Sunday, January 31, 2016


Barely getting this up before the film finishes it's Brattle run, but that's OK; it's available on demand, which itself probably explains why its theatrical presence is so tiny. I like it, though, and it looks nice enough on screen to be worth a trip to the theater.

One thing that does kind of interest me:


In the review, I imply that writer/director William Monahan likely identified more with the bookish hitman than the film director, which is obviously complete supposition. But if it is the case, I'm curious what the end means. Maybe nothing, maybe just that even when you think you've got something figured out, it can turn around and bite you in the ass.



* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 January 2016 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run/Special Presentation, DCP)

William Monahan's new film is right on the line between the crime movies where the filmmakers are aware of the genre's tropes and can therefore share a wink as it uses or avoids them and the movies which spend so much time examining their own archetypes that they neglect their own stories. It would probably take only the smallest of pushes for Mojave to end up on the wrong side of that line, and it may wind up that way for some; for the rest, it should work nicely as a compact bit of Hollywood crime.

Thomas (Garrett Hedlund) is a creature of Hollywood, both as a motion picture director and as a guy famous and powerful enough to be frustratingly erratic. He takes a drive out into the desert and wrecks his car, although he's resourceful enough to make his way back out. On the way, he bumps into Jack (Oscar Isaac), an apparent drifter with a rifle who likes his Shakespeare and is probably just as dangerous as he seems. Thomas gets away, and is soon back to business as usual with his producer (Mark Wahlberg), agent (Walton Goggins), and star/mistress (Louise Bourgoin), but he's become a loose end for Jack, who is just as intelligent as he is crazy.

Monahan pursued scholarly and satirical writing before winding up in the movie business, and as such has probably placed more of himself in Jack, the nominal antagonist, than any other character. Jack's a smart guy, well-read in the classics and philosophy, and as such both an odd fit for the movie world but also capable of moving through it like a hungry shark when he gets acclimated. There's a sense throughout of there being riches there for the taken unless things are derailed by the odd, amoral people who live there, so wrapped up in their own highly-specific struggles that they don't think much about actual physical danger when it appears. Monahan uses Jack to present what is likely his own point of view, someone able to navigate Hollywood despite not still being of it, not blind to the decay around him.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Final Girls

So, after noting them in Next Week In Tickets for a long time, being interested in it just because programmer Anna Feder always seemed genuinely enthusiastic about what she was doing when working with the Boston Underground Film Festival, and liking both free movies and the space they occupy, I finally made my first trip out to the Bright Lights series for The Final Girls.

Since it's an Emerson College presentation, there's a very real possibility that I was twice the meidan age of the folks attending. That's sobering.

Todd Strauss-Schulson at Bright Lights

Give this to director Todd Strauss-Schulson - he was down for a good Q&A, sticking around for about an hour or so, seeming genuinely enthusiastic that the audience at his alma mater showed up for and dug his movie, and speaking pretty frankly about being disappointed by how the sales and distribution end worked: A prime spot at SXSW didn't really translate into any offers from places that would do more than Stage 6 (Sony's VOD-focused label) would despite the fact that this is a movie that works pretty well with an audience.

It was kind of interesting to hear him talk about how they were kind of hands-on, in that he seemed to resent it as is natural and probably healthy but most of what came out of it was pretty good ideas: They insisted what was a fairly gory screenplay become a PG-13 movie, but audiences getting into the kills might have undercut what the movie was going for; there were reshoots after a test screening indicated that the obligatory romance wasn't enough for the ending to rest on, and it really was obligatory; and so on. I kind of wonder where the line is between filmmakers feeling it was helpful and not.

Anyway, they talked about how it was apparently developing a cult following, noting that there was a midnight screening lined up at the Cooldige in April and that there's been a good response online, including fanfic and mashups. I kind of wonder if that will be used as a measuring stick eventually.

It's not bad, and I'm glad I got to see it with a crowd.

(Pointless aside: Co-star Alexander Ludwig apparently also appeared in a movie named "Final Girl" last year. That's not confusing at all!)

The Final Girls

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 January 2016 in the Bright Screening Room (Bright Lights, digital)

You can tell from the title that this movie is going to be playing on horror movie tropes - the "final girl" being the last survivor of a massacre who takes down the killer - but that's often the last interesting thing in play with it. On the other hand, it's got a very nice cast and a hook that invites the audience to actually care from the start rather than just snickering at how silly the whole thing is.

The setup introduces the audience to Max Cartwright (Taissa Farmiga), a high-school senior whose actress mother Amanda (Malin Akerman) died in a car accident three years ago; her best friend Gertie (Allia Shawkat); Gertie's step-brother Duncan (Thomas Middleditch); Chris (Alexander Ludwig), the tutor Max has a crush on; and Vicki (Nina Dobrev), Chris's envious ex. The cinema where Duncan works is screening one of Amanda's old movies, Camp Bloodbath, and because of a bunch of jerks who don't know how to act in a movie theater, they wind up trying to escape a fire via the emergency exit behind the screen. Instead, they wind up inside the movie, where Amanda's girl-next-door Nancy is just one of several characters slated to be dismembered.

They quickly figure that the only way out of the movie is to be among the survivors at the end, but this part of the story really makes no sense whatsoever, from the theory being formulated to how it plays out to how inconsistent and hole-filled it is in between. The whole "sex equals death in horror movies" trope feels like warmed-over Scream, good for some broad comedy as campers Kurt (Adam DeVine) and Tina (Angela Trimbur) bounce about in a way that is basically asking for it given that set-up but not exactly fresh material satirically. When this material is actually driving decision-making, it can get sort of frustrating, as director Todd Strauss-Schulson and writers M.A. Fortin & Joshua John Miller seem to have the characters adopt "movie logic" that can't quite be pinned down a bit too readily, struggling with how it conflicts with actual logic.

It's mostly forgivable, though, because it gets the audience to the right place, with Max and Nancy at the center of the movie and the way the hole at the middle of Max's life is hurting her and holding her back. Tessa Farmiga is especially good, always showing how Max is smart and strong but also carrying more than she sould at that age without having to articulate it. Malin Akerman shines as well, quickly establishing Amanda Cartwright as imperfect but justifiably adored by her daughter in the beginning and doing a fine job of pushing Nancy from a parody of a horror-movie stereotype to someone more complete, selling the idea that even the roles that an actress doesn't think much of have some part of her in them.

The rest of the cast does good work, too - Alia Shawkat and Nina Dobrev play types that are as familiar to modern slasher fans as the others, but they naturally have more personality, and are funny to boot. Alexander Ludwig is sneakily funny and charming as Chris - he seems like a sort of blandly handsome and nice guy, but there's an understated earnest dorkiness and oddity to him that's often just as amusing as how Thomas Middleditch puts that sort of thing front and center. The Camp Bloodbath characters are a lot of fun as well - Adam DeVine and Angela Trimbur dive into what they're given with abandon, but it's also pretty easy to develop a soft spot for Tory N. Thompson's laid-back take on a guy who was created to have one personality trait but grows nicely when given the chance.

They work with Strauss-Schulson to make sure the movie always hits the right tone at the right moment, and he actually proves pretty nimble - the fire in the theater starts out as Rube Goldberg silliness but gains some actual tension, as does the central "booby trap" set piece. The film is full of big, goofy jokes that earn their laughs without undercutting empathy for the characters, and the action is fairly well-executed as well.

There's a fair amount of places where "The Final Girls" could have been better, although it hits its main target and strings a more good moments together than most other films like it. If nothing else, it's got more ambitions than most horror spoofs of its ilk, and does a fair job of achieving them.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 29 January 2016 - 4 February 2016

Man, all those previews for Lazer Team and it doesn't show up. Not that I wanted it to, but that's something like a half hour of my life a lot of aggregate screen-time given an ad that amounted to nothing.

(Hopefully it won't be a case where the local theater guys don't realize that it's been bypassed and keep putting the trailer on things well after its release; that's happened too).

Anyway, on to what actually is playing!

  • DreamWorks gets a jumpstart on Chinese New Year with Kung Fu Panda 3, the newest installment of the series with Jack Black voicing a roly-poly fanboy who becomes a kung fu master, picking up on the tease from, yikes, four and a half years ago that promises more pandas. In 2D and 3D at the Arlington Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere (including MX4D & XPlus). Boston Common cleans its Chinese offerings up a bit, but keeps Ip Man 3, which also expands to Revere. Revere is also keeping Brazilian comedy Vai que Cola around, as well.

    The Finest Hours is also playing in 2D/3D, although it seems like more an after-the-fact conversion than something doing 3D natively. That one, about a seemingly doomed rescue of a fishing vessel during a mammoth storm, plays at the Somerville Theatre (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Fenway (RPX screen only), , Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Slightly smaller openings are on tap for a couple more: Fifty Shades of Black stars Marlon Wayans and spoofs... Well, you can guess. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. And believe it or not, Jane Got a Gun - a western starring Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor that had crazy behind-the-scenes issues and has basically sat on the shelf for nearly two years - finally comes out. It's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

  • Kendall Square gets a bit crowded with most of the award-nominated stuff sticking around while other stuff opens. That includes the Academy Nominated Short Films, at least in the animated and live action categories. They're sharing a theater, so it's a natural double feature. They and West Newton also pick up Lady in the Van, starring Maggies Smith as a homeless woman who parks her van in playwright Alan Bennett's driveway and sticks around for years.

  • The Brattle Theatre gets a new release this weekend with Mojave, the latest from William Monahan, which has a Hollywood type (Garrett Hedlund) meeting a drifter in the Mojave Desert, onlyl to have the guy follow him home. Nice cast which also includes Mark Wahlberg and Walton Goggins. It plays Friday to Monday.

    The theater is closed Tuesday, but has a David Bowie tribute on Wednesday with Labyrinth; the 7pm show has already sold out but there are likely still tickets for the 9:30pm. Then, on Thursday, they have a special screening of Forks Over Knives, with the documentary preceded by a meet & greet and book signing with Rip Esselstyn.

  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre re-opens Youth on Friday so that it's around as they pay tribute to co-star Jane Fonda, who will be there for a screening and Q&A at the 12pm show on Sunday. That will, in fact, be the only movie they show all day, as they make ready for An Evening with Jane Fonda at 8pm that night, where she will receive the annual Coolidge Award. Later in the week, Nine to Five screens on Wednesday.

    In other special presentations, they wrap up their Tarantino midnights with From Dusk Til Dawn on Friday and Saturday, screening it on 35mm. They also celebrate Groundhog Day on Tuesday by screening the movie with screenwriter Daniel Rubin on-hand for Q&A afterward.

  • The Harvard Film Archive has two new programs this week, with professor Sarah Keller introducing some early films by Jean Epstein on Friday - 6½ x 11 & "His Head" at 7pm and The Faithful Heart at 9:30pm. As these are early enough to be silent, Robert Humphreville will be providing musical accompaniment; the first two are presented on 35mm and the last on video. They'll stick to French legends on Saturday and Sunday, with all eight episodes of Jacques Rivette's Out 1 screening over two days. That's nearly 13 hours' worth, and if folks need to tap out, they will be re-run next weekend. It bumps the 35mm "Innocence Abroad" screening of The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone to Monday evening.

  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes this year's Boston Festival of Films from Iran with 316 (Friday/Sunday), Melbourne (Friday/Saturday), Atomic Heart (Friday), and Avalanche (SaturdaySunday). They also start their February calendar with the king-sized River of Fundament, the latest from Matthew Barney which clocks in at nearly six hours in three acts ($22 for all three, $11 per) and stars Paul Giamatti, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Ellen Brunstyn. All three acts play in order on Wednesday and Thursday.

    • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, in addition to opening a few apparently-unsubtitled Indian movies, also has the odd booking of Israeli horror movie Jeruzalem for 11am screenings Friday-Sunday, moving to 1:30pm Monday-Thursday. That is some odd booking strategy on someone's part.
    • The UMass Boston Film Series starts their Spring season on Tuesday with a free screening of Field Niggas, the first documentary feature from photographer Khalik Allah, who will visit to discuss his portrait of the poorest, most beset residents of Harlem. As per usual, it is free for all at the Campus Center Ballroom.
    • The Institute of Contemporary Art has a group of short films for familys on Saturday as part of their Play Date events, which also includes a stop-motion workshop.
    • This week's Bright Lights screenings in the Bright Screening Room at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater are American Beatboxer on Tuesday, with producer Rich McKeown and beatboxer gene Shinozaki on-hand afterward, and Truth, with a post-film discussion of ethics in journalism.
    • Two movies at The Regent Theatre this week: A preview of "Homeplace Under Fire", a featurette about the attempt to keep family farms going presented by Farm Aid, with director Charles Thompson and others on-hand for a post-film Q&A. Another director will be on hand with his film on Thursday, as Eric Green presents Life on the V: The Story of V66, a documentary on Boston's over-the-air music video station of the mid-1980s.

    My plans: Kung Fu Panda 3, Mojave, The Finest Hours, Jane Got a Gun and whatever other catch-up I can do before the Sci-Fi Film Festival devours far more of my life than it deserves next week.

    Wednesday, January 27, 2016

    This Those Weeks In Tickets: 19 April 2015 - 2 May 2015

    Ha! I knew when I was reviewing Against All Odds that I had seen Out of the Past; so this is why I couldn't find it on the blog!

    This Week in Tickets

    This Week in Tickets

    So, it looks like I did a thriller double feature of sorts on the first Sunday of the IFFBoston Weeks - Child 44 & Unfriended. Checking the blog, my memmories of that seem about right - the first was not that great despite having Tom Hardy and an interesting subject, while the second was as genuinely exciting and thrilling as everyone had said it was at Fantasia the year before.

    Monday night was when I saw noir classic Out of the Past, probably with the intentions of writing about it, although the upcoming IFFBoston just left me in too much of a time crunch. I recall liking it, though.

    Then, it was IFFBoston 2015, and this was my line-up:

    Wednesday the 22nd: The End of the Tour
    Thursday the 23rd: Slow West and (T)Error
    Friday the 24th: Angkor's Children and Shorts Delta (including "World of Tomorrow")
    Saturday the 25th: Stray Dog, H., Lost Conquest, Call Me Lucky, and Day Release
    Sunday the 26th: The Chinese Mayor, A Brilliant Young Mind, The Look of Silence, and The Keeping Room
    Monday the 27th: Manglehorn and Future Shock!: The Story of 2000AD
    Tuesday the 28th: I'll See You in My Dreams and The Wolfpack
    Wednesday the 29th: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

    All in all, a pretty good festival, although I probably crashed and crashed hard Thursday.

    Friday, I had Red Sox-Yankees tickets, and it ended poorly - A-Rod getting a home run off Taz is about as much of a bummer as these games can be. I was going to just go home afterward, but I'd been looking at my phone on occasion, and even the people who weren't posting actual spoilers about Avengers: Age of Ultron were tweeting stuff like "my 32 non-spoiler thoughts on the movie", so I headed straight into the RPX theater a couple blocks away from Fenway Park. Not a terrible idea.

    Saturday night, I tried to stagger things so that I could see a couple of movies without a whole lot of delay, although I don't think it quite worked that way. First up was Ex Machina, a pretty decent little sci-fi movie that I didn't quite love as much as the similar The Machine, but whose slickness I enjoyed. Then it was a ways down the C line for Roar, which is an outright curiosity that I don't quite love as much as many do, in part because I don't feel hugely comfortable about paying for something dangerous.

    Out of the Past

    * * * (out of four)
    Seen 20 April 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Big Screen Classics, 35mm)

    It's been long enough since seeing this that I can't really remember the details, especially since I saw the remake since. I do remember it being pretty good, though, with an excellent performance by Robert Mitchum.

    Just means I'll have to see it again sometime!

    Avengers: Age of Ultron

    * * * ½ (out of four)
    Seen 1 May 2015 in Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, 3D DCP RPX)

    That Marvel got itself to the point where Avengers: Age of Ultron could be described as about what you'd expect is testimony to what an astonishing job they had done in building a shared universe on film despite nobody having done this sort of thing before. It's a bit more unidirectional than the first Avengers movie - where that was both the culmination of the individual films that had come before and the set-up for what came next, this one is much more about setting up Phase 3 than picking up from what happened in Phase 2, except where bonus scenes had been explicitly placed. Really, it requires setting what Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) had grown to aside.

    It is still a bunch of fun, though - with even more characters to balance, Joss Whedon shows just why he was the right guy for the job of managing the franchise; it needed a TV guy even if he is mostly a workmanlike director, with the big stylistic flourish the long-shot action bit at the start. He does a nifty job of seeding something early on with a joke and letting it be a casually big deal later, while also taking a bit of casting that was almost a lark way back in the first Iron Man movie and making it something perfect.

    The action is also top-notch, at times almost feeling like a direct rebuke to Man of Steel in how a fight is almost never just a fight, but also a rescue mission, with an emphasis on problem-solving and minimizing danger. They're great bits of action that properly emphasize heroism, to the point where the villain is dispatched in almost off-hand manner, much like it was in Avengers. It's sort of an indication on how Marvel, contrary to was previously the case, has dedicated themselves to building on their heroes rather than their villains.

    Ex Machina

    * * * ¼ (out of four)
    Seen 2 May 2015 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

    I must admit that, to a certain extent, I initially liked Ex Machina more for what it represents than what it is; hanging around as a bit of a sleeper hit and likely intriguing people more when they start looking for other things that is cast of stars on the rise did is great for the genre of science fiction even if I found myself more fascinated by The Machine, another take on the same sort of story.

    That's unfair, of course, because despite what similar central trios and broad plot outlines (a decent man employed by a shark to engage an A.I. given sensual female form in a Turing Test), the themes diverge. The Machine is much more about mankind not being prepared for its descendants to both surpass them and have different values, although its secondary theme is in line with the core of Ex Machina: That the creation of conscious, self-aware artificial intelligence is implicitly the creation of slaves, and as such is immoral for reasons far more universal than the usual explanation of "playing God."

    It's a fascinating step for writer/director Alex Garland to take, but a natural one; his screenplay for Never Let Me Go revolved around this sort of servitude and he has mentioned that he and Sunshine director Danny Boyle came at that film from different directions (Garland saw it as being about atheism, Boyle about faith, and that it works as both indicates what a collaborative medium film is). Here, Garland makes it clear that while Nathan (Oscar Isaac) may present Ava (Alicia Vikander) as her own autonomous being, it's fairly clear that his goals certainly include creating sexual slaves, with the idea that this will allow him to act on his worse impulses guilt-free, rather than improving himself. I initially thought that the ending was a little too harsh, but it's Garland drawing a clear moral line, saying that there is no room for equivocation: A slave's drive to escape supersedes her owner's right to life, and while Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) seems decent enough, he's part of the system, and if you aren't actively fighting it, you're complicit.

    I'm actually glad to have another chance to watch it soon, to see how all this looks when I'm once again in the moment rather than looking back on it. It's at least great to look at - Garland and company do fine "futuristic things in a real-world environment" work - and there's little bad to say about the cast. They would all be in more prominent movies later in 2015, meaning this film really caught lightening in a bottle in some ways.

    Child 44UnfriendedOut of the PastIFFBoston Opening Night: The End of the TourIFFBoston: Slow West & (T)ErrorIFFBoston: Angkor's Children & Shorts DeltaIFFBoston: Stray Dog, H., Lost Conquest, Call Me Lucky, Day Release
    IFFBoston: The Chinese Mayor, A Brilliant Young Mind, The Look of Silence, The Keeping RoomIFFBoston: Manglehorn & Future Shock!: The Story of 2000ADIFFBoston: I'll See You in My Dreams & The WolfpackIFFBoston Closing Night: Me and Earl and the Dying GirlRed Sox-YankeesAvengers: Age of UltronEx MachinaRoar

    Tuesday, January 26, 2016

    This Week In Tickets: 18 January 2016 - 24 January 2016

    So, let's start off with some unfinished business:

    This Week in Tickets

    By that, I obviously mean Arabian Nights: Volume 3, the Enchanted One, where I was thinking I might wind up by myself before a small handful of other people arrived. I'm kind of curious as to whether folks went with more compact scheduling or just bailed midway through that series. It was interesting, but this last one was a bit of a test.

    Work and such (along with a DVR that was practically busting at the seams even before Tuesday's bounty got added) kept me busy for a couple days after that, and then I opted to do the Thursday-night early screening of Ip Man 3 rather than try my luck on the weekend, which would have snow, Red Line diversions, and the drawing power of recent Chinese movies interacting in unpredictable ways. It was a good but not packed crowd on Thursday, and we got to see a pretty entertaining movies which got better with a little reflection.

    Friday night, I hit the Brattle for their too-attached-to-the-family-home double feature of 99 Homes & Crimson Peak. I was only going to do the first, but "gorgeous Guillermo del Toro movie on the big screen" is a pretty decent reason to stick around, even if it's not one I love.

    The snow wasn't as big a deal as the initial forecasts, but the Longfellow bridge was (mostly) closed anyway, and from the shuttle bus it looks like they're replacing the tracks wholesale. Got me there in time to see Monster Hunt, the week's other Chinese movie. Very small audience, although I've got no idea whether it's the six-month delay or the expensive 3D tickets or the snow that kept it that way. After that, I figured I'd watch The 5th Wave, but decided to head up the Green Line to see it at Fenway rather than just hang around the Common while the snow fell; it would let me take a different route home that avoided construction, too.

    Not sure what I think of the upgraded rooms at Fenway; so far they haven't hiked the prices to compensate for the decreased capacity, but they've got recliners and desks, kind of like the LuxLite seats in the SuperLux. Seating's reserved, and they won't let you leave a seat. You don't actually need to, although it's not obvious when you're looking at the seating chart for the first time, which is kind of an issue the first time around with reserved seating. Nice enough.

    Then, on Sunday, a bunch of writing and then heading to the Harvard Film Archive for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, because that was pretty much the most anti-NFL thing going that afternoon. Considered sticking around for Roman Holiday, but opted not to (plus the HFA only takes cash and by the time I got to an ATM and back it would have started).

    Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

    * * * ¾ (out of four)
    Seen 24 January 2016 at the Harvard Film Archive (Innocence Abroad, 35mm)

    On the one hand, it's hard for those of us who didn't live through the period to take references to the straight-laced, conservative 1950s seriously when it was the decade that gave us Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, and delightful sex comedies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; on the other, one does wonder if these movies would be nearly as much fun if the implication wasn't that these characters indulging themselves was a bit defiant. If the second case were entirely the reality, this movie would likely feel more quaint than it does; instead, it holds up for being sweet and funny more than just kind of cute.

    Monroe and Russell play a pair of nightclub entertainers, Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw, who are not exactly inhibited on or off the stage. Lorelei, by far the more mercenary of the pair, has all but landed herself a rich husband in Augustus Esmond Jr. (Tommy Noonan), although his father's daily phone calls have thus far kept him from actually proposing. The solution is a trip to Paris where they can get engaged and married without interruption, though they don't go together - Lorelei is traveling by ship and Gus will follow by air. Dorothy comes with Lorelei as a chaperone, which seems like a sweet gig - the Olympic team is on the same boat, and there's no rule saying the chaperone can't have fun! The athletes' coach has them turning in early, leaving Dorothy spending a lot of time with Ernie Malone (Elliott Reid), a sweet guy except for how he's a private eye hired to spy on Lorelei. Not that she'd dream of cheating on Gus, even if another passenger (Charles Coburn) does have his own diamond mine.

    As plots go, it's as wispy as cotton candy, kind of stumbling toward the end because it requires characters to act more nakedly selfish and unreasonable than they do before or after; whether that's the case in the original play or not, screenwriter Charles Lederer and director Howard Hawks are kind of gambling that they've built up enough goodwill to get away with it. The Good news is that it's also as sticky as cotton candy, creating plenty of room for Dorothy and Lorelei to have misadventures, musical numbers, and other entertaining moments without feeling like they're missing out on anything important. A sea voyage is often about filing time anyway, and the filmmakers use the farcical bits to keep things moving, if not forward, than side-to-side rather than backward.

    Full review on EFC.

    Arabian Nights Volume 3Ip Man 399 Homes & Crimson PeakMonster HuntThe 5th WaveGentlemen Prefer Blondes

    Sunday, January 24, 2016

    This Those Weeks In Tickets: 15 March 2015 - 5 April 2015

    Looking at this set of pages, I'm really curious just what I was doing during that first week. Not "go check Facebook/Twitter" curious, though.

    This Week in Tickets

    This Week in Tickets

    This Week in Tickets

    Was it snowing like crazy in the middle of March, or was I just staying in, watching TV, and trying to catch up on sci-fi film festival write-ups? Or, perhaps, I lost a bunch of ticket stubs when moving? Whatever happened, it looks like I just got to one movie that week, Lost and Love from China. It's funny to be pointed back at that one this week, though, because I just saw co-star Jing Boran in Monster Hunt, and someone nominated this movie as a buried treasure at the Chlotrudis awards meeting, surprising me a bit as I often feel like the only person catching these Chinese releases. Amusingly, he described Andy Lau in terms of being an action movie star, when other movies I saw this year point out that he is thought of as a pop singer more than anything else.

    And, speaking of the Chlotrudis Awards, this was apparently the week they took place last year. I remember almost nothing about that. I also, sadly, have little specific memory of seeing It Follows at the Coolidge the next evening, other than it being very cool to see a great genre film in their largest auditorium as well as feeling that the curse as punishment for having sex was perhaps a bigger part of the film than I gave it credit for before, when I reviewed the Fantastic Fest screening.

    The next day, it was basically cramming in some docs I wanted to see before a festival started, so I did a double feature at Kendall Square of An Honest Liar & The Wrecking Crew. They both turned out to be pretty entertaining, not surprising given that they're about entertainers.

    After that, I was basically living at the Brattle for the Boston Underground Film Festival:

    Wedneday: The Editor
    Thursday: "Hoping for Something Better" shorts, The World of Kanako, and Excess Flesh
    Friday: "Homegrown Horror" shorts, I Am a Knife with Legs, and Bloody Knuckles
    Saturday: "Two-Way Mirror" shorts, We Are Still Here, and Bag Boy Lover Boy
    Sunday: Magnetic, "Laugh Track" shorts, 20 Years of Madness, Der Samurai, and Goodnight Mommy

    You want a good idea of how far off-track I got with this blog last year? That last one was just posted a week ago, about nine months after seeing the movies. It's not any great loss, I suppose - a couple got bigger releases than you might expect from underground fest films, one was something I didn't like where I didn't also want to discourage the filmmakers, but film festivals tend to be where I'm trying to get the most writing done quickly without having the time, and they just stacked up on me something fierce last year.

    Especially since there was no just going off movies after that, since I caught Merchants of Doubt the Monday evening that followed that Sunday marathon. It's a decent documentary, although, ironically for a film about how lobbyists obfuscate by playing into what people want to believe, I kind of wondered if my personal brand of skepticism made me more receptive than most. Irony, that.

    The next day, I went for a double feature, though somewhat out of necessity - I could probably see Home in 3D at any point, but likely nowhere as cheaply as at Apple on Tuesday, but it was the movie after that, Apartment Troubles, that had me curious; I like one of the two writer/director/stars a fair amount but it was only playing at 9:30pm, and I wasn't heading back out to Fresh Pond that late. Surprisingly, I liked Home more than Apartment Troubles, but it was an interesting night, if nothing else.

    I'm not sure how I wound up being able to get to a 5pm screening of Furious Seven on a Friday afternoon - I'm guessing it was raining hard enough for me to work from home with a very thin queue. Fun anyway, though I don't recall feeling like I was getting away with anything.

    Then, Saturday, it was a long, unexpectedly-themed day: Taking the bus out to West Newton for Effie Gray & Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, and then heading back into Boston for Let's Get Married, which was a big public transportation loop - the 70 from the house to Watertown, the 553 from there to West Newton, movies, the 553 to Newton Corner, the 57 to Kenmore, movie, the 47 to Central Square, and then the 70 back to the house. Truth be told, I haven't tried getting out there since moving; I kind of suspect that adding the Red Line to that loop might mean it has to be a little more urgent.

    Next up (aside from recent stuff): The IFFBoston weeks.

    Furious Seven

    * * * (out of four)
    Seen 3 April 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

    Is there any franchise that has had a more curious life than The Fast & the Furious? Even noting that I've managed to skip the second through fourth entries and it doesn't much matter because it evolved into something completely different during that time, the continuity is kind of screwy because the director who made four decided he wanted to keep a character he killed off in his first around, making three films essentially flashbacks, and then this one has to dance around the fact that one of its stars was killed midway through shooting, and because he was killed in an automobile accident, the most logical way to write him out would have been in terrible taste. How the heck is it even vaguely coherent?

    And yet, it is. This movie is still kind of a mess - it combines a revenge storyline with a spy one and the parts really fit together all that well - but this basically gives them two hooks to build nutty action scenes around. The opening is probably one of my favorite bits of the series, though, and it's not even action; it's new director James Wan snaking a camera through a hospital, showing the carnage that Jason Statham's villain has left in his wake. It's a signal that Wan's take on the franchise is potentially going to be even nuttier than that of the folks who have come before him.

    Eventually, though, it gets to the enjoyable vehicular mayhem, along with other action scenes of similar absurdity, like Paul Walker not being completely destroyed by Tony Jaa. They're fun action bits, and even though the series is clearly having trouble juggling all of its characters by now, there's something for everyone to enjoy in it. The other half, the emphasis on how much these characters mean to each other, actually almost benefits from Paul Walker's untimely demise; writing him out gives it a little more heft than just saying they're family.

    Am I down for another? Heck, yes. As this has become a series of heist adventures rather than drag-racing stories, it's become a lot more fun, even if the big impossible stunts are kind of a lateral move away from the great vehicular action the series started out featuring

    Lost and Love

    Chlotrudis AwardsIt FollowsAn Honest LiarThe Wrecking CrewBUFF: The EditorBUFF: Hoping for Something ElseBUFF: The World of KanakoBUFF: Excess FleshBUFF: Homegrown HorrorBUFF: I Am a Knife with LegsBUFF: Bloody KnucklesBUFF: Two-Way MirrorBUFF: We Are Still HereBUFF: Bag Boy Lover Boy

    BUFF: MagneticBUFF: Laugh TrackBUFF: 20 Years of MadnessBUFF: Der SamuraiBUFF: Goodnight MommyMerchants of DoubtHomeApartment TroublesFurious SevenEffie GrayGettLet's Get Married

    Gimpy Protagonists and Hidden Monsters: Monster Hunt & The 5th Wave

    News of movies like Pacific Rim or Terminator Genisys having the sort of success at the Chinese box office that might counter their underperformance in America - or of Chinese comedies like Lost in Hong Kong having the sort of opening weekends that generally only happened in the United States - would occasionally have me joking that if China ever figured out how to make this sort of big special-effects extravaganza on its own, Hollywood would be in some trouble. At the time, I was kind of missing that this was already happening, with Monster Hunt making something like $370M in China while the first time I heard of it was when China Lion announced that its Bai Baihe picture, Go Away Mr. Tumor!, had knocked that juggernaut out of first place back home. Then, sure, I got interested, both because I really liked Ms. Bai in the other movie and I wanted to see what a homegrown Chinese blockbuster looked like.

    The timing on its release is interesting; the six-month gap between its Chinese release and its American one is almost unheard of for a mainstream movie these days, although understandable in this case; as nifty as Monster Hunt looks, sticking its preview next to one for a summer blockbuster would have it looking less polished. The January "dumping ground" period is a pretty good place for it to stand out. Still, this particular week is curious - many theaters probably only have room for one Chinese movie at a time, and Ip Man 3 might be an easier sell, while Kung Fu Panda 3 comes out next week. Then again, if distributor FilmRise plans to push it to more theaters next week, primarily with English-language digital files then, it might make a fun double feature with the DreamWorks film.

    One other thing that amuses me: Apparently some of the marketing to Chinese-American audiences runs along the lines of "you've seen it on your phone, now see it in 3D on the big screen as it was meant to be seen!", which strikes me as awesomely pragmatic.

    That the afternoon's other movie wound up having some vague parallels amused me a bit; I suppose I recalled the (terrible) trailer for The 5th Wave mentioning alien invaders in human hosts, but truth be told, I had been ready to skip it until someone mentioned on Twitter that director J Blakeman had made The Disappearance of Alice Creed, and, dang, I hadn't even realized that he'd been quiet since then. It kind of reminded me of a friend suddenly being interested in Last Chance Harvey after hearing that it was from the same filmmaker as Jump Tomorrow, Josh Hopkins, who had disappeared and been basically forgotten in the meantime (ironically, I just fond out he had another film a couple years ago, The Love Punch; some folks just can't get noticed). It's not necessarily the best reason to see a movie, but it certainly piques the curiosity.

    Zhuo yao ji (Monster Hunt)

    * * ¾ (out of four)
    Seen 23 January 2016 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

    I've read that the English-dubbed version of Monster Hunt (releasing at about the same time the original Mandarin version hits the United States) cuts a few scenes, including one where dog meat is seen offered for sale in a street market, and while I get cutting that from a movie in large part aimed at kids, it does seem like an arbitrary line to draw, considering who is casually eating what (or trying to) at various points of this movie. This is not a complaint - considering that much of the recent influx of Chinese movies into America theaters has been terribly generic romantic comedies and nostalgic dramas, a genuinely weird family fantasy is actually a nice change of pace, whether from Chinese or Hollywood fare.

    Early on, restaurateur Lord Ge (Wallace Chung Hong-leung) telling us that while humans and other creatures used to live together, their lands were separated, and the Monster Hunting Bureau was so successful in driving them out of human lands that many people in its medieval Chinese setting don't believe there is any such thing as monsters. A civil war in the monster kingdom has driven the widowed, pregnant monster queen and her bodyguards (Eric Tsang Chi-wai & Sandra Ng Kwun-yu) into the human world, where they encounter Song Tianyin (Jing Boran) - the disrespected mayor of Yongning Village and the son of a supposedly-great monster hunter - and Huo Xiaolan (Bai Baihe), a young monster hunter looking to create a reputation. Circumstances lead to the pair winding up with the newborn prince of monsters (whom they eventually name "Wuba"), and while Xiaolan is initially all about collecting the bounty, they find themselves getting kind of attached to this cute little bloodsucking beastie that looks like a radish with tentacles.

    Despite not necessarily looking state-of-the-art by Hollywood standards, Monster Hunt became the highest-grossing film of all time in China last summer partly on the strength of its CGI creature effects, which are fairly strong - the opening scene of a big monster battle may have the videogame feel that often comes from trying to absolutely fill a 3D space with creatures, but as the film goes on and the presence of monsters isn't quite so overwhelming, the style meshes pretty well with the live-action. The designs are simple but emotive, and even the meaner monsters are fun to look at. The effect is kind of what a live-action Pokemon movie might look like, which isn't a bad target. The rendering isn't quite up to Hollywood standards (the lighting is a little too even), but it works well enough.

    Full review on EFC.

    The 5th Wave

    * ½ (out of four)
    Seen 23 January 2016 in Regal Fenway #1 (first-run, DCP)

    I'm kind of curious what sort of effects budget gets you a city-destroying cataclysm these days, because The 5th Wave has a few of those at the beginning but nothing else that particularly impresses. It doesn't even give the audience a look at its alien invaders. That makes it a dreadfully boring young adult sci-fi thing, the type with franchise ambitions but little reason beyond the involvement of a few folks who have done better work for anybody to be interested in it continuing.

    We initially meet narrator Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz) as she's already on the run, scavenging what she can after the end of the world, so we flash back to when she was an ordinary teenage girl in Ohio, before the "Others" came and, after simply hanging in the air for a while, hit the earth with waves of attacks - an EMP, massive earthquakes, super-powerful avian flu. She gets separated from her father (Ron Livingston) and little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) when the army shows up at a refugee camp warning of a fourth wave, alien parasites within human hosts. Setting out to find Sam, she is shot by a sniper, but nursed back to health by hunky survivor Evan Walker (Alex Roe). Meanwhile, Sam and other kids are recruited by Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber) to fight the aliens and the upcoming fifth wave.

    Looking at the themes that made it into the script, it's not hard to see why the original book might have been popular enough to spawn sequels and a movie adaptation; there's good stuff in there about kids being used and not being the shallow types adults see them as. There's a moment of potentially-interesting perspective when the aliens' motivation is laid out. And though some may roll their eyes at certain tropes, if teenagers like that served up with potential love triangles, why not? These may be familiar trappings, but there's something to them; you can see the ideas behind them.

    Full review on EFC.

    Saturday, January 23, 2016

    Real Estate Trouble: 99 Homes & Crimson Peak

    The Brattle doesn't often get this cute with their double features, so I can't guarantee that as the folks there were putting their winter schedule together and looking at the movies they wanted for their "(Some of) The Best of 2015", they thought that the movie about foreclosures in 2010 Florida and the one about a haunted house in turn of the twentieth century England were thematically linked. But it's certainly fun to think of that scene. I certainly know that if I ever get to run a theater, weird double-feature themes would be one of my greatest joys.

    99 Homes

    * * * ¾ (out of four)
    Seen 22 January 2016 at the Brattle Theatre ([Some of] the Best of 2015, DCP)

    If The Big Short is the movie that explained the mortgage crisis which would define the early years of the twenty-first century, 99 Homes is the one that chronicles what it's like on the ground. Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani does an excellent job of tying the two perspectives found there together, building a movie that really claws at its viewers.

    The most sympathetic and sadly common perspective belongs to Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a construction worker and single father not only far enough behind on his mortgage that he's facing eviction from his family home, but seeing a site he's been working at abandoned without his getting paid. The man pushing him out of his house is Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a real estate broker focused on acquiring houses cheap and flipping them quickly, and not averse to cutting corners or engaging in a bit of fraud while doing it. When Nash goes to try and get some tools he thought was stolen during his eviction back, Carver takes note of the guy and offers him a bit of work; then, impressed by Nash's determination, winds up giving him more responsibility.

    Nash slides very believably from victim to complicit as he tries to recover his foreclosed house, in large part thanks to the work of actor Andrew Garfield. "Regular guy" is a deceptively difficult thing to pull off, but Garfield projects a simple friendliness that doesn't require overt attempts to charm the audience or particularly pointed acts against him to gain a viewer's empathy; he just seems to put a little bit more than the script decides in every scene. That's why his inching toward the dark side seems so easy to accept: He seems motivated enough to be pragmatic, and from there it's a believably short step to breaking a few rules if that's what gets him back in his family home. Garfield makes Nash seem true to himself whether or not the next step seems to torture him, and the way he plays off Laura Dern (as his mother) and Noah Lomax (as his son) creates a tether that the audience can hold on to even when they're nervous about the direction he's moving.

    Full review on EFC.

    Crimson Peak

    * * ¾ (out of four)
    Seen 22 January 2016 at the Brattle Theatre ([Some of] the Best of 2015, DCP)

    On a second viewing, still showing the same issues that I had with it the first time: It's beautiful, with a decent cast (which includes the house of the title), but often clumsy, playing out familiar gothic tropes with just a touch too much self-awareness.

    The finale is still pretty great, though, especially for how Guillermo del Toro is willing to let its too female stars actually fight, especially after spending much of the movie going with the old cliche of women being poisoners rather than violent killers. Indeed, a large part of what makes a repeated viewing fun is seeing a new audience gasp at just how stab-happy the movie becomes, a visceral reply to the decaying elegance they'd been sold.

    Full review on EFC (from October).

    Ip Man 3

    It's for real, folks - a movie starring Boston-raised Donnie Yen is actually playing Boston in a regular booking, which I don't think has happened since Iron Monkey was released by Dimension almost 15 years ago. Sure, there was that brief period soon after when he was doing smaller supporting roles, but it's been since Legend of the Fist in 2010 that he even had a small booking (a weekend at the Brattle).

    I used to not get it - the people of Boston love their local movie stars, and maybe folks need to just get the word out. Still, I think Hong Kong movies are in a weird kind of limbo - they know they've got enough American fans that there's a chance that they'll get a local distributor who gives it a push into the mainstream, although the numbers on that aren't great these days. I've got no idea if it's better than the Mandarin movies which get a day-and-date release, but I've got to believe the visibility might help long-term.

    Still, I opted to take relatively few chances on this one and catch it on the Thursday night "preview" show. Still nearly missed it - one of the fun things about working from home is that there are occasional moments when my high-end work laptop can't find a Wi-Fi connection despite my personal one grabbing it no problem, although the router/modem crapping out repeatedly at the most critical time happened to. Then the T's Charlie Card readers opted to screw with me, and MoviePass didn't have AMC Boston Common's listings on their app when I got there. Felt like I had some sort of electromagnetic disruption field, which has to be the most annoying superpower ever.

    Got there just in time to watch it, though, and it was worthwhile. I really hope it does bang-up business this weekend rather than lose out because the local Chinese folks already have their pirate copies. I want a lot more of this sort of thing on the big screen rather than just on Blu-ray.

    Yip Man 3 (aka Ip Man 3)

    * * * (out of four)
    Seen 21 January 2016 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

    The previews for the American release of Ip Man 3 have been playing it up as Donnie Yen versus Mike Tyson, and that's probably good marketing even if the former heavyweight champ is credited with a "special appearance" rather than as a co-star. If it gets some more people in the audience to see Yen in what has become his signature role, that's a good thing; he may not be quite what he was when he first started playing the grandmaster of Wing Chun eight years ago, but he shows that Hong Kong can still deliver rousing martial arts action like no-one else.

    This time around, it's 1959, and Ip (Yen) is living a quiet life in Hong Kong, although his son Ching (Shi Wang-Yan) just got into a fight with another kid at elementary school, and that boy's father, Cheung Tin-chi (John Zhang Jin), is also teaching his son Wing Chun, though he pulls a rickshaw to try to earn the money to open his own martial-arts school. Speaking of schools, the kids' is located on prime real estate which "foreign devil" Frankie (Tyson) wants for his development plans, and he's not above sending goons out to intimidate the principal or even burn it down. Ip and his disciples try to stand guard, but in doing that he may be taking his wife Wing-sing (Lynn Hung Doi-lam) for granted, and between her pallor and boys of abdominal pain, that may be a worse idea than usual.

    The various Ip Man films can sometimes have a questionable relationship with the actual life of the man, and I suspect that this one is no different, especially as far as him having a showdown with a crime boss who is basically Mike Tyson. On the other hand, if director Wilson Yip Wai-shun and the writers are making some attempt to follow true events, that would explain some of the messy sequencing of events and repeated sorry bits (although, to be fair, other Wing Chun practitioners objecting to Ip Man evolving the style is more from the films that are not pay off this series but which still run together somewhat). It's not particularly satisfying that the whole real-estate development plot gets pushed to the side along with all of its subplots and endearing spring characters, at least initially: it often makes Ip Man 3 feel like two sequels compressed into one film, though neither would necessarily make an entire movie on its own.

    Full review on EFC.

    Friday, January 22, 2016

    Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 January 2016 - 28 January 2016

    Big week for mainstream imports, compared to the dumping ground elsewhere at the multiplex.

    • Two big releases from the Chinas. At Boston Common from Hong Kong, we have Ip Man 3, which features Donnie Yen reprising his most famous role, as the grandmaster who trained Bruce Lee, and is shockingly enough the first time I can remember Yen having a movie open in the area where he grew up. It's not as great as the first, but it's a fair amount of fun. From the mainland comes Monster Hunt, China's top-grossing movie ever, a family adventure from a former DreamWorks animator starring Bai Baihe and Jing Boran. It's supposedly being released in both 2D and 3D versions, dubbed and subtitled, although all the showtimes listed at Boston Common are 3D and presumably in the original Mandarin, although it may still be the American cut (about ten minutes shorter). They keep Detective Chinatown around, too.

      Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond picks up Airlift, starring Akshay Kumar as an Indian businessman who has lived most of his life in Kuwait but finds himself needing to flea as the Gulf War approaches, and eventually spearheaded the evacuation of all 1.7 million Indians in Kuwait. They also have Malayalam comedy Two Countries on Saturday

      From the other side of the world, Brazilian comedy Vai que Cola: O Filme plays at Revere; it comes from Brazil and appears to be a follow-up to a popular TV comedy series in that country, that I cannot find any information on.
    • Hollywood has what looks like lesser material hitting theaters. The biggest is probably Dirty Grandpa, with Robert De Niro as the title character who drags his grandson (Zac Efron) on a spring break trip to Florida. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

      For genre fare, there's The 5th Wave, a young-adult adaptation starring Chloe Grace Moretz as a teenager joining and underground resistence to an alien invasion. And yet, I'm curious, because it's from the director of The Disappearance of Alice Creed, a darn good thriller. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere. And this week's PG-13 horror movie is The Boy, with Lauren Cohan of The Walking Dead as a nanny hired to look after a doll in the image of its owners dead son. But is it just a doll? Anyway, this one is at Apple Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.

      Showcase Revere ha a special screening of The Pastor on Tuesday. In terms of Oscar-related returns and expansions, Boston Common brings back Brooklyn, The Somerville Theatre and Fenway return Room, Belmont Studio Cinema picks up The Revenant, and The Capitol adds Carol. It also looks like Lazer Team comes out on Wednesday, removing that trailer from local screens.
    • Kendall Square brings in two Oscar nominees. 45 Years stars Charlotte Rampling as a woman about to celebrate the anniversary in question until the her husband's first love is found. They also get Son of Saul, the Hungarian nominee for Foreign Language Film, a Holocaust drama about a man trying to give his son a proper burial in Auschwitz; that also plays at West Newton. There's also a GlobeDocs presentation of An Open Secret on Wednesday; this documentary focuses on sexual abuse of children in Hollywood.
    • The Brattle Theatre has more of (Some of) The Best of 2015: A double feature of 99 Homes and Crimson Peak on Friday, the narratively-odd The Forbidden Room and The Duke of Burgundy on Saturday, Court and Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem on Sunday, single features of The Tribe on Monday and Goodnight Mommy on Tuesday, two separate single features of Clouds of Sils Maria and It Follows on Wednesday, and a twin bill of Heart of a Dog and A Pigeon Sat on a Bench Reflecting on Existence Thursday. The series also includes noon matinees of Shaun the Sheep on Saturday and Sunday. Monday night has a free 35mm Elements of Cinema screening of Bicycle Thieves on Monday and the short documentary "Waking in Oak Creek" on Tuesday; both of those have special guests to lead discussion.
    • The Harvard Film Archive has their last Arabian Nights screenings on Friday and Saturday (both days with Volume 2 at 7pm and Volume 3 at 9:30pm). They have two Americans Abroad screenings on Sunday - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at 4:30pm and Roman Holiday at 7pm, both on 35mm. Monday features a 35mm print of Kent Mackenzie's The Exiles on Monday, with archivist Ross Lipman introducing it. They have also added a screening of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence on Thursday as a tribute to David Bowie.
    • The Coolidge Corner Theatre continues its slate from last week, and also continues their Tarantino midnight series on Friday and Saturday with the Grindhouse cut of Death Proof on 35mm. They also have two Sunday morning screenings - a Talk Cinema presentation of Oscar nominee The War and a Goethe-Institut show (The Color of the Oceans). Then on Monday, the Science on Screen show is Orson Welles'sF for Fake on 35mm, the the MFA's head of scientific research Richard Newman giving an introduction. The Jane Fonda screening on Wednesday is Klute, also on 35mm.
    • At The Museum of Fine Arts itself, the Boston Festival of Films from Iran continues, with Taxi (Friday/Wednesday), Tales(Friday/Saturday), the pair of short films "Monir" and "Wolkaan" (Saturday/Sunday), The President (Sunday), Risk of Acid Rain (Wednesday/Thursday), and Atomic Heart (Thursday)
    • The Institute of Contemporary Art continue their screening of shorts from last year's Sundance Film Festival, with shows on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
    • Bright Lights returns the the Bright Screening Room at ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater on Thursday, with The Final Girls hosted by director Todd Strauss-Schulson, an alumnus of the school.

    I've already caught Ip Man 3, so I'll be looking for Monster Hunt, 99 Homes, Carol, The Revenant, The Final Girls, and maybe another thing or two (haven't made it to the furniture store for Star Wars yet).

    Thursday, January 21, 2016

    Boston Underground Film Festival 2015 Day #05: Magnetic, "Laugh Track", 20 Years of Madness, Der Samurai, and Goodnight Mommy

    Full-length day, even with a slightly more spread-out schedule and without late shows, which means the only lateness is this post and its mammoth table of contents.

    I've got a theory about the movies that play film festivals at around noon on Sunday. They're not things the programmers want to hide, but they're often unusual things where the filmmakers have a lot of friends in the area who will show up even if they were at the party the night before, or niches-within-niches like the anime that often plays that hour at Fantasia. Not bad, but not so great that the folks outside its core need to see it and it will therfore be showcased accordingly.

    This is the second year in a row that a film by Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola - shown with (I think) Catherine Capozzi, who worked with them on the music, and star Alix Mortis - has occupied that spot at BUFF, and it's not surprising. They rightfully have a lot of friends in Boston's indie/underground filmmaking community and the music community as well, and if their features are not as polished as some of the things playing the later hours, they do well with what they've got and have some storytelling ambition. Clearly, they are better with a camera than I am

    Still, I might sleep in if they nab that slot in 2016. Their thing is not my thing, and Cacciola's comment that everything was analog because she gets mad when she sees a cell phone in a movie may be the silliest thing I've ever heard coming from the stage at one of these Q&As. Seriously, if you can't handle people making use of common, useful technology in contemporary or futuristic settings, you should perhaps be making westerns. (Yes, I realize this movie is 90% metaphorical, but sci-fi-as-nostalgia is a pet peeve. Hey, I said their thing was not my thing!)

    (Eight-month delay in finishing this entry)

    There were also guests during the block of comedy shorts, but my notes as to who is who is in a notebook that was lost before I moved, and the picture seems to be gone as well. Sorry, guys.

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    The final guest of the festival, then, was 20 Years of Madness director Jeremy Royce (l), who like a lot of folks who find their regional-interest film playing outside its home territory, was fairly excited to find an audience that got it without needing first-hand experience with its subject.

    After that, two German films, one of which would become Austria's submission for the foreign-language film Oscar and get a noticeable release, which is kind of unusual for stuff that plays this particular festival.

    And now, gads, only two months away from the next one. Where did the time go this year, right?


    * * (out of four)
    Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

    If I were writing this within a month or two of watching the film, I'd probably light into it harder and more specifically, but animosity fades, and the fact that there are images that have stuck in my head for purposes other than ridicule indicates that filmmakers Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola have done something right. There's undeniable skill visible in their lo-fi production, and lead actress Alix Mortis can carry things quite well. The music (also, I believe, supplied by Mortis) is strong.

    And, heck, it's not aggressively boring like it could have been, but it can be pretty darn dull. It posits the end of the world but does so without any particular emotion - not desperation, not resignation, barely even melancholy. The plot is a puzzle box without much motivation to solve it, serving a gimmick that is meant to register as clever (and clearly is trying to say something about loneliness and solitude) but doesn't provide real satisfaction when the pieces are in place.

    In that way, it's kind of like the filmmakers' previous feature, Ten, which was also formally ambitious but could itself have sacrificed some of its attempted cleverness for clarity and just getting what it wanted to say and feel out there. I like this a little more, and who knows, maybe I'll like the vampire thing they've got coming up a little more than that.

    Laugh Track

    Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

    Being as it's been so long, I'm going to have to see which ones are online link to those. Well, except for "Crow Hand!!!", the first one, which I recall not liking much more strongly because it popped up again at Fantasia.

    * "There's Something About Carrie": I don't think it mentioned being a 48 Hour Film Project thing during the fetival, but it's not surprising; it has the feel of the random ideas that pop up within a short time period with certain restrictions set. Fortunately, the folks making it are funny enough that even the bits which aren't really great zip by quickly and the ones which probably could be expanded (mostly, the bachelor party that gets weird and uncomfortable) don't feel underdeveloped.

    * "Queso Flameado": A kind of amusing little thing about two women hiring a hit man who is, to say the least, eccentric. For better or worse, that's all it is, a chance for Corey sullivan to deliver odd lines with a weird voice and cadence. It's amusing, but when it hits the end, it really feels like it should be dropped into something bigger.

    * "En Plein Air": Not going to be the reason I join Fandor, but if you're a member, here it is.

    * "Salad Days": It's a weird little thing where a couple of naked people have a picnic, reminiscing upon past encounters with decidedly different perspectives. It's got a pretty good bit or three, especially in how it uses a sort of bland sequence to set up a filthily funny one, although it can't quite harness that randomness for an ending that's much more

    * "Money Shot": A pretty cute comedy about high school kids facing the AV club shutting down, with one member's porn obsession both the cause and solution to their problems. Almost a little too sweet, like it's trying to be naughty but finds the real thing has lapped them. Still, it's got a cute and funny leading lady in Sigrid Owen, who is pretty great at hitting the note that the movie needs.

    * "Career Day": Broad slapstick as a couple of really inept cops give a couple little girls the lowdown on how they became inept cops. The "story doesn't match events happening" is fun, and director Brian Knight keeps things moving at a quick pace, precisely aware of how ridiculous each second is and pretty good at getting it just right.

    * "Open 24 Hours" - Looks like another site where you need a subscription to watch.

    * "The Hold Up">: A pretty classic scenario (guys planning a hold-up, not agreeing on just how it's going to go down) executed with zippy style and music, plaing a number of variations on the same gag - guys planning a much more complicated heist than necessary - in entertaining fashion. for less than ten minutes, it does a pretty nice job of giving all members of the gang distinct personalities that reflect their plans. It's good stuff.

    * "Hellyfish">: It's always a good bit of fun when people spoof goofy monster movies by playing up to the level of what they're spoofing rather than just making cheapness a part of the gag. In this case, filmmakers Patrick Longstreth, Robert McLean, and Kate Fitzpatrick put a great deal of polish on their mutant-jellyfish story, quickly hitting all the notes they might in a feature (which is something they're working on) and if not actually getting a lot of actual jokes out of the material, doing "laugh at the silly/familiar" better than most, especially since the visual effects are a lot more likably slick than you usually find on this sort of short and enjoyably gross more often than not.

    20 Years of Madness

    * * ¾ (out of four)
    Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

    A couple years ago, IFFBoston played something called "The Parking Lot Movie", and is charm came from being about something so hyper-specific and inconsequential that the pressure one often feels watching a documentary vanished and the viewer could just enjoy the personalities and how the film was put together. 20 Years of Madness is a couple levels above that in terms of import - some of the people involved are in bad places and making a new episode of the public access sketch comedy show they created as teenagers will probably not just bring back good memories - but it is still wide open in the effect it can have, so long as it's told well.

    Director/producer/cinematographer/editor Jeremy Royce does tell it well, making himself a fly on the wall, apparently ingratiating himself even with the folks who don't get along with the show's co-creator Jerry White Jr. - also the driving force behind the reunion and the director's film-school classmate - and cutting the footage he gets into something that doesn't feel like anything is left out. He's got some help there, as actually making this new episode has them all staying in a house together, increasing the dramatic potential and meaning he doesn't have to go chasing stories. He probably also knows White just well enough to see that some friction is inevitable; then and now, he's the guy who is just capable enough that his being in charge makes sense, but not the sort of genius or charismatic personality who can make people grateful to be following his lead.

    It's about more than White, of course, it's about the difficulty of rebuilding something that probably couldn't last by its nature and how adulthood can be so much tougher than high school - there's no time, and that thing you did pretty well as a kid isn't as impressive; you suddenly need more of both talent and commitment. And that's why, even not knowing a single thing about 30 Minutes of Madness, 20 Years mostly works: It doesn't argue that you can't go home again, but it also shows the limits of what doing so can get you.

    Der Samurai

    * * ½ (out of four)
    Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

    There are bits of Der Samurai that seem to be constructed almost randomly, like writer/director Till Kleinert reached into a bag, pulled out "katana" and "cross-dressing", and then dropped that into an already mostly-complete screenplay about a small-town cop whose unspoken wish for the sort of action that would get him some respect is fulfilled in the bloodiest possible way. When it's finished, one might be almost torn - should Kleinert have tightened things up, making sure that bits connect and reflect each other more than they do, or is the very randomness a part of the film's appeal, a way of underlining that the world is full of strange things that combine in chaotic fashion that folks like Jakob can't handle?

    There's something kind of unsophisticated about that way of thinking, but Der Samurai is not necessarily a sophisticated film; it's short, bloody, and acted in a way that sometimes seems deliberately sloppy, like it's shorthand for how these guys aren't to be looked up to in any way. It's kind of fun as exploration, though, because Kleinert can embrace the chaos and do anything, or close to it. That freedom means he goes to weird places that are not always as clever as he thinks they are, but which also surprise and excite in unpredictable ways.

    Ich seh, ich seh (Goodnight Mommy)

    * * * ½ (out of four)
    Seen 29 March 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

    The climax of Goodnight Mommy is so obvious in retrospect that I completely sympathize with the friend who saw the film and was not impressed because the direction everything was pointing didn't make any sense. But that's the risk a movie like this runs - if the craft isn't good enough, everyone feels that way, and even when it's as meticulously and carefully assembled as it is here, you're going to get some outliers who make the proper connections early. I still recommend it quite highly, even seeing how it can potentially collapse.

    The trick, I think, is that the idea at the center - twins (Lukas & Elias Schwarz) find the behavior of their mother (Susanne Wuest) so peculiar and even cruel after she returns from reconstructive surgery with her face covered in bandages that they suspect she has been replaced - is so strange as to be captivating. It makes a great plot for a movie, if nothing else, with kids having to figure out what's going on without adult assistance, so isolated that anything can happen. It's a really superb inversion of the changeling myth, and filmmakers Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala squeeze all the tension available from it, enhancing an already chilly situation by using fairly little incidental music and letting the kids be kind of creepy themselves: As twins, they are unusually in sync and the more paranoid can draw the steadier one down a dangerous road because they trust each other implicitly.

    It builds to a finale that is not at all for the squeamish, but as a result is one of the most unforgettable climaxes to hit screens in 2015. It's constructed so well and pulled so taut that it's surprising that this nasty little thriller is Austria's Oscar submission, but if you can't recognize this kind of nail-bitter as a genuinely impressive accomplishment, what sort of genre picture is worthy?