Monday, November 30, 2015

This Week In Tickets: 15 November 2015 - 21 November 2015

Not a lot this week, but other stuff kept popping up to keep me from actually writing up stuff from early in the week

This Week in Tickets

After hitting the HFA for Guy Maddin on the previous Saturday, I spent a fair amount more time there - Angel Face for Five O'Clock Shadows on Sunday and then a two-day visit by Nobuhiko Obayashi, where he hosted Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast and House. A lot of good fun.

Although, back me up on this - putting your stuff on the seat in front of you is uncool, right? Folks look at it, assume that there are people there, and try to find another spot. There's a couple regulars at the HFA that do this all the time, and it seems like more of a deliberate attempt to claim extra space than putting your bag on the seat beside you, and particularly crappy on days when the movie is obviously going to sell out.

Anyway, after that it was a two-Chinese-movie week: A Journey through Time with Anthony came out on Wednesday and Our Times on Friday (though I didn't get to it until Saturday. Both mostly okay, although the nostalgia-comedy-romance kick that the Chinas have been on is getting kind of tiresome - I feel like 90% of what Taiwan produces is stuff that flashes back to high school, even though I know that's just a matter of what has made it to festivals/release here.

In between, I caught The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, and I have to say I was pretty disappointed at what a come-down it is from the second and third films of the series. I've heard that the splitting of this final book was especially egregious - Mockingjay is apparently actually shorter than Catching Fire - and, man, you can tell that it's stretched.

So that's mid-November. Next up: A lot of noir.

Angel FaceBound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the SeacoastHouseA Journey through Time with AnthonyThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2Our Times

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Visit from Nobuhiko Obayashi: "Complexe", Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast, "Emotion", and Hausu

Today in "projection": During the Q&A for Sunday night's film, I looked over my shoulder a couple of times to see Saturday night's guest, Guy Maddin, getting up, walking around, and sitting back down. I wondered if he was anywhere close to as impatient as I was, because my bladder was ready to explode but I was blocked in by people on both sides, including my least favorite Harvard Film Archive regulars

Nobuhiko Obayashi and company

I didn't get many good photos, because you're not supposed to be taking any, but I needed to get this one - Obayashi-sama (I believe that was the honorific used) in the center, the translator on the right, and the director's daughter Chigumi Obayashi on the left. She, famously, supplied the original story, which was basically a list of things that freaked her out, at the age of 11, and would become an experimental filmmaker in her teens based upon her father's encouragement.

The projector obscuring Mr. Obayashi was either a toy he received when he was three or a replica thereof - which, being three, he saw as a choo-choo train, causing a bit of damage. At the time, I found this story of this confusion an extended metaphor for how he just wouldn't answer the question someone asked, although I was a bit more charitable once I got home. The man clearly loves to talk about movies and his work, saying many times that his heart was 8mm even if his more commercial work was 35mm. He also mentioned that, for both of the features, he was trying to evoke silent cinema in the framing and presentation.

This was just a short visit to Boston before heading to New York for a much larger retrospective, which has one more weekend to go. If you're in that area, it's worth checking out. I'd advise the small soda, though, because that guy can talk.

"Complexe"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Almost Like a Horror Film: The Cinema of Nobuhiko Obayashi, 16mm)

One of Nobuhiko Obayashi's earliest creations as a cinema artist, "Complexe" feels like a young man having fun with the camera more than anything else, and is kind of a shame that more directors don't have things like this that are easily retrieved and examined. Abstract as it is you can see his joy at creating something very odd, even if you may have to split your own meaning.

If I was going to graft a narrative onto it, I'd say it's the filmmaker poking around a housing complex in a modern urban area and finding something missing - not necessarily objects, but slices of time. Much of the film is a sort of live-action stop-motion animation, time-lapse photography where each frame chosen creates the illusion of people moving while standing still or vice versa, creating some super-cool effects, as when a man seems to just flat through a row of trees like a ghost.

Aside from that, it's also very self-aware; Obayashi addresses the audience directly in voice-over, and the film opens and closes with various stills of the crew working (and the directorxs infant daughter, tangled in 8mm film). It feels almost like we watch them striking a set, and yet that still doesn't make the film feel completely unreal, despite the impossibility of what we've seen. It's almost as though Obayashi puts the audience directly on the boundary of an impossible documentary and an obvious construction, a nifty place to be.

Noyuki yamayuki umibe yuki (Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Almost Like a Horror Film: The Cinema of Nobuhiko Obayashi, 35mm)

Like many in the audience for Nobuhiko Obayashi's Noyuki yamayuki umibe yuki (the English title of "Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast" was not on the print projected), all I had seen of the director's work was House, which re-emerged as a cult favorite a few years back, and as a result I spent some time watching it through that prism - how is it like House, how is it different? That's perhaps inevitable but unfair, as there is a fair chunk of time and work between the two, and this is in many ways a far more impressive work, less randomly strange but still eccentric, with a different sort of sting to its jokes.

This one is set during the Second World War, although the most obvious indicator of that in this particular town is that there aren't a whole lot of teenagers or young men around. Instead, kids like Sutaro Sudo (Yasufumi Hayashi), dressed in sailor's hat and always carrying binoculars and a book on monkey behavior, run around more or less unsupervised after school. His class has a new student, Sakae Ohsugi (Jun'ichiro Katagiri), a couple years older than the other kids and thus drawing the ire of the class's established bully Bon, the barber's son, leading Sudo to devise elaborate war games to prevent real violence from breaking out. The other boys also rapidly develop a crush on Sakae's pretty older half-sister O-Shouchan (Isako Washio), although she has an eye for raft-rider Yuta Hayami (Toshinori Omi). That pacifist may wind up in the Army anyway, even though O-Shouchan will soon have another reason for the pair to run away.

Those of us who primarily know Obayashi from House would not be surprised to connect the two films just by looking at them; though Bound for the Fields takes place in a less fanatical space and its color scheme is a bit more muted, it's still a vibrant world, more so than one might expect from a war-depleted time. It's a kid's-eye-view of things, though, and Sudo in particular still finds the world to be full of adventure and ready to be discovered. So the kids in his class wear distinctive outfits rather than uniforms, his parents are all wide, reassuring smiles - the father is even a doctor who can fix the sort of damage an active kids sustains right up - and his teacher is a goofball who is always running kind of funny. The last is probably because of an erection from the porn he keeps in his desk, but Sudo isn't thinking like that yet.

Full review on EFC.

"Émotion"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Almost Like a Horror Film: The Cinema of Nobuhiko Obayashi, 16mm)

"That Dracula that we once knew" is a fun way to start off a short film, albeit one with relatively little Dracula-based content. Instead, it tells the story of Emi (Emi Tabata), a girl from the seashore who goes to the city and meets Sari (Sari Akasaka), a girl "just like her". They quickly become extremely close, with eyes on the same man while Sari's parents "out of a fairy tale" get interested in Emi. Of course, this being an Obayashi film which started with name-dropping Dracula, things will get odd at several points.

It's downright eccentric, with stop-motion/live-action bits and a duel that happily makes a point of leaving the cameramen in the shot because Obayashi's experimental films are as much about making movies as their subjects. This one strikes an unusually good balance there, making both its wispy story and unusual flourishes memorable in equal measure. It's genuinely funny and sweet, but shows Obayashi havinng fun with the form.

House (Hausu)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Almost Like a Horror Film: The Cinema of Nobuhiko Obayashi, 35mm)

Was House the first modern cult movie rediscovery, rolled out with a concerted effort and branded as such, or the last to pop up in various places, acquire good word of mouth, and spread that way? Not that it really matters; it's not important that people enjoy something for the proper, authentic reasons, although there's no denying that the thrill of discovering something insane back in 1989 is no longer there, and to a certain extent, watching it now is kind of waiting for this or that weird thing to happen, checking it off a list.

It's still fun, though - Obayashi is doing crazy, vibrant things that are still highly amusing even on the third or fourth run-through. Having now been through repeated viewings, I find more moments where Gorgeous's jealousy of her step-mother hints at a certain instability that makes her merge with her mad, ghostly aunt, athough the randomness is just as visible.

Is it still fun? Sure, and there are lots of ways that it holds up. It's just never going to be the sort of cult film that gets better with repetition.

Full review (from 2009) on EFC.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Trumbo

Happy Thanksgiving! I opted to stay in Massachusetts this year, what with everybody else in my family having in-laws to visit and my not necessarily loving spending a chunk of every holiday on the bus. Not a bad day to treat a holiday as a weekend day, though, as the Brattle had two all-time Humphrey Bogart greats and I still had time to take the 66 to the Coolidge for this. It was apparently Trumbo's last night with shows on the big screens, and since it was technically a weeknight, being an auteur-level member gets you in free. Win-win.

Well, other than there not being many places open to get something to eat.

Trumbo

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Trumbo has what is really a distractingly good cast in more ways than one, especially for those who love movies and as a result have a sharp eye for those involved. Right away, you've got to decide whether you accept Michael Stuhlbarg as Edward G. Robinson (it's kind of hard at first); later on, even small roles seem to have noted character actors like Stephen Root in them. The result is a bunch of people who don't quite disappear into their roles no matter which way you look at it, although it's also two hours of talented people doing things that are worth watching.

Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), for those who may not know, was a war correspondent, novelist, and screenwriter, and also a prominent liberal who would not cross picket lines when Hollywood was a much more conservative town. Indeed, he was a member of the American Communist Party from before the Cold War poisoned any association with even its best ideals. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, both Congressmen looking to make a name like J. Parnell Thomas (James DuMont) and Hollywood insiders like John Wayne (David James Elliott) and Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) started demonizing him and others in a similar situation, resulting not just in contempt of Congress citations (and prison sentences), but a blacklist that kept them from working in any official capacity, though Trumbo would eventually find a patron in Frank King (John Goodman) who would pay, albeit poorly, to have talented writers work on B-movie scripts under assumed names - at least until Kirk Douglas thought of Trumbo for a movie he was producing and starring in, Spartacus.

The creative team behind this movie is an interesting one: Director Jay Roach has mostly done zany comedies (the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents movies) in theaters but has also done a few TV-movies with this sort of real-life political slant of late, while writer/producer John McNamara has spent most of his career doing television work that has generally been quite good but never hooked audiences enough to get a second season or shook things up enough to make him influential; it's easy to see both wanting to create something that makes more of an impression than being capable but anonymous. They are who they are, though, and that's not necessarily a bad thing - though I suspect that one would be hard-pressed to pick out a memorable moment that is not comes from the filmmakers rather than what are presumably Trumbo's words (by way of Bruce Cook's biography), they tell the story with clarity, finding a good balance between having Serious Things To Say and being entertaining.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Good Dinosaur

I probably shouldn't have been able to get to this particular screening of The Good Dinosaur, what with it being downtown at 4:15pm, but I baked on work about a half hour before the 3pm early close. Everyone else in the office left at noon to "work from home" for the rest of the day, and there have been several pre-holidays where I worked am extra half hour because the bus out of Burlington passes my place of employment at half past the hour that time of day. I've banked it.

I was kind of surprised that there weren't more 3D showings to be had - of the two theaters spewing it on the way home, one was 2D-only and the other only had 3D at fairly inconvenient times. It's a shame, because both The Good Dinosaur and the short that played before it are some of the best 3D work Pixar has done, and it seems a strange pattern that the films which seem to put some work into how the third dimension gets used don't get booked that way quite as much. I wonder if it's a case of Disney having a rep for only using it reluctantly, their audience being less willing to pay extra for am entire family going out, or some interaction between the two.

At any rate, I liked this one a lot, and was gratified when it got applause at the end. Clasping for a movie is a weird thing to do unless you know the folks who programmed it (and took a risk in doing so) or cast/crew are in the house, but both times is happened in a multiplex screening this year, it seemed instructive: It was interesting, at least, to hear that people really enjoyed Jurassic World rather than it being propelled by nostalgia and saturation advertising, and that this one worked for parents and kids. A lot of what I enjoyed was its eccentricity, and I didn't know if that would translate.

Then again, maybe people just like dinosaurs that much.

"Sanjay's Super Team"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD DCP)

As much as "Sanjay's Super Team" is a delightful little animated short - which it is - there seems to be something significant about it playing in thousands of theaters right before a major release on a holiday weekend as opposed to as part of an animation program at a film festival. If it's not quite something that doesn't feel the need to explain a specific culture to its mainstream American audience, it's awfully close.

It's also plenty entertaining praise of that sort of context, telling a simple sorry of a boy watching a superhero cartoon on television while his father attempts to worship and meditate on the other side of the room, only to insist young Sanjay join him. It's a cute little second-generation culture clash, put together with plenty of charm and giving impressively subtle personalities to both father and son. It would be easy to exaggerate either, but instead they're quietly different enough that their not connecting is sort of sad. If that were all the movie was, it would still be impressive.

But it's got a big segment in the middle that's equally inspired by American superheroes and Hindu mythology, and it's a grand, colorful bit of action, genuinely surprising and kind of tense in how it plays out, in part because of how it reflects Sanjay's childish fears of upsetting his father or even doing real damage by extinguishing a candle, and in part for how it's impressively choreographed and put together, using the fact that the shrine is a box to create natural bounds for a 3D presentation. The contrast with the real world is great, but the two halves of the short strengthen rather than distract from each other.

The Good Dinosaur

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, RealD DCP)

I'm not sure at what point during The Good Dinosaur I started leaning forward, eagerly anticipating whatever was going to appear on screen next, but it happened, and by the end, I was as delighted with this movie as any I'd seen all year. It's a rare combination of visually stunning, creative, and surprisingly heartfelt. Given that those are words that could also be used to describe Pixar's other exceptional film this year (Inside Out), it almost seems like an insufficient description. This movie delighted me, pure and simple.

It posits a world where no mass extinction occurred 65 million years ago, and given a few million more years, dinosaurs were able to evolve into a variety of intelligent species including a pair of brontosauri (vocied by Jeffrey Wright & Frances McDormand) whose farm soon welcomes three hatchlings. Libby & Buck are high-spirited, but Arlo (voice of Raymond Ochoa) is timid, and even backs down when charged with stopping the proto-human "critter" making off with their grain. It leads to a pair of calamitous events at the nearby river, with Arlo and the critter he eventually names "Spot" (voice of Jack Bright) swept far downstream with the frightened Arlo facing a long walk home.

It's odd that there has been little talk of the Disney company's year-2000 release Dinosaur as this movie approached release; not only do both feature young dinos of similar varieties on an incredible journey through real or extraordinarily realistic environments, but both had fairly tortured production histories on the way there. Pixar has, of course, earned a fair amount of trust with its original productions and in that case the trust is warranted, even though the script certainly shows signs of having gone through many hands - from original director Bob Peterson to another four people with story credit (including eventual director Peter Sohn) to screenwriter Meg LaFauve. This isn't always a bad thing - although there are a few run-of-the-mill moments, there are also some decidedly odd ones, and LaFauve and Sohn are mostly able to connect the work of all these different voices into something that runs fairly smoothly from start to finish.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Victor Frankenstein

I must say that I am genuinely surprised that I liked this one as much as I did, even if in truth I don't like it that much. It was sort of a "oh, MoviePass won't let me buy 3D tickets even though it shows them" substitute for The Good Dinosaur.

I wound up liking parts of it quite a bit, though. It's a mess in most places, but the ideas being played with are worthwhile, and it's one of the best James McAvoy performances I can remember, especially surprising given that my impression from the (terrible) previews was that even when playing the manic, over-the-top character, McAvoy still doesn't really make an impression. He's better in the movie where he's allowed to be legitimately arrogant rather than just cocky. McAvoy does arrogance well - his best work in the X-Men movies is when Charles is at his most hubristic as well - but that's not exactly the quality that gets people into theaters.

One thing I'm still curious about (though I care less than I did before sitting down, as I liked the result just enough to think of it on its own terms as opposed to for how it relates to something else) is how Universal, with their upcoming Universal Monsters shared world, really intends to stake their claim when anybody can come along and make something like this. Do they want a Frankenstein (doctor or monster) in that series so close to this thing's release? Given that their entire plan for an answer to the Marvel Universe is cobbled together out of characters in the public domain (Dracula, Frankenstein) or vague concepts (wolf-men, mummies), they're uniquely set up to have things diluted unless they start really enforcing that certain designs are theirs. They don't seem to be doing that much - this movie's monster is very Karloffian, and Hotel Transylvania is probably on a fine line between parody and actionable infringement. Granted, those things should all be in the public domain anyway, along with Superman, Batman, and probably at least Captain America, but given that they're not, I'm not sure why Universal didn't sic lawyers on this one, with the Monsters being a fair part of their future plans.

Anyway, I don't know if I can really recommend this - it's got some good ideas but never gets enough right at once to be really good. I enjoyed bits, though, and that's a bit more than I was expecting.

Victor Frankenstein

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

My expectations weren't high for Victor Frankenstein; the preview made it look like the very worst example of Hollywood trying to make evening younger, sexier, and more action-packed imaginable, and I had something more extensive to that effect outlined in my head even before sitting down. Those problems are there in the actual film, to a frustrating extent, but it is at least ambitious enough to be interesting, which is a rather pleasant surprise.

The screenplay by Max Landis draws far more directly from the classic Universal film than the novel by Mary Wollstencraft Shelley, and is told from the perspective of "Igor" (Daniel Radcliffe), who starts out as a nameless, bent-over, and abused circus clown before medical student Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) sees him think quickly to treat a critically injured trapeze artist (Jessica Brown Findlay). Victor spirits him away to his apartments, where he quickly straightens out the misdiagnosed "hunchback" and tells him to use the name of Victor's absent flatmate should anyone ask. Igor process an excellent partner as Victor attempts to reanimate dead tissue, although he has some qualms - and disapproving Scotland Yard Inspector Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott) is following their trail of mayhem.

As someone who loves Frankenstein the novel and tends to judge adaptations on how closely they stick to that, a lot of the choices made to reconfigure the story seem misguided at first, with the massive reduction of the Monster's role basically ripping or the heart of the story and its themes of how a creator (or parent) is responsible both for his creation and to it. With that the case, the lack of a fiancée and a different relationship with his family might as well come next, as he doesn't need to retreat to their normality. In some ways, that makes recasting Frankenstein as a Victorian Brit and giving the look of things a push in the direction of steampunk merely cosmetic, although the almost casual way Igor is quickly remade as a good-looking partner verges on bad parody, despite the character originating in the films. The addition of an untrustworthy benefactor is boring a later cliché onto a classic story that wasn't missing it.

Full review on EFC.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 November 2015 - 3 December 2015

Holiday weekend with what looks like good stuff coming out. It also means there's time to bone up on everything that leads to one of them.

  • That would be Creed, in which Michael B. Jordan plays the son of Apollo Creed, the great rival in Rocky and the first two sequels, with Sylvester Stallone reprising his role, this time serving as a mentor to "Adonis". Believe it or not, I've never seen any of the Rocky movies, although I suspect you can start fresh here. It's at Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the Superlux.

    Another reboot, of sorts, is Victor Frankenstein, with James McAvoy as the title character and Daniel Radcliffe as his assistant "Igor" in a steampunked-up take on the story, which is actually smarter and more ambitious than the previews make it look, despite the action being a mess. It's opening at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Embassy, Boston Common, and Revere.

    There's also the second Pixar film of the year, The Good Dinosaur, one which posits the idea that the Age of Reptiles never ended, allowing them to evolve into intelligent creatures while humans lag somewhat behind, including one who apparently becomes a sort of pet of a lost dino. 2D-only at the Capitol, West Newton, and the Studio in Belmont; 2D and 3D at Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. Revere also has screenings of Roman Holiday on Sunday and Tuesday.
  • Legend also opens Wednesday, featuring Tom Hardy as twins who ruled the London underworld in the 1960s, and two Tom Hardys sounds pretty good. It's at Kendall Square and Boston Common. Kendall Square also has a one-week booking of Heart of a Dog, a documentary by musician Laurie Anderson, who recently lost her own dog.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond has a couple new Indian releases with subtitles. Tamasha features Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor who meet in Corsica, find each other four years later, and, well, don't quite hit it off right away. That's in Hindi and opens Wednesday. Thursday brings Telugu-language (but also subtitled) Size Zero, with Anushka Shetty as an overweight woman trying to drop kilos and find romance.
  • The Brattle Theatre has the second leg of their 75 Years of Film Noir series, this time focusing on "Authors of Noir", with movies adapted from great crime novels (or written by their authors). Wednesday & Thursday (Thanksgiving) kick it off with a double feature of The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, which is kind of great. Friday's pair are Strangers on a Train and Double Indemnity, both with screenplays by Raymond Chandler. Saturday is more Chandler, with adaptations of Murder, My Sweet and The Lady in the Lake. Then they shift to Cornell Woolrich, with double-features of Phantom Lady & Black Angel on Sunday and Street of Chance & The Night Has a Thousand Eyes on Tuesday. James M. Cain is the featured author on Wednesday the 2nd with The Postman Always Rings Twice. Thursday loops back around to Dashiell Hammett, with The Glass Key and Miller's Crossing. All are in 35mm except Miller's Crossing.

    Smack in the middle of that is the DocYard/UMass Boston Film Series presentation of Frame by Frame on Monday, a documentary on the struggles of establishing a free press in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. As is often the case with the UMB series, directors Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli will be on-hand for a Q&A.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre mostly keeps the same line-up, although they have midnight screenings of #Horror on Friday and Saturday, with this particular small release centered on cyber-bullying and featuring Chloe Sevigny, Natasha Lyonne, Timothy Hutton and more. They also close out their Lloyd Kaufman series with Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead on 35mm those nights; Happy Thanksgiving!

    There's also a kids' show on Saturday morning with The Muppets Take Manhattan, and The Conformist as a Big Screen Classic on Monday evening. On Tuesday, director Mark Phinney will be on-hand to screen his movie Fat, a locally-shot film that played IFFBoston last year.
  • The Harvard Film Archive finishes its fall calendar, incuding the Maurice PIalat retrospective, with three final films: Van Gogh on Friday, The House in the Woods (digital video) on Saturday, and The Son of... (with short "Love Exists") on Sunday. They also wrap up "Five O'Clock Shadow" with The Burglar Sunday afternoon, and "Furious and Furiouser" with Girlfriends (on digital video) on Monday, with director Claudia Weill in person. All in 35mm unless noted, as usual.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes its run of Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights over the weekend, with screenings Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They start a new calendar on Wednesday, with The Art of Alfred Hitchcock starting on Wednesday the 2nd with Suspicion (Wednesday), Rebecca (Wednesday & Thursday), and Shadow of a Doubt (Thursday). The Hitchcock films will be shown on 35mm.
  • Lots of film at The Regent Theatre this week, with the annual Sing-Along screenings of Mary Poppins on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Later in the week come two documentaries: Of Men and War plays on Tuesday, telling the story of soldiers with PTSD. On Thursday the 3rd, Wayne R. Peterson (director of the Massachusetts Important Bird Area program) will be on hand for a Q&A after The Messenger, a look at the endangered songbird.
  • The Institute of Contemporary Art will be screening Station to Station, a set of 61 one-minute films shot as Doug Aitken traveled from New York to San Francisco on a train that was also a piece of contemporary art, on Friday and Saturday.
  • After taking the holiday week off, Bright Lights returns to the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount Theater on Tuesday with I Am A Knife with Legs, a lo-fi but very entertaining comedy. Writer/director/star/etc. Bennett Jones will be on-hand for a Q&A, and that is always entertaining. Then on Thursday the 3rd, Emerson professor Martie Cook will lead a post-film conversation after a screening of Brand: A Second Coming, following British comedian Russell Brand as he reinvents himself as an activist.


My plans will hopefully include a bunch of noir, The Good Dinosaur, Legend, Room, and Spotlight. Oh, and probably Tamasha, as I love me some Deepika Padukone.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

By the Sea

I'm a little surprised at how much I liked this one; I've been frustrated both by the films that try to capture the 1970s European movie vibe it goes for and the genuine article, so this was one that I wound up seeing because that's where the MoviePass 24-hour window was pushing until tonight's reset.

Still, even as much as I liked it, I found it very difficult to break out of an analytic mindset into one where I felt I was really experiencing the film, and I wonder how much that was intended. Even more than usual, I was at least outlining this review in my head while watching it, rather than being captivated and wanting to know what was going to happen next, I was trying to make connections, figure out representation, note camera placement and usage.

There is a pretty good argument that this is the way a mature adult watches movies, and experiences literature, although I must admit that I enjoy it more when I'm captivated by what I'm watching, and all the technique the filmmakers use reveals itself to me either on a second viewing or as I try to relate it to someone else. The ones that can do both are the films I really love, and I missed the initial excitement. On the other hand, I've seen plenty of movies that lack the thrilling part and aren't enjoyable to deconstruct while watching, so there's still that.

Oh, and I don't know whether the next part is more creepy or SPOILERS!

... but this is absolutely the kind of movie that younger viewers would primarily be watching in hopes of seeing nudity, and I can't lie and say I wasn't keeping an eye out for that. Still, I think that it's a little more interesting given that writer/director/star Angelina Jolie Pitt underwent some pretty extensive surgery to remove her cancer-risk breast tissue and rebuild it, considering that her character is eventually revealed as devastated by health problems and losses that clearly make her feel less of a woman.

As I mention in the review, I had a kind of weird reaction to the ultimate revelation that Vanessa's depression has its roots in being unable to bear children; it seems very rote and almost dismissive to say that this is what reduces a woman to misery, even while acknowledging that it would be legitimately devastating. I'm certainly not going to scold her for it, but I think feeling that was is a kind of side effect of hwo I felt I was engaging to movie's construction rather than emotion - I was measuring the power of the story rather than feeling it.

(I did find myself feeling glad that people don't commonly refer to women as "barren" anymore. They don't, right? It sounds like such a personal condemnation in the film that I hope less evocative language has become more common.)

!SRELIOPS

Interesting that she started crediting herself as "Angelina Jolie Pitt" for this one. Annoying, kind of - after one of the other writers on eFilmCritic mentioned that men being referred to by their last names and women either by their first or as "Ms. Jolie" annoyed her, I tried stop doing so, as it is kind of a double standard that subtly implies a somewhat lower level of respect for the women in question (assumption of familiarity). I kind of had to go with "Mr. Pitt" and "Mrs. Pitt" here, and it reads weird.

By the Sea

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

By the Sea is the sort of movie I would have called boring as a younger man, and I wouldn't back away from the word here but for the craftsmanship being so impeccable. It's a film that often seems to encourage dissection rather than reaction, paradoxically demanding close attention despite not always doing much to seize it.

The sea is the Mediterranean, the time is the 1970s, when an American writer by the name of Roland (Brad Pitt) and his wife Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) are checking into a hotel in the South of France for an extended stay. Roland intends to work on a new book, which seems to involve spending a great deal of time drinking in the cafe operated by Michel (Niels Arestrup) while Vanessa spends most of her time in the room or on the patio with her pills, not wanting to be there or anywhere, really, at least until discovering a peephole that allows her to spy on the newlywed couple next door (Mélanie Laurent & Melvil Poupaud).

It's a marvelously positioned void, really, placed just where the viewer will buy into Vanessa finding it while Lea and François do not, despite being large enough to afford more than a narrow line of sight. It probably makes things easier for cinematographer Christian Berger's camera, as well. The many shots through the hole cannot help but highlight the illicit nature or the glance - it's a perfect circle in the middle of a widescreen image - but there's also a flatness to those images that keeps what we're seeing from being far away. It's almost a TV screen meant to be watched, especially given how perfectly placed a mirror is to show what might otherwise be out of sight without overburdening the image. It feels meant for them (and us) to watch.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Our Times

I don't necessarily complain about how a lot of the Chinese and Taiwanese movies hitting the United States are kind of similar in the review, but I really have seen enough of these nostalgic romances over the past few years to feel pretty much done. This and A Journey Through Time with Anthony are actually fairly different movies, but seeing them three days apart was a bit much.

Still, I was pretty happy where two of the three previews for Chinese movies before this one involved punching and kicking. Kind of interesting contrast in release strategies, though: Well Go is holding Ip Man 3 back until late January, presumably to take advantage of a weak schedule around that time versus being slammed at Christmas, especially if they figure Mike Tyson will draw a bigger crowd. Wanda, meanwhile, is going to be releasing Mojin - The Lost Legend on 18 December, making me very worried about local theaters giving it a screen that could go to Star Wars. But, hey, who knows?

Third trailer: Fall in Love Like a Star, which looked crazy generic.

Wo de shao nu shi dai (Our Times)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

So, here's a weird coincidence - two Mandarin-language movies reaching American cinemas a mere two days apart, both nostalgic romances that, at different points, involve the young characters needing to meet up at McDonald's. They're from different countries (China and Taiwan) with very different focuses, and while I like this one a bit more, it seems like this part of the world is pumping out a lot of movies like this, and this one isn't one of the best.

This time, we're looking back on the late 1990s, when Lin Truly (Vivian Sung Yun-hua) was a high-school student with a celebrity crush on Andy Lau and a more close-at-hand eye on star basketball player Ouyang Extraordinary (Dino Lee Yu-hsi), though boys seldom seems to notice Truly with the beautiful Tao Minmin (Dewi Chien Ting-yui) living next door. That's why when Truly gets a chain letter promising misery if it's not passed on, she sends a copy to Minmin, one to a sadistic teacher, and one to Hsu Taiyu (Darren Wang Da-lu), the school's resident bad boy. When he discovers it, he proceeds to torment Truly, but he's got a crush on Minmin and discovering that Ouyang and Minmin are together transforms Truly and Taiyu to initially-reluctant allies.

This is, as is often par for the course, bookended by present-day bits with Joe Chen Qiao-en as the adult Truly, and it's one of the more peculiar uses of this over-used technique: After a fantasy sequence that isn't particularly well-delimited, it shows Truly as frustrated, self-doubting, and unrespected, and while she was certainly that way as a teenager, the 1990s material mostly has her on a trajectory that would seem to indicate her ending above that, which means that we spend much of the film waiting to see what's going to derail the happy ending, and that's not a whole lot of fun. It's a weird fit in other ways - neither the situation that inspires the flashback or her reaction afterwards really fits the story it tells, and the final present-day bits are a rickety story that seems primarily held together by Chen being extremely likable as the older Truly and Andy Lau being a really good sport.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

So, that's Philip Seyour Hoffman's last movie. Not quite Orson Welles calling it a career by doing a voice in The Transformers: The Movie, I guess.

I kid, although seeing Hoffman on screen and realizing that this was finally it was a kick to the gut; he's terrific but underused here, in part because of that goddamned overdose that killed him. I recall reading that there were two scenes unfinished, and it looks like one was given to Woody Harrelson and just isn't the same.

Even barring that, the movie is disappointing, and I don't think I'm just saying that because I had the large Dr. Pepper more or less finished by the time this 2.25-hour movie started and my bladder seems to have shrunk in middle age, to the point where every extra scene in the epilogue section had me feeling angrier with Return of the King flashbacks. I don't think I was alone, though - there were moments in the movie when someone in the audience would laugh at how awkwardly something was handled, enough that someone else could be heard asking what was funny. Was she missing a joke? No, this is just some bad filmmaking in a series that has proven it can do better.

-- How much better? I'm glad you asked:

The Hunger Games compared to Winter's Bone and Battle Royale.
Catching Fire is neat for focusing on millennial activism.
Mockingjay - Part 1 is intriguingly cynical and makes a weakness a strength.

Shame it had to end like this.

One other bit of audience reaction note: There were two previews before the movie, and though it's the same one that's been in front of a lot of things over the last couple of months, people go absolutely nuts for the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. Applause, palpable feeling of excitement, the works. Since I often see mainstream movies on off-hours or sometimes in places like Assembly Row where the capacity just isn't big enough to get a real crowd (I think the larger seats diffuse it, too), I don't think I've seen this reaction before. Makes me even more excited.

Folks do not have the same reaction to the Batman vs. Superman trailer. It is bad and folks are quiet after it plays.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 November 2015 in the Arlington Capitol #1 (first-run, DCP)

It's been gratifying to watch the Hunger Games film series evolve from little more than a toothless take on the same material as Battle Royale to one which is at least interesting in its cynicism, to the point where I was surprised how much I anticipated this final entry in the series. Unfortunately, the final film stretches everything out beyond reason, and what was intriguing before is played out well before this episode mercifully ends.

It picks up pretty closely on the heels of Mockingjay -Part 1, when former Hunger Games victor and symbol of the rebellion Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) was nearly killed by comrade-in-arms Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who had apparently been very effectively brainwashed when captured in the Capital. Though she recovers quickly, rebel leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) still chooses to mostly use Katniss as a propaganda tool, although she finds her way to the front lines, looking to be the one to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Has there ever been a series whose nominal protagonist did less than Katniss Everdeen? Maybe it is different in the original novels, but she has been a fairly passive player in all three previous films, becoming interesting for how she chafes at this and doubly so for how the series' young core audience reacts to her - do they realize that heroine they identify with is seldom more than a pawn, even when she seems to have some skills at manipulating public opinion herself? Logically, this would be the film where Katniss seizes control of her own destiny, but that never really happens - even when she does attempt to strike out on her own, agency is quickly snatched away from her. And yet, she never seems to confront that she is not the author of her own destiny; the filmmakers seem terrified of what should be their film's central idea.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 November 2015 - 24 November 2015

Short week coming up with holiday openings next Wednesday. Good stuf, though, including something much anticipated since last year.

  • I refer, of course, the The Brattle Theatre's opening of The Creeping Garden, the sort of documentary that plays the Fantasia Film Festival and fits here perfectly. Its subject is slime molds, a life form that is neither animal, plant, nor fungus. It's the main show for the weekend, and also plays at 5:30pm on Monday and Tuesday.

    The later shows on Friday to Sunday is a 35mm print of Dangerous Men, made over the course of 26 years and likely a mess. This thing where Drafthouse Films tries to push a cult film on the world is weird. On Monday, the theater teams with IFFBoston to present an encore of Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty, serving as an appetizer for Tuesday's preview of his new film, Youth, starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre had to wait a week for Brooklyn (as did the West Newton Cinema; the film also continues at the Kendall and Boston Common), but it's well worth the wait. They will also be getting Trumbo this week, starring Bryan Cranston as famed (and blacklisted) screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Interesting people behind the camera on this one - writer John McNamara has done a lot of quality genre TV and director Jay Roach is best known for the Austin Powers movies.

    At midnight on Friday they have something I really liked at this year's Fantasia Festival, Irish horror movie The Hallow, one of the more genuinely creepy things I've seen in a while. They also seek to confuse their patrons by having the first screening of The Room in a couple of months despite also having Room during the day. On Saturday, the month-long tribute to Lloyd Kaufman reaches its apex with the man on hand to receive an award and introduce a 35mm print of his most famous film, The Toxic Avenger. On Monday, cybersecurity expert Susan Landau will introduce The Conversation as part of "Science on Screen", and that's good stuff.
  • It's a fair-sized week at the multiplexes too, with a huge chunk of screens given to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, finishing up the series that got pretty good after a lackluster start. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Jordan's Furniture (in Imax), Fenway (including RPX), Boston Common (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    The Night Before is somehow the second Christmas-themed movie of the season already, this one featuring Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie as guys who have spent Christmas Eve with their best friend since he lost his parents on that day, but are planning a blow-out as they all move on with their lives. It's at Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, the SuperLux, and Revere. There's a somewhat smaller release planned for The Secret in Their Eyes, a thriller starring Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, and Chiwetel Ejiofor as an FBI team that has been hunting the killer of one member's daughter for over a decade, with the discovery apparently even more horrific than expected. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. Boston Common and the Embassy also picks up By The Sea, which had only bee playing at the Kendall.
  • Kendall Square has a one-week booking of Peggy Gugenheim: Art Addict, which may just be five days, so go see it if the story of one of the twentieth century's most prominent patrons of the arts is your thing.
  • Fans of Chinese cinema have plenty to choose from at Boston Common, with early/late shows of The Last Woman Standing, Wednesday's opening of the cute-but-flimsy A Journey Through Time with Anthony, and a Taiwanese entry opening on Friday. Our Times looks to be yet another nostalgia-based romance, this time with folks who crossed paths while in high school during the 1990s having a second chance when they meet 18 years later.

    For Indian flicks, Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond opens up Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, which looks to be a "Prince and the Pauper" type thing featuring Salman Khan as the crown prince and the nice-guy double, which Sonam Kapoor as his princess. Sounds like Dave, too, for that matter. There's also Kumari 21F if you speak Telugu.
  • Spotlight continue to expand, adding Somerville, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere to the Coolidge, Boston Common, Kendall Square, and the SuperLux. The Somerville Theatre also has their final "Silents, Please!" screening of the year with Jeff Rapsis on-hand to accompany The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the 1921 film that made Rudolph Valentino a star and introduced the tango to America.
  • The Harvard Film Archive resumes its Maurice PIalat retrospective after a couple of months off this weekend with a vengeance, with To Those We Love (Friday 7pm), Graduate First (Friday 9pm), Loulou (Saturday 7pm), The Mouth Agape (Saturday 9pm, DCP), and Police (Sunday 7pm) taking up most of the schedule. There's still room for the two other continuing series, though - Sunday's "Five O'Clock Shadow" entry is Joseph H. Lewis's The Big Combo, while Monday's "Furious and Furiouser" flick is Robert Downey Sr.'s Greaser's Palace. All except The Mouth Agape are 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues its screenings of Welcome to Leith and Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights, with both having screenings Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  • The Regent Theatre will have their vacation sing-along next weekend, but before that they will be showing Back to the Future docuemtnary Back in Time on Monday. BTTF superfans/memoraelia experts Bill and Patrick Shea will be on hand, and all proceeds will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.


Not sure what my plans will be - probably Four Horsemen, Hunger Games 3.5, The Night Before, Spotlight, Our Time and maybe The Secret in Our Eyes, fitting other things in as possible.

A Journey Through Time with Anthony

Another week, another Chinese movie, with another one opening tomorrow. There are a lot of them these days.

It didn't start until fifteen minutes past the advertised starting time, with no pre-show and loud noises coming from the projection booth behind us. I kind of found myself wondering just what causes that when everything is hard drives ingested into digital projection systems; it's not like people were moving heavy reels of film around.

Pei an dong ni du guo man chang sui yue (A Journey Through Time with Anthony, aka Les Aventures d'Anthony)

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

China seems to be producing a lot of movies like A Journey Through Time with Anthony (slightly less unwieldy than the film's Mandarin title, "Pei an dong ni du guo man chang sui yue") lately, plucked from the blogs and romans à clefs of relatively young writers. Some of them not only translate the distinctive voices and doodles into sweet little movies, but it seems the majority wind up like this one: Cute, pleasant, and eventually coming up against how a series of reminiscences isn't quite the same thing as a story.

Anthony (Liu Chang) is a young man from Dailin, China, about to start a couple of years of study abroad in Melbourne, while his best friend Xiao Ying (Bai Baihe) studies sound engineering in Tokyo. He's set up in a boarding house full of Chinese students, and he soon meets another, "Serena" Xiao Xuan (Tina Tang Yi-xin). It's not long before he encounters her again after deciding to change his major to culinary arts, discovering he has a real knack or it, even as Ying feels like she is constantly disappointing Fang jie (Jin Shijia) on a movie project they are working on together.

Anthony's a nice guy, meets nice people, and has a chance to grow and discover things about himself over the course of the movie. In that way, it's a pretty mild "finding yourself at college" story, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that. Director Janet Chun Siu-jan (who also adapted the book by the real-life Anthony) does not go in for excessive dramatics in situations that don't merit them, and while she allows for plenty of moments of levity, she never lets the film veer into over-sentimentality or silliness, even as a cartoon bunny avatar pops up in various corners. She knows the tone she's going for, and she seldom misses.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Angel Face

Only a couple weeks left in the Harvard Film Archive's Sunday-afternoon "Five O'clock Shadows" program, but I'm going to miss it. This and the Monday evening "Furious and Furiouser" programs remind me of the vertical calendars that initially played a big part in my falling in love with the Brattle Theatre. The wordplay in their titles and generally impressive selections, mostly on 35mm film, are also excellent for combating the stereotype of the HFA as the stodgiest of the Boston area's repertory cinemas. It can be, but it can also have electric material. Maybe it's just me, but they seem to be having more fun lately.

As much as I love the weekly presentations, I will admit that they don't cooperate with the format of this blog much, so stuff like this either gets ticked awry in a weekly update or with some other vaguely related item. This one gets a spotlight as much via timing as anything, though it's deserved. It's a movie I exited liking but more hung up on the silly courtroom scenes than anything else, but which gets a lot better with a little more thought. It's one that got better the more I poked at it, and those are rare.

One side thought: Sometimes you get hung up on contemporary things when watching old movies, and for a good chunk of this one, I was thinking about how much young Jean Simmons looked like Krysten Ritter. It's a shame Ms. Simmons is no longer with us, because that would be some great older/younger casting.

(Then again, if would probably be in an adaptation of some Nicholas Sparks book, and they both deserve better.)

Angel Face

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Five O'clock Shadows, 35mm)

It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but one thing that many films noirs have in common - especially if the viewer knows going in that the film has been tagged as part such - is that you can see disaster coming. The specific way and moment it arrives may be a shock, but make no mistake, the protagonist is doomed, and half those in the audience will grudgingly admit that the temptation may have been irresistible. Trouble announces itself faster and more clearly than usual in Angel Face, and that's part of what makes it a fine example of the genre.

Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) should know better; a race car drive before the war and behind the when of an ambulance now, it's the very end of his shift when he takes a call to the home of writer Charles Tremayne (Herbert Marshall) when his wife Catherine (Barbara O'Neil) nearly dies from a gas leak in her room. On the way out, he meets Charles's 20-year-old daughter Diane (Jean Simmons), who wastes no time getting into her little sports car, meeting Frank at a diner near the hospital, and offering him a better-passing job as the family chauffeur which could also lead to an investment in the garage he dreams of opening. That it gives her plenty of time to try and seduce him away from his lovely girlfriend Mary (Mona Freeman) is not lost on anybody, but just because you see the disaster coming...

From the very first scene, it's clear that something isn't right, and watching the film 60-odd years after its original release may add an unintended but intriguing level of misdirection to the opening: Though it's painfully clear how unlikely the "accident" story all of the men coming to Catherine's aid agree upon its, it initially looks like they're perhaps not willing to consider mental health problems on top of not taking a woman's concerns seriously. It's more than soft chauvinism, of course, and the situation becomes even more clear when Diane visits Mary and cheerfully lays out that she intends to insinuate herself into their lives, as a friend, of course. Later, Frank will see the mess he's gotten himself into, but he'll let it go until too late.

Full review on EFC.

This Week In Tickets: 8 November 2015 - 14 November 2015

Seven days, six movies. A pleasant and sustainable pace.

This Week in Tickets

First up was a preview screening of one I had been looking forward to since the first time the trailer popped up (and it has done so with some regularity in recent months), Brooklyn. I've been a fan of Saoirse Ronan long enough to have really been uncomfortable in terms of being a grown man so impressed by a teenage girl, but, hey, she's good. So is the movie.

I spent just enough time getting groceries afterward that I almost missed the 4:30pm screening of Spectre, which would not have been a huge tragedy, but, if you assume I'm going to see the new James Bond film opening weekend (save assumption), I may as well make the effort to see it on Screen #1 in Somerville. Yes, I did check which showtimes were on that screen and which were on an inferior one when seeing Love a few nights earlier; why do you ask?

Monday, I worked from home entirely so that I could catch Fantasia at the Coolidge that night, as Brookline by 7pm is a much easier target when starting from Somerville than Burlington. The movie remains great, although it's a shame that Disney didn't distribute 35mm prints to places that can still project it. There is, in retrospect, a reason why I generally sit further back for digital presentations than ones presented on film.

Tuesday was a long one day at work, and then on Wednesday I headed to Boston Common for the first day of The Last Woman Standing, which wasn't quite so crowded as the latest Chinese imports, but it did open on a Wednesday a few days after opening in China, and the pirates are fast.

I tried to make it to Room at the Coolidge on Thursday, but the T ground to a halt in frustrating fashion. Friday found the bus running at the right speed just after staying at work a bit longer than usual that I was passing the Capitol at just the right time to see The 33. OK, although it really should be better than OK.

Meant I missed the first half of Guy Maddin's two-day visit to Harvard (I gather he's been there for the semester, but these were his only in-person appearances for the series), but I was able to hit the second, when he introduced and did a Q&A for The Forbidden Room. As usual, Maddin was a lot of fun, both in terms of the movie he made and what a fun guy he is in person.

Spectre

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

About four years ago, DC Comics rebooted its entire line, with the idea of making it easier for new readers and recreating the characters to be edgier and cooler. Frustrating for long-time fans, but what's really frustrating is that every once in a while, they will do something like pair off various characters or otherwise do something that is only really impactful if the audience refers back to the previous iterations of the characters. It's a cheap trick, and a cynical one, and it's one that Spectre pulls several times, especially in the homestretch.

That's not the movie's only issue; but it's the most obviously frustrating, especially since its opposing impulse is to try and make some sort of personal connection between Bond and Blofeld. Because, you see, it's the 21st Century, and it's not enough that the world be threatened by some sort of grandiose disaster; there must be something personal as well: A last mission from the former M, a sort of brother-figure, a romance that isn't quite earned but is apparently strong enough to position the film as feeling like the capstone to Daniel Craig's entire run as Bond. It attempts to revive one of the more grandiose elements of the earlier films, but does so without a lot of the fun, stumbling even when it tries to be a bit lighter.

It's hardly all bad - there's a terrific sequence to open the movie, for instance, and Daniel Craig continues to home in on what makes his take on Bond work, doing a fair job of juggling the conflicting tones that the film goes for. The central cast of characters works very nicely; as much as I loved Judi Dench's M, I'm also very fond of Ralph Fiennes's more active variation, along with Ben Whishaw's Q and Naomie Harris's Moneypenny. Casting Andrew Scott (of Sherlock) in his role may have been giving the game away too obviously, but he certainly works.

The film just doesn't know how to embrace fun, though - there's a massive explosion that apparently set some records for this sort of pyrotechnics, but it doesn't feel important, and while there's some interesting ideas at play in the concept of centralizing global intelligence, Spectre isn't smart enough to really examine the idea or dumb enough to let it run. And, ultimately, it's too much about James Bond, rather than an adventure that is too big for anyone but James Bond.

Fantasia

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 9 November 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (75th Anniversary, digital)

I gave Fantasia a full review at its last divisible-by-five-years anniversary, and one of the things that came up then was how the first time seeing it was a big deal because it was a special trip. Presentation was what I came away from this viewing with, and it was frustrating; the Coolidge did not seem to get a great digital file at all, with artifacts visible during any shot of conductor Leopold Stokes in silhouette and the fine linework of Mickey Mouse showing pixel structure when not strictly horizontal or vertical. It was probably less noticeable even a few rows behind me, but when I pay nearly $20 for a ticket, I like being able to sit close to the front row and not be distracted.

Let it be very clear that this is not on the Coolidge at all; their projection routinely looks great, and though I had some conversations indicating that different models of digital projector might have done better, this should have been film - and that's not even considering how anachronistic the "soundtrack" segment is in a digital presentation!

At least the movie itself is still excellent. Though I did find myself getting a bit impatient with the Deems Taylor introductions, which half the time seemed like little more than descriptions of what we would be seeing in the next few minutes, there is no denying the beauty of the music or the impressive ambition of the animation. Disney was not quite the only game in town in 1940, and they were not quite so beholden to a specific tone as is often assumed, but they were still doing bold things here, with a level of polish not generally seem on art-for-art's-sake projects.

That Disney's style eventually became synonymous with family entertainment may be what keeps Fantasia thrilling even now - though there may be far more animation intended for adults today, this film can still surprise by presenting something scary or grandiose right next to the expected cheerful whimsy. And while it's still a joy to watch on video, it becomes even more astonishing in a theater, both for the big-screen and surround-sound experience and for the audience, as one is removed that this sort of music, so often treated as the property of the elite connoisseur, can in fact be a joy for everyone.

2010's full review on EFC.

BrooklynSpectreFantasiaThe Last Woman StandingThe 33The Last Forbidden Room

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Guy Maddin at the HFA: The Forbidden Room

Another series at the HFA, another case where I only see the final film. Slightly more forgivable than when I lived a block or three away, but I really should reinstate my membership, if only so that I'm more inclined to make the most of it.



Still, this was one of only two screenings where Maddin was appearing in person, and I'd already seen him talk about My Winnipeg. Also, I hasn't yet heard that this was just going to be the first time The Forbidden Room played here; as seems to happen relatively often toward the end of the year, the Archive will give it scattered screenings throughout the month of December.

It's a fun movie, if not for everybody. Maddin said he knew it had to be "too much", although he had to hold back to keep it from being "too too too much". That talk of excess manifested most obviously when he talked about using pieces from seventeen "Seances" performances, including one point where they were stacked nine deep.

I'd heard of "Seances" when it was announced, although I didn't connect it with The Forbidden Room until the introduction. As mentioned in the review, that was sort of an installation project where Maddin and a group of actors would try to recreate a lost film in a day during museum hours, with the name coming from how, at the start of the session, he would place the cast in a trance and ask the spirit of the film to possess them. Actors, said Maddin, are easy to place in trances; sometimes they come pre-tranced or will accidentally entrance each other.

I liked that he pointed out that a bunch of those easily-hypnotized thespians were more famous than some in the audience might think in response to a question about how he got some big-name European actors to appear - basically, the casting people knew who in Paris might find this a fun project. Like a lot of us, though, he was a bit surprised how big some of the folks he worked with in Montreal were locally, with Roy Dupuis being a major Quebeçois star. I figured some in the a audience might recognize Caroline Dhavernas, although Wonderfalls was a while ago.

He also spent some time talking about this being his first work with digital for a full project - I recall him talking about how he used it during My Winnipeg because the new arena didn't deserve film, and hope he's enjoying his new hockey team anyway. One thing he mentioned was that there are few lucky accidents with digital photography as opposed to film, no mechanical or chemical missteps that leave an imprint on the end result, which is an issue with the aesthetic they were going for (I've seen other digital productions look silly because they put the same "aging" filter on every frame). They actually wound up coding something to introduce random "errors", with the trick being that you have to commit to them whether you like the end result or not. Similarly, he talked about how they tried to simulate two-strip Technicolor in ways that gave each recreation is own color palette, although using impossible chemistry in many cases. That he's still talking about building color schemes in terms of chemistry shows how film-based his thinking is still.

Although who knows what the future holds? Maddin joked about how he imagined going up to Martin Scorsese at a film festival and asking if he really thought he liked old movies, but also said that after this particular project, he felt like silent and lost movies were out of his system. A big motivator for much of his career to date was that the only way to see any of these films whose descriptions intrigued him was to recreate them himself, but doing this much at once had him interested in trying some new things.

Hopefully that goes well. I like Guy Maddin; he's one of those surprising guys who, for creating art that is kind of on the arcane and demanding side never seems like he considers himself above his prospective audience, and never seems consumed with his own eccentricity. He could be a more insufferable Tim Burton, but instead always comes across as someone who could carry on a fascinating conversation about film who's sitting next to you at a hockey game, though he would not force it upon you.

"Elms"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 November 2015 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Sharp Amnesias of Guy Maddin, digital)

Though part of the Archive's Guy Maddin program, this short was made by his co-director on The Forbidden Room, Alex Johnson, and is not hard to see why the two were natural collaborators. There are similar aesthetics at play here, as Johnson also draws inspiration from their home town of Winnipeg to create a black-and-white, found-footage piece that plays as an offbeat counter to dry expectations, although it is very much his own.

It's neat, though, a self-aware work that exaggerates is darkness by having the voice narrating what a dreary pall the elm trees cast upon the city rumble almost to the point of incomprehensibility; it's neither a Vincent Price-like layer of elegance atop something dispiriting nor a parodically contrarian attempt to make something lovely sinister, but something right at the boundary of the second. And while we're noting what Johnson is doing with the narration and selection of images seemingly taken on one of the city's dreariest days, he's increasing the closer-ups of leaves stricken by Dutch Elm Disease, introducing genuine malaise into the manufactured sort.

It's a neat trick, if not a whole lot more. If nothing else, it's a nifty-enough few minutes to make one curious about what else Johnson is capable of on his own.

"Louis Riel for Dinner"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 November 2015 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Sharp Amnesias of Guy Maddin, digital)

Presented as a story that Guy Maddin found thrown away as a kid, this three-minute piece is built around soft-peddling one joke - a little girl being appalled at finding the family's roast duck has the head of Louis Riel (an important figure in Canadian history and legend) - but the measured approach to everything that director Drew Christie takes makes things even funnier. The animation is limited and the father's almost bored response keeps it from escalating to cartoon lunacy beyond some incongruous visuals. It is comedy boated by an unwillingness to proclaim itself thus.

And maybe that makes what's underneath - a little girl's hero worship dashed both by her father's actions and his casual disregard for a great man - a little more powerful. You wouldn't necessarily describe this cartoon in those terms, but they may be what allows it to gain a little traction in one's head. That feeling, after all, is one we all understand, even if we don't need to articulate it to enjoy a little slice of absurdity.

The Forbidden Room

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 November 2015 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Sharp Amnesias of Guy Maddin, DCP)

Given that The Forbidden Room wasn't even really supposed to be a movie, you have to say it turned out pretty well. Conceived as a two-part multimedia project - the first half live "seances" where Guy Maddin and the day's cast would recreate a lost film, the second a website that mixed and matched the results - the feature was added to the project even as the number of seances were cut, forcing Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson to Frankenstein together something a little less random than intended, but still a wonderfully singular mess.

Frankenstein is a fair metaphor for this movie in a couple of ways; not only are the filmmakers trying to sew the parts of various dead films together and reanimate them, but the novel itself is perhaps the most enduring nested narrative in literature, though few of its cinematic adaptations preserve the multiple-narrator, flashback-within-a-flashback structure. Maddin and his collaborators go kind of nuts with this, though, using common actors and other more dubious methods to assemble seventeen recreations into something that resembles a single work, at one point submerging the audience nine layers in an ocean of flashbacks, dreams, and fantasies.

The surprising thing, then, may be just how effective many of these little vignettes are. The audience enters them in absurd ways and often playing as parody, there is nevertheless something genuine to many of the stories that keeps them from just seeming like mockery of early 20th century film. Consider the segment introduced as the dreams of mustache hairs trimmed from a dying man (Udo Kier), which features his goat returning for a third "final, final, final" farewell and a story of his son (Vasco Bailly-Gentaud) gluing those hairs to his face to fill his blind mother (Maria de Madeiros) into thinking her distant husband is still around despite him seeming to enjoy his death more than his marriage. It's ridiculous on the face but genuine in its underlying cruelty. Several levels further up, a "Saplingjack" (Roy Dupuis) attempting to rescue the local beauty (Clara Furey) from a gang of bandits is an entertaining serial-style adventure that actually becomes more intriguing for its connections to the stories above and below it.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The 33

Kind of a bummer, this one, not because it was terrible, but because I had what I thought were reasonably high hopes for it that never really came to fruition. If you'll pardon the choice of words, it needed to dig a little deeper.

One thing I didn't mention in the review is that the music seemed pretty weak, rather on-the-nose and unimaginative, and though you couldn't miss the dedication to James Horner at the end, I see now that it is in fact his final film (he's credited on IMDB as doing next year's The Magnificent Seven remake, but that's not possible, right?). It makes me wonder if he would have done a little more work on it otherwise.

Also: I always forget just how small most of the rooms other than the main auditorium at the Capitol feel until I go there. It was okay once the movie started (and I was in the second row), but a real reminder of how different rooms can feel.

The 33

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 November 2015 in Arlington Capitol #2 (first-run, DCP)

The story of thirty-three Chilean movers trapped underground after a disastrous cave-in was one that demanded constant attention five years ago, capturing the world's horrified imagination, and it seems like making a film from these events would be a fairly sure bet. And while there are parts of The 33 that deliver on that promise, no film is actually easy, with this one having issues turning two months of news reports into two hours of story.

It's unfair to refer to what happened in the San Jose mine as just something that appeared on the news, but that is how most of the world experienced it in 2010, recently enough that most in the audience will remember how it ends, although perhaps not a great deal of other detail. With that knowledge in place, the filmmakers need to provide more than the bare bones, either by finding some unique angle or providing you-are-there detail and immersion that no other medium can match. All too often, though, the filmmakers seem content to hit on every facet lightly rather than really focus on one. A broad overview seems like the last thing this movie needs to be.

Take, for instance, how it handles Mario Sepúlveda, who emerges as the leader of the trapped miners, something that audiences can probably guess early because he's played by Antonio Banderas, the biggest star in the cast. He fits the part well enough, with director Patricia Riggen and a screenplay that passed through several hands checking off the appropriate boxes where he's obviously trusted and respected enough to mentor the new guy and pro-active enough to grab the dangerous job of finding a way out, but there's never quite enough detail to answer the question of "why him?", or make the scene where other miners feel he's gotten too big for his britches hit home. Banderas gets some nice-enough speeches that are genetically inspiring, but never gets to show just what it is about this guy that kept everyone together.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival Days #10-11: The Thon!

And so, the long road back to getting this blog current begins by looking back to February, and something just a bit under 24 hours worth of science fiction films with an unusually late start time after all the blizzard activity. Remember that? Boy it sucked!

I'll be better prepared to deal with it next year, if only because I'll be living I now live a block away from the Somerville and am able to use my own bathroom if I so choose, and not looking at a 45-minute walk should the state shut down public transit again. Which, if I recall correctly, was the case on Sunday, although by then the snow had mostly stopped coming down and folks were shoveling out. It wasn't actually terrible to sleep in on that day and then walk to Davis Square in the middle of the street because people were staying off the roads. I gather I was the exception, though, because it was a relatively sparse crowd, especially in terms of the old-timers. Which is a shame, because they're the ones with the strong emotional attachment to the event, whereas I'd mostly be grumbling about being out fifty bucks if I couldn't make it.

That's kind of why I've really had little trouble pushing this set of reviews out for months until it can't be much more than a set of quick hits; there just isn't that much for me to say about it anymore. Don't get me wrong, I like going every year, because it's seeing a lot of films from my favorite genre in a relatively short period of time, but it's not a time when I see friends whose paths I don't otherwise cross, I'm not likely to discover something new and exciting there, and even the rituals I like (and, guys, you have some stupid traditions) have become sort of old hat - the sort of thing where whoever is up on stage is asking for a reaction rather than provoking one. Now that I've done the running diaries and been there enough that there are no surprises left, there's just not much to say that I haven't said at some point in the past decade and a half.

That's no knock on those for whom this is one of the biggest film events on the calendar; a lot of the examples I might use for events that excite me a lot more involve traveling at least to New York (or Montréal, or Austin, or San Francisco...), and there aren't a lot of us who are going to do that for movies. Also, I started going at 26 or 27; it might have gotten a nostalgia lock-in had I moved to Boston earlier. It's no Fantasia for me, but I can see how it might be someone else's big deal.

Snowpiercer

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, DCP)

If nothing else, Snowpiercer yielded the best tweet of the festival:



Four Nine months later, it's still making me chuckle.

The film itself remains pretty great as well, one of my favorites of 2013, a fantasy that is more continually inventive than almost all others sharing its grimy, dystopian aesthetic. I read complaints on the message board afterward about how it threw away good characters, but I tend to see that more as director Bong Joon-ho and the cast got the audience to care more about short-timers and cannon fodder than many do. It's a pretty terrific movie that, despite being in English, was probably both too Korean and too French to be a massive hit, but I wish it had been given more of a chance in America.

Full review on eFilmCritic, post about seeing it in France here

2001: A Space Odyssey

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, 70mm)

I don't know if the Somerville Theatre will be getting this same print back in September when they show it again, but I'm going to be one heck of a lot closer to the front row than the balcony when I see it then. I've been fortunate enough to see this movie on film a number of times, and it has yet to be less than thoroughly engrossing. This time around, a good part of that was related to the previous night's presentation by Douglas Trumbull (who also did a brief Q&A after the feature), admiring how the film's effects work really holds up.

As truly great as 2001 is from a technical perspective, that's not why I find myself l liking it more every time I see it. Stanley Kubrick captures the highly practical, mission-focused nature of space exploration, but omits a great deal of the curiosity and passion that drives it, and while that leaves much of the film dry and procedural, it also means that the ultimate confrontation with the unknown is neither a triumph or a warning, but a reminder that this sort of encounter is beyond human understanding. It's Kubrick and Clarke looking at the mysteries of the universe and refusing to reduce them to a comprehensible scale.

It's kind of an interesting choice, given that directed evolution and the attempts by junior species to match their progenitors is a major part if the movie: While David Bowman is seeking the ancient astronauts who created and placed the monoliths, he is reliant on HAL, who is still rather akin to the proto-humans at the start off the film - capable of a great many things, but still needing shepherding (even if that takes the form of a hard reset). None of these steps are completely analogous, at least from our limited human perspective, and it's taken me a few viewings to start to grasp 2001 beyond the exceptionally executed hard science fiction which makes the finale not seem like hippie psychedelia with more apparent than actual depth.

I still kind of think that, admittedly, although I also suspect that might not be a bad way to approximate getting to a place that the human mind can only partially comprehend.

What I thought on seeing it in 2008, at SF/33

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, 35mm)

Some year, I'm going to see this on 35mm with live accompaniment and really have the time to write about it properly. This does not seem to be that occasion.

Then again, that may be saving me from writing something truly embarrassing. As with 2001, this is a movie that clearly benefits from being seen under the best circumstances with time for reflection, which the marathon doesn't exactly provide. And, who knows, maybe by the time I can write about it, I'll be in a spot where I genuinely like the last act, rather than worrying that is excusing the earlier inconsistencies in the crudest way possible.

The last time I saw this, a year and a half ago.

Fantasticherie di un passeggiatore solitario

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, digital)

This was the film scheduled to play on "sorry, we forgot the movie, and don't be so negative!" Tuesday, and it probably would have been a better fit there than the main marathon. The filmmakers' ambitions seem just a bit higher than what they can actually accomplish, which can be kind of rough for an audience that has just sat through the films that were masterful to accept. Writer/director Paolo Gaudio seems to have ideas about saying big things and creating a narrative that spans multiple time periods, but doesn't quite have the innate or learned skill to knit them together so that the trio feel like a unit.

Still, "not as good as the previous three movies" is a tough standard to hold any film by a fairly young director to, and I suspect that given a more fitting venue and slot, Fantasticherie would create a fairly decent impression. Gaudio and his crew make fairly good staging decisions within a limited budget, for instance, and the mythology being built up is just interesting enough to keep the audience curious. There is some nice work by the cast, though often more among the secondary characters than the leads.

I suspect that the audience probably would have responded better to Boy 7 in this slot, as may have been the original plan (but who really knows what was up with that mess). It's the sort of movie where my good feelings toward it are less an impulse to praise than to encourage - keep working at this and you'll eventually make a good movie! - but it is better than most movies in that category, even if it's hard to tell next to the classics.

Them!

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, 35mm)

I think we passed midnight at some point during Them!, and I'm not sure that's entirely appropriate; it's more a matinee than late-night movie. I wonder if it might have played at around 2pm were the marathon on its usual schedule, and what the reaction might have been.

Them! is an interesting case in terms of how this sort of 1950s B-movie is perceived. It is, when you look at it, pretty goofy: It's got a an exclamation point in the title, and giant man-eating ants are a pretty ridiculous monster even if you've never heard of the square-cube law. That probably would have gotten it sneered at back in 1954, but later generations could look at its cast of characters - cops, scientists, and soldiers - and treat it as just another one of the dozens of similar, mockable movies that studios and independent producers made during the period, and maybe even assume that is among the worst, because giant ants.

But here's the thing: This movie was able to become well-known and emblematic of its era in part because it's executed better than most of its contemporaries. Allegedly-smart people doing stupid things is kept to minimum, and the writers seldom take their eyes off the prize for a silly and conventional subplot. The visual effects absolutely look sixty years old, but they seldom seem sloppy, with corners cut because the audience for this sort of movie isn't worthy of respect. That extends to director Gordon Douglas, who could stage fine action scenes and had no problem with going for genuine scares, doing a pretty fair job of attaining them.

In short, Them! is good enough to get booked, shown on TV, and remembered years later, good enough to be the one people remember when looking back. It will often get associated with the more typically poor work done at the same time, but deserves a bit better.

Moonraker

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, DCP)

Moonraker, on the other hand, is roughly as bad as its reputation, close to the nadir of the James Bond franchise during the Roger Moore years: Making a stab toward pop-culture topicality with its Space Shuttle-centered plot, bringing back a one-off character from the previous film and realizing the same shtick doesn't usually work twice, and crossing the line between grandiosity and self-parody without being nearly funny enough to make it work.

Its worst sin, though, is probably being boring. The scenes of Moore blithely and blandly walking around and discovering the (uninteresting) villain's plot are even more leaden than usual, the ogling beautiful women feels more like just a thing these films are expected to do than something genuinely lascivious (where Bond being a bit of a creep is a sort of forbidden pleasure), and the finale... I just feel sorry for it and everyone involved. It's the Bond franchise trying to do Star Wars, but without the speed and energy that Lucas and his crew brought. I'm not sure how much James Bond was thought of as a gold standard in action/adventure versus something commercially successful, but it really should have been trying to top what was being done around it, rather than coming off as a pale imitation.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, DCP)

I may have wound up nodding off at some point during this one - it was getting to be that time of night - because I honestly don't remember how Klaatu wound up at the boarding house befriending Helen. I suspect that may be for the best - I can't think of a way that leaving one's spaceship and insanely powerful robot unattended in the middle of Washington wouldn't come across as silly - but it's necessary in order to see Klaatu as human, or his planet's equivalent, rather than as just a patrician messenger.

That's something the movie needs desperately, because otherwise it seems to be either struggling with its own message or so keenly committed to it that it cannot step outside for a moment to really make the most important observation plain. Sure, the story is well-known - alien comes to Earth and warns that his people will sterilize the planet should we not disarm, and it's very anti-war and the metaphor that the Cold War will lead to the end of the world is right there - but the part that is often overlooked is that he does this with a threat of violence; in the 1950s, we recognized the danger we faced but could not think of any alternatives; even peaceful, advanced cultures could only function at the point of a sword. It seems Klaatu backs down just because he realizes that all of humanity does not to deserve to be destroyed, especially pretty single mothers and their curious sons, rather than recognizing that the whole system is crazy. Or maybe I'm missing what everyone else can see instinctively.

Still, that high-minded material which hints at thematic richness as well as a good moral for the end of the story is relatively rare for the genre on film, and having it married to the skillful execution that this movie features is rare. Part of that comes from Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal being more than a hair or two better in the main roles than you might expect from something that looks like a well-intentioned B-movie, but a large part is on director Robert Wise, a steady-handed workhorse who didn't necessarily put a stamp on his movies but was so good at everything that he rarely made one that wasn't worth watching, and occasionally ones that were great.

Big Trouble in Little China

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, DCP)

It was more early than late when this one started, so you can understand the crowd being a little more reserved, not even considering those who were grumbling about it having no place at a science fiction marathon. I have to admit, though, that I spent a lot of time wondering why the people in the crowd most prone to quote along weren't doing so. Didn't they have this whole thing memorized?

Apparently not; this is a highly-specialized genre audience. Whether they were into it or not, though, this is still a tremendously entertaining action/adventure, with director John Carpenter and the writers basically dropping a couple of Americans into the middle of a crazy Hong Kong-style fantasy and Kurt Russell thankfully realizing that he's playing a goofball who doesn't really belong and happily being the butt of every joke. Jack Burton would be an easy character to dislike under certain circumstances, but Russell really hits the spot where he can be skeptical and obtuse but still a likable lug. It may overshadow a bit how he is basically the sidekick to Dennis Dun's actual hero, but that's part of the fun. I do kind of wish we saw more of Dun in other movies later on, although some of the other Chinese-American character actors (James Hong, Victor Wong) did become more familiar.

I've always liked this movie, ever since first seeing promos for when it played on Fox, but I liked it even more this time, having seen a few more of the flat-out crazy Hong Kong flicks it resembles versus straight martial-arts action. Carpenter and the gang really seemed to get it here, so that even if it wasn't the audience's favorite genre, there's still no excuse for not saying "son of a bitch must pay" along with Jack Burton at the appropriate time.

The Iron Giant

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, 35mm)

This is still pretty fantastic, and in some ways the narrative that has built up around it has done the rare service of making sure that is reputation is neither over-inflated nor diminished: Its dedicated fanbase never really exploded in later years, certainly not to the point where one could misremember the film as a hit, and while director Brad Bird has made a number of films since, this was his only cel-animated feature, so it doesn't blur into a body of work. The Iron Giant is just its own still-wonderful thing.

And it really is still great. It was a singular movie for its time, as studios which had started feature animation divisions to try and replicate Disney's early-1990s success were shutting them down upon realizing a reputation and infrastructure built over decades would take time to equal, an environment that doesn't seem likely to spawn a movie that means something to its makers. Instead, this thing's heart is all over the screen, whether in terms of being nostalgic for old monster movies or boyhood itself, and the discovery that a person can be something other than what is expected of him, even if it's hard for fifty-foot alien robots.

It's getting received one of those theatrical single-night bookings this year that well-remembered movies occasionally get, with extra footage being advertised. That made me sort of curious, although not quite enough to see it again. Besides, it's awfully close to perfect as it is; how likely is it that new scenes will make it better?

This Island Earth

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, 35mm)

I recall there being some talk, when Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie came out, that This Island Earth either didn't deserve to be the subject of the characters' mockery because it was too good or was at least something that would look good on the big screen rather than being too rough to look at for that long. I must admit to leaning far more toward the latter point of view myself. It's got better production values than many of its brethren, but in terms of being a quality movie, it's no Them!.

This is mostly because it somehow manages to be both boring and nonsensical. What seems like a really unconscionable time is spent on getting the characters to the point where they finally realize that the secret project they're working on its sort of fishy, perhaps because they are so bland individually and as a group that they don't have any life before the film to compare it to. Then things turn, but before the audience has any time to really get into exploring the crazy new world the kidnapped Earth scientists find themselves in, they're escaping and turning around. It feels like 75% stalling, 10% good stuff, 15% an escape that really highlights the issue of why these guys with a faster-than-light spaceship need human scientists. Given that they're almost all giant brain, my only conclusion is that their various cognitive centers have grown too fast apart to be any good for thinking.

It does look pretty good for its period, there's not much denying that - even the special effects where you can see the strings at least display creativity and enthusiasm. There just isn't much time when the guys writing, shooting, and acting out seem nearly as invested in making something exciting to watch as the ones building it.

Edge of Tomorrow

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/40, 35mm)

There is not much about this film that isn't a lot of fun. Tom Cruise, making use of both the parts of his screen persons that make one want to cheer and those that make one want to punch him in the face? Excellent. Emily Blunt being both great at action and the film's heart? Yep. Fun sidekicks and supporting ensemble? Got it. A script that both comes across as a fun, videogame-derived gimmick but still has emotional stakes and authenticity? Believe it or not. Well-done action, too.

Maybe the only weakness, if it has any, are the fairly generic aliens; they're busy and have the over-articulation you sometimes see from CGI beasties and never really feel like an intelligent race (a common issue with alien-invasion movies that want to use the aliens as a sort of background element). Given what a fun action/sci-fi movie it is otherwise, that's acceptable.

What I said last summer.