Thursday, April 30, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 1 May 2015 - 7 May 2015

Hey, Hollywood, thanks for the light release weekend - I've got a couple of tickets the the Red Sox and a bunch of stuff to catch up on after IFFBoston ate my last week. I'm sure that's why you've just given us one wide release, and it's not about everyone else being terrified of the Marvel juggernaut (although, because the film rights to the mutant characters rest with Fox, they would probably prefer I use another word there).

  • Still, there's no doubt that Avengers: Age of Ultron will be enormous. Once again, Marvel is gathering up the superheroes from almost all of their other movies, adding a couple more, and having Joss Whedon throw them against each other and a supervillain with an army, in this case a super-intelligent robot voiced by James Spader. It plays everywhere in both 3D and 2D, including the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Jordan's Furniture (in Imax 3D), Fenway (including RPX 2D/3D), Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.
  • In contrast, Kendall Square picks up two documentaries, both dealing with pop culture. Dior and I follows Raf Simons, a fashion designer chosen to be the Artistic Director of Dior despite his contrasting style, as he creates his first Haute Couture collection. If rock & roll is more your thing, consider Lambert & Stamp, which shows how two young filmmakers intended to make a film about the rise and fall of a band they managed, only to have that band (The Who) hit it big.
  • The Brattle Theatre gets animated this weekend with Cheatin', the latest from from Bill Plympton. It's a nifty little movie that I liked a lot at Fantasia last year (full disclosure - I contributed to the Kickstarter). Plympton will be there for the 7:15pm show on Friday, and the film plays through Monday. There are also two screenings of The Last Unicorn with author Peter S. Beagle present on Saturday, although both are sold out (he'll be back in the area next week for a screening at the Capitol). Monday night also features the monthly "Elements of Cinema" screening, this time featuring Fritz Lang directing Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, and Marilyn Monroe in Clash by Night; the screening is free and there will be discussion afterward. What they're showing Tuesday isn't on the schedule yet, but they will be celebrating Orson Welles's centennial with a 35mm print of Citizen Kane on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond/iMovieCafe has two with English subtitles this week. Gabbar Is Back (Hindi) has the title of a sequel but is apparently more remake, with Akshay Kumar as a vigilante taking out corrupt officials, requiring a special police task force to hunt him down. Kareena Kapoor also stars. Uttama Villain is showing in both Tamil (with English subtitles) and Telugu, and from what I can tell stars Kamal Haasan as both a legendary 8th century actor and a present-day superstar.
  • The Somerville Theatre refills its screens after playing host to IFFBoston for a week, mostly with what they had before, sadly missing a great opportunity for someone to open Donnie Yen's latest in his American hometown (--sigh--). They also have the latest in their "Silents, Please!" series, this month presenting Buster Keaton in The Cameraman at 2pm on Sunday. As always, it's in 35mm with Jeff Rapsis on the organ.
  • The Coolidge also both sticks with holdovers after IFFBoston and has its regular "Sounds of Silents" screening, presenting F.W. Murnau's The Last Laugh on Monday evening, with a new score from the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra. It stars Emil Jannings as a hotel doorman demoted to washroom attendant, and is told almost entirely without intertitles.

    The midnight programs this weekend are Return of the Living Dead, an unofficial sequel to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead directed by Dan O'Bannon, presented in 35mm, and Roar, held over from last week.
  • I've been remiss in mentioning the recent openings on the area's two IMAX screens which are (so far as I know) still presenting genuine film: Both the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science recently opened "Humpback Whales" (the former in 3D), and both are adding more: The Aquarium opens "Jean Michel Cousteau's Secret Ocean" on Friday, while the MOS recently started "Airplanes: A World in Flight" and will be opening "Dinosaurs Alive!" on their OMNIMAX screen on Monday.
  • The West Newton Cinema continues hosting the Belmont World Film Series with Court on Sunday; it's from India and uses the trial of a folk singer whose song may have spurred a man to suicide as a window into everybody involved in the trial. Jewishfilm.2015 also continues, with screenings on Sunday and Tuesday. That series also plays at The Museum of Fine Arts, with screenings on Friday, Saturday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The MFA will also be screening a showcase program for seniors at MassArts on Thursday afternoon.
  • The Harvard Film Archive will also be used for student presentations for much of the weekend, but will pick their Lav Diaz retrospective back up on Sunday with Heremias (Book One: The Legend of the Lizard Princess), which may sound like a flashy fantasy, but is described s "meditative", and will also take up your entire day at nine hours. Wojciech Jerzy Has's One Room Tenants (Monday 7pm) should be much less taxing at 92 minutes. Coincidentally, both are in black and white.
  • The Institute of Contemporary Art has a program of offbeat film on Saturday night, pairing "The Crumbling" - a stop-motion fantasy by Alexis Gideon who also provides live musical accompaniment; the back half is "Psychedelic Cinema", a montage of 8mm shorts director Ken Brown created in the 1960s which played rock clubs and toured with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead, with "The Psychedelic Cinema Orchestra", including members of Morphine, The Alloy Orchestra, and Cul de Sac. There's also an encore presentation of Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter on Sunday afternoon.

My plans include Age of Ultron, a couple ballgames, Ex Machina, The Cameraman, and likely a trip to West Newton for 24 Days and The Forger on Saturday. Not sure how much time that leaves for anything else.

IFFBoston 2015 Day #03: Angkor's Children and Shorts Delta (including "World of Tomorrow")

Theory: Film festivals in one's hometown are more exhausting because of the stupid urge to multi-task. I can write and make sure the DVR doesn't get too full at the same time! There's time to pick up some groceries after the movie! Etc., etc. Somehow the time I'm making plans and schedules for the festival blends in with the same thing at work, and absorbs the "I don't want to worry about that right now" traits.

That's why this is grinding to such a slow pace, writing-wise. On a more upbeat note, I meet someone in the line who had apparently heard of this blog, and that doesn't happen every day.

Angkor's Children filmmakers at IFFBoston

Producer Paul Feinberg, editor Bernice Schneider, writer/producer Mimi Edmunds, and director Lauren Shaw, who made Angkor's Children. A nice little movie even if it does sort of make one think "66 minutes means they had room to do done more, but c'mon, Seaver, you're the first to complain about movies which grind to the finish line because they just have to be ninety minutes!"

Biased sample, given that the room was full of people interested enough in the place to either make a documentary about the country or pick it from six movies playing the festival at the same time, but the seasoned travelers present really seem captured by it. That was true of most of the filmmakers, who had been there making a documentary on water before, or been part of a 60 Minutes crew in the mid-eighties, when you would seemingly find five-year-olds and fifty-year-olds, but few in between. It is hard to process the full insanity of the Khmer Rouge, at least for us presumably sane people.

It was also nice to get updates on the people we had just been watching; Phunam is still performing but also going to college, but the filmmakers were worried about Sreyov; she has a actually become a fairly successful entrepreneur, not just in terms of offering her services to smot at local funerals, but teaching others and having a sort of smot shop in Phnom Penh, supporting her family, but since she's something like twenty-three and single, her mother is applying hard pressure for her to marry.

I went with narrative shorts package "Delta" for the second show off the evening. Amusingly (to me), some attendees were trying to figure out what the names given to the shorts packages this year meant, and I figured it was basically so they could shoot "Shorts Charlie!" and "Shorts Golf!" to the folks waiting in line and have it be more clear than C and G. However, once it was clear that these were the sci-fi shorts and delta is the symbol for change, I did sort of start wondering if any of the other groups were tied into their alphabetical aliases. "Bravo" includes a film about an actor, but other than that, I've got nothing.

I don't usually hit a lot of short packages - when attending on a media pass for an outlet that doesn't have a lot of short-film coverage, it can feel a little selfish - but I will often find a way to do some for the new Don Hertzfeldt picture. Fortunately, I saw The Tribe at Fantastic Fest last year, leading to several conversations in the line about how folks should see that, because it's f***ed-up, including one where I half-suspected Brian wouldn't have let me see anything else if I hadn't seen it, which I hope persuaded more people than they dissuaded. It meant punting They Look Like People and hoping it either gets distribution or plays Fantasia in Montreal this July. I think that's a good bet, considering it wound up being one of those surprising times when an "After Dark" selection gets a jury award.

Folks from three selections came - "Safe"director Sean Temple and writer Sarah Wisner; Jonathan Case from "Phaneron"; and "Artemis Falls" writer/director Eliza McNitt, cinematographer Oliver Anderson, and producer Carlos Valdivia. It was a pretty enjoyable session, with plenty of fun being had about how "Safe" was primarily lit with the flashlight purchased on the way to the shoot, which sure sounds like a seat-of-your-pants process. This sort of Q&A is one of my favorites - enough people there to get some variety and interaction in the answers, but not so many that answering any question becomes a matter of passing the microphone down the line and getting a similar one-sentence answer from everyone. You can't predict that, but it's pretty great when it happens.

The Q&A ran just long enough to keep me from doing something really stupid and seeing the midnight screening of Roar at the Coolidge. I'm guessing that would not have been good for me while watching five movies the next day.

Angkor's Children

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, digital)

It's a weird thing to admit, but having seen a documentary or two about the Khmer Rouge a couple months back, and not regularly hearing much about Cambodia as it is now compared to those horror stories, it's easy to think of the country still being on that state, or just coming out of it. That was part of the draw of Angkor's Children - to see Cambodia in the present tense - and it's an enjoyable way to do so.

Of course, even thirty-odd years on, one can't talk about Cambodia without discussing the Khmer Rouge; they were so successful, on a practical level, at clearing the slate of their country that practically an entire generation was lost, in particular teachers and artists. It's something just starting to rebound now, with the film introducing the young women at the vanguard of this resurrection: Phunam, a circus artist; Sreyov, one of the few young people singing smot, a Buddhist funerary chant; and Saem, a garment worker who sings in Messenger Band, whose overt emphasis on women's and political issues is highly unusual for the culture.

Though all three get a segment that introduces them, Saem and her band fall by the wayside once director Lauren Shaw and her team circle around for a second pass. Their story is worthy enough, but perhaps doesn't fit the same narrative as the rest, where director Lauren Shaw can focus not just on the young women, but give some time to the Cambodian people and institutions that are trying to preserve - and practically resurrect - their culture. It is, on the other hand, kind of amusing to see interview subjects like a local legislator who had been happy answering questions about removing traditional culture start hemming and hawing when the subject turned to things that might cast business in a bad light.

Full review on EFC.

"Safe" (2015)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015: Shorts D, digital)

In the Q&A after the film, director Sean Temple and writer Sarah Wisner described "Safe" as a sort of prequel to another short film that won't necessarily explain a lot about what is kept vague here, although, really, do you really need to explain a post-collapse environment any more? It's something you can just take as a given now.

This is a nicely implemented version of that, though, as a pair of women finding shelled in the same abandoned building have to decide whether or not they can trust each other, or even if they can deal with the world in general. The two lead performances are strong, despite often happening in shadow since Temple and his crew work with the available light in their dark basement (a flashlight and a lantern). It's a nicely moody little piece, and I'm glad there will be more.

"Wire Cutters"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015: Shorts D, digital)

This is a great little animated short, because while its quality as a fable is strong, it is also consistently entertaining throughout. It tells the story of a mining robot alone on a distant planet until it comes across one from a different company. They find they have complementary skills and are happy to work together at first, but...

At least if humanity passes some of its worst traits to its creations, we also pass on the gift for excellent cartoon slapstick, enhanced by some fantastic character designs. The robots have traits that suggest both humans and animal characters, which is a pretty ingenious way to play it, and the hard-science details are both well-chosen and the source of a pretty great joke at the end.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015: Shorts D, digital)

The underlying idea of "Phaneron" is very silly - that contact lenses which flash like LCD shutters will not just improve vision by strengthening one's eyes rather than cause seizures, but will somehow lead to precognition by getting images out of order. And, of course, the lady who gets these visions is named Cassandra, build up to a personal revelation that is maybe just a little too conventional in terms of how it waxes philosophical.

Despite that, it's an entertaining little short. Ashley Fountain is very appealing as the Cassandra in question, with a stumbling but genuine charm, and jack-of-all-trades Jonathan Case enhances his film with a propulsive soundtrack. There's a genuinely fun sense of play to parts of the short, and the parts where that comes forward rather than the heavier impulses are among its best.

"Artemis Falls"

* * 1/4 (out of four)
Seen 24 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015: Shorts D, digital)

I think "Artemis Falls" fails, which is different from being a poor movie, and it seems me a bit. The filmmakers are trying to make something that conveys an experience as much as it tells a story, but the way it was constructed had me unconvinced - I was certain that the sort would end with the camera pulling back and revealing someone in a small apartment role-playing at being an astronaut on the first solo mission to the moon. The camera is too tight to see anything but actress Adepero Oduye's face behind the glass of her helmet, and her running commentary sounds less like status updates for mission control than trying to create this world for herself.

As a result of all that, I did not find the film particularly convincing, but that doesn't make it bad. Oduye gives a very nice performance, and though the seeming lack of visual effects shots in the film hurts it in the way I describe, the ones they do have are nifty in part because of their indirect nature. And I kind of hope that I get a chance to catch up with it again, whether online or at another festival, because I suspect the story will be a bit more tense if I'm not expecting it to be something else.

"Een Ander Maanlandschap" ("Another Moonscape")

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015: Shorts D, digital)

Every once in a while I feel the need to pop off about how being vague and mysterious does not generally make a movie interesting, but frustrating, and "Another Moonscape" I us a particularly annoying example of that. Maxim Hectors's short film, in its way, is a fairly decent abstraction of being in an in-between spot and not ready to move on, and maybe coming to terms with being in that situation even if it means being left behind. But why not make it a metaphor instead of just an abstraction, and give the limbo these characters are in some personality rather than just a generic nothingness.

That doesn't just apply to the setting, but to the main character; Oscar Van Rompay doesn't bring a lot to Jan to make us really fret about what happens to him. It's a believable performance in a short full of them, but not a terribly dynamic one. To be fair, that doesn't seem to be what Hectors is going for, but for a twenty-five minute short film, there is not a while lot of people doing things, and that can make even a movie a third the size of a feature crawl.

"World of Tomorrow"

* * * 3/4 (out of four)
Seen 24 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015: Shorts D, digital)

It is downright exciting to see Don Hertzfeldt getting the sort of praise he is receiving for "World of Tomorrow", especially since it is not nearly as dry as some of the more obviously weighty films he had done in recent years - it is very funny, and not in the "if I don't laugh I'll cry" way of his trilogy about a man with a terminal illness ("Everything Will Be OK", "I Am So Proud of You", and "It's Such a Beautiful Day"). Or at least, not obviously in that way. I think what makes "World of Tomorrow" kind of amazing is that it combines everything Hertzfeldt has done - the anarchic comedy of his early shorts, the grand scale of "The Meaning of Life", and the heartbreak of the recent trilogy - in a way that cheats none of it. It's a view from high up that allows things to be both hilariously absurd and genuinely tragic.

The idea is impressively simple - a girl of about three is visited by a woman hailing from 227 years in the future who is either herself or her great-great-granddaughter, depending how you reckon giving birth to a clone body that will have one's own memories transferred into it, and takes a trip to the elder Emily's time. The details, though, are fantastic, the sort of weird science fiction extrapolations that won't make it into a live action or CGI film that costs tens of thousands of dollars for each second rendered, but which Hertzfeldt's trademark sketches and stick figures give him the latitude to pull off. Things are funny and amazing and sometimes horrifying, but never, ever, conventional.

And the contrast between the two Emilys is all of those things in spades. Little Emily is adorable and funny; we laugh and coo at how she isn't particularly impressed by what future-Emily considers important because she's a preschooler, while future-Emily blows right past "Twenty-third Century people sure are different" to having real psychological problems. It's innocently and edgily funny at the same time, and we can barely conceive that this carefree kid will grow up to be that mess of neuroses. And yet, Hertzfeldt carefully streets is away from "this must be changed"; as sad as she may be, and how her world is a horror-show off impending catastrophe and unfairness, the solution is not self-erasure or putting a terrible weight on a child, but instead trying to rediscover what it is like to be happy.

That's brilliant, folks, and it comes as part of a fifteen-minute bit of weird science fiction that is played out by sick figures. It's already up on Vimeo On Demand, and well worth your four bucks.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

IFFBoston 2015 Day #02: Slow West and (T)error

No pictures today, as I chose a couple of movies without folks in attendance. It was a scheduling thing - Slow West is already booked for the Brattle in a month, but I'll be out of town for the first half of its run and who knows what will be up for the last three days; it might be gobbled up with moving headaches. Can't very well do much looking for a new place to live while at the festival, but that's going to be what I'm spending a lot of time on after, with June dedicated to getting stuff cleared out of the house before moving it to wherever.

Scheduling must be a tremendous headache for the festival programmers, and one of the many reasons that the people who run the festival must be more clever than those of who go is that I can't imagine trying to estimate demand. I wound up seeing neither of the movies in question, but two in the 7pm slot wound up having to switch theaters - Love Between the Covers went from one of the small even-numbered rooms at the Somerville to the main auditorium, while Being Evel went the other way. Who would have thought that the romance novel industry would draw more curiosity than Evel Kneivel? It's an easy thing to realize in retrospect, especially since the one about the daredevil might have more stuff that looks cooler on the big screen.

Truth be told, I kind of marvel at how festivals are able to judge their audience sizes as well as they do; sure, BUFF has their venue fixed with the Brattle and Fantastic Fest can dynamically allocate screens based upon demand measured the previous day, but I'm always surprised at how well Fantasia, for instance, chooses the right size of auditorium and number of screenings, and IFFBoston does it well enough that having to scramble like this is relatively rare. I am pretty sure I'd screw it up all the time.

Slow West

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

I am not sure whether John Maclean narrowly misses the tone he's going for with Slow West or hits it dead-on; even considering that westerns are relatively rare these days, this one feels a little different. I consider that no bad thing, especially since the film co-stars Michael Fassbender, who should be in westerns whenever he's got the chance.

This one starts out following Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a sixteen-year-old kid from an aristocratic family in Scotland who has journeyed to the American West in 1870 to reunite with Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), the young woman he loves. It is something of a miracle that he has made it as far as he has, and he's probably lucky that when he encounters Silas Selleck (Fassbender) on the trail, the seasoned gunslinger opts to serve as Jay's escort rather than rob him and leave him for dead. It seems like a good arrangement, but since Silas doesn't talk much at all, it's no surprise that there's something he's hiding from Jay.

Slow West doesn't look much like what has come to feel like the typical western, and that is not just because it was shot in New Zealand rather than California. Most westerns focus on the desert landscape, an easy way to evoke the dangers and lawlessness of the frontier, but Jay is optimistic and admittedly fairly sheltered as the film starts, and to him the West is beautiful and fertile, bursting with color and wonder. It's a contrast to the flashbacks to Scotland, where even the heady moments with Rose take place in a grey and worn-down environment, and Maclean is able to use that beauty as fairly explicit camouflage, with danger hiding amid the beauty.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

I suspect that many watching (T)error, even with plentiful assurances to the contrary, will be expecting that, by the end, a curtain will be pulled back to reveal the film as fictitious, heavy on re-enactments, or some other kind of put-on; it seems like the only way that the scenario makes sense. If it is, then the filmmakers are playing things very close to the vest, and the fact that it can exist at all can be as damming as anything it actually shows.

After all, who would believe that someone like Saeed Torres, who was active in the Black Panthers back in the 1960s and now does contact work getting close to suspected terrorists for the FBI - he prefers "citizen operative" to "informant" - would (a) reveal himself to a documentary filmmaker and (b) allow her to tag along on his next assignment? That's the set up for this movie as filmmakers Lyric R. Cabral & David Felix Sutcliffe follow him to Pittsburgh, where he (going by "Shariff") makes contact with Khalifah, a convert to Islam who had been talking big about jihad on social media.

A common complaint about documentaries is that the filmmakers don't always show both sides of the story, and while this one certainly doesn't give the full 360-degree view one might perhaps hope for, it is kind of surprising when Cabral & Sutcliffe jump from making a single-point-of-view picture to one with dual perspectives, with neither subject aware that the directors are also following the other. It's a move that feels daring as they do it, and even though the two perspectives don't remain in direct opposition for very long, it's still unusual in that the shift does not feel like a token acknowledgment of the bigger picture or a complete change in focus that makes the film feel disjointed.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, April 24, 2015

IFFBoston 2015 Day #01: The End of the Tour

I felt like I got a slow start on Independent Film Festival Boston this year; normally, there is some time spent in work, poring over the schedule, trying to figure out what i'm going to see, but not so much this year. Maybe my time is being better-filled; maybe it's just getting harder for me to finish with one festival (including writing stuff up), which I sort of need to do mentally to focus on the next.

But it's started whether I was ready or not, although there were some hitches on the first night. The printer used to put a QR code on the film passes crapped the bed two spots ahead of me in line, so they wound up giving me an invisible badge:

There's a ticket inside that lanyard, and I'm not saying otherwise. They got it fixed, though, so no trying to fool them.

It delayed me getting into the auditorium enough that I thought almost all of the seats were taken, and I was settling into one way back and off-center when someone said that a WBUR tote bag on the seat meant it was open, despite my being trained to think "bag on seat" means "taken". Not the case here. Meant I could be in the front row (not so bad with an orchestra space and a stage).

Which means I got a decent, unobstructed photo of WBUR reporter Jack Lepiarz, star Jason Segel, and director James Ponsoldt, getting his second IFFBoston opening night film after The Spectacular Now. They had an interesting enough Q&A that I felt a bit odd about not really loving their movie; I don't think you can doubt their sincerity not just in trying to adapt the material well, but in what subject David Foster Wallace and his writing meant to them. It kind of had the opposite effect of similar sessions - they were so up front about what they were going for that I wound up internalizing that a bit, and it was hard not to have it in mind when talking about the movie itself, which was sort of dry for me through much of its running time. Maybe if it was more overtly about not being changed by success, even if you wanted to be, it would resonate more.

Also: Jason Segel is probably going to be asked Muppet stuff until the end of his days, and although I suspect that in this situation, he may sort of see that as a distraction, there are much worse things to be known for. He also seemed genuinely surprised that, after he gave a very self-deprecating answer about how nobody is looking for the likes of him when casting a movie like this, Ponsoldt went on about how he'd loved Segel since Freaks and Geeks and always thought there was more to him.

The End of the Tour

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, DCP)

There are a lot of things that can be done with David Lipsky's interview of David Foster Wallace, and I don't think that a movie is at the top of the list. The magazine article it was originally intended for would supply analysis and context; a play might distill it; heck, animation might illuminate it. It would take a more ambitious movie than The End of the Tour to do much more than simply present it, and these people seem to deserve more.

The interview in question too place in 1996, when Wallace (Jason Segel) had just published Infinite Jest to tremendous praise and Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) had just started a job at Rolling Stone. Lipsky suggests shadowing Wallace during the last few days of his book tour to his editor, despite the magazine never doing features on writers, and it somehow comes together, with Lipsky traveling to Bloomington, Indiana, where Wallace teaches at a small college, before accompanying him to Minneapolis. The two hit it off, but reminders that Wallace has his issues are never far away.

Indeed, the film is bookended by scenes set after Wallace's suicide in 2008, a decision which seems both clumsy and like a missed opportunity. It's clumsy in that the three or four times that Wallace says something along the lines of "I'd rather be dead than X" is forced to carry a too-solemn irony, and it sets the film up as a search for the signs of his depression being so severe that what we see of the interview alone doesn't manage very well. On the other end, it seems to push the potentially interesting story of an ambitious Lipsky opting to revisit his tapes of the interview after Wallace's death into the background. A shame, because that's actually a fairly interesting ethical question to raise.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 April 2015 - 30 April 2015

Look, we're all going to be spending most of our time at IFFBoston, right, but there are other things, too, I guess

  • But mostly Independent Film Festival Boston 2015, which takes over the Somerville Theatre and The Brattle Theatre through Monday. Lots of documentaries and smaller narratives - for genuinely small, there is a lot of great buzz on Don Hertzfeldt's "The World of Tomorrow", which plays as part of Shorts Package D on Friday and Sunday. Other noteworthy entries include the phenomenal Ukrainian sign language story The Tribe, thriller Day Release, The Look of Silence (a follow-up to The Act of Killing), Manglehorn (from David Gordon Green with Al Pacino), and more. There is also a full day of documentary panels and programming at UMass Boston on Friday.

    The festival moves to the Coolidge Corner Theatre for its last two days - I'll See You in My Dreams and The Wolfpack play Tuesday, while Me and Earl and the Dying Girl closes things out on Wednesday.
  • The Coolidge will be playing plenty around the festival, as well - they open Adult Beginners on Friday, which stars Nick Kroll as an entrepreneur who falls apart and winds up moving in with his sister's family. Be aware, that's in the GoldScreen, which is small.

    More hype is being given to Roar, a rediscovered and restored film in which the generally mild-mannered animals on an African wildlife preserve go nuts when the conservationist's family arrives. It plays midnight on Friday and Saturday, as does Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues, which closes out their tribute to director Charles B. Pierce's southern horror on a 35mm print. They also have the Talk Cinema season finale on Sunday morning with Best of Enemies, a look at the 1968 debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. (it also plays the Brattle on Saturday as part of IFFBoston).
  • Kendall Square isn't doing much to compete with the festival this year, although they do open Russell Crowe's directorial debut The Water Diviner, in which he plays an Australian father who, after World War I, went to Gallipoli to find the remains of his three sons and bring them home. It also plays West Newton and Boston Common (including Imax at the latter location). They also have 5 to 7, with Anton Yelchin as a young writer who becomes smitten with an older married Frenchwoman, only able to meet her during the hours in question.
  • Age of Adaline is the one large opener this week (probably more about not wanting to run into the Avengers buzzsaw than anything else), playing the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. It stars Blake Lively as a woman who has not aged since an accident in 1929, but her new beau's father (Harrison Ford) finds her awfully familiar. Well, there's also Little Boy at Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere, but the less said about what looks like a kind of horrifying faith-based thing about a kid praying for his father to come home from WWII (I'm ashamed I hadn't connected it with the second atomic bomb until I read an article), the better.

    Brotherly Love has a better title pun; it stars Eric D. Hill Jr. as a Philadelphia basketball prodigy whose siblings may drag him down. It's at Fenway and Revere.
  • The West Newton Cinema makes an odd landing spot for The Forger, which stars John Travolta as the title character who must steal and replace a Monet from a Boston museum with the help of his father and son. Just two shows a day, but I suppose it could stretch out to another week. They continue hosting the Belmont World Film Series, with Sunday's presentation being The Cut, one of the few films about the Armenian Genocide ever made even after 100 years. They will also host Jewishfilm.2015 starting on Thursday the 30th, with François Margolin's thriler The Art Dealer and Israeli Academy Award nominee Dancing Arabs
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke this weekend. Though he apparently won't be arriving in time for his debut feature Duck Season on Friday night, but he will be there for Lake Tahoe (35mm) on Sunday and Club Sandwich on Monday.

    Resident filmmaker Ben Rivers continues his Midnite Movies 3 series as well, with Taiwanese horror film Split of the Spirit playing off a 16mm print at 10pm Friday and Four Flies on Grey Velvet - one of the reasons people think well of Dario Argento despite all the crap he has produced - in 35mm at the same time Saturday. Also on film: The next film in their Wojciech Jerzy Has retrospective, The Doll (Saturday 7pm, 35mm), and the last entry in the "Furious 70s" series, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Wednesday 7pm, 16mm).
  • I really wish I could make it to The Institute of Contemporary Art for their Friday night presentation, New Directions in Chinese Animation; I've found the short films of Lei Lei (who is attending, along with Chai Mi) kind of fascinating when I saw them at Fantasia and BUFF. They also will present Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter on Saturday and Sunday, telling the story of Julliard Dance Division director Martha Hill, one of the most important figures in 20th Century American dance. Director Greg Vander Veer and Debra Cash of the Boston Dance Alliance will be on-hand for a Q&A on Saturday.
  • It's a quiet week for The Museum of Fine Arts's film program, with just short programs. "A Chance to Dress" on Wednesday is a documentary following a cross-dressing MIT professor as he reveals this to friends and colleagues; director Alice Bouvrie and Dr. Southard (as well as his wife) will be on-hand for a Q&A. Thursday evening is SFMA Graduate Thesis screenings, a two hour program of films by local grad students.

I will be living at the various IFFBoston venues this week, though I may take the 66 to the Coolidge for Roar depending how the clock looks and my general alertness feels (it will play the Brattle at the end of May for those not up for that, but I'll be out of town). I suspect I'll want no part of being in a theater on Thursday unless it looks like Ex Machina is leaving town.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Twenty and The King and the Mockingbird

Saturday afternoons films were an odd pairing and kind of unusual releases individually, but that's how I roll. Of course, since I'm excited for the return of baseball, I also caught the early shows for both, which meant not much of a crowd. Disappointing, as I kind of would have liked to see some reactions other than my own.

Heck, I may have been the only person in the 10:30pm show off Twenty - I left the house at 9am to take two buses to Revere to see a Korean movie and was amused that two of the other people who got on at Central Square looked to be two Korean-American students. It would have been funny if the room was populated by folks who came out from Cambridge to see the movie - I've had that happen before - but they got off at Inman Square. It may have just been me, although my usual seats were listed as taken when I was presented with the seat-selector screen when buying tickets (apparently putting in reclining seats means you have to have reserved seating).

Props to Showcase (whom I don't recall being nearly so focused on high-end experiences when I worked at their Worcester locations in college) for replying to my tweet with good humor, though:

I jest a bit, but you really would think that a chain I mostly visit because they're the only place around here that regularly books Korean films might want to give me a heads-up about one playing there, considering they do have some record of what I I've seen based upon using a loyalty card. Why, it's almost as if the emails these chains sent out are not "recommendations for you" at all!

All kidding aside, while I get that a ermine about the high-profile thing can be more valuable than trying to push the less-prominent one, it's too bad more places don't try the latter anyway. It strikes me as weird and counter-productive to build twenty-screen megaplexes and than put all your eggs in one basket as so often seems to be the case these days. Wouldn't spreading the wealth out to more movies me better for the company's and industry's health?

(Getting back to the kidding, I'm tempted to start tracking which movies Regal, AMC, and Showcase "recommend" to me personally every week to see if any of them actually has some sort of algorithm that considers the viewing history of their programs' members.)

All that talk of going to see Twenty doesn't even mention the carnival set up in the theater's parking lot, pushing the usual weekend flea market to the side. That it was the first day of local schools' April vacations didn't occur to me until days later; I just thought it was random. Vacation time probably also explains the Somerville Theatre booking The King and the Mockingbird for matinees this week as well; it's something parents can bring their kids to as well as something that can be displaced by IFFBoston without a whole lot of issues. Now I'm kind of curious if it got more kids during the week than when I came on Saturday and I think just had a college-aged couple joining me.

Seumool (Twenty)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 April 2015 in Showcase Cinemas Revere #17 (first-run, DCP)

I suspect that Twenty being successful enough in South Korea to merit a quick try-to-beat-the-pirates release in the United States owes as much to the popularity of its good-looking young cast as anything else; it's not a particularly exceptional coming-of-age comedy. It's three smaller ones that aren't bad, and while the whole thing isn't what it could be, it's got a few bits worth seeing.

Twenty is the age of its main characters, who bonded in high school over a common crush on So-min (Jung So-min); she wound up dating Cha Chi-ho (Kim Woo-bin), the son of a successful restaurateur spending much of his time post-graduation in clubs and on one-night stands, at least until his car hits aspiring actress Heo Eun-hye (Jung Joo-yeon) and she blackmails him into posing as her manager on set. Honor student Kim Gyeung-jae (Kang Ha-neul) starts college and immediately becomes the subject of a drunken Facebook video, although that's how he meets the beautiful fast-driving star of the investment club, Jin-ju (Min Hyo-rin). Dong-woo (Lee Joon-ho), on the other hand, is still working multiple jobs and repeating his last year of school in hopes of scoring better on his college entry exams, and that has him seated next to Gyeung-jae's sarcastic little sister So-hee (Lee Yoo-bi) in most of his classes.

It's not a bad thing, per se, that all the of the movie's main characters are guys, but it seems kind of telling that one of the first scenes that has them interact with girls involves them fighting over who got to touch So-min's breasts without her seeming to have an opinion on the matter. Without saying too much, it would be nice if the women in these boys' lives, whether potential girlfriends or mothers, were a bit more substantive; even the ones who seem to have concerns besides how they relate to the guys tend to fall short of initial expectations. Sure, part of the point of this movie is that is being told from the point of view of young men with some maturation to come, but it would have been nice if that included more adult relationships.

Full review on EFC.

Le roi et l'oiseau (The King and the Mockingbird)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (reissue, DCP)

Everything about Paul Grimault's animated feature The King and the Mockingbird is peculiar, from its extended gestation (it was started in 1948 and finally released in 1980) to its unusual self-referentiality to a finale full of bizarre French humor and things one does not expect in a movie based upon a Hans Christian Andersen story. It is a weirdly delightful film playing a few dates after having been recently restored, one animation fans should check out should they get the chance.

The mockingbird is the one telling the story, adding that it all happened when Charles V + III = VIII + VIII = XVI was king. He was a lousy one, caring for little other than hunting, which had already claimed Mr. Bird's wife and nearly took his son before he showed up and told the king and his court off. He also has a passion for having portraits and Strauss made, usually in his image, but one night the pictures in his secret apartment of a lovely shepherdess and the chimney-sweep she loves come to life. Apparently the king never got over her, and the ardor of his picture is even more intense.

When I say that this movie was started in 1948, that's not strictly accurate; Grimault and co-writer Jacques Prévert began an adaptation of Andersen's "The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep" then, with an incomplete version released in 1952, the rights regained in 1967, so that this final film credits the songs and some other material as coming from the earlier production. I hope that whatever home video release follows the theatrical run includes it for comparison, because if it was anything close to a traditional adaptation of a fairy tale, it would appear that Grimault & Prévert had a bunch of new ideas during the twenty or so year hiatus. This thing is nuts.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Child 44 and Unfriended (aka Cybernatural)

So, this was weird - the highly polished movie chock full of recognizable actors is the one being presented as "independent" while the one completely populated by unknowns that I missed seeing at a genre festival last year is the mainstream hit.

Random thought: If I were Universal, I probably would have omitted the "A Comcast Company" from the opening animation of the globe that freezes, pixilates, and otherwise glitches to play up Unfriended's taking place online. Sure, those of us with Comcast as our cable company and/or ISP may already think of them that way, but no need to reinforce it.

Child 44

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2015 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

The name of Child 44 and the trailer that emphasizes the serial-killer aspects of the movie don't do it any favors, but they don't actually misrepresent it either. That's probably the film's main problem - the intention of using a crime story to get at something else is a good and noble one, but that crime story needs to be more interesting and the other half needs to be more interesting sooner.

The common thread is Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy); orphaned as a child by the Ukrainian famine in 1933, he found a home in the army and raised the Soviet flag over Berlin in 1945. By 1953, he is married to the lovely Raisa (Noomi Rapace) and hunting down traitors for the MGB with old army comrades Alexei (Fares Fares) and Vasili (Joel Kinnaman). Alexei's son being murdered but the official finding being a tragic accident - there are no murders in the workers' paradise - is not what gets Leo demoted and exiled to the backwater of Volsk, but once there, he discovers a similar crime. Hopefully General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman), the head of the local militia, will be more willing to investigate than the brass back in Moscow was.

Child 44 does not exactly start slow, but it does spend enough time establishing Leo as the relatively humane member of the secret police (along with other things) that the audience can find themselves in the uncomfortable position of becoming impatient for the first kid to die. Unfortunately, that half of the film never really takes off; though early scenes are framed so as to imply that the killer's identity is an important mystery, what's actually going on is only vaguely sketched out, and Paddy Considine is wasted in his too-small role.

Full review on EFC.

Unfriended (aka Cybernatural)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2015 in Regal Fenway #7 (first-run, DCP)

I missed Unfriended when it played the Fantasia Festival under the name of "Cybernatural" last year, and was kind of taken aback by the amount of buzz it received and the fact that Universal, as opposed to one of the smaller specialty labels, picked it up for distribution. It is, after all, a horror movie taking place entirely on a computer screen. Surprise, surprise, the praise was merited, as the movie does everything better than one might expect, up to and including benefiting from the studio changing its name.

The computer in question belongs to Blaire Lily (Shelley Henning), a high-school girl planning some seedy video chat with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) on a Wednesday night, although she first re-watches bits of a couple videos from a year earlier when her friend Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) committed suicide. They wind up joining a call with three other friends - Ken (Jacob Wysocki), Adam (Will Peitz), and Jess (Renee Olstead) - but there seems to be someone else lurking on the call. They think it's Val (Courtney Halverson), but she jobs the call and says it's not - although having all six on the line seems to be what this mystery guest connected to Laura's accounts and seemingly immune to all attempts to kick her out has been waiting for.

Unfriended is not the first film to present itself as this sort of real-time video chat - I saw one about ten years ago, and there are probably examples from as far back as broadcasting video was happening. The difference is that it comes at a time when this is a regular part of the culture, and the filmmakers seem comfortable with that in a way few of their forebears have. There are few gimmicky attempts to escape from the limitations on perspective that a laptop's webcam has, and both director Leo Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves are in a unique position to actually portray how people actually use the Internet rather than try to find ways to make this something that appears dynamic from a third-person view.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Boston Underground Film Festival 2015 Day #04: "Two-Way Mirror", We Are Still Here, and Bag Boy Lover Boy

Someday, I'm going to get up early enough on Saturday morning for the festival's first Saturday Morning cartoon show, but not this year, even if I did skip the midnight.

Even skipping out on that and another program, this is a day long enough to require a table of contents:

I got to Harvard Square at about two-thirty for the grown-up animation program, which continued my streak of "something I'd seen at other festivals" with a few entries. It would end on the last day, but it's occasionally fun to recognize good stuff that might not come around again.

I skipped the music video program; twenty-plus songs from bands I probably don't know can be a lot for me. It was a good afternoon to visit Bartley's and then poke around in bookstores before grabbing the night's two features.


Nice turnout both at the theater and on-stage for We Are Still Here, and sadly my notes are all but non-existant for the photograph. I think that's special effects supervisor Marcus Koch, hostess Kaila Yesterday, writer/director Ted Geoghegan, Zorah Burress (who played one of the ghosts under a whole bunch of make-up), someone I'm completely drawing a blank on (her dad?), and co-star Kelsea Dakota. Everyone was so enthusiastic that this was the picture with the least blur to it! Lots of fun stories about the movie - everyone was impressed as heck with co-star Monte Markham, a guy who has been acting for fifty years but really hadn't done much independent work in that time, and seemed to wish he had done more when he was younger. He also talked about how they built the film in Lovecraft's universe with certain references, although not adapting any specific story.

No guests for Bag Boy Lover Boy, which surprised me a bit - it's from New York, so it wouldn't be a huge hike to come to Boston. It's another one I missed at Fantasia, although I remember Mitch Davis raving about it. Can't say I liked it nearly as much, myself.

Then I headed home, because I knew I would sleep through the "Trigger Warning" shorts despite being squeamish.

"In Capricious Hands"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

There's something very enjoyably authentic about Stephen Larson's "In Capricious Hands", in that it almost feels like he was experimenting with his little insect robot stuck in a box, trying to figure out how to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. In actual fact, of course, every frame and motion of a CGI cartoon like this is planned, but the genuine feeling of exploration, problem solving, and hope even when the world seems built to frustrate come through.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

I do like the imagination behind shorts like "Migration", where Mark Lomond & Johanne Ste-Marie (collectively known as "Fluorescent Hill") come up with a little ecosystem filled with fantastic creatures (bipedal whales here) and follow them around. There are some tricks that they use to make it seem a bit more authentic - the washed-out coloring, for instance - but mostly it's a matter of just creating a world that holds together and has a little bit of wonder.

"It Needs to Eat"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

This short is very brief - two minutes or so - but between its simple paper-cut animation and narration that seems suffused with guilt, director Lauren Flinner does an excellent job of communicating just how people manage to justify things they find abhorrent to themselves. It's an impressive example of how a little abstraction can help communicate a difficult concept.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

This one by Patrick Fatica is of a type that always makes me feel a little odd: It had the feel of a folk tale, but one where I have a hard time pinpointing both the culture and the moral of the film, especially as it's about five girls in peril as a result of being headstrong or other traits that might be considered positive in boys. Of course, it could just be completely made up. It's odd.

Still, it's a neat little short, very moody by being told almost entirely in shadow with eerie music from Jef Shumard, although it's leavened with surprisingly bloody moments which switch the feel up. It makes it a neat combination of horror and folklore.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

I'd like to watch this one again, just to see what else jumps out at me. On the first viewing, I found myself very fond of the steampunk style that meshes well with the stop-motion animation, with walking dolls and creepy spider creatures. There's a feeling of unease as the story progresses, a sense of abandonment and curiosity at what the outside world has become.

There's also a fascinating malleability to the whole thing, as the characters' costumes color schemes change as they go into drastically different environments just next door. Despite not feeling frantic, it moves along just quick (and wordlessly) enough that I had a bit of trouble nailing down exactly what director Amanda Strong and writer Daniel T. Fischer were going for with it, feeling the change but not always the reason for it. Still, they do a good job of getting the feeling of it across, even if the plot may be a bit difficult to tease out


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

I get a real Brandon Graham vibe to the visuals of Malcolm Sutherland's "StormJumper", in which an alien shaman performs a strange rite to flee his planet. It's simply drawn and prone to compressed scale, just sort of throwing the audience into an alien world but treating it as unexceptional. In fact, a great deal of the unease and alien-ness comes from the electronic music, which is an interesting choice, because the astral projection, insect-based tattoos, and general strangeness is pretty trippy by most standards.

That's pretty nifty, and Sutherland makes it feel very atomic despite the lack of context. Impressively simple in some ways, but still giving the feeling of something very strange.

"This Is not a Time to Lie"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

I saw this one in Montreal last summer, one of two Lei Lei had in Fantasia's "Outer Limits of Animation" program, and it's kind of interesting to see it under different circumstances - where before, I saw "This Is Not a Time to Lie" in comparison to his other film in the program, it comes off as much more its own thing with a story and idea of its own. It's a pretty terrific story of love and adventure, and I'm actually kind of sad that I won't get to see Lei Lei's visit to the ICA because it's at the same time as IFFBoston.

"Lucky and Finnegan"

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

Another one I saw at Fantasia last year - the very first thing I saw there, actually - but one I still kind of love. Nifty song, and director Davide Di Saro just piles cool thing on top of cool thing as it plays.

"There's an Octopus on Your Head"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

Unlike a lot of the shorts in this program, this is a chatty little short, involving a hyper guy calling himself The Pancake Master making a visit to Satan (not for the first time) to gain knowledge of the universe. It's a frantic thing that careens between dry and screeching on a dime even before you consider its metal soundtrack.

It's funny, though - there's a John K. influence to it that works, even when the absurdity veers a little too far to randomness. It doesn't hold up quite so well when the jokes get mean or dark, but it's generally a win.

"The Master's Voice: Caveirão"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

Third one seen at Fantasia 2014, and another that's still pretty spiffy. I don't know if it's quite as astonishingly weird the second time through, but there's plenty of eye-popping stuff and a keen soundtrack.

"Wailing Whale"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

Filmmaker Laura Venditti has a nifty idea here - Moby Dick grumbling at a bar - but in a couple minutes, doesn't have a whole lot of time to get a whole lot more than a few decent gags. It's nicely animated, but I kind of wonder how, with how meticulously animation must be pulled off, something which doesn't seem to have gotten that far beyond the idea stage gets produced.

"Eye in Tuna Care"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

In a sort of contrast, "Eye in Tuna Care" seems to be similarly high-concept - a dentist in a place where people's heads are all mouth gets visited by a patient whose head is all eye - but in just four or five minutes, filmmaker John Walter Lustig does an impressive job of creating a set of conflicting tones, characters with personality, and a story. That's a fairly impressive feat - you'll see a fair number of shorts with this sort of visual hook that really don't do much more than that.

"Day 40"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Two-Way Mirror, digital)

You know a movie is kind of pushing it when it's making fun of religion and I'm sitting there thinking "you know, maybe that's kind of tacky". That's kind of where I sit with "Day 40", a satirical take on the Noah's Ark story that kind of takes a little while to get me in its corner, because it always seems to be going for the easy joke. That attitude is sort of reinforced by the style, with sprites moving in a not-quite-natural way that feels a bit like details are being overlooked.

Eventually, though, I found myself laughing more. Writer Evan Morgan and director/almost-everything-else Sol Friedman may have jumped ahead to a place to which they maybe should have built up, but eventually their jokes are in weird, downright random territory, and for this movie, that works a lot better than trying to do any sort of jab.

We Are Still Here

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

It's funny which little details will make a movie really work for someone. Take We Are Still Here, for instance; it's quite a well-executed ghost story with a nifty cast, good for a decent star rating even if it does seem to get a little sloppy at points. But where almost every other story like it will have ghosts indicated by cold spots, filmmaker Ted Geoghegan indicates his with heat. It doesn't necessarily change much about the story, but it does indicate that he's not just going with the default settings, and that makes a horror movie much more exciting.

The house in question has just been purchased by the Sacchettis, Anne (Barbara Crampton) and Paul (Andrew Sensenig), looking for a change of scenery after their son died in an automobile accident. Even in a new place, though, Anne is sure she can hear him. Then again, their new neighbor, Dave McCabe (Monte Markham), informs then that their house has a history dating back a hundred years or so, a gruesome tale involving the town's undertaker. It makes for a good reason to invite their friends May and Jacob Lewis to visit, though; in addition to being the parents of their son's college roommate, May (Lisa Marie) claims psychic powers, though Jacob (Larry Fessenden) is mostly an old hippie.

Despite a few references that tie the film into what is perhaps horror's largest and most enduring mythos, We Are Still Here is at heart a thriller made up of well-tested pieces, put together in a way that doesn't break new ground but or make the audience dizzy with twists. Heck, there are times when it almost seems like it needed to be bulked up a bit to get to 85 minutes, with a couple of scare sequences feeling like they could be removed without necessarily hurting the plot much at all. It's not quite transparently showing that someone means business while not tipping the main characters off, but it's kind of close.

Full review on EFC.

"Beautiful Meat"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

After writing all those reviews of animated shorts above that pack quite a bit into just a few minutes, there seems to be relatively little to the twenty that "Beautiful Meat" runs. It's not slow or packed with filler or anything, but everything plays out more or less the way one would expect from the moment we meet each of its three or four characters. It's that strange sort of predictability that comes from watching a short film you know to be horror - the bizarre twist is expected from the start.

Still, there are a few impressive things to it, perhaps most notably Renato Ferreira's performance as the student/porn star at the center, seen only in flashback. The character is more than a bit of a jerk, the sort that will often be dismissed or just seen as a stepping stone to the ugly bit of retribution that it's somewhat implied he deserves, but the film actually builds him as an individual of some worth. It's not something that always happens when the point is to shock with what happens to that character, and welcome.

Bag Boy Lover Boy

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

There are times when it almost seems as if Bag Boy Lover Boy is making an argument against its own existence - that weird and difficult art is dangerous in the wrong hands, and not just in the usual way in which that means "disruptive". It's an odd sort of stance to take, and results in a weird sort of snobbery that makes a movie designed to be unpleasant even more so.

The first bit of unpleasantness encountered is the hot dog stand where Albert (Jon Watcher) works - it is, at least during his overnight shifts, not close to sanitary, although this isn't a problem for Albert or Lexy (Adrienne Gori), a woman in the same state of near-homelessness he does, when they want something to eat at the end of the shift. One customer stands up for the place against some yuppies acting outraged, and it turns out that Ivan (Theodore Bouloukos) is a photographer of some renown. He asks Albert to model for a series of photographs, but Albert demands Ivan also teach him to be a photographer.

It's tempting to say that Albert recognizes that it's the guy taking the pictures who gets the money and fame, but to describe him as really not being that bright rather understates the case; he's almost certainly developmentally disabled. There's a point where this becomes frustrating for the audience; when Albert makes the jump from being sadly delusional to violent, it can seem completely random. It blunts the horror somewhat; what he does has neither a horrifying inevitability nor the sort of sudden shock that delivers jolts. We just don't get this guy, so it's hard to have strong feelings about what he does.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 April 2015 - 23 April 2015

Is it really IFFBoston time already? I'm not ready. I've barely spent any time when I should have been working poring over the schedule and making plans.

  • Independent Film Festival Boston 2015 is starting anyway, though, kicking off Wednesday the 22nd at the Somerville Theatre with The End of the Tour, which will have both director James Ponsoldt and star Jason Segel on-hand. On Thursday, it explodes, taking all five screens at Somerville (with a lot of documentaries, from Love Between the Covers to Finders Keepers, but also Michael Fassbender in Slow West), starting its stay at the Brattle, and presenting a whole day of events at UMass Boston with two documentary panels in the afternoon and The Amina Profile in the evening.

    The Somerville Theatre will also be running matinee shows of The King & the Mockingbird, a French animated film from 1980 that folks appear to really like. It's only playing matinees, and I'm not sure whether it will be playing dubbed or subtitles.
  • It's a genre-filled week at the Coolidge, as they (along with the Kendall and Boston Common) open Ex Machina, the first film that Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Dredd) has directed, about a man, and android, and the latter's creator, brought to a remote location for a Turing Test, though all is not as it seems. They also pick up the excellent White God for a week in the GoldScreen, which is highly recommended. I've also heard great things about Backcountry, a thriller about a hiking party already brimming with tension that wanders into a black bear's territory. It plays Friday & Saturday at midnight.

    The April "Southern Phantoms" midnight series also continues, with Charles B. Pierce's The Evictors playing on 35mm in the big theater. "35mm in the big theater" also applies to Monday's Big Screen Classic, Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas in noir masterpiece Out of the Past. There's also a special preview screening of Adult Beginners on Wednesday with its star, comedian Nick Kroll, on had for a Q&A. Another special presentation on Thursday, Deepwater Horizon aftermath documentary The Great Invisible, is presented by sustainability group Ceres.
  • A couple other movies opening at Kendall Square & the Embassy are also opening wider as well. They both get True Story, which features Jonah Hill as a reporter drawn into the case of accused killer (James Franco) when the other starts claiming to be him. It also plays at Boston Common and Revere. Those same four theaters open another crime story, Child 44, featuring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, and more in a story about finding a serial killer in the Soviet Union, which denied that murder would ever take place within its borders.

    Two others play the Kendall alone - Clouds of Sils Maria is the latest by Olivier Assayas, and stars Juliette Binoche as an actress asked to take on a different part in the play that made her famous, Chloe Grace Moretz as the hot young thing in her old role, and Kristen Stewart in an award-winning performance as the former's personal assistant. There's also The Mafia Only Kills in Summer, an Italian comedy about a young man whose fascination with both the Cosa Nostra and the prettiest girl in class follows him into adulthood.
  • It's similarly busy in the multiplexes - aside from all of the above movies coming to Boston Common, there's Unfriended, which played Fantasia under the name Cybernatural last year and had everybody raving about it to me. It's a "something bad happened a year ago and now everyone involved will pay", but played out via skypes, streaming videos, etc. on computer screens. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Disney's annual nature documentary also comes out for Earth Day; this year it's Monkey Kingdom, which follows a group of monkeys in Thailand who wind up in abandoned and populated cities as well as the jungle. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. But, the widest opening is probably Kevin James in Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, which has Kevin James's character saving Las Vegas hotels from a slumming Neal McDonough. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Assembly Row, Boston Common, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Fenway and Revere will both be presenting 50th Anniversary screenings of The Sound of Music on Sunday & Wednesday. Another anniversary celebration that might make people feel more immediately old is when they show Friday on Monday; that Ice Cube/Chris Tucker comedy has been around for twenty years.
  • The Belmont World Film screening at the West Newton Cinema on Sunday is The Finishers and hails from France, although it's inspired by a pair of New Englanders (Dick & Ron Hoyt, the former of whom pushes the latter, his son with cerebal palsy, all the way through the Boston Marathon). The setting is moved to Europe and the challenge upgraded to an Ironman competition, but it's a neat thing to have on the eve of Marathon Monday.
  • April vacation means Muppet Madness at The Brattle, although the schedule has changed a bit since the schedule went out. Friday night is still special, though, with a sing-along to The Muppet Movie (on 35mm) at 7pm and a 25th Anniversary pizza party to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at 9:30 (35mm). That ges a second show Saturday night, while The Dark Crystal plays on 35mm early Saturday at at 7:30pm Sunday, with Labyrinth playing early and late on Sunday as well. Monday afternoon is a 35mm Muppet Movie Marathon, with the original, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan.

    There will also be plenty of festivals and special events, starting with live performances of "TV Guidance Counselor" and "You're the Expert" on Saturday & Sunday as part of the Eugene Mirman Comedy festival. Monday evening the DocYard welcomes director Kris Kaczor and producer David Regos for their film Divide in Concord about the attempt to ban single-serve bottled water in the Massachusetts town. Tuesday's Trash Night film has not been announced, while Wednesday night features 14 female-directed short films as part of the Women in Comedy Festival. And then, Thursday, IFFBoston comes to the Brattle with Results and Eden.
  • China's Let's Get Married keeps trucking at Fenway and Boston Common, but you'll have to head out to Revere for Twenty, a Korean comedy about a group of friends who just finished their second decade and are looking to get into a little trouble. Props to the folks at Showcase for laughing at my tweet wondering why they emailed me about Paul Blart even though I seldom go out there for anything but Korean movies.

    Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond/iMovieCafe has two Indian films with English subtitles opening this weekend. Mr. X (Hindi) stars Emraan Hashmi as a man who gains the power to turn invisible and naturally splits his time between fighting crime and getting revenge. OK Kanmani is subtitled Tamil, but I can't find much information on it beyond it being a romantic comedy of some sort. It's also showing in Telugu (unsubtitled) under the name OK Bangaram.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues The Waking Dreams of Wojciech Jerzy Has with The Sargossa Manuscript on Friday and a 35mm print of Farewells (aka Lydia Ate the Apple on Monday. In between, Argentine filmmakers Martín Rejtman and Matías Piñeiro will be on hand to show their latest films - Rejtmn's Two Shots Fired on Saturday and Piñeiro's The Princess of France on Sunday, with both directors attending both films. Then, on Wednesday, the "Furious Cinema" presentation is a 35mm print of Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues "Hollywood Scriptures" with Punch-Drunk Love (Friday), Queens of Heart: Community Therapists in Drag (Saturday),and Wounded Places (Sunday). And though the main program finished up nearly three weeks before, the Boston Turkish Film Festival has a free preview (though advance reservations are required) of Russell Crowe's The Water Diviner on Thursday.
  • The Bright Lights series at the Paramount is relatively quiet compared to past weeks, with "Stumped" - a documentary short about a filmmaker who adjusts to becoming a quadruple-amputee in part by doing stand-up comedy - making what I think is a return engagement on Tuesday; subject Will Lautzenheiser will do a comedy set and also do a Q&A with director Robin Berghaus. Thursday's screening of The Living is presented by the Boston Creative Pro User Group and will have the writer/director, producers, and colorist on-hand for what promises to be a much more technical discussion than usual.
  • As mentioned last week, The Boston International Film Festival is taking a different form this year, mostly taking place at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater Bright Screening Room and the nearby Broadway Picture Entertainment Studio, also compressed to only run through Monday afternoon after opening on the 16th. A few interesting programs, although many are very far under the radar.
  • Though they showed it as playing a couple weeks earlier,The Regent Theatre will apparently show Invitation to Dance this Tuesday (the 12st), as part of Gathr's monthly "Alive Mind" seies. It's a documentary on Simi Linton, a wheelchair-bound activist who was able to find expression in dance.

My plans include Ex Machina, catching up with Unfriended, checking out Twenty, and seeing what else fits before moving into the Somerville Theatre for IFFBoston.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kill Me Three Times

The thrust of the review: There is a really good movie in here that is pretty well done in by the filmmakers desire to not just make that movie, but make it in a clever way. It's really perverse, in some ways: It's got one of those "flash-forward to the end" bits that are starting to get a fair amount of backlash, and it's probably even more egregious than most, because it's got the only bit of Simon Pegg's character narrating. There's no particular stinger of how the situation isn't how it originally looked, or even a The Opposite of Sex-style "I can't die, I'm the f*cking narrator!" moment. And then it rewinds midway through, but to little good end - it not only goes from being from one character's perspective to something more omniscient, and to make it feel even more like a cheat, it seems to insert a whole extra day into the proceedings. That's not a clever bit of misdirection; that's just scrambling your story and repeating things rather than just following a straight line in a way that builds tension.

Well, at least I didn't wind up reorganizing any schedules for it - I had initially considered seeing it rather than Mad Max 2 on Saturday night, and though I miscalculated times on Sunday, that worked out well for dinner. Granted, I'm not sure I would necessarily recommend walking practically from Fenway Park to Kendall Square for a movie on a regular basis (I did stop at Sweet Cheeks Q for dinner and post-Opening Day discussion with some friends), but it worked out well enough on Monday.

Anyway, it's not bad, just disappointing, and will still be around on demand after its last shows at the Kendall on Thursday.

Kill Me Three Times

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, DCP)

True to its title, Kill Me Three Times makes multiple passes through the story - once with a flash-forward to the end, once in basic fashion, and once in more detail - but this jumping back and forth does very little to disguise how hollow it is. It's got style and is certainly never boring, but often seems so concerned with presenting its crime story in a clever way that the stuff that would make it actually interesting are left out.

After the flash-forward, it seems kind of interesting, with hitman Charlie Wolfe (Simon Pegg) finishing up one job and being sent on another, but when he follows Alice Taylor (Alice Braga) to an appointment with her dentist brother-in-law Nathan Webb (Sullivan Stapleton), he stumbles upon someone else's plan, as Nathan and his wife Lucy (Teresa Palmer) have a bit more than reconstructive dentistry planned for her. Also involved: Alice's bar-owner husband Jack (Callan Mulvey), local garage operator Dylan Smith (Luke Hemsworth), and corrupt cop Bruce Jones (Bryan Brown).

The plan hatched by Nathan and Lucy isn't necessarily the most clever to ever pop up in a crime story, but it's something that would certainly be fun as the solution to a mystery story told from the other side of the crime. The trouble is, writer James McFarland and director Kriv Stenders are so anxious to dive in just as the action starts that the characters are sketched out in just the vaguest sense - Nathan has a gambling problem and Lucy is (perhaps justifiably) bitchy. There's no time to build up the walls closing in or whether it's desperation that leads them to turn on Alice like this or whether Lucy feels in some twisted way like she's doing her brother a favor. They're all just parts in a Rube Goldberg machine where murder is a viable next step.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Tales of Hoffman

I really should do a good Powell & Pressburger binge at some point, although I've got the nagging feeling that somebody among the Brattle, Harvard Film Archive, and Museum of Fine Arts has done it recently enough that I can't expect someone else to make all the arrangements for me. It turns out that I didn't particularly enjoy The Tales of Hoffmann, but I don't regret spending a couple hours looking at it.

I do wonder just how well-regarded this particular entry is. I love that the Somerville occasionally books stuff like this that you wouldn't expect from a regular first-run theater, but do sort of wonder why it's not at one of the places where you might expect it instead, especially since they were apparently only able to get a DCP rather than a 35mm print. It almost seems to serve as a placeholder between Furious 7 and IFFBoston.

The Tales of Hoffman (1951)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (special engagement, DCP)

There are probably a great many movies that inspired and influenced both Martin Scorcese and George Romero, but The Tales of Hoffmann - a 1951 production by the great team of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger - is one of the places where they've gone on record as saying as much. Scorcese is the one behind the new restoration that is popping up in theaters, and it's easy to see how it could leave an impression on young future filmmakers. It's also a thing that you might need to be in the right mood for.

The Hoffmann of the title is a poet in Nurnberg, in love with the ballerina Stella (Moira Shearer), though he has a rival in the wealthy Lindorf (Robert Helpmann), who intercepts the love note Stella sends during her performance. During the intermission, Hoffman (Robert Rounseville) regales the rest of the audience with stories of the women he loved before meeting Stella: An automaton (Shearer) in Paris, a Venice courtesan (Ludmilla Tcherina), and an ailing opera singer (Ann Ayars) on a Greek island.

Though Powell & Pressburger made other films in between, it's easy to see this as a follow-up to The Red Shoes, their 1948 film starring ballerina Moira Shearer; it's another gorgeous Technicolor production built in even larger part around the sorts of performance that are not exactly motion picture staples. As with The Red Shoes, it feels like a special presentation, using cinema as much to present other performing arts in a new way as to simply tell a story.

Full review on EFC.