Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fantastic Fest Catch-up, First Half: Over Your Dead Body, Wyrmwood, Tommy, The World of Kanako, The Tribe, and Tokyo Tribe

Two months later, I've finally finished half the reviews I opted to save until later during Fantastic Fest. It has been a busy time, and during the burst over the past couple of weeks, I've been tremendously glad that I (a) kept notes while watching the movies and (b) wrote short reviews for the blog the day of/next morning; a whole bunch of the stuff below and on eFilmCritic is basically those things expanded. Some by a little, some by a lot.

Also, it's worth noting that my TWIT entry on those week is fairly heavy on the things that I didn't love, and as such omits thanks to a lot of people who deserve it: Alex Johnson, who sold me the pass he couldn't use when I found myself without one just a couple of weeks out; Adrian Charlie, who got me in contact with Mr. Johnson; Jason Whyte, who has been encouraging me to go for years (that means he owes me a trip to Fantasia, right?); William Goss, who said hi and whom I wished I'd had a chance to hang and chat with more; Mike Snoonian & Izzy Lee, other Boston folks who gave me something to grab on to when the crowd was more than I could handle; and all the great people at the festival, who worked their butts off to make a festival whose energy and playlist certainly cannot be denied.

There. I feel much better now. Follow them all.

And now, the movies: Takashi Miike's Over Your Dead Body, crazy Aussie zombie movie Wyrmwood, Swedish thriller Tommy, Tetsuya Nakashima's The World of Kanako, gut-wrenching sign-language drama The Tribe, and Sion Sono's hip-hop action opus Tokyo Tribe.

There. Having hit the halfway point (both in terms of days and unfinished reviews), I believe I am allowed to drink one of the not-available-in-Boston sodas that I purchased on the way out of Texas.

Kuime (Over Your Dead Body)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #8 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

In addition to his film work, Takashi Miike has directed a few stage productions, experience that he likely dipped into for Over Your Dead Body (Kuime in Japanese). At times, I kind of wish that was where the film stayed; it has all the material for an intriguing backstage drama and the diversion into horror is kind of all over the place.

The play being staged is Yotsuya Kaiden, a classic kabuki tale of a poor samurai scheming to improve his position, even if it involves shedding a wife who has brought him as far as she can. Kosuke Hasegawa (Ebizo Ickikawa) plays Iemon the samurai on the stage, co-starring with real-life girlfriend Miyuki Goto (Kou Shibasaki) as Iwa. Given the drama between rehearsals - another cast member, Miyuki's married former boyfriend Jun (Hideaki Ito), would like to start an affair; the young actress (Miho Nakanishi) playing a supporting role is the type who professes her desire to follow in Miyuki's footsteps and then does so by sleeping with Kosuke; and cheerful stage assistant Kayo (Hitomi Katayama) knows every part just in case someone needs her to fill in - it's no wonder that the supernatural themes of the play seem to be bleeding into the world around Miyuki.

If there's one thing you can count on from Miike, it's that he will go to weird places and present what he finds in a memorable way, and that's certainly the case here. It's just that, as is often the case, he, writer Kikumi Yamagishi, and the film itself go to so many different strange places that the story starts to seem random once the supernatural becomes involved. Strict rules aren't necessary but not having every scare pulling in different directions would probably help, and while there's there's a clear connection between the creepy dolls and the movie's most obviously horrific sequence, childlessness doesn't seem to be the strong motivator for Miyuki that it is for Iwa, and some of the other moments just feel random. The individual results are certainly disgusting in memorable ways, at least.

Full review on EFC


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #9 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

It's no bad thing, I say, that Wyrmwood feels like a season's worth of an eventful TV series packed into an hour and a half; it's an exhausting ride at times, but there's not ten or fifteen minutes anywhere in the movie that don't come across as exciting or have at least one really cool thing in them. Though making it over four years surely has brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner ready to take a break for a while, it's one of the rare movies where the audience's inevitable requests for a sequel seems like a great idea.

Things kick off quickly, with a light in the sky and something in the air kicking off a zombie apocalypse that quickly decimates Australia, leaving is with a manageable number of initial survivors: Mechanic Barry (Jay Gallagher), his wife Annie (Catherine Terracini), and daughter Meganne (Meganne West); good-natured aborigine Benny (Leon Burchill); crusty middle-aged tinkerer Frank (Keith Agius); and Barry's sister Brooke (Bianca Bradey), whom the others will spend much of the movie trying to track down. Trouble is, she's already been found by some military types and a mad scientist (Berryn Schwerdt), who are never as helpful as one would hope in this sort of crisis.

Director Kiah Roache-Turner and brother/co-writer Tristan start things off with a flash-forward that establishes a tone of raucous action, which may be a little overdone as a device but is also a bit nice to have in the back of one's pocket when events take a turn toward the Walking Dead-variety "unbearable price of survival" misery factory. That doesn't last too terribly long; the Roache-Turners are soon getting past the point in the middle where it starts to run down a bit - in addition to the justifiably-depressed hero, there's a little too much "evil government/business eager to kill the remains of an already reduced population" on the other side with little in between - keeping just enough of that edge around to push everyone through the end.

Full review on EFC

Tommy (2014)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Tommy starts out looking like it might be a certain type of movie - you know, the one where the underestimated woman at the center is eventually revealed to always be three steps ahead of everyone around her (or if not quite that far ahead, still the smartest person in the room) - with a certain type of twist - seeing it all from her perspective. I'd like to see that movie someday, but this one is more about a gamble, which some may not find quite so satisfying. I dig it, though.

The woman in question is Estelle (Moa Gammel), just returned to Stockholm after fleeing the country with her husband Tommy and daughter Isabel (Inez Buckner) after a heist gone wrong left a couple of cops dead and Tommy holding the bag a year ago. Tommy, she says, will soon follow, and he wants his share when he does, something which naturally puts the other members of the crew on edge - Bobby (Ola Rapace) is doing quite well for himself and dating Estelle's sister Blanca (Lykke Li Zachrisson), Matte (Alexej Manvelov) is trying to go straight, and Estelle's godfather Steve (Johan Rabaeus) says he'll help but tends to make phone calls after she leaves.

Moa Gammel has a neat trick to accomplish in presenting Estelle as someone who could be that woman, and by the same token is someone the characters she encounters is going to underestimate. After all, she doesn't come from a family of criminal masterminds, but one of molls (her mother seemed to go for crooks too). Because the movie is necessarily keeping the details of Estelle's and/or Tommy's plans close to the vest, she doesn't get to give a great underdog performance or show Estelle as always calculating, but that's okay; there's enough going on with her outside of the step-by-step process of recovering Tommy's money to keep things interesting. The scenes with her family are especially good; it's always clear from looking at Gammel that Estelle has opinions about Blanca getting involved in the same sort of life she and their mother did, string enough the subject doesn't even have to be raised in connection with Isabel. She tension and desperation (when genuine or a put-on) well, and she does a nice job of building a relationship with the absent Tommy.

Full review on EFC

Kawaki. (The World of Kanako)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #7 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

The latest from Tetsuya Nakashima is not quite so sublime as his mid-aughts peak (Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko is a heck of a one-two punch), and it kind of stretches out too long, padded by some increasingly ugly violence. On the plus side, though, it is energetic as all heck, propelling the audience through the underworld with a protagonist that they're not supposed to like, but who makes it hard to look away.

High-school student Kanako Fukushima (Nana Komatsu) has, as of 16 August 2013, been missing for six days, making her mother Kiriko (Asuka Kurosawa) desperate enough to call her ex-husband Azikazu (Koji Yahusho), a drunken mess of an ex-cop that she had damn good reason for divorcing. Azikazu immediately shows what lost human being he could be, but he could be a dog with a bone where a case is concerned, finding through conversations with Kanako's middle-school friend Nami (Fumi Nikaido), classmate Emi (Ai Hashimoto), and more, that Kanako may have become a bigger piece of scum than he is - his quest goes through a criminal underworld where Kanako is not necessarily a victim.

Though Kanako is the character mentioned in the title, Azikazu is the guy that the audience will be spending the bulk of the movie with, and Koji Yakusho is pretty great as the title character's terrible father. He is playing something of a monster, and not the restrained variety where a tiny bit less feeling than one might expect is the signal that something is off; Yakusho tears into his material to make Azikazu a practically feral beast. It's the sort of performance that dares the audience to sympathize with him for being an honest, focused animal than the likes of his former partner Asai (Satoshi Tsumabuki in a delightfully oily turn) or how he's able to let forth an animalistic rage as he tears into progressively more vile criminals. Still, even when Azikazu is doing our saying something that sounds like the right thing for the right reasons, there's a certain sort of vacancy, like he's distilled anger that just happens to be pointed in the right direction.

Full review on EFC

Plemya (The Tribe)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #5 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Well, that's certainly something I'm glad to have seen, although I'm also sort of thankful that I'll likely never see the like again. The excited parts of that sentence are to be expected from a movie whose opening titles say it's in sign language and will not be subtitled, but maybe not the nervous ones. And yet, it's a sign of a great movie when even those are thrilling as well as horrifying.

I suspect that what we see in The Tribe - a sequestered, young population turning away from their supposed reason for being there but instead wreaking mayhem - happens at a lot of boarding schools, but seeing it happen at a Ukrainian school for the Deaf makes it hit a bit harder. Although no explanations are given, it's not hard to figure out what's going on in these kids' heads: The hearing world finds them a nuisance worthy of only grudging concessions, and this is the first time they they've been able to band together to do what they want, and with that anger it comes out as violence, crime, and sex. There is one classroom scene early on, but after that, academics seem irrelevant - the only time we see the kids doing anything resembling study later, the purpose is immediately undercut.

It's a harrowing ride, with traditional bullying at the start, lawlessness in the middle (which filmmaker Miroslav Slaboshpitsky often uses as a perverse way to show students coming together), and horrors the audience might wish to unsee at the end. It's a bleak movie that often elicits cringes, but to his credit, Slaboshpitsky never seems to just be engaging in exploitation; everything moves the story of new student Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) forward in some way, from the opening scenes where he has difficulty finding the school, to his crush on classmate Anya (Yana Novikova) - who along with roommate Svetka (Rosa Babiy) turns tricks to try and afford the papers to emigrate to Italy - to the ugly place that leads. Slaboshpitsky shows the audience much more than it wants to see at times, but it seldom feels like too much.

Full review on EFC

Tokyo Tribe

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2014 in Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #4 (Fantastic Fest, DCP)

Sion Sono has never really been the quiet, contemplative sort of art-house director, but his last few films seem to have been brimming with the sort of constant action that would make genre filmmakers jealous, with Tokyo Tribe an almost non-stop barrage of over-the-top insanity once the fighting starts. The surprising thing is that an audience can be somewhat forgiven for not registering that fact, since the veneer on top of it - a busy manga adaptation told as a hip-hop musical - is crazy enough in its way that it may be what the audience remembers.

And that's not exactly unfair. That style has Tokyo Tribe moving forward at a constant fast pace, with jokes and details packed into every corner, more characters than the audience can possibly process, and moments of jaw-dropping insanity that you can almost imagine Sono giggling as he put them into the script for how silly they are (the beatboxing server in the banquet scenes may have been my favorite thing Sono has ever gone for while she was on-screen). There's garish designs, tanks, slapstick, and other over-the-top madness.

What is going on? Well, as narrator MC Show (Shota Sometani) lays it down, every neighborhood in Tokyo is run by a themed gang kept in balance largely by the central Musashino Saru, whose leader Tera (Ryuta Sato) is all about peace and love. Another gang, the Bukuro Wu-ronz, led by Bubba (Riki Takeuchi), is looking to make a move, and by attacking Mera, sets the other gangs at each other's throats, with even Tera's friend Kai (Young Dais) looking to fight despite being hugely outmatched physically by Bubba's son Mera (Ryohei Suzuki). And if that's not enough, there's a kung fu princess (Nana Seino) hiding out in one of the prefectures, and delivering her to her clan for sacrifice would give Bubba the ally he needs to claim all of Tokyo.

Full review on EFC

Saturday, November 29, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 27 October 2014 - 2 November 2014

Plays & pictures, which became a lot more of a theme as I was writing up Birdman.

This Week in Tickets

It's been a while since I saw these movies, so those two empty days involved the Giants winning the World Series in large part because of Pablo Sandoval, who is now on my local team. Yay!

First up, though, was NT Live Frankenstein with Cumberbatch & Miller, which I've wanted to see since watching it the other way around three and a half years ago.

I'd been planning on seeing Bitter Honey, but didn't find out about the director visiting until a random ad popped up on Facebook, which was neat, but the definition of under the radar.

On Halloween, I hemmed and hawed on what to do but eventually opted to go to Izzy's presentation of Jeffrey Combs in Nevermore; it wasn't quite what I was expecting, but I could see why everyone had been excited to see it at Fantasia a couple years ago. I stuck around for The Masque of the Red Death after that, but I was kind of wiped out.

Saturday, I became the not-quite-last person to see Boyhood, although it certainly felt like I was living dangerously with it, waiting for locations, times, and my availability to line up. Surprise, it's as good as they say. Then I headed down the Red Line for Birdman, which made for a pretty good day.

Sunday was lazy until I opted for the Silent Fritz Lang double feature of Four Around a Woman & The Moving Image, which are neat looks at the early work of a master, if incomplete ones.

NT Live: Frankenstein

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2014 in Regal Fenway #8 (NT Live, DCP)

Three and a half years ago, I saw this production with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Victor and Jonny Lee Miller playing the Creature, and I hoped ever since that I would get to see the other version, mildly shocked that they haven't put something that would be a pretty easy sell (along with the two Sherlock Holmeses, it also features Naomie Harris and is directed by Danny Boyle) out on Blu-ray. But, if you can pull it out every once in a while and get people to pay $15 for it, why wouldn't you?

And, yeah, I'll probably pay another $15 the next time it reappears, because this thing is really good. I found it better on a second viewing, too, because the first time around I was a bit too annoyed about them moving the camera and cutting despite this being a stage production, and this time I was able to just appreciate how amazing the production was in terms of staging and lighting .

Also, last time around I mentioned that Cumberbatch as Victor and Miller as the monster seemed like the natural casting, making me curious to see it the other way around. That was before Miller had been cast as Sherlock Holmes on Elementary, so I didn't know him from much. I did like that he played Victor as a very different type of temperamental genius than Holmes, and on side, Cumberbatch's stroke-victim take on the Creature maybe worked a bit better for me than Miller's two-year-old. It's curious to me that in both versions, I find that Miller was able to bring a bit more humor in.

What needs to happen now, though, is for the makers of Sherlock and Elementary to find a character from the canon that neither show has used and cast Miller and Cumberbatch, respectively, in the part. In addition to resulting in great work, these cross-casting bits have given audiences a fascinating look at how two different actors in similar circumstances can do different things with the same role, and I want to see them stretch it a bit more.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Izzy Lee presents, live)

What a weird experience. Glad I saw it now, but not so enraptured that I wish I had sacrificed a movie or two to see it in Montreal (other than being curious as to whether the Boston references were new for this performance). It's a neat play, though.

One thing I didn't realize was just how distinctive Jeffrey Combs's voice is. Even with the impressive make-up and accent, he was still the guy from The Frighteners and Deep Space Nine, not quite to the point of being unable to see his portrayal of Edgar Allan Poe, but always aware that it was Combs playing the part. In some ways, when the play gets away from the spooky, bitter, and morose Poe I expected to a very funny one, it works in part because I can see Combs doing that.

Then it starts to be about drinking and I don't quite tune out, but... Well, I just don't respond strongly to "guy gets drunk and makes an ass of himself", even when it's as well done as it is here. Combs does the thing, and does it well, but it's done in a sort of heavy-handed way and is sort of too-familiar besides.

Masque of the Red Death

* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Halloween!, 35mm)

A Poe-adapted follow up to the play in 35mm (and one I don't remember from a series the Brattle did a couple years back) made for a good Halloween capper. I think, even at an hour and a half, it stretches what I remember being a fairly short original story enough that I found myself just wanting it to get on with things and struggling to stay awake (I was on work + supper + play + movie by that point), so I can't necessarily judge it fairly.

Still, it's hard to deny that they theater got a fine 35mm print and that is a heck of a bonus when you get a Corman movie that looks as good as this one. Corman was ambitious here, and had a pretty darn good crew to put things together, with the crown jewel (at least in retrospect) being Nicolas Roeg as director of photography. The colors jump off the screen, and while the costumes and settings may not be the sort of sumptuous ones that respectable period pieces get, it certainly doesn't look cheap or half-hearted.

The script may stretch, but it has horrors to present, and one of the best weapons Corman has is Vincent Price at his villainous best. There's an art to smoothly talking about how one worships Satan without sounding the wrong kind of insane, and few ever managed it better than Price. Jane Asher as the virtuous prisoner and Hazel Court as the scheming lady of the manor keep things interesting (and, yeah, sexy). I hope I get another chance to watch it again in this sort of environment soon, because it's easily one of my favorite Corman pictures.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2014 in Arlington Captiol #3 (second-run, DCP)

Well, that certainly is all it's cracked up to be.

It almost has to be; although Richard Linklater set out to make a film that followed a boy growing up over a period of twelve years, I still imagine he would have maybe looked to other things or repurposed the footage if, after a year or three, what he was getting just didn't work. And once you've got that good start, the confidence to press on must appear.

At that point, I suspect the biggest concern is not going big, but sticking to this very human-sized story that adds and discards characters, not necessarily bringing them back later because, for better or for worse, that's not how life works, with everything building to a final resolution. And, sure, the thing that brings me my biggest bit of discontent comes from that - I don't know that Mason (Ellar Coltrane) necessarily grows up into a tremendously interesting young man. The things that carry through the movie that affected me the most are probably Mason's parents (played from start to finish by Particia Arquette & Ethan Hawke) getting their lives together, although that may be just a function of my age.

Still, there's no denying that there's an authenticity to Boyhood that one doesn't see elsewhere. A year ago, I noted a film at Fantasia where something seemed off because the kid they had playing Haley Joel Osment's character as a young boy clearly wasn't 12-year-old Osment, which comes with the territory. You accept good actors who don't look related, hard-working make-up people, or casting family in movies with this kind of sweep because you need to, but seeing the real thing is wonderful and astonishing here. It draws you into the story in a way that mimics real life in a way other movies can't, linking to how one processes time passing in reality rather than figuring it out in film.

With this, Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke have two of the most ambitious projects in terms of examining people over time ever in film under their belts (it and Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight arguably only fall behind 7 Up and its follow-ups there), and this is arguably the most controlled of them, mostly going where Linklater scripted it out from the start. Heck of a thing, that, and while I'm curious how something with a firmer plot would look done like this, I half-wonder if it's even possible.

Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2014 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

The world needs a Michael Keaton comeback, and if Birdman does nothing other than remind it of this fact, then it has done the world a valuable service. That it's also one of the most exciting movies you ca watch in a theater right now is just a great big bonus.

Sure, it may seem too clever by half to cast Keaton as a guy who has fallen into relatively undeserved obscurity since bailing on another comic book sequel twenty years ago, but that's arguably what movie stars are for, and the fact that the audience can still jump into this metastory, filling in the background of Keaton's character Riggan Thomson, shows he still is one. It's interesting that Keaton says Riggan is not much like him at all, and I can sort of see that - there's something about Riggan that is really desperate to be respected, even though that will apparently never happen, while Keaton seems like a guy who goes forward, does the work, occasionally coming up with something pretty darn good like The Merry Gentleman but more often than not taking what comes his way without being ashamed of his c.v. That portrayal of the character is still terrific, though - there's self-doubt and desperation to Riggan, but despite how far his character can be from what the audience is familiar with, and how strangely some of his delusion is expressed, it's easy to empathize with this guy.

He's surrounded by other great characters: Emma Stone is beautifully sharp as the daughter he's trying to help and connect with who resents it, for instance, and Edward Norton is hilariously bigger-than-life as the new co-star whose monstrous tendencies are overlooked because he is of this place in a way that Riggan won't be allowed to be. That's brought out best by Linsday Duncan in her few scenes as Tabitha - she's actually playing one of the most monstrous evil critics I can ever remember seeing, and while there's no mistaking it, she doesn't froth and rave like so many do. Her sneering is defensive and, in a way, sad. She's worth hating but not worth getting worked up about.

Interestingly, for as much as filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu's characters obsess over how the stage is legitimate theater, with the likes of Riggan dilettantes desperate for respect who should be kept out, he's determined to do things that only movies can pull off, with a roving camera that follows characters from one location to another, hiding jumps in time in mid-pan and letting close-ups and special effects help tell the story without pulling away from the rest. The long shots stitched together pull the audience along, and Iñárritu never lets the grass grow under the audience's feet.

I almost wonder, on reflection, if this is something he's been frustrated personally. Like Keaton saying he's not much like Riggan in the press, Iñárritu has talked about how superhero movies are "cultural genocide", and he certainly seems sincere enough in dissing them (and having made mostly very-serious movies until this), but I wonder if there isn't something to how Riggan's embarrassment at having been Birdman - which is still remembered fondly by people around the globe twenty years later - is meant to contrast with the snobby theater people whose work, by its nature, will disappear from memory. Characters fret about how now these empty spectacles seen around the world will be actors' legacies rather than small stories seen by a privileged few, but is it really such a bad thing?

Bitter Honey
Nevermore & Masque of the Red Death
Four Around a Woman & The Moving Image

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Women Who Flirt

I noticed when Aberdeen played here earlier this year that director Pang Ho-cheung seems to be doing a new variety of "one for them, one for me" - doing two movies in a year, one a Cantonese-language film that is pretty specifically set in Hong Kong, and a Mandarin-language one that seems built to play to a much broader mainland audience. Fortunately, this time around the mainstream one isn't nearly as hobbled as Love in the Buff, although I still kind of wonder what the same movie set in Hong Kong would be like.

But, hey, at least we're getting Pang Ho-cheung's movies in America - this is his fourth straight one to be distributed by China Lion here, the third of which is more or less day-and-date with China (actually a day or two earlier!). I've been becoming a fan of this guy since the one-two punch of Love in a Puff and Dream Home at Fantasia a few years back (later realizing that he also made Isabella), and while I wasn't quite in the packed auditorium this time - I was able to catch an earlier-than-usual show on the day before Thanksgiving - there was still a pretty good crowd. Watching Women Who Flirt, I'm starting to wonder if he isn't necessarily wasted on romantic comedies but maybe brings more than one might expect - this is a pretty nicely-made film, able to overcome some of the weird sexual politics of the genre and stitching things together visually it ways that you might not imagine. It's also not the average film of this genre that sticks spaghetti western music into a scene in a way that doesn't seem to go for the obvious joke. There is some quietly weird stuff going on in this movie, enough that I talked myself into liking it aferward a bit more than I did just coming out.

Women Who Flirt (aka Women Who Know How to Flirt Are the Luckiest)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2014 at Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, DCP)

Women Who Flirt (or, to use its full Chinese name, "Women Who Know How to Flirt Are the Luckiest") teeters on the edge of being the sort of romantic comedy that doesn't respect its primary target audience of women much at all, depicting them as all about landing a man via manipulation, even when theoretically trying to say the opposite. Even when "two girls fight over a guy" mostly works, as it does here, a more progressive or individual story might be nice.

The guy is "Marco" Gong Xiao (Huang Xiaoming), a nice-enough seeming Shanghai lad who works with long-time friend "Angie" Zhang Hui (Zhou Xun); she has had a crush on him since at least college but never made a move because he didn't plan to date until he could provide for his father. That changes when he comes back from a trip to Taiwan with Hailey (Sonia Sui Ta), a pretty young thing who seemed to flirt her way into Marco's life in a way that doesn't come naturally to the straightforward Angie. Fortunately for her, her best friend May (Xie Yilin) knows this stuff cold, and her "Barbie Army" is there to help.

In a lot of ways, Women Who Flirt director Pang Ho-cheung doesn't stray far from that romantic comedy template of the girl unpretentious enough to be just one of the guys having to figure out how to beat one who instinctually knows how to use her feminine wiles at her own game. That costs the movie at times; Angie, Marco, and Hailey don't differentiate themselves that much from other versions of the Cinderella story enough for their individual actions to be the source of much suspense or surprise, even if some of the details are clever or funny. The movie is heading toward a fairly predestined end, although it deserves a bit of credit for the way it handles some of the stops along the way.

Full review at EFC.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 November - 4 December 2014

Happy Thanksgiving! Unless you're in Canada and reading about movies opening in Boston for some reason I don't quite understand, in which case happy movies-opening-Wednesday week! Not a lot opening, but what is should be fairly interesting.

  • The prestigious, Oscar-aiming picture is Foxcatcher, a drama casting Steve Carell against type as mercurial chemical-company heir John du Pont, who aims to make a splash backing the US Olympic wrestling team, with Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as gold medalist brothers he lures to his estate to train. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre as well as Kendall Square and Boston Common.

    No midnights this week (insert "turkey making everyone too sleepy" joke here), but there is a 10:30am showing of The Muppet Movie on Saturday morning, and it's worth going even if you don't have kids, because that's a stone classic. On Monday, the Alloy Orchestra visits to accompany Lonesome, an unusual but fascinating [mostly] silent film. There's also an "NT Live" presentation of the recent Broadway production of Of Mice and Men with James Franco and Chris O'Dowd.
  • The main openings this week are both sequels, although The Penguins of Madagascar is better described as a spin-off, featuring four of the funniest characters from the surprisingly good (and pretty much complete) series in their own 3D adventures. It's at the Capitol, West Newton (2D only), Apple, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    The sequel pitched to adults is Horrible Bosses 2, reuniting most of the cast from the first and adding Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine as new adversaries, and I must admit, the trailers look better than the ones for the first. It's at Somerville, Apple, the Studio in Belmont, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.
  • Fenway also picks up Women Who Flirt, the new romantic comedy by Pang Ho-cheung, which is actually opening stateside a couple of days before it opens in mainland China. It's a Mandarin-language film about a young woman who has always disdained girls who flirt their way to what they want forced to try and do so to compete for a man's affections.

    They and Apple Cinemas are also finally opening Dr. Cabbie, which originally looked like it was coming in mid-September. It stars Vinay Virmani as an Indian doctor who emigrates to Canada only to find his medical degree is not recognized, soon having to take a job as a cab driver but running a clinic from his taxi. It also features Kunal Nayyar, Adrianne Palicki, and Mircea Monroe. In addition, Apple's iMovieCafe will be opening Tamil-language Kaaviya Thalaivan on Thursday (no subtitles), and Hindi-language comedy Ungli on Friday; the latter looking like a heist film about a group including Kangana Ranaut of Krrish 3.
  • The Bright Lights series in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room returns after the holiday with a screening of Lakshmi on Tuesday; this Indian film is a drama about a 13-year-old kidnapped and sold into prostitution and is one of the few to have the courage to testify against her abusers. They're also hosting a Boston Creative Pro User Group meeting on Thursday the 4th.
  • In addition to Foxcatcher on Wednesday, Kendall Square has Flamenco, Flamenco starting Friday and running for a week. It's what it says on the package, an hour and a half of performance directed by Carlos Saura and shot by Vittorio Storaro with the Seville Expo '92 pavillion and various Renaissance paintings as a backdrop. Other fine arts have single screenings after the weekend, with Hermitage Revealed on Tuesday giving audiences a guided tour of St. Petersburg, Russia'sState Hermitage Museum, while Thursday's Globe on Screen presentation is A Midsummer Night's Dream.
  • The Brattle wraps up 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Yearwith a double feature of Mr. Smith goes to Washington & Destry Rides Again on Wednesday and The Wizard of Oz in 35mm on Thursday, because at least someone remembers that Oz on Thanksgiving used to be a tradition.

    The weekend (Friday through Sunday)is given over to a new restoration of Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City, shot just months after the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945 and thus considered one of the more immediate war films ever made. On Monday, co-director David Wilson will be there to introduce a DocYard presentation of We Always Lie to Strangers, his film about Branson, Missouri. Wednesday features a genuine oddity, an archival 35mm print of the original, Cathy Lee Crosby-starring pilot for Wonder Woman, with a special introduction by Jill Lepore, who will be signing her book The Secret History of Wonder Woman earlier in the evening. The week wraps up with a special twentieth-anniversary presentation of Hoop Dreams on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive, likely figuring that most of their students and patrons are traveling for Thanksgiving, gives a lot of the schedule over to a new digital restoration of Alain Resnais's Hiroshima, Mon Amour, which plays (in DCP) on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. That still leaves a couple of slots free to continue Once Upon a Song... Jacques Demy, with Lola playing at 7pm on Saturday and a program of early shorts ("La Sabotier du Val de Loire", "Le Bel Indifférent", "Ars", and "Lust") at the same time Sunday; the Demy films are on 35mm.
  • All Things Horror has their monthly screening in the Somerville Theatre's screening room on Saturday. It's Back Water, a car-breaks-down-in-the-woods thing which supposedly has a big twist in the middle. Tickets available here, and you might as well grab a seat for the Etheria Film Night while you're there.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes their run of National Gallery on Saturday & Sunday before resetting for the December calendar. That starts on Wednesday & Thursday with Dirty Like an Angel, the start of a Catherine Breillat retrospective. Also playing those days is a run of Bad Hair, a South American film centered around a boy who wants to have his curly hair straightened for his yearbook photo; it will play occasionally through the 12th and is co-presented by the Boston LGBT Film Festival. The Documentary Spotlight on Thursday night is Lost in the Bewliderness, a quarter-century-spanning film about a boy abducted from Greece at the age of five and found in America eleven years later. Director Alexandra Anthony will be on-hand afterward.
  • The Regent Theatre
  • has their annual Thanksgiving weekend screenings of the Sing-Along Mary Poppins, with costumes encouraged and lyrics on the 35mm prints so everyone can, well, you get it. Three shows Friday, two Saturday, one Sunday. Then, on Monday, they screen Class Dismissed, a documentary following a Los Angeles family who decide to home-school their two children.

My plans? Women Who Flirt, heading north to eat turkey and pie, Foxcatcher, Penguins, Lonesome, and catching up with Whiplash, Citizenfour, and The Homesman.


Came home from Rosewater last night, turned on the TV/Twitter and saw what was going on in Ferguson. That rumbling sound was any sign off the high ground one might have as an American crumbling under one's feet.

Depressing takes on how the world in general seems to be going to hell aside, I found myself wondering after seeing the movie if writer/director Jon Stewart's spending the last few years on The Daily Show may have affected the way this movie was put together, aside from being how he met its subject. It's a magazine show, built to be good five or ten minutes at a time, and by all accounts it has steadily become smarter and more incisive under Stewart's watch. He's made a movie that has quite a few good moments, but they don't necessarily build on each other to create a whole. There's not really an overarching theme to the movie despite it being one man's story, and it makes me wonder if Stewart is taking the ability to pivot and change subjects for granted.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2014 at AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

I want more from Rosewater, but I'm not exactly sure what I want more of. More obvious suffering and torment on the part of its protagonist would certainly drive the point home better, but demanding that seems callous and sadistic. A more traditional narrative that reduces real-life events to an early digestible story would do the people and events depicted a disservice. A broader perspective might lose the point entirely. And yet, it's hard to shake the feeling that this fairly well-made movie should make a viewer feel more, whether that more be anger, fear, or hope.

It's the story of Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal), a London-based journalist who returns to the family home in Tehran to cover the 2012 election for Newsweek. Contrary to his initial plans, he sticks around to cover the protests afterward, and at least one of the images he captures on video leads the police to arrest him as a spy, to be thrown in jail and face daily interrogations by "specialist" Javadi (Kim Bodina), although Bahari is not privy to his name and, blindfolded, recognizes him by the scent of rosewater.

It is established early on that Javadi's superiors wish to score a propaganda victory with Bahari's televized confession, so the usual physical abuse is taken off the table. As mentioned above, it's not as if I want to watch a good man be tortured, but the lack of certain obvious cues means that first-time filmmaker Jon Stewart must work a bit harder to really make the audience feel what Bahari is going through, and he's maybe not quite up to the task yet. The audience will see Bahari blindfolded but not experience the disorientation or sensory deprivation; regular trims to his hair and beard keep them from marking the passage of time unless a caption appears on screen.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Stuff seen in New York: Goodbye to Language, Interstellar (70mm), Mea Culpa

What do you do when you have eight days of vacation to use by the end of the year but really don't have a lot of money to spend? A few days in New York, checking out museums and monuments and then seeing movies in the evening.

I knew two of the ones I was going to see going in - Goodbye to Language is only playing 3D theaters, and while the overlap between those and boutique houses in the Boston area isn't quite one screen, it's close enough that if Kendall Square isn't playing it, you're going to New York. What you should probably not do is try to get to an 7:55pm show at the IFC Center, miss it by five minutes, and then just hang around in the cold for about an hour and a half, not doing much to keep warm other than buying a couple slices of pizza from Joe's around the corner. Pretty good pizza, but it was, as noted, cold outside.

The second one I went for was Interstellar. I'd already seen it in 35mm at the Somerville Theatre, but knew I'd be doing it again with large-format film. There were two 70mm places in New York; I went with the Ziegfield because it sounded a little more up-market.

Help a tourist out, guys - get the lighting even and have the marquee say something about the 70mm presentation!

The place was pretty nifty once you get inside, although it's clearly from a time before wheelchair-accessibility was a thing people cared about (I didn't really need more stairs after the Statue of Liberty!). Nice decoration in the lobby, and the single screen is a good size with a lot of seats in front of it, probably in the 700 range. I sat in the third row, and the rest of the audience was well behind me, which I've seen happen at big, premium screens all the time, and I don't get it. You're paying for extra millimeters and a bigger screen so that the picture looks even better - sit up front so that you get the full effect!

One thing I noticed while buying tickets was that the MoviePass app's behavior seems to have changed on me - where before it would forget my location every day, this week it did not want to look for theaters close to me at all - I'd have to say to do it twice, and stab the theater's name on the screen fast before it reverted to Cambridge. This happened twice - once for the Ziegfield and once for the AMC Empire on 42nd Street, where I saw Mea Culpa.

Why that one? Well, because I'm me, one of the things I did Monday evening after checking into the hotel was scan through which movies were playing that weren't likely to hit Boston. I almost went with the Katie Holmes thing, but I saw Mea Culpa playing the multiplexes, and took a look to see what it was. Oh, a French action thing. I liked Point Blank a couple of years ago. Same director? Fine, take my money while I grumble a bit about how not only is this not playing Boston, but I didn't know it existed..

Not the world's greatest movie-going experience, though. I had two separate groups of talkers behind me - the first just seemed to have chosen the movie at random and seemed to have decided that they didn't really feel like seeing a movie when they sat down in the theater, bailing after a few minutes. Then, a bit later, some theater hoppers come in, and keep up running Spanish chatter all the way through unless an action sequence is impressive enough to shut them up. In their lame half-defense, I was in the second row and kind of slouching, so maybe they thought they had the room to themselves.

Fortunately, I've gotten pretty decent about just looking ahead - part of the reason I sit toward the front is that it puts any phone-checking or other screwing around behind me - and even if one hasn't read stories about people getting violent when being told to shut up or having the ushers called on them, it's not like I was going to have another chance to see this in a theater. So I put up with it and then walked down to the Port Authority to catch an overnight bus back home.

Overall, a pretty successful trip from a movie-seeing perspective, as even the one I didn't much like was at times interesting, and who knows, I might like it more if I was in a less tired/brain-frozen state of mind. I'd play both French selections if I was somehow magically able to open the specialty miniplex of my dreams, hopefully saving some folks a potentially expensive trip for movies.

Adieu au Langage (Goodbye to Language)

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 November 2014 at IFC Center #2 (first-run, Dolby 3D)

My second impulse where Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language is concerned is to write nothing at all about it. That's in large part because my first is to cry that the emperor has no clothes, but I think I've got just enough awareness of what I know and what he's done that recognize that I'm in no position to make such a sweeping accusation. Still, he's made a film that seems to offer very little to those who do not look at cinema as a primarily academic pursuit.

There's a bit of a story, a woman leaving a violent husband and a dog wandering about, and plenty of time for characters to discus history, philosophy, and art. The film alternates between "Nature" and "Metaphor" segments, although they are not necessarily told in order, and much of the action happens off-screen. If you are coming to this film looking for a story, you are going to have to work for it, and likely come away disappointed.

But, I gather, nobody goes to Godard fims for that reason any more, nor have they had reason to do so for decades. Instead, the likes of Goodbye to Language are best approached as a sort of lecture, with Godard demonstrating different types of structure, speaking briefly about ideas that interest him, and experimenting with ways to shoot a scene that may, in their unconventional manner, tell the audience something not evident from a simple direct shot. Godard also cuts to clips of other works, archival footage, and home movies, creating something that while slow-moving, is undeniably dense with information.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2014 at Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)
Seen 20 November 2014 at the Bow Tie Cinemas Ziegfield (first-run, 70mm)

When folks have asked me how this movie is, I say I liked it a lot, but it is a film made especially for me - reasonably hard sci-fi, a lot of actors I like, and it looks gorgeous to boot. I recommend seeing it in the highest gauge film presentation you can, as well, because that is clearly how Christopher Nolan made and wants it presented. Both times I've watched it, I've had moments where I get caught up, thinking that this is just so, so good.

And it really is. One thing that strikes me, having seen it on film both times, is that digital is going to have a hard time capturing some shots the way Nolan wanted them. There are scenes inside the cabin where the Cooper family lives where the lighting is so low as to almost look like candlelight, and it's something that seems rather rare in this (mostly) post-film world. It's technically a knockout in a number of other ways, too, from the miniature work to the absolutely insane detail put into rendering black holes, wormholes, and the like in order to figure out what they'd really look like.

Beyond that, Nolan keeps the story moving very well. It's not one of those where one says that a three-hour movie really flies, but I seldom felt fidgety, even though Interstellar does feel like a thing of size. Nolan does a neat trick where the film shifts pretty drastically a few times but seldom seems to split into sections. There's a truly fantastic score by Hans Zimmer (which, for some unknowable reason, is not available for purchase in its entirety) and an utterly jaw-dropping climax.

So why, then, do I say I like it a lot but don't love it? I think there's something about Nolan's work (and I'm including Christopher's screenwriter brother Jonathan here, too) - that's a little bit chilly at times. Like many of his non-Batman films, this is something of a puzzle-box of a movie that plays with time in interesting ways, and he almost approaches managing the emotion a bit like managing the science and effects: There's truly gut-punching tragedy in how the Cooper and Brand families combine and tear apart, and that it never quite overwhelms the thrill of discovery and sense of adventure is kind of amazing, as is a robot making HAL 9000 jokes. And yet, when Anne Hathaway has to talk about the power of love, it sounds terribly forced, as to the final few scenes. They are the only real blips in the movie, but they're jarring enough to keep it from seeming a masterpiece.

So it has to settle for being one of the best of the year, especially if you like hard science fiction. And that's pretty darn great.

Mea Culpa

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 November 2014 at AMC Empire #2 (first-run, DCP)

A couple years ago, French director Fred Cavayé garnered some attention from international action-movie fans with Point Blank, a fast-paced thriller that didn't break any new ground but did everything better than expected, adding up to a great little movie. His follow-up Mea Culpa is along the same lines - basic story, impressive action, a satisfying hour and a half.

Simon (Vincent Lindon) and Frank (Gilles Lellouche) were once partners on the police force, before a drink driving accident landed Simon in jail; now he works as a security guard and lets his ex-wife Alice (Nadine Labaki) and son Théo (Max Baissette de Malglaive) down. Frank, meanwhile, is investigating a series of execution-style underworld killings, the type that make sure to leave no witnesses - at least, not until Théo stumbles upon one.

You can guess where it goes from there without much trouble - the gangsters are going to try and eliminate the lose end, Simon and Frank aren't going to let the niceties of proper police procedure slow them down, and violence will ensue. Cavayé and co-writer Guillaume Lemans spend a bit of time on diversions early on - one of Simon's co-workers cruelly hazing the new hire, just enough background detail to give the audience a sense of the two leads - but they keep it very basic otherwise. It's the sort of movie where only one of a half-dozen adversaries is referred to by name, and I had to find a picture to be sure which one it was.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 21 November - 25 November 2014

Short week, and a short list of movies to go with it.

  • This weekend, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 opens on a metric ton of screens, and not much else does. Fortunately, the series improved markedly in the second outing, and you're generally going to do alright with a cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, and more. It's at the Capitol, Embassy, Apple, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), Assembly Row, Revere (including "XPLUS"), and the SuperLux.
  • Kendall Square and West Newton Cinema open The Homesman, a Western that Tommy Lee Jones adapted, directed, and stars in the story of a wagon train transporting three women driven mad by pioneer life home.

    Kendall Square also gets Point and Shoot, a documentary on Matt VanDyke, a priveliged American who wound up fighting in and shooting film of the Lybian revolution. VanDyke and director Marshall Curry will be on-hand for the 7:10pm show on Friday.
  • Apple Cinemas keeps The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Awake: The Life of Yogananda and Fenway keeps Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2. They also pick up Happy Ending, a Bollywood romantic comedy. Apple's iMovieCafe also has Rowdy Fellow if you speak Telugu and screening of Kasturi Nivasa on Sunday if you speak Kannada.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up the pretty darn good The Theory of Everything. They also have Tommy Wiseau in person for Friday & Saturday night's 11:30pm screenings of The Room, along with his new film/sitcom pilot The Neighbors. Those nights also have midnight screenings of Lucio Fulci's The Beyond. Both features are on 35mm. There's also a Sunday morning Goethe-Institut screening of Germany's Academy Award submission Two Lives. There's also a 25th Anniversary screening of Roger & Me, with a live Q&A with Michael Moore via Skype afterward.
  • The Brattle gives much of their schedule for the next week to a look back at 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year. It starts with Gone with the Wind on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, but it gets better after that, with a double feature of Gunga Din (in 35mm) & The Hunchback of Notre Dameon Saturday, the 35mm pairing of The Women & Ninotchka on Sunday, The Roaring Twenties on Monday (35mm), Dark Victory on Tuesday afternoon (35mm), a double feature of Mr. Smith goes to Washington & Destry Rides Again, and The Wizard of Oz on Tursday (35mm).

    There are also a couple of single shows in the middle of that: The monthly "Elements of Cinema" on Monday is A Report on the Party and the Guests, with an introduction by Dr. Igor Lukes, and the Tuesday IFFBoston Fall Focus film is Low Down. Director Jeff Preiss will be on-hand to discus his movie about a teenage girl's relation to his heroin-addicted musician father.
  • The Harvard Film Archive begins Once Upon a Song... Jacques Demy on Friday with separate screenings of the delightful The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and wife Agnes Varda's Jacquot de Nantes. Saturday has Model Shop and Parking, Donkey Skin plays Sunday afternoon, and Varda's The World of Jacques Demy plays Monday. All but Parking and World are 35mm. They also have another film featuring last week's visitor Angela Lansbury, the 1947 The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (in 35mm).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues to screen National Gallery (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).
  • ArtsEmerson brings the Black Maria Film Festival tour to the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount Theater on Friday.

My plans? Hunger Games, Homesman, and maybe one or two others.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Theory of Everything

There's been a lot of talk online over the past couple of years about how the nerds have "won" - video gaming is mainstream entertainment rather than just a thing loners in dark basements do, baseball teams have major analytics departments, the general public gets genuinely excited for new Iron Man movies or seasons of The Walking Dead, etc., etc. But I think it finally hit me when I sat down for this one and got the first trailer.

I mean, sure, it's one thing when the big escapist movies are based on comic books or science fiction and fantasy. That's just going big. But when the late-in-the-year awards contenders are biographies of people like Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing rather than poets and painters, that's when you know there's been a real sea change.

Another sign: There's a great big Doctor Who joke in the middle of this movie, and the entire theater full of Americans laughed at it. That just blows my mind.

The Theory of Everything

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 November 2014 at AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

Stephen Hawking's life story is extraordinary, but not necessarily cinematic - its milestones are often losing the ability to do things, and his accomplishments can be difficult for laymen to understand. So what do you do? In this case, try and let the audience know a guy whose public face is often inscrutable, as well as hs wife.

The film picks up in 1963, when Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was a Ph.D candidate at Cambridge; not the most hard-working but one of the brightest. Some things are looking up - he's just met Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), an arts major who may fancy him back, and his thesis advisor Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis) has brought him to a talk that inspires him. But a stumble in the middle of campus reveals the really bad news: He suffers from motor neuron disease, which will eventually destroy his voluntary nervous system, and the usual prognosis is two years.

It's somewhat unfair to frame the story entirely in terms of Stephen Hawking, especially since it is Alice's memoir that is being adapted to film. And, certainly, while it is often Stephen's activities and illness that shape the story, it's often seen from Alice's perspective - the difficulty of caring for a man in his condition, the temptations she would face. It can sometimes feel odd when the perspective shifts, but telling the story from her point of view grounds things, and Felicity Jones does a nice job in growing Jane from the naive student to someone who handles big challenges.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2

I've been saying this a lot lately, but it bears repeating: How great is it that one can just go to a regular big-city multiplex, plop down the usual amount of money, and see the new Johnnie To movie with a packed crowd while it's still playing in China? It's fantastic, is what it is. And in a week and a half, we'll get the new Pang Ho-cheung one a day or two before Hong Kong. There's probably a limit to how much American multiplexes can support between rapid arrivals from India, China, and occasionally Korea, but wouldn't it be great to see France or Japan get in on this? Someone should dig into the numbers on Box Office Mojo and later home video sales to make a case to distributors that this sort of global release is a good idea.

This matinee screening wasn't as crowded as the opening night crowds from recent weeks, but it was still a big deal. Not to presume too much, but someone Chinese-looking was shooting video in the lobby and there weren't a whole lot of empty seats around me. Lots of discussion after the movie too, it seemed, and I kind of wish that I understood any Chinese, because even if I wasn't going to interject myself into the conversation, I would have been interested in getting a sense of what people thought of the ending, because...

Well, I'll get into the ending after the EFilmCritic review.

Daan gyun naam yu 2 (Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2014 at Regal Fenway #4 (first-run, DCP)

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 repeats quite a bit from part one, from rescuing a weird pet to flirting through facing windows; one character even wryly asks another if she thinks her life is a "to be continued". You might be tempted to deride that as unoriginal, but the idea of a sequel is often to recapture what people liked before, and that's what director Johnnie To and his cast & crew do here - they give us more Don't Go Breaking My Heart, in a way that doesn't have to undercut the original.

It's been about a year since Chang Zixin (Gao Yuanyuan) chose humble architect Fang QiHong (Daniel Wu Yan-zu) over her playboy former boss Cheung Shen Ran (Louis Koo tin-Lok), and they're due to be married in a couple of months, as soon as QiHong completes the building in Suzhou that he is working on. While at a fitting for her wedding dress with brother Paul (Vic Chou Yu-min), she manages to land a new job with "Goddess of Stocks" Yang Yangyang (Miram Yeung Chin-wah) - who, it turns out, has just started dating Shen Ran as the two rent office space across the street from each other. She also meets Paul, and while Shen Ran's assistant John (Lam Suet) says he was over Zixin within moments, that doesn't really seem to be the case.

Following up a hit romantic comedy is a minefield - most of the time, filmmakers wind up either rolling back a hard-earned happy ending or having the characters do something else. So what To and regular writers Wai Ka-fai, Ryker Chan, and Yu Xi come up with is actually a really clever solution - drop the third vertex of a love triangle back into a similar situation with a couple of new characters and find a way for at least one of the previous movie's happy couple to be a strong supporting character, even if the other is mostly there via Skype. And while this could be just cheap repetition, the Milkyway Image crew are pretty clever - there are jokes built on bringing back stuff from before and an undercurrent where Shen-ran consciously or unconsciously recreating what happened before gives his character some weight.

Full review at EFC.


What the heck, Milkyway Image guys? What made you thought that ending was a good idea?

For those who just have to know, the film ends with Cheung Shen Ran climbing the 78-story building where QiFeng and Zixin are getting married (the one QiFeng built and used as the huge romantic gesture at the end of the first movie), and Zixin apparent being so astonished at this gesture that she leaves her own wedding with him. QiFeng, who if you remember correctly was an alcoholic at the start of the first movie, meekly lets it happen and sits down to take a drink.

Now, I suppose, within the structure of the movie, it's a happy ending of sorts. Yangyang and Paul are together, and Shen Ran, who never got over Zixin and was either trying to recreate that relationship with Yangyang or couldn't help but notice that it was similar enough to the one with the love of his life, QiFeng is kind of the Baxter for this movie - the nice, dependable guy who doesn't excite his fiancé the way Shen Ran might. Even if this weren't a sequel, this sort of thing would sort of have to be earned. Maybe show QiFeng as boring, not wanting Zixin to continue working after they marry or just otherwise thinking less of her than Shen Ran dose. To, Wai, and company don't really do that, though - he's supportive, funny when we see him, and not turning his head at any big-booped girl that passes his way or crossing creepy lines in expressing how fond he is of Zixin the way Shen Ran is. Even if this were a stand-alone movie, the audience will assume that he and Zixin are together for a reason, and needs a reason to break it off beyond "Shen Ran is sexy and really into her".

But this is a Part II, and we're carrying Part I around with us. We know this building, we've seen how QiFeng supported Zixin when Shen ran was being a jerk, and we just like QiFeng in general. One of the things I was really liking about #2 up to this point was that the filmmakers had found a way to do another romantic comedy with (mostly) the same characters without nullifying the previous one or upending the happily ever after, so why do it at the end, when the audience isn't really thinking in that direction at all. Maybe they'd meant to - maybe we were supposed to get a sense that QiFeng was prioritizing this building over the wedding, or that Zixin realized that she had chosen him because she felt he needed her rather than because she needed him, but it's not really in the final product. Maybe it was cut, maybe they just didn't have Daniel Wu for long enough to do more than what they did, but where the first was in large part about a man who makes himself a better person so that he can become worthy of Zixin, the second doesn't really have that sort of thing going on at all. Shen Ran is the guy he started out as, and the ending isn't earned.

One thing that did kind of amuse me: There was a familiar bit of music that I couldn't quite place going throughout the movie (not the Elton John/Kiki Dee duet that you'd think), at least until Zixin is running off in her wedding dress. I think it's meant to be close enough to "Mrs. Robinson" to not get flagged as copyright infringement but still remind you of the piece.

Anyway, I'm not really angry about this, even if it did wind up causing me to dock the movie half a star for those who care about star ratings. It did mean I came out confused rather than happy, and I just wonder what the thinking was. Did the home crowd want the Shen Ran to win Zixin's heart last time out, leading to this reversal? Is there a third part coming? Were the filmmakers trying to go for surprise in a very predictable genre? I've got no idea, and, again, I kind of wish I could have heard what the folks who are much closer to being the target audience than the one white guy in the room thought.


One non-spoilery question: Do folks say "boops" in Hong Kong? I never actually hear that in the dialog, but it's always in the subtitles when I'd expect to see "boobs". It makes me giggle just a bit more than is probably intended.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Canal

Hey, haven't been here in a while:

Regent Marquee

Unfortunately, I didn't get the picture of the marquee earlier in the day, when it said "WED - IRISH HORROR FILM". It made me giggle (and also vaguely curious as to whether it was one I'd seen at Fantasia earlier in the year), but at the same time, I wondered if maybe there wasn't something to doing it that way. Because, to be blunt, The Canal was not on my radar, and I suspect that my radar for this sort of thing is better than that of many. You put that up on the marquee of the Regent, and there is a reasonably good chance that I presume it to be a band. "Irish Horror Film", though? That might get someone in the door.

I didn't have it on the "Next Week" list, even though it apparently played on both the 5th and 12th. The first week, it was apparently very much a last-minute booking, with just enough time for the guys at the Regent to get in contact with the Boston Irish Film Festival and have them send something out to their mailing list (which, I gather, brought a decent crowd for the first screening), and the listing apparently just disappearing at the wrong time for me to see it last week. It wound up being me and half a dozen or so other people, although it was just me until awfully close to showtime.

I did wonder a bit about booking it for a couple of screenings two towns outside Boston, though. One friend suggested that it might have been contractural - it had to get into a certain number of theaters as part of the sale to the distributor, but I'm not sure a tiny label like Orchard is in a position to promise anything, and doing this kind of minuscule release if they'd implied bigger might not be great for the reputation.

My own theory is that, in a weird way, this sort of booking is actually advertising for the video on-demand release. After all, the VOD menu on your cable service or even Amazon (and other services like it) is kind of terrible, a big list of movies that are all close enough in type and quality that they all blur together. So how do you get yours to stand out from the pack? Ads, I suppose, but I half wonder if it isn't cheaper to rent a place like the Regent for a couple nights, let the guys who like going out to the movies enough to comb through those listings find it, pay money, and talk about it later. Heck, I didn't love the thing, and I'm blogging about it, which is more than I've done for the more interesting movies I've found on-demand whilemaking a link to Amazon.

Sure, that's the explanation that boosts my ego a bit, but it's still worth a thought, especially combined with that "WED - IRISH HORROR FILM" marquee. There are a lot of movies available to us these days, and sifting through them is almost impossible. Sometimes a generic description is actually more useful than a title (especially when the canal in question is neat, but not important enough for me to make much mention when reviewing the film), and it's quite possible that word-of-mouth these days may be more important for just presenting a film's existence than its goodness.

The Canal

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 November 2014 at the Regent Theatre (special presentation, digital)

The Canal opens with a bit that's almost too clever for its own good, with film archivist David Williams (Rupert Evans) standing on stage and asking an audience full of unruly children if any want to see some ghosts, finishing the introduction with a sort of "here we go" before the main titles roll. It's an odd thing, because the movie isn't particularly self-referential after that, and while it's nice to see filmmaker Ivan Kavanagh going for honest, relatively undiluted scares, there's a bit of a seems that the movie could use something to grease the rails a bit, and maybe a little more of that could have done it.

Soon after that scene, David is moved into a new house with his beautiful wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) and, eventually, their son Billy (Calum Heath). He seems to enjoy his work, at least until one bit of film from 1902 crosses his desk. It's from the police archive, and shows scenes from the investigation of a grisly murder that happened at his house. That's unsettling under any circumstances, and just not a good thing to have running through one's head when ones five-year-old soon is hearing noises at night and one's wife is probably having an affair with a wealthy client.

Every once in a while I get the itch to try and write a screenplay, but the middle part scares me off. I'm not saying that clever set-ups or thrilling climaxes come easy, but they seem more likely to be the product of inspiration than what connects them, which seems more obviously like hard work for the filmmaker and can, if he or she is not careful, seem that way to the audience. Kavanagh sometimes seems to struggle with this with The Canal; it runs around in circles as David points cameras at prospective ghosts a lot or panics and sends his son and the nanny (Kelly Byrne) back and forth based on where the last thing to freak him out was. As in a lot of horror movies, elements can seem somewhat randomly thrown together rather than supporting a central idea.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Early Fritz Lang (and Thea von Harbou): Four Around a Woman and The Moving Image

I forget whether these two movies were originally announced as part of the "Complete Fritz Lang" series that the Harvard Film Archive did over the summer or if the schedule at the time was "these are hard to get on film, so we'll pick them up when/if we can". In my case, that means I actually got to see them, since the summer series overlapped the annual Fantasia trip and just generally being busy. Amusing, since these are some of the harder movies in Lang's filmography to see.

How hard? There's basically one print apiece, per the introduction, and we're lucky to have those, since these movies were thought lost for decades until being discovered in Brazil thirty years ago. I idly wonder how many lucky finds Lang's available body of work has benefited from, as on top of this I recall at least two for Metropolis alone.

This meant that the prints were in German, and therefore the subtitles had to be projected separately, but the technology for that seems to have improved - other times I've seen it done, the picture would be a little washed out because the projector hooked up to a laptop doesn't project black nearly as well as a film or even DCP rig, but these movies didn't look like someone was shining a light at the screen. Things got a bit out of sync at times - I'm not quite sure why these spadeful out have to be manually advanced, but it seems to be the case - but it was fairly watchable.

Also impressive: I noticed at the start of The Moving Image that accompanist Jeff Rapsis was stalking two keyboards, playing treble notes on the piano with his left hand and bass on the organ with his right. Now, maybe my brother and others who are really good at playing instruments can correct a misconception from someone who couldn't play a tambourine, but that has to mess with your head, right? At the very least, it seems like it would take a level of concentration that you practice all your life to not need.

Jeff didn't make the usual closing comments he makes at the Somerville, but a short of alternate version of them struck me as I walked out: I am really lucky to live in a city where you can generally see silent movies in a theater a couple times a month on average. Not only did it give me a chance to discover that I like them quite a bit after originally going to them because I figured that I should learn about them as a Guy Who Likes Movies (And Has Opinions), but because, even though I like the things, I still have a hard time watching them at home - I feel like I'd just be under-stimulated. Boston can have is shortcomings as a movie town, but I suspect that this is an area where we do pretty well.

Vier um die Frau (Four Around a Woman

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2014 at the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Fritz Lang, 35mm with live accompaniment)

I've commented before that it seems a shame that Fritz Lang wound up doing fairly conventional crime films in Hollywood when he had made such ambitious fantasies in Germany during the silent era, but it's worth remembering that a great deal of his early work planted the seeds for what would later be called film noir. Four Around a Woman, one of his earliest to survive in near-complete form, is a fine example.

The woman is Florence Yquem (Carola Toelle), the beautiful wife of respected financier Harry Yquem (Ludwig Hartau), a jealous man who has a secret life dealing with counterfeiters and stolen jewelry. Jewels are fenced in a run-down bar's back room, and the place's proprietor Upton (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is feeling flush enough to give newly-returned sailor William Krafft (Anton Edthofer) a quick loan, especially since Upton knows Werner's twin bother Werner. The trouble is, if Upton knows Werner, he's probably into something dodgy himself. William also doesn't seem to realize quite how dangerous the city has become, and there's the little matter of why he left five years ago.

In its present form, the plot to Four Around a Woman can seem a bit murky - the film was lost for decades and the print discovered in the 1980s may still have some gaps. Certainly, those hypothetical gaps might serve to explain why characters sometimes act contrary to common sense or seem to have variable knowledge of each other. Given that Lang and co-writer (and future wife) Thea von Harbou tended to weave social commentary into their scripts, the film may also suffer a bit from being removed from its original context of post-World War I Germany.

Full review at EFC.

Das wandernde Bild (The Moving Image

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2014 at the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Fritz Lang, 35mm with live accompaniment)

It is unfair to review this movie on a certain level; it's incomplete, with roughly an hour remaining from a notably longer running time, and barring yet another remarkable discovery (the film was considered entirely lost until a Brazilian print was discovered in the 1980s), this abridged version is how we must know it. It's worth seeing, but you can't help it winds about what it was.

This version starts with Wil Brand (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) speaking to his lawyer; he was named the prime benefactor of cousin Georg Vanderheit's estate and worries about the man's common-law wife Irmgard (Mia May) trying to stake a claim - at least until he sees her on a train, apparently quite distraught and sincere. He follows, but the pursuit she is trying to evade is that of Georg's brother John (Hans Marr). She flees across a lake to a mountainous area, where she meets a mysterious man (Marr) with secrets of his own.

At least, that's one version of the story. With so much gone and the intertitles having been translated from German to Portuguese and back to German then subtitled in English for this screening (and the whole thing quite possibly altered during that first step), it's hard to know exactly what director Fritz Lang and writer Thea von Harbou were going for; I've seen the film's plot described in different ways. What comes through in this pair's first collaboration, I think, is a story of a man with the sort of unwavering principles that lead him to live an isolated ascetic life, a romantic ideal that nevertheless can also be very selfish and no counter against the actively malicious, as the woman who loves him discovers. It's a bit of a mess, but even this early on, Lang is a natural-enough storyteller that the audience can go with it.

Full review at EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 14 November - 20 November 2014

Hey, cool, two movies by directors I like playing in places you might not expect and some other good stuff.

  • Because Isao Takahata isn't quite so well known as his Studio Ghibli partner Hayao Miyazaki, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is only opening at Apple Cinemas rather than one of the bigger boutique houses, and only twice a day, and probably only the English dub. Still, it's a pretty darn great movie, arguably even better than Miyazaki's The Wind Rises.

    Their iMovieCafe program also opens Kil Dil, a Bollywood action-comedy about two killers trained by the same man who meet a nice girl in Northern India. There's also Pilla Nuvvu Leni Jeevitham, a Telugu language movie I couldn't find anything about.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre seems to be the only place with Force Majeure, a pretty darn great Swedish movie about a family on a ski vacation that comes under great stress because of something seemingly small. I believe it's their Oscar submission, and I wouldn't be shocked if it made the cut.

    They've got a guest for the Friday midnight screening of Shock Waves, as director Ken Wiederhorn introduces and faces interrogation for his 1970s horror film about a mad scientist creating zombie stormtroopers for the Nazis (it also plays Saturday night, but that one's just the movie). The guests on Monday evening are the director and others from the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Awake and Sing!, there to introduce a 35mm print of Sweet Smell of Success and how discuss how it relates to their play. There's Open Screen on Tuesday, and an NT Live presentation of Skynight on Thursday.
  • Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 opens at Regal Fenway, and even if you haven't seen the first - Chinese romantic comedies weren't getting that much play three years ago - it's still a new Johnnie To movie, with the sequel throwing two more characters into the love-triangle mix while still maintaining the across-the-street shenanigans of the first.

    Another noteworthy director this week is Jon Stewart; the Daily Show host makes his feature writing/directing debut with Rosewater, the story of Maziar Bahari (Gael Carcia Bernal), a Canadian journalist of Persian descent who was detained when trying to report on the 2009 Iranian elections. It's playing at Kendall Square, the Embassy, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    Once-noteworthy directors Peter & Bobby Farrelly return with Dumb and Dumber To, a twenty-years-later sequel to their first movie reteaming them with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, who once again play morons on a road trip. It's the weekend's biggest opener, playing at the Capitol, Apple Cambridge, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Potentially getting lost in the shuffle is Beyond the Lights, with Gugu Mbatha-Raw as an up-and-coming singer and Nate Parker as a cop assigned to guard her who fall hard for each other. It's at Apple, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Boston Common also has a single Friday night show of The Postal Service: Everything Will Change, which is a concert film rather than something about mail delivery; their $6 Sunday/Wednesday rep film is Edward Scissorhands.
  • The Theory of Everything opens at Kendall Square and Boston Common; it's a love story featuring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Wilde, two opposites who attracted even before he had to face a terrible diagnosis and what everyone thought would be a short life. The other biography the Kendall gets this week, The Better Angels, has a one-week booking; it stars Braydon Denney as eight-year-old Abraham Lincoln in a close look at the early forces which shaped him. Local historians Gavin Kleespies and John Stauffer will be on hand for the 1:30pm show on Sunday.

    In addition to those two (and Rosewater), there are two special musical presentations: R.E.M. by MTV plays Tuesday night, putting together the story of a band by their appearances on various MTV networks over the past three decades. There's also a Wednesday encore of David Bowie is on Wednesday night.
  • The Brattle will be running a Reel Music Film Festival series this week, kicking off with The 78 Project Movie on Friday, with filmmakers and musicians in person, and a live "Presto" recording on-stage. Other films include Urgh! A Music War (Friday & Saturday in 35mm), 20,000 Days on Earth (Saturday & Sunday), This Ain't No Mouse Music (Sunday), Stop Making Sense (Sunday & Monday), Let's Go to the Rat (Sunday with director Andrew Szava-Kovats on hand), Beautiful Noise (Tuesday), and Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets (Tuesday).

    Heck, one of the Saturday screenings for the Boston Jewish Film Festival is also musical (the other isn't). The other gap in the schedule is filled by DocYard presentation The Notorious Mr. Bout, which attending filmmakers Maxim Pozdorovkin and Tony Gerber built in part from the arms smuggler's extensive home movies. There's also a Thursday-night screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, introduced by Harvard Professor of Archaeology Dr. Rowan Flad, who will certainly tell us how its careful attention to proper archaeological practices and historical accuracy makes it one of the best movies of all time.
  • The Boston Jewish Film Festival, as mentioned, picks back up Saturday with Screenings at the Brattle (Saturday), Belmont Studio (Saturday), ICA (Sunday), West Newton (Sunday), AMC Framingham (Monday), AMC Liberty Tree Mall (Monday), and Arlington Captiol (Monday).
  • The Somerville Theatre has two special 35mm presentations on the big screen this weekend. Saturday's is a program of six Three Stooges shorts for $7 at 2pm, and on Sunday they wrap 2014's "Silents, Please!" series with Harry Langdon in Frank Capra's The Strong Man, along with classic Buster Keaton shorts "Cops" and "One Week" and Jeff Rapsis on the organ. Apparently this year's selection of deep cuts has been successful enough that they're going to continue selecting less-famous silents next year. I think I've shown great restraint in not pestering them about the recently-discovered 1916 Sherlock Holmes on a daily basis.
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes Dame Angela Lansbury to Cambridge to intorudce John Frankenheimer's All Fall Down on Friday, and given that she'll be discussing a seventy-year career, that's one not to miss if you're a member (I imagine it will sell out for the rest of us). Much of the rest of the weekend is the second half of their Sergei Lonznitsa retrospective with Into the Fog (Saturday), "Blockade" & "Reflections" (Sunday), and a selection of short films (Monday). Korean artist and Cambridge resident Soon-mi Yoo will present her first feature Songs from the North on Sunday evening, and the VES will have a free screening of Wings on Wednesday with Rapsis accompanying this as well.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues its screenings of Fifi Howls from Happiness (Friday) and National Gallery (Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday). They also have the tail end of the Turkish Festival's Documentary and Short Film Competition on Friday and Saturday.
  • The Polish Film Festival continues at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater continues, with documentary The Possessed Years Later (Andrzej Wajda recalling one of his most famous theatrical productions) playing Friday and Sunday and Wojciech Has's The Hourglass Sanatorium playing Sunday. The Bright Lights screening is Mood Indigo on Thursday.
  • The UMass Boston Film Series has what looks like one of their more intriguing films/guests this week, as director Darius Clark Monroe brings his documentary Evolution of a Criminal to the student center. It tells how a sixteen-year-old kid - Monroe himself - comes to decide that robbing a bank is his best option, and also features him returning to his old neighborhood several years later.
  • The Regent Theatre has a second screening of Inside Metal: The Pioneers of Los Angeles Hard Rock and Metal on Friday, although it's possible something else might slip in through the cracks like The Canal did the past couple weeks.

My plans? Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2, The Theory of Everything, The Strong Man, and a trip to New York because I've got vacation time to use. Princess Kaguya and Force Majeure are highly recommended.