from Carolyn & Billie will just result in the group being pulled closer together.

That description somewhat soft-peddles the alcoholism, but that's somewhat inevitable for the same reason that alcohol abuse is problematic as the subject of a story: For all that it's a very real, destructive thing, it's a mundane enough sort of affliction as to be boring. There's nothing shocking about watching someone drink, and Kerouac doesn't prove to be violent when drunk, just selfish when not turned introverted and weepy. Being Kerouac, he's able to churn out more noteworthy self-pitying prose than the typical drunk, but there inevitably comes a point when watching somebody else drink seems like it may not be a productive use of the viewer's time.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Chinese Zodiac

Apparently, this is another case of AMC booking a Chinese movie themselves rather than through a distributor like China Lion or Well Go, at least by the look of the poster behind the box office. It's certainly not a practice I'm complaining about(*), as it's giving me the chance to see movies I might not otherwise get a chance to see outside a festival on the big screen, but I do wonder what sort of limbo it's going to fall into before hitting video. I presume Well Go or one of the smaller distributors will pick it up - why would AMC grab any rights but the first-run theatrical ones - but that could be a while.

(*) Well, okay, I was actually complaining as soon as I got out of the movie, as it was fifteen to twenty minutes shorter than the listings on-line suggested, and it certainly seemed to be the result of an ugly dubbing job, especially in a few scenes where it seems like characters don't speak English at one moment, needing a translation, but are using the language the next, which makes sense only if the character is really speaking Mandarin. I may just have been confused on that count, though, as looking at the movie's IMDB entry, it may not have been dubbed so much as mostly shot in English, which is screwy in an entirely different way. Either way, there's no nearly as much Mandarin spoken as you might expect, and it certainly felt like we were getting something not quite right.

That may in some ways be fitting, as it looks like neither of the previous Armor of God movies has ever been made available subtitled in the USA; even the Blu-ray versions released in the past couple of years still have the English-language soundtrack. Which is ridiculous, and makes me wonder just what whoever purchased the remains of Miramax has a hold of and what they can use.

Ah, well. As far as Chan's recent movies go, this is not Little Big Soldier, and the bloopers at the end unfortunately gives way to a greatest hits package that will probably do nothing but remind the audience of just how awesome Jackie used to be. I think one of the biggest issues here is just the changing film industry Jackie Chan finds himself in - for a long time, Hong Kong was a pretty static environment - they could afford to make films of a certain size and they did that sort of crime/martial-arts movie better than anybody else did. Chan's movies weren't sophisticated, but they showcased what he was good at fantastically. Coming to America got him in some bigger productions, and while he was smart to split those with old-fashioned things back home, that didn't stay put, either: China's film industry has been growing huge and more or less swallowing Hong Kong's, so blockbusters are suddenly the name of the game over there too. For a while, the People's Republic was where Jackie was the most popular, so he's been tailoring his output for that market even more than many of his contemporaries. The end result is that both his international and "domestic" audiences want bigger things than he's really good at producing, and it's hard to make old-fashioned Cantonese films these days even if his ambitions hadn't understandably increased.

So Chinese Zodiac is a bit of a mess, but it's still a pretty entertaining one once you start looking at what it does well rather than wishing it were something else. Hopefully Jackie's got a few more at least this good in him before he's reduced to full-time mentor duty.

Shi er sheng xiao (Chinese Zodiac)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 October 2013 at AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, 4K DCP)

It's not just one thing that has brought Jackie Chan to the point where his latest movie is something of a loud, sloppy mess, but everything working together: Age takes a toll on a performer this physical. Hollywood success puts international markets more explicitly in mind when making a big movie, while the mainland Chinese market pulls in other directions. Fortunately, underneath all that, Jackie still puts together good action, good enough that seeing it on the big screen's a welcome treat.

This time around, he's playing "J.C.", the head of a team of treasure hunters who, this time around, are looking for a set of twelve animal head busts representing the Chinese Zodiac looted from the Winter Palace a hundred and fifty years ago. Some are hidden, sold at auction, or lost, and to find and/or steal them, J.C., Bonnie (Zhang Lan-xin), David (Liao Fan), and Simon (Kwon Sang-woo) will need the help of idealistic young preservationist Coco (Yao Xingtong) and broke French aristocrat Catherine (Linda Weissbecker).

Chan's career has, with a few noteworthy exceptions, been a long string of movies with just enough story to tie five or six impressive action sequences together, and Chinese Zodiac is no exception. In fact, it's probably more slapdash than usual, with an opening flash-forward that the movie never quite gets around to fitting into the story, off-screen issues meant to humanize the mercenary characters (but which, popping up as they do as one-sided phone calls, tend to come off as annoying mosquitoes to be slapped away), and silly last-minute changes that render any sense of accomplishment from the action scenes moot. J.C. and company spend much of the movie working for the villains, which could be interesting, but mostly just leaves them with little to push against until the "Max Profit Corporation" becomes even more cartoonishly evil than its name suggests. Admittedly, roughly fifteen minutes has been cut from the original Chinese version for the American release, though much of that is likely heavy-handed Chinese flag-waving (enough material about how China suffered at the hands of foreigners remains to make the point, but Chinese films seldom stop at "enough" these days).

Full review at EFC.

This Week In Tickets: 7 October 2013 - 13 October 2013

The relatively abundant white space on this page doesn't let on just how much I was wearing myself out over the course of the weekend. I was dead tired afterward.

This Week in Tickets

The week started off, as is rapidly becoming traditional, with the Gathr Preview screening, The Other Shore. Not bad, although I really do wonder if it wound up being the movie the filmmakers intended to make. Or, if it was, whether it was the movie they wound up intending to make. It's complicated.

I wound up in Davis Square for much of the weekend. Friday night, the movie was Escape from Tomorrow, which is worth justifying one's curiosity with. Then, it was a fairly quick turnaround to be back at the Somerville Theatre by noon for the kick-off of the Boston Terror-Thon.

The Terror-Thon is a bit of an odd event this year. At one point, it was listed on the theater's Facebook page as a sci-fi marathon for a couple of days, and the focus was certainly on the intersection of science fiction and horror. I gather the guys that do the February sci-fi marathon are involved, though apparently more in terms of the newer indie horror that played over the next few days. Kind of like the "festival" and "marathon" portions of the sci-fi event, the two halves seem a bit oddly disconnected. Still, the set-up for the marathon itself was pretty cool - all 35mm, (roughly) one movie from each decade, starting in the 1920s and running to 1990. The movies were The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Invisible Man, Dr. Cyclops, Forbidden Planet, Planet of the Apes, Westworld, Buckaroo Banzai, and Tremors, along with a bunch of trailers and cartoons which stretched things out to 2am. Long night.

... Especially since I made the pretty foolish decision of DVRing the first game of the American League Championship Series and opted to watch it when I arrived home at 2:30am. I had avoided anything about the game when checking my phone between movies, so I didn't realize I was in for a painful near-no-hitter. Fortunately, I wound up pretty numb by the time it was over. Didn't get enough sleep, though. Left to my own, I might have slept until 2pm or so, but my brother Matt and his wife Morgan had made lunch plans with me for 12:30, and from how much effort they were putting into locking it down, I kind of knew something was up.

And, it was - my parents, brothers, and nieces were waiting at Redbones for a belated 40th birthday dinner. Which was pretty great - good food, I don't get to see the Maine contingent as often as I'd like - it's been months since all four of the nieces were at the same place I was. Those opportunities look like they might be getting rarer, so it was good to grab one and even better to spring an early birthday present on Matt - two of the three bleacher seats I'd purchased for that night's second game of the ALCS. I've never seen someone so blindsided by a gift that they actually asked if it was real.

The game itself? Pretty great. Sure, the game had the same sort of "Sox can't get a hit" start, and then the Tigers built a pretty good lead, but... Well, things turned around. We had great seats in center so we had a great look at Torii Hunter falling into the bullpen chasing Ortiz's grand slam. It's the most bonkers I've ever seen Fenway get in person, although (as of this writing) Saturday stands a decent chance of beating it.

Now, the next couple of days were the logical end to that sort of weekend, in that they were a harsh reminder that I am 40 rather than 25, but that's a matter for next week's post. So let's just get to the Terror-Thon movies.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

It feels like I've been trying to find an opportunity to see this movie all the way through, but even though somebody always seems to pick it up for Halloween screenings, but this German Expressionist movie has knocked me out every time. Seeing it at noon with Jeff Rapsis on the organ countered that.

And I dig it. The movie's not really that much for story, in ways that I often find really frustrating in other movies, but Robert Wiene does so great at generating atmosphere as to get away with it. What I particularly love is how Wiene's constant build-up of tension and fear twists into madness by the final acts. It could be cheap, but instead it's very natural.

I've got to admit, though, I'm going to be very disappointed when I someday go to Germany, visit a small rustic town, and do not find it filled with bizarre, asymmetrical architecture that's never heard of a right angle.

The Invisible Man

* * (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

Sometime I'm going to come up with a good reason why I tend to conk out during the second movie of a multi-movie day. Is it just some sort of weird conditioned response of thinking that 45 minutes or so after a movie ends is bedtime, my brain knowing that the really good stuff is coming up later, so get some rest now.

That would certainly explain why I took a fair-sized nap during The Invisible Man. It just never clicked with me and this time around was no different; to the extent it annoyed me lest, it's because I saw less.

Dr. Cyclops

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

Dr. Cyclops isn't really a very good movie, but the 1940s were relatively lean times for fantastical cinema. It is kind of amusing in how it uses the mythological roots of its title less literally than literarily - until the end, it's more focused on how the Cyclops of myth was a man-eating giant than a beast with one eye - but make no mistake, it's very much a B-movie whose pretty Technicolor photography doesn't really make up for how paper-thin its characters and plotting are.

On the other hand, movies where people get shrunken down to doll-size are fun. The story possibilities are limited and by now people are well-enough aware of how absurd the science is, but over-sized props are a blast and cats become vicious monsters at that size. The characters, no matter how alpha-male (or female) they may be otherwise become automatic underdogs, and straightforward problems require ingenious solutions. Dr. Cyclops never takes the next step of becoming really clever, but once everybody gets small, it does an impressive job of not squandering the inherent joys of the shrinking movie (even while displaying a mean streak that's impressive for the Hays Code era).

It actually reminded me why Edgar Wright's Ant-man movie for Marvel could wind up being a real kick - sure, it seems like the stakes could be low for a big action-adventure, but if Marvel taps into the joy of it and makes it an offbeat comedy, that might not matter.

Forbidden Planet

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

It's pretty darn impressive how this sci-fi picture from the 1950s manages to age so gracefully. It's dated in its attitudes, sure, but not obnoxiously so. The special effects and design are futuristic-for-the-fifties, but have a believable practicality to them. Where so many other movies of its era tried to stretch smaller budgets to do too much, this one always seems to know how much is just enough.

It's still pretty great, even when you know it by heart; it's got a great, seldom-matched grandeur, a set of very likable performances in the lead (young Leslie Nielsen never fails to surprise me with his crisp confidence), and nice attention to detail. And while it may seem an odd match for a Halloween-oriented event, the genuine feeling of horror that overtakes its characters as they solve the central mystery certainly qualifies it, giving the movie plenty of dramatic weight as well.

Link to the review I wrote a while back, when the HD-DVD was new.

Planet of the Apes

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

This one, on the other hand, doesn't fit the Halloween theme quite as well. There's certainly a world-turned-upside-down horror vibe to it, but it doesn't really manifest itself in a scary way. The movie's too satirical about humanity in general, as opposed to telling a story where Taylor is personally tormented. Heck, he's too cynical to actually be horrified.

Still, as much as I don't have much interest in the rest of the franchise, this entry always winds up looking a little better every time I see it (in this case, literally; projectionist Dave Kornfeld mentioned that this was one of the best prints he'd ever shown of this film). The crash and escape from the spaceship took me aback for just how tense and well-shot it is, for instance, while on the other end, the politics of its last act and how willing those in power are to treat others as sub-human (or, in this case, sub-simian) has yet to lose its sting. As unpleasant as Charlton Heston's character often is, it blends perfectly with his desperation, and even the dated references hold up.

Link to another review that's been kicking around a while.

Westworld

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

There's been talk about remaking Westworld for a while, with the latest action apparently taking the form of a pay-cable series, and I can get behind that. It's a movie filled with strong concepts and fun genre-bending that doesn't quite stitch it all together into something great. Something good, fairly often, but either the resources are lacking to make a masterpiece, or things are hobbled by writer/director Michael Cricthon's tendency toward blunt cautionary tales.

There's a lot going on here beneath Crichton's tale of androids run amok in a theme park where visitors can live out their western/roman/medieval fantasies - the question of whether living out such vivid power trips is healthy, the ethics of creating this sort of autonomous being only to be killed again and again, the sort of corporate callousness (and absurd security design) he returned to with Jurassic Park. And the final act, when all hell breaks loose resulting in the sci-fi trappings to take center stage while characters crossover between genre areas, has great potential. It just never quite achieves what it could; Crichton has stories half-develop and then get thrown out of the way, and doesn't quite seem to realize the potential of the plot device beyond a way to get the story kicked off.

Still, enough works out well that the movie's worth seeing. Crichton's cheerfully amoral screenplay is full of twisted humor. The characters are kind of bland, but the cast isn't bad (though I can't quite see why Yul Brynner often seems to be considered iconic rather than just clever casting in this role). It's a fun little movie. I look forward to someday seeing a great version.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

Huh, the print for this one was from the UK, and I could have sworn it was different from the one I've seen before; I can't recall ever seeing the flashbacks with young Professor Hikita and John Lithgow's Emilio Lizardo becoming possessed by Lord John Whorfin. Must have, though.

It's a weird one, deliberately so, but interesting in the how of it. It's a very peculiar combination of rinky-dink and impressively realized, cutting from terrific special effects to sets designed to save every bit of money possible when the opposite seems the case more often (maintain a certain baseline and eke out just a bit more). Writer Earl Mac Rauch sets the thing in an elaborate pulp universe like that's no big deal, with director W.D. Richter on the same low-key page, both enhancing and undercutting just how bizarre the movie is. And maybe I'm missing something, but this seems like one of the first times American pop culture really tried to integrate Japanophilia, as opposed to dubbing things or fetishizing the strangeness James Clavell-style. Here, there's a real sense that the future of cool is going to be a fusion of the American and the Japanese.

Maybe that's reading too much into it, but it was late then and it's late now and that was what ran through my head during this movie that lives right on the border of being too cool for its own good (but never quite falls on the wrong side).

Tremors

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 12 13 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

Believe it or not, I've actually heard people talk shit about Tremors, like it was a not-very-good movie, only to be surprised when I responded that I like it not just as a guilty pleasure, but as a genuine quality piece of work. For real. But it's true - although it looks like a guilty pleasure movie, there's no part of it that the whole has to overcome. Every element works.

I don't think I convinced the people who said that at the time, but there's good reason why people smile when this movie's name is mentioned and why, whenever a half-decent monster movie with a fun cast of characters comes out, this is the one we compare it to. This really is close to the ideal form of this type of movie, well worth staying up until 2am for.

I said much the same thing last year.


The Other Shore
Escape From Tomorrow
The Terror-Thon
ALCS Game 2

Friday, October 18, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 October - 24 October 2013

Weird throwback weekend at the multiplexes. Sort of. Well, maybe not really.

  • Surprise opening at Boston Common: Chinese Zodiac, Jackie Chan's latest action/adventure movie. It's a sequel to his popular Armor of God and Operation Condor pictures from twenty years ago, although word from when it came out in China last December seemed to suggest it was a lot more like his American movies than his Hong Kong classics. Still, Jackie Chan punching and kicking - take it while you can.

    Speaking of action stars still hanging on, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzeneggar have their first for-real team-up in Escape Plan, with Sly as a prison beta-tester of sorts who is thrown into a new high-tech prison, with Arnie as a convict there. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Fenway, and Boston Common. There's also a remake on tap, Carrie, with Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role and Julianne Moore as her mother. Seems unnecessary, but it's also the only mainstream horror movie coming out this Halloween. It's at Somerville, Apple, Boston Common, Fenway, and the SuperLux.

    There's also The Fifth Estate, a fictionalized version of the WikiLeaks saga with Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange, and Bill Condon in the in the director's chair. It's at Somerville, Kendall Square, Fenway, Boston Common, and the SuperLux. Fenway also picks up Bollywood action/comedy/drama/everything feature Boss - which, interestingly enough, does not seem to be playing at Apple Cinemas.

    If you want to head out a little further from the city, most of those movies are also playing at Showcase Revere, which also has I'm in Love With a Church Girl, starring Ja Rule as a former drug dealer whose past causes friction with a new lady played by Adrienne Bailon; it seems to be produced by one of those little companies that targets the religious community specifically. They're also opening The Snitch Cartel, Colombia's submission to the Oscars from last year; it's a fact-based crime-drama (and actually hit screens there back in 2011). Closer to home, Boston Common has special screenings of The Matrix on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon/evening.
  • In other very-limited openings, The Capitol in Arlington has Broadway Idiot, a documentary on Green Day transforming their album American Idiot into a Broadway show, all week. The October horror show this weekend is the original Night of the Living Dead at 10:30pm on Friday & Saturday
  • In addition to The Fifth Estate, Kendall Square has a pair of documentaries. The Summit chronicles the "deadliest day on the world's most dangerous mountain", when eleven climbers died or vanished while attempting to scale K2. The Trials of Muhammad Ali, there for a one-week booking, is about the courtroom battle that ensued after Ali refused to fight in the Vietnam War. Two of his attorneys will be on-hand for the 4:30pm Sunday show.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a pair of openings this weekend. I Used to Be Darker has the evening shows; it's the new one by Matt Porterfield about an Irish girl who runs away to American relatives only to find their family falling part. Co-star Kim Taylor will be at Friday's shows for a Q&A and perhaps a few songs (as music appears to be a big part of the film). Also running from Friday to Saturday at 9:30pm is Johnnie To's newest, Drug War, his first crime drama made in mainland China. It's pretty darn thrilling; shame it took until right around the movie's home video release to get here (though it's better with a crowd).

    Sunday afternoon is the first of several special presentations with guests: From the Ground Up! is a documentary on a sustainable program to fight child malnutrition pioneered by a group of Harvard students; some of them will be present along with the filmmakers. Tuesday has a special screening of Jesus Christ Superstar with stars Ted Neeley & Barry Dennen there for a Q&A. Local critic Peter Keough will be presenting a Kathryn Bigelow double feature of Zero Dark Thirty (on 35mm) & Point Break on Wednesday, signing books and answering questions in between. And on Thursday, the Boston Asian American Film Festival kicks off with special guest Ang Lee introducing The Wedding Banquet; Linsanity also plays later that evening.
  • No new openings at The Coolidge this wekeend, but they're continuing their three-pronged Friday/Saturday midnight attack during October: The witch movie is, well, The Witches, directed by Nicholas Roeg and with effects by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. That's upstairs; the main theater holds the haunted house movie, the original Insidious (crazy-popular sequel still in theaters!). And the screening room as two last chances to see Jim Mickle's We Are What We Are, since it left the Kendall after just one week (for shame, Boston!). The Halloween vibe continues with Monday's "Science on Screen" program, as a Tufts Biologist discusses Young Frankenstein (playing in 35mm).

    There's also a Sunday-morning German film from Goethe-Institut, Free Fall, in which a cop with a pregnant girlfriend finds himself in an uncomfortable situation when attracted to a new male colleague.
  • The first half of the week at The Regent Theatre is music-oriented, with new documentary Jimi Hendrix: "Hear My Train A-Comin'" playing Friday night; there's also a Hendrix-themed tribute CD release concert on Saturday. The Gathr Preview Series feature on Tuesday is also musical, as Autoluminescent chronicling the life and death of Australian post-punker Roland S. Howard.

    Then, starting on Wednesday, they play host to The Arlington International Film Festival, a combination of local and global features that will run through Sunday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive is mostly loaded up with short films this week: Friday and Saturday feature Scott MacDonald, author of a book on Cambridge-based documentary filmmaking, curating two programs of documentary shorts with filmmakers in attendence. Sunday afternoon has a program of films by Chris Marker of "La Jetee" fame at 4pm, and two longer (but not quite feature-length) works - "Letter from Siberia" and "Sunday in Peking" - at 7pm. Monday evening's presentation is still Marker, but at the opposite end of the length spectrum, with the three-hour A Grin Without a Cat.
  • The MFA is all about The Boston Palestine Film Festival with their film screenings this week, with various shows playing Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday; check the site for details. It will continue on through the 27th.
  • ArtsEmerson finishes up their tie-ins with the Boston Book Festival on the weekend of the actual event. The encore screenings involved include Hal Hartley's Henry Fool on Saturday afternoon, The Bling Ring Saturday night (with original author Nancy Jo Sales in person for a Q&A), and Adaptation Sunday afternoon. They've also got the original Nightmare on Elm Street on Friday night (director Wes Craven is at the festival). The Bright Lights programs include a Friday afternoon showcase of Provincetown and Emerson student shorts as well as the regular weekday programs, both documentaries: David Lunch: Meditation, Creativity, and Peace plays on Tuesday, while Family Talk plays Thursday. The Sierra Leone doc will be followed by a discussion with producer Libby Hoffman and anthropology professor Gillian Goslinga.
  • The UMass Boston Film Series is on Tuesday this week, with director Roger Ross Williams on hand to answer questions after a free screening of God Loves Uganda, a look at how American evangelicism is gaining a strong foothold in Africa.


My plans? Chinese Zodiac, Baseball (hopefully a lot!), Escape Plan, The Summit, Machete Kills, and whatever else I'm behind on.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Escape from Tomorrow

Ugh, my plan was actually to get this written up Friday night and posted Saturday morning, but between a whole lot of things, that just did not happen. Suffice it to say, it was an insane weekend (as I'll explain in the next TWIT post) which knocked me for a loop over the next couple of days.

It annoys me, because I go to independent/less-reviewed movies on Friday evening with the intention of getting a review up quickly enough that other folks in Boston can have a reminder to catch it (or not) while it's still in theaters, and Escape From Tomorrow had a crazy-limited window here: Friday was the only day there were shows after 6:10pm, and there were no shows at all on Saturday, as the schedule space for the Somerville Theatre's October "TerrorThon" events wound up coming at this movie's expense. It's available on-demand, at least, but I really did want to get it up before there were just Thursday 4pm/6pm shows left.

I wasn't alone in the theater, and it wasn't close, which isn't always the case for little movies like this (it doesn't hurt that Somerville has its own website while the likes of Boston Common & Fenway don't really have a way to let locals know they're getting something interesting). Like I say in the review, a good chunk of the audience was sort of in screw-Disney mode from the outset, which is fair, if not necessarily for the reasons this movie goes with. Disney's cheerful and upbeat and polished, and there's room for that. The perpetually extended copyright thing...

I have to admit, I wish I had read more than scattered page scans of Air Pirates Funnies that you can find online. I think they've got a fair amount in common with Escape from Tomorrow, in that both use poking the Disney bear as a way to get attention. Which isn't to say either is insincere, just that Randy Moore was pretty savvy in making something that would get the attention of raising Disney's ire but which is just smart enough to not get crushed.


One last thing: I highly doubt that the preview for Saving Mr. Banks was "APPROVED to ACCOMPANY THIS FEATURE".


Escape From Tomorrow

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2013 at Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Someday, perhaps soon, folks may accuse Randy Moore of selling out. After all, while most of the crowd for the opening-night showing of Escape from Tomorrow seemed to be there to cheer on poking a finger in the Walt Disney Company's eye, it wouldn't be shocking for him to make the jump to big mainstream pictures. As much as this movie is rebellious and satirical, its venom isn't scathing, and it's as much a demonstration of his ability to handle technical challenges as his desire to stick it to the man.

This is the movie which was filmed in Walt Disney World and Disneyland without any sort of permits or permissions (kind of a big deal was made of this when it played Sundance), and it happily uses the name of Siemens AG where a generic corporation would do. There's no denying that there's something genuinely enjoyable about the ballsiness of it; aside from the knowledge that the filmmakers are getting away with something, the fact that what the audience sees on screen is not necessarily a strawman created for the sole purpose of being mocked gives that mockery some teeth. When things do get crazy - which is almost right away - it wedges its way into the audience's real-world experience.

On a technical level, there's little denying that Moore and his cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham have managed something fairly impressive. For all that much of Escape from Tomorrow must have been shot like a found footage film, it doesn't look like one; the camera doesn't shake and the lighting doesn't waver. Most of the effects work is fairly good - there are some scenes that were obviously shot in front of a green screen with park footage added in later, but that's balanced by a couple of pieces that are very slick for a low-budget indie, and others where looking jarring and incongruous is part of the point. The movie is presented in sharp black and white, and that's a clever decision; aside from capturing the feel of old home movies, it gives the movie one unified look, rather than changing as the film moves around the park.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fantasia 2013 screeners: Tiger Mask, After School Midnighters, Les 4 Soldats, The Battery, The Grand Heist, Horror Stories, and Across the River

I may not be the absolute worst about requesting screeners for the films I miss at festivals and then never actually watching them, but I will put my track record on this matter up against any well-intentioned film reviewer who also has a day job. I've got a pile of DVDs in envelopes on my coffee table that is nearly a foot tall and they go back the better part of a decade, and it might just be time to accept that I'm not going to be putting reviews with a tag of "SCREENED AT THE 2007 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL" up on eFilmCritic for people to scratch their heads at. Indeed, if I look elsewhere, I may be able to find a screener or two on VHS that I didn't watch.

I feel guilty about it, honestly; the wall of DVDs and Blu-rays that has built up over the same period is either a waste of money or a hedge against the day I really want to watch something and it's not streaming that month, but each of those discs represents a bit of a broken promise, and as folks who have asked me why/how I see so many movies at a festival (really, to the point where it might not sound fun anymore), I do feel there's a sort of deal between filmmakers, festival programmers, and the media: The festival does not give me a pass just so that I can enjoy myself, but because they want the event and films to get the attention they deserve, and I don't want to be a parasite. On the other hand, it's very easy to put things off when you've got the disc there; my rationale is usually that I don't want to watch it until I've got time to write about it immediately afterward, and that never happens, what with the regular This Week in Tickets schedule or wanting to push things that are now or will soon be out in Boston to the head of the line.

So, by that standard, it's probably a good thing that Fantasia moved most of their screeners on-line this year. There were some films that were only available in the viewing room, and maybe I could have gotten discs if I'd asked, but the bulk of things were either on their Cinando site or at links provided via email, and when I asked, I was told that the ones on Cinando would expire on 5 September. Thus, as you see, a whole lot of late-August/early-September dates, as I tried to see as many as I could in that window. Labor Day helped a lot. Then I wrote three-ish paragraphs on each for the TWIT post that I could circle back to later (much later than I'd have liked!), just as I did with the stuff I wrote for the "Fantasia Daily" posts.

It's actually an interesting trade-off - I think that those posts are the closest things I've done to rough drafts in a long time. It's not that most reviews and blog posts are entirely one-pass jobs, but I seldom write, stop, and revise. I probably should, but, time. I'm not sure whether it's helped the actual reviews or not; with the revision so relatively far from actually seeing the movie, who knows what details have been lost?

At any rate, I think that over two months after the three-week festival has finished, I'm done writing about Fantasia 2013. I do feel bad about not having written up the short films like I'd hoped to, but it's been too long and with too few notes, I couldn't do them justice. Next year, I'll try and find a way to do it properly.

Tiger Mask (Taiga Masuku)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 August 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

It doesn't seem like it should be especially difficult to combine pro wrestling and superheroes, especially if you're willing to let yourself be a bit of a mark for the duration of the story and accept that the feuds and angles of the wrestling half have something to them. Given how popular both have been in Japan historically, it's no surprise that Tiger Mask, a comic about a wrestler/hero, was so popular and had so many adaptations; it's just a shame that the most recent isn't what it could be.

This latest iteration starts about fifteen years ago, when trouble-making orphan Naoto Date and his best friend Ruriko Wakatsuki are visiting the zoo. A tiger seems to speak to Date, and soon he is being taken to the Tiger's Cave, where he and other runaway children will spend their childhood and teen years training under the eye of Mister X (Sho Aikawa), looking for the ones who will be worthy of wearing his three power-granting Tiger Masks. Eventually, Date (Eiji Wentz) earns that right, as do his best friend and a rather more selfish fighter. They fight in secret arenas to earn money for the international syndicate that Tiger's Cave belongs to, but when Date happens to meet Ruriko (Natsuna Watanabe) and finds out their old orphanage is in dire straits, Mister X's philosophy of only looking out for oneself starts to ring even more hollow.

Tiger Mask is disappointing in a way that resembles lack of ambition, but may very well just be low budget problems. After all, during the first act, my jaw was regularly dropping about how genuinely nuts it seemed to be; it's not very long at all after the tiger that seems to talk to Date before you've got a whole passel of orphan boys being trained by whip-wielding women in tight leather dresses, all aiming to be the one that gets to wear the skill-enhancing Tiger Masks made by Mister X. And while the idea of funding a criminal network by having these guys participate in underground pro-wrestling deathmatches is goofy, it can certainly work in this story's world. It's silly, yes, but in the gloriously unrestrained way a late-1960s comic for ten-year-old boys should be, with director Ken Ochiai and his three co-writers adding just enough edge to make it work for a later generation.

Full review at EFC.

After School Midnighters (Hokago Middonaitazu)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 August 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

Go to Fantasia (or any large festival) enough times, and you start to notice little quirks in the scheduling. One which has emerged in recent years is that the animated features from Japan tend to run at or before noon on weekend mornings, probably because they attract an extremely dedicated fanbase that will fill the theater when many other festival-goers are hungover. This one, though, slotted in there as Saturday Morning cartoons, which is totally appropriate - just like it's more fun to watch horror movies when it's dark outside, kids' cartoons in general and this one in particular are more fun when you're alert and maybe feeling a bit of a sugar rush from breakfast.

Certainly, that's the state of one of its five-year-old characters - Mako (voice of Haruka Tomatsu) is highly excitable, always running at full speed. During a visit to the strangely spooky elementary school she'll be attending in the fall, she get separated from the main group along with snobby rich girl Miko (voice of Sakiko Uran) and insect-loving spooky girl Mutsuko (voice of Minako Kotobuki). They cheerfully vandalize the anatomical model in the science room, not knowing that after the kids come home, he comes to life, and Sir Louis Thomas Jerome Kunstlijik (voice of Koichi Yamadera) is not pleased with being used as a coloring book! He sends and invitation out to get the girls back to the school, dreaming of revenge, but his skeleton friend Mr. Goth (voice of Hiromasa Taguchi) suggests that maybe, instead, Mako, Mi, and Mu might be able to help prevent their home from being demolished.

For all that this movie clothes itself in spookiness, a self-contained loop of a time-travel subplot, and some weirdly adult references (although if Animaniacs could have a regular bit based on GoodFellas twenty years ago, why shouldn't a Japanese CGI cartoon give gun-toting bunnies names from The Godfather?), After School Midnighters is unabashedly for kids. It leaps past explanations or much in the way of logic the same way a kid's brain does, propelling things forward with raw energy, cuteness, and just plain being silly. The pace and loose narrative may leave grown-ups dizzy, but seldom bored. Director Hitoshi Takekiyo and co-writer Yoichi Kmori do go for a level of gross-out humor that I suspect would get the film slapped with at least a PG-13 in America at times, but never as anything truly malicious or humiliating.

Full review at EFC.

Les 4 Soldats (The Four Soldiers)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

I gather writer/director Robert Morin is kind of a big deal in French-Canadian film, which doesn't surprise me from watching Les 4 Soldats; it's a very confident, assured independent film, impressive for how it can take relatively minimal activity and still make something very dramatic. Even though Quebeçois film has started to travel a bit more lately with the likes of Monsieur Lazhar and Starbuck, this low-key genre film will probably stay somewhat obscure despite telling its story quite well.

The film opens with narration that describes the status quo as a sort of economic civil war, although the situation mostly seems like armed chaos. A group of rebels take in orphaned teen Dominique (Camille Mongeau), with hard-edged Matéo (Christian de la Cortina) especially serving as her protector. In another abandoned house, they make a new friend in Big Max (Antoine Bertrand), a burly but gentle sort prone to talking to himself. When the larger group settles in to make camp, they include reserved, dreadlocked Kevin (Aliocha Schenider) in their shelter. As the unusually long period in one place continues, these four become very tight-knit, so when the leadership assigns new recruit Gabriel (Antoine L'Écuyer) to bunk with them, they're not sure whether or not they want to share the beautiful pond they've found with him.

Working from a novel by Hubert Mingarelli, Morin spends a few sentences establishing the reasons behind this civil war at the beginning but he doesn't have much interest in actually fighting it; the action is reserved for a few scenes at the start and end of the movie and the cause is rather beside the point. He mainly uses it to isolate his characters, shearing them away from what prior attachments they might have, shrinking their world physically, emotionally, and in terms of direction. The idea is to show them forming a family rather than just a unit, and Morin finds a few interesting ways to do so: The cheery-looking storage shed Big Max finds for a shelter while other groups are building lean-tos out of scrap metal, or the bickering over who gets to watch the iPod. Eventually, their ties to each other supersede those to the group, and the ethics of that is probably a question that the filmmakers could play with a bit more.

Full review at EFC.

The Battery

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

There's a case to be made for The Battery, although it involves an premise that I'm not hugely fond of - that the filmmakers aren't really making a zombie movie, but exploring the bond and antagonism that form between two men thrown together by chance, and that survivors of the zombie apocalypse is just the hook. I suppose you could say that it does what it's looking to do fairly well, The question, then, is whether this is a story worth telling.

Maybe if World War Z had been adapted as an anthology television series as it arguably should have been, this would have made a nice hour-long entry. It follows two independent-league baseball players - pitcher Mickey (Adam Cronheim) and catcher Ben (Jeremy Gardner), who have been making their way across New England ever since the outbreak. Mickey's the lean one in a state of denial; Ben is bearded, husky, and taking to the new abnormal surprisingly well. Their in Connecticut now, practiced at avoiding attacks, but thrown a curve when they hear another voice on the walkie-talkies they use to communicate.

The standard play, perhaps, would be for Mickey & Ben to meet up with the seemingly organized group and discover that they're better off just trusting each other, but the other group says they don't want other people and they mean it. As a result, Ben & Mickey tend to find themselves at the edges of bigger stories that might have made for the plot of a fine story-based zombie movie but wind up being less of a focus here. It's an approach that allows for some good moments between the characters, but can also allow the movie drag at points, most egregiously the end. That end is rather frustrating, both in "we're leading up to this?" terms and requiring a certain lack of common sense to get there.

Full review at EFC.

Baramgwa hamjje sarajida (The Grand Heist)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

For all the noir, caper, and pulp material I've consumed in my life, I don't know how many times I've ever actually heard someone refer to the jewels they were looking to steal as "ice", and I don't know if that's part of the vernacular in Korean. Even taking that as a given, the gimmick of The Grand Heist - a rag-tag group of thieves who are actually looking to steal big blocks of ice - still makes me grin. That it turns out to be a pretty entertaining caper movie on its own doesn't hurt.

It's not a silly thing - ice was a precious commodity in 19th-century Korea, and Baek Dong-soo (Oh Ji-ho) takes his job guarding it very seriously. Lee Duk-moo (Cha Tae-hyun), on the other hand, is more interested in books than anything else; he spends his time minding and practically living in the book store of Mr. Yang (Lee Moon-sik) while he travels the world. When the previously-antagonistic Duk-moo and Dong-soo are framed them for a crime that Minister Cho Yung-chul (Kim Ku-taek) him consolidate his hold on the government's ice-distribution business. He doesn't anticipate Duk-moo deciding to fight back and using everything he's ever read to hatch a plan that makes use of not just Dong-soo's fighting skills, but explosives expert Suk Dae-hyun (Shin Jung-keun), master of disguise Kim Jae-jun (Song Jong-ho), transport specialist Kim Chul-joo (Kim Gil-dong), disgraced archaeologist Hong Suk-chang (Ko Chang-seok), and information source Yoo Sul-hwa (Lee Chae-young).

There are two things an audience wants this sort of movie to do well: First, it has to set up a robbery that is sufficiently complex to take up a full-length feature but whose parts can be grasped fairly readily - and which can be swapped out by last-minute snafus or hidden for double-crosses and surprises - and which the audience doesn't really mind happening. Then it must assemble a team to do it which is a lot of fun, both in terms of the odd couple leading things and the entertaining array of specialists who help out. It's a tricky balance; the whole thing is no fun if the plot is simple, but make things too complex and not only does one risk losing the audience, but the things that must happen off-screen just to save time and preserve a few surprises start to feel unfair. Kim Min-sung's script turns out to be a nicely balanced thing; everybody's got their part to play, and while there are some surprises and reversals later on, it never feels like cheating.

Full review at EFC.

Mooseowon Iyagi (Horror Stories)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

You could get a lot of horror anthology action at Fantasia this year, between this Korean picture, Hong Kong's Tales From the Dark, and (mostly) America's V/H/S/2. One thing that I find interesting, looking at the three, is that curation can in some ways be as important as individual scary segments. Tales had a common author's works as source material, and V/H/S/2 had a unifying feature that at least had room for variety. Horror Stories seemed to be four or five teams working separately and pasting things together, and while they come up with enjoyable segments, the end result wasn't quite the sum of its parts.

The unifying element for the story is a high school student (Kim Ji-won) who has been kidnapped by a young man (Yoo Yeon-seok) who explains to the chained girl that that he has a rare condition that he can manage while he wakes, but to sleep, he needs the scariest stories can come up with to chill his blood. Naturally, she's going to try to escape,although to do that she needs to get him to sleep. Writer/director Min Kyu-dong's premise is silly, sure, and Yoo isn't the most threatening villain, but it will hold for four stories, and Kim establishes herself as a protagonist who is quite easy to cheer for.

The first proper story is "Sun and Moon" (or "Don't Answer the Door"), written and directed by Jung Bum-sik. In this one, grade-schoolers Sunny (Kim Hyun-soo) and Moon (No Kang-min) are driven home to an empty apartment by their English teacher (No Hyeon-hee). Their mother (Ra Mi-ran) calls to tell them to expect a package but not let anyone in. It's a nifty set-up, and Director Jung does good work in making everyone outside (and potentially) inside the apartment seem like a threat to the kids, even to the grown-ups in the audience. It can be hard to do a slow-burn thriller within the relatively constrained time of a short, and that leads to a bit of an awkward climax as Jung tries to tie everything together, but up until that point, it works.

Full review at EFC.

Oltre il Guado (Across the River)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

I had the feeling when I saw Across the River (Oltre il Gaudo in Italian) that when the time came to expand the capsule I wrote for my blog to a full entry, I would not have a whole lot to say. It is, after all, a pretty minimalist movie, and the folks who try to write a lot about those tend to find more than is actually there out of necessity. So let's keep it simple. Lorenzo Bianchini has made a creepy little movie, in part because he gives the audience the chance to fill in some early blanks which are already in interesting shapes.

It is a very basic set-up: Guy goes alone into the woods, weird stuff happens, and there's a real possibility that nobody is coming out again. There's almost no dialog and backstory is parceled out in miserly fashion toward the end - it's an hour into the movie before there is any reason to say Marco Contrada's name out loud or given an inkling of what his reason for being in these woods and the abandoned village he finds there.

Filmmaker Lorenzo Bianchini does pretty well in the atmosphere department. Start from how the woods is inherently creepy, add a crossing of running water that he makes far more portentous than it logically may be, and give away so little that it's not even clear whether what's hidden in these woods is cryptozoologic or paranormal - or what Marco's motives are, and things get thoroughly unnerving. There's something sinister about watching a man set up cameras and record other information without explanation, and by not telling the audience whether Marco is doing legitimate research or preparing to spy on other people, it's along time before the audience can get comfortable enough to do their own classifications of what they see on-screen.

Full review at EFC.