Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Shallows

87 minutes. I mentioned in the weekly preview that there were three movies of that length coming out this week (the others are Three and Therapy for a Vampire), and it's a trend I'm in favor of, especially for movies that are like these: Entertaining enough, but not necessarily doing a lot more than selling popcorn, and when that's the case, there's not necessarily much reason for it to last longer than it takes to get to the bottom of the bag.

Which isn't to say that there's no worth in this movie; I was, by the end, plenty enthusiastic to see Blake Lively's character deal with the shark, and there seemed to be a fair amount of excitement for it in the audience around me. More of it would have just stretched the thing too far - heck, you could argue that the "one year later" minute or two at the end was too much. We're invested in Nancy not being eaten by a shark, not by her being closer to her dad or a role model to her kid sister, and that scene probably wasn't really needed - end her rescue with her saying what the EMS folks need to do because "I'm going to be a doctor" and you've tied up that loose end.

Then again, we've all see much worse examples of that sort of thing, and Jaume Collet-Serra knows his way around a B-movie, so it turned out pretty well. I'm mildly surprised the Somerville doesn't put a trailer for its Jaws weekend in front of this, but then again, why remind people watching a pretty good shark movie about what a masterpiece of the genre looks like?

The Shallows

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 June 2016 in Somerville Theatre #4 (first-run, DCP)

Looking at a Pulp Covers blog a few weeks ago, I noted that men's magazines of the 1950s seemed to alternate between scantily-clad women and first-person narratives of unlikely survival, although you seldom saw both in the same place. Would the consumers of those magazines, I wonder, see The Shallows as a holy grail unifying all that is good about entertainment or a wholly misguided attempt to combine two things meant to be kept separate.Or, perhaps, something in between, a capable bit of entertainment that delivers the shark-based suspense it promises and doesn't get bogged down doing so.

A quick flash-forward promises mayhem, we meet Nancy (Blake Lively), who is in Mexico to surf the secret beach her mother visited while while pregnant with her twenty-five years ago. It's a great beach, and she meets a couple of nice guys there... and then, while catching one last wave as they depart, she finds a whale carcass, with the shark that killed it between her and the shore.

It's an elegantly simple set-up, and the temptation to complicate it must have been immense, wither with more characters or flashbacks to her family that go beyond a few photographs stored on her phone. Instead, writer Anthony Jaswinski and director Jaume Collet-Serra are able to treat a sleek 87-minute length as spacious, with time to watch Nancy consider her situation and next move between scenes where she confronts the shark while still having plenty of those. It's impressive restraint on the part of Jaswinski, Collet-Serra, and editor Joel Negron; they could have padded it out five more minutes and potentially wrecked the pacing, or worried earlier on about pinning its success to one actress. Instead, they keep focused on what the audience wants to see, giving that audience just enough time to breathe but not enough that they might want more.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I used to complain about stuff not playing Boston a lot, but new Johnnie To movies right around the time they open in China (heck, if I read the release dates right, a week before it opens in Hong Kong) makes up for a fair amount of that. And, heck, it's only nine months or so since Office.

The new To film coming out right now makes for some weird scheduling in the northeast, tough, as I kind of wonder if the folks attending the New York Asian Film Festival will be trying to cram a showing of this in before or after their other shows for the day. Sure, if you're attending that festival, you like these sorts of movie, but it's a lot all at once, and then this. It's also not booked for Montreal this week, but will run in the Fantasia International Film Festival. It's a bit odd to me that Montreal supports that festival pretty well, but when I'm looking at the list of places a Chinese film will open, that city is not usually on the list. Kind of surprising, but maybe the folks like Well Go and China Lion are a little unsure about releasing a French-subtitled version for what will likely be one theater. There's niche and there's niche, after all.

Good movie, recommended for those who like good, quick thrillers (as I mentioned in the week's preview posting, it's one of three 87-minute movies released in the Boston area this week). And if seeing it now means I've got a bit more of a chance to see something less well-publicized (and maybe have room for Ghostbusters or Star Trek Beyond in Montreal), so much the better.

Saam Yan Hang (Three)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 June 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

The plot synopsis I read for Three ("Saam Yan Hang" in Cantonese), the latest from Hong Kong's Johnnie To, described a pretty great cat-and-mouse thriller but one which doesn't necessarily have a big role for one of the three leads in question, and that's kind of an issue with the movie To actually made: The story of the doctor doesn't quite fit in with those of the cop and the criminal. Despite that, things get plenty exciting once To and company are able to shift into high gear, following a slow burn with a heck of an explosion.

We meet the doctor first; Tong Qian (Vicki Zhao Wei) is a consulting neurosurgeon at Victoria Hospital whose aggressive treatments have not always led to full recovery, to say the least. Her ward is about to get a new patient - Steven Shun (Wallace Chung Hon-leung), an exceptionally clever and well-read armed robber who took a bullet to the head in a police operation after Chief Inspector "Ken" Chan Wai-lok (Louis Koo Tin-lok) had Constable Sun Yuen-kwok (Lam Suet) hold a gun on him to find out the location of the rest of his gang. It's a mess for Chan, and potentially gets even worse when Shun wakes while being prepped for surgery and refuses treatment, figuring that his gang will be much more able to rescue him from the hospital than a jail cell.

To and the three credited writers have a fairly potent idea in pitting these three people who are at the top of their fields against each other, what with all three of them perhaps being foolishly over-confident in what they can manage - whether it be risky surgeries, rogue police work, or functioning with despite a bullet in one's brain. The trick, it seems, is in getting the audience to realize just how over-ambitious each of the main characters is in a fairly short amount of time, and that's tricky; we never actually see what went down as the police tried to arrest Steven, and that could have given the audience a stronger idea of how both cop and criminal tend to overplay their hands. Establishing Dr. Tong as both brilliant and overconfident is even harder; the opening scenes are filled with awkwardly spoken "Cantonenglish" jargon from the hospital staff, and it's hard for a layperson to see the line between necessary and dangerous risks, given that what Tong does is literally brain surgery.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Central Intelligence

I kind of expected that last Saturday would start out as "see Warcraft and then stick around for the screening of Central Intelligence that starts soon after" and eventually become "saw Warcraft before Central Intelligence", just because one showed personality in the previews and the other didn't, but I wasn't quite prepared for how thoroughly Warcraft would exit my mind.

I am probably going to pay more attention to Kevin Hart going forward, because he's awfully funny in this and, though he's a big star, he's a guy that's probably not on my radar enough. I hope like heck it's because I'm pretty much oblivious to standup and not because I'm discounting movies with African-American leads. I try and fight that, especially now that it seems like we actually get more Chinese movies in the area than ones starring American people of color, which isn't exactly right.

Still, this one is funny enough to make me seek a guy out more in the future, and that's doing something pretty well.

Central Intelligence

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 June 2016 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

Movies like Central Intelligence are so routinely unimpressive - not terrible, mind you, but not great at either action or comedy, with the one tending to hold the other back - that seeing the formula actually work makes for such a pleasant surprise that it's hard to tell how to react. This one knows what it's doing, using the action to punctuate a big, highly entertaining odd couple comedy.

The odd couple are Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) and Rob Stone (Dwayne Johnson). Twenty years ago, they went to high school together but didn't have much contact until a group of bullies humiliated the tubby Rob (who had an embarrassing name to boot back then) and the incredibly popular Calvin showed him a modicum of kindness. Now, while Calvin wound up married to his successful and still-stunning high school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet), he's an accountant who has seen assistants promoted over him, not really living up to "most likely to succeed". Rob, meanwhile, has become a perfect physical specimen and CIA field agent, even if he is still kind of a dork. In town for the high school reunion, he asks Calvin to take a look at some accounts, sucking the other man into spy stuff that is much more than he ever bargained for.

A lot of things go into making something like this work, but one thing that Central Intelligence does that a lot of comedies built around mismatches and fish out of water don't is to find strangeness everywhere - as much as Rob is obviously a complete goofball, the fawning over Calvin in the opening flashback and the antics in his office are kind of screwy in their own way. Aside from it being welcome awareness that people go to comedies to laugh and don't exactly want to wait until the set-up is finished for it, this lets director Rawson Marshall Thurber and his team drop Calvin into a word situation and not realize he's stuck there until well past the point of no return, getting the audience on board as well.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 June 2016 - 30 June 2016

It doesn't always (or often) line up that way, but there was a pretty nice correlation between "movies I most want to see this weekend" and "short run-times" even before I saw that information and my fondness for tight construction kicked in.

  • Just looking at wide releases, there's The Shallows, the new one from director Jaume Collet-Serra starring Blake Lively as a surfer who must outwit a hungry shark within sight of the shore. Eighty-seven minutes, which is probably the perfect length. At the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    That's unusually short, but it's worth noting that Independence Day: Resurgence is pretty svelte by big 3D summer effects-based movies, 119 minutes and notably shorter than its predecessor, which isn't usually the way things go. Apparently the landmark-destroying aliens are back, this time with a ship the size of a Death Star, although humanity has hopefully reverse-engineered their tech enough to have a fighting chance. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Judd Hirsch return; Maika Monroe, Liam Hemsworth, and Angelababy join up. It's at the Somerville (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Jordan's (Imax 3D), Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Fenway (including RPX), and Revere (including MX4D & XPlus).

    And then, clocking in at 139 minutes, Free State of Jones, with Matthew McConnaughey tackling one of the few true Civil War stories where his accent doesn't make him the bad guy as a farmer who, along with a number of escaped saves, leads an uprising for his home county to secede from the Confederacy (hopefully not whitewashing things too much). Oddly, it's produced by a Chinese company, and playing at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    (Showcase Cinemas Revere will also be showing Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on Wednesday.)
  • Getting back to the fairly short - but highly anticipated, by me, at least - movies, Boston Common gets Three, the new 87-minute thriller from Hong Kong maestro Johnnie To. It's got Wallace Chung as a drug dealer who shoots himself so he'll be taken to a hospital instead of jail (where his gang can presumably spring him easier), Louis Koo as the cop who's on to him but setting a trap for the gang, and Vicki Zhao as the doctor stuck in the middle. They'll also be opening Cold War II in a couple of weeks, so you may want to join me in going to Amazon (or a couple other places) to watch the original, as it never had a release in theaters or on disc here.

    Despite all the Hollywood stuff coming out, Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond has a pretty full Indian slate. In addition to keeping Udta Punjab around, they also open the Hindi-language Raman Raghav 2.0, a serial-killer movie about a present-day man inspired by a series of crimes from the 1960s. That one's subtitled, as is Tamil-language drama Amma Kanakku, about a bright teenager planning to quit school because she can't afford higher education. No guarantees for Telugu romances Oka Manasu & Kundanapu Bomma or Friday's show of Telugu action flick Gentlemen.

    They'll also be filling out their schedule with The Duel, a western starring Liam Hemsworth as a Texas Ranger brought in to solve a crime in a town under the sway of preacher Woody Harrelson. Also on VOD, but, hey, Tuesday night's $5 night and there are senior and student nights as well.
  • At 110 minutes, The Neon Demon is probably long for a horror movie, but Nicolas Winding Refn's story of an aspiring model who moves to L.A. and has the fashion industry try eat her alive (probably literally) is apparently beautiful and gory, so, yes, this slots in ahead of other things. It's at Kendall Square and Boston Common. Kendall Square also opens one of my favorites from last year's Fantasia Festival, Therapy for a Vampire (in which an immortal count finds a new love and also meets Sigmund Freud), for a one-week run. It's kind of slight but, IMHO, pretty funny.

    They also get Tickled, a documentary that apparently also plays like a horror story, in which a filmmaker responds to an ad about "competitive endurance tickling" and finds that some of the people involved are even scarier than the eccentrics that description describes. I think they liked it a lot at IFFBoston, which also showed Don't Think Twice, Mike Birbiglia improv-comedy comedy, which has a couple sold-out preview showings on Monday with Birbiglia on hand. The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble also has guests - musician Reylon Young & The Silk Road Project's Laura Freid on Friday and musician Evan Ziporyn & SRP's Cristin Bagnall on Saturday - for those curious to learn more about the international musical collective.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre has a limited run of Unlocking the Cage, mostly in the screening room, in which documentarians Chris Hegedus & D.A. Pennebaker chronicle the legal battle of the Nonhuman Rights Project's Steven Wise, with directors and subject on-hand for a Sunday afternoon screening in the big theater.

    In other special screenings, the Midnight Ass Kickings finish up with Gordon Liu in Return to the 36th Chamber, a comedic take on his character's quest to learn secret Shaolin martial arts to defeat the Han, on 35mm film on Friday & Saturday nights; hopefully the series did well enough that this sort of thing will be a regular part of midnight rotation again. The other notable special screening has the Big Screen Classics series team up with the Goethe-Institut for Das Boot, the submarine movie that put Wolfgang Petersen on the map, on Monday night.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a quick-ish Man Meets Wilderness repatory series this week, mostly in 35mm: Friday's double feature is Man in the Wilderness (from the same source material as The Revenant) & Jeremiah Johnson; Saturday's is The Last of the Mohicans (DCP) & The New World; Sunday offers a noon matinee of Chaplin's The Gold Rush and a pairing of Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller & Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff; Monday has Never Cry Wolf & The Grey (digital); and it wraps up on Sunday with Valhalla Rising, for those who aren't getting enough Nicholas Winding Refn with The Neon Demon.

    Though the current Reel Weird Brattle slate was scheduled to end last week, Daisies was unable to run in May, so they've rescheduled Vera Chytilová's comedy for late Saturday night; it's on 35mm film. It's a nice pairing with another female-focused film, Agnes Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7, which runs on Tuesday evening as part of the free "Elements of Cinema" series, and the Different Faces Different Voices Film Festival. That runs Wednesday and Thursday evenings with four programs of short films built to breakdown female stereotypes.
  • The 18th Annual Roxbury International Fim Festival continues at The Museum of Fine Arts, with screenings of short and feature-length films by and about people of color. Filmmakers will be on-hand for A Girl Like Grace (Friday), Baby Don't Go (Saturday), Southeast 67 (Saturday), How to Tell You're a Douchebag (Saturday); Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess (Sunday), Destination: Planet Negro (Wednesday), "The Bay State Banner" & "A Ferguson Story" (Thursday), By Blood (Thursday), and One Drop of Love (Thursday). There's also a kid-friendly program at the Museum Sunday morning, and on the days the MFA doesn't show film, a "Dinner & A Movie" with Life Is Too Short in Roxbury's Haley House Bakery Cafe on Tuesday and a pitching session at Dudley Dough on Tuesday.
  • The Somerville Theatre begins their summer "Midnight Specials" program this weekend with a 35mm print of The Breakfast Club. Pass-Thru, the latest from the quite-possibly-insane Neil Breen, plays once on Wednesday evening, probably mostly to people looking to point and laugh. Their sister theater in Arlington, The Capitol, picks up political-trainwreck documentary Weiner and has a Tim Burton double feature on "Throwback Thursday", featuring Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands.
  • It's Members' Weekend at The Harvard Film Archive, so if you're a member in good standing, you probably know what secret films they will be pulling out of the 35mm vault from Friday to Monday.
  • Joe's Boston Free Films has Minions playing outdoors a lot this week - at both the Kroc Center and Hatch Shell Friday night and Revere Beach on Thursday (expect more in later weeks). Many of the other outddoor screenigs go with Spielberg: E.T. at the Boston Harbor Hotel & Jaws at the Lawn on D on Friday, with Hook outside Porter Square Books on Monday.
I am looking at Three, Return to the 36th Chamber, The Neon Demon, The Shallows, Tickled, and, if I'm honest, Independence Day over the next few days.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival 2016.10-11: The Marathon!

Though I gather than event presenter Garen Daly might like the the festival to be something akin to Austin's Fantastic Fest beyond just being a multi-day event where many genre movies run in terms of quality and prestige, the long-running marathon portion in some way resembles that event the most in certain ways: It's not a la carte, the community is just as important as the movies, and the rituals can either enhance or detract from the experience depending on your temperament.

Writing that, something crystallizes in my mind - as much as I like to see a movie with a crowd, I want it to be a crowd of individuals. Get the audience too synchronized and too prepared with their actions, and I'm not going to be comfortable with it at all. Indeed, I'll get kind of upset if it's too obviously a planned response rather than an honest, in-the-moment reaction.

It's been a while (and I've written reviews of these movies elsewhere on this blog or EFC), so I'm going to lean on what I tweeted out just after the movie in many cases.

Or, you know, before things started:

So, it turns out that when the heat isn't turned up enough (because you're not around), the pipes freeze. Didn't happen in my last place, and I'm not sure how it did here - I never had the heat turned down that low.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Marathon, DCP)

I'm not sure I've ever seen this thing in its entirety before, which is a weird, although at times I've found myself more fond of Joe Dante than really committed to seeing his stuff (not that it's necessarily been easy lately). The moments when he's indulging nostalgia (like when Robbie the Robot shows up) got the biggest laughs from this crowd, but they're kind of the easy gags, not nearly as much fun as when he and writer Chris Columbus let their twisted sense of humor loose, disguising a nasty little monster movie as a colorful kids' adventure. He's making the sort of movie he loved as a kid but making it look like the sort his parents would have approved of until it is way too late to leave.

And, in the middle of it, there's Phoebe Cates's story of why she hates Christmas, which is just this horrible thing but also absurd, and it perfectly encapsulates what the filmmakers are going for here, showing how something that seems wonderful at the start can become lethal anarchy, and the brilliant thing about it is that Dante doesn't try to build too much of a metaphor there, because stating a pattern would counter the idea that life is chaos and you've got to learn to manage it, and there's no perfect way to do so. It's a tricky as heck balance to manage, but it's the sort of thing that gives Gremlins the hook necessary to dig into our brains and help us remember the many, many terrific gags.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, 70mm)

Okay, that last bit is harsh, but it was my first time seeing this movie, and the few dozen people who think they're part of the entertainment have to diminish it because of a running joke that was only funny in very specific other circumstances. It's a bummer and the first a few times that the audience hurt the movie for me.

The movie's still pretty good, though. Though Jeff Bridges is the one who got an Oscar nomination, it's kind of a broad version of an alien being, kind of stuck with a story that doesn't give him much of a purpose (the classic come-crash-run away-leave arc that gives the movie structure but not leaves the visitor a complete cipher). It's memorable but kind of hides the great work Karen Allen is doing as a woman who is on an absolute roller coaster, mourning her husband, freaking out at the impossible situation of the Starman appearing in his form, reluctantly letting a fondness for it overpower how she's often a scared hostage. She's terrific.

And though this is in many ways not a typical John Carpenter movie - the genre elements are more clearly there to facilitate the odd relationship than fuel primal emotions - it makes the moments when he can show his expertise with impressive special effects and beautiful photography all the better. It's a delight to see Carpenter working in the sunlight, finding beauty rather than horror,, even as the film is clear-eyed about it.

Himmelskibet (A Trip to Mars)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP w/ live music)

I didn't write "funeven" on purpose, but I kind of want to make that portmanteau word a real, regular thing, because it does describe movies like this silent from 1918 rather well - kind of a mess, but with things you won't necessarily see anywhere else that are at least exciting.

And it is that. This story of a group of Danish scientists and adventurers planning a trip to Mars in a spaceship that is modeled more on a train than the rockets that would become the standard imagery later, eventually arriving and finding a group of peaceful, enlightened inhabitants there. There's a relentless, joyful optimism to the movie; even the opposing forces are kind of ridiculous, whether they be "Professor Dubius" or a harsh system of justice that still bends to a passionate argument. There's a belief that, given the proper example, humanity can remake the world into a better place that overpowers potential cynicism.

Blade Runner (The Final Cut)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

Huh, I'm reasonably sure that I've seen Blade Runner, specifically this "Final Cut", in a theater more recently than the 2007 edition of the marathon, but I can't find it on the blog. Still...

Three incept days in 2016, and it was good fortune/planning to connect with one of them. With the last one being Monday, 10 April 2017, I hope the Brattle or Coolidge is already carving time out on next year's schedule to take advantage..

It is still a pretty great movie, and while I don't know if you can quite say that thirty years of tinkering has refined it into its best form, but it's survived this sort evolution better than most films do, and none of the changes what's great about the movie: Ridley Scott's eye for atmosphere, a lived-in future world, performances that are often off-kilter but still utterly human.

High Treason (sound version)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, 35mm)

Last griping about the audience for this marathon, I promise, although it is interesting that this is a film I've seen twice, ten years apart, under very different circumstances - previously at the Harvard Film Archive, not only silent but without musical accompaniment in 2005 - and I wonder if I would have seen it differently had I seen it at the HFA again. I got kind of defensive about the audience laughing at the thing I had thought was pretty neat the first time I saw it; maybe I would have been less generous in my reappraisal. Sure, to a certain extent, everyone sees things differently - an online friend pointed out that the fashion in this film was terrific, something I'd barely given a thought to.

I still think it's a neat little movie, and I really should get around to seeing more silent sci-fi.

Full review on EFC from 2006, updated to include the sound version.

Ex Machina

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

Second time through, I think I liked it a little more, although it's kind of a funny thing that the themes which seemed important when I wrote about it last year didn't wind up quite so strong on this viewing. But, hey, I'd let it simmer some before writing that review, so that's to be expected. It's still a very well-made movie, suspenseful and willing to go for uncomfortable ideas and moments rather than just playing a potentially rogue AI as inherently dangerous.

Review from earlier this year.


Seriously, just walk a block away, no line, it's clean, maybe grab something out of the fridge, come back and you've only missed, what, the tinfoil hat contest or something?

The Man Who Fell to Earth

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14-15 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

There's cleverness in the double meaning of "The Man Who Fell to Earth", in that David Bowie's alien is not only stranded here because his spacecraft cannot bring him home, but because in his time using his advanced knowledge to earn what he needs to build a new one, he succumbs to the temptations and shallow nature of Terran life. It's a solid idea, enhanced quite a bit by Bowie's otherworldliness - which, it should be noted, seldom made him seem distant or inaccessible; he's a guy you can get to know. Director Nicolas Roeg doesn't underline the connection,but it works, though better in retrospect than at the time - the audience may be more disappointed in the film than "Thomas Jerome Newton" in how it's not the way we want to see things go.

I think that's in large part because there's so much of this movie; IMDB lists it as 139 minutes, and one can feel it. It's an epic-length film with a tight focus on Bowie's character, who is often very passive, and frustration can set in as Roeg and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg explore a great many permutations and eventually run out of ways for this to seem exciting and new despite there being an hour of movie left to go.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

I've certainly thought about the concept that filmmaker Mike Judge expounds upon at the start of Idiocracy, that the demographic disparities between those having a lot of kids and those maybe having one a little later in life a lot, and while I think that in a lot of cases it's a time bomb (much of the country's wealth being concentrated among fewer people while what's left is divided between more), I got uncomfortable with the way Judge presents it partially as the lower classes being a drain on sensible, successful people; as much as the premise already has some issues - I'm always suspicious of middle-aged folk grumping about how that next generation is dumb when that next generation is at ease with new and complicated things that we don't get at all - this adds a level of snide meanness that may be a little too much.

Fortunately, Judge takes his premise of average folks placed in cryonic sleep for 500 years and awakening to find that this has led to them being the smartest people in the country and builds a bunch of pretty decent gags, with Luke Wilson perfectly deployed as the everyman kind of flabbergasted at the stupidity around him. As snide as this can be in conception, the deadpan over-the-top execution is often gold. It's no surprise that this is a cult film that got buried by its studio and hasn't really broken out as a repertory favorite despite having some advocates - its future is ugly-looking and its cynicism is kind of shallow, even if enough jokes work to make it worth a watch.

"Bride of Finklestein"

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

Speaking of mean, that's not a very nice thing for me to write, but "Bride of Finklestein" is not really much fun, instead being an assembly of Jewish vaudeville jokes that were old when the movies were young that is a bit too aware of its hoariness. Writer/director Michael Schlesinger never really finds a way into the material that celebrates the style in addition to mocking it, and while that can be frustrating with many genres, it is really troublesome for comedy.

Pitch Black

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

I've been a lot more forgiving of the entire "Riddick" series than most, in part because I really liked this first entry and in part because, unlike a lot of things that seem to be more about the studio trying to put something non-risky on the schedule, this really seems like something Vin Diesel and David Twohy want to do and try like heck to make great.

And this particular movie? Yeah, pretty darn good. It's not one that does much to reinvent the wheel, but Diesel is part of a game ensemble and Twohy is pretty darn good at fitting the gears together so that things move forward well. It's still fun to watch even knowing not just who is going to survive but the approximate order that everyone else will go, and a lot of thrillers can't say that.

Big Ass Spider!

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

It's a bit unfortunate that one almost has to qualify one's fondness for Big Ass Spider! by saying he loves it without qualification, but that's kind of where we are today - unless a monster movie is specifically positioning itself as a spoof, it has to be almost exaggeratedly vicious in order to be taken seriously. This movie is often confused with spoofs because it's funny and good-natured, but it actually plays things pretty straight as far as the story goes, with the humor coming from being quippy and fast-paced like a modern action-comedy.

I'm lucky to have had the chance to see this in theaters a few times. It plays well with a crowd, and director Mike Mendez was pretty passionate about making sure it got seen that way rather than just shunted to SyFy or VOD.

Full review on EFC from 2013.

Never Let Me Go

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

For some reason, Big Ass Spider! and Never Let Me Go had their screening order flipped, and it wasn't a bad idea at all; I'm not a big believer in biorhythms or the like, but I do find that my body clock will sometimes do things like letting the time of day influence whether I'm hungry or not or give me a second wind, and pushing the quiet but brilliant Never to "when I would be getting up and active" from "when I would usually be asleep" helped it out. I probably still dozed off for a moment or three, but I was really worried about missing it all.

Watching it anew - and not that long after screenwriter John August's Ex Machina - I couldn't help but be more struck by something that was practically only seen through oblique bits of conversation, as it's clear that Britain's response to the ethical issues of the "donor program" is not so much reform as further dehumanization, making sure that the next generation of clones doesn't have a voice as more than spare parts. It's the resolution that is perhaps all too real in its selfishness compared to the progress we want, and quietly devastating for it.

Full review on EFC from 2013.

Donovan's Brain

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, 35mm)

Apparently, not only did this star a future first lady, but author Curt Siodmak was initially scheduled to direct, and I (a) had no idea he was related to director Robert Siodmak (b) didn't know he was in the movie business as well as a pulp sci-fi writer. Not that he was one of the big names, but somehow he had this book adapted three times in eighteen years back in the middle of the twentieth century, with this apparently the best of an uninspiring bunch.

Why? Well, just in terms of genre, the science fiction trappings serve as an intriguing bridge between traditional ghost stories where the dead man takes control of others via sheer force of will and a crime story where we get to watch a mastermind run rings around everyone else. That's a great idea, but the telling of it often feels half-hearted; stars Lew Ayres, Nancy Davis, and Gene Evans turn in fairly workmanlike performances, and the filmmakers have trouble with scale and casually handwave obvious things throughout. There are moments when the film manages actual tension, but all too often it's given back with silliness and too little effort.

They Live

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, 35mm)

A bunch of weird clustering in the selections for this year's festival, as there were two films written by John August, two directed by John Carpenter, and the second was right up against another movie about an unseen alien invasion. Sometimes, this genre can seem rather limited.

On the other hand, Carpenter's take on it is genuinely peculiar, sometimes seeming to built out of random things that look cool even if the bulk of it is a pretty focused screed on how the country has turned its back on those who need the most help with a complicit media. Carpenter is clearly passionate enough that the bluntness of his message overcomes the odd ways that he goes about saying it and the messiness of the story. The fact that he's one of the best at just going with something unusual and making it work is huge here - there are three downright great moments in the movie, and the fact that the long fist-fight and what Roddy Piper's character sees when he first puts on the glasses are famous doesn't dilute their impact at all.

As you see, I decided that would be a good way to end my marathon; Invasion of the Body Snatchers would cover a lot of the same category but, let's face it, the original version isn't that great, no matter how many "stay awake" bits it might inspire at the end of a 24-hour marathon. The smart thing to do would have just been to go home and crash, although I did wind up coming back to the theater to see Hail, Caesar! later, with the end result being that I went to see that again in a couple of weeks.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 June 2016 - 23 June 2016

Looks like kind of a quiet week, but given what's opening, it will probably be huge in box-office terms.

  • After all, new Pixar, and most everybody at least liked Finding Nemo, and it looks like Finding Dory is more of that in a good way, with the forgetful blue tang voiced by Ellen Degeneres remembering she has a family and going to look. Like most animated films these days, it's in 3D, which tend to work pretty well in the ocean. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, West Newton (2D only), the Belmont Studio Cinema (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 3D), Boston Common, Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Fenway (including RPX), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    There's also Central Intelligence, which has Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson as former high school classmates whose lives have gone in different directions - Hart's one-time big deal is now a small-town accountant, and Johnson's fat geek is now, well, The Rock, and a CIA agent who has apparently brought trouble home. Rawsom Marshall Thurber directs, and he did good work on Dodgeball. Playing at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux. There are also 15th Anniversary screenings of The Fast and the Furious on Wednesday at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere, for those who want to re-visit the series's pre-Rock origins as a smallish-scale drag racing story.
  • Kendall Square has De Palma, the documentary on one of the most iconoclastic directors of the modern age, for a one-week booking, so make sure you see all those Brian De Palma movies you haven't caught up on, because there will be spoilers aplenty! They and The West Newton Cinema also get Genius, which chronicles the friendship and working relationship of Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and top editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth), who worked with many great American writers.
  • The Somerville Theatre presents and co-stars in The Dying of the Light, which shines a light on the vanishing art of film projection; that played the Coolidge earlier this year, but the Somerville plays it as a double feature with Out of Print, which looks at the same issue through the lens of repertory cinemas that still prioritize 35mm projection (it will, in fact, be shown on 35mm film). Note that the double feature only runs until Wednesday; on Thursday, they will be presenting Sin Alas, the first American narrative feature shot in Cuba in over fifty years, based upon the life of writer Luis Vargas. The theater's website mentions 16mm; not sure whether it will be projected that way or if that's just how it's produced. There will be a post-film Q&A with director Ben Chace and the cast joining from Cuba.

    To make room, The Nice Guys moves over to The Capitol, which also has a Throwback Thursday double feature of A League of Their Own & Fried Green Tomatoes on the 23rd.
  • The Bollywood movie opening at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond this week has actually been in the news this week for being part of a court case that severely weakened India's censorship board, as they apparently wanted Udta Punjab, a thriller set against the drug trade in Punjab, to cut out all references to drugs and Punjab. Shahid Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, and Diljit Dosanjh star. Other Indian movies opening include Telugu action flick Gentlemen, Telugu romance Meeku Meere Maaku, and Tamil action-comedy Enakku Innoru Per Irukku, with Te3n continuing from last week (at least through Sunday).
  • The Brattle Theatre gets something that is all too rare these days: A new restoration of a classic film on 35mm, in this case Jean Cocteau's classic La belle et la bête featuring Josette Day as the beauty and Jean Marais as the beast. That plays afternoons and evenings Friday to Sunday, although one later each day is reserved for The Shining on 35mm, because it's Father's Day weekend. Rounding out the all-film weekend is Saturday night's late "Reel Weird Brattle" presentation of Repulsion.

    Special features take up the rest of the week: On Monday, Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made tells the story of the three kids who spent seven years making a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and as a bonus it's shown as a double feature with Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, with cast makers/filmmakers on-hand for both. Tuesday's Trash Night feature is Arena, in which a human vies to be the first one to defeat a whole slew of rubber monsters in 4038's most popular sport. Then, on Wednesday, director Justin Lerner brings his film The Automatic Hate to town, taking questions after the story of a man who gets in over his head when he learns there's a branch of his family he doesn't know about.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre mostly keeps last week's schedule, although they've got two midnights this weekend: The Kung Fu series continues with a 35mm print of The Mystery of Chess Boxing, famous for, among other things, introducing the phrase "Ghost Face Killer" to the world, as well as Cat in the Brain, a festival of over-the-top gore starring Lucio Fulci as a director driven insane by his own movies.

    For more highbrow fare, there's the Sunday morning Goethe-Institut German film, One Breath, in which a Greek woman comes to Germany to work as a nanny only to flee back home (pursued by her employer) after a disaster. Monday's Cinema Jukebox presentation is Buena Vista Social Club, which is not only presented in 35mm, but will be preceded by a live performance from violinist Ludovica Burtone and guitarist Leandro Pellegrino (neither Cuban, but fans of the music).
  • More Robert Aldrich at The Harvard Film Archive: The Last Sunset (Friday & Monday at 7pm), The Choirboys (Friday 9:15pm), The Dirty Dozen (Saturday 7pm), The Prowler (Friday 9:45pm), Story of G.I. Joe (Sunday 4:30pm), and Sodom and Gomorrah (Sunday 7pm). All in 35mm.
  • One last evening for Neon Bull and Aferim! at The Museum of Fine Arts on Friday. After that, give Saturday and Sunday to Our Rhode: 30 Years of Cinema by and About Cape Verdean Rhode Islanders, which includes films both about Cape Verde and the community of emigrants that has formed in New England, with filmmakers in attendance at nearly every show. It's not a bad segue to The 18th Annual Roxbury International Fim Festival, which focuses on films by and about people of color, which opens on Wednesday with The Amazing Nina Simone and Driving While Black, continuing with La Isla, Before I Do, and Soul On Ice: Past, Present, and Future on Thursday (and through to July 1st).
  • Joe's Boston Free Films shows the summer's first screening of Jaws at the Harbor Hotel Friday night. As it's probably projected off a Blu-ray, it will likely not be the best you'll see it this summer, but it is on the water, so that's something.
I've got two Red Sox tickets for the week, though I will probably go for Finding Dory, Central Intelligence, Belle et la Bete, and maybe some of last week's holdovers.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.09: Somnio, Native & Tale of Tales

How far behind am I with festival reviews? Well, aside from the literal "four months", it's worth mentioning that Garen told us that reviews of Tale of Tales were embargoed (which is bull since it has shown at festivals and been released in other territories, which in my mind makes it fair game, but publicists who think critics are part of their team), but it was going to open in April. It didn't wind up playing the Brattle until June, and while I got the EFC review written in time, this post has been a while coming. Around the same time, I got an email from a producer about possibly reviewing Somnio, citing its Best Screenplay Award at the festival, and, yikes, I'm not cool with an award from this event being used in advertising. Anyway, I liked it okay, but I don't think I'm going to watch it again so that I can give the finished version a review.

SOMNIO filmmakers at SF41

I believe that's Travis Milloy of Somnio on the left, and a producer on the right (zooming in, his nametag seems to say "Williams", but, man, it's been a while). They wanted a bit of feedback on it, which was interesting - he seemed to really be at the last tweaks stage

NATIVE filmmakers at Boston SciFi

Next up, the makers of Native - left to right, producer Jim Fitzsimmons, director Daniel Fitzsimmons,and co-writer/producer Neil Atkinson - and they made a good one. It wound up being the sort of Q&A that is more or less all enthusiasm. Heck, I even did the question that's arguably more about showing how clever one is as a viewer ("are all the hexagons meant to indicate something insectoid") than really start a discussion.

I probably had more to say back in February but, hey, behind. Next up: the marathon!


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

The version of Somnio screened was a work-in-progress, although it certainly looked like it was in something close to releasable form - maybe a little tightening in the editing bay, springing for a little more on music clearances. I'm half-kidding on that last one, although "hey, they sprung for a second song" is in my notes from four months ago.

It's a decent little movie, with Christopher Soren Kelly as Frank Lerner, a man in a somewhat repressive future who is picked up by the government and wakes up in an automated prison habitat, with his only connection to the world Howard (voice of Jesse D. Arrow), the "LSO" who is friendly enough but apparently incapable of giving Frank much more than a runaround. As days stretch into weeks, then months, Howard tries to get information on Alliance leader Fletcher May (Cajardo Lindsey) and Frank finds himself replaying his arrest over and over, falling for the barista (Cassandra Clark) as she becomes a larger part of that memory.

It's the sort of independent sci-fi movie that proudly plays like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, and its a credit to writer/director Travis Milloy that, even at 80-odd minutes, it doesn't feel cripplingly stretched, like it's killing time or spinning wheels to get up to feature length. It can't help but get into a bit of a repetitive cycle, alternating as it does between two fairly restrictive situations and not able to subvert either too much.

Both give Kelly a chance to do some nice work; he's got nice chemistry with Cassandra Clark, who navigates the tricky situation of playing a character who mostly exists within another's imagination as neither entirely real nor just her partner in a different guise. Jesse D. Arrow similarly plays an off-screen character meant to be neutral by definition, but moves off that just enough to make his conversations with Kelly's Frank a little bit weightier than they might have been.

I can't imagine too much has changed in the final film - the core is solid, the performances are nice, and it's not as if there's a lot of missing effects - so if it shows up at a festival in its finished form, it will probably won't disappoint.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

For much of Native, I wondered if the filmmakers might be doing the filmic equivalent of a theatrical production where costumes, set decoration, and the like are deliberately understated or anachronistic, to better focus the audience on the more universal aspects of the story. It may be the case, and if nothing else, it means that a particularly peculiar sci-fi tale can be told while spending the budget on a nice cast rather than a lot of ornamentation.

Much of the action takes place on a spaceship crewed by Cane (Rupert Graves) and Eva (Ellie Kendrick), who, like many of their people, share especially strong telepathic bonds with their spouses, enabling faster-than-light communication with mission control back home. When Cane's partner Awan (Leanne Best) dies, that means that he is far more alone than most can fathom, and Eva's partner Seth (Joe Macaulay) relays occasionally conflicting advice to try and get closer to her shipmate while also keeping a close eye on him: It seems likely that the empathetic Cane will start to identify with the inhabitants of the planet at the other end of their journey, which could be dangerous for a mission to establish a new homeworld.

Though not covered with makeup or displaying obvious ticks, it's pretty clear that Cane, Eva, et al, are not exactly human beings as we know them, and finding a way to present that without seeming coy or making the audience dig through details about how their civilization is different can be a pretty tricky thing. Director Daniel Fitzsimmons and co-writer Neil Atkinson find the right balance with their script, though, peppering the film with references to different values, family structures, and societal pressures without it being overwhelming. Still, while Cane and Eva are not like us, they're not beyond understanding.

Full review on EFC.

Il racconto dei Racconti (Tale of Tales)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

The term "dark fairy tale" has likely been applied to Tale of Tales again and again, and it comes by that label legitimately, with director Matteo Garrone and his three co-writers basing the script on a four-hundred-year-old book of Italian folk tales. Yet - and this may just be a lifetime of Disneyfied animated versions speaking - it doesn't quite feel right. There's a point to fairy tales, and while all three stories in this one involve hubris, it too often feels delightfully lush but not exactly pointed.

Its three stories take place in neighboring feudal kingdoms. In Longtrellis, the Queen (Salma Hayek) and King (John C. Reilly) are of different temperaments during a party - he is generally cheerful and amused by the performing clowns, she is more and more consumed by her failure to conceive a child. A necromancer (Franco Pistoni) tells her of a way that she can conceive, involving the King slaying a giant beast and a virgin (Laura Pizzinirani) cooking its heart for the Queen to eat. Sixteen years later, her son Elias (Christian Lees) is a teenager, but much closer Jonah (Jonah Lees), the identical son born to the cook at the same time, than his mother.

All three portions of the film have neat hooks, fine casts, and sleek visuals, and this one is no exception: It's gorgeous, Salma Hayek in particular is riveting in a forceful performance, and the practical effects used for the creature are terrific. The trouble is, the very cool fantasy set-up doesn't have a place to go once the Queen forbids the twins from seeing each other. The point of the story is clear - a parent who tries to keep her child from the people he cares about will, at best, poison their relationship - but the execution is not nearly as memorable as the set-up. The Lees twins are not nearly as captivating as Hayek, and their story just doesn't stick in the mind like hers does.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 10 June 2016 - 16 June 2016

On the one hand, not really an exciting crop this weekend. On the other, just a month until Fantasia! Oh, and Dave does get to use the big film at the Somerville this week.

  • Still, I'm rooting for Warcraft; I've got no attachment to the game or sword & sorcery stuff in general, but director Duncan Jones does and who doesn't want to see the guy behind Moon and Source Code do something great with a big Imax 3D budget? It's at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 3D), Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Fenway, and Revere (including MX4D and XPlus).

    A couple of sequels also open. The Conjuring 2 has director James Wan bring back Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as two of the world's most famous real-life paranormal investigators, this time chronicling one of their best-known cases, a possession in the London suburbs. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway (including RPX), Revere, and the SuperLux. Now You See Me 2, which for some reason I can't fathom is not called "Now You Don't", reunites most of the cast from the original movie (the women, apparently, are replaceable, which is really not cool) for a new heist spearheaded by a tech billionaire played by Daniel Radcliffe, and incidentally torpedoing my theory that Mark Ruffalo's character killed everybody offscreen at the end of the last one. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Boston Common will be having a couple screenings of the Michael Mann-directed Ali biopic starring Will Smith per day, with the original Ghostbusters playing there and at Assembly Row on Sunday. They keep The Wailing around for evening shows, and it should probably be noted that they seem to have moved their Saturday night Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings up to 11pm from midnight (it also runs at midnight on Friday at Apple Fresh Pond; different shadow cast, though).
  • Kendall Square has a pretty terrific re-issue for their one-week booking with The Fallen Idol, which Carol Reed and Graham Greene worked on before The Third Man in which the son of an ambassador who idolizes the embassy butler discovering that he may not be as perfect as thought.

    They also open Dheepan, the newest from Rust and Bone and A Prophet director Jacques Audiard, in which a Sri Lankan soldiers forms a makeshift family with two other refugees to get to Paris, only to find that he may not have left violence behind.
  • IFFBoston selection Weiner expands to The Coolidge Corner Theatre, which also continues a month of Midnight Kung Fu with The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter on 35mm Friday & Saturday nights (there were demonstrations before Saturday's show last week; don't know if that pattern continues this week). They also invite the audience to set aside an evening for Lawrence of Arabia, Monday night's "Big Screen Classic", Open Screen on Tuesday, and a "Rewind!" presentation of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure on Saturday.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond has a Bollywood thriller by the name of Te3n, and no, I've got no idea how to pronounce that. It's got the ubiquitous Amitabh Bachchan as a man who teams up with a detective and a priest to search for a missing child whose disappearance is like that of his granddaughter eight years earlier. No subs listed for Tamil action/adventure/romantic comedy Okka Ammayi Thappa, Telugu romance A Aa, Saturday's Marathi romance Sairat, or Sunday's Bengali comedy Peace Haven; subtitled Bollywood comedy Housefull 3 is back on the schedule from Monday.
  • It's Prime Noir of the 1950s week at The Brattle Theatre, so celebrate! It's mostly 35mm, too - In a Lonely Place on Friday, Sunset Boulevard & Macao on Saturday (sadly, the print for His Kind of Women was not in good condition), a matinee of Sweet Smell of Success and then a double feature of Kansas City Confidential & Touch of Evil (DCP, not sure which versioni) on Sunday, The Big Heat & The Big Combo on Monday, Odds Against Tomorrow & The Crimson Kimono on Tuesday, The Asphault Jungle & The Killing on Wednesday, and a DCP pairing of Night and the City & Pickup on South Street on Thursday. They also have a 35mm print of Beyond the Black Rainbow at 11:30pm on Friday, which is very cool - funky movie and new/indie enough (I first saw it at Fantasia in 2011) that I'm kind of surprised there even are prints!
  • All Robert Aldrich all the time at The Harvard Film Archive, this week with The Longest Yard (Friday & Monday at 7pm), Big Leagure (Friday 9:30pm), Ulzana's Raid (Saturday 7pm), Apache (Friday 9pm), the 1951 remake of M where he was an assistant director (Sunday 5pm), and Flight of the Phoenix (Sunday 7pm). The last one is DCP, the rest are all 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues Neon Bull and Aferim!, with both showing (separately) on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Thursday, and next Friday. On Wednesday, they have three Juneteenth Shorts programs which serve as a bit of a preview of next weeks Roxbury International Fim Festival.
  • IFFBoston has a preview screening of Noah Baumbach's & Jake Paltrow's documentary De Palma at The Somerville Theatre on Thursday, and to get ready for that, they'll also be showing a couple of director Brian De Palma's best known movies on film: The Untouchable plays on 70mm Monday, and Scarface on 35mm Tuesday (the Wednesday screening of Bonfire of the Vanities had to be cancelled, though. Over at The Capitol, Atom Egoyan's Remember opens after hanging around The West Newton Cinema for a while (heck, it's still showing early shows on the weekend), and there's also a Throwback Thursday double feature of Lethal Weapon and Road House on the 16th.
  • Joe's Boston Free Films has outdoor series starting this weekend with Dirty Dancing at the Harbor Hotel Friday night.
My plans include a bunch of noir, Untouchables, The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, The Fallen Idol, and maybe Dheepan, Warcraft, and/or Now You See Me 2.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Lobster

I was about midway through this review and curious about where I'd seen some actress or other, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) it was in director Yorgos Lanthimos's last film, Alps. Following that link led me to my review of it, as I had forgotten completely that I had seen any of his films before, and, man, I hated it. The way I hated it was telling, though; I thought it was too fond of its peculiar conceit that, given the choice between showing it and having the characters do something believable, even considering the situation, Lanthimos would always do the former.

It wasn't really my biggest concern as I started writing - indeed, I initially intended to write a more positive review - but once that was in my head, it sort of wouldn't let go, and became the focus. What was good overcame Lanthimos's weaknesses rather than there just being bad bits in a mostly-satisfying film. I'm kind of torn on this, actually, because it's not really part of my reaction coming out of the film, and while it can be useful to put a film into the context of someone's career, is that really useful for someone trying to decide whether or not to see a movie.

Ah, well. I like this one, and while there are elements I like less the more I think about it, those weaknesses actually make the parts I do like seem even better. Doesn't always work that way, but it does here.

The Lobster

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 June 2016 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, DCP)

Early on in The Lobster, it looks like filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos is going to present a fairly unconventional message, that despite it seeming like the moral of nearly every story, maybe love is not the only way to feel truly fulfilled. It's a subversive-enough idea for a movie that it's perhaps the slightest bit disappointing when Lanthimos has a more conventional worldview, despite his intriguingly eccentric approach to the subject.

In his film, David (Colin Farrell) was just left by his wife after eleven years, and as is the case when that happens, he is given forty-five days to get back into a relationship or else be turned into an animal. So he goes to The Hotel, as one does. He befriends two other new arrivals, one with a lisp (John C. Reilly) and one with a limp (Ben Whishaw); they meet a number of women - one chatty and fond of butter biscuits (Ashley Jensen), one seemingly heartless (Angeliki Papoulia), one prone to nosebleeds (Jessica Barden), and another her best friend (Emma O'Shea). They can extend their time a bit by catching and tranquilizing the Loners in the woods, who may have a fearsome leader (Léa Seydoux) but also count among their number a woman (Rachel Weisz) who may be a fine match for David even beyond their shared nearsightedness.

Lanthimos and regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou are often fairly obvious in their satire, but that's not a mark against it. There are a couple of bits toward the start where the hotel staff do skits meant to convince their guests that being in a relationship is all that stands between a person and certain death, and that being alone is equivalent to trying to go through life with one hand tied behind one's back. It's a deadpan look at how society tells people that they may as well not be human if they're not in a very specifically defined sort of relationship achieved a certain way, and how the spontaneity has been pulled out of it. It's pointedly absurd but has some fantastic small moments.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The Wailing

So, here's what I don't get - if Twentieth Century Fox can finance a sleek, smart, expansive supernatural thriller in South Korea, why aren't we seeing more of them in the United States? I sort of get it when Warner Brothers is financing a big manga adaptation in Japan - that's basically them bringing their big studio resources to a major project - but this is kind of a boutique thriller. I suspect that this sort of thing breaks out as a hit in Korea more than it does in the U.S., but I cannot imagine how Fox would allow this thing to be 139 minutes in America (which is why it winds up distributed by Well Go, I guess).

Nice crowd, especially for a Sunday night where you're going out into some rain. We don't get a lot of Korean cinema here compared to American - the films made by big names hold out for a more prestigious label that will give them a better boutique-house release, and the likes of CJ have not managed to build the distribution infrastructure that the Chinese and Indian guys have. I'm really hoping that this sticks around an extra week, though - it's tough to fit into schedules but deserves a chance (and the word of mouth) to have more people try.

Goksung (The Wailing)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 June 2016 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

Na Hong-jin has material for several nifty thrillers in The Wailing and they don't entirely come together into a cohesive whole despite having plenty of time to do so in a movie that, even by Korean standards, is kind of a long sit for a genre film. What makes it kind of brilliant is that this is clearly by design - Na wants certain things to be impossible to understand, and he's got the talent to make this a satisfying part of the movie rather than a cop-out.

As it opens, police sergeant Jeon Jong-gu (Kwak Do-won) is being called to a crime scene, but it's early, and his wife (Jang So-yeon) and mother-in-law (Heo Jin) insist that he sit down for breakfast first. It's a disturbing scene - two people dead, the apparent perpetrator outside the home in some sort of fugue state - and there will be more like it in the coming days. Many in the town blame a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who has just moved into a cabin on the outskirts, and the words of a possible witness (Chun Woo-hee) lead the police in that direction. And while Jong-gu is initially doubtful, what he finds when he, partner Oh Sung-bok (Son Kang-kuk), and Yang Yi-sam (Kim Do-yoon), Oh's nephew brought along to translate, investigate that cabin is quite disturbing. In the meantime, the symptoms observed in the others who have gone violently insane are starting to show up in Jong-gu's ten-year-old daughter Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee), leading his mother in law to call in a shaman (Hwang Jung-min).

There may be actual detectives investigating the killings, but Jong-gu is a uniformed officer, doing things like guarding the crime scene or handling crowd control, and while it's possible that the town of Gokseung (in Korean, a homophone of "Goksung", or "Wailing") is just too small to have investigators, it sort of makes more sense that he's simply on the periphery, not that important in the grand scheme of things, and too much a slightly out-of-shape guy with ready excuses for being late all the time to make one believe that any supernatural force is targeting Hyo-jin as retribution. Randomness can be more unnerving than purpose, even when it's harder to make dramatically satisfying.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Final Master

No time to do a full review of the weekend's Coolidge Midnight Ass-Kicking (Bastard Swordsman), but time just didn't allow that - midnight show in Brookline means the bus and walk doesn't quite get one home to Somerville until around three, which doesn't leave a whole lot of time until the first show of The Final Master.

I've got to say, though, as rival kung-fu clan politics goes, I wonder if the folks in Bastard Swordsman would trade wholesale slaughter and people somehow wrapping themselves in magic cocoons to become super kung fu masters for the backstabbing betrayals of The Final Master.

Shi Fu (The Master, aka The Final Master)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 4 June 2016 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

When I saw Xu Haofeng's The Sword Identity four years ago, I thought it was as straight-faced a satire on martial-arts movies as you would find; seeing his follow-up The Master (called "The Final Master" in the USA to avoid confusion with various other productions), which is built upon many of the same plot points, I'm not so sure that was the case. Xu's fascination with the secretive martial-arts world of the past is legitimate, serving as inspiration for a nifty piece of work with a couple of terrific action pieces.

It starts in 1932, when the Chinese city of Tianjin has nineteen martial arts academies and an entrenched establishment that makes it difficult for an outsider like Chen Shi (Liao Fan), a Wing-Chun master from Canton, to open his own school there, even with the respect and friendship of Grandmaster Zheng Shan'ao (Chin Shih-chieh). The rules say that if Chen or a disciple defeats the champions of at least eight schools, he will be allowed to open one (although it's a bit more complicated than that). He finds his first student in Geng Liangchen (Song Yang), a coolie who turns out to be prodigy.

There's an interesting dynamic between Chen and Zheng, in that the older Zheng is the forward-looking one, fascinated by the Western things that are becoming fixtures in his city and recognizing that the traditional way of doing things well have them losing more ground to the West, while Chen is reluctant to be the one to challenge tradition on his behalf. Unlike many films set in this time and place, the westernization feels like an insidious intrusion - compare it to the stylish modernity of The Phantom of the Theatre, or the sneering foreign devils of many more overtly-nationalist Chinese movies. As the film goes on, Xu reveals that there is plenty going on among the schools both related to this theme and hovering around it.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 3 June 2016 - 9 June 2016

There was an article in The Boston Globe the other week about it being a real kung-fu summer at the movies, and while you can argue the definition a bit (a lot), there is a lot of quality punching and kicking to be had all over town this weekend, and plenty of other stuff worth note.

  • Now, even if Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows were a realistic sort of martial-arts film rather than a 3D live-action sequel that brings in a lot of the stuff from the cartoon, ninjitsu is Japanese while gong fu is Chinese. It actually looks kind of fun, and it's kind of amazing that this thing that started as a goof in the 1980s just keeps going. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Jordan's (Imax 3D), Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Fenway (including RPX), and Revere (including MX4D).

    In less action-oriented outings, there's Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, which has been through a few names and stars Andy Samberg as a former boy-band star whose solo album flopping creates a crisis of confidence, both for himself and his entourage. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. Me Before You, on the other hand, is a romance between a paralyzed upper-class man (Sam Claflin) and the working-class girl (Emilia Clarke) who is hired as his caregiver despite having no experience. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Boston Common and Assembly Row will be showing the original Ghostbusters on Wednesday night, which is a bit of a change from the usual tack of making something scarce when a remake comes out.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre opens Maggie's Plan, as does the Kendall and Embassy. It stars Greta Gerwig as a woman who wants to have a child despite never having a long-lasting relationship, but may have met the (married) love of her life just as she goes for artificial insemination.

    The big thing, though, is the long-awaited return of the Weekly Midnight Ass-Kickings, which returns for a month at midnight on Friday and Saturday with the first entry being Shaw Brothers classic Bastard Swordsman. If you're willing to commit to being in Brookline at midnight every weekend, there's a "Kung Fu Master" package where all four movies cost just $27, a pretty darn good deal. If it's a more conventional classic you want (and Bastard Swordsman is out there even for kung fu flicks), there's a 35mm "Big Screen Classics" screening of The Philadelphia Story on Monday, and you cannot really go wrong with Jimmy Steward, Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant on film.
  • Kendall Square's martial-arts feature this week is a new digital restoration of Dragon Inn, a flat-out classic wuxia film, the first King Hu made in Taiwan and still influential today. They also pick up Presenting Princess Shaw, one of the programmers' favorites at IFFBoston, which chronicles the long-distance collaboration between a New Orleans singer and an Israeli new-media artist. They also get climate-change documentary Time to Choose, which will have special guests doing introductions and Q&As at the 7pm shows from Friday to Sunday, and a special one-night-only screening of As I AM: The Life and Time$ of DJ AM.
  • Boston Common gets a recent highly-acclaimed martial arts drama in The Final Master, which features Liao Fan as the title character, who must defeat eight other teachers to set up his own school, though the politics are eventually as important as fighting ability. They also open a recent hit from South Korea - The Wailing is the new dark thriller from Na Hong-jin (who directed the grim but exciting The Chaser), where a detective turns to a shaman for help when the arrival of a stranger seems to incite random murder among the population.

    Over at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, Bollywood romantic comedy Housefull 3 features Akshay Kumar as one of three young men trying to convince the father of three beautiful women to allow them to date/marry. They're also advertising subtitles for Tamil-language Iravi, the latest from up-and-coming Kollywood director Karthik Subbaraj; it also seems to be built around trios of men an women, but in a more dramatic story. No subs listed for Telugu romance A Aa or Sunday's Malayalam crime drama Kammati Paadam.
  • The West Newton Cinema has what may be the week's most interesting hidden gem, The Idol, which tells the story of a young musician in Gaza who yearns to be on Arab Idol, which shoots in Cairo and is the most popular program in the Arab world, despite the closed border. Just a couple of shows per day, but director Hany Abu-Assad made Omar, which was pretty terrific.
  • The Brattle Theatre has Tale of Tales from Friday to Tuesday (although the times are different pretty much every day); it's a pretty nifty "dark fairy tale" fantasy which doesn't always seem to be going somewhere as a whole but has some really terrific bits in it. Very nice cast, though, and Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone puts some great imagery on-screen.

    Speaking of visionary directors putting memorable stuff on-screen, the Saturday night "Reel Weird Brattle" is Wes Craven's original Nightmare on Elm Street on 35mm film. They also have a quick two-day series on Monday and Tuesday as José Mateo Ballet Theatre Presents Dance on Fim, with They Are We (Monday 6pm), Horizontes (Monday 8pm), A Time to Dance: The Life and work of Norma Canner (Tuesday 6pm), and After the Curtain (Tuesday 8pm) show ballet around the world, with Tuesday night's films having directors in person. After that, they continue the 75th Anniversary of Film Noir celebration with Prime Noir of the 1950s, showing 35mm prints of classics Sunset Boulevard (Wednesday) and Sweet Smell of Success (Thursday), with another week of good stuff after that.
  • The kids have graduated and gone off, so it's time for The Harvard Film Archive to do one of their great summer-long retrospectives of a popular and entertaining filmmaker, and this year we get ... All the Marbles: The Complete Robert Aldrich, whose tough-guy films are a fine complement to the Brattle's noir series. This week's selections: Kiss Me Deadly (Friday 7pm), World for Ransom (Friday 9:30pm), Ten Seconds to Hell (Sunday 5pm), The Legend of Lylah Clare (Sunday 7pm), and Attack! (Monday 7pm). All in 35mm besides World for Ransom, which is 16mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has Arab Film Weekend through Sunday, featuring A Syrian Love Story (Friday/Saturday), As I Open My Eyes (Friday/Saturday), The the Last Days of the City (Saturday/Sunday), and Theeb (Sunday). On Wednesday & Thursday, they open runs of two acclaimed films, both Westerns of a sort: Neon Bull is about a Brazilian cowboy who dreams of becoming a fashion designer, while Aferim! is an Eastern European take on The Searchers, as a Romanian policeman and his son try to recapture a Romany slave and encounter all kinds of cultural tension in 1835.
  • The Somerville Theatre has their monthly "Silents, Please!" screening with Flesh and the Devil, which has Greta Garbo seducing John Gilbert and Lars Hanson. 35mm with Jeff Rapsis on the organ, of course. They also pick up The Lobster as it expands, just as their friends at The Capitol (and less-close friends at Belmont Studio Cinema) get Love & Friendship. The Capitol has also started their summer "Throwback Thursdays", with this week's double feature being Mars Attacks! & The Fifth Element.
  • GlobeDocs has a special screening of Sold, which is not a documentary but which is based upon a true story - at MIT on Thursday (5:30pm), followed by a Skype Q&A with director Jeffrey D. Brown.

I am not entirely bailing on my college 20th reunion to watch movies (there's baseball as well), but I'll be catching The Last Master, The Wailing, The Lobster, Flesh and the Devil, and Dragon Inn, with earnest attempts being made at Bastard Swordsman and Nightmare on Elm Street (which is kind of a major gap in "things I've seen").