Saturday, April 30, 2016

IFFBoston 2016.01: The Hollars

First IFFBoston at the new apartment, which likely matters not a whit to anyone, but it was kind of nice to quickly drop my stuff off, head over to the Somerville Theatre and not only not be lugging stuff around, but be able to just head home and drop right afterward was really nice.

For an opening night, it was pretty low-key - Jon Bernhardt on the theremin, Brian Tamm thanking us for coming, and then right into the movie. I like this; I've been to a few festival openings where it seems the folks involved are trying to convince us that we didn't just make a good choice, but are doing something important beyond just seeing good movies.

The Hollars

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

That The Hollars is an independent film in this day and age is a sort of indictment on the film industry: Its story is neither complicated nor difficult to relate to, the style is far from experimental, and the cast is almost entirely made up of familiar names and faces (if not necessarily people that will draw a guaranteed audience on their own). It is quality mainstream entertainment, and it's kind of weird that the people involved had to make it outside of a system that was traditionally built on movies like this.

The set-up is pretty simple; the Hollar family lives somewhere in the Midwest and, like many, is kind of squeaking by: Divorced older son Ron (Sharlto Copley) has moved back in with parents Don (Richard Jenkins) and Sally (Margo Martindale), though Don's plumbing business is on the verge of bankruptcy. An awkward family moment ends with Sally having a seizure, and younger son John (John Krasinski) flies out from New York to be with them, with super-competent and very pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick) seeing to everything.

Not that John is a dope or anything; though he's got a tendency to stumble through situations, it's generally material that has him looking a little goofy though basically harmless. Krasinski (who also directs) is pretty good at playing this sort of fallible straight man, especially since he's clever enough to avoid winking when the script has John tripped up by being honest about the things that usually causes romantic-comedy characters trouble because they don't mention it. It's kind of impressive that he gets quite a bit out of his scenes with Margo Martindale; she is also playing the sensible one, but the affection between this mother and son plays out as their own relationship as opposed to eye-rolling over what doofuses the people around them can be.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Hologram for the King

Couldn't get to this earlier because work kept me busy all weekend, which sort of stinks, but that's how I can afford to see movies, right?

It's kind of astonishing just how little notice this got - my sister-in-law who loved the book just wasn't aware of it at all when I mentioned it was good on social media, and I never saw a preview for it. I've seen suggestions that Roadside Attractions is even deliberately fumbling releases, which seems absurd, but I'm not sure how you get a movie with Tom Hanks directed by Tom Tykwer (even if most people don't know his name, they at least know his name should be familiar) to fly so far under the radar is something I don't know.

So, see it if it's near you, check it out (Lara, that would be the Nick - and you can take the girls to see April and the Extraordinary World there, too!). It's grown-up while still being fast-moving and funny, the sort of movie people often grumble about not being able to find in this fantasy-dominated age.

A Hologram for the King

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2016 at AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

The opening sequence of A Hologram for the King maybe isn't that clever - it's actually a pretty literal take on an on-the-nose pop song - but it hints at Tom Hanks in the sort of broadly comic performance that he mainly brings out for talk shows and the sort of energetic, unconventional filmmaking that got director Tom Tykwer international attention with Run Lola Run. That bit doesn't last, but it pushes the film into a differently odd place that makes for a smart, charming, funny film.

Literally a different place, as American executive Alan Clay (Hanks) is heading for Saudi Arabia to pitch the king on his company providing the new King's Metropolis of Energy and Technology ("KMET") with its IT infrastructure, apparently on the basis of having once met the king's nephew. He's off his game in ways beyond jet-lag, unfortunately, coming off an ugly divorce and not sure what to make of a lump on his back. He keeps missing his shuttle from Jedda to KMET and getting rides from Yousef (Alexander Black), a young man whose ancient car is a stark contrast to the opulent surroundings. Out there, Alan's team is in a tent without wifi or air conditioning, the man who can solve those problems is nowhere to be found, and for all anyone knows, it could be months before the king makes a visit.

I doubt that either this film or the David Eggers novel that Tykwer adapts gives anything close to a true portrait of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - it's too big a place to fit - but it's probably a fair impression of how confounding the place must seem to an American. As seen here, it's a paradoxical mix of rigorous, exclusive tradition and a concerted effort to build a modern nation that is part of a larger world from nothing. Tykwer has a sharp eye for large, empty spaces nested inside one another - the vast desert will surround palatial buildings, which themselves contain vast reception areas or, in a hospital, a blindingly white operating theater with a tiny-seeming bed in the center. The newness of everything else is a sharp contrast to Yousef's beat-up old car, as is the westernized look of much in the cities compared to Yousef's homestead.

Full review on EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 29 April 2016 - 5 May 2016

IFFBoston - where it's at at three or four places.

  • Independent Film Festival Boston started Wednesday the 27th, and runs through Wednesday the 2nd. It's at the Somerville and Brattle through Monday - with highlights including Morris From America, Under the Shadow, Werner Herzog's Lo and Behold, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and a retrospective screening of High on Crack Street. On Tuesday, it moves to the Coolidge, with Little Man and Don't Think Twice on that day and Clea DuVal on hand with her directorial debut The Intervention for the closing night.

    That means that The Somerville Theatre technically opens Green Room (which also expands to Fenway & Revere while already showing at the Kendall & Boston Common) and Everybody Wants Some!!, even though you won't be able to see them there until Tuesday or Wednesday.
  • Not part of the festival but doing some fest-like programming is Kendall Square, which will have The Man Who Knew Infinity writer/director Matthew Brown on hand for select shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; he'll be joined by Robert Kanigel (whose biography of mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar served as his source material) all weekend and mathematician Stephen Wolfram on Friday. They also have a one-week booking of the new one by Asghar Farhadi, Fireworks Wednesday. Their sister cinema in Waltham, the Embassy, also joins them and the Coolidge in running Sing Street.
  • Semi-quiet week at the multiplexes as they make time before cleaning house for Captain America next week. They do get Keanu, in which Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele pretend to be killers to find their adorable catnapped kitten. They are funny people and the word is that this is an extremely entertaining movie. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    Also looking for funny: Mother's Day, the latest overlapping-stories ensemble comedy based around a holiday from director Garry Marshall. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, the Lexington Venue, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux. There's also Ratchet and Clank, a 3D animated movie based upon the game, which looks like it might still be kind of fun for kids. It's at Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    For smaller releases, Papa: Hemingway in Cuba is the first Hollywood feature shot there in decades, and features Giovanni Ribisi as a journalist who becomes friends with the author during the Cuban Revolution; it's at West Newton, Boston Common, and Revere. This year's DisneyNature documentary is an old-school Imax documentary (a 45-minute science featurette) made up of lots of huge 3D photography and narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, A Beautiful Planet, and plays matinees at Jordan's and Boston Common, not really displacing The Jungle Book (and, oddly, not playing either the Aquarium or Museum of Science just yet). And after a really quick booking at AMC Boston Common last week, Purple Rain expands to Apple Fresh Pond and Fenway.
  • The West Newton Cinema is the only place in the area opening Dough, which has an old Jewish baker (Jonathan Pryce) taking on a young Muslim apprentice (Jerome Holder), and then having wackiness ensue when the kid's marijuana stash gets mixed into the flour and suddenly the place becomes really popular. Holder will visit for Q&As after some shows on Friday & Saturday.
  • With much of their audience at the festival this week, The Coolidge Corner Theatre keeps things pretty quiet, mainly opening Colliding Dreams, a documentary on the history of the quest for and reality of a Jewish state from the mid-19th century forward; co-director Oren Rudavsky will be on hand for a Sunday afternoon screening. The weekend's midnight film is a 35mm print of David Lynch's Mullholland Drive, and Monday's "Sounds of Silents" is the newly-restored Varieté, starring Emil Jannings and accompanied by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra.
  • Boo, Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, for abruptly cancelling all the "Rotten to the Core" shows! I only got to one, but it was fun, and they seemed to be gaining momentum. I guess they're refocusing on the Indian stuff for special programming, and they've got a lot of that this week, with Bollywood action film Baaghi: A Rebel for Love opening with subtitles and King Liar (Malayalam), Raja Cheyyi Vesthe (Telugu), and Chakravyuha (Kannada) apparently without. The subtitled Hindi-language Fan also sticks around.

    From the other end of Asia, Boston Common has Finding Mr. Right 2, the sequel to a movie where Tang Wei played a young woman sent to Seattle to have her illegitimate child where others couldn't see. From the credits, it appears that the working-class guy she fell for in that one has either had a name change or wu Xiubo is playing a different character (heck if I know; I missed the first for some reason or other.
  • The Brattle Theatre is IFFBoston's second home through Monday and then being used for a private screening on Tuesday, but on Wednesday they both start their "John Williams Scores" series and get a bit of that "May the 4th Be With You" action with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That got him his most recent Oscar nomination; the first came with Valley of the Dolls, which plays the next night.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has no public screenings on Friday and Saturday, but wraps up its Xie Jin series on Sunday afternoon with Legend of Tianyun Mountain on 35mm. They are also visited by Uruguayan filmmaker Federico Veiroj, who rpresents A Useful Life on 35mm Sunday evening (along with a pair of shorts) and his latest, The Apostate, on Monday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues Aleksandr Sokurov's Francofonia: an Elegy for Europe on Friday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They'll also be screening thesis films Wednesday evening, and starting JewishFilm.2016 with the People vs. Fritz Bauer on Wednesday and Carvalho's Journey on Wednesay; both screenings will have guests.
  • The ICA has two film presentations this week: "Monsoon, Prayers and New Routes", is a group of short films by Muslim filmmakers from around the Indian Ocean, and plays Sunday afternoon with two filmmakers on-hand for a post-film Q&A. Then, on Thursday evening, filmmakers Marcie Begleiter and Karen Shapiro will present their documentary Eva Hesse, chronicling the life and career of one of the few woman artists to find success in a very male-dominated moviement in the 1960s.
  • The Belmont World Film Series has a sneak preview of Mountains May Depart, which follows the intertwined lives of three people who grew up in the same village, from 1999 to 2025, at the Belmont Studio Cinema on Monday.

I'm at wherever IFFBoston is on a given night, and likely torn between Valley of the Dolls and "doing anything else" on Thursday.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.08: Projet-M & Reconnoiter

I don't know if "somewhat homemade but pretty decent" was an official theme for the night, but I gather that if I'd seen This Giant Papier-Maiche Boulder Is Really Heavy, it would have really firmed that up. But, aside from being a 5pm show, I don't do "spoofs of bad movies" any more, and I kind of don't care how many people say it was actually good.

The website says that the director of Projet-M was scheduled for a Q&A, but if he did one, it was in the other room and there wasn't a whole lot of time between them. I might have been curious to ask how well-known the cast was; just looking the up on IMDB doesn't necessarily tell you much, since there's both a decent local commercial film/TV industry there along with a strong homebrew scene (as the massive local shorts program at Fantasia indicates), so folks with a lot of credits may not actually be famous in Québèc, but busy.

Anyway... Behind like crazy on this, and it's a bummer that IFFBoston is starting just as I'm getting to writing about the good stuff.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

The festival opened with a film (400 Days) that covers a lot of the same territory - global cataclysm happens while astronauts are undergoing long-term isolation trials - and this one is easily much better, despite having a lot of the same flaws. It's not that a somewhat handmade French-Canadian film is inherently better or more sincere than something made targeting the VOD market with familiar genre faces; it's that the folks making this one seem a lot more interested in their details, even if they don't quite seem sure of what they want the sum of those details to be.

The long-term mission is taking place on a Québèc Space Agency station in preparation for a potential manned mission to Europa. It's commanded by Vincent Kohler (Jean-Nicolas Verreault), the second man on Mars and a national hero. He, flight specialist Justine Roberval (Nadia Essadiqi), mission specialist Jonathan Laforest (Julien Deschamps Jolin), and medic Andrea Sakedaris (Julie Perreault) are scheduled to be up there for a thousand days, but nerves are already rather frayed by the time things start going very wrong in the early 900s.

The pressure cooker is a tough thing for a film to pull off, and director Eric Piccoli seems to struggle with it; he and Mario J. Ramos (his co-writer/co-editor) establish a pattern of creating a little more friction between characters or developing a subplot, and then skipping ahead a few months to when it has dissipated. It's not quite frustrating, but it keeps the movie from picking up the sort of head of steam it's looking for, and even when there are fewer big jumps forward, they still seem anxious to get to the next thing, or a flashback, or something that's neat but a diversion. There are only a few moments when characters act less intelligent and professional than you'd expect of astronauts selected for this sort of mission, at least, and the film mostly works in the moment.

Full review on EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

A fair number of people with the name of "Rowe" appear in the credits for Reconnoiter multiple times each, driving home just how independent a production it was, bordering on trying to make a sort of pre-emptive defense of its smallness. There isn't much way to avoid that, although this one probably deserves more praise for what it achieves than excuses for where it falls short; it's small but intriguing, with the filmmakers getting good results from what they can do.

This particular recon mission is being carried out by a single pilot (Ian Rowe), although tons go just sideways enough that he winds up stranded on an uninhabited planet. Well, uninhabited by biological life forms; though there is evidence that such beings one lived there, all that roams the surface now are their machines, and most of the ones that take notice of the castaway are hostile. Still, these robots point him to a possible way to get a message home, if he can survive long enough.

It's a setting that doesn't need much physical material for much of the runtime, and director Neil Rowe and his crew are pretty excellent at making do. The countryside where they shoot is not likely to be mistaken for any place but rural England - the stone walls and other structures are fairly distinctive - but Rowe makes them feel alien. No bits of terrestrial fauna accidentally sneak into frame, and the noise of mechanical breathing permeates the soundtrack for much of the film's first half. For a small production, the visual and special effects work is quite strong; the robots are good and the abandoned (and occasionally grisly) remnants of this extinct civilization are also well-executed, not calling obvious attention to how much more involved putting those scenes together must have been.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

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

Wow, I feel like Independent Film Festival Boston just completely sneaked up on me. I feel like I'm going to be making a lot of choices while standing in line.

  • There's a few days to make plans, though, as Independent Film Festival Boston kicks off in the big room at the Somerville on Wednesday. There's some good stuff planned to show in that room, with The Hollars on opening night and High-Rise on Thursday, with the latter also having the pretty darn nifty Embers in the same room where I saw it during the Sci-Fi festival, and I can't remember anything hitting two festivals in the same city like that. Thursday is also the night things start at the Brattle along with a day of documentary films at UMass Boston.

    So what does The Somerville Theatre do before they clean house for the festival? They continue showing We the People: The Market Basket Effect once a night, but they also thread up the big film to show Vertigo in 70 beautiful millimeters on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre won't get into the festival until next week, but they are one of the places opening Sing Street, the new one by John Carney, who made Once and Begin Again (and Zonad, but that doesn't really fit the joy-through-music pattern). It takes place in 1980s Dublin and has a kid starting a band to impress a girl. It also plays at the Kendall.

    The midnight this weekend is The Final Girls, a fun horror parody made by Todd Strauss-Schulson, who will be Skyping in after the show. On Sunday afternoon, they'll have a special fundraiser where they screen Sound of Redemption, following it up with a live performance by featured saxophonist Grace Kelly (not the other one, obviously). Monday's big-screen classic is a 35mm print of Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, while Tuesday's Science on Screen presentation is Embrace of the Serpent, with BU professor David Farb discussing the science of the film.
  • Kendall Square welcomes two guests Friday night, with two people featured in The First Monday in May taking questions after the 7:20pm show and the director of Older Than Ireland, Alex Fegan, talking about his look at Irish centenarians on the occasion of 100th anniversary of the country's independence.

    On top of that, they also open Green Room, a thriller from the makers of the excellent Blue Ruin featuring a villainous Patrick Stewart; it's also at Boston Common and will come to the Coolidge next week. The Kendall, the Embassy, and Boston Common also get Elvis & Nixon, with Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey presenting the backstory beyond one of America's most famous photograph.

    The sleeper, though, may be A Hologram for the King, with Tom Hanks as an American businessman in Saudi Arabia to try and get the royal family to invest. It's directed by Tom Tykwer, who worked with Hanks on Cloud Atlas. It's also at The West Newton Cinema and Boston Common. There's also a Tugg screening of Paper Tigers at the Kendall on Thursday.
  • Aside from the indie-ish stuff opening at Boston Common, the multiplexes are basically going with The Huntsman: Winter's War, which is apparently a prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman with Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron returning and Jessica Chastain & Emily Blunt joining in a story that draws from "The Snow Queen". It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    If you head out to Revere, though, you can catch Compadres, a Mexican-America buddy comedy that teams a former Mexican cop with an American hacker. They also have Union Bound, a Civil War drama about a captured Union soldier heading north with the help of escaped slaves. They also have special TCM screenings of On the Waterfront on Sunday and Wednesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a Through Indian Eyes: Native American Cinema series this week, and it includes both some of the better and lesser-known works in the category: Smoke Signals on Friday (on 35mm); The Honour of All: Part 1, Itam Hakim, Hopiit, This May Be the Last Time, and Kissed by Lightning on Saturday; Atnarjuat: The Fast Runner, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, and Trudell on Sunday; Rhymes for Young Ghouls on Tuesday; and Drunktown's Finest and a 35mm print of Naturally Native to wrap things up on Wednesday.

    Alongside that, they've got a number of 35mm prints playing for the Cambridge Science Festival After Dark: Real Genius (Friday), The Adventures of Backaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (Saturday), and Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (Sunday). There's also a ten-year-anniversary presentation of Darkon for Monday's DocYard presentation, with directors Luke Meyer & Andrew Neel and composer Jonah Rapino on hand, and the monthly free Elements of Cinema screening on Tuesday is The Pope of Greenwich Village, which will be introduced by noted author Chuck Hogan. Then, Thursday, they become an IFFBoston venue.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond brings the Teseracte performers in at 10pm on Saturday for "The Rocky Horror Chiptune Show", which is apparently an 8-bit video game retelling of Rocky Horror. Thursday night's "Rotten to the Core" series is Manos, the Hands of Fate, but if you don't just want crap, they will have Big Trouble in Little China on the back end.

    Indian stuff includes Telugu-language action movie Sarrainodu and subtitled Bollywood flick Laal Rang, which looks like a farce set around an illegal blood bank. Theri and Fan also continue, with a screening of Malayalam film Jacobinte Swargarajy on Sunday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues to show the fims of Xie Jin for much of the weekend, with [Two] Stage Sisters (Friday 7pm), The Herdsman (Friday 9:30pm), Hibiscus Town (Saturday 7pm), and Woman Basketball Player No. 5 (Sunday 7pm). They wrap up "Three Hamlets" with Italy's One Hamlet Less at 5pm Sunday, and start another retrospective, this one for Uruguayan director Federico Veiroj, on Monday with his fim Acne All except Stage Sisters are 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts as the new film by Aleksandr Sokurov, Francofonia: an Elegy for Europe, which focuses on the Louvre. If that sounds familiar, remember that he also did Russian Ark, a single-shot film set in the Russian State Hermitage Museum; this looks to be similar. Both films play Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; Francofonia also plays Wednesday.
  • The Regent Theatre celebrates its 100th birthday on Sunday with the movie that opened the place back in 1916 - Mary Pickford in Rags - with accompaniment by Jeff Rapsis, along with a vaudville-inspired live show.
  • The Belmont World Film Series continues with Chevalier, the latest off-kilter satire from Greece, at the Belmont Studio Cinema on Monday.

I'm down for Vertigo, and will probably check out A Hologram for the King and one or two others before getting down to the serious work of attending the festival come Wednesday.

The Jungle Book '16

I grumbled about the getting to this movie a bit on social media over the weekend, but it can be kind of a frustrating hike to see something at the furniture store: For me, it often means hoping that both buses I have to take are late in sync, and by the time I get there, it's often sold out. Not a problem if you buy tickets online ahead of time, but even if paying the service fee for a movie ticket doesn't bother you on its own, if those buses don't line up, you've paid fifteen bucks for nothing and you've wasted an hour. It's worth the effort - even if the 4K laser projection at Jordan's Reading doesn't look as good as the actual IMAX film did, it's the best digital projection in the area.

I was kind of disappointed that the film wound up taking so many cues from the animated version, right down to the songs, although that's not really fair - building these live-action versions out of the animated versions has been Disney's method of attack ever since they started doing them with Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland - modernizing them a certain amount, but leveraging the familiar imagery, structure, and songs is in some ways the point. It used to be, Disney would re-release the movies in theaters every few years, then they would allow the video releases to dry up before re-releasing them with great fanfare (especially if it was on a new format). I don't know how much of a return those get nowadays - there are a lot of people who don't see much improvement past DVD, and I think Blu-ray is the end of the line for most of us. Maybe there will be a 4K digital file someday, but HD is about the end of my visual acuity in someplace the size of my living room.

So, rather than re-release the movies, they use them as R&D, much the way Disney's Marvel film division has 75 years of story and design work that can be repurposed in part for its familiarity. I also wonder if it's a matter of some of the audience that traditionally went to their animated films just doesn't go for cel-style animation anymore, to the extent that the nostalgia that previously pulled people in doesn't work, so it has to be recreated with live-action and CGI.

If the latter part is true, then that's sort of weirdly ironic, because this verison of The Jungle Book is basically an animated movie with a live-action character or two inserted. Animation disguised as live-action, and as a result not having the same access to the amazing things animation can do.

The Jungle Book (2016)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 April 2016 at Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, 3D Imax laser projection)

What folks who hasn't cleared out of the theater by the end of the credits for this version of The Jungle Book snickered a bit when the line "Filmed in Downtown Los Angeles" came up, though the fact that this is nearly as much an animated film as the 1967 version from which it takes a number of cues may ultimately be what's most noteworthy about it when we talk about Disney's evolution in the future. Not that the kids in that audience worry about that much now; they got an entertaining adventure that's funny and thrilling in the proper places, and what more could they want?

It is, as per usual, the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a "man-cub" found as an infant by the panther Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley) and raised by a clan of wolves. As Mowgli grows older, the tiger Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba) is growing far less willing to let the boy live in peace, pushing him to flee to the closest human village. Moving out of his familiar environs, he will soon meet some of the jungle's other inhabitants: Hypnotic snake Kaa (voice of Scarlett Johansson); laid-back bear Baloo (voice of Bill Murray); and King Louie (voice of Christopher Walken), a giant orangutan who costs the humans' "red flower".

It's a bit surprising that director Jon Favreau opted to have all of the animal characters and much of the environment rendered digitally; he's said to have favored practical effects when directing Zathura and the first two Iron Man movies in part because he likes to give his cast a lot of room to interact and improvise, and is a different game when everything is added in post-production (to be truthful, what was done on-set with newcomer Neel Sethi is live-action elements to be inserted into an animated film). There is little doubt that this is the right call; the special-effects crew puts together a visually astonishing picture, not just seamless in how Mowgli is part of a seemingly-endless wilderness, but taking care that giant 3D screens will be filed but not overcrowded. The character animation is similarly excellent; the animals are photorealistic enough to bridge the uncanny valley (where effects work is just close enough that the mind rebels), but also given just enough in the way of human characteristics that a viewer can easily connect to them as people of a sort.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, April 18, 2016


I hate that I've given Batman v Superman enough space in my head to, at one point during Criminal, ask if we were really going to watch Pa Kent try to rape Wonder Woman.

On the other hand, that does explain why I found that chunks of the second half of this movie rubbed me the wrong way: As much as I buy that Gal Gadot's character might want to cling to whatever small piece of her husband is left, Jericho is pretty creepy and introduces himself in an especially monstrous way, and I don't know that her reaction to him is tilted far enough in the proper direction.

Criminal (2016)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 April 2016 in AMC Assembly Row #7 (first-run, DCP)

The opening narration of Criminal lays out its premise and appeal rather plainly: "They messed with my brain... Even I don't know what I'm going to do next." There's bigger things than that going on - there's a high-stakes storyline that wouldn't be out of place in an old-school James Bond movie - but when it works, it does so because it's genuinely fun to watch Kevin Costner play a "hero" who is so nuts that anything can happen next.

That the fate of literally the entire world is made into something that happens in the background while Costner's Jericho Stewart crashes through the London area handling his own concerns is a bit strange, to be honest. The script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg is hardly the first time that this sort of that is made secondary to a main character with more individual concerns, but there are times when it seems like the filmmakers aren't quite sure how to go about it. Getting Jericho on his own requires a fair amount of impatience and incompetence on the part of the CIA whole moving the story forward means cutting away to seemingly omnipotent villains. Making the movie all about Jericho isn't a bad idea, but it is often executed in clumsy fashion.

And it is kind of a shaggy-dog story of a movie, in which a billionaire anarchist (Jordi Mollà) hires a hacker (Michael Pitt) to take control of America's nuclear arsenal, the latter offers to sell this "wormhole" back to the CIA, but the agent (Ryan Reynolds) who his the hacker in London is tortured to death before telling anybody where he stayed the informant, leading the agent's handler (Gary Oldman) to fly in a scientist (Tommy Lee Jones) who has successfully transferred memories between mice, with Jericho chosen as the other half of this experiment because the damaged frontal lobe that makes him a psychopath also makes him a blank slate. If the science sounds dodgy, wait until Oldman's Quaker Wells decides to just dispense worth Jericho when thirty seconds of yelling at a thug who has just had experimental brain surgery doesn't immediately produce usable intelligence, followed by rather lax security considering that they've just potentially put the location of a bag full of untraceable money and the skills of Jason Bourne into the head of a man unable to tell right from wrong.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

New York New York

Sort of ironic: Movie lovers spent a couple days going absolutely bonkers last week after the head of AMC Theaters floated the idea that they might consider allowing texting under certain circumstances, leading to a quick backtrack with a message that this was definitely off the table.

He says that, but I saw a movie at an AMC Theater on Friday night, and even sitting in the second row, there were a bunch of five-inch screens lit up in front of me and in the corner of my eyes, which means they were probably much more visible to the rest of the theater. Saying you're not going to allow this sort of thing means very little, AMC (and other theaters that aren't the Somerville) if you're not going to actually do anything about it.

Surprisingly decent movie, considering that I wasn't hugely enthusiastic about it, almost going in on the basis of seeing Chinese movies by default. One thing that I thought about on the way out, though, was that it effectively functions as the origin story for every Asian ice queen aide-de-camp that showed up in a 1990s crime movie. I wonder how intentional that was.

New York New York (2016)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 April 2016 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

I wasn't really looking forward to New York New York; the trailer made it look like yet another nostalgic Chinese romance, and not a particularly involving one. And yet, once it gets past its opening flash-forward, maybe even before, it gets unexpectedly interesting: The filmmakers are going for a Wong Kar-wai-style melancholy, and while not up to that level of skill, they've sized upon a story that may intrigue audiences on both sides of the Pacific.

Here, "New York New York" refers not only to the American city but a nightclub in Shangai near the Gordon Hotel, where Lu Tu (Ethan Juan Jing-tien) is a concierge, promoted to captain at a young age and something of a mentor to "little brother" Kun (William Yang Xu-wen). Lu Tu takes a shine to tour guide Ruan Yujuan (Du Juan), a poor beauty whose mother is setting up introductions to increasingly distasteful men. But Shanghai is where China's increasing engagement with the West is being felt first in 1993, and Chinese-American guest Mr. Mi (Michael Miu Kiu-wai) is pitching a "Shanghai Grand Hotel" in Manhattan. He has 200 visas for potential staff, and wants Lu Tu. Unlike most of his colleagues, including "Juan", Lu Tu has no desire to go to New York, but might be willing to recruit for Mi.

If this film is any one thing before anything else, it is a love story, but a rather understated one where the audience watches two fairly reticent characters grow fonder of each other without ever having the no-doubt moment. Juan is practical; she knows her looks are a valuable commodity even if trading on them is not how she wants to live. Lu Tu is described as a player but has a certain rigid honesty to him. Theirs is never an all-consuming love, and in some ways that makes watching it play out on the actors' faces more intriguing: Du Juan spends a lot of time showing Juan as chafing at the idea of owing men or being defined by how she might be tied to them even as she plots a path through that minefield, implying hardness but not necessarily needing separate moments to imply that it's a shell (though the moments where the audience does get to see her cheerful or vulnerable go a long way). Ethan Juan, meanwhile, lets a fair amount of ego into Lu Tu's charm; it's not a surprise when he gets jealous, even if the actor does keep the audience inclined to like the guy.

It's not just a love story, of course; to say that New York New York takes place against the background of people vying for new opportunities is denying how central that is to many of the characters. The movie puts most of its focus on Lu Tu, aligning itself with his vision of New York as a false dream that mainly returns boxes of ashes. Writers Ha Chi-chao and Lu Nei elaborate on his individual reasons for feeling this way, and director Luo Dong does a nice job of balancing this personal motivation with the larger truth. Still, it's not difficult to empathize with Juan and the many others who want to do more than slowly climb the local ladder; Michael Miu's Mr. Mi is tempting, Cecilia Yip's Ms. Jin is formidable, and even minor characters like Ms. Jin's snotty assistant played by Isabelle Huang offer an interesting look at people feeling the squeeze.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.06: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Putting my thoughts about this pretty crappy movie down, I couldn't help but think that if someone like local filmmaker Izzy Lee said she wanted to remake it, I would hit the appropriate crowd-finding site kind of hard; as much as she's much more of a horror person, doing something like this in a way that was funny and sexy around a core of righteous feminist anger seems like it would be right up her alley. Give her a horror rampage than the original, and she'd be right set.

That's a nicer thought than what a core it was to watch this movie. I've gone on about how the video projection in this room was pretty terrible when it was coming off a disc or laptop - you either can't plug those things into the serious professional model that the theater uses for regular programming (or Ian and Dave weren't letting the festival crew touch that equipment), so there was pretty terrible banding and artifacting on the image of everything that wasn't on a DCP. But this was billed as "Attack of the Warner Archive", and I was sure at one point that the Web site mentioned, if not 35mm prints, then new restorations.

No. From the menu screen that came up, it was the same sort of DVD-R that is manufactured when you buy the Warmer Archive edition on Amazon, and while that quality may be acceptable enough when watching at home, a compressed 480p image does not look great even on one of the smaller screens at the Somerville. It was a stunningly bad, "how dare you charge people money for this" presentation, and it certainly can't fave helped my appreciation for the movie at all.

It was part of a double feature, but given that I probably could have gotten better quality streaming the film of Amazon, I decided not to stock around for The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Maybe that was a mistake; I see that one is actually available on Blu-ray, but it feels kind of good to cut your losses sometimes.

Note that this should not be taken as any sort of reason to skip the next event at The Somerville Theatre presented with the Sci-Fi Film Festival and Warner Archive; they'll be showing Forbidden Planet and The Searchers on Thursday 21 April 2016, and those will be in the big room on 35mm film. You should be all over that.

Next up: Skipping over Thursday (covered back here) for a pretty decent pair from Friday night.

Attack of the 50-Foot Woman

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DVD-R)

There is the germ of a great idea in Attack of the 50-Foot Woman that could have let it be fun, effective satire wrapped up in trashy pulp if anybody involved had felt like making a good movie was worth the effort. But, as is too often the case with the sci-fi B movies of the 1950s, this one seems to have been slapped together for an audience that the producers figured didn't care about quality, and that it remains reasonably well-known today says more about the power of an evocative title than the film itself.

There's potential in the idea of Nancy Fowler Archer (Allison Hayes) growing to nearly ten times her normal height and going on a rampage after an encounter with an alien craft while driving in the desert. According to some, she's already got outsize reach and a nervous disposition; she's an heiress, and local law enforcement humors her crazy story with a cursory search as a result. On the other hand, her husband Henry (William Hudson) is being none too subtle about his affair with young redhead Honey Parker (Yvette Vickers), to the point where Nancy is starting to feel like a long-term inconvenience. If the filmmakers play their cards right, it's a potent way to say that this is what may be coming when women who have treated like fools, told that their worth is in their looks and then tossed aside for younger models, and otherwise marginalized achieve the statue and power where they can neither be ignored nor slapped down.

It's a bit unfair to criticize Attack for not being that sort of movie; some folks just want the twin pleasures of a good-looking woman growing an order of magnitude too big for her clothes and a town being pulverized as by a giant monster - it doesn't need to be a feminist metaphor (or, I suppose, a cautionary tale about letting women get too much power if you're a neanderthal who identifies with Henry). But having that underpinning and really committing to it would add extra heft to the film without having to cut those visceral pleasures back, giving future audiences something to get from it when its special effects no longer impress.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 April 2016 - 21 April 2016

We are now closer to Captain America: Civil War than Batman v Superman. I'm sure that makes cinema owners happy; for those of us who don't run theaters, it means everybody has gotten much less timid.

  • The big-time release pushing the superhero movie off all of the deluxe screens is Disney's third version of The Jungle Book (remember the Stephen Sommers film?), this one directed by Jon Favreau and featuring a pretty stunning menagerie of computer-generated animals with a great set of voices, made for the giant 3D screens. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax 3D), West Newton (2D only), the Studio Cinema (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Fenway (including RPX 2D/3D), Revere (including MX4D and XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    The other big action release is Criminal, in which the contents of a spy's brain are downloaded into a death-row inmate played by Kevin Costner. I kind of like grumpy old take-no-crap Costner, and he's got a really spiffy supporting cast around him. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. There's also another pretty great cast put together for Barbershop: The Next Cut, with Malcolm D. Lee reuniting the casts of the previous Barbershop movies and bolstering them with new additions, and Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Regina Hall, Eve, Anthony Anderson,Common, Nicki Minaj, Sean Patrick Thomas et al are a pretty nice group. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    Revere also has Blaze and the Monster Machines on Saturday and Sunday morning, which is apparently part of some popular Nickelodeon show.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of the places with Miles Ahead, in which Don Cheadle not only plays Miles Davis, but directs from a script that he co-wrote, which I gather is a fairly liberal take on the life of the jazz great. Ewan McGregor co-stars as a Rolling Stone writer, and the film also plays at the Kendall, Embassy, and Boston Common.

    The genuinely weird Death Becomes Her plays the Coolidge at midnight Friday & Saturday on 35mm, joined by the monthly appearance of The Room on Saturday (I wonder if that print circulates among four theaters in an endless loop). Talking early mornings instead of late nights, Saturday's Kid Show is Shaun the Sheep, whiles Sunday's Geothe-Institut German film is Iraqi Odyssey, a documentary by an expatriate who tracks how his family has moved about over fifty years. On Thursday, there's a very special "Sound of Silents" presentation, a master class in which the director of the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra demonstrates how they compose a new score for an old film.
  • It's a busy week at the Kendall Square, which is not just part of the Miles Ahead group, but also opens a pair of documentaries. The First Monday in May comes from Andrew Rossi and takes a look behind the scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "China: Through the Looking Glass" exhibit; Dark Horse by Louise Osmond follows a small-town woman in Wales who makes invests in a racehorse despite it generally being the activity of the gentry.

    The one-week booking is a classic, Jean-luc Godard's A Married Woman. They also have another that lasts two days, with Empire of Corpses playing Tuesday and Wednesday. English-dubbed only, because apparently a lot of anime fans like that.
  • The Somerville Theatre picks up Midnight Special, and also opens one of some local interest: We the People: The Market Basket Effect, which looks at the recent confrontation between the supermarket chain's employyes, rival ownership groups, and customers. They also have a special double feature on Thursday - 60th Anniversary 35mm prints of Forbidden Planet and The Searchers, which is one heck of a good night of movies.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond keeps Kapoor & Sons, Sardaar Gabbar Singh (no subs), and Theri around, while also opening Fan, with Shah Rukh Khan playing a dual role as India's biggest star and his biggest fan, which, naturally, becomes a problem. They'll also be showing an indie called Hostile Border on Thursday (not sure whether that's the only show or it's opening for a regular run the next day), as well as the weekly cult show, which in this case is Re-Animator.

    For fans of Chinese film, Boston Common keeps Chongqing Hot Pot around and also opens New York New York, which stars Ethan Juan as a concierge at a Chinese hotel offered a chance to move to the New York location, and Du Juan as the girl he may be leaving behind.
  • The Brattle Theatre, as is usual on Marathon weekend, goes with The Muppets: A sing-along version of The Muppet Movie Friday night and Saturday afternoon, a double-feature of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth on Saturday and Monday evening, and the new addition of Babe and The Witches (the latter on 35mm) Sunday. Then, on Monday afternoon, the traditional triple feature of The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan.

    Tuesday, they have a special screening of Salaam Bombay on 35mm coinciding with director Mira Nair's visit to Tufts, while Wednesday has a different sort of visitor: Susan Marie Frontdzak plays Marie Curie both in a short film and live on stage. It's part of the Cambridge Science Festival, as is Thursday's presentation of "You're the Expert Live!" The Festival and theater also team for late shows on 35mm: Weird Science on Tuesday, Back to the Future Wednesday, and Repo Man on Thursday, and more shows continuing through Sunday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive begins a Xie Jin retrospective on Friday with film scholar Chris Berry introducing The Red Detachment of Women at 7pm, with a second one of his films (Big Li, Little Li, and Old Li) at 9:30, both in 35mm. They also welcome Paolo Gioli, who will screen some of his 16mm films on Saturday and Sunday evenings while talking with film scholar David Bordwell, with a special live experiment Sunday afternoon. Then, on Monday, they have the second of their "Three Hamlets", this one a 1964 version from the USSR on 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues Cemetary of Splendour by Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. There are two more "Hollywood Scriptures" shows as well - Meet the Patels on Satruday and The Wolfpack on Sunday - both with panel discussions afterward.
  • The Belmont World Film Series has two shows this week - The White Nights from France andBelgium at the Belmont Studio Cinema on Sunday, and Portugal's Blood of My Blood at The West Newton Cinema on Monday.
  • The Boston International Film Festival runs through Monday at Boston Common, the Paramount, the BPE Studio, and even Theater 1 in the Revere Hotel (which I don't think I've seen anything playing for the public in years).
My plans? New York New York, Criminal, The Jungle Book (maybe going to the furniture store), the Somerville double feature, some baseball, Empire of Corpses (I don't want dubs, but I like Project Itoh) and maybe one or two other things.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Dying of the Light

This film makes me glad to live in the Boston area, because that's where all the projectionists in it who talk about running film in the present tense as opposed to the past are. Sure, this is in part a function of filmmaker Peter Flynn being based in the area, but it's worth noting anyway - we don't quite have an opportunity to see film every night here, but it's closer than you might expect. We're lucky that way, in large part because we have a pretty good range of theaters that don't just passively note that they're running film, but actively promote themselves as showing it. The Somerville Theatre, for instance, didn't upgrade to 70mm for The Hateful Eight; they'd been putting the system together for years because they wanted to show 70mm film, and the community has started to respond to it.

I'm there often enough that writing this review was a little odd, seeing as the place's head projectionist David Kornfeld is one of the most prominent talking heads in The Dying of the Light, and I was a bit nervous that I'd be getting the stinkeye from him when I went there. It's not the first time I've watched and written about a movie that someone I knew was involved with, but the first time outside a festival shorts program in recent memory. It was a little odd to me not to see the pricklier side of him emerge until later on, but this is a project that is fairly-well calculated to play to what he's enthusiastic about.

Oddly, I felt a bit of a twinge when he was visiting the remains of the Sutton Motor-In during the film, although I don't think I've ever been there (not a big drive-in guy, what with the not driving). We'd drive past it a lot on the way to visit my grandparents in Sutton when I was a kid, though, and the odd visual of just seeing a running film outside as part of the landscape has stuck in my head for a while.

It's always a bit odd to see a movie in the theater where parts of it take place, and the irony of seeing it in the Coolidge's GoldScreen room using digital projection (though I believe it's now DCP-quality projectors in the two smaller rooms) is kind of stark - it's a small room maybe without a proper booth, and a certain amount of what's lost when going from film to digital is clear when a black scene still faintly glows. It also means there's no respite from the senior citizens behind you who just won't stop talking during the movie.

Ah, well. One more night of it at the Coolidge, and well worth checking out if this is something that interests you.

The Dying of the Light

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 April 2016 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre Gold Screen (first-run, digital) (yes, the irony is noted)

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the protectionist at my neighborhood theater by name when talking to a co-worker, and he took the fact that I knew him by name as a sign that maybe I spent a little too much time there. I doubt he'll see The Dying of the Light - documentaries about the last generation of people to regularly handle actual film in theaters are kind of the definition of a specialty production - but if he does, he'll maybe wonder if they should not have been so invisible. The picture does an admirable job of informing without wallowing in things-were-better-back-in-the-day nostalgia, enough that maybe the switch from film to digital would have been a bigger deal had audiences known these guys.

They did once - as the movie relates early on, the protectionist and his equipment were very visible when moron pictures were primarily exhibited in tents and public halls by traveling showmen at the turn off the Twentieth Century, with permanent "picture palaces" and their booths a later innovation. It's a tradition, one historian notes, that has its roots in magic lantern shows that go back to the mid-1600s, although director Peter Flynn spends much more time talking about the changes in technology that came afterward. Xenon bulbs replaced carbon arcs, switching between projectors whose reels held twenty minutes of film was automated and then made unnecessary by player systems, different types of sounds arrived, and 70mm was one of many ways theaters combated competition from television.

Many of these innovations are explained by David Kornfeld, one of the film's technical advisers and head protectionist at the Somerville Theatre (and, yes, the guy I referred to earlier, as that theater is about a block away from my apartment). David, as most Boston-area film fans will tell you, knows his stuff, and he does a good job relaying the information without it being too dry. As the movie goes on, one gets a sense of how passionate he is about his profession and how a lot of people with specialized skills can have a difficult relationship with the new, way of things that make his job harder but equally disgusting of the ones that make things easier, last they make him and his like obsolete.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

April and the Extraordinary World

Even before I bought my ticket, I was wondering to myself which niece would be receiving a copy of this for her birthday or Christmas, because, as you might imagine, that's my thing: Getting the girlies the movies that they might not get from anyone else in the family because who else knows about new French animated movies and the heirs to Studio Ghibli? This is what an uncle like me is for, right?

Don't know about this one, though. It's great and I love it, and given that I try to find movies for them with active lady protagonists, and Avril being an adventuring scientist seems like a jackpot. I'm just a bit worried that, despite the PG rating, it might be a little too intense for the younger ones, and I don't know if the nine-year-old would be into steampunk and superintelligent komodo dragons.

Ah, well. One will probably get this anyway, because it's just that good.

Avril et le monde truqué (April and the Extraordinary World)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 April 2016 at Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

The French title of this film, "Avril et le Monde Truqué", actually translates to "April in the Twisted World", which may be more fitting, because as much as it is extraordinary and a delight to watch, it's a genuinely weird movie. It's got something eye-catching, funny, and thrilling in just about every frame. It's a shame that this style of animated adventure has never been popular in the United States, because it's a terrific fantasy that merits a greater big-screen audience than it will get here.

It kicks off in 1870, with Napoleon III paying a visit to Dr. Franklin, looking for a serum vitae to make his soldiers invulnerable in the coming war with Prussia. Things do not go well, setting history on a different course, and come 1931, son Prosper "Pops" Franklin (voice of Jean Rochefort), along with grandson Paul Franklin (voice of Olivier Gourmet) and his wife Annette (voice of Macha Grenon), are among the few fugitive scientists who have not disappeared or been recruited to work on weapons by the government, and a raid leaves Avril, the daughter of Paul & Annette, and her talking cat Darwin (voice of Philippe Katerine) on their own. Ten years later, Avril (voice of Marion Cotillard) secretly continues her family's work to try and find the serum to revitalize Darwin, not realizing she's being tailed by petty thief Julius (voice of Marc-André Grondin) and more sinister forces.

Though the story is credited to Benjamin Legrand and co-director Franck Ekinci, the big name in the credits for some will be Jacques Tardi, a legendary creator of bandes dessinés credited with graphic design. His signature is on every frame, even if the style is softer than Tardi's usual (despite Avril being a no-nonsense heroine cut from the same cloth as Adèle Blanc-Sec); he's been doing steampunk comics since before it had that name, and knows how to make it delightful in its ornamented grandeur - twin Eiffel Towers which act as the terminus for a tramway that runs all the way to Berlin! - while not losing track of how such a stream-powered world would be strangled with smoke. Gas makes are on every corner, even on dogs out for a walk. He and the rest of the filmmakers create a world of wonders, but not one that is scrubbed clean.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hardcore Henry

Not much to say about this, since I wound up going because I missed my screening of April and the Extraordinary World and wasn't going to go through the rigmarole of dealing with part of the Red Line being replaced by shuttle-bus service for nothing.

It was shockingly dead at the Boston Common AMC for a Saturday night. I think everyone, from Warner Brothers to competing studios to exhibitors, was expecting a lot more out of Batman v Superman, and the thing apparently sputtering from poor word of mouth has left the multiplexes very quiet. The folks who were there for Henry seemed to really like it, though; there was applause at the end of the movie. I kind of wonder how many of those guys were gamers, and my not connecting was a factor of me just not being into video games much since they became less abstract (and, yes, that does correlate nicely with me getting older).

Oh, and while I try not to spoil things in the review, the thing that half-impressed me was


Just now did I miss that it didn't make much sense for Akan and his men to surprise Henry & Estelle when the lab was on a plane? I mean, if Henry or the audience had a second to think, there's no way that this can be anything but a set-up. The fact that it was revealed to be a set-up doesn't really make that better, since it should have been obvious, and it means that Akan was doing, what, an expensive and attention-getting field test? Sure, he's got more reason to let his own men get killed than most alpha villains, but it's still dumb!


Also, how is "Don't Stop Me Now" not on the soundtrack? It's the most memorable of the tunes in the movie and was used in the trailer!

Hardcore Henry

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 April 2016 at AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, DCP)

Pay attention through the credits of first-person action movie Hardcore Henry, and there will be one or two things that mildly amuse: Three guys listed after "Additional Cameramen as Henry", and an acknowledgment that the poster for Lady in the Lake appears courtesy of Warner Brothers. I missed that callback to Robert Montgomery's uneven attempt to shoot a movie from the hero's point of view, but it's easy to miss stuff in this movie; it's a fast-moving mess more interested in empty violence than the actual cool stuff going on underneath.

It's clear where writer/director Ilya Naishuller's priorities are from the James Bond-style opening titles, which show various sorts of violent death in slow motion. After that, the film jumps to a secret lab, where the audience settles into the title character's point of view as his scientist wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) administers him, attaching mechanical limbs and telling him that his amnesia is, well, not normal, but expected after what he's been through. He's barely had time to get used to his cyborg upgrades - can't even get a voicebox installed - before Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), the Russian industrialist funding Estelle's research, bursts in and starts killing lab assistants with telekenisis. Henry and Estelle escape but get separated. Fortunately, help soon appears in the form of Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), who appears to give Henry directions and assistance in various guises, apparently shaking off any sort of catastrophic injury that comes from being around Henry and Akan's veritable army of goons.

In retrospect, Naishuller deserves a bit of credit in that what should be a really obvious giveaway in the first ten minutes or so more or less goes unnoticed as the action charges forward. It does raise the question of whether it's better to be frustrated that the characters are missing something right in front of their faces or to think that things are silly and random - for a place that seems a lot like contemporary Moscow, you'd think Akan being some sort of Dark Jedi and there being multiple people with internal batteries running around would be treated as odd, not to mention the utter lack of useful police presence - and then having things collapse toward the end. It's a thoroughly dumb movie, but sort of manages to camouflage just how dumb and in which manner for longer than you'd expect.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Chongqing Hot Pot

If I keep going to Chinese movies that are meant to be thrillers, I'm going to keep bumping against the whole thing about how the censor bureau apparently doesn't allow crime to go unpunished on film, at least for movies taking in the present-day People's Republic, which isn't a lot of fun to write about. I mean, it's saying the same thing every time, the filmmakers don't exactly have a lot of control over it, and it kind of gives things away for the person coming in that doesn't know what China demands. But, when talking about why a heist movie is never quite as exciting as it should be, despite some nifty work; there's bounds that can't be worked around.

Makes me really wish more Hong Kong movies made it here, and more from Korea, although it seems like the riskier thrillers from there only appear in the US if they make noise at non-genre film festivals.

Chongqing Hot Pot

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2016 at AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, DCP)

There are bits of Chongqing Hot Pot that are clever, nifty, and well-executed enough that one almost wishes that filmmaker Yang Qing had a little bit more room to maneuver than he has in a contemporary Chinese crime comedy. He occasionally asks the audience to swallow a bit more than is reasonable (though what caper doesn't?), but manages to miss most of the places where he could slip up, and that's pretty good for this sort of movie.

The Chinese city of Chongqing, we are informed, is famous for many hot-pot restaurants, but also has a large number of sealed-off bomb shelters. They intersect in "hot pot caves", as savvy entrepreneurs expand into the empty spaces. One restaurant's three partners - unhappily-married Xu Dong (Qin Hao), deep-in-gambling-debt Liu Bo (Chen Kun), and unfortunately-nicknamed Four-Eyes (Yu Entai) - are doing that with an eye toward selling quickly. When they break into a chamber that also connects to the vault of the Chengjiang Business Bank, the smart thing to do would be to inform the police, but when they learn that middle-school classmate Yu Xiaohui (Bai Baihe) works there and is none too satisfied with the situation, possibilities open up.

You might argue that this film quite literally has a huge plot hole, in that it actually relies on there being a hole in the floor of the bank's vault but no motion detectors or video surveillance, meaning that Four-Eyes can just stumble in with nobody noticing. The film also relies on a pretty massive coincidence, though to be fair, heist movies generally aren't very interesting unless something unexpected happens. Of course, heists are also generally best when everyone involved has a part to play, and the guys are rather interchangeable in terms of the plot. It doesn't necessarily have to be that way, but Xu Dong and Four-Eyes are either a bit underwritten or have their stories pared down to keep the film moving quickly, so we don't get much of a handle on them.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 8 April 2016 - 14 April 2016

Not going to lie, I thought very hard about heading to NYC for the Old School Kung Fu Festival this weekend, but I'm kind of feeling like staying put. There's some good stuff for that.

  • I think the thing I'm most looking forward to is April and the Extraordinary World at the Kendall Square for a week; it's a steampunky sci-fi adventure based upon a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi from the producers of Persepolis. Most screenings are subtitled French, although the 1:30pm screening daily is dubbed into English. Also coming from France is My Golden Days, with Matheiu Amalric as a man reflecting upon three formative periods in his life.

    There are two movies about legendary jazz trumpters coming out in April, with Born to Be Blue featuring Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker trying to rebound from his 1960s lows.

    The Kendall also is one of the theaters opening Demolition, starring Jake Gyllenaal as a man struggling to cope after his wife dies in an accident. Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper also star, and it plays at the Somerville, Kendall Square, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere.
  • Also at the multiplexes: The Boss, which features Melissa McCarthy as a brash CEO who gets busted for insider trading and winds up crashing with her former assistant (Kristin Bell) and applying her cuthtroat tactics the said assistant's daughter's Girl-Scout-Analog fundraising. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Those looking for something action-oriented, meanwhile, have Hardcore Henry, which is a first-person shooter come to live action life. Sharlto Copely plays the co-op buddy. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway(including RPX), and Revere.

    Fenway and Revere also pick up Midnight Special as it expands; those two theaters also have a one-night screening of Bill, a comedy about the early career of William Shakespeare, on Monday night.
  • The Brattle Theatre, meanwhile, gets The Invitation, a new thriller from director Karyn Kusama that has Logan Marshall-Green as a man invited to his ex-wife's house for a dinner party that soon becomes an exercise in paranoia. I liked it at Fantasia, but everyone else loved it. It plays Monday to Thursday, although it's bumped by a live show on Wednesday and skips showtimes due to other special events during the week.

    Those include Saturday Wicked Queer shows; the newly-renamed Boston LGBT Film Festival, also has screenings at the MFA, the Paramount Theater, Harvard Law School's Wasserman Hall, and the Fenway Health Center through Sunday. Monday night has a DocYard presentation of Counting, with director Jem Cohen calling in afterward to discuss his fifteen inked shorts about street life. Tuesday is Trash Night.
  • Irony: After the special preview on the 7th, The Coolidge Corner Theatre will be playing The Dying of the Light - a documentary on the vanishing art of actual film projection, in the small GoldScreen room (I was going to say it may not even have an actual projection booth, but I think upgrading it to DCP means there is one, but likely a tiny carved-out space). It will be there at least through Thursday, though.

    Their 35mm projectionists will have some chance to do their thing, though, as Alexandre Aja's High Tension plays off a print at midnight on Friday and Saturday. Film will also be used for Monday's "Cinema Jukebox" screening of West Side Story. There's also a Talk Cinema presentation Sunday morning and Open Screen on Tuesday.
  • The Indian movies continue, with Ki and Ka sticking around both Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond and Fenway while Apple also holds over Kapoor & Sons. They add a screen for Sardaar Gabbar Singh, a Telugu-language action-comedy, and a matinee screening of of Malayalam thriller Kali on Saturday. Subtitled Tamil action film Theri opens Wednesday evening.

    At midnight on Friday, they have the Teseracte Players expanding their repertaoire of "shadow cast" performances to include The Princess Bride, which I guess is a different way to watch the movie. Their other regular cult-y series, "Rotten to the Core", offers Hackers on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has multimedia artist Phil Collins programming the screen on Friday with two shorts programs at 7pm and 9pm. On Saturday they present a retrospective of animated films by the late Karen Aqua, introduced by her husband Ken Field and Janeann Dill. Sunday afternoon has Guy Maddin presenting a 35mm print of Wicked Woman, with the evening another short program, this one featuring the works of Alfred Guzzetti. Monday has another guest, Geneviève McMillan-Reba Stewart Fellow Hassen Ferhani, presenting his debut film Roundabout in My Head.
  • In addition to hosting Wicked Queer, The Museum of Fine Arts has a pair of screenings for the ReelAbilities Boston Film Festival on Sunday; it's been going on since the previous week and also has screenings at the Museum of Science, Somerville Theatre, and other places.

    On Wednesday, they open a sporadic run of Cemetary of Splendour, the new film from Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul that involves a mysterious sleeping sickness, a haunted former school, and psychics; it also plays Thursday and through the next week. They also start their annual "Hollywood Scriptures" series on Thursday with a good one from outside of Hollywood, Sweden's Force Majeure; a panel discussion follows the screening.
  • The Somerville Theatre also visits Thailand on Wedesday, with more "Music & Movies Around the Corner" on Wednesday with Y/Our Music, following nine Thai musicians who span the gamut between traditional labor songs to contemporary pop. They also play host to the UMass Boston Film Series on Thursday, when director Nicolas Steiner will host a free screening of his documentary Above and Below, which follows five people living in what most would consider something akin to post-apocalyptic environments.
  • The Belmont World Film Series is actually at The West Newton Cinema on Monday, which isn't surprising giving that this week's selection, Mountain, is from Israel and Jewish film does very well there. It follows a woman whose home is actually inside a Jerusalem cemetary. There will still be world film at the Belmont Studio Cinema, though, as they host The Global Cinema Film Festival of Boston from Saturday to Monday.

My plans include April, Hardcore Henry, The Boss, and whatever needs catching up with. Plus, Red Sox home opener Monday!

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Treasure

I think this is the first time I've been back to the Belmont Studio since they were closed down for a few months last year, and I sort of wonder if during that time they removed the nicer seats and put them in West Newton, leaving the ones without cupholders here. I distinctly remember there being cupholders, because I used one to hold my burrito the last time. But now, now cupholders, and the affiliated burrito place next door is no more. Bummer, because it's a tiny lobby with limited concession options, and I was hungry.

I was out there for Belmont World Film, which is a neat little even that was kind of homeless last year. It was pretty crowded for that lobby, with a lot of local Romanians coming out for the film.

I get more impatient than I should at these sorts of screenings, where the post-film Q&A/discussion becomes a lot of rambling statements, but I'm trying to appreciate that more, hoping to be less impatient because it's not helping me with the topic at hand (the movie) and more interested in learning about other cultures in general. Not exactly succeeding (and it gets tougher when the person talking has missed something basic and there's a half hour between buses if I don't catch the next), but it's probably worth trying to get to one or two more of these this year.

(And I appear to have written this review just as the film comes off Amazon streaming. I am just generally behind this year.)

Comoara (The Treasure)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 March 2016 at the Belmont Studio Cinema (Belmont World Film Series, digital)

Even the titles of Corneliu Porumboiu's best-known recent films - 12:08 Easy of Bucharest and Police, Adjective - are focused on a sort of precision that can sometimes be maddening and The Treasure, ("Comoara" in the original Romanian) certainly starts out that way, hitting the audience right off the bat with a pair of the sort of conversations about minutiae that just don't happen outside of art-house films. It does eventually loosen up into a deadpan comedy, but that humor might not be enough for some considering the painstaking steps Porumboiu takes to get there.

The film centers on Costi Toma (Toma Cuzin), who is getting by a bit better than many in Bucharest, but still doesn't have enough money to float his neighbor Adrian Negoescu (Adrian Purcarescu) the loan he asks for. Not at first, at least; when Negoescu finally explains that his great-grandfather buried valuables on the family estate before it was sized by the communists (with the land only returned to the descendants relatively recently), Costi grows interested and scrapes enough together to hire a guy with access to a metal detector. Once he has stated along the path, the operation becomes more questionable - the government tends to seize anything with historical and cultural significance (interpreted broadly), and the details of Negoescu's story seem to become a little less favorable with each telling.

Costi is detail-oriented and basically honest, which would seem to be about half-useful in terms of this particular scheme. It also gives the film a dry sort of start as he initiates protracted discussions with both his son Alin (Nicodim Toma) and Negoescu about things that seem extremely extraneous. That Toma Cuzin and Porumboiu opt to underplay the character initially seems like a curious choice - there are beats that, if emphasized, could give Costi a stronger personality or make what's slow going more dramatic - but it pays off later on when the audience is able to get a fuller picture: We see a man who is curious but not obsessive, on the lookout for opportunity but not necessarily greedy, and mostly level-headed and conciliatory. That kind of man is not usually an exciting character, and though it describes most in the audience, viewers don't necessarily identify with him because they tend to grab on to something that sticks out. Still, by the time the film is over, an affection has likely developed for this man; Cuzin and Porumboiu have quietly brought his virtues to the fore, even if they are sometimes well-disguised.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.05: Dual City and shorts

Ugh, is it really almost two months since this festival? Where does the time go?

I was able to collect a replacement pass, although there were moments when I figured that maybe I wouldn't need one, because the folks at the Somerville Theatre pretty much recognize me by now and knew I had one. Still, might as well have everything sorted. It sounded like someone else had dropped one too, so I hope they also got a replacement. The funny thing about this is that you might almost think they were too big to lose - I think mine will just fit in the appointment calendar/scrapbook - but being unwieldy doesn't really help: Since they don't fit into a pocket, or any sort of standard lanyard like I've gotten from other festivals, and, not quite being cardstock, don't feel sturdy enough to just put in any convenient spot (especially during snowy months), there's no good place to keep them. Some folks had laminated theirs and punched a hole, but something more compact and study would really be appreciated in the future.

Anyway, I did Dual City by rushing to the theater after working from home, and kind of wondered why it was playing a 5pm slot. I kind of wonder that about most movies that play that time period, but this was also perhaps the first or second feature from Japan to play the festival part of the event (I forget whether Summer Wars actually wound up paying or not), which is nuts - how do you do a science fiction festival and not have Japan represented? To be fair, everything I've heard is that actually booking Japanese films is really difficult, because the studios want a lot of money and don't really budge on those demands - witness Battle Royale not getting an actual release in the USA until its tenth anniversary, the difficulties even established festivals have in booking Japanese productions, and the way Chinese and Korean movies are getting more day-and-date releases in America while Japanese ones maybe book a single screening or two per city, often dubbed. Fortunately, there is some interesting independent work going on there with an interest in being seen by a wider audience.

Tuesday was technically documentary night, but I headed to the Micro instead, because while I didn't have a lot of particular ingest in the "Pluto Was Dissed" collection, the documentaries for the festival are often kind of brutal by-fans/for-fans/about-fans things, and I swore them off after a previous festival.

That's enough, though. Next up: More carping about projection!

Dual City (Duaru shiti)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

I initially started this review by writing about how wonderfully weird Japanese science fiction is, no matter what the medium, but the truth is, Dual City isn't that strange, at least not by those standards. It's mainly just detailed, as befits the middle part of a trilogy, though not so densely so that it can't be enjoyed on its own. That approach doesn't always work, but filmmaker Yokna Hasegawa manage to keep putting new things into the environment at about the same speed she's moving through it, making even the messier bits enjoyable.

In this future Japan, the country has been split in two by a civil war. Yoriko Motegi (Aki Morita) is a nurse in a northern hospital, and has the good fortune to be the last potential hostage during a terrorist attack. Fortunately, the most relatively-sane of her kidnappers makes sure she gets out alive, and convinces her to escape to the south with a crucial bit of intelligence. There, she meets a guerilla cell whose leader Jun (Chieko Misaka) has visions which, combined with the intelligence Yoriko has brought, might allow highly-capable agent Ayumi Takagi (Tomomi Mabuchi) to infiltrate the Nephe Corporation's headquarters and stop their operations which are strangling both North and South.

It's a standard sort of sci-fi melange in some ways, a mix of elements that the filmmakers found cool in other stories, but there's an elegance to how Hasegawa and co-writer Tomohiro Hara choose and sequence them that's appealing: One of the first glimpses we get of Yoriko is her using a coin-operated virtual-reality machine to see her dead daughter, then we learn that Nephe uses corpses from the North to create what is called "" in the South, and then the plans are threatened by one member of the being seduced by a Nephe android. The ideas seem linked, the story moves between them naturally, and the encounters with these strange things move the story along in return. The necessary exposition seems fairly natural, and there's just enough twist on the familiar devices to keep things interesting but not confusing.

Full review on EFC.

"The Man Who Caught a Mermaid"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival: Pluto Was Dissed, digital)

It's not at all unusual for a the first thing you see that fits a theme to feel like the best when that theme keeps getting hammered, especially when that theme is "gotcha!", and you stay to just resent it. I suspect that this one could have done better in that department, though; the tone is such that it might be better off heading in the other direction rather than the way it veers. When something already doesn't seem right, there is not much excitement in it being not right in pretty much the exact way it seems.

The short is at least well-made; director Kaitlin Tinker and her cast have a good handle on the people involved, whether sad-sack fisherman who heads down to the pier every day hoping to catch a mermaid, tolerant wife, or less-accepting townsfolk, making the interactions feel genuine. The mermaid designs are nicely done as well, especially in terms of working with the shoddy surroundings.

"L'encenedor quàntic" ("The Quantum Lighter")

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival: Pluto Was Dissed, digital)

"The Quantum Lighter" may be five minutes of time-paradox gobbledygook, but it's fast, and that counts for something. It's got a cute premise in terms of how it makes unusual use of the Grandfather Paradox, and the fact that it's too convoluted to actually seem like a good plan plays a reasonable part in the climax. It can suffer a bit in a block where too many shorts are going for a last-moment exclamation point, but it's pretty good.

"As They Continue to Fall"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival: Pluto Was Dissed, digital)

Nikhil Bhagat's short film feels like it might feel right at home as a six-page entry in Metal Hurlant or Dark Horse Presents (or whatever your adult-skewing comics anthology of choice is): A halfway-transgressive idea in its drifter who hunts and kills angels, just enough atmosphere and action to present a nice snapshot of what he and writer C. Robert Cargill are going for, and a snappy finish that leaves the viewer wanting more without being unsatisfied.

That may not sound like much, but it's pretty close to exactly what one wants to see out of a genre short. I don't mind if I never find out anything about this guy's war with angels or it played out on a larger scale, but I wouldn't exactly mind seeing that happen, either.

"Fabric Cosmos"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival: Pluto Was Dissed, digital)

"Cute" is the first word that comes to mind when you even try to describe "Fabric Cosmos", which presents a wee universe that is home to a kid and a squirrel, animated out of textile scraps and orbiting a cloth flower singularity which is obviously going to start pulling everything in and spinning as the music changes tempo, because that's how short films like this work. It's all about doing it well, putting in small touches that surprise and letting the audience see the technique without breaking the spell. Director Jung Seung-hee does a good job of this, making a film that plays as, well, cute, but without feeling saccharine.

"Made Out of Meat" (2015)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival: Pluto Was Dissed, digital)

This is the second time a short based upon this particular Terry Bisson story has played this particular festival, and there have been other adaptations besides. It's easy to see why; it's a conversation between two people (who may or may not take human form) that lets actors play disgust and incredulity at something usually taken for granted. It's a funny concept that can be done on a budget and usually puts a premium on performance.

Interestingly, director Safiyya Lea and co-star Sophie Francesca go a different direction than usual, pushing the dialogue back to telepathic voice-over and cutting what seems like 150 times in their for minute short, presumably with the intent to hammer home just how alien their disaffected observers are. I'm not exactly sure how effective it is if you don't already know the gag or haven't read the synopsis that that says they are bored aliens crashing an Earth party - it seemed too copy to get the point across to me, but I am old and uncool compared to the filmmakers and their likely audience.

"The Unforgiven"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival: Pluto Was Dissed, digital)

You could paste much of what I said about the block's other angel-related film here and it wouldn't be out of place; "The Unforgiven" works by telling one story in a world that is sketched well enough that others could easily be told in it. Its for an interesting angle of attack, treating guardian angels like undercover cops who must meet in secret locations and burn out from the thankless job of trying to save humans from themselves. The concept and mood are great.

The specifics of this story are a little rough, though. Director Jason Piccioni puts a little too much emphasis on the larger themes rather than making the specific story compelling, and it means the conclusion doesn't quite feel as meaty as intended. It's still a nice take on the subject, at least, one that could really work with more details to grab onto.

"Quest for a Different Outcome"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival: Pluto Was Dissed, digital)

This was the longest in the block at thirty minutes, and that is part of what works against it - even without the extremely literal title, any reasonably observant person will figure out where the movie is going about five minutes in, and from there they will just kind of be waiting it out. That might be okay, but the filmmakers spend most of the plentiful time they have on the super-secret organization recruiting Jeremiah "Jerry" Green rather than on him, despite his decisions being the fulcrum of the plot.

It tries in the second half, when Sarah Nicklin (whom New England genre fans should know and like from roughly a million movies shot in Rhode Island) enters the picture as Jeremiah's girlfriend who has more or less decided to part ways with him. She does yeoman's work in getting the film moving in a more personal direction, although Aaron Shand has a little trouble with Jerry - the story pivots on him having a more extreme personality than he really shows, but if he had that personality, the short would not be a whole lot of fun to watch.

"Requiem for a Robot"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival: Pluto Was Dissed, digital)

There is usually something sort of sarcastic about shorts like "Requiem for a Robot" - assigning sadness and despair to machines creates a sort of overwrought mockery, often being too be treated as more sophisticated because the filmmaker went for that instead of joy. There's a bit of that to this movie, with its consciously cheap-looking bot stumbling about, walking about how it has been abandoned, but director Christoph Rainer somehow managed to come out the other side, giving this thing a genuine sense of despair even as the misery is somewhat comical.

It's a bit of a one-gag short, but that gag is executed well; Rainer and his crew use shots of a city looking run-down or otherwise not at its best in a way that sometimes feels a bit like parody of serious drama but still works, getting both laughs and rueful reactions.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival: Pluto Was Dissed, digital)

My notes for this movie, paraphrased, say something along the lines of "whiny brat breaks something, drives parents nuts, then makes things worse by cloning himself". I'm guessing that this is not exactly the vibe that the filmmakers were going for, although it is kind of the natural complement to this home-schooled kid who doesn't have a lot of friends making himself a playmate. There's some great material to be mined out of those ideas and the future that gives rise to them - it seems implied that this sort of isolation isn't uncommon - but filmmakers Susanne Aichele and Amanda Mesaikos don't dig into them as deeply as they could. Instead, they sort of get stuck on questions that don't really matter. It's kind of irrelevant which Caleb is the original, and the government only "allowing" one is such a rigid, unexplained regulation that it can only be resolved with a kind of confusing jump forward.

As much as the story could be a bit more fleshed-out, the sort mostly works because the performances do. Mark Frost and Elizabeth Healey make Caleb's parents feel very genuine, with Healey especially showing some strain. Twins James and William Hall are certainly not bad as Caleb(s), giving the character a personality that fits both as a demanding kid and a child who is sweetly incapable of understanding why anyone would have a problem with his or his brother's very existence. Making sure we buy that does a very nice job of papering over any issues the sort might have.