Saturday, May 31, 2014

Checking out the new Assembly Row theater with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Other Woman

Hey, a new theater opened in the Boston area! This is a thing I am in favor of! How is it? I checked out The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and The Other Woman to find out!

The first thing to note is that, for right now, the AMC Assembly Row 12 is kind of off the beaten path - the 90 bus stops at the Assembly Square plaza across the street in both directions, while the 92 is a block or so further away going northward from Sullivan Square (during business hours), neither of them arriving very frequently. An Orange Line station in Assembly Square is scheduled to open in the fall, but in the meantime those of us without cars will be getting there via Sullivan, and it's a bit of a hike, especially in the rain. And while there are a lot of trains and buses that come to Sullivan, but no particular one is very frequent, especially during the evening. The first time I went there, I was able to catch the 90 both ways; the second time, I walked back to Sullivan and waited a long time for the subway at 9:30-ish.

Here's the first view of the theater as you approach:

Old Assembly Square Theater

Oh, my mistake, that's the old Assembly Square theater, also a 12-plex, also owned by AMC when it closed six years ago. I never made my way out there, but it's kind of interesting that the last two theaters to open in this area are essentially replacing ones that shut down in the same area (the Showcase SuperLux opened its six screens a block away from the AMC Chestnut Hill 5-plex that closed about five months before it opened) with higher-end substitutes. The area is still down screens in recent years - the Circle closed in 2008 and Harvard Square closed in 2012.

It's worth noting that the two that haven't been replaced were in locations where you could get off the subway and basically cross the street, with a town square all around; the new ones are part of retail developments with lots of parking. Assembly Row isn't quite the suburbs, but it's still part of a trend away from the neighborhoods and into complexes. Not having seem this place really busy yet, I'm not sure what the atmosphere will be. It is kind of strange to see a whole new theater opening across a parking lot from a shuttered one (and kind of wasteful, really).

Speaking of parking...

The reels are a lie

Half-kidding here... But should a brand new theater that is all DCP from the get-go and thus never has projected 35mm film (and probably never will) be using that as its decoration? Sure, the hard drives that studios ship these days and the "play" triangle aren't exactly evocative the way film reels are, and there are a bunch of symbols hanging around that don't necessarily match what they indicate physically any more, but...

Well, darn it, I'm just kind of weirded out by cinemas that not only don't have film, but never have.

Theater entrance

And there's the front of the place, which actually faces another building, making it kind of tough to get this picture. Near as I could tell, the theater was the only thing open in the Assembly Row development when I went there, although the Lego store would open a few days later. You've got to have a kid to get in, though.

Once inside, it's a pretty good spot. Prices are about the same as AMC's Boston Common plex, if not exactly the same. There's escalators way up to the third floor, and I suspect the lobby could get very crowded on busy nights, with really only room for two or three spaces stations at the box office and as many kiosks. There are a couple more kiosks upstairs, but considering that it might be a somewhat slower process considering that the place has assigned seating.

There's a bar upstairs, but the general impression I got was of the theaters I saw when I visited the UK: Not only the assigned seating, but how the concession area is set up:

Marketplace

The "Marketplace" set-up is kind of like a convenience store for things like candy and bottled drinks and the like, with standard nachos and popcorn in a grab-and-go case up back. The concession stand, then, is reserved for stuff that actually needs people to prepare it - pizzas and mozzerella sticks that need to be warmed up, and a selection of fries and hot dogs with various toppings. There's also an area where you can get ice cream or baked goods. You take all this to checkout counters, which is where you can also purchase cups to use in the Code Freestyle machines.

The new selections weren't bad at all - I had a "peanut butter brownie stack" on my first visit and chili fries on the second. The first was pretty good, although it's served in a plain cardboard box that's likely easier to wrangle through a couple more stations and a closed door than a simple plate could be but actually kind of difficult to work once in the theater. It was quick, though, more so than the fries, which were new enough for the staff to need to consult a manual. Those wound up kind of a squishy mess which I found myself trying to remove bits of pepper from. I'm on record as being a big fan of the soda machines, since it lets me put together a raspberry-lime Coke Zero.

After that's all done, it's into the theater:

Theater #6

That's screen #6, where I saw The Other Woman. Those first three rows show up as two-person couches when you select your seats at the box office, and the cupholders are configured that way. I'm not sure whether you can actually push the divider that is in the middle away and have one person leaning on another or getting his/her legs up if attendance is light enough to not have someone sitting in the next seat. I didn't try any of the seats in the main section, but they looked pretty nice, and the way the room is designed actually makes the seats on the other side of the aisle from the center block look kind of cool - rather than just being the places with terrible sightlines, they're designed to have a "private box" feel.

I actually really like this design a lot - these are actually some of the more comfortable seats I've ever used at a theater, comparable to the LuxLite section at the SuperLux and honestly not that far off from Jordan's (I've actually been thinking that it might be time for the furniture store to upgrade a bit; they've mainly just got buttkicker speakers as an advantage in the comfy seat race). It just seems very well-thought-out compared to a lot of layouts which often seem kind of random.

Oddly, the Imax theater where I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems much more a standard set-up with something more like typical theater seats - no couches, the seats still pretty plush in large part due to newness, generally arranged in the same way as usual. Not bad at all, but it is kind of odd for the amenities of that room to sort of be a step down in some areas from the rest, as you are paying extra, and given that the projection is likely 4K all around, I'm not sure the Imax branding gets you a whole lot more than the other screens in the building.

So, what's the verdict?

If I lived in the eastern part of Somerville or on the northern half of the Orange Line, this would probably become my default theater just by default; thus far, it's looking about as good as digital projection is going to and I'd have to go past it to get to Boston Common. I kind of like the "marketplace" set-up - it reminds me of the theaters I visited in London - especially since it can be incredibly frustrating to be stuck in line behind a half-dozen people who don't know even think about what they want until they are actually standing at the counter, and being able to just grab some Twizzlers quickly would be a real boon when running late for the movie.

One thing I do wonder about is how scalable this is - it's been nearly twenty years since I worked a theater concession stand, and I don't know how well the market area will be restocked during a rush. Also, while I'm starting to come around on reserved seating and like the crazy soda machines, they do force the customer to make more decisions than previously, and I can see them becoming a bit of a bottleneck with limited stations available. I haven't yet been here on a busy night, so I don't know how that works.

One other thing that I noted is that the actual movies playing are pretty standard, to the point where I don't think Fathom events or one-off programs like the classics AMC plays at Boston Common on Sunday & Wednesday have shown up at all yet. To a certain extent, that's expected in the summer, where the studios are pumping out a lot of stuff that will take every screen you'll throw at it, and maybe the programmers are playing it safe until they get an idea of what the neighborhood likes. I also kind of hoped that it might create a bit of a ripple effect - that if some of the blockbuster audience goes here, maybe AMC will program more foreign/indie/low-profile films at Boston Common (ditto Showcase at Revere). It hasn't happened in any noteworthy way yet - Boston Common got Locke and Aberdeen, but that's not a uptick that lasted more than one slow week - but I don't know if we'll see any sign of it until August, when the demand for everything being released becomes less overwhelming.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

* * (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2014 in AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, Imax 3D)

One doesn't usually set out to damn something with faint praise; it's usually inadvertent, the result of trying to be positive about something that doesn't merit it on closer examination or only liking something that you are expected to love. So maybe what I'm trying to do here is damn The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in spite of having some faint praise: It's not good, but it's also not quite the joyless and confused exercise in point-missing that its predecessor was.

After an necessary flashback to his parents Richard and Mary (Campbell Scott & Embeth Davidtz), we see Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) running late for his high-school graduation, although in his defense it's because he's chasing a highjacked truck full of nuclear material as Spider-Man. Along the way, he bumps into Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), an electrical engineer who goes mostly unnoticed at OsCorp, although that may change when an industrial accident winds up giving him electrical powers rather than just killing him outright. Speaking of OsCorp, founder Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) is on his deathbed, bringing son Harry (Dean DeHaan), a friend of Peter's from childhood, back into town. Meanwhile, Peter's girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) is considering heading abroad on a scholarship to Oxford.

Because, apparently, none of the for writers credited on this thing remember that almost all kids, especially those as academically inclined as Peter and Gwen, have actually got their college plans worked out well before their high school graduations. There are a lot of stupid, common sense-defying things in the script because they are narratively convenient at one particular moment, from that to the terrible workplace safety violations at OsCorp to how Peter and Gwen seem to go back and forth on being together entirely based on what the next scene requires, our spending a good chunk of the climactic battle on things completely disconnected from the rest of the movie. It's one thing to believe that the not-exactly-wealthy Richard Parker apparently maintained an elaborately disguised secret laboratory in an abandoned subway station - making a superhero movie larger than life everywhere the filmmakers can get away with it beats the heck out of being too embarrassed to put the Lizard in a lab coat the last time around - but it's tremendously frustrating to see things happening without there being reasons that the audience can buy into.

Full review at EFC

The Other Woman

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 May 2014 in AMC Assembly Row #6 (first-run, DCP)

The Other Woman is an utterly average comedy, but I'll cop to some affection for it just because it seems so refreshingly generous in spirit. In the same way that Frozen surprised me by never losing sight of how it was about sisterhood to fall back on needing rescue by a boyfriend, The Other Woman sets up a situation where its three main characters being rivals would be the most natural thing in the world and then makes even the airhead played by Kate Upton smart and self-assured enough to realize that it would do them no good. It wavers on occasion, but generally briefly and in a fairly honest way, so that by the end it can not only have an epilogue where the women are not territorial and catty, but it's so natural that it's no big thing.

That almost seems to catch the filmmakers by surprise; Cameron Diaz's Carly Whitten has a mini-speech at the end about how all of this has made her a better person, but the thing is, it kind of hasn't, because Carly certainly seems like a decent human being from the word go, with part of the fun being that she can be sexually aggressive without coming off as callous or bitchy. She's got a flatter arc than you might expect, and I wonder if that wasn't the original plan until the studio decided to soften Carly up because audience's often hold bad behavior against women far more than they do men (I doubt it was Diaz, as one of the things I like most about her is how relatively unconcerned she seems to be with her characters being likable). It also means that the filmmakers sometimes seem to have problems going for the kill when the joke demands it; even the gross-out humor winds up being pretty innocuous, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau never gets the room to become a particularly entertaining bastard.

It's got a fair amount of good bits to it, though, even if they don't necessarily build to the huge laugh very often. To a certain extent, it spends a lot of time getting by on being pleasant more than hilarious. It's funny enough, and while I do wonder if the filmmakers could have traded some of the good cheer for sharper jokes, that could have very easily led to something that was no fun at all.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 30 May 2014 - 5 July 2014

Looking like a good week to catch up on what you missed, although there is neat stuff to be found too.

  • Have all the funny parts of A Million Ways to Die in the West been shown in the previews? One hopes not, since the previews of writer/director/star Seth MacFarlane's movie about a how miserable living in the old West could be - although things seem to be looking up when Charlize Theron comes to town. It's all over the place, at the Somerville, Apple, Embassy, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and the SuperLux.

    The other opening is Maleficent, with Angeline Jolie as the Sleeping Beauty villain who apparently isn't really a bad person because people just don't appreciate a good villain. It's in 2D and 3D at the Capitol, Apple, Jordan's Furniture, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and the SuperLux. Jordan's, Boston Common, and Assembly Row have it in Imax 3D, although I'm not sure why you'd displace Godzilla for that.

    The Sunday/Wednesday classic at Boston Common is Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Wow, they made a second sequel to L'Auberge Espangole. Who knew that was so popular in France? This time, the group including Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cecile De France, and Kelly Reilly are in New York despite the title being Chinese Puzzle, and it's at Kendall Square.

    They also have The Dance of Reality, the first new film by Alejandro Jodorowsky in 23 years, an autobiographical piece that he and producer Michel Seydoux cooked up when they were reunited during the filming of Jodorowsky's Dune. Because Jodorowsky is making it, expect trippiness and for certain things not to be taken completely literally. Landmark misses an opportunity to do some clever double-feature material by having the director's cut of Alien as their Friday & Saturday midnight movie during Dance's one-week booking.
  • The Coolidge, on the other hand, does not; even if they don't have Dance, they have Jodorowsky's El Topo on their big screen at midnight in 35mm on Friday & Saturday. It's technically a Western but insane in every detail, the film that originally defined the term "midnight movie". They'll have The Holy Mountain next week.
  • Somerville Subterranean Cinema & All Things Horror are presenting Desolate in the Somerville's micro-cinema on Friday and Saturday, and it looks interesting; director Rob Grant shot it during free weekends around production of Mon Ami, and it looks to be another post-apocalyptic drama akin to his Yesterday, which I liked a lot. (Oops, that's next week!)
  • The Brattle is doing the annual Reunion Weekend program of things that were released multiples of twenty-five years ago for all the alumni descending upon Harvard Square. Friday night is single features of Dr. Strangelove and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (35mm); Saturday starts with a matinee of Babes in Arms (35mm) and has a double feature of Goldfinger and the Tim Burton Batman (35mm) later on. Babes has another matinee Sunday, the the double feature being The Rules of the Game (35mm) and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Monday's two-shot is Do the Right Thing and Sex, Lies & Videotape.

    It would be clever if Trash Night played into that Tuesday, but they will be mocking Cyber Tracker 2. Wednesday and Thursday, meanwhile, have the two parts of Lars Trier's Nymphomaniac, scheduled so that you can see a double feature either day or Part I at 7pm Wednesday and Part II at 7:30pm Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive finishes their Frank Capra retrospective this weekend, with Broadway Bill and Riding High playing on Friday - with the latter a remake of the former and actually using a great deal of the original's footage - and Lost Horizon concluding the series on Monday. More of the Kenji Mizoguchi series plays in between, with The Life of Oharu and Miyamoto Musashi on Saturday and Women of the Night and Straits of Love and Hate on Sunday. All are in 35mm and single admissions.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts goes from one extreme to the other this week, with Technicolor Musicals wrapping up over the weekend with The Music Man (Friday), Mary Poppins (Friday), A Star Is Born (Saturday), The Wizard of Oz (Saturday), Singin' in the Rain (Sunday), and An American in Paris (Sunday). Then, a few days later, they start a series on The Limitless Possibilities of Black and White made up of monochromatic films shot after 1966. The first two are Lenny and Raging Bull, each playing single shows on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The play that was at The Regent Theatre for the last few weeks has wrapped its run, leaving them a bit more time for film. On Friday, filmmaker Alice Rothhild will be on hand for a screening of her documentary on Israel & Palestine, Voices Across the Divide, presented by the Arlington International Film Festival; another film with similar subject matter, A Bottle in the Gaza Sea, plays Thursday night, presented by Belmont World Film and Friends of the House of Hope Shelter. Between those two, there's a fundraising screening of The Anonymous People and related workshop to benefit the Massachusetts Substance Abuse Helpline on Sunday afternoon.

My plans? Flexible. I'll probably see A Million Ways to Die in the West, because I'm a sucker, along with Desolate and The Dream of Reality. Don't know if that will motivate me to see El Topo or not. I've been enjoying the Mizoguchi series and the Brattle's reunion screenings are a mix of things I haven't seen and things I'd like to see again, but I've actually got discs I really want to get through, so I might actually make use of the living room.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 14 April 2014 - 20 April 2014

Yep, post-festival hangover was done and pre-festival cramming was in effect. Add some wacky-shaped tickets, and it was tough to fit everything in.

This Week in Tickets

Heck, I kind of feel like I'm missing something here, even though there aren't a whole lot of holes in the schedule. Things started out amiably enough with Draft Day, an enjoyable enough Kevin Costner movie that isn't quite up to his other sports-oriented movies, but it is merely about football rather than baseball or golf. I didn't see anything on Tuesday, but did go to the Brattle on Wednesday for Northern Borders, the latest by Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven, who was on hand to talk about the film. Thursday night was another trip to the Somerville for a 35mm film that was part of their centennial celebration, this time Raiders of the Lost Ark.

From there, the weekend got busy, because it was apparently a holiday. That means I got let out of work early enough to catch a late-afternoon/early-evening show of That Demon Within, which was pretty darn great - I'm kind of excited that another recent film directed by Dante Lam is playing at the MFA in a couple of weeks. I must have gone home to watch baseball, because that was a long break between Demon and The Devil's Express, which played the Coolidge at midnight, which is apparently past my bedtime.

Huh. Just looking at that there, I now wonder if this is why I typed "That Devil Within" about ninety times in writing the review.

Saturday afternoon was time for my second Red Sox game of the year, which was pretty good as well - the seemingly-rare efficient quality start by Felix Doubront, a home run from Big Papi, and Koji Uehara locking down the save. Afterward, I noted that the Sox were 2-0 when I was there, and maybe the team should comp me tickets for the rest of the home games. I also went to see Transcendence, which was what might generously be called a mistake. I hate it more every time I think about it.

Then on Sunday, it was a double feature of Dom Hemingway and Finding Vivian Maier, since I knew the next week and a half was going to be busy for the next week and a half. Both were pretty darn interesting, and well worth checking out if you can find them.

Next up: IFFBoston, which makes this look like nothing.

Draft Day

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2014 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

I'm not sure exactly why Kevin Costner even has to have a comeback right now - it's not like he had a bomb that made him radioactive - but I'm enjoying it. It's funny; Costner was never a particular favorite of mine when he was popular, but now he's carving out a fun niche as a weathered, non-crap-taking alternative to the regular leading man. Draft Day is probably the least grumpy he's been in the four or so movies he's had come out in the last year, but it's still part of his charm.

The movie needs that charm, because it's about football, and more specifically, the NFL draft. The former isn't my game, and let's face it, sports drafts are kind of awful - I can't imagine entering the job market after school and being told that I had been drafted by Diebold and I could either go to Ohio and work on programming voting machines for less than my skills are worth on the open market or not work in my chosen field at all. And to be honest, making a game of it in this way doesn't exactly heighten the drama for much of the movie, where Costner's Sonny Weaver Jr. (General Manager of the Cleveland Browns) sort of plods through preparing for the draft, clashing with his coach (Dennis Leary), not generating nearly enough drama from finding out that his semi-clandestine relationship with the team's salary cap manager (Jennifer Garner) has her pregnant, and not doing a whole lot of anything with a subplot about how he fired his late father (the head coach). There are subplots about investigating the make-up of the main draft targets and the players they might replace that never feel like they will go anywhere but where you expect.

And they really don't, but give director Ivan Reitman and his cast credit: The movie kicks into high gear once the draft actually starts, and even though I've got severe doubts that events would actually play out the way they do in the script by Scott Rothman & Rajiv Joseph, the crazy gambles, reversals, and phone calls between GMs that at times take on an air of personal taunting do make for exciting drama. Somehow, all the stuff that maybe had the audience fidgeting earlier does in fact manage to let them develop a rooting interest in these characters, so that when things do start working out just the way one would hope, it's something the audience can feel pretty good about rather than nothing how expected it is cynically.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 17 April 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Centennial Celebration, 35mm)

It's finally happened: I've reached the point where I'm not sure I can write about how much I love Raiders of the Lost Ark without feeling like I'm repeating myself. Maybe if I'd been all caught up last month, there would have been room to talk about my specific reaction that night or the characteristics of the print (if I recall correctly, a bit older, coming from before the recent digital cleanup for Imax and Blu-ray and this looking a bit worn), but I'm actually not even totally sure that this was the screening where the kid behind me was absolutely sure that we weren't going to see a movie, but a play, because she had just been on the stage in theater #1 for "Annie" a couple weeks earlier. Admittedly, a live Raiders would have been kind of cool.

So, I'll just leave this link to how Raiders of the Lost Ark tops my "drop-everything" list and move on.

The Devil's Express (aka Gang Wars)

N/A (out of four)
Seen 18 April 2014 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (@fter Midnite Cult Cuts, 35mm)

As I mentioned above, perhaps the best definition of middle age is still wanting to see the nutty midnight movies but wishing that they were running at 8:30 or so instead. It's double-special stupid to try and make it through when the when the midnight movie in question is playing Friday night and you were at work all day. As you might guess, I was in and put off this movie and can't really give it a fair shake.

I'd like to do so at some later date, though, because entertaining for what it is. Like a lot of the best blaxploitation, it's flat-out nuts, with a plot that involves an ancient Chinese demon being brought to New York City, taking up residence in the subways, and committing bloody murders that the cops need the help of Harlem martial-arts master Luke (played by the awesomely-named War Hawk Tanzania) to solve before hostilities between black and Chinese gangs gets out of hand. The acting is weak - although the fights are sometimes far more capable than you might expect from this sort of C-movie - and it would probably look cheap even if the print wasn't beat up. That roughness, though, winds up being part of its charm: This never feels like a movie made as a stepping stone to greater things, or one that was put together because it wasn't hard to make a profit if you spent little enough. No, this feels like people pouring what they love into a movie and hoping other people love it too.

Someday I've got to track down and read/watch a good rundown of why 1970s African-American action cinema seemed to grab on to Hong Kong action in a way that the mainstream didn't. The Devil's Express is one of the most direct examples, but there are plenty of others, and it's part of why people tend to love blaxploitation even when it's not for them or very good: It's making movies with more color and energy than you're going to get from two guys in suits trading punches or gunshots.

Transcendence

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2014 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

The odds that Transcendence was going to suck were pretty high once Johnny Depp's name was attached; for a guy who was once an exciting and daring young actor, he's certainly attached himself to a lot of material that is surprisingly boring for how hard it tries to disguise itself as quirky over the last decade or so. The real bummer, though, is seeing how sadly the previews' promise of lousy science fiction is fulfilled.

And when I say "lousy science fiction", I don't just have complaints about technical details or the filmmakers' familiarity with genre tradition. I mean that this is a movie with a profound lack of curiosity that casts its lot in with Luddite terrorists from its initial ill-advised flash-forward on, to the point where the only characters with any interest in the wonders and innovations the writers conjure are people too emotionally devastated to think straight. Part of that is just being dishonest - screenwriter Jack Paglen engages in the hack tradition of skipping the difficult parts of scientific and technological progress to make things more horribly disruptive - but the larger part is just not being creative. There's nothing wrong with science fiction being a cautionary tale - lots of great sci-fi stories have been built from that - but in a world where everyone and their grandmothers are using the internet, doing stories about eeeeevil computers seems passé.

Playing a ghost in the machine also gives Johnny Depp to turn in what may be his least engaged performance ever, and a number of other folks in the cast like Morgan Freeman are just showing up to pick up a paycheck as well. Thankfully, Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany (arguably the film's real stars) are not among them, making the movie a little more pleasant to watch than it might be. What's most obviously disappointing is that director Wally Pfister, who made his mark as a pretty decent cinematographer, as made a movie that isn't much fun to look at. I'd at least hoped for that, even if the imminent start of IFFBoston meant that it wasn't being booked at the Somerville in a 35mm print.

Draft DayThat Demon WithinThe Devil's ExpressNorthern BordersRed Sox 4, Orioles 2Raiders of the Lost ArkDom HemingwayFinding Vivian MaierTranscendence

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 7 April 2014 - 13 April 2014

Ah, the first full week of April, when we were still so excited for the upcoming baseball season:

This Week in Tickets

That's the fourth game of the Red Sox' first homestand, and the first one they won at Fenway. The real trouble wouldn't start for a while.

I planned on hitting The Missing Picture on Tuesday, but as I say in the review, I wasn't in the mood. Of course, given the material (life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge), there's a real chance that one will never be in the mood for it, so I gave it a shot the next night and really liked it; its tough material, but presented in an unusual, memorable way.

Friday night I went for a double feature at the Somerville. First up was a new release, Oculus, which had me excited both for its pedigree (I'd liked the director's previous film) and cast (Karen Gillan! Katee Sackhoff!). Chris Hallock was presenting a Subterranean Cinema show there and we spent a good few minutes on how this thing wound up being pretty great. I stuck around afterward for Klute, which I really need to see at a better hour sometime - I've liked it both times I've seen it, but I tend to be fuzzy enough that I don't retain all the details.

Saturday was mostly a day for writing BUFF reviews and working on the pile of books and comics by the bed, so I didn't get out until late, when I decided to hit Lebensraum (Habitat) at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theatre. I've been there fairly often for movies in the Bright Screening Room upstairs, but this is the first time I've been in the main room - once a cinema, now once again dedicated to stage shows. Of course, the thing I was there to see was movie-inspired, because I'm me; it was a silent-film homage with Reinier Schimmel and Yannick Greweldinger as roomates who are both Buster Keaton and Silke Hundertmark as a mechanical woman they have invented to help around the house. It's kind of fun, especially at the start, but while Jakop Ahlbom’s show captures the physical comedy of the silents (and the frequently-used device of the house with all sorts of contraptions), it loses the rhythm at times. The best silent comedies have an inevitability to how A follows B and so on, but Albohm really seems to be stringing jokes together for no other purpose, and that - along with the odd choice of making Alamo Race Track (the band doing a soundtrack) part of the show - makes it kind of weird and exhausting.

Afterward, I headed a block down the street to Boston Common for Joe, David Gordon Green's best movie in a long, long time, with a great performance by Nicholas Cage. I was kind of surprised it opened there, as it had one of the simultaneous VOD releases which is usually anathema to the multiplexes opening it up. Glad it wasn't in this case.

Sunday was a two-location double featue without a lot of wiggle room in between - Jodorowsky's Dune at Kendall and then The Raid 2 at Boston Common. Actually paid money for the latter, because the MoviePass 24-hour rule is stupid, but unless you plan things carefully around the places that don't take MP, it's going to happen on the occasional weekend.

Klute

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 April 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Centennial Celebration, 35mm)

Donald Sutherland may play the title character in Klute, but it's Jane Fonda as Bree Daniels (a woman trying to be a model who keeps falling back on call-girl work) who seemed to get most of the praise from the audience after this screening. That's certainly fair enough, as she is terrific, but it does sell Sutherland a little short. Fonda impressed in large part because the script gives her plenty of chances to show Bree opening up, whether to her psychiatrist or to John Klute, and one or two to break down, while Sutherland's Klute often seems to mostly be possessed of a robotic doggedness, with contrasting emotional notes carefully parceled out as needed.

It's an intriguing blend of styles that I suspect wouldn't necessarily play out the same way today. On the one hand, I'm not sure how many directors there are like Alan J. Pakula who would get those different styles to harmonize rather than forcing a sharper contrast. Klute is much lower-key than a lot of crime movies with similar plots, perhaps because it was made during that 1970s period that so many idolize, and was able to be less glib than the films noir that preceded it but less lurid than those that followed.

Then again, it's not really a crime movie, is it? Sure, it works as a detective story, much better than many dramatic pictures in genre clothing, but at its heart, what Pakula and writers Andy & David E. Lewis have created is a romance. Strip it down, and it's two people who encounter each other pursuing specific goals but who, as a result of this meeting and what they find, end up moving in the opposite direction with each other. Sure, every other crime story that's not part of a series (and many that are) do that - the screenplay-writing manuals practically insist upon it - but Klute defines the target that they are all trying to hit: Understated enough that it's clear that the movie is taking the murder seriously but not to the point of it becoming obligatory. I probably need another watch in a more alert state to really say this with certainty (it always plays as the back end of a double feature around here), but that's how it comes across in retrospect.

Jodorowsky's Dune

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

I kind of suspect that director Frank Pavich is overstating just how smoothly the pre-production of Alejandro Jodorowsky's version of Dune went. The documentary certainly makes it look like everybody was chummy throughout , and I can't imagine that there was nobody involved in the production who was like, hey, Alex, you're being insane! Stop it!

Aside from that, though, this movie is a whole ton of fun. Much of that comes from Jodorowsky himself; even in his mid-eighties he is energetic, rebellious guy with an apparent complete lack of regrets to go with his fondness for envelope-pushing. He's fully committed to his hippie spirituality but smart enough to not look like a goof for it. And while he's open about not having known much about Dune going in, his enthusiasm for what he aimed to create is just as infectious now as it appears to have been then. He and his collaborators - notably producer Michel Seydoux, artists Chris Foss and H.R. Giger - have great stories that may sound unlikely but are delivered in a way to make them at least sound possible. What we see - whether from the concept art by Foss, Giger, and others or the complete set of storyboards by Jean "Moebius" Giraud - is fantastic. I want to see that entire book of storyboards Jodorowsky has, and I'm downright shocked that something hasn't been done to get it on store shelves.

Jodorowsky talks about how he hopes somebody makes the movie someday, pointing out that it could be done with animation. I'd pay to see that, but I kind of think that the money could be better used in adapting the material that parts of Dune eventually transmuted into - The Incal, The Metabarons, and all the other great bandes dessinées that Jodorowsky wrote (I wish like heck that I could afford Final Incal this week). It also reminds me that I should actually try and read Dune (and its sequels) again as adult.

The Raid 2: Berandal

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2014 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

I will a bit like I'm swimming against the tide where Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais are concerned. Not that I dislike their work, but where the popular consensus seems to be that each movie they've done is better than their last, I really liked Merantau, had no reservations recommending The Raid, and think this latest Indonesian action movie has some pretty astounding action sequences but enough boat and iffy plotting to drag it down.

I think the movie's biggest problem is that it's a sequel to The Raid. Not so much because that set expectations but because it saddled Uwais's Rama with a bunch of backstory that always seems to be at odds with him going deep undercover for years and winds up generally pushed to the side. Cut that and the pretense of finding corrupt cops rather than just trying to take an organized crime family down from the inside, and you could probably get the movie down to something closer to two hours without having to sacrifice any of the amazing action.

And make no mistake, the action delivers like crazy, to the point where there's an argument to be made that the amount and blood level is so high as to be numbing. I don't think that's true beyond how some scenes come while the story isn't really going anywhere and reflect that they're part of a repetitive cycle. The ones that have an impact, from the two big fights in the prison to the final gauntlet that seems like it runs 30 to 45 minutes, are exhilarating even though they just pummel the viewer non-stop and, being "boss battles", have even bloodier coups de grace than what came before. And, honestly, that final act is well worth the ticket price for fans of great action - it contains both a car chase that goes for the full Spielberg* followed by two amazing melees... And some other stuff. It's a crazy action movie, and while it could use a trim, it delivers the goods.

Red Sox 5, Rangers 1The Missing PictureOculusKluteLebensraumJodorowsky's DuneJoeThe Raid 2

Monday, May 26, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 31 March 2014 - 6 April 2014

After a binge like BUFF, it makes a bit of sense to take it easy the next week or so.

This Week in Tickets

Of course, there's still stuff that you've got to see now because it won't exactly hang around. Le Week-End didn't necessarily fit into that category - IIRC, it had a pretty good run - but I think Ernest & Celestine was just at Kendall for the one week, and if you wanted to see it with the original French soundtrack, that meant a 9:40 show. It made for a fairly natural double feature to pair the movie set in Paris with the French feature, so I did just that.

On Friday, I opted to forgo opening night of Captain America for Jinn on the basis of "indie genre film deserves to be supported with money", but that proved not always to be the case; it turned out to be a real mess, probably just in theaters because the filmmakers paid to four-wall it. Some neat ideas, but a real mess.

Saturday, though, was a good day to head to the SuperLux for Captain America: The Winter Soldier (not a bad deal for 3D movies), and it was certainly worth the trip, what with being a downright terrific superhero thriller. It was no trouble to make it back for A Thousand Clowns at the Somerville as part of their 100th anniversary celebration. It's a relatively obscure movie, but one projectionist Dave Kornfeld pushed for and a really neat discovery. One of the most enjoyable things about this series has been seeing Dave introduce these movies; it's very easy to think of him as the guy who grumbles about technical stuff or runs movies he dislikes down (which is a common trap for a lot of us; it's often easier to speak passionately in the negative), so watching him just be a fan is fun.

Either the lingering effects of the festival or work caught up to me after that, and I wound up turning in early and then not doing much on Sunday until late, when I had good fun at the latest leg of Arnold Schwarzeneggar's post-Governator career, Sabotage. Not quite his greatest work, but a pretty darn good piece of action filmmaking.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 April 2014 in Showcase SuperLux #4 (first-run, 4K RealD)

It's not necessarily a 100% guarantee, since a fair number of superhero movie have loaded themselves up with a nice cast and then been quite poor, but I found myself feeling pretty confident about the second Captain America movie when Robert Redford signed on for a supporting role. Lots of older actors will take any part they can get, and many respectable ones will sign onto a picture because they'd like to do something their kids or grandkids would be into, but I doubt Redford does a Marvel movie unless he digs the script.

If that's the case, he's right to; The Winter Soldier is as clever and topical as it's source material (and probably more obviously so for not being stretched out over months), and its directors handle a couple of things that could otherwise sink the thing very well: It pivots from a very contemporary conspiracy thriller to comic book sci-fi with incredible grace and picks up threads from other Marvel movies (along with the wider interconnected universe) without being overwhelmed or shoved aside by them in the way that Iron Man 2 and the first Thor tended to be. It probably doesn't hurt that they've got what seems like a much more significant budget than those movies, and they put it to goods use with some great, great action scenes.

So it's another success from Marvel Studios which has me excited generally and specifically for next year's second Avengers movie. That's a crazy roll they're on.

A Thousand Clowns

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 5 April 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Centennial Celebration, 35mm)

Here's a funny story: I looked at the IMDB entry for this movie, saw the description of the film along with a picture of Barry Gordon as an adult next to a whole bunch of names, and figured he would be playing a whole bunch of relatives that the kid whom children's services is threatening to take away from Jason Robards' character Murray, Alec Guinness/Peter Sellers style. In actual fact, he's playing the kid himself; he was dropped off with Murray without a name and has yet to settle on one.

That actually makes for a much more interesting movie than the conventionally unconventional one in my head; it's a decision that reflects an eccentricity that teeters on the edge of genuine instability for Murray, and the conflict between the audience enjoying the funny things he does and still worry that he's not good for his nephew or Sandra (Barbara Harris), the child psychologist who quickly falls for him. It's an impressively nervy balancing act by Robards, director Fred Coe, and writer Herb Gardner (adapting his own play), especially as the circumstances that led up to the status quo are revealed through funny but natural dialogue.

It's a good-looking film, with beautiful black-and-white photography and set design that really brings the feel of a stage play to the screen - there's room for the characters to talk and advance the story that way without a whole lot of distractions, but things never seem particularly limited or bound. Murray's apartment looks like a set, but a good-looking one that says a ton about its inhabitants. The whole film works like that - eccentric but presented elegantly, and well-worth discovering for what it is.

Sabotage

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 April 2014 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

In a way, Sabotage is almost impressive for how it seems to run counter to the conventional wisdom for action movies: It's got a story that potentially could get folks bogged down without being engrossing enough to sell the movie on its own and the type of unapologetic violence that absolutely destroys any chance at a PG-13. Having those things doesn't inherently make it a better movie than a simpler movie built to make it easier to sell, but it's fun to see them show up regardless.

I'm not necessarily sure writer/director David Ayer could make a movie any other way; his movies have all been testosterone-fueled and this is no exception, with even the two most prominent women in the movie, Mirelle Enos's addict member of the DEA strike team at the center and Olivia Williams's detective investigating the ones who are being knocked off, copping a lot of the same macho attitudes. It makes for a movie that is a bit of a genre melange, with the structure of a slasher movie and kills that come out of a bloody serial killer drama that push the movie to big action sequences. Ayer and company wreck stuff, and no matter on what scale they're doing it or how, there's nobody on-screen that is particularly bothered by it.

That does sort of get a bit limiting with the cast, there are a bunch of tattooed macho white guys that are fairly interchangeable (I can't even pretend to distinguish between Sam Worthington, Max Martini, Kevin Vance, and Josh Holloway) which makes it kind of odd how little one of the more recognizable pieces of the cast (Terrence Howard) is used initially. It is at least another memorable post-political performance by Schwarzeneggar - he's not owning his age quite so well as Clint Eastwood did, but old Arnold is a lot more fun than I suspect anyone expected, and the way he bounces off Olivia Williams is a ton of fun.

I do kind of think the movie goes on a few scenes too long - there's an epilogue that is a little gung-ho even after the movie has sunken into the murk. On the other hand, that's the sort of movie Ayer makes, and he's at least being true to that.

Le Week-EndErnest & CelestineJinnCaptain America: The Winter SoldierA Thousand ClownsSabotage

This That Week In Tickets: 24 March 2014 - 30 March 2014

I don't think I'll wait to get one big post done like I have often done when festivals cause me to fall behind, but instead just post them as they get finished. Otherwise, there's a very good chance that I wouldn't just stretch from BUFF to IFFBoston, but all the way to NYAFF or Fantasia. It has been a busy period of moviegoing!

This Week in Tickets

The Boston Underground Film Festival dominated the week - that's what all those (mostly) blue Brattle tickets are for and there's probably a better joke to be made about me being a Blue Ruin by the end of the festival but it's just not coming to me a month and a half later. Besides, the "fun" story involves a different sort of underground.

I hadn't been planning to see a movie on Monday evening, but when I got home, the city of Cambridge was cleaning the sewers on Western Avenue with something called "Insitufoam", which as near as I can tell involves pouring enough industrial-strength Drano Foaming Cleaner down the street's manholes for an entire street. There had been a note posted on my door, so the tubes going down into every access point and gushing white vapor into the air weren't a total surprise, but the powerful smell inside my house was. Apparently, there are no traps on it, which means that this gas was coming straight up through my plumbing with no better option for relief than opening windows on an unseasonably cold night. The funny thing was, it wasn't a particularly bad smell, kind of sweet and clean, but I figured that will still kill me just as dead as it asphyxiated me. The logical thing, then, was to turn right around and head back down the Red Line to see Muppets Most Wanted - which turned out to be a fine idea on its own merits, even if there was some buzz about it not being up to The Muppets. There was still some work going on when I got back, so I went straight to the bedroom, closed the door, opened the windows, and hoped for the best.

Clearly, I did not die! The next day, having no food in the house and wanting an excuse to see my brother Matt and his wife Morgan one more time before they moved to Chicago, I asked if they still wanted to check out the SuperLux before they left. Considering they'd had some rough luck with their car that day - as in, it died too completely for repair to be worth it - so they could use an evening of watching a dumb movie and having the ushers bring steak. It was a negotiation - I proposed Need for Speed, they mentioned Divergent, I said I could watch Non-Stop again.

After that, the rest of the week was BUFF time:

26 March 2014: All Cheerleaders Die, School of the Holy Beast
27 March 2014: "Animation for Adults", My Name Is Jonah, Why Don't You Go Play in Hell?
28 March 2014: Kept, "Homegrown Horror", Doomsdays, The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears
29 March 2014: Crimes Against Humanity, American Jesus, Starry Eyes, EDSA XXX
30 March 2014: Ten, "Emotional Incontinence", Love Eternal, The Congress,Blue Ruin

... and that was the end of a vey busy week!

Muppets Most Wanted

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 Match 2014 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

There's something kind of weird about the Muppets note existing in a world that has continuity. Not bad, just different from the way things were for thirty years where Jim Henson and company would just drop familiar characters in any situation and let it work. That's not so much the case now, but it means that you get this movie's pretty great opening number about making a sequel and a moment in the middle where Rizzo the Rat points out that something is completely counter to what the last movie spent a lot of time accomplishing. That's good, cutting commentary on the bad habits of serial storytelling in a movie aimed at eight-year-olds, and it's good to see that the folks making Muppet stuff haven't lost their whimsical, genial edge.

In fact, they've managed to make a fun movie that finds space and jokes for a lot of characters, even if they do sometimes have to look dumb rather than goofy to buy into what Constantine, The World's Most Dangerous Frog (and a dead ringer for Kermit) and Dominic Bad guy (Ricky Gervais) are cooking up. They're fun new characters, though; Constantine's body language and accent (courtesy of Matt Vogel; Steve Whitmire performs Kermit) are completely different from Kermit's in a way that's almost always hilarious, while Gervais's assured but obvious insincerity plays well off everyone. The other human characters are pretty weak - Tina Ferry and Ty Burrell should be a lot funnier - but the Muppets are on their game.

It's a solid Muppet movie, which may not sound like a lot considering that the granduncles has presented brilliance on several occasions, and that its natural home really does seem to be the TV variety show where the people involved can do whatever meets they anarchic fancy. But movies that are legitimately fun for all ages are always in short supply and even when they're of their game, these guys are never unwelcome.

Non-Stop

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 March 2014 in Showcase SuperLux #2 (first-run, 4K DCP)

If I do some sort of year-in-review in January 2015, I'm sure that Non-Stop being a movie that I saw twice in theaters, including once in the premium seats of the area's most expensive cinema, will look really weird even knowing the context.

I wouldn't necessarily say it was better the second time around, per se, but it's certainly a pleasantly inoffensive choice if the main goal is to hang out with one's departing brother and sister-in-law for a while and help them cross a place they wanted to check out before leaving the area. Truth be told, it's probably a decent accomplishment that the locked-room mystery that could easily be second to the action didn't fall apart on a second viewing. That's a thing that audiences and filmmakers might not really care about, but it is appreciated.

Review from the fist time around

Muppets Most WantedNon-StopAll Cheerleaders DieSchool of the Holy BeastAnimation for AdultsMy Name is JonahWhy Don't You Go Play in Hell?KeptHomegrown HorrorDoomsdaysThe Strange Color of Your Body's TearsCrimes Against HumanityAmerican JesusStarry EyesEDSA XXXTenEmotional IncontinenceLove EternalThe CongressBlue Ruin

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Kochadaiiyaan

I'd figured on seeing this Monday, but I missed my bus to Maine Saturday morning - it was roughly 70% my fault, 30% crap luck - so I figured I might as well catch it that afternoon at matinee pricing. Apparently, though, there is no matinee pricing for Indian movies at Regal Fenway, something I had apparently failed to notice because I had been able to use MoviePass for 2D evening shows. In fact, the pricing on this was just ridiculous - $19.00 for something that was in 3D but not on the premium screen. For reference, I would pay $16.50 to see X-Men at Boston Common (generally a few bits more expensive than Fenway) at evening pricing, and that was easily a better movie.

Fortunately, I'm willing to pay a few bucks for a movie experience that I haven't had before, and a performance-captured musical action/adventure from India certainly qualifies in that regard. I may have thought differently if I had seen any visuals from the film beforehand, because as I write in the review, it really looked shockingly bad, worth breaking out the overused "looks like a video game cut scene" line, maybe even going to machinima. I grant that an Indian movie, even with its biggest star and good prospects for traveling, is just not going to have the budget that one of Robert Zemeckis's outings had, but I had still looked at all the Indian divisions of special effects houses credited in many Western movies and expected a bit more.

Still, there's no denying that this was a big deal. Rather than trailers, there was a sort of hype reel before the movie, although it was unsubtitled and presumably in Tamil, meaning I could only catch certain words like "3D", "motion capture", and the like. It was framed as partially a look back at a hundred years of Indian cinema, which has me very curious what Indian silents were like, given that the current version is so heavily music-oriented, although the emphasis on dance, motion, and visuals might have made for great silents. The parts which focused on Kochadaiiyaan specifically were still kind of interesting just to watch from a filmmaking standpoint - the London facility where they did the performance capture was very much bare concrete, not a sleek and high-tech room at all, made all the weirder by the tiny cameras with little lights positioned eight inches in front of the faces of actors, making those faces shine a bit compared to the darkened room. The mocap suits didn't seem to have quite so many "dots" as the ones I've seen in the making-of featurettes for Amerian productions, and I wonder if that made things look stiffer or more unnatural, especially during dance scenes. Considering that this is a new way of making movies, though, I have to admit that it's not entirely hyperbole when one of the producers said, in English, that the history of Indian cinema would likely be divided into "before Kochadaiiyaan and after Kochadaiiyaan".

One of the other English words that came through during this featurette was "superstar", likely referring to Rajnikanth in most cases. When I saw Endhiran, I noted that the audience seemed to go absolutely bonkers for him - there were moments of applause that made me wonder if there was some sort of drinking game going on that westerners in the audience were just not in on - and I was kind of at a loss about it, only to have it pointed out that this guy is incredibly popular and well-loved off the screen, to the point where he could go into politics if he wanted to, because he had the very highest character. Humility was occasionally mentioned, which just doesn't square with the ostentatious "SuperStar Rajni" logo at the beginning of his movies that upstages those of the studio and production company (even more so in 3D!). There's actually a weird reflection of that in the film, as both his characters Rana and Kochadaiiyaan are praised as leaders but with the point made perhaps a little too forcefully that they don't do this for their own glory. There's nothing wrong with talented people having an ego to them - in some ways, it's probably a necessity to be successful in a very competitive industry - but denying that ego seems unseemly.

Maybe there's a subtlety to this that I'm missing - there almost certainly is, as I'd never seen Rajnikanth in a film before Endhiran, haven't gone through his back catalog, and don't much keep up on American celebrity news, let alone Indian. I'm sure that American celebrity culture looks even stranger and more hypocritical from the outside. That's universal. Folks do still seem to love Rajini, though - he got applause as he appeared on screen, and with the first finger-point. The crowd wasn't nearly as big for this as it was for Endhiran - maybe a dozen people as opposed to a packed house - but there's no denying that they were into it.


One final note about the movie itself; though it has apparently been dubbed into many languages, the original Tamil version with English subtitles is the one screening at Fenway. I've got no idea how seeing it in an English dub or any other language would affect the experience, although lip-sync issues are certainly not what it needs.

Kochadaiiyaan

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 May 2014 in Regal Fenway #3 (first-run, 4K RealD)

Aside from a cameo in the next year's Ra.One, Rajnikanth's last film was 2010's bonkers but memorable Endhiran, and it appears that the delay in his next starring role can be attributed to both health and script problems. Those factors also affected the form Kochadaiiyaan: The Legend wound up taking, a motion-captured animated film that certainly has the scale of an epic but which can't succeed with only a digital approximation of Rajni's star power.

He plays Rana, who since being found adrift on a river as a boy has steadily risen up through the ranks in the army of Kalingpuri. When promoted to commander in chief, he suggests to crown prince Veera Mahendra (Aadhi) that they impress the slaves mining gold under the palace into the army, a move which helps them conquer many territories and has Rana setting his sights on the other mighty kingdom in the southern part of India, Kottaipatinam. To oppose him, King Rishikodagan (Nasser) sends his son, crown prince Sengodagan (Sarath Kumar), to meet Rana on the field of battle - although it would be understandable if Rana would much rather deal with princess Vadhana (Deepika Padukone).

Before looking at anything else about the film, it must be said: The animation quality is far below the standard an American audience would be used to. It's not so much the dead-eye problems that have often plagued motion-captured pictures - the animators actually do a fairly good job replicating the cast's facial expressions - but there's often a shocking awkwardness to the movement and mismatches between characters and the background: Climbing scenes where characters seem to get footholds in midair and plenty of moments when characters' feet don't quite seem to be on the ground. Some of this may have to do with the post-conversion to 3D, but not the way that the character animation is probably weaker than it was in The Polar Express ten years ago and not the way that proportions and the way space is filmed often seems off. It's distracting, perhaps fatally so for some viewers. Paying a premium price for it was certainly a kick in the teeth.

Full review at EFC

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cold in July

I mentioned last September that I'd be kind of disappointed if Cold in July broke my string of seeing Jim Mickle's movies with the director himsel fin attendence. Well, it's broken; Mr. Mickle did not (to the best of my knowledge) make a trip to Boston for opening weekend. That's the happy result, I guess, of making movies fast enough that there's not a full festival cycle between them.

That's a shame; I'd love to hear Mickle talk about Joe Lansdale and doing something that's more of a straight crime movie after a career more focused on horror.

Cold in July

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

Joe R. Lansdale is a writer much beloved by crime & horror fans but who has never really broken through to mainstream recognition the way contemporaries like Steven King and Clive Barker have; Jim Mickle is an independent genre filmmaker who has gone from doing impressive things with few resources to making just plain great films quickly, but it doesn't seem like he and co-writer Nick Damici have broken through either. It's therefore kind of natural for Mickle & Damici to adapt a Lansdale novel, and not entirely surprising that the resulting movie is a terrific thriller that may get lost in the cracks because people don't know that they should absolutely seek it out.

It starts in nailbiting fashion, as Ann Dane (Vinessa Shaw) hears a noise in the middle of the night and wakes her husband Richard (Michael C. Hall), who nervously gets out his father's gun to investigate. In the aftermath, Sheriff Ray Price (Damici) assures Richard that he's unlikely to be charged, but also tells him that the boy's father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), is a nasty sort just out on parole himself.

Mickle is a great director in part because he has a penchant for moving quickly even while he's lingering on important and interesting details. That opening sequence, for example, is a nigh-perfect example of how to hook an audience with action while simultaneously taking the measure of a character. There's not a single part of the fallout from that beginning that isn't interesting and well-presented, which means that when the movie gets to a terrific siege, it feels climactic even though there is actually a fair chunk left to unfold. There are some bumps at that point, but it's not long before things are rolling in efficient fashion once more , right up to the harrowing finish.

Full review at EFC

Friday, May 23, 2014

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 23 May 2014 - 29 May 2014

I could be watching movies over the long weekend, but I'll probably be going a hundred miles out of my way to help my brother move because it's the only chance I'll have to see another brother for months. (Shakes fist at sky)

  • So, I probably won't see X-Men: Days of Future Past until early next week. That's okay; it should play a while, and the ambition is impressive, merging the casts of both the first three X-movies and the pretty darn good First Class to adapt a time travel story that is one of the most popular from the seminal Chris Claremont & John Byrne run. It's playing in both 2D & 3D, and I seem to recall that director Bryan Singer used the third dimension pretty well in Jack the Giant Slayer. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, and Assembly Square.

    The other big opening is Blended, with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore once again paired in a romantic comedy that, well, looks less awful than the words "Adam Sandler" might indicate. It's at the Capitol, Apple, Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Square, and the SuperLux.

    In better news, Chef is expanding this weekend, adding the Somerville Theatre, West Newton Cinema, and Fenway to its bookings at Boston Common and Kendall Square. It's great and you should see it.
  • Surprisingly, the week's big Indian release is not playing at Apple, but at Fenway: Kochadaiiyaan, a 3D motion-capture film featuring southern India's biggest star, Rajinikanth, in a historical epic that also features Deepika Padukone. I won't lie to you: A digitally animated Tamil historical action/adventure musical is a thing that sounds crazy enough that I will go see it even if it lacks English subtitles. Apple Cinemas & iMovieCafe will instead be opening up Telugu-language comedy Manam, which I believe also lacks subs.
  • The Coolidge (along with Kendall Square and West Newton) opens The Immigrant on its main screen, a pretty well-made movie starring Marion Cotillard as a Polish immigrant to the US in 1921 who encounters an intense Joaquin Phoenix and a charming Jeremy Renner.

    Also on the main screen: Friday/Saturday midnight showings of Werner Herzog's remake of Nosferatu the Vampyre, which is as nuts as you'd expect a Herzog vampire movie with Klaus Kinski in the title role to be. There's also a "Cinema Jukebox" screening of Dirty Dancing on Monday night
  • In addition to The Immigrant, Kendall Square opens Cold In July, the latest movie from director Jim Mickle and co-writer Nick Damici, who haven't made a bad movie yet. Heck, I'm not sure they've made oen that's less than great, and folks do love this adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale's crime novel with Michael C. Hall, sam Shepard, and Don Johnson.

    The one-week booking is documentary Teenage, in which director Matt Wolf examines how the idea of the teenager really created itself during the twentieth century. Kendall also picks up God's Pocket for two shows a day (it basically moves over from the Embassy), and has Friday & Saturday midnight showings of Back to the Future (and I don't want to complain too much that their midnights are the same ones everyone books, but it's also playing at Boston Common on Wednesday afternoon/evening).
  • The Brattle celebrates 100 years of The Little Tramp with a week of Charlie Chaplin silents, including new restorations of the short films he made at Keysstone (Friday & Saturday) and Mutual (Saturday & Monday). Those are digital, but the features - The Kid (Friday), City Lights (Sunday), The Circus (Sunday), Modern Times (Monday & Tuesday), and The Gold Rush (Tuesday) - are all 35mm. The whole series is double features, although the place is closed on Wednesday & Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more Kenji Mizoguchi, including Sansho the Bailiff (Friday & Sunday), likely his most famous film; Hometown (Friday), his first sound picture; The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Sunday); and White Threads of the Waterfall, a silent that will play with a benshi soundtrack. There will be a quick break from Mizoguchi on Saturday for two by Frank Capra - silent The Matinee Idol at 7pm and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town at 9pm. All are in 35mm except White Threads, which is 16mm
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps up The Boston International Children's Film Festival with Patema Inverted from Friday to Sunday, which looks like an anime version of Upside Down, "Shorts for Tots" on Saturday, Miniscule: Valley of the Lost Ants on Saturday & Sunday, and one last screening of Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart on Sunday. The Technicolor Musicals program also continues with A Star Is Born (Friday), West Side Story (Wednesday), and An American in Paris (Thursday).
  • The ICA screens Jellyfish Eyes and The New England Animation Film Festival program once each on Sunday and Monday; the former is included with museum admission
  • The Regent Theatre has two film events this week: The 5h Annual Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Fest plays Wednesday, with tickets to this collection of short films about bicycle-based tourism entered in a draw for a trip to Italy. Next Goal Wins, a fun documentary about the hapless American Samoa national soccer team trying to gain respectability, plays Thursday.
  • That's a Gathr screening, and it's worth noting that they do have a few upcoming bookings around the area, including Kids for Cash at Fenway on Thursday. The other theatrical-on-demand service, Tugg, actually seems to have sold a screening of some Ghost in the Shell episodes out while I wasn't looking, with the next event, 3D Imax dance concert movie Under the Electric Sky, scheduled for 5 June at Boston Common if 32 more people reserve tickets in the next week.
  • It's also about time to start paying attention to free outdoor screenings (check Joe's Calendar), as Beetlejuice will be showing outside Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville on Monday.


My plans? It's just not going to be possible to fit Sansho the Bailiff, Kochadaiiyaan, and Cold in July in before heading north, is it? Well, I'm looking at those three and X-Men, maybe some Mizoguchi & Chaplin, and I still haven't seen Neighbors yet.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Short Peace

Plan A: See Short Peace during its first of two showtimes, stay up as late as it takes to write a review so that people can see it in time to opt into the second. Unfortunately, some technical problem cancelled the first screening, meaning there was no huge rush to get this written, especially since Eleven Arts doesn't seem to be doing a VOD release and the August home video release hasn't started showing up on the shopping sites yet. I'm just glad I got to see it; it was one where I got emailed a press release only to find there was no Boston date, leading me to wonder if was going to have to figure out a way to get it booked myself. Fortunately, the Brattle is pretty good about booking anime releases.

I actually saw about half of this movie at Fantasia last year; both "Combustible" and "Possessions" played as part of the "Far East Fragments" program, and I must admit, I'm really kind of ashamed of how I let short programs like that slip in general; I didn't write nearly as much about the ones I saw at Fantasia or the sci-fi fest as I wanted to. I'm going to try and do better in the future.

Short Peace

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 May 2014 in the Brattle Theatre #2 (special engagement, digital)

Studios and exhibitors should find a way to get short films on movie screens more often. Individually, they're often great, compact little stories, and a ticket that gets you a handful of them for ten bucks can come across as pretty good value. Unfortunately, it seems like the only time that happens in America is with the annual Oscar nominee showcase and some very uneven horror collections. Fortunately, Japan will occasionally fill in the gap with an animated anthology, in this case one spearheaded by Akira and Steamboy director Katsuhiro Otomo. It's kind of short, just over an hour, but there's nothing close to a dud on the bunch.

In fact, even the intro directed by Koji Morimoto is a fairly strong segment. As is often the case with these "wrapper" bits, it has another purpose that supersedes telling a complete story, easing the audience into animation and getting them excited to see many different things in different styles. Rather than create a scenario that explains the rationale for multiple stories and introduces them, Morimoto does it emotionally, sending Mai (voice of Haruna Fuka) into a crowded, futuristic landscape on a bright quest with a poppy soundtrack that leads to a bunch of transformations that prime the audience for just how malleable an animated world can be. It's just a few minutes, but really sets the mood.

I actually saw the first, "Possessions" both last at Fantasia festival last summer and as part of the Oscar nominee package, and I am still impressed by this story based on a historical belief in Japan that objects can gain souls and trick people after a hundred years. "Possessions" earned that nomination; director Shuhei Morita and his crew give their wandering handyman protagonist (who takes shelter in an isolated storage shed during a rainy night) a hint of papercraft in his design, along with a wonderfully distinct personality: The solemnity of a samurai and the eagerness of a maker upon discovering fine materials. It takes a bit of edge off what could be a simple scary story, but still impresses when the supernatural elements come into play.

Full review at EFC

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Belle

To be totally honest, Belle wasn't the main event Monday night; Only Lovers Left Alive has reached the point in its run where it's only playing a couple of times a day and the 5pm show was right out, so I had to do the 9:45. Since I'm not about to leave the house and head to the theater at 9pm, it was going to be a double feature, and Belle was the other thing playing. Sure, I intended to see it at some point anyway - I liked Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Undercovers (and judging from its lack of presence on Amazon or Hulu, I'm the only person who remembers that show), it has an interesting premise, and looks nice. A night when I could do a double feature at the Coolidge without missing a whole Red Sox game.

It turned out to be the better movie of the night, though - admittedly, Only Lovers Left Alive is a bit of a tough slog at 10pm, but I genuinely found myself enjoying Belle. It's got enough issues that if I really cared about the star ratings that much, I might be considering dropping it down a notch, but I don't, so I'll just be good with how I enjoyed it more than its individual qualities perhaps merit.

Anyway, it was pretty good, although it turns out I missed it at IFFBoston for the wrong reason (for what it's worth, Fort Tilden was the wrong reason and Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter was probably the right one). It's the sort of movie that sometimes feels like it's a little too deliberately built to be prestigious, but it works - it feels good to watch even when it's not striving to be entertaining - and there's certainly merit to that.

Belle

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2014 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

I don't watch a lot of costume dramas or read the sort of classic romances that are this film's close relations, so I'm not sure how often they are focused on matters of ritual and plotting and how often they have weightier themes to them. In any case, they tend to be about the collision between what is proper and what is satisfying emotionally, which is certainly the engine driving Belle. It sometimes fits that description a bit too well, with the filmmakers occasionally having as much time reconciling such issues as their characters.

Things start when Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode) brings the daughter he sired out of wedlock to live with relatives while he continues his career in the Navy, as one did in 1769 - although not when the mother was black, as is the case for young Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay. Still, Lord and Lady Marshfield (Tom Wilkinson & Emily Watson) have another niece in their care about Dido's age who could use a playmate, and it doesn't take long for their reservations to fade when they discover that she is a bright and charming girl. Even with that being the case, things have grown complicated when a decade or so has passed - Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is left out of formal occasions, and though she has received a fine inheritance, only Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) is being formally introduced to society. Dido has caught the eye of John Davinier (Sam Reid), the local vicar's son, who is studying law under Lord Marshfield. Davinier also has strong feelings about a case Marshfield is adjudicating, in which a slave ship threw its "cargo" overboard and sought to make an insurance claim.

The basic idea behind the film is simple-yet-interesting enough - take a genre and environment that has a certain sort of homogeneity so deeply ingrained that calling it an assumption rather understates the case and throw in an ethnic wild card - that it would be an interesting exercise even without the assurance in the opening titles that it was based on a true story. Where it sometimes runs into trouble is in how thoroughly it immerses itself in its setting from the start; viewers who need a refresher course in the rules and rituals of society in this time may find themselves a bit at sea, especially since arrangements at the manor are rather dependent on absent character. Once they are caught up, though, the film delivers on its promises, with plenty of sisterly affection, men who are kind and handsome but poor, matches that could advance relationships between families and those that could gain the dowryless Elizabeth security, stern but soft-hearted spinsters and ambitious matriarchs; how each of them reacts to Dido's darker skin and how she navigates situations as a result just heightens the pleasures of the genre.

Full review at EFC