Friday, February 28, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 28 February 2014 - 6 March 2014

Wait, the Oscars are this weekend? Man, I thought I had more time to catch up! But that actually explains quite a bit about the new releases...

  • After all, two of them - Anchorman 2: Supersized and Son of God, are other things re-edited, with the first being an R-rated extension of Will Farrell's movie from a couple of months ago and the latter piecing together the Jesus parts from The History Channel's The Bible miniseries. Basically, if you know the dedicated movie fans are going to be doing something else, you might as well not open really new stuff up. Anchorman 2 is at Apple, Fenway, and Boston Common; Son of God is at those theaters plus the Capitol in Arlington and Studio in Belmont.

    Another, happier side effect of the Oscars is that best animated feature nominee The Wind Rises will be gaining a few more screens; in addition to being at the Kendall (alternating English and Japanese screenings), it expands to the Somerville Theatre (English-language only), Coolidge Corner (English matinees and Japanese evenings), and Boston Common (probably English only). It's Hayao Miyazaki's final film, so it merits a look. If you have other catching up to do, AMC Boston Common has the second half of their Best Picture showcase at noon, including Nebraska, Captain Phillips, Her, American Hustle, and Gravity.

    And, in a move that has absolutely noting to do with award season, the new Liam Neeson action thriller Non-Stop, in which he plays an air marshall who must play cat-and-mouse with a serial killer holding the people on their flight hostage, opens on a bunch of screens (Julianne Moore appears to be getting a paycheck, too) - the Capitol, Apple, Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common, and the SuperLux. Boston Common will also be showing Rear Window on Sunday afternoon and Wednesday, while Fenway will be running both the original 300 and the new one back-to-back on Thursday.
  • The off-week also allows for something a bit unusual to pop up in the IMAX theaters, as they pick up Russian hit Stalingrad, a king-sized depiction of one of the most crucial battles of World War II shot in 3D and apparently getting an exclusively giant-format release here. It's at both Jordan's Furniture locations and Boston Common, although early screenings of 300: Rise of an Empire will likely bounce it on Thursday. That's three foreign films at the downtown multiplex, as Beijing Love Story is hanging around for a third week.
  • Kendall Square is mostly moving showtimes around a bit this week, although they do pick up a one-week booking of If You Build It, a documentary about students in South Carolina who help design and build a new community center as part of an innovative school program. Producer Neal Baer will be at the 7pm show on Saturday to introduce and answer questions.
  • Fenway and Apple Cinemas/iMovieCafe have some Bollywood opening up, with Shaadi Ke Side/Effects grabbing a screen at both locations. It's apparently a sequel to 2006's Pyaar Ke Side/Effects, only now "Sid" and "Trisha" are married, which has its own set of demands. They appear to be played by different actors, too, though writer/director Saket Chowdhary is still running the show.
  • The Somerville Theatre are letting a couple of different groups use their Micro-Cinema this weekend: On Friday, Channel 0 will be showing Lemonade Joe, a 1963 Czechosolvakian comedy western satirizing Coca-Cola and capitalism (and, probably, sneakily getting some jabs in at Marxism as well), on Friday at 8pm. Then, on Saturday, Somerville Subterranean Cinema has Rhode Island director Richard Griffin's new movie Normal at 5, 8, and 10pm (just added, since the other two sold out!) on Saturday night, with an apartment superintendent cracking up as he considers his past.

    (Aside: Anybody reading this who books a movie in this little room, let me know! I can't guarantee I'll come or that my mentioning it will get anybody else here, but it can't hurt!)

    Upstairs in the main theater, the heavy hitters come out on Saturday and Sunday with a double feature of Citizen Kane and Casablana, and then The Third Man on Tuesday. All three are in 35mm.
  • In addition to picking up The Wind Rises, the Coolidge would like to remind you that before Liam Neeson was doing big hit thrillers like Non-Stop, he was Darkman, and they would like to do it in the form of a 35mm print screening at midnight on Friday and Saturday. They'd also like to help you out if you're facing Orson Welles withdrawal between the Somerville's Welles pictures, with the version of Touch of Evil that Walter Murch re-edited in accordance to Welles's wishes playing in 35mm on Monday as part of the "Big Screen Classics" series. And to round the week out, they'll have the return of the Francophone Film Series in the screening room on Thursday with Comme un Lion, in which a Senegalese kid comes to Paris to become a soccer player but soon finds himself in a much different situation than he imagined.
  • The Brattle Theatre has what they are calling "An Almost but Not Quite Entirely Complete Wes Anderson retrospective this week, with three double features from the sometimes brilliant and sometimes too-cute filmmaker: The Royal Tenenbaums & The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (35mm) on Friday, Moonrise Kingdom (35mm) & Fantastic Mr. Fox Saturday afternoon, and The Darjeeling Limited & Bottle Rocket (both 35mm) on Wednesday, with a free sneak preview of The Grand Budapest Hotel on Thursday. In case you're wondering, Rushmore is apparently just not available to screen right now.

    In between, there are a number of special events: The Daley Screening ends a year-long quest to see a new movie every day with a double feature of Aliens and Miami Connection on Saturday evening; the annual Oscar party is on Sunday, and there's a "special premiere screening" of Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This Is Stones Throw Records with the labels founder Peanut Butter Wolf attending and doing on Q&A on Tuesday night.
  • Harmony Korine comes to the Harvard Film Archive as they wrap up their Harmony & Anarchy retrospective with julien donkey-boy on Friday, Mister Lonely on Saturday, Spring Breakers on Sunday, and Trash Humpers on Monday. All at 7pm, with Mr. Korine in person for the latter two. The rest of the weekend is filled out with more Fortunes of the Western: Gunman's Walk at 9:30pm Friday, Budd Boetticher's Seven Men From Now at the same time Saturday, and Terror in a Texas Town at 5pm Sunday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has a quiet weekend, with Cousin Jules screening once a day on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. It will continue into next week, overlapping with the fourth annual Hollywood Scriptures Film Series. This year's theme is "The Search for Meaning: Home, Hope, and Identity", with a panel discussion after each screening. The series kicks off on Wednesday with David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis.
  • The Regent Theatre has three movies this week. The Gathr Preview Series entry is On My Way, which features Catherine Deneuve as a former beauty queen who goes on a drive to clear her head and just keeps going. It's Monday and it looks like it will be playing upstairs. The other two screenings are unusual events: Shadows of Liberty, a documentary on how corporate control is corrupting the news industry, plays Tuesday night with director Jean-Phillippe Tremblay on hand as well as comedians Jimmy Tingle & Matthew Filipowicz. And then on Thursday there's the Feature Film Project's Everyone's Going to Die, an indie from the UK with the ominous tagline that "the cinema-going public across the USA is going to decide this film's theatrical fate!" Ominous!

My plans? Well, geez, gotta find a way to see Her and The Wind Rises before Sunday night, and probably fit a trip to the furniture store for Stalingrad in there too. And then after On My Way, maybe there will be time for Non-Stop.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tim's Vermeer

I'm not sure whether seeing Tim's Vermeer makes me more or less anxious to pull out the DVDs of Penn & Teller's Showtime series Bullshit! (and incidentally purchase the later seasons that aren't already in my collection) and work my way through. As much fun as debunking things is, one of the things I really love about this movie is that it's a very positive use of skepticism as a way to look at the world and find it even more amazing because one understands everything that goes into making it what it is. Though the result of debunking is almost always positive, there's something very pleasant about just how little negativity and snark this new movie contains.

One thing that I did find myself wondering as I considered and wrote about Tim's Vermeer is just how much the over-arching theme of Penn & Teller's careers - or, to put it another way, the basis of their brand - was planned and how much just evolved with their interests. In isolation, the various things they do are just brash and funny, but when you look at everything they do, from the stage show where a big part of the fun comes explicitly from the audience being in on the gag to their books to Bullshit! to Penn's outspoken atheism to this new movie, it's clear that all the really good stuff is about how knowledge is almost always more amazing and more fun than ignorance, no matter what the conventional attitude toward "ruining the mystery" may be. It's presented in a joking, irreverent manner, but it's so consistent and so integral that it simply has to be sincere and deeply important to them.

I've said this a few times before, but this resonates with me; not everybody sees the wonder in this view of the world, and I'm not always the best at explaining it in a positive way. Tim's Vermeer doesn't tackle big philosophical questions - heck, it even dances around the question of what Tim Jenison's demonstrations might mean for Vermeer's artistic legacy somewhat - but it's a great, upbeat demonstration of what you can see if you look at the world through this lens (so to speak).

I still wish the movie had been playing or doing a preview the weekend Penn & Teller were in town, though. Or, heck, even the week before; I might have braved the scrum in the theater lobby after their live show to talk to them about it if I had already seen it at the time.

Tim's Vermeer

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2014 in Coolidge Corner Theartre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Even though the second half of the duo is the person who actually directed Tim's Vermeer, the first credit on the screen describes it as "a Penn & Teller film". That's appropriate, and not just because Penn Jillette frequently appears on screen and serves as the narrator. The pair's work as a team has always been about showing, in an entertaining manner, that understanding how something is done does not make it less impressive, but more so, and in Tim Jenison (and his quest to replicate the work and methods of Johannes Vermeer), they have found a fine example of this principle.

Jenison and Vermeer, on the surface, appear to be cut from quite different sports of cloth: While the later was an eighteenth-century oil painter known for his stunningly detailed and life-like work, Jenison is into electronics, most recently and notably a popular special effects and animation system. When he reads a book about how many of the old masters might have used camera obscura setups to aid in their work, though Vermeer's paintings cannot be entirely explained by that technology, he has a brainstorm on how it might have been done - and then sets out to prove this was possible by recreating one of Vermeer's most famous paintings, "The Music Lesson", using only the technology available in the Netherlands at the time... Even though he has never painted in his life.

Detail is one of the things Vermeer is known for, and the way Teller presents detailed information in his film is one of its great, if sometimes invisible, pleasures. Teller has a knack for anticipating questions the audience might have and addressing them preemptively, along with making sure to include details about what parts of the art world were secretive versus transparent, or how x-raying a Vermeer shows something different from contemporary artists. And while sometimes certain points and demonstrations will be repeated as new people are introduced to Tim's project, Teller avoids burdening the viewer with unnecessary detail. He can do this in part because what Jenison has come up with is a remarkably elegant theory and accompanying bit of equipment, but even when that's the case, "just enough" is a hard target to hit.

Full review at EFC

Monday, February 24, 2014

3 Days to Kill

You know you see a lot of movies when you step up to the box office and the manager not only greets you by name, but feels confident enough that you won't be deterred to say "good luck with that" as he sells you your ticket, mentioning that nobody came to the previous night's 9:40pm show. Granted, he did that after swiping my card...

It's a bit of a shame that 3 Days to Kill apparently isn't doing that well, because it's not a bad movie by any means. It's not the best example of Luc Besson and company building a good mood-range action movie around what an actor does well - Jason Statham and Liam Neeson probably owe them royalties for the rest of their careers thanks to The Transporter and Taken - but it's not exactly a misfire either. It's a solid action movie, one which doesn't have to overpower the audience to work, and it's always nice to see those.

Plus, it's one of those movies where, even if it's not that impressive as a single entry, seems like it could inspire a pretty entertaining sequel. I don't feel any particular need to see this one again, but if Europa Film were to announce that they were making 4 Days to Kill, in which Amber Heard's hyper-sexualized, borderline-sociopathic Vivi had to hide from a bunch of assassins (or something) by posing as a member of Ethan's basically nice, happily-reunited family, terrifying Ethan and Christine for what a horrific influence she could be on Zooey... Well, I might not just buy a ticket but contribute to the Kickstarter. It's an obviously great direction to go, IMHO, but they probably won't get the chance.

At the very least, Besson and company should think about reusing Heard and Vivi in the next movie that needs a hot, violent sidekick/supervisor. It's one of the things comics often has over other media - you know someone like Marvel or DC wouldn't toss a fun character like that out just because the first book she appeared in was a dud.

3 Days to Kill

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 February 2014 in Somerville Theartre #2 (first-run, DCP)

How many agents do you think watched Taken (our at least its grosses) and then got on the phone to Luck Besson's company to basically say "that thing you did for Liam Neeson? Do it for my guy!"? And it's not a bad plan; every movie star could use a straightforward action movie that reminds audiences of what they do well every once in a while! Heck, so could the occasional director, and while 3 Days to Kill is probably not quite the tonic either Kevin Costner or McG was looking for, it's good steak-and-potatoes action that benefits from having Costner at its center.

Plays Ethan Renner, a CIA operative on a mission to stop the sale of a dirty bomb who is hacking like he's been near one too many. Whether or not that's the cause, he's diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer afterward, and heads to Paris to spend his last few months with his estranged ex-wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and daughter Zooey (Hailed Steinfeld). That plan is interrupted by ambitious young handler Vivi (Amber Heard), who dangles an experimental treatment in front of Ethan if he'll help her put down the arms dealer from the last job, since only Ethan has seen his face. Kind of gets in the way of Christine trusting him to look after Zooey while she in London on business, though.

I'm not sure whether Kevin Costner got grumpy in middle age or if not having much patience for nonsense was always part of his appeal, but it's a tricky persona to pull off. It doesn't really work unless you get the sense that he really love something underneath the complaining, which may be why he had such success with baseball movies (what else let's you start wishing for the good old days in your early twenties?). So Besson and co-writer Adi Hasak go for some sitcom-y clueless dad bits and also have him clash with his new younger boss, and while it's silly, it's also something that Costner does rather well. When French people call him a cowboy, it may be meant as a generic American stereotype, but he's got the look and attitude to make it ring true, and a withering look from a cowboy carries a bit of weight. It lets Costner be kind of funny without doing too much damage to the character's tough-guy credentials.

Full review at EFC

Snabba Cash I & II (Easy Money & Easy Money: Hard To Kill)

Even though I didn't see Snabba Cash during its initial release in the US a couple years ago, I wanted to. It was one of those unfortunate cases when an interesting foreign genre film opens the same week I went up to Montreal to see a whole metric ton of other foreign genre films, and while I consider that a good trade-off for me personally, I always feel a little guilty, like my eight bucks might be the difference between the next thing like that playing Boston or not.

So, as expected, I was pretty excited to see the sequel opening at Apple Cinemas in Fresh Pond and knew I was going to carve out a chance to see it this weekend, with the intention of supporting it with both money and coverage. That meant it would probably be a good idea to see the first one, which meant an Amazon rental. I splurged and spent the extra buck for HD, but that is something I probably won't do again; somewhere between Amazon, Comcast, my wireless router, the aether, my laptop, and the TV, it was skipping fairly annoyingly until I turned HD off, and I didn't notice any particular drop in quality. It might, I suppose, be worth seeing if a wired connection between the router and the laptop works any better some time, because that's really the only spot I can see for improving the pipeline.

One thing that this proved to me, though, was just how much the way you watch a movie matters. I watched Snabba Cash while writing the review of the night's first movie, Beijing Love Story, and to say that it is not ideal to split one's attention that way during a subtitled movie understates the matter. I liked it, and certainly remembered Joel Kinnaman's performance and that Lisa Henni was the kind of pretty that makes one hope that she has the English language skills and ambition to take a run at Hollywood so that one might see her more often, but wasn't hugely impressed. It probably didn't help that I went in expecting something a little more action-oriented and fast-paced.

A couple days later, though, I wound up sitting in Apple on the second leg of a four-films-in-four-theaters-in-four-cities day and found myself surprisingly engrossed by the sequel. Guess what? A big screen and nothing else in front of you makes a huge difference, even for a movie like this where you're not being hit with massive, overwhelming action. And the thing is, I'm not actually sure it's a much better movie than the first (don't give too much credence to the star ratings below, because they are, as always, somewhat approximate), since I found a lot of things to admire while putting some thought into writing about Snabba Cash; it's just that if you asked me for an off-the-cuff reaction to the two before I started writing, I probably would have had a far better opinion of the second, even if it was influenced as much by things the filmmakers had less control over than I did.

(Worth noting: I think this is the first time I've seen a movie in Fresh Pond/Apple and not been confronted with a center aisle! I don't know if it's just because I'd never seen anything on screen #7 before or if there's been some renovation done, but I liked it!)

As I mention in the reviews, the third film in the series came out in Sweden a couple months ago, and I hope that it's not September 2015 before it reaches America. The reviews I've read of it on IMDB make me a little worried - it is apparently centered more on a character I don't particularly care much about while the one where I really want to see what comes next basically has a ten-minute guest appearance - but given that the original books are apparently even more loosely connected, that's probably what I should expect anyway, right?

SPOILERS! Although, man, from what's been dropped throughout the first two movies and how #2 ended, I really wanted the next one to be JW using the money he finally had at his disposal to find otu what really happened to his missing sister. you can't just leave me dangling like that! !SRELIOPS

Snabba Cash (Easy Money)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2014 in Jay's Living Room (before the sequel, Amazon Instant Video)

Were we paying attention to Scandinavian crime fiction and film before The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? I remember a few festival screenings of Nicholas Winding Refn's Pusher movies, but it's really just the last five years that this material has really started crossing the Atlantic, whether in its original form or as remake fodder. Sweden's Snabba Cash series ("Easy Money" in English) is running a bit slow on both fronts, but both entries that have arrived so far are worth checking out.

Johan "JW" Westlund (Joel Kinnaman) could use a little easy money as the movie starts; though at the top of his class in business school quite popular with the Stockholm party crowd, keeping up with his old-money classmates is draining his bank account. So he drives a cab, and makes that a bit more profitable by ferrying drugs across the city for gangster Abdulkarim (Mahmut Suvakci). A sizable sum of money is available for picking up recently-escaped convict Jorge (Matias Varela) and keeping him hidden, money that could come in handy with courting rich new girlfriend Sophie (Lisa Henni). He also helps the gangsters take over a bank to launder their money, but one of them, Serbian dealer Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic), is hunting for Jorge but also starting to question the life he's leading now that his daughter Lovisa (Lea Stojanov) is in his custody after her mother overdoses.

Toward the end of the movie, Mrado points out that everyone in this business will do whatever will get them the most money, and like many of the best crime stories, Snabba Cash works in large part by giving the viewer a reason to want the characters to do right, even though all the evidence suggests they are at best on the road to amorality. It's a nifty trick - we're given plentiful reasons not to like JW, Jorge, or Mrado, from just being kind of snotty to being killers, but the story (based upon Jens Lapidus's novel) makes sure that there's some sort of human connection that should be able to pull them back.

Full review at EFC

Snabba Cash II (Easy Money: Hard to Kill)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 February 2014 in Apple Cinemas #7 (first-run, digital)

Snabba Cash II was released under the title "Easy Money: Hard to Kill" in the US last week a year and a half after it played in Sweden. This choice of date and title apparently driven by a hope that American audiences would want more of star Joel Kinnaman right away after seeing the RoboCop remake, wanting to get the attention of the folks who saw the original Easy Money movie during its US release but not wanting to reveal it as a sequel to the rest of the population. The cold reality that the title of the original Jens Lapidus novel that serves as the source material, "Never Fuck Up", just would not fly with theaters, was likely also a factor. Whatever the thinking, it got onto a few screens alongside its Video On Demand release, and it's good crime whether you've seen the first one or not.

It's been three years since the end of Snabba Cash, and while Jorge (Matias Varela) is still on the loose, he's returning to Stockholm to visit his dying mother. JW (Kinnaman) is about to have his first unsupervised release from prison, and he has a meeting scheduled so that he and his old classmate Nippe (Joel Spira) can demonstrate a potentially lucrative high-velocity trading safeguard he developed while behind bars, sharing a cell with Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) - the Serbian gangster holding no grudge against him. Elsewhere in Stockholm, Jorge's friend Mahmoud (Fares Fares) is deep in debt to Radovan (Dejan Cukic), the boss who came out on top last time, but he's got a way Mahmoud can pay it off.

Radovan's business interests include prostitution, which is where Nadja (Madeleine Martin) enters the story, which has at times started to resemble the first one a little too closely at times, what with Jorge being hunted and JW stuck between the legitimate and criminal worlds again. Lisa Henni makes a repeat appearance as JW's girlfriend, helping to create direct ties between the two movies even though it appears the books in Lapidus's "Stockholm Noir" trilogy were more loosely connected. Even without having seen the first movie, though, this is a good crime story set-up, with multiple plots advancing nicely until it finally becomes clear how they are on a collision course. Those plots are not complicated, but they've got a brute-force simplicity that speaks to the immediacy of the characters' troubles.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival Day 09: Armistice, The Search for Simon

The second Saturday of the festival was UK day, with three British features on the original schedule to go along with a visit from sister festival Sci-Fi London. That's not how it turned out - OXV: The Manual was apparently sent over on a Region B blu-ray that nobody had the equipment to play, so we got a series of 48-hour-film-project shorts instead. There were also rescheduled movies for the 9pm hour - Who's Changing at 9 in the screening room and non-British entry Coherence in the big theater at 9:40. I considered the latter, but didn't feel like waiting around an hour for something that wouldn't have me in bed until almost midnight with a round-the-clock marathon looming twelve hours later. Besides, even though this was to be the screening that co-star Nicholas Brendan was going to be at after being snowed out on Thursday, another bit of winter weather put the kibosh on that, and since it was going to be in the marathon the next day... Well, might as well get some sleep, right?

THE SEARCH FOR SIMON director Martin Gooch

The Search for Simon director Martin Gooch did make the trip, even presenting us with handouts that looked like sales sheets for the movie and his previous feature After Death (which had a trailer before the screening of Simon), while also letting it be known that copies of the screenplay were for sale. It makes me wonder a bit if the event was smaller than he'd been led to believe

He had a number of good stories, though, including just how he got a tank for the opening scenes of the movie. Both of the day's British visitors (including London festival director Louis Savy) were voluble, enthusiastic folks, and Sci-Fi London certainly an event I'd like to hit up sometime, although this year it's right up against IFFBoston, even if I could swing a trip to London on short notice. I'll probably do it one of these years, though - I would love to visit the city again, with a week of sci-fi movies being a bonus.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

This movie played the festival under the name "Armistice", but IMDB lists that as an alternate title to "Warhouse". Both are kind of silly titles; the first is blandly generic but still needs to be stretched to refer to this movie; the second is almost absurdly literal. That I can't come up with something better probably indicated that there's just not as much of interest here as one might hope.

It starts with A.J. Budd (Joseph Morgan) of the Royal Marines waking up in an apparently-normal house, presumably finishing up leave and about to report back to active duty. He soon find that it is impossible to leave the house, though, even before some sort of monster attacks him with murderous intent. The next morning, it becomes clear that this is a cycle, and even when he find the journals of Edward Sterling (Matt Ryan), another soldier previously in the same situation, that's not exactly the same as an explanation.

Armistice is a short movie, just long enough to be considered feature-length at seventy-five-ish minutes, but is thin on plot even at that length, with Sterling's nearly-identical story nested within Budd's helping to stretch it even that far. To the credit of director Luke Massey and co-writer Benjamin Read, this doesn't particularly feel like padding or even a shortcut that keeps Budd from learning about his situation on his own; it underscores how the situation is an endless loop and the lack of explanation helps keep it solidly in the realm of horror.

Full review at EFC

The Search for Simon

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

Plenty of sci-fi and fantasy stories take great care to suggest that they take place in the world we know, just out of sight, but is that always a good idea? Our world is often filled with heartbreak and sadness, and while they co-exist with whimsy and joy in reality, putting both the fantastical and the tragically true in the same work of fiction can make for a real mess. It eventually comes very close to sinking The Search for Simon, to be honest, as a movie that had been kind of precariously balanced anyway attempts to stretch too far in too many directions.

As it opens, David Jones (writer/director Martin Gooch) has been searching for his missing brother Simon ever since he disappeared thirty years ago, when the two were young boys. David, for reasons both absurd and reasonable, believes Simon to have been abducted by aliens, and when he shares this with writer/psychiatrist Eloise Eldritch (Noeleen Comiskey), she acts interested, although mostly as a template for an obsessed character in her next novel. Eloise does wind up introducing David to a nice girl, Sally (Millie Reeves), although talking to David's alcoholic mother Irene (Carol Cleveland) may provide more answers than the various trips David goes on to UFO hot spots.

The Search for Simon doesn't start off as a great movie, but it does at least seem to have a sense of what it is: A kind of black comedy where nearly everybody acts mockingly or patronizingly toward David, and it's okay to laugh at him because he persists in being so ridiculous. It's kind of mean-spirited, perhaps, but it's got some good gags, and Gooch manages a balance between making his main character sympathetic and ridiculous. It's probably not a balance that could be maintained all the way to the end - Gooch is inevitably going to have to make David face some uncomfortable facts or be improbably correct - but the film has enough good bits to score at a decent rate. It's got some big dead spots and some nerd-baiting humor, but most of the jokes work.

Full review at EFC

Friday, February 21, 2014

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival day 08: The Perfect 46, Senn

You'll notice that there no "day 07" post, though I wasn't planning on punting a day of the festival. After all, I try to squeeze as many screenings out of a festival pass as I can for more or less the same reason that I'm probably a bit harder on the films playing said festival than some of the other attendees may be ("I paid money for this"). But when you schedule a multi-day event for Massachusetts in the middle of February, some snow-related cancellations and rescheduling are to be expected. Heck, I suspect school vacation was originally scheduled for the third week of February on the basis of "there are going to be a bunch of snow days anyway!"

And while this wasn't the genuine blizzard that wrecked the beginning of lady years festival, it was enough to keep Garen from making it down from New Hampshire, this canceling a short program and the Doctor Who documentary that was expected to make the day busy enough to justify putting us in a regular theater rather than just the Micro. To be honest, I was considering skipping that one anyway, on the basis that we need more fan-made documentaries that don't just talk about how awesome a thing is but how awesome the fans who kept the awesome thing alive by being incredibly devoted are like we need more documentaries about how being able to play a guitar makes this substance abuser especially tragic. And when I saw online that Coherence would have a second show added on Saturday, in a better theater, because the special guest couldn't make it, I figured I might as well hit the comic shop, go back home, and write some.

That meant I was pretty well refreshed for Friday, although I must admit that I kind of expected it to be a more Valentine's Day-themed program than wound up being the case: The Perfect 46 turned out to be less about finding ideal mates than the program notes implied and more about personal hubris (much to its benefit), while the couple in bed on the poster for Senn does not exactly serve as a true indication of what it's going to be about.

It actually works out for the best, though; The Perfect 46 wound up being one of my favorite movies of the festival, if only for how professional it looked, with good cinematography, actual thought put into how to use its limited resources to not look instantly dated or cheap, and a very solid performance bringing an interesting protagonist to life. Garen likes to talk about the high quality of the movies the festival received as submissions, and I think it really does a disservice to things as well put-together as this.

We had guests for Senn, and, really, Josh Feldman and Britton Watkins were just the nicest guys. They really seemed genuinely enthused about making this movie, from the technology that lets someone with a little creativity and patience add decent visual effects to their movie to building the kind of detail that includes a synthetic language and alphabet. They knew their stuff when folks asked about science fictional works as possible influences beyond the big name, and they raffled off both T-shirts (I got one) and other props and oddities. If you didn't win anything, they were collecting email addresses so that they could mail out MP3s from the soundtrack.

They said they were submitting to a bunch of festivals and were looking forward to spending the year traveling with the movie. I don't know if some of the bigger, more competitive festivals will necessarily be stumbling over themselves to get the picture, but the film and filmmakers certainly make a nice package.

(I hope they didn't take too much offense at a fellow attendee and I discussing the film's shortcomings while they were sitting right behind me the next day. Small room full of filmmakers that day!)

The Perfect 46

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

Science fiction on film often tends to be action-oriented, even when the filmmakers would really like to be focusing on an idea, if only because an hour and a half of someone spewing jargon is not a natural match for the medium. Even when filmmakers do go for something a little more cerebral, they often stumble because they don't surround the concept with the quality of characters and story that they would in a mainstream drama. The Perfect 46 may stumble on occasion, but it's got an interesting, unusual human center that at least merits the viewer's attention.

That would be its main character, Jesse Darden (Whit Hertford). He's the creator of the website, which uses personal genome sequences (something residents of certain states are required to have mapped as a matter of course in this story's world) to determine the likelihood of a couple's children being born with hereditary diseases or other traits. That's controversial enough, but when the site gives users the ability to find optimal matches, it is arguably the start of a disastrous chain of events.

Writer/director Brett Ryan Bonowicz effectively follows two or three tracks in telling Jesse's story, interspersing clips of a TV news special on the rise and fall of the site with non-documentary scenes of what was happening with Jesse both during and after those events, although given that one of the two young men who break into his house spends a lot of time watching a tape of the special, it does resolve into a single narrative more neatly than one might initially expect. Bonowicz moves between these views in a nimble manner, never leaving the audience confused about when he our she is our settling in to the point where moving away is jarring, even when switching to and from the VHS television recording. It does admittedly result in a little bit of bloat and repetition; coming out of the film I felt that the filmmakers either should have chosen either narrative or faux-documentary and stick with it, though it probably just has room for some fine-tuning in retrospect.

Full review at EFC


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, Digital)

I generally try not to grade the movies I see at festivals that are clearly the result of some amateur enthusiasts doing as much as they can with what little they've got much differently than the more professional world they play alongside, figuring that if they cost the same amount of money and time to see, they should be held to the same standard. I can't quite bring myself to judge Senn quite so harshly as a film with its flaws perhaps merits, though; there's a level of enthusiasm and charm that puts me in the mood to forgive.

It starts with how everything in the movie's world is written in a synthetic language using an alphabet that looks like the offspring of Arabic and Korean. It's a decision that, along with a few well-placed digital additions to some terrestrial industrial areas, makes for some surprisingly effective world-building. The characters are also very matter-of-fact in how they talk about their corporate wage-slavery and how the multi-planet system keeps them down, so even the bits that may seem somewhat bewildering at least give the impression of making that sort of internal sense to the characters. That sort of confidence in one's otherworldly setting is valuable, and it helps director Josh Feldman stretch what he has admirably.

The trouble is that it often seems like Feldman and co-writer/producer Britton Watkins have built a world and the rudiments of a sorry but haven't refined it into a story. They start from a decent place - Senn (Zach Eulberg), his best friend Resh (Taylor Lambert), and girlfriend Kana (Lauren Taylor) build widgets for almost no pay on the corporately-owned planet Pyom, with Senn trying to hide the weird visions that occasionally cause him to zone out least he get excited to the garbage mountains, at least until an alien ship arrives and says they have need of Senn's ability to make contact with this mysterious "Polychronom". So they hop on the ship - which features an Earth-like environment and helpful artificial intelligence "We" (Wylie Herman) - and head to a mysterious space station built by a long-vanished race. And then...

Full review at EFC

Beijing Love Story

Just poking around Box Office Mojo, I see that Beijing Love Story is China Lion's biggest opener in the United States since their first day-and-date release, If You Are the One 2, back on Christmas Eve 2010. Now, to give a sense of scale, that means it earned $168K debuting in the mid-30s, position-wise, but that's not bad at all for nine screens, with the one in Boston only showing it twice a day. So I guess it's not surprising that instead of seeing CL walking about Thursday being the last chance to see it in certain cities, they're adding screens, while AMC is going to be giving it a full slate of showtimes at Boston Common.

I can certainly vouch for it seeming to do better - it wasn't quite crowded at the 6pm show I saw, but there were people all around. Between this and the decent turnout The Attorney got in Revere, I must admit that I'm feeling kind of good about Asian movies in the local area (and maybe the country as a whole) right now.

I'm not quite sure I know why this one did particularly well; if I had to guess, I would note that there were a bunch of young Chinese/Chinese-American folks at this screening, so I wouldn't be shocked if the TV series this movie was spun off from had a following that came here for school and then bought tickets to a movie released in America before the pirates could really set up shop. But it's well-established that I am terrible at predicting or explaining why people go for a movie, so let's not put too much stock in that idea.

Beijing Love Story

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2014 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

Beijing Love Story tells five overlapping stories of romance, and it could have gotten by with just three or four: Some feel like fragments just meant to tie others together, and some could use a little more fleshing out. The good news is that these segments are arranged so that the strongest are at the end, and there's something to that old saw that all's well that ends well.

We start out an impromptu bachelor party in a nightclub, where Chen Feng (Chen Sicheng) falls in love with Shen Yan (Tong Liya) at first sight, spotting the good girl out of a swarm of ladies on the make. His boss Wu Zheng (Wang Xue-bing) is habitually stepping out on his wife (Yu Nan), who decides to try it herself, eventually winding up in a hotel room with co-worker Liu Hui (Tony Leung Ka-fai). Afterward, he flies to Greece for a clandestine rendez-vous with Jia Ling (Carina Lau Ka-ling), although he does take a call from his daughter Xingyang (Nana Ou-young), telling her she can't go on a TV talent show. She does have at least one fan in Song-ge (Liu Hao-ran), although he may have to act quickly before she starts high school abroad. While that tale of first love is going on, there's also romance at the other end of life, with local busybody Mrs. Gao (Siqin Gaowa) setting Songge's grandfather "Old Wang" (Wang Qing-xiang) up with Xue Aijia (Elaine Kam), a 59-year-old beauty recently returned from America, though the real chemistry is obviously between Wang and Gao.

The film shares a name, writer/director/star Chen Sicheng, and co-star Tong Liya with a recent hit Chinese television series, although Chen and Tong played different characters in the series; it's effectively an entirely new thing. Considering that they've worked together before and recently married in real life, it's not particularly surprising that their segment can practically coast on their charm and chemistry, with a plot about Yan's wealthy ex-boyfriend trying to lure her back not particularly leading anywhere. The same goes for the segment it leads into, which lets Yu Nan be impressively heartbroken, but perhaps the most interesting thing it does is invert the feel of the nightlife by showing it through different eyes; what seemed lusty and exciting for Feng and Zheng seems kind of scuzzy and faded for Zhang Lei. It's a nice juxtaposition with some good acting, but even together, they're not a complete story.

Full review at EFC

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 21 February 2014 - 27 February 2014

No lie - as stupid as the things hitting the multiplexes look, I'm kind of oddly excited for them.

  • I mean, you know how Pomepeii is going to end, with Kit Harrington's enslaved gladiator racing to get out of the city before the volcano smothers everything - he'll probably have to rescue Emily Browning's lovely young noblewoman on the way - but it's got Keifer Sutherland as the presumed villain and Paul W.S. Anderson directing, and Anderson should at least make it visual striking with some decent action and well-implemented 3D. It plays in both 2D and 3D at the Capitol, Apple, Boston Common, and Fenway (3D showtimes on the RPX screen).

    Meanwhile, Kevin Costner and director McG sign up for one of those Luc Besson-written/produced "basic action movie tailored to our strengths" that have worked out pretty well for the likes of Jason Statham and Liam Neeson; 3 Days to Kill has Costner playing a former spy pulled in for one last bout of mayhem in exchange to an antidote to the poison his employers (notably Amber Heard) have given him, even though he's looking after his teenage daughter at the same time. It's at Somerville, Apple, Fenway, and Boston Common.

    Boston Common also has the first half of their annual Best Picture Showcase on Saturday; $30 gets you a seat for Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street, and 12 Years a Slave, starting at noon; the other five play next Saturday. They've also got screenings of Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront Sunday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon/evening, and (in an unexpected but pleasing move) will be expanding Beijing Love Story from two screenings a day to a full slate of four.
  • Fenway and Apple Cinemas/iMovieCafe are both keeping Gunday around on a reduced schedule (Apple also has Hasee Toh Phasee playing as well). Apple is also doing the thing where they book an interesting international genre film, in this case Snabba Cash II (okay, it's "Easy Money II: Hard to Kill" in the US, but isn't saying "Snabba Cash" fun?). It's a Swedish crime drama, the second of a fairly popular series there (the first was briefly released stateside in 2012 and is rentable on Amazon) about a business student who gets pulled into the local mafia. I suspect this entry from 2012 is being released now in order to tie in with star Joel Kinnaman currently being on another screen playing RoboCop, but, hey - Swedish action movie in local theater! I'll take it!
  • The Coolidge opens up Tim's Vermeer, a documentary about an inventor from Texas who attempts to reverse-engineer the process that allowed Johannes Vermeer to paint photorealistically well before photography was invented. Should be fun; it's produced by Penn & Teller and directed by the latter half of the duo, and is playing upstairs in screen #2.

    Downstairs, the @fter Midnite crew will be running John Carpenter's version of The Thing on 35mm at midnight Friday and Saturday; it's one of the best things either Carpenter or star Kurt Russell has ever done. Sunday morning is the monthly Goethe-Institut German film screening, with the Swiss consul co-presenting Lullaby Ride in which parents who take their baby Tim out for a drive get him to fall asleep must scramble when the car is stolen with Tim inside. $5 for a pretty nice-looking thriller.
  • Kendall Square will also be showing Tim's Vermeer, while also clearing and consolidating some screens for a number of other movies. One is The Wind Rises, master animator Hayao Miyazaki's final movie as director, in which he returns to his longtime passion for aviation to tell the story of the aeronautical engineer who designed the Zero fighter jet used during World War II. It looks as if the 11am and 5pm screenings will be dubbed into English, while the 2pm and 8pm showtimes will have the original Japanese soundtrack with subtitles.

    There are also two romantic/erotic thrillers arriving there: In Secret (aka Thérèse) has Elizabeth Olsen playing a young woman in a loveless arranged marriage, the sort that may lead one to turn to crime when someone she is truly attracted to comes along. There's also a one-week booking of Stranger by the Lake, with Pierre Deladonchamps as fellow who meets two other men at a lake in rural France - one older and friendly, one sexy and dangerous, who will get him involved in a murder investigation. There's also a presentation of the recent Royal Opera House staging of La Bohème on Sunday morning.
  • The Somerville Theatre continues its Centennial Celebration with a Marx Brothers double feature on Friday night (Duck Soup at 8pm and A Night at the Opera at 10). It's live music for a few days after that, and then Top Haton Thursday (the program also shows Stagecoach on Wednesday, but it's not listed on the website as of right now). All anniversary screenings are in 35mm.

    The Somerville Subterranean Cinema series has two programs in the Micro-Cinema this week: Black comedy Coyote plays Friday and Saturday nights and features horror stalwart Bill Oberst Jr. as an insomniac writer driven to violence, while Christmas with the Dead adapts a Joe R. Lansdale short story about a man trying to have a good Christmas despite the zombie apocalypse. It's a family affair, with Lansdale's son Keith penning the screenplay and daughter Kasey appearing in the movie and at the theater (as well as a number of other local venues as an author and musician). The theater also will be running 4:30pm screenings of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at least through Sunday and sending The Wolf of Wall Street to their sister theater, the Capitolin Arlington.
  • The Brattle Theatre finishes up the annualBugs Bunny Film Festival with a "Looney Tunes Revue" of 35mm cartoons playing matinees Friday to Sunday, which may overlap the past week's Bugs and Daffy programs but which contains other bits, too. Those evenings have another classic, a new digital restoration of Orson Welles's The Lady from Shanghai.

    The weekdays following are a number of unique presentations: On Monday, the DocYard teams with The Flaherty (a New York-based film seminar) for a group of documentary shorts that will not be revealed beforehand so that they can be watched without preconception; special guests will be on hand and there will be a post-event discussion. Tuesday is the monthly "Trash Night", with The Dirt Bike Kid screening for the audience to mock. And then on Wednesday, director Doug Wolens and a number of others will be on-hand for the local premiere of his documentary The Singularity, an introduction to the idea that civilization will pass a point of no return where innovation happens faster than mere human minds can assimilate, placing the world in the hands of artificial and post-human intelligences.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues Fortunes of the Western with Budd Boetticher's Ride Lonesome (Friday 7pm) and Robert Wise's Blood on the Moon (Saturday 9pm). They also begin a Harmony & Anarchy series spotlighting the films of Harmony Korine, with Kids (Friday 9pm) and Gummo (Saturday & Sunday 7pm, the latter replacing Ken Park). Korine will come to town next weekend, while this weekend's special guest is Herbie Hancock, who will appear in person for Monday night's screening of The Spook Who Sat by the Door. He may also be around for Sunday afternoon's presentation of Antonioni's Blow Up, but it's not listed on the schedule. There's also a VES screening of La Commune on Thursday, tying in to the Carpenter Center's "Living as Form (The Nomadic Version)" exhibit.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps up the Films of Lars von Trier series with Antichrist on Friday and The Five Obstructions on Saturday & Sunday. A different filmmaker, Raoul Peck, will visit on Friday to host a screening of Fatal Assistance, his documentary on attempting to rebuild Haiti after it's horrible earthquake; it also plays Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. It's run overlaps that of Cousin Jules, Dominique Benicheti's 1971 film about a blacksmith in the French countryside. That one plays Wednesday and Thursday and will continue popping up for another week after that. Then, on Thursday, "Mind-Bending Movies" returns with another David Lynch film; this month, audience members will have a chance to lead the post-film discussion of Blue Velvet by posting their theories on the museum's Facebook page.
  • The Regent Theatre has two film events this week. The first is the weekly Gathr Preview Series film; The Forgotten Kingdom follows a man who returns from Johannesburg to his home village in Lesotho (a country completely surrounded by South Africa) and reconnects with both an old friend and the land itself. Then on Thursday, they'll have the local premiere of Lamb of God: As the Palaces Burn, which started out as a traditional rock doc about a Virginia heavy metal band but took a swerve when the lead singer was arrested for charges of manslaughter in the Czech Republic. In addition to the movie itself, there will be an exclusive pre-recorded Q&A session afterward.
  • The first entry in this spring's UMass Boston Film Series was canceled due to weather (Uranium Drive-In has been rescheduled for 24 April, albeit in the afternoon); hopefully the same won't happen for Southern Comfort, a documentary about Robert Eads, a female-to-male transsexual who had difficulty finding treatment for his ovarian cancer because the local doctors worried what having him as a patient would mean for their reputations. As always, admission is free and director Kate Davis will be present for an introduction and post-film Q&A.
  • The Bright Lights program at Emerson College's Paramount Theater has one program this week, a Thursday night screening of Fruitvale Station co-presented by EBONI (Emerson's Black Organization with Natural Interests) as part of African American Heritage Month
My plans? The Lego Movie, Pompeii, Tim's Vermeer, The Forgotten Kingdom, Snabba Cash II, probably fit The Wolf of Wall Street in now that it's easy to get to after work (and likely to end at a reasonable hour, too), and probably more.

Soshite Chici ni Naru (Like Father, Like Son)

Great, great movie, and I'm sorry I didn't really have a chance to see it and write about it until after the sci-fi festival, because that means that as I post this early Thursday morning, it means that anybody reading it in the Boston area basically has the day to see it on the big screen at Kendall Square, and it doesn't look to be making a movie elsewhere after that one week booking. It's another thing that makes me really envy Paris's film culture - when I was there on vacation, I saw plenty of ads for its Christmas Day opening at many theaters, whereas here the film got a January release and didn't even make it to Boston until a month later. Lousy way to treat a fantastic movie by a genuine master.

One thing I did note about this movie that actually threw me a bit in the beginning was that distributor Sundance Selects actually kept the proper Japanese name order (family name followed by given name) in the subtitles and credits, which seems to be unusual - most of the Japanese media I consume switches them around to the Western order, even though you can hear it spoken properly on the soundtrack. I don't know if there's anything to be made of it, other than my usual curiosity at how easy it is to get in the habit of switching name order for Japanese people most of the time while not doing so for Chinese or Korean people (with the apparent exception of baseball players).

Also, every other movie I see this year will have its work cut out for it topping my favorite scene in this movie, where Keita carefully and painstakingly plays a piece on a piano that is pretty good for a six-year-old, earning his parents' applause before a cut to a similarly-aged prodigy just blowing one's mind with how well she plays, followed by Keita's father Ryota just unloading a lot of unfair disappointment on his son. It's a happy-funny-kind-of-horrifying roller coaster in just a couple of minutes, and the whole movie is packed with moments that are that good or nearly so.

Soshite Chici ni Naru (Like Father, Like Son)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2014 in Landmark Kendalll Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

Those who have been following Hirokazu Kore-eda's career for roughly the last decade may find it a little surprising that the two six-year-old boys at the center of Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chici ni Naru in the original Japanese) are not necessarily the lens through which they see the entire film. We shouldn't be surprised; although he has made a few notable films that take a child's point of view, that's not all he does, and this film benefits immensely from his being able to move between childrens' and adults' perspectives.

It starts with Keita Nonomiya (Keita Ninomiya) and his parents Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) and Midori (Machiko Ono) interviewing for a private elementary school; it's intimidating, but Keita impresses just like they taught him in cram school, even if the six-year-old isn't the workaholic his father is. While waiting for a response, the Nonomiyas are stunned by another call they receive about their son - that he was switched at birth with Ryusei (Shogen Hwang), the son of Yudai (Riri Furanki) and Yukari Saiki (Yoko Maki), something not-unheard of in Japanese maternity wards until the 1970s but now very uncommon. The families meet so that the boys can start to get acquainted with their birth parents in anticipation of being "exchanged" - something, the hospital administrators say, happens in nearly all such cases.

There's a great sequence after the Nonomiyas learn that Keita may not be their biological child but before it's confirmed where Kore-eda gives us a montage of the parents playing with him, even though Ryota is otherwise rather office-bound. Though the scenes are wordless, it's immediately clear that Ryota and Midori are trying to get as much time in while Keita is still their son, hinting that parenthood is a state of mind even if they don't consciously realize as much yet. Like so much of the movie, it is filled with the simple delights of young kids while also being full to bursting with uncertainty, both over what will happen next and just what the characters think that they should feel.

Full review at EFC

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival Day 06: Point B, Los Últimos Días

Without question, Wednesday was easily the best day of the Festival. I can't speak for the afternoon's shorts, but I think even the people involved will admit that the feature program is often filled out with things that, to be kind, have their shortcomings. An evening when both scheduled features are worth recommending is pretty unusual.

POINT B filmmakers

An enthusiastic group of guests showed up for Point B, and a pretty impressive one considering that Salt Lake City is decidedly not local. From left to right, that's director Conor Long, co-star Eric Fisher, special effects artist Joel Petrie, and production supervisor Elli Legerski (I think). This is the second year in a row that the Festival has featured a pretty good movie from Utah-based filmmakers (even if 2013's 95ers was set and partially shot in and around Maryland), a place I've never really thought of as a hotbed of indie-film activity even if one of the country's biggest independent film festivals happens there - Sundance draws people from outside Park City, and I can't recall ever hearing about a local program in the coverage I've read.

It was also kind of a fun stereotype-breaking one, in that Point B is a breezily vulgar comedy with a fair amount of drug humor, which doesn't quite fit in with the way one thinks of Utah's heavily-Mormon population, although for all I know weed and ecstasy are no big deal and Alan drinking coffee might mark him as untrustworthy to the local audience. It could be set anywhere, and even after saying they were mostly from Utah I didn't really think much of it until Long described Fisher's character as "really Mormon", at which point I had a bit of a laugh at how excited these guys had seemed to get a drink while the movie ran.

Surprisingly, the movies got even better after that with Los Últimos Días, which Garen said he'd been chasing for "years". The only letdown was that it seemed there was a hitch in scheduling - it was booked for a day when the festival only had the screening room, which isn't DCP capable, and since they didn't have a [functional] DVD/Blu-ray/Quicktime copy, it had to be streamed from IFC's site (or Vimeo, or something like that). Not the quality that the movie deserved even without buffering starting to become an issue toward the end. It's worth remembering that not long ago, this was often discussed as the studios' intended endgame in digital distribution - nothing physical sent to the cinema at all, although I think in most cases it would be stored on a local hard drive rather than streamed directly. Let's just say it's not ideal.

One more thing about that movie which didn't fit into the review: I would be pretty screwed if I succumbed to "The Panic" while at home or at work - at home there is almost never much food in my house, it gets cold in the winter, and I've got limited faith in my ability to tunnel my way to a sewer that might bring me to the city center; at work, I'm in friggin' Burlington. My best bet is for it to happen while I'm on the subway, quite frankly, and then I'm still in Boston rather than someplace like Barcelona.

On the other hand, I suspect folks up in certain parts of Canada will do okay for a while, with their underground cities and buildings directly connected to an underground city core. Then it's just a matter of rooftop gardens and greenhouses, raising rats for food, and getting the right people together to build robots to drive the trucks on supply runs.

Point B

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, video)

Back in the 1980s, the first wave of home computer sales and blockbuster science-fiction/fantasy movies led to Hollywood's first real go-round with treating "nerdiness" as a trend, and one of the ways that expressed itself was with a fair number of "college/high-school genius" movies. This time around, the nerd-next-door or the lavish adaptation of a cult property is more popular. Still, every once in a while a fun throwback like Point B comes around and serves as a reminder of how much fun that other fantasy can be.

This one opens with Mark (David Fetzer) defending his thesis about a theoretical clean energy source, only to have it be a disaster because he's twenty minutes late and his best friend and benefactor Alan (Jared Shipley), and even worse, it's a disaster in front of eminently crush-worthy fellow physics grad student Katie (Heather Murdock). It's enough of a mess that he's almost willing to destroy the apparatus he built with Alan, stoner engineer Jason (John McLerran), and straight-edge undergrad Andrew (Eric Fisher) - at least, until he discovers it can be used as a teleportation device. Then things get interesting.

Writer David Gitlin and director Conor Long (both also producers) do not exactly re-invent the wheel with Point B - there's a corporate/government goon (Eric McGraw), friction between Mark and Alan, an amazing scientific discovery used for incredibly trivial things, side effects, and the like. Sometimes it can seem like Gitlin & Long are doing this out of obligation: This type of movie has this type of thing happen, so they put in scenes with those things, even if the motivation for Alan to be at odds with Mark is asserted as something we apparently should have already known. On the other hand, the filmmakers don't exactly stint on the gags or hold back with them, even when they are in hilariously awful taste.

Full review at EFC

Los últimos días (The Last Days)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

Earlier in this festival, I saw a post-apocalyptic movie where the nature of the end of civilization seemed particularly incidental, and where even though the stakes were high, the whole thing seemed quite inconsequential. The Last Days (Los Últimos Días in the original Spanish), on the other hand, has a very specific and unusual catalyst for everything falling apart, and it's probably no coincidence that it makes for a much more exciting movie, even if the main characters aren't trying to save the whole world.

It focuses on Marc Delgado (Quim Gutiérrez), a computer programmer who noted some odd behavior but didn't initially think much of it until it became clear what was happening, and he was one of the last to succumb to "The Panic", a crippling agoraphobia that prevents people from gong outside. He's been stuck in his office building for weeks if not months, but he and the others marooned there have finally dug from the underground parking structure to the subway tunnels. Marc wants to find his girlfriend Julia (Marta Etura), but to navigate through the sewers to his apartment building means he'll need a GPS device, necessitating a partnership with the much-despised consultant brought in to organize layoffs (Jose Coronado).

Movie doomsday scenarios are almost always designed to destroy cities, either for visual spectacle or to make some sort of point about how urban folks shouldn't look down on their country cousins - epidemics spread fast, zombies have places to hide, earthquakes topple buildings,and so on. So it's kind of fun that brothers Àlex and David Pastor have devised the rare disaster where the city folk are going to be in much better shape initially, even if the situation will eventually get ugly. Part of the fun, though, is figuring out both unexpected ways in which people are in big trouble and how they might cleverly use the resources at hand to survive. It also lets the Pastors build and reveal their world in a way that's especially satisfying: The Last Days initially looks and feels like a movie that doesn't need much of a location and effects budget - shooting in offices, apartments, and tunnels isn't extraordinarily hard or expensive - but as Marc and Enrique make their way across Barcelona, the world opens up as the city's tunnels lead them to bigger spaces that have decayed/adapted more. Their journey has a time component so that audience can watch that evolution, making the setting something fun for the audience to play with rather than just a way to inject panic and danger into a civilized world.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival Day 05: The Tragedy of MacBeth, Echo Drive

Not a lot of time to post this before heading off to the fest's main event (the Marathon), but then, not a whole lot of great things to say about "robot day" at the festival. There's interesting ambition on display in both of these movies, but they both fall short for one reason or another, whether it be a lack of resources or just not having the really solid game plan they need. Tragedy of MacBeth director Dan Gallagher was there, and even if I don't exactly love the movie he made, I am impressed with the ambition and good intentions there.

The Tragedy of MacBeth

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, video)

When introducing and discussing the movie, director Dan Gallagher mentioned that he did this movie to serve as an educational aid, with subtitles "translating" the play into modern, unadorned English. Not a bad motivation, I guess, although I must admit that I would prefer "I did MacBeth with CGI robots because that would be awesome!" Granted, I say this as someone who never needed something external to make Shakespeare interesting, although I have loved when people played with the Bard's works. Focusing on how it's good for you seems like it would suck the actual joy out of plays meant, first and foremost, to be entertaining.

And while I think this version does that for a while, I think it's less as a result of misguided intentions than lacking resources. Gallagher is one of three people doing every voice in the cast of characters, although the real shame is that they often sound like they could be speech synthesizers, so metronomically are the lines delivered. I had a hard time keeping from nodding off midway through because that delivery combined with some pretty cheap-looking animation makes it hard to get attached to characters.

The sad part is, the last act or so gives an idea of just how much fun this could be, even if it does lean heavily on display screens, references to other material, and the like. When MacDuff comes after MacBeth with all his fury, and the exiled princes attack, you get a glimpse of the great space opera that it could have been, especially if I'd had the chance to use the world "laser-claymore" in the review.

Echo Drive

* * (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

The festival where I saw Echo Drive had a number of problems getting the sound right at the start of many presentations, so it's entirely possible that I missed some bit of exposition in those opening seconds that causes the movie to really come together and make perfect sense. I'm guessing not, though, which means that even for something that's as played out as misguided robot security, this doesn't really clear a low bar.

The extra security is added after the house day-trader Mike (Dane Bowman) and his family - wife Karen (Jordan Savage), daughter Jessica (Claire Gordon-Harper), and son Jake (Aaron Turgeon) - live in suffers a break-in. Since it's the model home for a new gated community being developed by a man with his fingers in a number of things, this Mr. Aldridge (Johnnie Lyne-Pirkis) beefs up security by adding a robotic security guard, "Dell" (Johnathan Hurley). But, as seems to be the case with most of those things, Dell's programming does not include respecting boundaries, and his directives do not always necessarily match up to the family's interests.

There's some brief talk about Dell being repurposed, which means that androids are apparently not an entirely new thing in Echo Drive's world, although he seems to be an unfinished enough product that giving him a gun that fires actual bullets seems highly irresponsible (you can tell he's an early model, because there are hydraulic noises dubbed onto the soundtrack when he moves and a filter applied to Johnathan Hurley's voices). It's a bit of logical inconsistency that hurts the movie in ways that are not necessarily obvious - does it really matter whether stuff happens because Dell isn't out of beta or because of a fluke with an established product? - but which robs the story of any chance of being about anything other than a "don't trust machines/rich people with their own agenda" idea that is worn straight through.

Full review at EFC

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival day 04: Bunker 6, Dragon Day

Some folks I know were pushing the 5pm show, Science Team, on Facebook, but I wasn't able to make that one - work, you know. It at least sounds like it was a lot more exciting than Dragon Day, and I hope that this wasn't a case of Garen and the folks who put together the schedule not knowing what the good stuff was. Then again, as I sat outside the Micro-Cinema eating my takeout from Boston Burger Company, all I was hearing from inside were nasty sound effects, and not a whole lot of people with lines.

Those filmmakers had a Q&A afterwards, and it sounded like there must have been some crude humor in the movie, because party of the exchange seemed to be them trying to politely say that they found a masturbation gag funny when someone asked why it was in there.

BUNKER 6 director Greg Jackson

Greg Jackson, director of Bunker 6, came out to introduce and later answer questions about his movie, one of the best in the festival. A lot of it involved talking about the real bunker meant to safeguard the Canadian government in the case of a nuclear attack that they shot in, and you can't blame folks for asking about that; it's a genuinely cool location that adds a great deal to the feature. Some of the rest was spoiler stuff which I won't get into because there's not really a need to do so; there twists bit they are pretty evident. It might merit a second watch, though, and I certainly won't complain if it plays Fantasia and fits into my schedule there.

After that... Dragon Day. You know not to expect too much when even the program describes it as a "Red Dawn knockoff", though Garen revised that to "Red Dawn with twists" when introducing it. All I can say is that I want my twists.

Bunker 6

* * * 1/4 (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DVD)

With a little fiddling, you could probably push Bunker 6 into the future or find a way to fit it into real-world history, but there would be little gained from that; any positives would likely be countered by the audience waiting for a Twilight Zone-style twist and being disappointed with the finale they get. So writer Christopher Ball and director Greg Jackson end the world right off the bat, making it easier to enjoy their Cold War throwback of a post-apocalyptic thriller for what it is.

The world ends in nuclear fire on 30 October 1962, although young Grace, whose father is somewhat high up in the Canadian military, makes it into a "Diefenbunker" fallout shelter just in time, and mere chance saves her from not being sealed in an irradiated corridor with her parents. Years pass, and when the man who raised her dies and entrusts her with the keys that can open the blast doors, seventeen-year-old Grace (Andrea Lee Norwood) is maintaining a decaying bunker and being pulled in different directions: Eric (Jim Fowler) is ready to get out, while Alice (Molly Dunsworth) doesn't shrink from the harsh truth that this is almost certainly a death sentence. For now, friendly Joe (Glenn Matthews) and maternal Mary (Shelley Thompson) side with Alice, but everything is falling apart, building and human alike.

Jackson and Ball have a few tricks up their sleeves that they will reveal as the movie goes on, and while they may not necessarily surprise, there is nothing in the script that seems impossible or unfair. Like most of the best stories structured as mysteries or otherwise featuring important discoveries relatively late in the action, Bunker 6 should reward a second viewing; it's a tight story that nevertheless doesn't allow the puzzle-box aspects to overwhelm the emotional core.

Full review at EFC

Dragon Day

* 1/2 (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2014 in the Somerville Theartre micro-cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DVD)

In some ways, I almost wish Dragon Day was more laughably jingoistic and ready to set up an "us vs. them" paradigm, even if that made it something truly ugly. At least then it might have a pulse and those of us who were inclined to could loudly mock its politics. The trouble is that along with being a bland bit of sub-direct-to-video fodder, it lacks an "us". It wants to rail against something but has no identity to take pride in.

We're meant to identify with Duke Evans (Ethan Flower), I suppose, a laid-off NSA techie moving into the California house he recently inherited from his grandfather with wife Leslie (Åsa Wallander), daughter Emma (Hope Laibach) and sister Rachel (Jenn Gotzon) in tow. He finds a Mexican immigrant (Eloy Méndez) in residence, but soon there are bigger problems, like a massive cyber-attack from China. The People's Republic apparently intends to repossess the United States, which has refused to pay down their national debt to prop up China's sagging economy.

Put aside that it seems hard to believe that such an action would make economic or political sense to anybody but the most paranoid; it turns out that a bigger problem is that this whole plan turns out to be pretty boring, at least from co-writer/director Jeffrey Travis's chosen vantage point. We see some planes going down and some fires in the distance, but China is an almost literally faceless villain; one almost-silent officer (maybe two) toward the end an a bunch of close-ups of circuit boards marked "made in China" accompanied by the hilariously overwrought soundtrack does not a threat make. There's a sort of proxy threat in turncoats who have decided to throw in with their new overlords, but their actions just seem nonsensical.

Full review at EFC

This Week In Tickets: 3 February 2014 - 9 February 2014

Running less late that last week! What can I say, there's a festival and snow. You'd think the latter would help me get writing done, but that's not actually the case. I need my time on the bus.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: The Pretty One at the Regent Theatre, Monday, 7:30pm. Someone different was working the box office, and he actually took the ticket I printed out from Gathr's website rather than recognizing me and handing me a traditional ticket. It was backward and weird! Pretty decent movie, though.

After that, the only movie-seeing that I really had time for during the week was a double-feature of Oscar-nominated Documentary Shorts at the Coolidge. They've been swapped out for the live-action and animated ones, but they're worth seeing even if you're not going to watch the ceremony - these sorts of awards aren't perfect, but they don't exactly do a bad job of highlighting some of the best entries in a given year.

There were some short programs during the first three days of the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, and I'll probably catch up with them later. The features were generally decent-to-good; for every totally amateur thing like opener The Nigerian Frequency, there was something nifty like LFO. Also playing during those days: Dust of War, Animosity, SOS: Save Our Skins, and Inverse.

I missed the first part of the first short on Saturday because apparently just seeing movies straight from 3pm to 11pm isn't enough for me, and I had to make an matinee detour to Showcase Cinemas in Revere to see The Attorney. Honestly, I felt obligated; I grouse enough about that this sort of Asian movie not playing the Boston area enough that when one does show up, I really have to support it with dollars, even if it means a three-leg journey on various MBTA services. It is, admittedly, a little further than I might have gone for a similar movie not starring Song Kang-ho, but it's an enjoyable legal drama.

I also found another hole in the festival schedule to head two stops down the Red Line and see Drinking Buddies at the Brattle. It was a tight squeeze getting back to Somerville in time for Inverse, but worthwhile. Kind of an odd coincidence to open and (almost) close the week with two movies where Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston both play potential boyfriends to the same character, for a somewhat broad definition of potential boyfriend.

Next week's edition of this is probably going to be really short, because I've been living at the Somerville theater for this festival all week. But, then, I've actually got to write stuff up to get to that point.

Drinking Buddies

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2014 in the Brattle Theatre ([Some of] The Best of 2013, DCP)

I wouldn't say I've necessarily become a fan of Joe Swanberg's from seeing his last couple of films; I've got no particular desire to do any sort of deep dive through the seemingly dozens of micro-budget features he has done over the last few years to watch him hone the technique that got him to Drinking Buddies. He's definitely worth keeping an eye on for the future, though, especially when he's got a cast as solid as the one here.

The main group - Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston - are pretty strong, especially Wilde and Johnson. They're playing best friends and co-workers that one would expect to be pairing up in almost any other movie, and the point of this one is guessing whether or not it's inevitable. It's a fun thing to play with - watching them interact with each other, you do find yourself looking at them that way and knowing that they're feeling the attraction, even though there is this whole other group of relationships that would be upset. It actually makes the idea of calling it "attraction" a lot more reasonable than it often is, potentially pulling them off course.

There's not a lot of story here, in part because there's not a lot of drama. Swanberg mentioned during his Q&As at Fantasia last summer that he doesn't write much dialogue, especially for his actresses, because how is he going to know what a woman would really say. It actually holds up much better than most improvised movies, which probably meant that he did a pretty good job of keeping everyone on point. That helps a lot; it means Drinking Buddies seems to come to an honest resolution rather than just stopping after taking some sharp turn, which is a big part of why it's worth recommending.

(Wait - why is Jake Johnson clean-shaven on that DVD/Blu-ray cover?)

Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts BOscar Nominated Documentary Shorts ASci-Fi Film FestivalThe AttorneyDrinking Buddies