Saturday, November 30, 2013

Homefront

Not a whole lot to say about Homefront that I didn't say at eFilmCritic, other than to mention that while I tend to like Jason Statham, and wanted to make a point of how he's probably doing his best acting job since The Bank Job here, I can't say for sure because I tend to miss a lot of the stuff he does that goes straight to video, and for all I know, there may be some underrated gems in there.

Heck, I miss a lot of the stuff that he does that makes it to theaters, because he's done enough pretty crappy stuff that doesn't necessarily even have a good preview that I often wind up skipping his movies, especially when one comes out during a week or season (like this one) where it's easy for it to get lost in the shuffle. I suppose one can't exactly argue with his career choices, but he certainly does seem like a guy who could do better.

Oh, and as an aside: There were a couple emails on Chlotrudis's list talking up James Franco for a more literary project or three that he's done lately, and how he's a favorite. Makes me wonder if his pretty decent turn as the villain here is enough to get some of those guys into the new Statham movie.

Homefront

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 November 2013 at the Regal Fenway #5 (first-run, 4K DCP)

Here's a question: If a by-the-numbers genre movie that otherwise has direct-to-video (or, these days, video-on-demand) written all over it somehow puts together a group of interesting actors who actually play their parts fairly well, does it really matter if this doesn't make for better action? Maybe, maybe not. There winds up not being much to Homefront, but it's a lot less laughable between fights than many other movies of its ilk.

It starts out with a drug bust in Shreveport, Louisianna, where the DEA takes down a biker gang led by Danny Turrie (Chuck Zito) with the help of undercover Interpol agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham - you can tell he's undercover because he has hair and is attempting an American accent). It does not end in an ideal fashion. Two years later, Broker is living a few hours away in Rayville, where his late wife grew up, raising his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic), pretty much retired. Trouble starts when Maddy stands up to a bully at school, because the kid (Austin Craig) has a mother (Kate Bosworth) who has a brother (James Franco) who cooks meth, and having this DEA guy in his backyard could be both a threat and an opportunity.

For as much as Homefront follows a familiar template from its generic title to its familiar story about the super-cop who just wants to live a quiet life remodeling the old house he bought (except that criminals just have to keep poking at him until he is forced to unleash the violence), Sylvester Stallone's adaptation of Chuck Logan's novel is just far enough off the usual beam to be interesting. Lay the plot out, and it's an almost comedically absurd escalation from kids shoving each other on the playground to grownups firing automatic weapons at the climax, but the path between those two events meanders in a way that can occasionally be frustrating, but also amusing. As much as the audience may grumble about not much happening, there's something to like in how this absurdity plays out, from the "girl takes down much larger guy" fight being played out with ten-year-olds to how the missing cat gets played as a tack-on bit to several scenes rather than just a way to show how nasty the bad guys are.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gathr Preview Series: Cold Turkey

I'm writing this on my way home from my own trip home for Thanksgiving, a pretty quick circuit to Portland, Maine to see my Dad, his wife, and her kids & grandkids, my brothers all being at their respective wives' families' gatherings. That's cool - it's pretty stress-free and the family being away for Thanksgiving generally means they're around for Christmas, allowing me to watch the Awesome Nieces unwrap presents in person.

And there's still a lot of pie.

Not a particularly important fact, that, and you can hardly call it ironic or coincidental; Gathr scheduled their Thanksgiving movie for a couple days before Thanksgiving, and I had a bit of a backlog to get through before I got to this. But then, it's only proper to publish the review for something called Cold Turkey after Thanksgiving dinner, right?

Interestingly, this was one of the better-attended previews that wasn't attached to a live appearance or other sponsor, which seems kind of random. It might be difficult to generate momentum from that, as next week's is pushed fairly late (9pm). I'll be there because it looks like a pretty interesting movie, but it won't fit the "take 350 bus home from work, get off in Arlington Center, get food at Elton's/Retro Burger, see movie" schedule.

Cold Turkey

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

Folks from other continents much watch movies taking place on Thanksgiving and wonder why Americans have given themselves and extra week end of annoying travel to share a relatively bland meal and unresolved issues with family - even if many do end with the family members realizing how much they need each other. It's actually a lot more pleasant than that most of the time, but you certainly wouldn't know that from watching the likes of Cold Turkey.

This movie's family is the Turners. "Poppy" Jim (Peter Bogdanovich) and his second wife Deborah (Cheryl Hines) are hosting, as usual, their son Jacob (Ashton Holmes), his daughter Lindsay (Sonya Walger) from his first marriage, spouses Missy (Amy Ferguson) & TJ (Ross Partridge), and Lindsay's kids. This year, estranged daughter Nina (Alicia Witt) is making the trip for the first time in fifteen years, though she and her boyfriend Hank (Wilson Bethel) have an ulterior motive - but then, so do Lindsay and Jacob.

Some movies about family conflicts like to show them as simmering just under the surface before they explode, but to watch the Turners is not just to find their being related as unlikely (facial resemblance doesn't seem to have been a huge factor in casting) but to wonder if any members of this clan actually like each other. They're a distant, miserable bunch, and there's no indication of how the shambling alcoholic that Jim is could ever have ever inspired the sort of affection that has his kids calling him "Poppy" into adulthood. It livens up a bit when Nina arrives, but adding unbalanced and inappropriate to the mix just makes things less boring; it doesn't give the audience much reason to actually invest in the characters.

Full review at EFC.

This Week In Tickets: 18 November 2013 - 24 November 2013

Some long days and some days when work went just the right length to screw plans up, but at least an interesting week.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: An Adventure in Space and Time at about 7-ish on Sunday the 24th. It's a TV movie, but considering there will be a ticket for another one on next week's page, it only seems fair to include it.

Kind of a quiet week. The company that owns the company that owns my employer had its"Vision Week", which brings a lot of extra people into the office, has some awards given out, some other presentations, and face-to-face time with people I normally deal with over the phone. It throws the schedule out of whack and some guys are real experts in squeezing twenty minutes of information into an hour and a half, but on the plus side, they did pay for food a few times and there is still apparently no thought of packing the operation up and moving it to Texas. I should probably be a little less paranoid about that.

On either side of the week, Bollywood! Monday night's movie was Ram-Leela, which is basically Romeo and Juliet with songs and a whole bunch of new stuff added to the last act; Saturday afternoon's was Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, a fairly standard romantic comedy that could do with being a little more of each. To a certain extent, this is a bit of a sign that there's not a huge amount of new releases and you might as well see everything if you can, but I am having some fun with these pictures.

In between, I did a double feature of The Armstrong Lie & Go for Sisters. As I said in the post, the original intent was to see the latter with a Q&A by John Sayles, but that sold out early. Both wound up being pretty good movies, though I liked Go for Sisters a little bit more.

Sunday was a triple-header: Dallas Buyers Club in the afternoon, pulling An Adventure in Space and Time off the DVR, and then The Visitor at the Brattle. I wound up liking Adventure more than Buyers Club, although the latter may be the more ambitious and dramatic. The Visitor, though... Ugh.

Dallas Buyers Club

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2013 at Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run, DCP)

Sometimes I wonder if every interesting true-life story really needs a movie, despite having some of the raw materials for one. Take Dallas Buyers Club: Interesting situation, a couple of roles that actors can do amazing things with, and an idea worth chewing on. The story is more a string of things that happened than something that drives from point A to point B, and sometimes that makes for a bit of distance from the audience.

Just sometimes, though, and if you take the perspective that the rest of the movie exists to give Matthew McCanaughey and Jared Leto a venue for these performances, that's fine. As two different sorts of AIDS patients in the mid-1980s - a heterosexual rodeo enthusiast and a transgendered hustler - they both undergo the requisite physical transformation but also sink into their characters in other ways. There's nothing inauthentic about Leto's Rayon at all, for example; she's got a ton of personality rather than just being a set of familiar mannerisms, and Leto sells her tendency toward self-destruction without making the character even primarily frustrating. McConaughey, meanwhile, is not quite mesmerizing but certainly has an eye on what makes Ron Woodruff fascinating: There's a fierce determination to survive to him that manifests itself in him expanding his horizons rather than narrowing them, becoming a better man but not in a santimonious way - finding ways to hold the disease back is serious work, but it's possible to have fun doing it.

I do wonder if maybe writers Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack and director Jean-Marc Vallée might have been able to make the story more compelling by digging into a possible irony of this story - that the characters' attempts to fight their disease by making an end run around the FDA is, in a way, the same sort of high-risk behavior that led to them contracting HIV in the first place, even as the two main characters' contradictory behavior toward what they put in their bodies aside from medicine after starting the buyers' club leads to the obvious results. Medicine is complicated, and both the FDA's tough standards and the scientific method serve important purposes, but this movie's tight focus on what are admittedly its best parts does occasional lead to it taking things for granted.

An Adventure in Space and Time

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Doctor Who week, HD DVR)

A sort of interesting thing about Doctor Who is that it really doesn't have a single creator. As this TV movie chronicling its birth on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary shows, Sydney Newman (Brian Cox), the head of the BBC's drama department, came up with the idea; someone else wrote the initial script; and first-time producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) and director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan) took it seriously enough to develop it into something that could last.

And it's a pip watching this charming cast play this creation out in a glossy version of 1963 London . It doesn't dig deep into the making-of elements, but it takes a close enough look that one can admire the improvisational nature of making television, especially in those days, especially when you compare the tight sets and even tighter compositions Hussein had to work with on those first serials compared to the open, widescreen picture Terry McDonough gets to give to Mark Gattis's script. It's pretty cool how, after making an obvious point with having Lambert watch footage of the first woman in space, there's still something very refreshing about how she argues for the overtly science-fictional aspects of "The Daleks", intuitively grasping how the things Newman dismisses as juvenile are actually the most mature and powerful parts.

But, ultimately, the focus winds up falling on David Bradley as William Hartnell, the first actor to play The Doctor. It's a part he had every reason to be skeptical about, and which right from the start was probably too much for him. But he grew to love it, to the point where he couldn't understand the younger people he worked with wanting to move on to other things, and his stern but ultimately cheerful personality formed the basis of something that would last fifty years and counting. And his story arc underscores a truth about pop culture that we don't often give much thought to: That if one wants to create something that lasts for generations, at a certain point he or she has to give it up. Maybe not in the literal way that Lambert and Hartnell hand Doctor Who off to other producers and actors, but at a certain point, the creators have to be okay with somebody else saying their lines, writing their creations, etc. It's a hard thing to accept, but who knows if this show becomes more than a curiosity if that doesn't happen?

The Visitor (Stridulum)

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagements, 2K DCP)

It's probably not a good sign that, roughly ten minutes into The Visitor, I noticed that director Giulio Paradisi and his co-writers apparently didn't understand the rules of basketball, as the game at which we meet much of the Earthbound cast had teams going on 8-0 scoring runs without ever seeming to force a turnover. That may be a silly, petty thing to nitpick, but I think it accidentally illuminates one of the movie's problems: The filmmakers don't seem to know how to make something thrilling, passing over the naturally exciting things and filling it in with stuff that just doesn't make any sense.

Ah, you say, but that's part of the charm - it's a bug-nuts Italian sci-fi/horror movie! And in the moments when it gets to be that, like the very first opening scenes with some cool smoke effects suggesting an utterly alien world, it's fun. But so much of it is just hanging around 1979 Atlanta, with a secret society and an extradimensional hero both trying to harness the power of a telekinetic girl (and her mother's womb), and it's surprisingly forgettable. Indeed, the most memorable bit is the finale, which seems tacked on at the last minute as every possible way of obscuring the face of the little girl seems to be used.

Admittedly, I may have drifted off for a couple minutes a few times, but something as creative and insane as Drafthouse is selling this to be should really make that impossible. But despite the trippy previews that are floating around, this is a boring, cheap movie with a few isolated good bits. I occasionally take hits on not "seeing the fun" in bad/schlocky movies, but it's not like I go in expecting not to enjoy it. But at a certain point, bad movies are just bad movies, and acting clever because you recognize The Visitor as weird doesn't actually make it a better movie.


Ram-Leela
The Armstrong Lie
Go for Sisters
Gori Tere Pyaar Mein
Dallas Buyers Club
The Visitor

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 November - 5 December 2013

A Short post last week means longish one this week - both because it's got a couple more days (unless otherwise indicated, runs start on Wednesday the 27th) and because a lot of stuff is opening.

  • With kids having the weekend off from school, Disney releases their latest animated feature, Frozen. It's a loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, renamed (as Tangled was) because Disney is apparently terrified of people thinking its fairy-tale stories with female protagonists are fairy-tale princess movies. Like Tangled, it's getting some great reviews and has a cartoony CGI look; it also has a Mickey Mouse short attached to the beginning that starts from something Walt Disney himself worked on but didn't finish and goes in crazy directions from there. It's playing in both 2D and 3D at the Capitol Theatre, Studio Cinema Belmont (2D only), Apple, Fenway, and Boston Common.

    It's a musical, and so is Black Nativity, in which a kid from a rough area of Baltimore is sent to live with conservative relatives in Brooklyn for the holidays. Generally-interesting director Kasi Lemmons directs and adapts Langston Hughes's play, with Jacob Latimore, Forest Whitager, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, and Tyrese Gibson in the cast. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, and Apple.

    Another interesting director, Spike Lee, has taken on the unenviable task of making an American Oldboy with Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley, and Elizabeth Olsen. Good luck measuring up to Park Chan-wook's original. That's at Boston Common and Fenway. Those two theaters (plus Apple) also get Homefront, which stars Jason Statham, has a script by Sylvester Stallone, and features James Franco and Winona Ryder as villains. If it just winds up being a boring action programmer, I'll be terribly disappointed.
  • The broadest spread of theaters goes to Philomena, which in addition to playing at the Coolidge also opens at Kendall Square, Fenway, Boston Common, and the SuperLux. It stars Judi Dench as the title character, a woman who gave up her son for adoption decades ago and decides to seek him out with the aid of a BBC reporter played by Steve Coogan. Stephen Frears directs. They (along with Kendall Square) also open the new one by Alexander Payne, Nebraska, a black-and-white road movie with Bruce Dern as an old man traveling halfway across the country to claim a sweepstakes prize with his son.

    There are no midnight movies this week, but there is the opposite - a Sunday-morning kid's show of An American Tail, the animated movie produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Don Bluth about the trials and tribulations of an immigrant mouse. There's also a preview of Mandela: Long walk to Freedom, with Idris Elba in the title role, on Thursday night. And while it's a little way out, the Science on Screen show on Monday the 9th is a 35mm print of Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a lecture on cartoon physics from Harvard University Physics Chair Melissa Franklin. I can't see how that doesn't sell out, so pre-order your tickets like I have.
  • In addition to Philomena and Nebraska on Wednesday, Kendall Square opens The Great Beauty on Friday for a seven-day run. It's a much-acclaimed new film from Palo Sorrentino, and features Toni Servillo as a writer who has been living the high life in Rome for decades only to find it upended on his 65th birthday
  • Print/DCP availability and other issues has cause The Brattle Theatre to rearrange their schedule a bit from what was printed. The first day of their Centennial Celebrations series isn't affected - Wednesday (the 27th) still has two films noir with Alan Ladd, both co-starring Veronica Lake, both in 35mm, with The Blue Dahlia written by Raymond Chandler and The Glass Key based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett. Thanksgiving Day now has White Christmas as the other half of a Danny Kaye double feature with A Song Is Born (the latter in 35mm). Friday now features a tribute to Stanley Kramer with It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which also plays Saturday as scheduled. Sunday's and Tuesday's honoree is cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, and the film is Raiders of the Lost Ark in 35mm. So cancel other plans.

    Another change to the schedule is the addition of late-ish-night screenings of The Visitor at 10:30pm on Friday and Saturday; evidently enough people got more of a kick out of it than me to hold it over. On Monday, Balagan & The DocYard team up to present The Punk Syndrome, a documentary about a Finnish band made up of "four mentally disabled guys" (so, not to be confused with The Punk Singer, which opens there on the 6th); there will be a Q&A (conducted via Skype) afterward. Wednesday night at 9pm they show Valhalla, the latest winter-sports film from Sweetgrass Productions; it promises a stronger story than usual to go along with great cinematography.
  • All the new American films are pushing the Bollywood stuff out of Fenway for now, but iMovieCafe/Apple Theaters is opening Bullet Raja on Friday the 28th. It features Saif Ali Khan as a man who rises to the top of a gang but is perhaps more charismatic outlaw than cruel thug; Sonakshi Sinha plays the woman who, presumably, brings something better out of him.
  • Thanksgiving weekend means that The Regent Theatre busts out the Sing-Along Mary Poppins prints with lyrics on screen. Costumes and kids are encouraged for this event, which has matinee screenings on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Also, take note that this week's Gathr Preview Series screening is at 9pm on Tuesday (the theater is booked for other events earlier in the day). The movie is Night Train to Lisbon, featuring Jeremy Irons as a professor who embarks on a quest to learn more about the author of a Portuguese book who also served in that country's resistance. Nifty international cast, including Charlotte Rampling, Lena Olin, Tom Courtenay, Bruno Ganz, Jack Huston, Christopher Lee, and Mélanie Laurent. Bille August directs.
  • The Harvard Film Archive spends much of the weekend (and the coming month) on The Bodies and Souls of Robert Rossen, an overlooked director who wound up villified by both sides during and after the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1940s and 50s. This week's films include The Hustler (Friday 7pm), Marked Woman (Friday 9:30pm), Body and Soul (Saturday 7pm), and Johnny O'Clock (Saturday 9:15pm); all of this week's screenings from the series are in 35mm.

    Sunday and Monday wrap up Lhomme with a Movie Camera, with Lhomme there in person for Le Joli Mai on Sunday and Army of Shadows on Monday. The cinematographer worked with heavyweight directors on both: Mai is also part of the Chris Marker series (presented digitally in part, I think, because that's how the new restoration that opens at Kendall Square next week is available); Army incorporates Jean-Pierre Melville's own WWII experiences into his adaptation of Joseph Kessel's novel.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts concludes their run of the 2013 UCLA Festival of Preservation with Double Door (Saturday), Supernatural (Saturday), International House (Sunday), and The Chase (Sunday). After that, they start their December calendar with Frederick Wiseman's new documentary At Berkeley (be warned: his look at his the University of California campus is about four hours long and includes a brief intermission). On Thursday the 5th, a retrospective of The Films of François Truffaut kicks off with The 400 Blows (preceded by short film "The Brats") and Shoot the Piano Player; this series will make up the bulk of the month's schedule.
  • No "regular" programming at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theatre this weekend, so maybe we should just consider the Bright Lights series the regular programming and the rest special presentations from now on. Tuesday night's program, "PASSION: An Evening with Academy Award-Nominated Producer Sarah Green doesn't appear to include a film screening, although the Emerson alumnus will discuss the pictures she has produced for David Mamet, John Sales, and Terrence Malick. There will be a movie on Thursday the 5th - documentary A Life Without Words presents a brother and sister in rural Nicaragua who were born deaf and never learned to communicate with formal language as a result.
  • The UMass Boston Film Series comes to a conclusion on Thursday the 5th with Mistaken for Strangers. Director Tom Berninger will be on hand after the free screening to talk about his movie, a documentary in which the would-be horror filmmaker accompanied his older brother Matt on his band's tour, despite not being a particular fan of The National's kind of music. I seem to recall good buzz about this one at Fantasia.
  • The ICA has two film presentations this week: "The British Arrows" on Sunday is a compilation of award-winning commercials from the UK; it will have a few more screenings later in the month. Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer plays as part of the "Art Over Politics" series on Thursday the 5th; this documentary on the Russian protest group will have director Maxim Pozdorovkin there for an introduction and Q&A moderated by Harvard Professor (and artist and writer in her own right) Svetlana Boym.


My plans? Dropping everything for Raiders (obviously), plus the Alan Ladd double feature and maybe It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Frozen is the top priority among new releases, and I may try and fit Homefront, Black Nativity, Philomena, and Nebraska in before doing something kind of overkill-ish for Oldboy.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Gori Tere Pyaar Mein (Girl... In Your Love)

So, apparently Bollywood is a regular thing that I do now. That developed quickly. I guess I might as well, if they're playing at a theater that accepts MoviePass and there aren't necessarily a whole lot of other new options in a given week, as has been the case with much of November.

It's fun, though. I think it's giving me a bit more of an appreciation of musicals, in how even though there is an artificiality about them that can yank a viewer right out of the story if handled clumsily, they're also a chance to see something big and entertaining without it being related to destruction. The trick is to get them to advance the story in the same way an action scene does (or make them good enough that the audience doesn't mind the detour), and while Bollywood movies can certainly suffer from going by the book in how songs are placed - introduce the star with one, have one for when the lovers meet, a duet where they try and one-up each other - there's something very filmic about them here. American musicals are often translated from stage plays, and the songs often reflect that.

The other thing I'm sort of learning as I watch them is how non-homogeneous India is. This movie take place in three distinct locations - Bangalore, Delhi, and a village in Gujarat - and while as near as I can tell, everybody is speaking Hindi (with just enough unsubtitled English thrown in to mess me up because my brain doesn't shift between reading and hearing dialogue that fast), it's an issue. My eyebrow raised a bit when one character asked another if he was really sure about pursuing this sort of mixed relationship. It wasn't a particularly thoughtful moment, but the equivalent discussion seldom seems to play that way in America; we either portray the person asking as a nasty bigot or pointedly act like it's no big deal, and that's with differences that seem, to my untrained eye, much more obvious than the ones here.

As an aside, I was reminded how much India is in many ways several smaller countries pushed together by the other movies playing at Fresh Pond this week, with one being listed under separate names and different art depending on whether the showtime was in Tamil or Telugu. I really wish those were subtitled more often, because it seems pretty clear that I'm only seeing a small slice of Indian cinema and culture (as much as you can absorb that from a place's popular cinema) by only seeing Bollywood productions.

I'm not sure how many more of them I'll be seeing over the next month or so - I've got a vacation coming up and there aren't many weeks with one wide release left in the year. Still, it's been a fun new thing to dip my toes in, especially now that each one being something of a double feature is something I've mostly gotten used to.

Gori Tere Pyaar Mein (Girl... In Your Love)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2013 at Regal Fenway #2 (first-run, DCP)

Gori Tere Pyaar Mein is a movie about a layabout becoming a productive and charitable member of society, and maybe it takes that lesson too well to heart. For all that there are moments of it being sweet, boisterous, or funny, the need to do the right thing (and talk about doing so) overwhelms it. A romantic comedy doesn't necessarily need to be packed full of jokes, but falling in love should probably have a little more fun and a little less duty.

As things start out, Sriram Venkat (Imran Khan) is all about fun - since returning to Bangalore from receiving his education in America, he's been quite the playboy. After the latest disappointment, his parents decide the thing to do is arrange a marriage, and good luck - Vasudha Natrajan (Shraddha Kapoor) is beautiful, intelligent... and in love with someone else, though she lacks the nerve to defy her parents and marry her Punjabi boyfriend. Her social conscience reminds Sriram of the last girl he had a serious relationship with, Dia Sharma (Kareena Kapoor), though he eventually drove her away.

Perhaps the opening half of this movie goes a little more smoothly for fans of Indian film who recognize which actress was second-billed in the opening titles when she shows up on-screen. Those of us who can't quite keep our Kapoors straight might initially think that Shraddha is the intended leading lady while the flashbacks to Kareena's Dia are just "crazy ex-girlfriend" bits, and be confused by how the film continues returning to her (by "might", I mean "this happened with me"). Either way, the jumping back to various points in Sriram's and Dia's relationship is still probably not the ideal way to go about it; the audience's first exposure to Dia is at her least personable, and the moments where she is meant to be warm, funny, and unpredictable seem like the exceptions instead of who she really is. Vasu's attentive skepticism makes the audience to want him to prove himself to her, not the girl from back when.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Double Feature at Kendall Square: The Armstrong Lie & Go For Sisters

Getting to this evening of movies was a day of "not the plan, but I'll take it". It started from the morning, where I didn't catch the bus to the office but figured that maybe working from home would be for the best; it's a lot easier to get to Kendall Square in time for a 6:45pm screening of Go For Sisters than it would be from Burlington (especially with a 4pm conference call scheduled to go past 5pm). And when that turned out to be not quick enough, well, heck, I'll just catch The Armstrong Lie and then see Go For Sisters at 9:40pm.

The reason for wanting to catch those specific screenings was pretty simple; John Sayles would be introducing both and doing Q&A at the first. IFFBoston was the group presenting the event, but their Brian Tamm also gave a shout-out to the Roxbury International Film Festival (focused on films by and about people of color) and the Boston Latino Film Festival, which are two rather appropriate groups to bring attention to, given that this is a movie about two black women teaming with a Mexican-American ex-cop.

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He didn't stick around long for the 9:40pm show - as he said, it was past his bedtime, and the guy who brings his coat to the front of the theater is probably ready to go as soon as the film starts rolling file starts playing. He mentioned that his previous film, Amigo, didn't play Boston at all, and thinking back, I don't know if I remember Honeydripper playing here either. Looking at his filmography, I'm shocked by how few I've actually seen - Lone Star was a big deal, and I think I remember going to Sunshine State, but aside from that? I haven't even watched the Eight Men Out DVD I've had forever. I feel like I should have seen more; he's clearly the sort of guy I want to encourage, in that he makes movies about the things that interest him even if they are far away from his comfort zone (and that of the usual American audience for independent film).

I actually could have dropped into the Q&A - I bumped into Brian while coming out of The Armstrong Lie and he offered - but I decided to see the movie first, figuring that watching people talk about something built like a detective story might not be the best way to experience it. Maybe I should have taken him up on it; it's not like there were a ton of twists that would have been ruined by hearing about them first. But you never know.

Brian asked how The Armstrong Lie was, and I said it was pretty good, although I didn't jump to "you've got to see this!" It's interesting enough, and the way Alex Gibney acknowledges his involvement in the story but doesn't make it about him is nice, but I think I would have come closer to feeling the anger some are clearly looking for if there were a tighter focus on the cover-up, in part because I just can't get worked up over the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Ideally, sure, I'd prefer a level playing field and wouldn't want someone forced out because they refused to risk their health with something dangerous, but on a certain level, I can't help but wonder if this stuff is really more unnatural than laser eye surgery or baseball players having tendons from elsewhere in their body transplanted to their arms.

Sure, part of this is defensive; Manny Ramirez was the MVP of the 2004 World Series and I am not about to call that October illegitimate, especially to the extent that individual sports like cycling do, where if you go to the Tour de France's website, they show a blank space wherever Armstrong (and, presumably, other competitors caught doping) finished. It strikes me as petty and dishonest to whitewash that part of your sport's history, especially since using transfusions and RBC growth factors was so pervasive at the time.

Ah, well. For all the moments of scolding, I at least was able to find myself surprisingly charmed by the footage of the race itself. It reminded me of the way those who get the day off in the Boston area but don't run the Marathon enjoy Patriot's Day, standing by the street, cheering encouragement to the runners, goofing around, only more so - while the parts of the course actually in Boston have always been cordoned off in my experience, occasionally requiring a long detour (and who knows how crazy the security will be next year), the fans are shown getting right in the road with the cyclists, whooping it up, having a great crazy party. And it lasts for three weeks, with a huge chunk of the country getting to enjoy it!

That's pretty awesome. It can be tough for Americans to kick the idea of the French as snobbish, but it's really cool to watch something like that an remember that there is a goofy, enthusiastic side there as well.

The Armstrong Lie

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2013 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run, 2K DCP)

Five years ago, Alex Gibney set out to make The Road Back,a documentary that followed Lance Armstrong's comeback, hopefully to culminate in an eighth Tour de France victory. That didn't happen, but a whole lot of other things did. As a result, when Gibney finished the movie in 2013, it had a new title and a new focus. And yet, the movie it was originally meant to be often pokes through, perhaps more than today's Gibney intended.

By now, the world knows the Lance Armstrong story - a young cyclist who contracts testicular cancer that remains undetected until it spreads throughout his body, but rebounds to win the Tour de France seven straight times while starting what is now the Livestrong Foundation to assist cancer patients, vigorously denies having used performance-enhancing drugs despite their being endemic to the sport, only to later confess and be stripped of all his titles and banned from the sport. His 2008-2009 comeback (he had retired after winning his seventh Tour de France in 2005) was meant to show that he was racing clean, with Gibney documenting it, but...

Like Gibney's other movie to come out in 2013, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, the director serves as narrator, and while he seldom shows up in front of the camera, the making of the film becomes inextricably tied in with the events he is documenting. It's not that Gibney's presence changes what his subjects are doing, but we see where he can and cannot go, and there's no question that his relationship with Armstrong has grown complicated by the time the film has been finished. He's become a journalist with a very personal axe to grind that nevertheless still wants to believe in the man who betrayed him. In that way, he is maybe not quite representing the audience on screen, but he is putting the camera right where many viewers would.

Full review at EFC.

Go for Sisters

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2013 at Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, 2K DCP)

John Sayles is perhaps the most notable independent filmmaker who falls through the cracks despite being quite accessible. Why is that? After all, he's got Lone Star and Eight Men Out to his name! There are a number of reasons, understandable if not great: He seldom returns to the same themes, genres, and regular cast members. He tackles subjects that interest him which are not only far out of the mainstream, but which he can't own the way someone of the class/nationality/ethnicity of his characters might. And he writes stories that don't feel tight but also don't feel like character showcases. His latest, Go for Sisters, has a bit of all of that going on. That's why people might miss it and also why they really shouldn't.

The title refers to how, back in high school, Bernice and Fontayne were so close that everyone assumed they were family. Twenty-five or so years later, they're reunited when ex-convict Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) is assigned Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) as her new parole agent. Bernice is aware of the conflict of interest, but before she can get Fontayne a new supervisor, her son Rodney has disappeared and become a murder suspect, so she needs information from the sort of people that she should really be making sure Fontayne avoids. They eventually hire former detective Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos), who doesn't look like much but used to be known as "The Terminator", to help them navigate the US/Mexico border.

From the way Sayles presents the detective story, one might be predisposed to think that this is one of those movies where the plot is a necessary evil there to give the cast a reason to talk and, in so doing, act; it doesn't often lead to tricky action or tricky twists. And while the characters' quest to find Rodney certainly does serve as a way to keep the cast interacting with each other, their purpose in following this trail is never far away. There are detours and moments where the ties between Bernice and Fontayne come to the fore, but Sayles actually does a great job of showing how this sort of investigation moves forward by asking the right people the right questions even as the tension and tedium can be tremendously frustrating.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 November - 26 November 2013

Up too late writing This Week, fortunately Next Week is pretty short. Literally; with new movies opening next Wednesday, I can shave a couple days off of it.

  • It's not quite The Hunger Games or nothing this weekend, but there are certainly a metric ton of theaters playing The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. This sequel sees Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen once again thrown into the arena, although this time with more pointed political machinations behind it. Everything I've heard says it's better than the first movie in every way, which shouldn't be too terribly difficult. It plays at the Capitol, Apple, Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common (including Imax), Jordan's Furniture (where you'll get the most out of the scenes filmed in IMAX), and the SuperLux.

    Opening on somewhat fewer screens is Delivery Man, which looks from the preview to be a very close remake of the French-Candian film Starbuck, not terribly surprising with the same director in charge. Possibly not a bad thing; I liked that movie even if I don't necessarily see Vince Vaughn in the role. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    Boston Common and Fenway will also be screening the 50th anniversary Doctor Who special The Day of the Doctor in 3D on Monday (Fenway also has 2D screenings), although I think all but the 10pm screening at Boston Common are sold out (and maybe that one, too). Boston Common will also be opening The Book Thief, a drama about an orphaned German girl learning to read just as the Nazis come to power, who helps hide a Jewish refugee along with her new parents.
  • Kendall Square will also be picking up The Book Thief, along with a couple of other movies. The one-week booking is the new one by John Sayles, Go For Sisters, with LisaGay Hamilton and Yolanda Ross as two childhood friends whose lives have taken very different turns - one is now the other's parole officer - who team up with an ex-cop played by Edward James Olmos to track down the parole officer's daughter. The words "Sayles's best since Lone Star" have been batted around, and IFFBoston will be hosting a Q&A with Sayles at the 6:45pm screening on Friday; Sayles will also be on-hand to introduce the 9:40pm screening if you have trouble making the early show.

    The other film opening is a big-deal documentary, The Armstrong Lie, which started life as the authorized story of his comeback, only to have been shelved and then revived with a completely different focus. It's from Alex Gibney, who is pretty darn good at this sort of thing (and prolific - he just gave us We Steal Secrets earlier this year!)
  • The Brattle Theatre has two films playing during the short week. American Promise is some serious long-term documentary work, with Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson documenting the thirteen years that their son Idris and his friend Seun spent in a prestigious private school from kindergarten to graduation. It has the bulk of the times, including a Friday-night visit from Brewster (although that screening is, per the theater's website, completely sold out).

    The late show is also an epic of sorts, Drafthouse Pictures's new restoration of The Visitor, a 1979 Italian movie that is kind of bonkers even for 1979 Italian movies: A sci-fi horror story where the villain is an eight-year-old girl. It plays at 11pm on Friday and 9:45pm from Saturday to Tuesday.
  • Ram-Leela appears to have done well enough that Fenway and iMovieCafe/Apple Theaters are opening a second Bollywood film alongside it. This one is a romantic comedy, Girl... In Your Love, which stars Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor in a story about a ne'er do well trying to win the heart of an activist girl. Apple also picks up Irandam Ulagam in Tamil and Telugu (where it is called Varna), which appears to be a fantasy romance of some kind. Looks kind of cool, but neither version appears to have English subtitles.
  • The Coolidge will be turning things over on Wednesday, and fills some time in between with special presentations, two with guests. For example, the midnight movie this weekend is Maniac Cop 2, an over-the-top 1980s undead-cop gross-out flick with a cast that includes the likes of Bruce Campbell, Robert Davi, Claudia Christian, and Robert Z'Dar. As a bonus, director Bill Lustig will be on-hand to bask in the audience's esteem on Friday.

    There are two special screenings Sunday morning: Documentary Khodorkovsky tells the rags-to-riches-to-rebel story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, imprisoned in Russia for over ten years and counting; his son Pavel will introduce the screening. And while there is no guest for the Goethe-Institut's German film,Measuring The World, it's only $5 to see Detlef Buck's highly fictionalized story of how two scientists who made great discoveries before their paths crossed in 1828. And on Monday night, there's an NT Live presentation of MacBeth with Kenneth Branagh in the title role and Alex Kingston as Lady MacBeth.
  • The Boston Latino International Film Festival is back at Harvard's Tsai Auditorium on Saturday and Sunday with a selection of films from the USA and Latin America, with a particular focus on documentaries and immigration.
  • Elsewhere on CampusThe Harvard Film Archive begins a series Lhomme with a Movie Camera honoring French cinematographer Pierre Lhomme. including jumbo-sized feature The Mother and the Whore on Friday, two screenings of Alain Cavalier's Le Combat Dans l'Ile on Saturday, and James Ivory's Maurice on Sunday evening. Lhomme will come visit next week, but in the meantime, they do have two other guests: Film critic J. Hoberman will host a screening of David Lynch's Inland Empire (which figures prominently in Hoberman's recent book Film After Film), and Errol Morris will host a free screening of his new documentary The Unknown Known, including a post-film conversation with Mahindra Humanities Center director Homi Bhabha.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more entries in the 2013 UCLA Festival of Preservation this week, including That Cold Day in the Park (Friday), Gun Crazy (Friday), Midnight Madness (Saturday), Mantrap (Saturday & Sunday), and Thirty Day Princess (Sunday, preceded by a Laurel & Hardy short).
  • ArtsEmerson actually has some film programmed at the Paramount Theatre this weekend, with the 32nd Annual Black Maria Film + Video Festival playing Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm; it's a ninety-minute collection of short films. A few days later (Tuesday the 26th), the Bright Lights series has another set of short films, "OJOBOCA", an experimental 16mm film programs featuring the work of Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy.
  • The Regent Theatre has two films this week, both courtesy of Gathr. The Anonymous People plays Monday; it's a documentary on people recovering from addiction, and may be the first Gathr booking I've actually seen succeed in Boston (besides Girl Rising). The regular Preview series entry is on Tuesday; Cold Turkey is a Thanksgiving tie-in starring Peter Bogdanovich as a father whose holiday dinner goes awry when his daughter (played by Alicia Witt) makes her first visit in 15 years.


My plans? Well, I've already got my tickets for Day of the Doctor (10pm Monday @ Boston Common) and Cold Turkey. I'll try to make one of the Sayles screenings of Go For Sisters and probably also see The Armstrong Lie and Delivery Man. I'm also very tempted to make a day trip to NYC to see some of the Fantastic Fest stuff showing at the Drafthouse there, as well, but I'm guessing it would destroy me for the week if I go through with it.

(And, yeah, I will see Hunger Games 2 eventually, though I'm thinking I'll wait until the crowds die down at the furniture store.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 1 November 2013 - 17 November 2013

It's a good week for a movie blogger when there's reason to write about what interests you and be reasonably curtabout what doesn't.

This Week in Tickets

This week, for instance, there wasn't a whole to say about the first thing I saw, Monday's About Time, that necessarily fit in a full "should-you-see-it-or-not" review. It's enjoyable enough, if a bit overdone in the way Romantic Richard Curtis movies tend to be. You're not going to go far wrong seeing it, but some things stick at me a little more than they maybe should.

Tuesday was Gathr Presents Filmmaker Magazine's "25 New Faces of Independent Film", from which I was perhaps expecting more than I should have. I was under the impression that the three shorts would be followed with Q&A or discussion - the description didn't explicitly say so, but did have phrasing along the lines of them "hitting the road" with the magazine's editor, and I figured that the lack of an entry the next week meant they were spacing things out to accomadate this, but if they did, they didn't stop in Arlington, MA. Not a bad set of shorts, really - "Needle", "Refuge", and "Surveyor" all had something to recommend- but it was a quick night for me and maybe one other person.

This weekend was the first time I really found myself thinking about the new MoviePass restrictions, as I made sure to get to the earliest screening on Friday night among the movies I wanted to see, so that the 24-hour window wouldn't cause an issue. That turned out to be The Counselor, and while it turned out I wasn't able to catch anything at 7-ish on Saturday, I wound up deciding to use cash rather than MoviePass to see the Coolidge's midnight screening of The Wicker Man in its Final Cut so that I could use it on a more expensive screening of The Best Man Holiday. I will, honestly, write that long-delayed piece about MoviePass this weekend, because I think that this need to use it strategically is something worth talking about, as it's the sort of need for planning that they worked to move away from last year.

Also due for a write-up: The Showcase SuperLux, where I took in a second screening of Thor: The Dark World afterward. I want to give it one more look from the pricey seats, but something about it is not sitting quite right, even if it is delivering all it promises.

About Time

* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 November 2013 at AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

For the longest time, I would see Richard Curtis's name on a movie as screenwriter (and, later, director) and be kind of disappointed that it was almost inevitably a thoroughly earnest contemporary romance. What had happened to the guy who did sharp, occasionally mean-spirited comedy that rewarded a little bit of extra background with Rowan Atkinson on the likes of Blackadder? Departed for more lucrative pastures. Now, I guess, I'm to the point of not really minding. I like the charming love stories well enough and Curtis does them well.

That's the case with About Time: He's got a clever little spin to put on it - Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in their family can return to other points in their lives,and he opts to use it in large part to make sure things go smoothly with Mary (Rachel McAdams), a nigh-perfect girl he meets and then un-meets while trying to help someone else. Curtis has cast himself a pretty darn adorable couple in Gleeson & McAdams, surrounded them by an enjoyable supporting cast, and let them do their thing. He delivers a Richard Curtis movie and the folks who come for tha will leave pleased.

It is, thankfully, a bit more than that; as the movie goes on, the relationship between Tim and his father takes on a greater focus, especially toward the end, when it indulges in a familiar time-travel fantasy rather wonderfully. He's also clever in how he uses limits imposed upon this ability by the characters to demonstrate the idea that at certain points in one's life, there is no going back to the way things were before - although I must admit that the biggest demonstration ties things up in a knot that Doc Brown couldn't make sense of no matter how large a blackboard you gave him.

I also have to admit to being a bit concerned about some of the movie's sexual politics - specifically, the way that only the men in this family can travel in time. On the one hand, it focuses the plot on Tim and his Dad, and that's nice and tight. On the other... Well, at what point do Tim's attempts to reconnect with Mary after a good deed undoes them meeting and her giving him her number approximate stalking? The implication seems to be that this is okay because they hit it off the first time, but Curtis seems to very carefully avoid situations where Tim could be considered a creep as opposed to someone who recognizes True Love, even though it would take just the smallest of changes to tip the scale. Also, the difficulties Tim's sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) has both in her love life and in moving to the city in general are in contrast to how Tim can make everything go well. I wondered if it was a sly commentary on how men get more second chances than women, or an example of how selfish Tim can be (SPOILER! he actually undoes setting his sister's life right because it has a butterfly-effect change on his daughter; apparently the altered child doesn't have the same right not to be rewritten because Tim had just met him !SRELIOPS), but Curtis really doesn't dwell on this enough to give the impression that he was thinking about it this way.

That doesn't undo the enjoyable parts of the movie, but it stuck with me. Time travel isn't for dabblers.

"Needle"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 November 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Previews Presents New Faces of Independent Film, digital)

All three short films in this program were roughly 20-25 minutes, and while that doesn't necessarily seem like a long time, it can be. "Needle" was one of two shorts in the program whose craft was actually quite good, but which also triggered a feeling that not enough was going on.

There's a lot to like here, though - Anahita Ghazvinizadeh's look at a 14-year-old girl (Florence Galimberti) about to have her ears pierced only to have even something simple like that disrupted by the ugly divorce her parents are going through is immensely well-observed. Galimberti is great, and Moe Beitiks makes the mother quite human even if she is all germophobia and egotism. For most of the short, the impression is definitely that this is what it's like.

But there's also about five or six minutes that feel like padding, or rambling on after a point has been made, and while a feature can absorb that, a 21-minute feature that's all about observation as-is really can't; it makes the movie feel even more static and uneventful. It doesn't overshadow the good stuff, but it is an issue.

"Refuge"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 November 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Previews Presents New Faces of Independent Film, digital)

This one was my favorite of the group, an episode of Futurestates (a PBS anthology series) featuring Nikohl Boosheri as a Persian immigrant facing deportation after an Iranian virus cripples an American government computer network who may be given a chance to stay in the country if she will carry a child for a biotech firm.

It's good science fiction built on some rather current events, with strong attention to detail, both visually and in terms of how everything that happens seems like a very reasonable extrapolation from the present day. Writer/director Mohammad Gorjestani doesn't just come up with little bitst hat seem right, though; he's strapped them to a story that is the right size for this short and finishes on just the right shot.

Plus, Boosheri is pretty good. She seems just flustered enough as an immigrant who is finding herself trapped in a bureaucratic mess; it would have been rather easy to either overplay it or give the story too little. She's just right, even when the temptation to make the piece hers might have been very strong.

"Surveyor"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 November 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Previews Presents New Faces of Independent Film, digital)

"Surveyor" was the other one in the package that could perhaps have done with a little more happening. It's a beautiful film, following the title character as he helps to map the American West in the 19th Century, eventually crossing the path of several unusual (and often dangerous) people.

It's beautiful, but often seems to be trying to hard. The opening minutes take great pains notto show the surveyor's face or have him speak, but when he does start to talk and appear on screen clearly, there's no particular import to the change, and by association there was no reason to have done it before, other than to make it look like something telling was going on. There's also the sound of bees in the background, persistently. Eventually, stuff starts happening, but it doesn't exactly resolve into a story.

The Counselor

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2013 at AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, 4K DCP)

Speaking of gimmicks that take more effort than they're worth, there's not giving Michael Fassbender's title character in The Counselor a name. It's something that could come across as very clever when one realizes what's been going on at the end, but you can see director Ridley Scott and writer Cormac McCarthy tiptoeing around it. There are also two or three sequences in the beginning that are quite self-conscious in terms of foreshadowing or being more than just what's happening.

That would be okay if there was a bit more to the story, but the criminal activity this counselor is involved in isn't terribly interesting. There's some drugs being smuggled, and then intercepted, but as a crime story, it lacks the intrigue that one may hope for. It's got a heck of a femme fatale in Cameron Diaz, a better-than-serviceable lead in Fassbender, and memorable performances by Javier Bardem, Brad PItt, and Rosie Perez (Penelope Cruz is good enough, but is given little to do).

It stretches a little long at the end, too, an unusually long wind-down for this sort of movie. It's a crime movie without an interesting crime, and while it has all the traits of film noir, but without the solid genre story underneath, and noir movies need that foundation. Otherwise, it's just style, and this really needs more.

Thor: The Dark World

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2013 at AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, 4K DCP)

Just saw it last week; haven't changed my mind.


About Time
New Faces of Independent Film
The Counselor
The Wicker Man
The Best Man Holiday
Thor: The Dark World

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Wicker Man (Final Cut)

At least, I hope this is the final cut it's been advertised as being. Robin Hardy is about eighty-four years old now; he's got to have better things to do with his remaining than getting a movie he did half a lifetime ago a few inches closer to juuust right!

I jest somewhat, as there are a lot of people fairly invested in this picture, although it's maybe not one that the general public knows of as a classic. The horror fans know, though - they were up in arms about the Nic Cage/Neil LaBute remake a few years ago, and when Hardy came to Fantasia with his sequel The Wicker Tree (and the then-current director's cut of The Wicker Man) a couple of years ago, the guy was treated as a rock star; everyone was excited about Robin Hardy and the Wicker Movies , while I was in the "eh, whatever you say" category, happy I wouldn't have to fight a crowd to see Birthright (which was amazing).

It deserves it, although I don't know if every film that references British pre-Christian culture necessarily needs to be compared to it. I remember people bringing it up in reference to Kill List and even A Lonely Place to Die, which seems to be going a little far. Maybe it isn't - it wouldn't shock me if Ben Wheatley and even Julian & William Gilbey had it in mind - but it strikes me as too rich a source of material to belong to one movie this way.

Finally seeing it does shift my curiosity about the remake. That interest comes in large part from how infamously insane it's said to be, and is only piqued from remembering an interview where someone asked Cage what he thought about being part of such a masterpiece of unintentional comedy only to have him respond not with regret about how it turned out and was received, but something along the lines of "really? people think that happens by accident?" (I love Nicolas Cage, I really do.) But after watching this, I really have a hard time conceiving of how you Americanize it. As I say in the review, this thing is very English/British, while America just doesn't have this barely buried pagan background to tap into, unless you're going to say these guys brought it over from the UK or rejigger it to involve the native people, and I don't know if that quite works. For all that it sounds like a disaster, I have to wonder just what kind of disaster it was.


So, that's that. One fun bit of trivia was that the print that filled in a few gaps and apparently provided the template for how Hardy saw the movie was found in the Harvard Film Archive, and while I think the big screen at the Coolidge was a great place to see it, a part of me would have loved to see its local premiere be at the HFA as a way of touting their importance, even if it would feel hilariously incongruous.


The Wicker Man (1973)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 November 2013 at Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (@fter Midnite/Restoration tour, DCP)

Not long into The Wicker Man, I found myself thinking that this was quite possibly the most English movie I would ever see; that it was shot and perhaps set in Scotland doesn't do much to change that opinion. It's not the England (or Britain) of London and the cities, but the rural part where the old-ways aren't nearly so buried as they are in town. That's the basic set-up of a good many fine horror movies, even if it usually applies to a small group of people rather than a place.

That place is an island community in the Northwest, isolated enough that police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) must arrive by seaplane. He has received word of a missing girl, but when he arrives, nobody will admit to ever having heard of her, including her mother (Irene Sunters). Not that the locals make it easy for him; Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) is the only authority anyone on the island seems to recognize. By the time Howie does find evidence of the missing girl's existence, it seems very likely that her disappearance is tied to the pagan beliefs practiced widely and openly there, which may demand a sacrifice to fight the poor harvest.

Howie is a resolutely Christian man, and presenting him as the anomaly (as 2013's restored "Final Cut" does) is a big part of what makes The Wicker Man such a fascinating piece of work. Even as the audience knows Howie is investigating something strange and sinister, and stands a good chance of sharing his religious views, his aggression compared to the singing, down-to-earth, cheerful islanders puts the two opposing schools on a surprisingly level field, especially when his abstract beliefs seem less directly useful than their focused ones. If he were agnostic or atheist, it might be different, a story about rationality versus superstition; instead, it's a man trying to deal with people he simply can't understand. Howie is a good man, and his difficulties dealing with people who have beliefs different from his own are something that may strike the audience close to home. It's a stranger-in-a-strange-land story where one often feels sympathetic for Howie trying to do an important job amid people who are weird at best and obstructionist at worst, but also an uptight prig who needs to loosen up some.

Full review at EFC.

[Goliyon Ki Rasleela] Ram-Leela

Another day, another visit to a romance a bit outside my usual comfort zone. This time, it's a Hindi-language film that's probably one of the most straightforward Bollywood films I've ever gone to. Not that it's necessarily conventional by indian standards, but I typically see the stuff that overlaps genre film territory, so a few song-and-dance numbers will typically be replaced with action sequences. So, it's a bit more of a straight musical than usual, although there is still a fair amount of Bollywood anything-goes atmosphere to it.

One thing I'm starting to wonder as I see more Indian movies is whether they're suffering much for being shown without an intermission at most American theaters. The last few I've seen (Krrish 3, Chennai Express, this) have spots where the break is marked, but just plow through, and that's usually where the biggest shift in the movie's tone happens. Ram-Leela, in particular, seems to become a very different movie in the second half, and I'm starting to wonder if not treating these movies as a sort of mini-double-feature is doing them a bit of a disservice. Sometimes movies have intermissions just to give the audience a chance to stretch their legs or hit the restroom, but there's value in having a bit of a mental reset, too - thinking of that point of the movie not just as middle, but end and beginning as well.

I'm also finding myself fairly fond of this movies lead actress Deepika Padukone. As much as India will throw ridiculously pretty stars at one without much in the way of pause, Padukone seems to have built a more impish screen persona than others, like her characters enjoy stirring things up as opposed to being sort of blandly Strong And Independent. This is probably the best movie I've seen her in, and her Juliet-proxy is a favorite.

As I finished the review up, I recalled that the eFilmCritic/Hollywood Bitch-Slap message boards had an occasional poster whose entire deal seemed to be that he loved West Side Story, and I idly wondered what that guy would think of this movie. As much as I got a little flack for noting the Krrish movies' releases near Superman pictures and the way they borrowed from American superheroes, you've got to admit that redoing Romeo and Juliet as a musical that reflects a rivalry between two gangs is not exactly a new idea.


Oh, one further aside: Indian films are so eager enough to not cause offense that they'll go a little nutty with the disclaimers (including on-screen warnings at any sight of tobacco smoke), a few of which passed by fairly quickly here. One discussed the name change ("Ram-Leela" alone was considered potentially disrespectful in a number of ways, although I tend to think that any faith that is hurt by a little bit of wordplay can't be on the most solid of ground), while another mentioned that all animal action was done with care and that Those Scenes with the peacocks were done via CGI. Which made me terribly worried whenever a peacock was seen or even mentioned on-screen, though it seemed to be much ado about nothing - I think there was one scene with a dead peacock that could have been a prop rather than any kind of elaborate effects work.

Although I must say - I don't think anything they could have show happening to the peacocks would have freaked me out more than the fact that those birds apparently meow like cats. That's just freaking unnatural.


[Goliyon Ki Rasleela] Ram-Leela

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 November 2013 at Regal Fenway #3 (first-run, DCP)

The last time I wrote a review of an Indian movie, I got comments saying not to compare it to something else and to just enjoy it for what it is. That's actually good advice in general, although that's not going to happen here - the opening titles say flat out that Goliyong Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela is based on Romeo and Juliet. But while its origins may be familiar, the story does go off in some interesting directions and the style is certainly pure Bollywood.

The action is transplanted to Ranjaar, a town in present-day Gujarat. The Sanada and Rajadi families have been feuding for five hundred years, with guns worn openly and brawls breaking out on a daily basis. Ram (Ranveer Singh), one of the Rajadi chief's sons, has just returned after being sent away as a child and wants no part of it, preferring to quietly run his adult video store and make love as opposed to war as often as possible. He and his friends sneak into the Sanada household during their Holi celebration, and that's where he meets Leela (Deepika Padukone), the impetuous daughter of a fearsome matriarch (Supriya Pathak). Leela's mother has arranged a marriage to a London milquetoast, but that stands no chance against this whirlwind romance. On the other hand, Ram's and Leela's defiance is the sort of thing that can make an already ugly situation explode.

For as beautifully tragic as the end of Romeo and Juliet is, it's also a bit of a silly bit of plotting, with plot-device catalepsy and suicides as the result of farcical misunderstandings. One of the interesting things writer/director Sanjay Leela Bhansali does with Ram-Leela is to compact much of the original story's plot into the first half of the movie, with the final hour or so exploring whether the star-crossed lovers making their escape would have led to a happily ever after (obviously not, as there's almost half a movie to fill). It's an idea maybe better in concept than reality; for as frantically as the action escalates, Bhansali and co-writers Siddarth & Garima often find themselves tripping over not just how their story splits Ram and Leela apart without giving either a co-star as good as each other, but how for the title characters are emotional and impulsive, they aren't stupid, even when the story requires foolishness. On the other hand, it does put a bit of a charge into the final few scenes - even when it looks like they're barreling toward an inevitable end, that Bhansali and company had flipped things around earlier keeps what's coming up in the air.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Best Man Holiday

Not for the first time, it strikes me that we at eFilmCritic could really use someone regularly writing reviews who likes romantic comedies or relationship-oriented ensemble pictures the way I like sci-fi. I certainly enjoy them well enough, but it's not exactly the sort of thing that I both love enough to be genuinely thrilled at finding a good one or ticked off enough when they don't meet my expectations to really get into why. The folks posting there are a pretty straight white male group, and when something like this falls to the Monday after its opening so that I can see it in theaters, it can really show.

Then again, I may not be doing too bad - skimming through the reviews on IMDB, I seem to be the only white male who didn't make a point of thinking the movie was too preachy or religious, and folks who know me would probably be surprised by that point of view. Admittedly, one of my favorite scenes was one where a character's faith seems to be giving him a sort of cruel false hope, and while I may be a little cynical about how things play out after that, it is relatively honest and fair-minded.

I enjoyed the audience, too - not quite the most crazily invested I've ever seen (honestly, it's tough to beat the Rajini fans at Endhiran), but active. It's a bit of a cliché that black folks talk back to the screen more and are generally louder, making for an easy connection to how white folks are quiet and attentive in church while their African-American counterparts aren't, but there can be something to it. Of course, sitting up front as I am wont, I couldn't swear to the demographics of the folks making noise behind me. The thing is, I enjoyed it. I went pretty much straight from this to a screening of Thor 2 at the SuperLux, and there's no question which audience was more into the movie rather than being apt to talk with each other or open the light-shedding menu so they could get up to order some more of the plated food that requires more attention than regular cinema snacks do. I digress, but it really is a great connection between audience and film that you don't necessarily see every day.

The Best Man Holiday

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 November 2013 at AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

"The Best Man Holiday" is an awkward title that hints that the movie's reasons for existing are purely commercial, or at least that a marketing department felt it would be risky otherwise. Not having seen The Best Man, it could well be an obvious act of recycling and stretching to include characters that don't fit this story, but if so, then the original must have been pretty darn good, as Holiday feels like a welcome reunion even if this one's first time meeting these characters.

In the nearly fifteen years since the first movie, the best man in question, Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) has written some books and joined the faculty at NYU, although both his writing and academic careers are hitting bumps at an inopportune time, as wife Robin (Sanaa Lathan) is in the final weeks of a difficult pregnancy. His agent suggests a biography of his best friend from college, retiring New York Giants running back Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut), and when Lance's wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) invites them to spend Christmas with their family, it's tempting. Also invited are Mia's bother Quentin (Terrence Howard), her best friend Jordan (Nia Long) and her boyfriend Brian (Eddie Cibrian), Lance's friend Julian (Harold Perrineau) and his wife Candace (Regina Hall), and Julian's ex-girlfriend Shelby (Melissa De Sousa).

Harper isn't the only one having money troubles; the charter school Julian and Candace operate has lost a major donor. Jordan's issues are more romantic; Brian is perfectly nice, even if her friends have a few laughs over just how white he is, but she's so focused! These stories are thin enough that characters actually call each other out on not just going about things directly, although writer/director Malcolm D. Lee and his cast are mostly able to make it feel like legitimate matters of pride, confusion, and embarrassment (and, occasionally, just looking for trouble) on the characters' parts rather than the clumsy way comedies often put obstacles in their characters' paths.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 November - 21 November 2013

Man, I thought last week was pretty thin pickings for new releases, but this week is really quiet.

  • One mainstream release on Friday, The Best Man Holiday, the awkwardly-titled sequel to The Best Man which catches up with a good chunk of the cast from the first fifteen years later as they reunite for a Christmas vacation in New York. Can't say I saw the first, but it's a darn nice cast - Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, and plenty more. It's at Apple, Fenway, and Boston Common. Boston Common also has screenings of Oliver Stone's JFK on Sunday and Wednesday.
  • Fenway also picks up Hindi-language picture RamLeela (renamed "Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela" to prevent some sort of religious offense), a Bollywood take on Romeo & Juliet with Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in the title roles. They are, apparently, from competing crime families; they also sing, of course. It also opens at iMovieCafe, which also opens Masala, a Telegu-language film I can't find much information about.
  • Kendall Square mostly keeps things as it is, but they do have a great film opening as their one-week booking - The Broken Circle Breakdown, a fantastic story of love, loss, faith, and bluegrass from Belgium, of all places. It's quite possibly the best thing the best thing playing this week.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a reasonably conventional opening this week with The Pervert's Guide to Ideology. Well, reasonably convention in how it's scheduled versus what it is. That would be the team behind The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek and director Sophie Fiennes, reuniting to talk about how film and ideology intersect. Three films which are used as examples also play alongside it this weekend - John Carpenter's They Live at 9:45pm Friday, Martin Scorcese's Taxi Driver at 4:30pm 9:45pm Saturday, and James Cameron's Titanic (on 35mm!) at 4:30pm Sunday.
  • With their portion of the BJFF finished, The Coolidge has a screen free, and they use it to pick up Kill Your Darlings on the Goldscreen as it has left Kendall Square. Can't say I'm a particular fan.

    The midnight movie this weekend is the final cut of The Wicker Man, which has been released in many versions over the past forty years, but this is apparently the one closest to director Robin Hardy's original vision (with the bulk of what needed to be restored found at the Harvard Film Archive). Friday night also has The Room co-star Greg Sestero on-hand to read from his book about the making of that cult classic. Switching from cult classics to the more accepted variety, The Royal Tennenbaums will play at 7pm Monday on 35mm.
  • The Boston Jewish Film Festival has its last weekend from Sautrday to Monday, with screenings at the MFA (Saturday & Sunday), West Newton (Sunday), AMC Framingham (Monday), the Arlington Capitol (Monday), and Hollywood Hits in Danvers (Monday). That means it overlaps a bit with the Boston Latino International Film Festival, which has screenings at Harvard's Tsai Auditorium on Friday and on the Northeastern University campus on Saturday and Sunday.
  • In addition to the BJFF, the Museum of Fine Arts continues showing documentaries and shorts from The Boston Turkish Film Festival on Friday and Saturday. There is a special screening of 2006's documentary Rape of Europa on Wednesday afternoon, with co-producer Robert Edsel on hand to discuss the film about the Nazis looting of art throughout Europe during World War II and the fight to recover, restore, and return them since.

    Wednesday also begins the 2013 UCLA Festival of Preservation, which features 35mm prints from the UCLA film & television archive and will run into December. It kicks off that day with a pair of just-under-an-hour documentaries playing as a double bill ("Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World" & "Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer"), while Thursday offers silent melodrama Midnight Madness and Robert Altman's 1969 film The Cold Day in the Park.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has two guests this weekend. Nicolas Rey makes a pair of appearances, presenting his new film differently, Molussia on Friday evening and his first feature Schuss! Sunday afternoon. Chilean director Pablo Larrain. is also in town to present Tony Manero Saturday evening and his recent film No on Sunday; it doesn't appear that he'll be sticking around for Post Mortem on Monday.
  • Once again, Emerson's Paramount Theatre sticks with Bright Lights this week, with just one screening: Goats on Tuesday; it's a coming of age film with a nice cast of actors playing eccentric characters, and both producer Richard Arlook and actor Caleb Horst will be on hand afterward.
  • Just one film screening at The Regent Theatre this week with The Rolling Stones: Sweet Summer Sun - Hyde Park Live playing Friday night. It's what it says on the box, a concert film captured during their live outdoor shows in London this past summer. The Gathr preview series is taking a skip week.
  • The UMass Boston Film Series presentation this week is Black Out, with Eva Weber visiting to talk about her documentary on Guinea schoolchildren and what they go through to get an education despite having no lights to study by. It's at the Campus Center Ballroom on Thursday and as always, admission is free.


My plans? Fairly close to last week, looking at Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyer's Club, and maybe The Best Man Holiday or RamLeela. Maybe give the fancy theater another chance to impress me.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 4 November 2013 - 10 November 2013

Can you tell baseball season's over and the fall TV slate is uninspiring by the sheer volume of tickets on this page?

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Inside Llewyn Davis, Brattle Theatre, 7 November 2013, 7:30pm

Kind of busy. and that's using Wednesday to hit the comic shop. But I do kind of like the whole seven different venues thing going on.

The first stop was the Brattle Theatre on Monday, where I caught the tail end of the Guillermo del Toro program in Pacific Rim. I don't know if I'll actually wind up writing full reviews for the whole program like I intended, but I'm glad I got to this one in particular - I came in late and had a front-corner seat when I saw it at the furniture store, so I was very happy to see it head on from the start and with a bit more awareness of the audience. It plays well to a crowd, and should be a lot of fun at the sci-fi marathon when it inevitably arrives there.

Dan Fenn at the Regent Theatre photo IMAG0616_zpse17b29c1.jpg

I opted for the Regent/Gathr JFK doc instead of the one at the Brattle on Tuesday, and I don't know if that was a great choice. JFK: A President Betrayed wasn't bad, but didn't really hold my attention. The Q&A wasn't bad, although JFK is certainly a subject that brings the audience members who want to hear themselves talk out of the woodwork. I get the feeling Dan Fenn has reached the point of having zero patience with conspiracy theories, though, and while it was interesting to hear him say that the movie didn't get everything right, he didn't give a lot of detail on where it went off-base.

Thursday's show at the Brattle was an IFFBoston preview of Inside Llewyn Davis, the new Coen Brothers movie that will be hitting Boston in about a month (I think the NYC/LA date is 6 December). It's quite good, and I'm looking forward both to everyone else getting to see it and the retrospective the Brattle will be having during mid-December. Star Oscar Isaac was on hand, to - here's IFFBoston director Brian Tamm introducing him:

Brian Tamm & Oscar Isaac at the Brattle photo IMAG0618_zps1c7bd946.jpg

Then the weekend got kind of nutty. I'm thinking of doing a "why MoviePass's new policy is frustrating" piece later in the week, because it did impact the way I chose to see things last weekend in a frustrating way that I don't think they really considered when they changed the policy. At any rate, it was a mix of good an blah stuff. 12 Years a Slave was pretty good Friday night, although flawed, while Thor: The Dark World was actually a lot better than I'd been expecting Saturday morning. I couldn't muster up a whole lot of enthusiasm after either The Motel Life Saturday night or Kill Your Darlings Sunday evening.

Sunday afternoon, I decided to finally check out the fancy Showcase SuperLux in Chestnut Hill by re-watching a known quantity - Gravity. I was going to give the place it's own post, and I may do so again in a week or two, but it would be incomplete because I wasn't able to order food, which is half the point of this theater. Of course, I wasn't able to order food because the self-service ticket booths didn't work properly, sending me to the "concierge desk", where the host was polite and helpful, but he had to deal with an embarrassingly slow computer system. And, of course, he was being polite and helpful to folks in front of me as well, and the farther you get from the mainstream multiplexes, the more relaxed a pace customer service runs at.

Pity; I was actually pretty hungry by the time I sat down for the movie and would have liked a snack, but they don't serve "LuxLite" seats after the previews start. Well, not unless you raise a stink like the people to my left who dragged a server over so that another had to step in front of me a couple times during the first act.

Pacific Rim

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Guillermo del Toro, DCP)

I'd hoped to see this in theaters multiple times over the summer, joking that it wasn't so bad that I missed the first few minutes at Jordan's because that gave me a built-in excuse to go see it again. Unfortunately, I didn't get another chance before Fantasia started, and then it under-performed, pretty much moving out of Boston-area screens by the time I got back. I was kind of sad I wouldn't get to see the opening on the big screen for a while.

But then the Brattle started playing previews for it even before the Guillermo del Toro series was announced, and it says something both about the movie and the guys who cut the trailers that they made me just as giddy to see the movie as I had been when they first started showing up in the spring. It tickles something in the back of my brain directly, even if the fact that the movie didn't become a big hit reminds me of how back in '04, the previews for del Toro's Hellboy didn't get half the audience reaction that the Van Helsing ones did. I just don't get America sometimes.

It was a lot of fun to see Pacific Rim as the latest part of a Guillermo del Toro career retrospective (with his Simpsons intro as a pre-movie short, at that!) as opposed to being "one more big summer movie". As much as the Hellboy movies had a darkness underneath their cheerful goofiness, this one brings smiles in the midst of disaster, letting the audience cheer folks dying heroically and just enjoy the heck out of giant mechs and giant monsters beating the crap out of each other. From a good vantage point, the action is even better than I'd remembered, and even if it's not particularly deep, I'm not sure how much depth needs to be bolted onto guys making a last bold stand for the fate of the world when the sensible people are trying to hide. It's great escapist action that likes its entire cast, and I hope like heck that del Toro gets to have more big, upbeat fun like this soon.

What I said in July still holds up.

JFK: A President Betrayed

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 November 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Previews Presents, digital)

History never was my best or favorite subject, for all that it's filled with fascinating stories and offers just as many practical lessons for the present as the old saw about how those who forget it are doomed to repeat it suggests. And among the history that never particularly captivated me, JFK is right up there, even if one can't help but acknowledge how he was the first example of how personal charisma became so central to the process of getting elected in the television era.

So, no, I wasn't hugely fascinated by this look at his "true" legacy - the quotation marks coming because this almost seems like a re-revision. Once upon a time, I remember, being told that his assassination made people conflate him with the 1960s peace movement, when he was in fact as hard-line a Cold Warrior as anybody. This movie makes the argument that he was more inclined to be conciliatory and compromising. It seems well-sourced enough, I guess, although it also occasionally seems like Boomers making a stretch to define history their way.

Who knows where the truth really falls? I'm more inclined to believe this side after seeing the movie, but it's not utterly persuasive, and it does suffer a bit from the dwindling number of direct witnesses to what the thinking was in the Oval Office fifty years ago. It's got pleasant Morgan Freeman translation, but it's also often so dry that it's not hard to zone out during the picture, at east for someone like me who isn't fascinated enough by the subject matter to get into the minutia.

12 Years a Slave

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2013 at Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, 2K DCP)

There are a couple moments early on in 12 Years a Slave when I'm inclined to groan "enough already, I get it!" and just want director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley to quit it with the wallowing and move on with the story, but what makes this a better movie than it might be is that there's always something, direct or indirect, that says that no, in all likelihood, you don't get it, and no movie can really communicate enough that you do. McQueen is looking to kindle an emotional disgust at the very idea of slavery, and he does that fairly well.

That's why the movie is able to do a good job of overcoming its biggest weakness, that it doesn't really feel like twelve years pass during it. One or two, tops. That's still horrifying, but it doesn't really give Chiwetel Ejiofor the opportunity to show how this long odyssey ground Solomon Northup down. He does a fine job of showing other things - how one can take relatively good fortune for granted, or how easily a person can accept and grow used to powerlessness, and those are worth demonstrating as well. As a result, Ejiofor's Northup has the story the audience will remember, but maybe not the performance.

Those come from Michael Fassbender, playing a plantation owner far crueler than Solomon's first master, and Lupita Nyong'o as a slave woman who has sacrificed every bit of dignity she has for a position that is in no way worth the price. The dynamics of the Epps household becomes kind of fascinating, even if it's not always the most well-staged subplot - it reflects how the likes of Edwin Epps use power and position in every facet of their life and consider themselves so important that a bunch of moths is not about nature but them. It's a fascinating dynamic, and I wish Northup's experiences had the same visceral power.

Thor: The Dark World

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 November 2013 at Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, 3D RPX DCP)

I liked Marvel's first Thor movie well enough, although it was kind of based on low expectations - how are they going to fit Thor into a Marvel Cinematic Universe that skews decidedly science-fictional? - and fondness for some of the people involved. It was a bit of a mess, with too much stuff to set up the Avengers at the expense of the title character's personal world. It also looked a bit cheap.

The sequel, at least, dispenses with the latter; Asgard looks cool and natural, rather than like a tilt-shifted 3D model. There are more creatures. And while some of the Thor-centric characters get pushed to the side - I think they had Tadanobu Asano for roughly a day - some others get used better; Renee Russo and Idris Elba actually have stuff to do this time around, even if Christopher Eccleston gets decidedly little to do as the villain. Marvel seems to emphasize one-movie villains less than the other studios, apparently feeling that a strong supporting cast (which is where Tom Hiddleston's Loki likely fits now) helps them more than highly variable antagonists.

The thing I liked most, though, was the level of anything-goes fun this movie has. Last time around, I was surprised that they went Kirby rather than a safer, more realistic Viking Mythology setting; this time, they push the Jack Kirby blending of sci-fi and mythology even further; just when the audience is getting used to Lord of the Rings, Star Wars will break out. And the Midgard-bound settings are enjoyable, too, with enjoyably quirky characters and a final battle that is surprisingly clear for the type of disjointed action it is and which has time for funny bits without undercutting the grandeur and threat.

I don't know that Thor is going to become a particular favorite franchise of mine (you won't see me adding it to my pull list at the Picnic), but I enjoyed The Dark World more than I expected, and may give it another view as a way to check out the fancy theater again.

Gravity

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 10 November 2013 at Showcase SuperLux #1 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

I took in Gravity for a second time in part because if I'm going to spend $20 mainly to check out a theater as opposed to the movie, It might as well be one I know I love. And, yes, I still do love the heck out of Gravity; a second viewing wasn't quite the giddy "nobody makes this sort of movie no matter how much I love it and I need to know what's going to happen next' experience, but it was still a fine-tune, lean, efficient thriller that puts amazing things on-screen.

One thing I did notice with more people in a smaller room was just how well Alfonso Cuaron is able to really hit the right emotional beats when he needs to. One of the most enjoyably empathetic moments I've had at the movies lately was how, when Bullock's Ryan Stone gives the speech that has her going from pessimistic to ready to try everything to survive, the audience was feeling it, and when she hits the button so that the lander's rockets go off, that moment of thrust is a fantastic exclamation point on how from here on out, she's going to be kicking butt.

It works, and it's wonderfully cinematic, probably worth another viewing or two before it leaves cinemas.

What I said last month.



Pacific Rim
JFK: A President Betrayed
12 Years a Slave
Thor: The Dark World
The Motel Life
Gravity
Kill Your Darlings