Saturday, January 31, 2015

This Week In Tickets: 18 January 2015 - 24 January 2015

If I get this up before going to the midnight at the Brattle, it's still technically "this" rather than "that" week!

This Week in Tickets

Kind of a slow-ish week, although the writing was slowed when my tablet took a tumble to the floor, and this time is was the display that was hosed even though the touchscreen still worked. Rest in Peace, Nexus 7. I wrote more reviews on you than I ever fathomed could be done without an actual keyboard.

Before that, though, there were movies. Sunday's selection was Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh's impressive biography of English painter William Turner, brought to life by Timothy Spall. Between that performance and Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher, there's been a lot of animalistic grunting in classy movies this year.

On Tuesday night, I only caught the back-end of a Brattle double feature, because I'm at the point where I don't expose myself to Catherine Breillat unless absolutely necessary. That meant just Rocks in My Pockets, and... Man, I was not in the mood. I wanted to strangle the filmmaker for her incessant narration, even if I could be impressed by what she put on-screen.

Plan A on Friday was Strange Magic, but that fell through when the show I checked in for on MoviePass was cancelled. I got them to check me into another, which wound up being Mortdecai, even though I had been dreading it since I first saw a trailer. It wasn't a wholly miserable experience, though - I rather liked Paul Bettany and Gwynneth Paltrow in it, and it meant I learned about the original books, which sound a heck of a lot better than the disastrous movie.

After that, I rested up for Saturday's Boston Horror Show, which the good folks at All Things Horror had at the Somerville Theatre. Short version: Sins of Dracula bad, The Battery OK, Dys- very good, and Spring exceptional. I really can't wait for more people to see the latter when it hits general release in March.


Mr. Turner
Rocks in My Pockets
The Boston Horror Show
Mortdecai

Boston Horror Show: The Sins of Dracula, Dys, The Battery, Spring, and shorts.

The late-January dead zone is a pretty good time to have this sort of event, although I noticed that the theater had signs up saying that Into the Woods wouldn't play due to a hard drive problem. Not that I'm doubting their honesty there, but who wouldn't mind their own hardware failures being so well-timed?

Anyway, here's the line-up, which wound up being more than tigher than I was expected, since I mentally assume horror movies are about 90 minutes and shorts are about ten:


Busy day. I actually bailed on another event - the Clotrudis Award nominations - in part because I couldn't find a date for them, in part because, hey, seeing independent movies trumps arguing over whether something is fifth or sixth best in a given category, and partly because I couldn't make Dys- or Spring fit into the festivals where they played last year, and I wanted to see them with a crowd.

It may not have been a huge crowd, but it was an appreciative one. It's a shame that they had to get Sins of Dracula inflicted upon them, because that is one of the less enjoyable examples of a genre movie substituting camp for originality, just seeming boringly lazy and unoriginal.

Still, it got better. I considered bailing after "Beating Hearts" to get a burger across the street, since I'd already seen The Battery, but a snack during movie #2 meant I wasn't particularly hungry during #3, so I stuck around from start to finish, capping things off with Spring.

Which, by the way, is fantastic, an early lead on my favorite movies of the year, and I wish it were out already so that I could talk about it more. Heck, let's talk about the end after the review.

"Slut"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Chloe Okuno's "Slut" is not groundbreaking; it's a fairly straightforward bit of 1970s/1980s exploitation pastiche, from the credits to the hairstyles, but it's one that is happily played straight even if it does have a dark sense of humor. Standard stuff: Mousy girl in glasses who spends all her time looking after her grandmother envies the easy blonde down at the roller rink, but when she gets a little male attention herself, it's not necessarily so nice.

It's a pretty good short, and I like the way that Okuno is careful to make sure that nothing comes entirely out of left field, even if it does mean that there's a veritable Chekhov's Arsenal lying around. She's got a good knack for staging action clearly, and even if the acting is highly variable (star Molly McIntyre has both great and rough moments), she pulls it all together well.

The Sins of Dracula

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Oh, man, so many angles from which to disdain The Sins of Dracula, just one opening paragraph. I mean, I've recently seen one of the Hammer Draculas that this draws inspiration - do I come at it that way? Or maybe I should consider the question of whether Richard Griffin setting a movie around a community theater company shows self-awareness or a lack thereof. Then again, you don't really need an angle beyond "bad movie that tries to use camp as an excuse".

That starts from the beginning, when a winking warning tells the audience that this movie is about what happens in a faithless world. Soon, nice church-going boy Billy (Jamie Dufault) is telling his pastor (Carmine Capobianco) that he wants to do more than just sing in the choir, getting into theater with his girlfriend Shannon (Sarah Nicklin), even if all the others in the troupe - D&D-loving Traci (Samantha Acampora), self-named NuWave (Jesse Dufault), drug fiend Bandilli (Derek Laurendeau), and gay Lance (Aaron Peaslee) all seem to be people he shouldn't be near. But, of coruse, they aren't a patch on director Lou Perdition (Steven O'Brion) and his girlfriend Kimberly (Elyssa Baldassarri).

None of these guys are particularly convincing teenagers, although I suppose that the filmmakers would say that's part of the joke - it's a straight-faced spoof of shoddy horror movies and Christian scare flicks! The trouble is, it never feels like the genuine more-enthusiasm-than-talent camp that makes such movies memorable, nor does it have the targeted gags to make for good parody. It almost seems cynical, as if Griffin and company know by now that with a few exceptions, the people who show up in they work with aren't that good, so this sort of send-up/homage is done as an excuse. Or even worse, it can feel like laziness - when going for camp, you don't have to come up with actual scares or gags; you can just imitate what they are like.

Full review at EFC.

"I Am Monster"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Well, that was rather gross.

That's half the point, of course, and that the gross-out is almost exactly half the point (and half the running time) makes "I Am Monster" a great way to examine just how difficult it can be to be a smart person who loves horror. The first half of the short is all in-your-face provocation: Co-writer/director Shannon Lark stars as a woman dressed like a fetish model who goes into a morgue after-hours, chooses the best looking lady corpse in here, and engages in some serious necrophilia aided by what I hope must be custom implements, taking Polaroids throughout. It's all envelope-pushing and apparent objectification, with a couple of moments where Lark and filmmaking partner Lori Bowen take the basic concept to its unnatural conclusion.

Then the supernatural part kicks in - or maybe it's just Vivienne cracking - and things start getting interesting; it becomes more clearly about Vivienne being cut off from actual intimacy. The push and pull between Vivienne and Jason (Adam Cardon) is nifty, but the short doesn't quite have the room to explore her as a potentially multifaceted person with all the exploitation material, and while that's not just there to shock and titillate, that tends to blot the rest out.

It's a nifty short, but it shows the tough balance at play in a good horror story, trying to create something that shocks without totally obliterating what's underneath.

Dys-

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Maude Michaud's Dys- looks to be on the path to dystopia as it starts, but as with many stories that start with an outbreak, that turns out to be the background for some intense dysfunction. It's the sort of movie that is going to push some a bit too far, but will be absolutely riveting for others.

It starts with some of the usual disturbing signs - news reports of a nasty strain of the flu going around, and a possibly-related murder suicide with rumors of cannibalism. A lot of people in a Montreal photography class are absent, with one heading out just as Sam (Alex Goldrich) starts to deliver his lecture. He's distracted for other reasons; his marriage to model and longtime muse Eva (Shannon Lark) is falling apart. She's finally set to start a new job at a bank when the government institutes a travel ban, and even before a tense dinner with their neighbor (and Sam's best friend) James (Dega Lazare) ends with him coughing up blood in Eva's direction, there are times when you just don't want to be stuck in a small space with certain people.

Hallucinations may be a symptom of this "flu" - or maybe not - and when Michaud combines that with her intentions to reveal these characters' complete backstory slowly, the audience is in for some serious uncertainty from moment to moment. Michaud doesn't just count on everyone being a potentially unreliable narrator, though, finding ways to make the situation incrementally worse before the time for serious rug-pulling comes. She's also quite good at presenting things just a bit larger than completely necessary so that they are remembered later, whether as an explanation or a bit of a fake-out.

Full review at EFC.

"Beating Hearts"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

It's natural to spend much of "Dead Hearts" trying to construct a backstory that explains everything - particularly an opening scene that takes the express route from sweet to horrific - in a way that shifts blame to the least-ugly place it can go, and that's still an ugly, ugly situation.

Writer/director Matthew Garrett's decision to play things somewhat ambiguous keeps things interesting - just how twisted is the relationship between the characters credited as only "The Girl" (Gianna Bruzzese) and "The Grandfather" (Peter Coriaty), what is their endgame, and just how did things get there? Garrett offers no convenient and clear delineation for who made whom a killer.

It's a fine source of unease, although when it comes time to finish the story, that uncertainty does take away from the story having a truly satisfying conclusion. That's quite possibly part of the point, though, and what makes things a bit more unnerving.

The Battery

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

The environment where you see a movie can be pretty important; I first saw The Battery on a Fantasia Festival screener back in 2013, after having already heard the All Things Horror guys rave about it, and didn't see what the big deal was. Seeing it on a big screen, with a crowd, definitely makes for a better experience.

I still don't love the movie, although I appreciate it more afer the second time through. I do sort of wonder what the deal is with that last sequence, and how long it was going on (they really shouldn't have mentioned having to eventually drink their pee, because then I start wondering what they're doing with it). It's an able and often impressive post-apocalyptic story, although it's not really one that uses that environment to get at particularly interesting ideas.

Full review at EFC.

"Dead Hearts"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

"Dead Hearts" is an entertaining little mash-up by Stephen W. Martin, and it feels something like what you'd get if you merged Tim Burton and Wes Anderson, adding in a healthy amount of kung fu. Like Burton & Anderson movies, the result is sometimes a little too precious, but the inventiveness more than balances it out.

The cuteness here involves a nine-year-old undertaker (Valin Shinyei) with a crush on the blind martial-arts master in his elementary-school class (Dalila Bela). Of course, it doesn't last - she moves away and he seldom leaves his mortuary again, until decades later when he shows just how far he will go to share his heart with her.

Context can be king, and, boy, was "Dead Hearts" a lot of fun toward the end of a day filled with grim movies. It's the sort of fantasy that takes a lot for granted, but it's cheerful and sly about it, not quite winking about how it makes sure everyone is wearing masks so that they can sub in stunt performers, or how the fairy tale trappings are played into but made modern without being subverted. It's a fun little movie, and I'm very curious about what sort of a feature Martin might end up making should he get the chance. A Burton/Anderson type who really loves genre movies would be no bad thing.

Spring

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 24 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Horror Show, digital)

Every once in a while, a movie will be built in such a way to make you forget what sort of film you came in expecting to see, usually so that it can get a jolt out of genre fans who come in ready for anything. Spring does that, to a certain extent, but takes it a bit further - its switch-up seems less about softening a tough audience up than easing it into something that sounds crazy, even if it winds up being fantastic.

So we start with Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) in California; he dropped out of college to look after his dying mother, and now that she has passed, he's got no reason not to hate the loose end he's at. It leads to a fight, which leads him to leave town for Italy, where he hooks up with a couple of British tourists, winds up in Bari, a small town on the coast. That's where he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), a grad student researching the genetic irregularities of a relatively isolated population. She's beautiful, smart, and funny - but there's something else that makes her unlike any girl Evan has ever met.

It's a while before we meet Louise, but that's okay, because a real effort is put into making sure that we get to know Evan despite his seeming like just a simple American everyman to contrast with the Italian girl with the big secret. There's obligation but also deep love on display during the one scene with his mother, and a chip on his shoulder soon after that, but the approach matters: He hits back hard when he feels the jolt but is an easygoing softie when just pushed at. Lou Taylor Pucci is seldom pushed to make Evan extraordinary in any specific facet, but he makes sure that the audience likes the guy, making him approachable in his imperfections and having it balance out into a man worth spending time with.

Full review at EFC.

SPOILERS!

I can't talk enough about how much I love the way Benson, Moorhead, and Nadia Hilker built Louise, especially since the temptation to have some kind of "regeneration" sequence (I couldn't get Doctor Who out of my head once Louise's nature was revealed) must have been almost impossible to resist, just to show us what they were talking about rather than coming at it obliquely. The fact that she becomes a different person, influenced by the genetic material of her last lover, means that it makes sense for her to be youthful in mind as well as body, even if she is thousands of years old, which Hilker does carry.

I also really love that, even from that early age, she was trying to explain herself scientifically, even if the concept wasn't quite there yet. The science in the movie is kind of bunk (grumble grumble conservation of matter grumble), but the outlook is refreshing, especially since the easy way out would be to treat love as magic and say that faith is more important than understanding. Instead, Louise likes understanding, and even if there's a level at which it makes her cynical - seeing love as chemicals in the brain and knowing she's never been in that sort of love can do that - it isn't a mark against her. She recognizes the value of ritual as a focus even if she doesn't take it literally, and recognizing her mutation for what it is keeps her from seeing herself as a monster.

And, wow, that last sequence, when she shows Evan her family and says that this is how she knows love is what changes things, is great - playing on her rationality without losing emotional weight. It's where the idea begins to emerge that he can win her even if what we've already learned said that not only will Louise become someone else, but maintaining a relationship with her would be kind of incestual. But there's a price, and it's kind of horrible - while this sort of story traditionally has the immortal feeling diminished by her isolation from regular humanity and lack of love, Louise doesn't want to give up eternity; there's still too much to see, and limiting herself to a mere sixty more years is horrible.

But that's what happens, and while festival-friend Kurt Halfyard's review suggests that Evan & Louise don't last, I interpret the smoldering volcano at the end a little differently; I see it as tying her back to her parents, acknowledging that while they love each other and will love their child - a traditional happy ending - we must also acknowledge that falling in love has killed Louise. She won't be able to regenerate, she may envy her daughter for the long life she will likely lead, she may even resent Evan at times. Maybe, as is traditional, she'll see it as a fair trade-off, but just like the volcano killed her family, her position is now reversed; she'll be the one who dies while someone else lives on, and that's tragic, even if they live a happy life.

!SRELIOPS

Friday, January 30, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 30 January 2015 - 5 February 2015

Well, it looks like some of the dry spell will finish up next week, so there's that. But for now, it's another quiet week.

  • The best-looking wide release is probably Black or White starring Kevin Costner as a grandfather who has lost both his daughter and wife, winding up battling for custody of his granddaughter with the girl's other surviving grandparent, played by Octavia Spencer. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Square, Revere, and the SuperLux. That is, unless you count A Most Violent Year, which expands to the Somerville, Embassy, Fenway, and Revere, already playing the Coolidge, Kendall Square, and Boston Common.

    Less promising-looking is Project Almanac, a youth-oriented time-travel story produced by Michael Bay's company. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. And, man, The Loft has been sitting on the shelf for three years despite a pretty decent cast for this mystery about five married men who rent a loft to carry on their affairs, only to find a girl dead there one morning. That plays Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Black Sea will be playing on relatively few screens - the Embassy, Fenway, and Revere - but it looks pretty good, with Jude Law as a submarine captain searching for Nazi gold underwater, but apparently having to watch his back with both backers and crew.
  • The Brattle opens The Duke of Burgundy, which is a pretty fantastic weird romance from Peter Strickland, who did the utterly different but similarly brilliant Berberian Sound Studio, in which their mutual interest in entomology is hardly the strangest part of the relationship between a noblewoman and her servant.

    They've got more "Mad Romance" as part of the Saturday late-night Reel Weird Brattle series, with this weekend's entry a 35mm print of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, featuring Vincent Price as a scientist who gets gruesome revenge on those whom he blames for killing his wife. It is visually over-the-top and should look great on actual film.
  • Kendall Square splits one theater between two programs of Oscar-Nominated Shorts, one animated and one live-action. The Coolidge Corner Theatre has the five nominated documentary shorts, splitting them between two programs, mostly in the GoldScreen, so get tickets early.

    The Coolidge also kicks off a month of midnight screenings of David Cronenberg films with a 35mm print of eXistenZ. He'll be paying a visit at the end of the month, although that sold out in an afternoon.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond/iMovieCafe has two subtitled Hindi movies this week. Baby stars Akshay Kumar as a counter-intelligence officer hunting down a gang of international terrorists, while Hawaizaada stars Ayushmann Khurrana as a Mumbai man working on powered flight in 1895, well before the Wright Brothers.

    Over at Fenway, the week's day-and-date Chinese release is Running Man, which is apparently a spin-off of a reality show (also popular in Korea) with bigger celebrities, including Wang Boaqiang and Angelababy. Apparently, its formula is akin to The Amazing Race, although it has special movie-like episodes, so who knows what this will be like.
  • The Harvard Film Archive begins a month-plus-long retrospective of "The Lost Worlds of Robert Flaherty", one of the originators of documentary filmmaking, starting with perhaps his most famous work, 1922's Nanook of the North. It screens Friday at 7pm on 35mm film with Jeff Rapsis on the organ. It will be followed by the next film in their Orson Welles retrospective, Macbeth, also on 35mm. The "Furious Cinema '70 - '77" series continues on Wednesday with a 35mm screening of Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

    Much of the rest of the weekend will be spent welcoming a special guest, presenting The Visions of Luther Price in three programs on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights, with Price on hand to introduce a group of short films on various film formats each evening at 7pm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues In Case of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund with Force Majeure on DCP Friday and then 35mm prints of Play (Friday), The Involuntary, and The Guitar Mongoloid (both Saturday). On Wednesday, the February calendar starts with The Films of Stanley Kubrick, roughly chronological with Killer's Kiss (Wednesday & Thursday), Fear and Desire (Wednesday), and Paths of Glory (Thursday).
  • There's film at the ICA this weekend, with a 74-minute program of selections from the Ottawa International Animation Festival at 7pm Saturday and noon Sunday.
  • The Bright Lights series has two free films this week in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room. On Tuesday, they screen documentary Schooling the World (a look at the effects of modern schooling on indigenous cultures) with discussion from VMA professor Claire Andrade Watkins; Thursday they have social psychologist Dr. Lindsay Beck discussing Boyhood

I do not know how I will fit all I want to see in before the sci-fi festival, but I'm prioritizing Black Sea, as many Oscar short programs as I can get into, Nanook, Still Alice, A Most Violent Year, and Dr. Phibes. The rest of you, go see The Duke of Burgundy.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Strange Magic

Just think: If I'd been able to see this Friday night like I planned, it might have been lumped in with Rocks in My Pockets in a "two very different kinds of animation" post!

Instead, I wound up going Sunday night, and unless someone snuck in behind me after it had already started, I was the only one there for this show. Which is kind of no fun on the best of days - a bad audience can ruin a movie, but a good one enhances it - but I must admit, when I go to a kids' movie like this, I really like to hear how actual kids react to it even if I'm not going to be writing about it. I've still really got no idea whether my niece who freaked out when she opened a fairy activity book at Christmas might react to it, for instance, and I'll trade any awkwardness about being a forty-one-year-old man watching a movie for little girls for that.

(Funny aside: MoviePass had a bug tonight, which means I have to send them a picture of my ticket/receipt in order to get reimbursed. I've got to document that I went to this movie!)

Aside from that, it does make me pretty sad that, as I mention in the eFilmCritic review, this is likely to wind up George Lucas's swan song; by all accounts most of the road map he'd created for future Star Wars films has been discarded by Disney since they acquired Lucasfilm, so unless he does finally follow in Francis Ford Coppola's footsteps and spend his later years making unusual, experimental films, this could be his last credit for doing anything other than creating Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I'll probably spend more time wrestling with his legacy later in the year, when I'll likely rewatch the whole saga in preparation for The Force Awakens, but I never felt particularly angry or betrayed by him like so many others have. I'm going to miss him, and while it probably wasn't realistic to expect he would leave the stage with a creative and box-office hit - careers generally don't end well because otherwise they wouldn't end - it would have been nice.

Strange Magic

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 January 2015 in Regal Fenway #11 (first-run, DCP)

I wanted Strange Magic to be good (and dreaded it being otherwise) a bit more than most movies. It will, after all, likely be the last screen credit for George Lucas other than "based upon Star Wars created by", and no matter how much his legacy has soured for many, it would be nice to see him retire on something good. It's directed by Gary Rydstrom, who has done a lot of great sound work and directed two animated shorts for Pixar. Plus, I've got an eight-year-old niece who loves fairies. It mostly winds up a mess, but I'll take that over hating it.

It takes place on the border of the Fairy Kingdom and Dark Forest, which is where the primroses that can be used to make love potions grow. Or would, if the Bog King (voice of Alan Cumming) didn't both make sure the plants were cut down by his goblins as soon as they bloomed and keep the Sugar Plum Fairy (voice of Kristin Chenoweth) who can make such things locked up. Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, fairy princess Marianne (voice of Evan Rachel Wood) is about to marry handsome soldier Roland (voice of Sam Palladio) when she catches him cheating. She doesn't take it well, but her sister Dawn (voice of Meredith Anne Bull) is still boy-crazy, much to the chagrin of best friend Sunny the elf (voice of Elijah Kelly). Roland, still wanting to be king someday, convinces Sunny that a love potion could help them win the sisters' hearts, although those things tend to attract trouble-making imps.

The script is a bit of a mess at points, and like a lot of movies meant for girls but (mostly) written by men, it often has trouble not playing into the stereotypes even as it wants to rise above them. For example, the writers know that "love potions" are dishonest shortcuts, but they aren't going to fully confront how horrible they are, and that seems kind of weak so soon after Maleficent. The characters' personalities could be a little sharper, especially the ladies - Dawn kind of needs her own thing other than being attracted to the guy of the moment, and Marianne's shift from flighty and clumsy to sword-swinging tough girl is kind of clumsy.

Full review at EFC.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rocks in My Pockets

I missed the Chlotrudis Society nominations meeting yesterday to go to the Boston Horror Show, which may have been a good thing where this movie was concerned, because there are some people on the mailing list who have been championing it rather strongly over recent weeks, and I can totally see this being a case where they push it for every eligible category, and I try to hold my tongue about not liking it, but...

I wanted to like it. There were plenty of moments when I was staring at the screen agape, all "holy cow look at that", and the fact that this is a extremely impressive piece of animation isn't the only reason to like it. Unfortunately, it's got the sort of narration that has me saying "shut up shut up shut up shutupshutup!" under my breath, glancing at the clock on the Brattle's wall to see how much longer until I'm actually let go. It is frustrating as can be; I can't remember the last time one element of a movie has so thoroughly wrecked my enjoyment.

Speaking of the narration in a different sense: The IMDB shows this as Latvia's submission for the Foreign-Language Film Oscar, but I recall precious little (if any) of the film being in anything but English. Given the nature of the production - there is no dialogue, just voice-over narration - I wonder if there is just a completely different soundtrack in the version submitted.

Rocks in My Pockets

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Some of the Best of 2014, DCP)

I want to champion Rocks in My Pockets; it is a striking animated film made with adults in mind, and one that tackles a difficult but important subject head-on. The world needs movies like that. The thing is, the world also needs them to be something other than a chore to sit through. That isn't to say that a film about depression and suicide should be easy, or fun, but it needs to hook the audience, and at the risk of sounding uncaring, this one can get very tedious at points.

It starts out provocatively enough, with filmmaker and narrator Signe Baumane describing a dream about watching her grandmother Anna attempt suicide, and how she would not make the same mistakes Anna does in this dream, because she has given plenty of thought about how to do it right. It turns out that there is a history of mental illness and suicide among the women of Baumane's Latvian family, and she recounts five: Herself, Anna, and three cousins - Miranda, whom Signe was close to; the beautiful and aloof Linda; and Irbe, who casually mentions to Signe one day that she hears voices.

All five of these tales have elements in common - familial and cultural pressures to not reveal this "weakness", the looming presence of the Soviet Union, which drastically upends circumstances and has only clumsy pharmacological treatment on offer for mental illness, the stricter bonds of propriety placed upon women than men. It's to Baumane's credit that, while she gives the bulk of the movie over to Anna (she lived an eventful life even without urges to relinquish it), she finds ways to differentiate these tales and characters who are often only met briefly. Her drawing style may be simple and not given to animated wild takes, but there's a common unease to her characters that transfers readily to the audience.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

This Week In Tickets: 11 January 2015 - 17 January 2015

I'm going to call this caught up, because with the Boston Horror Show today and the Sci-Fi Festival in a couple of weeks, it may be some time before I can say that again.

This Week in Tickets

It turned out to be a busy week, and the surprising thing is that I got a lot of writing done while still seeing all of these movies. It doesn't usually work that way!

The week started out with Tevar, which, well, was not auspicious. It's a pretty bad Bollywood movie, probably getting a little benefit of the doubt because it wasn't the visual incompetence of Taken 3 from the night before.

Things improved the next day with The Overnighters at the Brattle. It was part of their "Best of 2014" series and I can't argue against it belonging there. It's an interestingly tight focus on how a lot of things where our support systems fall over (the free market does not work smoothly, and the church does not always practice what it preaches), and definitely one of 2014's more interesting documentaries.

I took Tuesday off and went to see Predestination at Fresh Pond on Wednesday, which meant I supported this movie I'd seen at Fantasia last July with a little more money than I might have. I don't mind doing so; it's well deserved and I was glad to see that I wasn't alone in the theater. As at Fantasia, demand seemed to be a little better than expected, even if it was also out on VOD.

Oscar nominations came out Thursday, but that wasn't why I saw Whiplash that night - I had been meaning to catch it for months, but my timing was off, or there was something else that was leaving that night, etc. It's a pretty great little movie, though, and the nominations meant there was a packed house. Not sure why it cleared out before the credits ended, though - if you liked that movie, wouldn't you want to hear more of the drumming?

My Friday night plan got kind of messed up when the bus back into town from Burlington was almost twenty minutes late - and given that that's how long they are spaced, the next bus actually pulled ahead of us by the time we arrived in Alewife. Then the Red Line was running slow because of a disabled train. So, no getting to Fenway for a 6:55 show, and I instead wound up seeing Spare Parts at Boston Common. I don't regret it, though - it's a fun little movie that fits its template well, and was more up-front than usual in the end credits about compositing two people and casting more conventionally-attractive people that the real life students.

That meant waiting until the next afternoon to see 20 One Again, which turned out to be a remake of another movie I saw at Fantasia. Kind of nice to revisit my favorite festival roughly midway between two editions! The evening was kind of in that vein, to, with Blackhat taking place in Hong Kong and Indonesia (heck, I think I've seen another action sequence take place in a half-finished building that Mann used in Jakarta).

Predestination

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2015 in Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond #4 (first-run, DCP)

Predestination was always going to be an interesting one to see a second time around - it's a twisty pretzel of a time-travel story, built in such a way to have a "second time around" in the first viewing. I'm glad to see that it holds up very well - granted, I had some vague memory of the original story going in, so it wasn't all surprise revelations for me the first time - and I think that's in part because the Spierig Brothers knew it would be seen that way, and the puzzle-box aspect thus was not enough.

Plus, Sarah Snook is still fantastic here. The filmmakers ask an awful lot out of her, and she delivers in spades. Lots of people in time-travel movies have to meet their future selves, but few have the challenges Ms. Snook does, and she kills it. Ethan Hawke is pretty good as well, as is the "alternate-1960s-the-way-Heinlein-wrote-it" world the Spierigs create.

Still one of the best recent sci-fi films, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

Full review on EFC.

Blackhat

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2015 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

There were a couple of times while watching Blackhat where I joked to myself that it's too bad so much was set in Hong Kong, because it meant that I wanted to see the Johnnie To version of this movie. That passed, though - Michael Mann is no slouch at this sort of thing either, and he built a heck of a movie here, It kicks off with a great visualization of the inside of a computer, both giving the audience an idea of what's going on and reminding us that we don't really understand it at once, and keeps the good work up straight through a technical but still suspenseful body, right down to an impressively violent end.

Mann's approach is businesslike, which may turn off some people, but I kind of love it - the way the various cops and accomplices go about the investigation adds urgency, and the way that Tang Wei plays her Chen Lien's pairing off with Chris Hemsworth's Nick Hathaway is impressively subtle. There's an self-destructive history to her only vaguely alluded to in the dialogue, because Michael Mann and writer Morgan Davis Foehl aren't making a movie about that, even if it is a big part of who she is and why she doesn't feel like a cardboard cut-out.

It's a little harder to say the same for Hemsworth's Hathaway; I don't care that he's handsome and muscular (hey, all of us IT guys could be!), but he's a little too good at everything; he doesn't seem to have either the urgency of the other characters or a defining sort of restraint. He doesn't fit into a team story and isn't quite big enough to control the movie on his own.

Still, he's in the middle of a movie that looks as great as anything else Mann has done - contrary to what I said about wanting to see Johnnie To's version, I loved that Mann seeks Hong Kong differently - and sticks the landing in terms of the plot and villains being both monstrous and banal at the same time. Supposedly the hacking action here is more believable than is usual, and I believe it is, but there is an awful lot that just feels right about this movie, making it a heck of a thriller.

TevarThe OvernightersPredestinationWhiplashSpare Parts20 Once AgainBlackhat

Mortdecai

I'm calling BS on everybody who ever says "it's a good thing my expectations were so low, because that made it funnier". That's certainly not what happened to me with Mortdecai; the non-stop non-funny trailers had me ready to hate it well ahead of seeing it, so when I found myself kind of just enjoying Johnny Depp as the title character during the last act, I had to wonder - was he legitimately better in those scenes, or had he finally gotten bast the bad first thirty impressions? I don't know, but I can say this - having low expectations certainly had me noticing the things that confirmed them more than the ones that countered them through much of the movie.

Those low expectations had my actually seeing this opening night seem like a cruel joke, though - I had actually gone to Boston Common to see Strange Magic, but that was cancelled - whether to put on more screenings of American Sniper, because of some sort of projector malfunction, or something else, I don't know - which meant deciding to either see something else (and I just wasn't in the mood for Sniper or Cake) or go home. I get that Strange Magic is probably not much good either, but it at least had me legitimately curious rather than morbidly so.

And I must admit, I'm a little more curious now after having seen the movie. Johnny Depp so overshadowed everything else in the marketing that it wasn't until a couple weeks ago that I saw "Directed by David Koepp" in an ad, and that got me interested - the man's a good writer and Premium Rush was a surprisingly good thriller that he directed. The weird thing is, he doesn't have a writing credit, though a little anthropology of sites (like eFilmCritic!) that have not yet been updated to reflect WGA credits suggests he did touch the script at some point. An article about the movie's pervasive advertising pointed me at how this was actually based on a novel from the 1970s called "Don't Point That Thing at Me" that had two or three or four follow-ups (one was about Mortdecai's ancestor and only tangentially related and another needed a second author to finish it up after the creator's death), and its description on Amazon as Wodehouse-meets-Chandler is a hell of a lot more interesting than "wacky Johnny Depp vehicle". I'm going to have to get that.

It makes me wonder how Mortdecai ended up the movie it is, though. It looks like it went something like "David Koepp reads original book, adapts it, Johnny Depp gets attached, budget balloons, suits want something more mainstream, rewrites, Koepp stays on as director and does what he can", but a little sifting makes it look like Depp may have been the guy who originated the project, and if that's the case and this is what he wanted to make, then it is even more imperative that his plans to remake The Thin Man never see the light of day.

From the description of the books (which I'll probably download as soon as I've got a working tablet again), they seem to be right up my alley, and it looks like a pretty great movie could have been made of it with, say, Hugh Laurie in the lead role. Heck, it strikes me that this would make a pretty good Masterpiece Mystery series with that casting.

This thing probably salted the earth for that, though. Shame.

Mortdecai

* * (out of four)
Seen 23 January 2015 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

It is easy to blame Johnny Depp for all that is wrong with Mortdecai - he's a producer, he's been front and center in the terribly unfunny coming attraction that has played before seemingly every movie over the last few months, and, to be frank, he has squandered a lot of audience goodwill on performances with more mannered quirk than genuine charm over the past decade or so. It's not all on him, though; while he doesn't help, he hurts less than you might expect. And who knows - maybe his input actually contributed to the moments when you can see the pieces of a potentially great movie.

Depp plays Lord Charlie Mortdecai, an aristocrat and art dealer (frequently in the black market) whose estate is nearly bankrupt. He's not that bright, but when an art restorer in Oxford is murdered by a terrorist (Jonny Pasvolsky), MI-5 agent Alastair Martland (Ewan McGregor), who happens to have a long-standing crush on Charlie's wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow), calls him in to help. So he and his rough-and-tumble manservant Jock (Paul Bettany) are off, stumbling after a stolen painting on a caper that will take them around the world.

I don't think it is ever mentioned in the movie that Jock's full name in the original novel Don't Point That Thing at Me is "Jock Strapp", and both of those names sum up what seems to be the biggest problem with Mortdecai - it is merely off-color when it should be raunchy, and arch when it should be vulgar. It's probably also dumb when it should be smart, like Eric Aronson's script has made Mortdecai into a moron instead of a bastard because someone was afraid that a black-humored noir parody that actually feels like one wouldn't draw a crowd (or at least, not enough of one to make back whatever they're shelling out for the cast and locations). Mortdecai's dimness through much of the movie contrasts with how capable he must be at certain points, or the somewhat witty narration likely lifted from the original book.

Full review at EFC.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 23 January 2015 - 29 January 2015

Happy "well, at least that trailer isn't playing in front of every movie I see" weekend! It's like Friday the 13th - it happens irregularly once or twice a year, but is fun to note when it comes.

  • You can celebrate it best by not seeing the movies whose previews you are sick of. I recommend going to the Somerville Theatreon Saturday, where All Things Horror will be celebrating their fifth anniversary with their first Boston Horror Show. It's four independent horror movies running from 2pm to 10pm: Spring, the new movie from the makers of Resolution which is also what I most regret not seeing at Fantastic Fest; The Sins of Dracula, the latest film from Richard Marr-Griffin and his Providence-based crew; The Battery, a decent story of two independent-league ballpayers trying to make their way home after a zombie pandemic; and Dys-, one of the films I missed at Fantasia last summer. Tickes are ten bucks a pop at the Horror Show site, twenty for the whole day.
  • The most annoyingly omnipresent trailer these past few months has been Mortdecai, featuring Johnny Depp as the title character, a English aristocrat who is an art dealer and a moron. It looks terrible, but has a fine supporting cast (Gwynneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor, Paul Bettany, and more) with David Koepp directing based on a series of forgotten pulp spoofs from the 1970s. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. Second most-obnoxious has been the preview for The Boy Next Door, featuring Jennifer Lopez as a teacher who finds herself entangled with the eighteen-year-old neighbor. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Hopes also aren't high for the other two multiplex openings. Strange Magic is an animated film with a story by George Lucas based upon A Midsummer Night's Dream and directed by Gary Rydstrom, sound guy extraordinaire who has also made a pair of short films for Pixar. Disney picked it up in the LucasFilm acquisition, and it would be nice to see the last project Lucas supervised personally be a win. It's at The Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. Cake was expected to get Jennifer Aniston an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a chronic pain sufferer despite nobody seeming to think much of it otherwise; it didn't. It's at Fenway and Boston Common.
  • You know who did get an Oscar nomination? Julianne Moore as a professor dealing with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease in Still Alice. That one opens at Kendall Square , West Newton, and Boston Common. Also Marion Cotillard for Two Days, One Night, in which she plays a woman who must convince her co-workers to accept her continued employment rather than a bonus. It's also at the Kendall.

    The Kendall also starts up another calendar of one-week bookings with Beloved Sisters, a love triangle with a poet and two well-born sisters who initially intend to share him, but, well, that never works out. It's worth noting that it is only playing twice a day and is fairly long at nearly three hours.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre shuffles things around, moving Inherent Vice to the video-based screening room and opening A Most Violent Year on one of the larger screens. They also open two programs of short films from last year's Sundance Film Festival - one live-action & documentary and the other animated.

    Both midnight screenings on Friday & Saturday are on 35mm film, with Tim Burton's Ed Wood in the main screen (remember they had Plan 9 last week?), and a return engagement for Trailer Apocalypse! upstairs. Sunday morning's Talk Cinema presentation is Timbuktu, the Oscar-nominated film from Mauritania about the city's occupation by militant rebels. If Ed Wood wasn't enough Tim Burton for you, his Big Fish plays on 35mm as part of the Science on Screen series, with science journalist Paul Raeburn introducing the film.
  • Theory about Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond: They don't pay tremendously close attention to the full details of a film's release, so they will often open things that have a noteworthy name but which other theaters won't touch because they are playing on VOD or other platforms. Thus, Song One, starring Anne Hathaway as a woman who visits her comatose brother and winds up falling for his musical hero, only plays there.

    Their iMovieCafe program cuts i down to Tamil-language screenings, and also opens Dolly Ki Doli, featuring Soman Kapoor as a grifter who fakes marriages and robs the victims, with Pulkit Samrat as the cop chasing her down.
  • The Brattle has a hodgepodge of a schedule this week, kicking of with 35mm screenings of Blade Runner (the Final Cut) on Friday & Saturday, with an 11:30pm late show of Freaks, also in 35mm, as part of their "Reel Weird Brattle: Mad Romance" series.

    It's special screenings for the rest of the week. Sunday brings a day of the Glovebox Short Film & Animation Festival, with 7 short film programs over the course of the day. Monday's DocYard screening is Happy Valley, with director Amir Bar-Lev and producer Ken Dornstein there to talk about their film about the Penn State scandal. Tuesday is Trash Night, with Brandon Lee and Ernest Borgnine in Laser Mission. Wednesday is Grrl Haus Cinema, a night of music videos directed by Anastasia Cazabon and Jenny Plante, who will be there in person with Gracie Jackson playing a short set before the show. Finally, Thursday night is Wild Style, with director Charlie Ahearn presenting his 1983 documentary, one of the first to show hip-hop on screen.
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts its winter program on Friday night with part one of an Orson Welles retrospective, including some big guns: Citizen Kane (Friday 7pm), Chimes at Midnight (Friday 9pm), The Magnificent Ambersons (Saturday 7pm), The Third Man (Saturday 9pm), Othello (Sunday 5pm), The Lady from Shanghai (Sunday 7pm), and The Trial (Monday 7pm). Friday & Saturday's are on 35mm, Sunday's and Monday's are DCPs.

    They will also be having a "Furious Cinema '70 - '77" series on Wednesday nights - I'm not sure it they are free VES screenings or not - but the first one on Wednesday is Elaine May's Mikey and Nickey.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps the Boston Festival of Films from Iran over the weekend, with four shows between Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Then, on Wednesday, they begin In Case of No Emergency: The Films of Ruben Östlund, including Play (Wednesday), The Involuntary (Wednesday), The Guitar Mongoloid (Thursday), and Force Majeure. All of the Östlund films aside from Force Majeure are in 35mm.
  • The Bright Lights series returns to Emerson's Paramount Theater Bright Screening Room on Thursday the 29th, kicking off its season with Out of Print, a documentary on repertory and 35mm cinema by Julia Marchese; she will be on-hand for a post-film discussion with Peter Flynn & Garen Daly, both of whom will also be showing clips from their own films on the subject.


My plans? Well, I'll be at the Boston Horror Show, and will try to fit Strange Magic, Paddington, A Most Violent Year, Still Alice, Song One, and hopefully Timbuktu in around it. And, who am I kidding, I will probably also see Mortdecai, because I am weak. I'll probably let American Sniper wait another week.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mr. Turner

Tough film to fit into a schedule, since it's only at one theater in Metro Boston and (due to its length), plays either fairly early or fairly late. Well worth it, though, even if you're not one who tries to see all the nominated movies, even those down in the technical categories. I'm a little disappointed that Timothy Spall wasn't nominated, although not necessarily surprised - there are big chunks of this movie where he's saying very little, and you've apparently got to be delivering lines or playing someone who can't.

One thing that I didn't ding the movie for (honest!), but which did seem weird was him going out of his way to make a swipe at critics. It's become sort of de rigeur for any film dealing with art and artists, and while I had a good laugh at (I think) Joshua McGuire as a snooty-voice fan talking about what one must do when "weviewing awt", it was a weird detour. Leigh is good enough that it has a point - Turner's response simultaneously shows him as not just an artist who has studied as opposed to a natural talent but having difficulty articulating his knowledge, simply replying that the old master McGuire's John Ruskin has dismissed was "a genius" (maybe true, but a total argument from authority) - but it feels a little bit more like addressing present concerns than the rest of the movie, which is very much in its period.

It's kind of interesting to see how out-of-sorts Turner is throughout the movie, because it can also tend to serve as a bit of a rebuke to those lamenting the distractions of modern life. There are an awful lot of scenes of people entering a room, gathering in a circle, and instead of engaging in the great conversations we always imagine people of bygone eras having, everyone is either choked by formality and class or just not getting at any deeper ideas than their modern equivalents would. They may use more vocabulary - and it's great fun to watch even the lower classes who, today, would mock folks putting on airs put some effort into their language - but it's not "higher".

I suspect Leigh is doing a lot more with class than Americans like myself would recognize, and it is kind of fascinating. Rich people singing bawdy songs comes across as mockery and appropriation of working-class culture, for instance. I wouldn't be shocked if rewatches and research were to make me appreciate what Mike Leigh does in this film a lot more.

Mr. Turner

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 January 2015 at Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run, DCP)

This is Mike Leigh's third historical biography, which is somewhat surprising considering what a loosely outlined style he is famous for using - improvisation and recreation do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. And yet, somehow, this winds up an excellent way to get to know Joseph Mallard William "Billy" Turner, more so than any particular narrative might.

Turner (Timothy Spall) was an painter, mostly of landscapes and seascapes, whose career roughly spans the first half of the nineteenth century. At the time the film begins, sometime in the 1820s, he is a solitary man, refusing to acknowledge his illegitimate children and grandchildren, mostly keeping the company of his father William (Paul Jesson) - a former barber who now serves as his son's assistant - and their maid Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson). On a trip to the seashore, he stays in a boarding-house run by a couple by the name of Booth (Karl Johnson & Marion Bailey), to which he will return frequently.

There are events to the movie, whether important turning points, recreations of events that have been set down for posterity, or everyday moments that demonstrate the nature of the times Turner lived in. Leigh credits and thanks many researchers in the end credits, so it is likely that few scenes are invented from whole cloth. They do not resolve into a traditional story arc, with explanations given for behavior or early actions paying off with later results, and for a while the various sequences are so disassociated that it's a bit of a surprise to see Turner return the Booths', or have other people become recurring presences in his life. The lessons to be drawn from this presentation of his life are perhaps small ones.

Full review at EFC.

Monday, January 19, 2015

This That Week In Tickets: 4 January 2015 - 10 January 2015

See, this new calendar format is good, spreading the weekend crushes out visually.

This Week in Tickets

Confession: Noticing that Big Eyes was playing in an even-numbered screen at the Somerville played some small factor in my seeing it at Assembly Row. A shame, because that turned out to be the only one of the big Christmas openings I was really interested in, as demonstrated by the blank space below that ticket.

Not that I really meant it to be blank; it was just that the two times I could easily make it to see Whiplash during the work week, but there were no evening showings those days. Not particularly drawn to Unbroken or Into the Woods, it was thus a pretty quiet week until Saturday, when I caught Selma at the Capitol. Funny MoviePass quirk - they apparently have a database of how much a movie is supposed to cost at each theater, which means that the Capitol raising their prices a buck to an even ten dollars makes the card freak out and not work, even though it happily works for $12.79 tickets elsewhere.

Such as Taken 3 the next evening. Idle MoviePass ethical question: Is it okay to ignore the 24-hour rule when they've refunded you the price of a ticket? See, just 22 hours between these two. The app can't enforce it, so you're kind of on the honor system. Anyway, even though it's not a lot of guilt, it does make one feel just a tiny bit worse about contributing to that movie's box office take.

Still, I gave it a good thrashing in the review and then was still ready for the midnight screening of The Satanic Rites of Dracula at the Coolidge. Fun, but maybe one's first Hammer Dracula (or at least, the first one stays awake through) should not be the last in the series.

Big Eyes

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 January 2015 in AMC Assembly Row #10 (first-run, DCP)

There's a sort of sub-theme in Big Eyes about Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) improving her craft, getting away from her signature style, and coming into conflict with her husband as a result. It's an interesting thing to show up in a Tim Burton movie, isn't it?

I kid, somewhat, but at points that's the most interesting part of the movie. The story around it, about Margaret being the one to actually paint the works in question while her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) took the credit and built a lucrative business around them, has much to recommend it, but tends to drift toward "what a weird series of events" even when it's clear that what's going on underneath is what inspired Burton and writers Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski.

When it's taking about art, and the difference between wanting to be an artist because that's how you imagine yourself and needing to get the images in ones head out - and evolving because you have new things to say and new ways to say it, the film is fairly interesting. It too often sidesteps the question of whether Margaret's art is actually "good", willing to portray her as a talent thwarted for being a woman, with any criticism of her work blunted for being aimed at the empty suit that is Walter, which is a missed opportunity to talk about how she doesn't need to be an invading genius to benefit from having some means of expression. It also seems like the film could have greatly benefited from more female perspective behind the camera, as well; the writers and director have done fine work in the past, but the film only addresses how being a woman - and a divorced one with a kid at that! - in this time and environment drives many of Margaret's decisions in a perfunctory manner.

Any Adams picks up a lot of slack there, though. She picks up on the desperation Margaret often feels which is generally unsaid, finds ways to balance it with the sarcasm and rebelliousness that comes with Margaret's growth as an artist, and generally show her becoming a more complete person. Waltz gives an often-entertaining performance as Walter, but it's a little too much so - it's all too evident to the audience what he is from the start, with little hint of what's going on with him. A bunch of other actors have similar issues, though with less screen time (Krysten Ritter, Jason Schwartzman, Terrence Stamp).

I enjoyed Big Eyes enough, and don't think I'm dinging it too much for not being the movie I wanted it to be. After all, those hopes didn't pop up until after if started watching the movie, as opposed to being a mindset I came in with.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (aka Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 January 2015 in College Corner Theatre #1 (After Midnite, 35mm)

The Satanic Rites of Dracula is built around the idea that Dracula is, after seven prior movies in this series and hundreds of years of undeath, with the last hundred marked by repeated defeats, deaths, and resurrections, simply sick of it all and aims to bring the whole world down around him. It's as good a thing as any to hang a plot from in a series that, itself, is rather long in the tooth, although the funny thing is, this wouldn't be a bad place to start a series about a task force dealing with the intersection of black magic and dangerous science.

In fact, it's actually scarier than a lot of Hammer's action-horror hybrids because of the doomsday plague Dracula intends to unleash upon the world. Vampires are pretty old hat by this point in the series, with Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) mentioning yet another way to kill Dracula and barely giving a thought to his return. Things move along at an enjoyable enough pace, and there's a likable ensemble around Van Helsing (including Joanna Lumley as his granddaughter).

It's a fun vampire movie, with all the blood and sex you'd expect from it. It's just at the end of a cycle which was too played out to finish with a bang.

Big EyesSelmaTaken 3The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Saturday, January 17, 2015

20 Once Again

Come on, Regal Fenway. New Chinese movies being booked roughly every two weeks, and the one you miss is the Tsui Hark one where things blow up and people get punched in the face? Why do you do this to me?

Granted, 20 Once Again popping up on the schedule was kind of fun, although i did feel the slight "ah, I just saw that!" disappointment when I discovered it was a remake of Miss Granny. Make no mistake, I liked Miss Granny a lot, but there's a hidden potential sharpness to its brand of satire that I wasn't sure a Mainland Chinese movie would capture; if it did,I must have missed it because being Chinese would probably help a lot in terms of getting certain jokes.

This also would likely have helped me recognize Luhan, a K/M-pop star (is that the right way to designate EXO, which appears to be popular in both Korean and Mainland China) who got big cheers as soon as he appeared on screen. I did kind of want to give a high-five tot he other couple people in the audience who laughed when the ad in a bus station was a big still of Shim Eun-kyung from the Korean Miss Granny.

Not that reminding us of Shim's version was necessarily a great idea, because it reminds us a bit of how this version has had a bit of edge sanded off. I mention the change in how the music was done in the review (the Chinese songs seem less catchy than the Korean), but it's also clear right away that Shen Mengjun is not quite Oh Mal-soon: Where the original was brash and pushy, a broad visual and verbal stereotype, the new version is more quietly stress-inducing, and seeing her young isn't quite so obviously funny. There's a sentimentality to this version that was present in the other, but not quite so overtly.

I'd kind of love to see an American version with a more satirical bent - play the cute vintage clothes the rejuvenated grandmother goes for off the present-day hipsters who wear the same things or how the guy from the record label who is drawn to the young girl singing old songs is an example of how mainstream/mass-media pop culture is stagnating, just producing new versions of what was popular a generation or two ago. Maybe instead of a contrived accident that restores things to the way they should be, she gets to stay young, but at the "cost" of actually becoming young in mind and embracing the twenty-first century - social media, hip-hop, multiculturalism, and everything else that her friends at the senior center might blanch at.

Or not; part of the appeal of these movies is that they are cross-generational and light. Still, it's tough to see an idea that clearly has so much potential to say something always used in the frothiest of ways.

Oh, and as is traditional when seeing one of these movies with practically no IMDB (or even HKMDB) entry: I present this snapshot of the credits both so that you can shame me for using a camera-phone in a theater and so that anyone else reviewing the movie can match actors and characters.

20 Once Again Credits

Chogman 20 Sui (20 Once Again aka Miss Granny)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2015 in Regal Fenway #3 (first-run, DCP)

When I said I'd be interested in seeing a remake of Korean comedy Miss Granny when I saw it at the Fantasia Festival last August, I didn't realize that one was already shooting in China. It's no shock - I still expect an English-language version sooner or later - although it would have been nice if it had cleaned up the ending or come up with some clever ideas to make up for what it inevitably loses in translation.

It's about 70-year-old widow Shen Mengjun (Grace Guei Ah-leh), who likes to brag at the senior center about her university-professor son Guobin (Zhao Li-xin), although less so about daughter-in-law Yangqin (Li Yijuan); she also tends to favor her aspiring musician grandson Yianjin (Luhan) over his twin sister Xinran (Yin Hang). She's enough of a handful that when Yangqin winds up in the hospital and told to cut stress out of her life, the first thing everyone thinks about is to put Mengjun in a nursing home. Instead, she walks into a photographer's shop and comes out fifty years younger (and now played by Yang Zi-shan), and soon finds herself renting a room from Li Dahai (Wang De-shun), who has had a crush on her for over half a century, and singing in her grandson's band under the name Meng Lijun.

The latter is a play on the name of Taiwanese folk singer "Teresa" Teng Li-yun, although the period of Teng's underground popularity and Mengjun's youth doesn't quite line up. It's also worth noting that Yianjin's band "Forward" seems to be playing fairly lightweight Mandopop from the start - in the Korean film, the band was all gothed-up in black leather - which means that "Lijun" taking charge and making them a sort of throwback band is less funny, and in some ways less interesting: Although I couldn't recognize most of the pop-culture references right away, they're enough of a mishmash of various times and places that director Leste Chen Cheng-tao and writers Lin Xiao-ge & Endrix Ren Peng never seem to get a chance to play with the idea of recycled and evolving entertainment much. It's a missed opportunity that might have given the comedy a little more bite.

Full review at EFC.

Spare Parts

I'll admit, this movie wasn't my first plan for last night, but sometimes the MBTA makes that decision for you by having both the bus and the train be delayed/slow. The irony is that this was probably a better movie than the one I was planning to see, although who knows if I can even give the other a fair chance (on the other hand, I can't imagine how I would have received it frustrated from the T).

Still, I liked this one, and was impressed that there seemed to be a good slate of Latino-targeted movies coming up in the next few months. Lionsgate has a label for that now, and Fox International seems to be stepping its game up too. I don't necessarily think all of the movies we saw previews for will actually play this particular theater, but just seeing a subtitled preview in a mainstream multiplex feels like kind of a small victory.

On the other hand, seeing the trailers for Black and White and McFarland, USA just about back-to-back makes me a little uncomfortable for Kevin Costner, even if the new one for McFarland doesn't include the scene of him assuming his student's father can't speak English. It's got to kind of suck to be in the middle of a couple of months where people come out of practically every movie they see associating you with being kind of prejudiced.

Spare Parts

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 January 2015 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

If I believed in guilty pleasures, I might count movies like Spare Parts among them, even though there's not much worth feeling bad about where it's concerned. Sure, it breaks almost no new ground at all, following its formula closer than it really needs to. On the other hand, it does so with general good humor and without being patronizing, and if you can't enjoy a science-underdogs story that avoids the pitfalls, then here can't be much that makes you happy.

The underdogs in this case are students at an overcrowded, underfunded community high school in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Fredi Cameron (George Lopez) has just taken on a four-month gig as a substitute teacher, technically supposed to advise a club that has no members until Oscar Vazquez (Carlos PenaVega), unable to enlist in the army despite his excellent JROTC record because he cannot produce a birth certificate, shows up with a flyer about an underwater robotics competition. They wind up recruiting others for the team - math wiz Cristian Arcega (David Del Rio), mechanic Lorenzo Santillan (Jose Julian), and Cristian's sometime-protector Luis Arranda (Oscar Guitierrez) - but challenges naturally arise, both from their nonexistent budget and from the fact that all four teens are undocumented.

Director Sean McNamara is a workhorse - he has three other movies scheduled to come out in 2015 - mostly working in children's television and direct-to-video work, and even the occasional film like this or Soul Surfer that sees theatrical release is in the same family-friendly category; it's pretty far from all gems. He and screenwriter Elissa Matseuda (working from an article in Wired by Joshua Davis) know what they're going for here, though, and the combination of experience and efficiency means that the movie is a fairly well-oiled machine, and there's a pretty good idea of where the line is between entertaining kids and patronizing them. The story is straightforward, but there's no talking down to the audience, and both technical challenges and the difficulties of living in these kids' situations are presented with clarity. The jokes are clean and safe, but land well enough.

Full review at EFC.

Whiplash

Well, this certainly looks like someone seeing the list of Oscar nominees and catching up with the ones he hasn't seen, doesn't it? It's not like that - I've been trying to see it for weeks, maybe even months, but there's always been something else that's only around for a week, or the night I do plan on it, the Kendall is using that screen for a preview of some sort, and then I see it's not ending on Thursday, so it can be put off...

Darn shame on my part, because this is a pretty great movie, not necessarily having me on the edge of my seat to see what's going to happen next, but almost always making me anticipate how it's going to happen. It's a tremendous triumph of craft, but not a hollow one, especially at the end.

The funny thing is, I remember being really taken by the trailer, going to look the movie up, and saying something like "done by the guy who made Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench? Man, I hated that movie!" Despite that, I was never particularly put off from it, if only because "great role for J.K. Simmons" is a pretty good way to draw me into a movie.

The thing I kind of don't get? People leaving during the credits. The music from the last scene kept going as the screen went black, and if you had been enjoying the movie, why pass up a few more minutes of its great soundtrack to get to the parking garage a couple minutes faster?

Whiplash

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

So far, three of the four films that Damien Chazelle has written and/or directed have been about musicians, and for all I know, his script for The Last Exorcism II had one in a prominent supporting role. In guessing he has some sort of connection to the field, but that's less important than how he has clearly refined his presentation of it to the point where Whiplash is a riveting film told in large part by how people play.

It starts with Andrew Neeman (Miles Teller), an aspiring jazz drummer in his first semester at a prestigious conservatory, in a practice room working late into the night. Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), the conductor of the school's top jazz ensemble hears him. He does not offer words of encouragement, but soon recruits Andrew for his group, and from there, the practices which often cross the line into abuse only pick up. Andrew doesn't quite welcome it, but like the rest of the ensemble, he knows that Fletcher is a path to prestige and perhaps greatness.

If Fletcher is any sort of teacher, that doesn't show on screen; he's a hundred percent taskmaster, and J.K. Simmons dives into that with relish, screaming half of his lines, plowing through strings of vile insults without any sort of breath or slowdown, and always seeming like a vein is about to burst. He'll rein it in a bit in scenes meant to humanize the character a bit, but even then, he always seems to have a purpose, and that's why scenes later revealed to be manipulations also feel like he was being entirely true to himself.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, January 16, 2015

This That Week In Tickets: 29 December 2014 - 3 January 2015

Wait a minute, that's only six days! What the heck is going on here?

This Week in Tickets

Oh, the calendars I've been using as scrapbooks for the past five years have gone from running Monday-to-Sunday on a page to running Sunday-to-Saturday. Why would they do that? Don't they realize that people count on calendars for predictability and structure?!?!

(Deep breath)

I can make this work. Sure, now some things that run weekends like the Boston Underground Film Festival will have the end clipped off, but it will give me a little more space for both weekend days, and maybe having lazy Sunday afternoons to work on these posts will make them more timely. It'll mess with the opening-weekend narrative, but you can worry about that if these seem strange one they're back on some sort of schedule...

ANYWAY, that leaves a not-really-blank spot at the top of the page to represent what was actually a fairly busy day (check out the 22-28 December 2014 post for that) before my last movie of 2014, which happened to be the only thing i caught from the Brattle's Bill Murray program, The Razor's Edge. It was not the best film playing in the series, although it is kind of interesting in that it is the sort of movie made by someone desperate to be taken seriously but who is also terribly worried that people won't like that. Murray would have to practically disappear, age, and reinvent himself before figuring out how to make his comedic gifts and dramatic ambitions work together.

Most of the week, then, would be quiet; I don't do much for New Year's because it's cold, I've seen the Christmas releases that I am actively interested in by then, and there was stuff to catch up on at the office after being on vacation a week. I did finally do some DVR cleaning and watch that Blu-ray set of True Detective, though, and that is some awfully fine television. I'm not sure whether I would have rather seen it during its original run and been part of the conversation or not; as much as it's cool to get swept up, internet TV talk disdains the procedural in favor of the built-out world and the tightening twist, and this show ultimately being a serialized cop show with more detailed character work than usual seemed to upset folks. Pity, because it reminded me of the original Prime Suspect in how it used an intriguing crime story as a way to just watch Matthew McConnaughey and Woody Harrelson (and to a lesser extent Michelle Monaghan) act the hell out of their roles.

That finished up, I was back to the Brattle on Friday night for Hayao Miyazaki documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, which didn't cover nearly as much ground as I had hoped. I was also weirdly worn out afterward, so I didn't stick around for Why Don't You Play in Hell?, which would have made an excellent second movie of 2015.

It did lead to sleeping in, though, and that meant I was in good shape for Saturday: Catching The Interview now that the Somerville Theatre had room for it after committing to other things before, and then walking through some pretty miserable slush to catch A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night at the Coolidge's midnight show. Wasn't going to chance the GoldScreen being sold out, even if I did more or less kill a pair of shoes in the process.

Then on Sunday-- Oh, right. New calendar. Next week, then, and it's a good thing I don't really flip out over changes to my routine that much.


The Razor's Edge (1984)

* * (out of four)
Seen 29 December 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (Bill Murray: More than Just a Nut, 35mm)

The 1984 version of The Razor's Edge had a well-worn behind-the-scenes narrative attached to it almost as soon as it was announced - the comedian who wanted to be taken seriously, proved unsuited to it, and failed spectacularly. He goes back to making people laugh, but has he learned that this is even more important than making them cry, or has he been crushed by the realization that he will always be second class? In real life, Bill Murray hones his craft for the next fifteen years and ages into the kind of guy melancholy suits, but that doesn't mean that the first part of the story didn't happen.

For his dramatic debut, Murray and his collaborators adapt a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, with Murray playing Larry Darrell, a laid-back college baseball star who, along with classmate Gray Maturin (James Keach), volunteer to drive an ambulance on the front lines before the United States has officially entered World War I. He leaves behind sweetheart Isabel Bradley (Catherine Hicks) and married friends Bob (Joris Stuyck) & Sophie MacDonald (Theresa Russell). He comes back confused and dissatisfied with the gilded life awaiting him back in America, deciding to spend a year on Paris - and not the classy enclave Isabel's uncle Elliott Templeton (Denholm Elliott) picks out for him.

It stretches out to more than a year, of course, and is quest to find some understanding of the world takes him to many places other than Parisian grottos. In the meantime, life back "home" goes on without him, until the group inevitably reunites over a decade later. Indeed, it seems like everything that can happen does - every period-appropriate tragedy, every bit of soapy melodrama, every way a person can contemplate Just What All This Means. There is nothing that seems out of place, but also nothing that seems like it comes from the characters, rather than happening to them, the most serious moments picked from their lives and lined up by screenwriters who figure the way to maximize drama is to maximize the obviously important scenes.

Full review at EFC.

The Interview

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 January 2015 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, DCP)

The irony to The Interview having its theatrical release severely curtailed in the wake of a computer security breach at Sony Pictures that may or not have been initiated by North Korean hackers in response to this movie is not that the comical villains of the movie wound up being more powerful than its makers. No, the irony is that this film is, at its heart, about how when the media stands up and gives a damn, rather than compromising on the name of access or other sorts of timidity, it can be a tremendous force for positive change... And the movie will not be much seen because the theater chains were awfully timid.

And all of that aside, it means that people missed a very funny movie. The two opening bits are both kind of brilliant in different ways - the cute little North Korean girl singing a patriotic song that takes a harsh turn is a great comic bit made even better for actually being much closer to reality than many might expect, while the televized interview with Eminem that introduces the audience to talk show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) is both a clever pop-culture gag and a foreshadowing of what will happen at the climax. Throughout, there is a steady stream of jokes, often crude and broad, but still funny.

That's in large part because Franco and Rogen know exactly what they are doing. Both, I think, are guys who are not appreciated as much as they should be because people conflate their often not-so-bright characters with their easygoing personalities (something they have played into at times), but they're both ambitious and smart. Stuff that looks offhand is actually well-planned, and absurd doesn't equal dumb. They're great performers given fun support by Randall Park as Kim Jong-un, Diana Bang as the liaison officer Aaron falls for, and Lizzy Caplan as the CIA agent who tasks the journalists to kill Kim.

By the time things start going every which way in the last act, it's clear that the writing/producing/directing team of Rogen and Seth Goldberg can get a little sloppy, but they've still made a movie funny enough to deserve some of the extra attention it wound up getting, even if it's ultimately not much more than a brief, if topical, comedy.


The Razor's Edge
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
The Interview
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night