Saturday, August 27, 2016


Thought I had while watching this: I'd never expect Hollywood to end in any way other than Jung-soo getting out, a South Korean movie just might decide to have the rescue efforts end with pulling bodies out from under the wreckage, including the cute little pug dog. Korean films will just sometimes go to a darker place than one might expect.

One thing that amused me more than it should - pretty much everyone in this movie has a Samsung phone, because it's Korean and nearly every movie or television show will have one company pay for product placement and then everybody uses that phone (most amusing cases - Elementary, which posits that New York has the highest density of Windows Phone users in the world, and last year's Chinese film The Witness, where the killer had a whole drawer full of the latest smartphone and the blind girl used the same touchscreen model). Anyway, it was pretty specifically my phone, and toward the end of its battery life, as Jung-soo was trying to eke just a few more seconds out of it, he popped the battery out and started biting at it the end, maybe trying to use his tongue to wet the contacts or something. Having had a battery run down unusually fast (and charge unusually slow) that day, I couldn't help but wonder: Is this a thing people regularly do? Does it work?

Anyway, I dig it, and as usual hope more Korean films hit American screens, although the director's previous movies, A Hard Day, is the one you should check out after seeing this one.

Teoneol (Tunnel)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

A lot of things are graded on a sliding scale, but foreign films are often on one that slides both ways - there's a crowd that treats "mainstream" as a dirty word and one that asks why they should bother dealing with subtitles if it doesn't have something really special and unique. Both those groups may wind up unfairly dismissing Tunnel rather than enjoying it for the well-executed, occasionally clever rescue thriller that it is.

The man in need of rescue is Lee Jung-soo (Ha Jung-woo), a family man headed home to his wife So-hyun (Bae Doo-na) and daughter Su-jin via the just-opened Hado Tunnel when the lights flicker, cracks start to appear, dirt starts to fall, and he can't accelerate fast enough to avoid the larger debris. Trapped and alone, he's able to call emergency services, though they don't comprehend the scale of the issue until they arrive. Now, Task Force Chief Kim Dae-kyung (Oh Dal-su) is charged with getting him out, but it will take days, if not weeks.

As disaster scenarios go, the one one presented here is kind of an interesting scale - big and impressive when they do an establishing shot, crushingly intimate when the focus is on Jung-soo and his struggles to survive underneath. That contrast will wind up driving a good deal of the plot later on, of course - digging through either the mountain above or the debris filling the tunnel is a lot of effort to recover what may eventually just be a corpse - but in the meantime, it could be a bit of a challenge for filmmaker Kim Seong-hoon to go back and forth between the two.potentially losing the overwhelming claustrophobia when jumping back to Dae-kyung and his perspective. At a certain point, Kim sacrifices this willingly, letting Jung-soo push away a some debris and get a little room to move around and a reason to talk even as his isolation increase, but Kim's thoughtful in doing so. A little progress on Jung-soo's part creates uncertainty about how far away help is in exchange for a little less purity in its apocalyptic dread.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 26 August 2016 - 1 September 2016

I don't actually think that the various film venues and programs should be consulting with each other and checking my social media feeds to know what works best for me is, but twice in the last couple of days I've thought like that - once when realizing the screening of Police Story 2 the Brattle added would bump against something else, once when I realized I didn't have to work around the one show of Time Raiders last weekend.

  • Still, having to work around something this weekend means that it's time for one of my favorite Boston movie events of the year, Films at the Gate, where the Asian Community Development Center shows Chinese movies outside on the Greenway, following martial arts demonstrations and shorts. They're going for deeper cuts this year - documentary Pui Chan: Kung Fu Pioneer on Friday, recent Herman Yau production Woman Knight of Mirror Lake on Saturday, and Shaw Brothers action-comedy The Kid with a Tattoo. Head on out, get some snacks in Chinatown, and have a ball.
    While in the Chinatown area, you can catch Time Raiders in either 2D or 3D at Boston Common, and while it's got some serious problems, it might look pretty cool in 3D. If your tastes run toward Korean, Boston Common also opens The Tunnel, in which a man is trapped in a collapsed stretch of road. It's got an all-star cast (Ha Jung-woo, Bae Doo-na, and Oh Dal-su), and filmmaker Kim Seong-hoon made the pretty fun A Hard Day.
  • End-of-summer is generally a place where people don't get excited about what's coming out, although there seems to be some excitement about Don't Breathe, which was the closing-night film at Fantasia and comes from Evil Dead remake director Fede Alvarez, who sends some kids to rob a blind man's home, which proves a spectacularly bad idea. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway (including RPX), Revere (including XPlus/MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    More typical: The thing people thought might be an Oscar contender but might be a cut below that line. That's what Hands of Stone looks like, starring Edgar Ramirez as Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran and Robert De Niro as his trainer. That's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. Then there's the not-very-good action movie, Mechanic: Resurrection, with Jason Statham returning as a generic hitman character and Tommy Lee Jones, Jessica Alba, and Michelle Yeoh cashing checks. It plays Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    There are a bunch of little one-and-two-off shows in theaters this week too. Revere has animated toy tie-in Welcome to Monster High on Saturday morning, a TCM presentation of The King and I on Sunday and Thursday, and the "premiere party" for Kevin Smith's Yoga Hosers on Tuesday. Rob Zombie's latest, 31, also skips a regular theatrical release and shows Thursday at 7pm in Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere. The Imax-branded screens, also shake things up, with Assembly Row keeping Suicide Squad in 2D and 3D, Boston Common playing The Jungle Book (3D) in the afternoon and Jason Bourne in the evening, Jordan's Natick going with Bourne all day and Jordan's Reading showing The Secret Lives of Pets (3D).
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up Hell or High Water, which also expands to the Embassy and Revere and sticks around the Kendall and Boston Common. There's also a surprisingly wide release for Southside with You, a romance that chronicles the day-long first date between Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson back in 1989; they seem to have done all right for themselves since. It's at the Coolidge, The West Newton Cinema, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    The August Animals Attack series presented by the Boston Yeti waps up this weekend with midnight shows of Piranha II: The Spawning on 35mm Friday & Saturday night; it is technically James Cameron's first directing credit although to ask him they mostly needed a Canadian listed as director to get tax benefits. Cameron would later direct a seuel to Monday night's big screen classic, Alien, though I would argue that Ridley Scott's original is still the series's best by far.
  • On top of Southside with You, Kendall Square brings in A Tale of Love and Darkness, Natalie Portman's first feature as writer & director as well as playing the mother of Amos Oz (Amir Tessler) in an adaptation of his stories of his youth in Palestine after his Jewish family fled there to escape the war in Europe. Also opening there is Miss Sharon Jones!, a documentary on an R&B musician who broke through relatively late and battle illness alongside the release of her anticipated new album.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond is the venue for IFFBoston Closing Night film The Intervention, a very funny ensemble company from Clea DuVal in which she and several other friends hosts a weekend getaway to tell her sister (Cobie Smulders) that she really should divorce her husband. They also have Natural Selection, which looks to be an indie drama about a high-school kid being pushed toward the point of explosion.

    Several Indian films open as well, including A Flying Jatt, starring Tiger Shroff as a bumbling Bengali superhero. Hey, he may have action-star potential. No listings for subtitles on Telegu-language romantic comedy 100 Days of Love or Maalik, an Urdu-language film from Pakistan with writer/director Ashir Azeem starring as a special forces soldier who becomes entangled in politics; I don't recall seeing films from Pakistan there before. Ditto for Bichagadu, which plays Sunday morning and Monday evening, or Janatha Garage, also Telegu and opening Wednesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre spends much of the weekend playing host to The Massachusetts Independent Film Festival, which runs from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon and has guests at almost every screening. Lots of interesting, off-beat stuff there.

    Along with that, The summer repatory series all wrap up this week, though in pretty fine form: Saturday offers a late-night double feature of Police Story 2 on 35mm and a new DCP restoration of Snake in Eagles Shadow. The final Femmes Fatales of Film Noir double feature on Monday & Tuesday jumps into color with Leave Her to Heaven & Gone Girl; while Wednesday's "Under the Influence" pairing is The Hateful Eight and Cut-Throats Nine, both on 35mm. Kiki's Delivery Service & My Neighbor Totoro finish up "Kids International: A GKids Retrospective", though both will have weekend matinees as well.
  • The Regent Theatre will be the home for The Witness, a film about the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese in broad daylight and her brother Bill's attempts to find justice after new information surfaces fifty years later, all week long. Saturday night's screening will be followed by a Q&A including Bill and cinematographer Trish Govoni

  • The Harvard Film Archive heads into the Rouben Mamoulian retrospective's homestretch as the summer calendar nears the end with a bunch of classics: Golden Boy (Friday 7pm), City Streets (Friday 9pm), Queen Christina (Saturday 7pm), We Live Again (Saturday 9pm), swan song Silk Stockings (Sunday 4:30pm), The Mark of Zorro (Sunday 7pm), and High, Wide, and Handsome (Monday 7pm). All films are on 35mm.

  • The Museum of Fine Arts has five films rotating this week: Bulgarian parable Viktoria (Friday/Saturday), Korean documentary My Love, Don't Cross That River (Friday/Saturday), new addition The Other Side, which combines documentary footage and a fictional story for a look at paranoid backwoods Louisiana (Friday/Sunday/Thursday), 1982 German sci-fi noir Kamikaze '89 (Saturday/Sunday/Thursday), and Eva Hesse, a documentary on the short-lived 1960s sculptor.

  • The ICA will have a special outdoor screening of A One Man Show, a Grace Jones concert video with a live performance by Neon Music and a DJ set by Light Asylum's Shannon Funchess on Friday.

  • Outdoor movies are winding down (aside from Films at the Gate), but Joe's Boston Free Films shows a couple chances to see Ant-Man, along with Some Like it Hot and others.
I've got a couple of baseball tickets this week, so it'll be harder to get to everything, but I'm looking at The Tunnel, Don't Breathe, A Flying Jatt, Southside with You, and some time at the Gate.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mechanic: Resurrection

Well, that wasn't very good. Not that there were a whole lot of great options playing at a time which would work so that I could use MoviePass on a 7:10pm show the next night, although I remembered that this might not be necessary when I got the ticket. Ah, well.

I am kind of confused about what sequels are getting Jason Statham and which ones aren't these days. Last year's The Transporter Refueled recast his part, despite that character being pretty strongly associated with Statham, and folks really like both those movies and Statham in them. Meanwhile, I can't remember very much about The Mecahnic at all, other than it involved an apprentice who didn't make it into the sequel, and looks like the sort of thing where the sequels go direct to VOD with a new Mechanic played by a less bankable actor. But, no, they somehow got Statham back. Go figure.

Kind of funny thing: I was working on the review of Blood Father on my way to the movie, talking a lot about how Mel Gibson is in movie jail, and one of the best previews for this was for Hacksaw Ridge, billed as "from the director of Braveheart", which is weird - that movie is pretty strongly associated with him, but apparently saying his name is the point where he becomes an unacceptable liability.

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

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

That Mechanic: Resurrection was a sketchy idea was obvious to begin with; Jason Statham's first go-around with this character was not exactly a hit or considered the sort of mid-level of action movie that executes better than the bigger-budget ones (and the best element of that movie, Ben Foster as Statham's protege, wasn't returning). Still, when Michelle Yeoh's character asks Statham's to beat up just one obnoxious goon... Well, geez, that's not great use of resources on display.

If you don't remember how the previous film ended (I certainly didn't), top assassin Arthur Bishop (Statham) has faked his death and now is living off the grid in Rio. Old "friend" Crain (Sam Hazeldine) has discovered him, though, and soon has blackmailed Bishop into carrying out three hits that must look like accidents - African war criminal Krill (Femi Elufowoju Jr.), Australian human trafficker Adrian Cook (Toby Eddington), and American arms dealer Max Adams (Tommy Lee Jones), using pretty relief worker Gina (Jessica Alba) as a hostage.

The action crosses the globe, from Rio to Thailand to Australia to Bulgaria, maybe not all places where action films go to shoot relatively cheap, but the pattern is pretty clear, and it's a weirdly modular movie: It's understandable enough that each of the targets only shows up in one location, but Crain's headquarters on a boat isolates him and Gina - after she's introduced in Thailand, they could have shot all her scenes in one spot even as they're supposedly travelling the world. Characters whom it seems might recur disappear, and the episodes fail to build on each other in interesting ways. The repetition of material from Rio in Thailand and the way Crain finally enlisting Bishop takes forever makes one wonder if a lot could have been cut out of those segments.

Full review on EFC.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Three days of good stuff for the kids: Pete's Dragon '16, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Kubo and the Two Strings

Say what you want about summer 2016 being disappointing where movies are concerned, but come Christmas, I'll be able to get each of my four young nieces a new release and have stuff left over for birthdays. I'd like it if more of them had girls as their main protagonists, but Finding Dory, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The BFG, Ghostbusters, Phantom Boy, The Little Prince, Pete's Dragon, and Kubo and the Two Strings is a pretty nice few months of stuff I'd give to kids, even if I'm taking a couple of things on faith and maybe stretching with Ghostbusters, but, look, it's a movie where a bunch of ladies get together to do science without much in the way of sex, swearing, or particularly nasty violence, so I'm obviously going to recommend it to my nieces.

It doesn't look like some of these are doing that well, though, which is a real shame - Pete's Dragon and Kubo deserve more, and Wilderpeople has sort of stuck around boutique places more than having been a hit. Still, the latter part of the summer especially has been quality stuff, and, I swear, if some of the crappy things I saw preview for do better, I'll... Well, shake my head sadly. Don't make me do that.

Pete's Dragon (2016)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD DCP)

A few years ago, a friend argued that a certain movie was not as good as it could be because it let the audience see its creatures right away rather than hiding them for a big reveal later, even though it wasn't about discovery. I was reminded of that when this new version of Pete's Dragon showed the dragon in the second or third scene, thinking that the kids that this movie was made for wouldn't have internalized those expectations based upon what used to be prohibitively expensive. That thought soon fled my mind, though - while the modern ability to put something fantastic on screen with relatively little restriction is a big part of what makes this film a delight, its big heart and the filmmakers' steady hands do even more to make this one of the best family films to come out in a year that has had plenty.

That first glimpse of the dragon comes after we're introduced to a five-year-old and his parents driving to a new home, though an accident leaves the boy on his own. Six years later, we hear a tale of a dragon from old man Meacham (Robert Redford), though his forest-ranger daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) has never seen such a thing in the woods. Grace is engaged to Jack (Wes Bentley), one of the brothers who owns the local sawmill, which causes some friction as Gavin (Karl Urban) tends to extend their logging operations a bit further than allowed. It's during one of these disputes that Jack's daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) finds Pete (Oakes Fegley), who tries to run when the adults take him to the hospital. He wants to get back to the only friend he has had for the past six years, and the dragon he calls Elliott is worried about what happened to his boy.

It's important that we not only see the dragon early, but hear of him from the perspective of Grace's quite sane-seeming father as opposed to some outcast who comes across as a nut or drink or the like. This take on the material, co-written and directed by David Lowery, does not seek to find adult sophistication through ambiguity and unreliable narrators, even if it does allow for a healthy skepticism. We get to know Elliott as a character, and he's a funny, likable creature often akin to a gigantic and loyal dog, but Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks, without hurting Elliott's individual playfulness and concern for Pete, quietly make him a symbol for wonder and awe. Meacham speaks of a sort of magic when describing his own youthful encounter with a dragon that is akin to spirituality but which is a more genuine sense of awe, not too different from the way everybody looks at Pete for having survived so long while so young. Gavin maybe can't see it that way at first, and it ties in to a quiet environmental message, where simple near-term practically is often more short-sighed and hollow than actively evil.

Full review on EFC.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 August 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run, DCP)

You know that thing when, even though everyone seems to like a movie, you're just never in the right mood, and to be totally honest you didn't really love the director's last movie that the same everybody went nuts for, but eventually it's only got 3 days left? That is pretty much what I was looking at Monday night - I hadn't really been putting this off, but there always seemed to be something I wanted to see a little more that day, and this had the look of a movie that could have a crazy Lobster-like run. It did pretty well on that count.

And it deserved to. It's a nifty little movie about two people who have a hard time getting on with others losing the person who made accepting each of them for what they were look easy and having to find some common ground on the run from a system that doesn't know how to deal with them. It's a tricky thing filmmaker Taika Waititi pulls off, balancing how kids like Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) are not bad seeds but actually full of the same enthusiasm as more fortunate people while still maintaining some weight. It's an extremely empathetic film that nevertheless is able to find all of its characters at least a little ridiculous and build crazy adventures out of that.

Mostly, though, it is able to build a great pairing in Julian Dennison and Sam Neill. The latter being terrific should not surprise anyone; he's almost always excellent, even if he only occasionally gets material worthy of him, and it's fun to watch him never actually lose Hec's gruffness even as the guy finds himself growing fond of the kid - this adventure is going to reinforce some of his less sterling qualities, especially when it comes to dealing with people other than Ricky. Julian Dennison, meanwhile, is a riot, making Ricky a confused but ultimately good-hearted kid, an appealing hero even when he is being the sort of dumb that could easily cause someone to lose patience. There's a game supporting cast - Rima Te Wiata is utterly antitank as the very funny glue that puts this family together in the first place - but it's Dennison and Neill that form one of the year's most appealing odd couples.

Kubo and the Two Strings

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, RealD DCP)

If Laika's first four movies - Coraline, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and now Kubo and the Two Strings - are not considered such a strong group as to give the company the same sort of trust and reputation as Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks, it can't be by very much, at least when you narrow the audience to dedicated fans of animation as a medium. They don't seem to have quite reached the same place with a broader audience, and looking at that list, I see part of the reason why: They love their meticulously crafted monsters and scaring children, and when you look this different, it might be good business to come up with something a little cuddlier to start.

Still, by doing what they do, they make thrilling adventures that nobody else can match. Kubo is no exception; after a brief prologue and opening that establishes a lot about the title character's personality and how his magic works, the film sends him to an even more fantastic land, giving him both new allies - a grumpy Monkey (voice of Charlize Theron) and a forgetful samurai beetle (voice of Matthew McConaughey) - and incredible new challenges to overcome. It's an intense quest with high stakes, although one tempered a bit by some entertaining banter between the trio, and the filmmakers are looking to pop eyeballs with their stop-motion creatures - in one case quite literally. Though it may get a little scary for some of the younger kids, their older siblings and parents will spend a lot of time with jaws on the floor because not only is the design and animation amazing (including what is as almost certainly native-shot 3D), but it's backed up by terrific cutting and choreography, and there's never a fight that doesn't pack an emotional punch at some point.

The animation is amazing, a point which really can't be made often enough, especially when you ponder just what sort of careful work was involved in a couple of characters just giving each other a puzzled look that sums them up perfectly. Intriguingly, some of its best moments are when it's not silky-smooth; it reminds the viewer of the specific techniques being used and that this is not photorealistic, but it ties in with with how storytelling is power in this film by allowing the audience to see it happening. It's obvious in some ways, but less so in others - myth is a form of storytelling here, and as such it counteracts the limits on what storytelling can't do. On top of that, though, there's a really nice thread on not knowing what you can or can't do until you try.

More than just about any movie to come out this year, it will be great when it comes out on video (even if I may hold off giving it to a niece for a year because of the intensity), but it won't be nearly as great as it is given your full field of vision in a dark theater with 3D glasses. Do not miss it in that format if you've got the chance, because it's one of the great ways to spend a couple hours in the movies this year.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

This week's Chinese stuff: Line Walker: The Movie and Time Raiders

Thing I've been pondering over the last few weeks (surrounding Fantasia) - multiplexes like the one where I saw both of these films have gotten cannier about scheduling similar movies to make double features harder, haven't they? It's certainly seemed that way every weekend where Boston Common has two Chinese movies, and the special one-show-only booking of Time Raiders really makes it clear: The 9pm showtime just didn't work with Line Walker or Sweet Sixteen at all, meaning I wound up hanging around a couple hours between my two movies. I get it; folks seeing two movies are probably not only not going to buy two snacks, but they might even actually go for that free refill on the large soda. Better to get us to come two separate days.

Line Walker: The Movie

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

It's not exactly fair, but you say "Hong Kong crime movie with lost undercover cops", and my head's going to go to Infernal Affairs, which, as an all-time classic, is setting the bar pretty high, when it's probably enough just to be a decent enough cops and crooks movie. Line Walker: The Movie, is no Infernal Affairs; for all I know, it's not even up to the standard of the TV series that launched it. On the other hand, there ain't no shootout like a Hong Kong shootout, and this does deliver the crime-movie goods quite nicely when it gets down to it.

Two years ago, Deputy Police Commissioner Hong Do-heng of the HKPD's Central Intelligence Bureau was assassinated, but he had just enough time to delete the records of the undercover operatives he was handling before their covers could be blown. The CIB believed that they had brought the whole group in, but one of them, Ding Siu-ka (Charmaine Sheh See-man), receives a message in Hong's code signed "Blackjack", and Inspector Q (Francis Ng Chun-yu) - her boyfriend and the one who tracked down the undercover operatives - says that there was a corrupted file by that name on Hong's computer. The text leads them to a party at an investment firm that also serves as a Triad front, and which gets attacked by the team of Lam (Nick Cheung Ka-fai) and Shiu (Louis Koo Tin-lok), underlings of rival gangster Kwok Ming. They escape before Q and Ding can discover whether either is Blackjack, but the speed with which they were on the scene means that Lam, Shiu, Ming, bodyguard Siu Ying (Clara Lee Ching-man), and big boss Tung Pak-ho all know that there is a mole in their midst, threatening both their local operations and a big drug deal in Brazil.

The Line Walker television series was a massive hit in Hong Kong and China, although one need not be familiar with to follow the film (which is good, because while I'll stream a movie or two to get caught up when the higher-profile sequel comes out, a 31-episode series that does not appear to be legitimately available with English subtitles is something else). There are a couple moments when a character will be introduced with music that hints that the viewer should recognize his significance, and some flashbacks that seem more like reminders than exposition, but Ding and Q are the only returning main characters, with Koo and Cheung fairly big movie stars who are definitely new to the series. Writer Cat Kwan and director Jazz Boon occasionally use that to their advantage, especially in the beginning, establishing things fast so that the newcomers can get up to speed without boring the fans.

Full review on EFC.

Daomu biji (Time Raiders)

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Treasure-hunting stories are currently pretty big in China, and though it's tempting to see something about a nation with a very specific present and targeted future reconciling with a long, very different past, we don't do that with Indiana Jones. Those movies are just extremely well-built adventures. Time Raiders isn't quite so well-built - it's a jumble of things found in cliffhanging adventure stories that takes their awesomeness for granted rather than building something greater than the sun of their individual joys - but when you're in the middle of a tomb raider craze, this can scratch the itch.

Of course, there are tomb raiders and there are tomb raiders. The first one we see is Hendrix (Vanni Corbellini), a Westerner terrorizing mystics near the Tibet/Nepal border to find the lady of "24 Divine Pieces" that will serve as a map to a Chinese secret of immortality, although the monks are saved by Zhang Qiling (Jing Boran), one of their number with preternatural martial-arts skills. Fifty years later, though, there's Wu Xie (Lu Han), a young man from a family that has been robbing graves for centuries, though they imagine a more legitimate future for him. Which means, of course, that he will be the one to discover the secret passage in The Widow's Tomb, leading to a clockwork key that seems far too sophisticated for the Warring Kingdoms era it dates from (though it seems to be counting down to something just a week away), and which leads his uncle Wu Sanxing (Wang Jingchun) to Kunlun Qiala to unearth the legendary tomb of the Snake Empress (Mallika Sherawai) and King Xiang (Sammy Hung). His crew includes someone who is at least a dead ringer for Qiling, but an ageless martial artist may be just what the Wu family needs when a team of well-armed mercenaries financed by Hendrix and led by Captain Ning A (Ma Sichun) arrives on the scene.

Lovers of swashbuckling pulp adventures will likely have a big grin on their faces through at least the first half of Time Raiders, because it has a bit of everything: A young hero whose family wants something better for him than the family's traditional business, even if the centuries mean it's in his blood; a mysterious partner who is silent about his past; an obsessed villain who has devoted a lifetime to his quest; mysterious artifacts hidden in plain sight; a mercenary who is as capable as she is attractive; relics which seem impossibly advanced for their provenance; an impossibly large underground complex. The jaded may yawn at this, reciting dozens of pulps and serials made from the same ingredients, but director Daniel Lee and writer "Uncle Three" roll with this - seem through the eyes of Wu Xie, it is sort of familiar despite his family's attempts to direct his talents elsewhere, but when he encounters these things in real life, there's some awe to be found in discovering a world that is grand, fantastic, and dangerous beyond his own experience.

And then things go downright insane.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, August 20, 2016


Normally when I go to a movie and folks near me are talking - something that has been happening with annoying frequency of late - I want to yell "nobody came to see and hear you" but just grit my teeth. I suppose that's technically true when seated next to a very animated Bill Lee for Spaceman, but he'd at least have an argument.

I didn't know that Lee and filmmaker Brett Rapkin would be on hand for the opening night, although it would have been a pretty decent guess; the Somerville Theatre has it in the Micro for most of the week but this screening was bumping Star Trek Beyond from screen #3, so Ian probably knew something was going to bring in a crowd, even if it did mean screening off a Blu-ray in one of the larger rooms.

BTW, when I said I was sitting next to Bill Lee, I mean it, though there was a courtesy single seat between us, meaning my Q&A photos were crappier than normal:

Bill Lee and Brett Rapkin at the Somerville Theatre for Spaceman

Decent shot of Rapkin on the right, though.

I kind of got a running commentary on which details were correct. It worth noting that the bars Lee went to in both Montreal and Boston are apparently still standing, because he approved when they showed up on screen. He had a brown VW camper rather than a "puke green bus", though. A few things got a loud f-you; for instance, though not named in the film, I'm guessing his wife's first name was Mary Lou. Apparently, these were better seats than he got at Montreal's showing - which I was tempted to go to, as it was part of the Montreal Baseball Weekend when the Red Sox played the Blue Jays at Stade Olympique. I think it was kind of a pricey charity screening, though.

He did seem kind of amused that Orion was releasing the movie, though, and I like that. I have the same reaction whenever I see the Orion Pictures logo on a new movie. He was quick to mention that he was blackballed more for being a successful union rep than his bad behavior, and while it's clear his favorite subject is Bill Lee, he was also very keen to note that he is not close to unique in his love of the game, talking up a lot of people he had met in his post-MLB barnstorming career.

It's an enjoyable enough movie, I think, and will probably make for a fun-enough outing for Red Sox (and Expos) fans this week, even if they will be seeing it in the Micro in Boston. Doesn't seem to be playing Montreal yet, although maybe it just doesn't have Canadian distribution.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2016 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, Blu-ray)

Say this for writer/director Brett Rapkin - not a lot of folks have made a documentary feature and then been able to return to the subject for a narrative one. Of the top of my head, that puts him on a short list with Werner Herzog and a few others. Not at the top of the list or anywhere near it, since this year's Spaceman, at least, is just an average sports bio, but there's a little something to be said for both practice and for doing movies about things that hold one's attention over a long period.

By the time the film picks up in early 1982, William Francis "Spaceman" Lee (Josh Duhamel) had already had quite the checkered career, picking fights with the front office in Boston until they traded him to the Montreal Expos and now proving himself too colorful for even that city, and when he walks out to protest the release of teammate and friend Rodney Scott (Sterling K. Brown), the team cuts ties with him. Fellow barfly Dick Dennis (W. Earl Brown) offers to be his agent, but no team wants the headaches that come with him, and he starts playing with a local senior-league team even as the rest of his life spirals out of control.

Ask Bill Lee (or just find yourself in the same general area as Bill Lee) and he'll tell you that he wasn't blacklisted from Major League Baseball as for his bad behavior so much as for being one of the players' union representatives who worked with Marvin Miller to gain arbitration and free-agency rights, but that's a very different story about a very different thing. Rapkin wants to tell the story of how a passionate, talented man handles a fall, but what make's Lee's story tricky is that the fall comes primarily as a result of his own arrogance, and Rapkin likes Lee too much to really maintain that as an issue throughout the movie. His initial flameout is compelling in large part because the audience can see him bringing it upon himself, but once that happens, it seldom seems to be something inside Lee that either digs him in deeper or pulls him out - for much of the second half of the movie, stuff just happens off-screen. Narration tells us that Lee rents his basement to a drug dealer, for instance, but because we don't see it (and the film initially makes a joke of it), this doesn't seem like something Lee does or which reflects on his state of mind; it's background that he's somewhat disconnected from. There's a cut between the next to last scene and the last that feels good, but which also skips over Lee doing what needs to be done to bridge what had been set up as a large gap, and then the film jumps to his later life as a baseball vagabond without the audience really seeing him attack his issues. It's missing a lot of what would make the story feel complete, rather than a sketch with just one part filled out.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 August 2016 - 25 August 2016

One of my most anticipated movies of the summer finally arrives this weekend, as does one whose existence kind of baffles me. There's other stuff, too, which you may have to dig for.

  • If there were any justice, a new film from Laika would be a major event on a par with Disney and DreamWorks releases; their stop-motion films are stunning, genuinely worth a 3D ticket, and well-crafted stories on top of that. Their latest is Kubo and the Two Strings, inspired by Japanese folklore and telling the story of a young boy with the family gift to make the stories he tells real. It's at Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Assembly row, Fenway, and Revere.

    There's also a new, 3D version of Ben-Hur, which strikes me as the kind of remake you don't do unless you know it's going to be an awards-worthy centerpiece, and though you don't necessarily know what it's going to be before you make it, Jack Huston in the lead role and Timur Bekmambetov directing suggests otherwise, even with Morgan Freeman picking up a paycheck. He probably does a decent chariot race, though. It's at the Capitol (3D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    Then again, for all that those movies are interesting, the biggest opening of the week winds up being War Dogs, featuring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as a pair of twenty-ish guys who start bidding on military contracts and wind up getting in way above their head, from the director of The Hangover. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, the Belmont Studio, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Showcase Revere will have matinee screenings of the Maya the Bee Movie, about a worker bee who wants more than just the inside of a hive, on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Kendall Square just has the one new release this week, but it's a good one. That would be Werner Herzog's latest documentary (well, second-latest, as he's got another one ready to release), Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, in which he examines the history and the present-day reality of the Internet. It is, like all of Herzog's best work, driven by an insatiable curiosity and fascination with the world around him, even if it can come off as dry or cynical in how he meets the less-joyful parts of the topic head on. One of my favorites at IFFBoston.
  • The Brattle Theatre has Cosmos, a surrealistic tale of men and women at loose ends in and around a rural guesthouse and the final film from Czech auteur Andrzej Zulawski, this weekend. It runs Friday through Monday.

    It's not quite alone; Saturday afternoon featues an encore screening of The Painting, while late Saturday night and Sunday afternoon include the week's "Starring Jackie Chan" entry, Supercop, originally known as Police Story 3 but retitled when given a big American release after Rumble in the Bronx was a surprising success; it's also notable for being America's introduction to Michelle Yeoh. The 35mm print is dubbed in English, although with Chan and Yeoh doing their own voice work, it's not as bad as it could be.

    The week's Femme Fatale is Rita Hayworth, whose double feature on Monday afternoon and Tuesday is a pair of classics, Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai. Wednesday's "Under the Influence" series pairs Hail, Caesar! with one of the many films that influenced the Coens in creating it - specifically On the Town, with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as sailors whose numbers aren't quite so weird as Channing Tatum's (the scheduled Neptune's Daughter, unfortunatley, will not screen). Then, on Thursday, the "Kids International" series includes the two last films to come from Studio Ghibli, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There, both excellent. Note that they don't have matinees next weekend because of other programming, as many others in the series have.
  • The Somerville Theatre is the landing spot for Spaceman, a movie about former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee (Josh Duhamel) when he spent some time playing in an independent French-Canadian league after being released by the Montreal Expos. This is actually Rapkin's second pass at this material; documentary Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey came out ten years ago. Note that only the Friday 7:40pm show currently appears to be scheduled for a full-size screen, with the others in the 30-person Micro-Cinema, so buy tickets in advance (guessing on that, but when there are six 7pm shows scheduled for what is basically a 5-screen house, it seems most likely).
  • Anybody know where you can find the Hong Kong TV series with English subtitles on line? I ask because Line Walker at Boston Common is a spin-off of an extremely popular TVB series, though as far as I can tell only Charmaine Sheh returns as an undercover cop trying to find others whose names have been removed from the HKPD's records, leaving them adrift in the underworld. Still, it's big Hong Kong action, though hopefully not impenetrable if you don't binge-watch the 31-episode series to get up to speed.

    Another Chinese film opened Wednesday, Sweet Sixteen, which looks like a young-adult thriller starring Kris Wu Yi-fan as a troubled teenager who only finds some sort of peace with the girl next door. My Best Friend's Wedding sticks around, though just with early-afternoon screenings, and there appears to be a single Saturday-night screening of Time Raiders, a big treasure-hunting adventure that is apparently a huge hit in China.

    Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond opens Dharma Durai, a Tamil-language drama with English subtitles, but I'm having a hard time seeing any information on what it's about (doctors facing government resistence, I think), while the two holdovers, Mohenjo Daro and Rustom, are subtitled Hindi. There are also apparently-unsubtitled screenings of Kannada-language thriller Karva and Tamil satire Joker on Saturday.

    They've also got an American action film, Billionaire Ransom, in which rich-kid teens at a reform school fight back after a group of criminals take the place over in hopes of extorting money from their parents, playing a couple of times a day even though it's also on VOD.
  • It's one of those quiet weeks at The Coolidge Corner Theatre where one of the midnight movies - a reissue of John Waters's early bit of vulgarity Multiple Maniacs, which bounces between screens, so check showtimes. 10pm all week, with midnight showings Friday and Satuday.

    The other midnight presentation on Friday and Saturday continues the Boston Yeti's creature feature series with Grizzly, which is pretty much what it says on the tin, with a freakishly-large, angry bear killing campers. The big-screen classic on Monday is Federico Fellini's 8 1/2.
  • The Harvard Film Archive dives deep into their Rouben Mamoulian series this week, including the 1932 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Friday 7pm), Summer Holiday (Friday 9pm), Love Me Tonight (Saturday 7pm), The Gay Desperado (Saturday 9pm), Becky Sharp (Sunday 5pm), and Rings on Her Fingers (Sunday 7pm). After those, they wrap their Theo Angelopoulos on Monday evening with Eternity and a Day. All films are on 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their runs of Korean documentary My Love, Don't Cross That River and Bulgarian parable Viktoria, with both screening once each on Friday,Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. Kamikaze '89, a new restoration of Wolf Gremm's German cyberpunk noir from 1982 that includes Rainer Werner Fassbinder's final role.
  • Outdoor movies on Joe's Boston Free Films include plenty of chances to see Zootopia, Up, and other recent animated films; the most interesting appears to be The Witches in Harvard Square on Thursday.

    Also free that night (though not appearing on The Regent Theatre's website) is a screening of Indie Game: The Movie, which even includes free popcorn, sponsored by UXPA Boston

I intend to take in Spaceman, Kubo, Pete's Dragon, Line Walker, and Time Raiders, and hopefully catch up on some other things as well.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Not much time for these imports My Best Friend's Wedding '16 and Operation Chromite

Does anybody else do the thing, starting on Tuesday, where you start refreshing Fandango and other movie ticket websites to see what will still be around on Friday because it looks awful tight to see everything you want by Thursday night and it would be really good to push something to its second week? No, just me?

Well, now that most of the showtimes for the weekend are out, it doesn't look like pushing one of these off would have done me any good; Wedding will be down to one early-afternoon show a day at Boston Common and Chromite one true matinee (10:15am) in Revere next weekend. Probably wouldn't do either, and probably shouldn't, as both of these films are just not very good, although not the sort of bad that makes me regret seeing them, though I've got a lower threshold for that than some (many). After all, I'm going to be down for Shu Qi (or a Korean action movie) no matter what.

The original plan was to catch them over the weekend, but it just didn't work out - baseball, apartment-hunting, and an adorable niece's birthday party were all much higher priorities, as they should be. Just make for a long Tuesday night, as there was no getting them nearly back-to-back. Nope, My Best Friend's Wedding played at 6:50pm and ran for 95 minutes plus two previews, and then Operation Chronicle didn't start until 10:20pm and was 115 minutes plus something close to the standard 20 minute preview package. Lucky to get home, but there was a lot of time to kill in between movies, enough to make me wish theaters still had game rooms.

Wo Zui Hao Peng you De Hun Li (My Best Friend's Wedding '16)

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

I get why Chinese filmmakers have been remaking English-language romantic comedies a lot over the last few years; these are fun, crowd-pleasing stories that work better if there's some familiarity to the fantasy. Still, it's kind of weird to remake My Best Friend's Wedding with Chinese stars speaking Mandarin and then set it in London, right? It's the sort of thing that maybe makes one wonder if this hasn't been thought all the way through.

It makes a couple stops before London, starting in Beijing where Gu Jia (Shu Qi) is the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine, about to head out to cover fashion week in Milan. Her assistant Ma Li (Ye Qing) has a packed schedule, but that all goes out the window when Jia's best friend since the age of three, Lin Ran (William Feng Shaofeng) calls and announces he's getting married the next weekend. Realizing she doesn't want anybody else to marry him, she heads for London where the situation is as bad as she thought; Meng Yixuan (Victoria Song Qian) is a millennial twit, but maybe Jia can stop this disaster with the help of Nick (Rhydian Vaughan), a good-looking Eurasian guy she met on the plane.

I doubt if I've seen the original American version since it's 1997 theatrical release, so it's not exactly close to my heart, but a big part of why it worked was that the secondary characters - the bride-to-be played by Cameron Diaz along with Rupert Everett more or less inventing the modern Gay Best Friend - were a bit more three-dimensional than you might expect, and their counterparts here don't stack up: Victoria Song's "Xuan Xuan" is not evil or awful or anything, and she's pretty, but when Jia has the chance to feed the allergic younger woman a cupcake with peanut butter in it, the audience's concern is entirely about how ruthless Jia is willing to be. Rhydia Vaughan's Nick, on the other hand, finds himself inserted and pulled out of the story entirely based upon momentary convenience - he's apparently well-off enough to be next to Jia in first class but tending bar when she has to stumble upon him later, and the filmmakers completely skip over Jia somehow convincing him to pose as her boyfriend in an effort to make Lin Ran jealous after he's been portrayed as wanting to give Jia a wide berth because she's a walking disaster.

Full review on EFC.

Incheonsangryookjakjun (Operation Chromite)

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

It's no secret that South Korean entertainment companies have been looking to access the American market directly the same way that China and India do, even if they are more trying to translate their industry's great reputation into an audience the size that they feel it deserves than serve a large expatriate and emigrant population. Inserting a familiar western face into a movie is one way to get it a higher American profile, although audiences going to Operation Chromite under the impression that it stars Liam Neeson will likely be disappointed, though in a different way than folks looking for a truly great Korean War movie.

"Operation Chromite" was the name that American General Douglas MacArthur (Neeson) gave to the 15 September 1950 invasion of occupied South Korean at Incheon, a daring operation given one-in-five-thousand odds to succeed given the narrow harbor filled with mines, massive swells, and steep cliffs to be overcome. That's why the movie opens a couple weeks earlier, with Operation X-Ray, in which Lieutenant Jang Hak-soo (Lee Jung-jae) leads a group of eight ROK soldiers into the occupied city disguised as North Korean inspectors, their mission to discover the location for the mines and capture a crucially-placed lighthouse. Unfortunately for them, their zeal to accomplish this quickly has Colonel Lim Gye-jin (Lee Beom-soo) smelling a rat.

Though the film opens with a title card stating that it was based upon actual events, as near as I can tell that refers to the Incheon invasion itself, with the bulk of the film fictional (and the "Trudy Jackson" team never mentioned). War movies that take that tack are kind of odd - it seems disrespectful to insert fictional characters into actual events as being crucial rather than focusing on the biographical or telling smaller stories that can happen in history's margins. Instead, Operation Chromite takes a setup that seemingly demands a spy story's careful maneuvering and jumps to slam-bang action very early. It's got some room to build - the climax is a going to be massive naval bombardment with thousands of soldiers making a beachhead - but feels like it's climaxing early and then struggling to get back to trying to get back to the same level twice before the finale, doubly hard because the film occasionally jumps over to Tokyo where MacArthur is having meetings.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 12 August 2016 - 18 August 2016

As the end of the summer approaches, things get kind of weird as the studios are still trying for big hits but also looking at folks going back to school and away from vacation at staggered times.

  • Peak weird is probably Sausage Party, a Seth Rogen-and-friends animated film about food in a supermarket that learns the awful truth about how they are destined to be eaten and attempt to make their escape. Before you bring your kids, remember it's rated R for a reason or three At the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The kids would probably be better off seeing the remake of Pete's Dragon, which makes the title character 3D CGI rather than traditional animation and has been getting a lot of really great reviews, and features Karl Urban and Bryce Dallas Howard as the adults involved in the story of a boy living on his own in the woods and his big green friend. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    Revere will also have Fathom Events screenings of National Lampoon's Animal House on Sunday and Wednesday.
  • Florence Foster Jenkins also opens fairly wide, playing at the Coolidge, the Capitol, The West Newton Cinema, the Lexington Venue, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Revere. It's about a New York heiress and patron of the arts fancies herself a fine singer - and the fact that her husband has been protection her from the awful truth won't stop her from playing Carnegie Hall. Sounds silly, but Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, and Stephen Frears is the sort of team that often makes this sort of thing work better than it has any right to.

    In addition to that, The Coolidge Corner Theatre and the Embassy will pick up Don't Think Twice, already playing at the Kendall,a quite entertaining comedy about an improv troupe's backstage drama. The Coolidge also breaks out the 35mm projector for a few special presentations: Friday and Saturday at midnight, they continue their August creature features with Alligator, co-presented by the Boston Yeti. Speaking of things in the sewers, there's also a 25th anniversary pizza party (catered by Otto Pizza) for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze at midnight, though on Saturday only. Another big party is on Monday, with the annual screening of The Big Lebowski as part of Big Screen Classics, with bowling, costume contests, and more.
  • A couple other movies also bridge boutique houses and multiplexes. Hell or High Water plays Kendall Square and Boston Common, with Chris Pine and Ben Foster as brothers who rob branches of the bank foreclosing on the family farm, only to wind up in the crosshairs of an obsessed Texas Ranger played by Jeff Bridges. Anthropoid, playing at Kendall, West Newton, and Boston Common, chronicles the mission of the Czech army in exile's attempt to assassinate the Nazis' third-in-command, who is overseeing occupied Czechoslovakia and laid the groundwork for the Final Solution.

    Sticking closer to the specialty houses (Kendall and West Newton) is Equity, a thriller about an ambitious investment banker looking to raise her profile with a big deal while her firm is coming under investigation by the SEC.
  • I'm kind of curious to see how Operation Chromite shakes out; this Korean War thriller is produced by a South Korean studio that has been very clear about wanting a bigger presence in the English-speaking world, and has a Korean-American director and big stars from both sides of the Pacific - Lee Jung-jae as a soldier infiltrating North Korean headquarters and Liam Neeson as General MacArthur. That's at Boston Common and Revere; meanwhile, the My Best Friend's Wedding remake finally lands at Boston Common, featuring Shu Qi, Feng Shaofeng, and Victoria Song.

    Of the three big Indian films open at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, two are listed as being in Hindi with subtitles: Mohenjo Daro is a historic adventure featuring Hrithik Roshan as a new arrival to the now-lost city of the title in 2016 BC; Rustom is contemporary, featuring Akshay Kumar as a naval officer on trial for killing his wife's lover. Babu Bangaram is listed as Telugu, an action-comedy about a soft-spoken cop becoming more forceful; another Telugu film, Thikka, has scattered showings, as does Tamil Pelli Choopulu, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam (Marathi with English subtitles). They also have their monthly visit by the Teseracte players with The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday, while the Full Body Cast does their weekly show at Boston Common on Saturday
  • The Brattle Theatre's main film this weekend is a 50th-anniversary restoration of Ousmane Sembene's Black Girl, a seminal piece of African cinema about a Senegalese woman who goes to France to work as a maid and finds attitudes have not evolved nearly as much as people like to believe.

    It's got some other things to work around, though - for instance, there will be 9pm screenings of video-game oriented 1980s "classics" all weekend, including Wargames (Friday on 35mm), Joysticks (Saturday on 35mm), and The Last Starfighter (Sunday on DCP) to celebrate the release of the Joysticks soundtrack; they will somehow be cramming classic arcade cabinets into the lobby or the back of the theater all weekend. On top of that, there's a Saturday matinee of Boy and the World and the "Reel Weird Brattle" 35mm screening of Jackie Chan in Police Story 2 at 11:30pm Friday and 12:30pm Sunday.

    Then comes the regular vertical-calendar stuff: The Femmes Fatales double feature on Monday and Tuesday is Double Indemnity and Detour (the latter on 35mm), although they only play matinees on Tuesday so that Trash Night can present Battle Beyond the Stars in the evening. Is it just me, or has Trash Night drifted from its original mission to show true unknown abominations to fairly well-known dated stuff? Moving on, Wednesday's "Under the Influence" pairing is John Cassavetes's Husbands and recent Greek comedy Chevalier, while the GKids retrospective screenings on Thursday are Tales of the Night and The Painting (haven't seen the first, but the latter is terrific).
  • The Somerville Theatre has its annual Jaws weekend from Friday to Sunday, with Spielberg's classic playinig on 35mm in the big room. It's interrupted Sunday afternoon for the monthly "Silents, Please!" show, which features Jeff Rapsis on the organ accompanying Stella Maris, a Mary Pickford melodrama. On Thursday, they wrap up the "Play it Cool" series with two capers that have had high-profile remakes: The original Rat Pack Ocean's Eleven and The Thomas Crown Affair featuring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has room for one more retrospective before school starts again, starting a brief "reconsideration" of Rouben Mamoulian with Applause (Friday 7pm). The Theo Angelopoulos series continues with The Beekeper (Friday 9pm) and Vooyage to Cythera (Monday 7pm). The Robert Aldrich series, meanwhile, wraps up with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Saturday 7pm), The Big Knife (Saturday 9:30pm), The Big Night (Sunday 5pm), and Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Sunday 7pm on DCP), and Kiss Me Deadly (Thursday 7pm on DCP). All on 35mm except where noted.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps up their "Rescued/Restored" series with Akira Kurosawa's Ran (Friday/Sunday), Whit Stillman's Metropolitan (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), and Jules Dassin's Rififi (Saturday). They begin short runs of two new films on Thursday: My Love, Don't Cross That River comes from South Korea and documents fifteen months in the lives of a couple that has been married for 75 years; Viktoria comes from Bulgaria and is a fantastical tale of a girl born without an umbilical cord during the communist era.
  • Outdoor movies on Joe's Boston Free Films include Jurassic World on Friday and Saturday, The Iron Giant on Tuesday, and The Last Time I Saw Paris on Thursday.

Not a lot of time for movies this week, as I'm looking for a new apartment, going to a ballgame, and exchanging toys for cake at a niece's birthday party. I still figure to find room for Jaws, Operation Chromite, Sausage Party, Pete's Dragon, Hell and High Water, and Arthropoid, though I'm not sure how.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister)

One day left to see this, Boston, as it leaves Kendall Square after Thursday night's screenings. Sorry for being so late to let you know that it's one of my absolute favorite movies of the year, but, folks, you shouldn't need me to tell you that an ensemble film by Hirokazu Kore-eda is kind of terrific. That's just about a given, although this one is a particular favorite. I probably could have caught it in Montreal - it was playing for a good chunk of the time I was up there - but I was kind of overloaded on movies enough, right?

(Although, as an aside, given the amount of theaters that are going to be built near Boston Common in the upcoming years, I am really hoping that it continues to become more like the one at the old Forum in Montreal which, because it has 22 screens and has to split films with a fancier place two stops up the Metro, has a lot of foreign and independent stuff.)

This film may actually have started playing both Montreal and Boston on the 21st, which is interesting because the second Japanese two-parter to play the festival that year was Chihayafuru,a shojo manga adaptation that I punted because the second part overlapped something I wanted to see (directly or via domino effect). Now, though, I see that those films starred Suzu Hirose, who is absolutely fantastic as the title character in this movie. I'm not exactly regretting those decisions now - as I'll post before too much time is out, Holy Flame of the Martial World is great, insane stuff - but it would be great to see what else she is capable of.

She plays the youngest sister; the oldest is played by Haruka Ayase, and seeing her name in the advertising for this movie made me wonder if I was remembering a certain actress's name wrong. In 2009, it seemed like every non-art-house movie I saw from Japan had the same actress - she was in Cyborg She, The Magic Hour, Ichi, Happy Flight, and she was unavoidable - I saw two at Fantasia, one when a Japanese airline rented out the Coolidge to hold a free movie screening at which they pitched their services, and one that played a single screening at the Kendall that apparently only I noticed. It was weird. I didn't mind - she was really pretty if not exactly suited to some of her roles - but what were the odds?

Same actress, and it's pretty cool to see that she has grown to the point where she's actually excellent in here. Checking that led me to something else, too - earlier this year, she apparently starred in a miniseries version of Never Let Me Go, and now I really need to see it. I loved the movie and am very curious how giving the story a little room to breathe and moving it to Japan rather than England might change it. I'm afraid I'm going to have to find a torrent site or something, because it doesn't seem to be on Crunchyroll and I don't know where else you would find Japanese TV in America.

Umimachi Diary (Our Little Sister)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 8 August 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

There probably won't be a sweeter movie this year than Our Little Sister, and not just because few filmmakers aim for that. It is wonderful to see something like this appear, though, because it is a joy to sit down in the theater and see people at their best without ever feeling like they've been made overly simplistic or the situations less honest. It's two hours that few people could do nearly as well as Hirokazu Kore-eda.

There's a house in Kamakata where the three Koda sisters live. Sachi (Haruka Ayase), the oldest, is a nurse and a sort of den mother; Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) is a couple years younger and likes her alcohol and men; Chika (Kaho) is just out of high scool and a bit of an eccentric. They're a tight enough family unit that when the news comes that their father has died in Yamagata with his third wife, they aren't too concerned about going; they haven't seen him since he left fifteen years ago. Yoshino and Chika do, and that's where they meet Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose), the fourteen-year-old daughter of the woman for whom their father left their family. Seeing that Suzu is not especially close to her stepmother, the sisters ask if she would like to move in with them, an offer she eagerly accepts.

At this point, something like ninety percent of the narratives based upon this concept would focus on the Suzu being taken in out of a reluctant sense of duty, or hidden resentments coming out. Instead, Kore-eda (adapting the manga Umimachi Diary by Akimi Yoshida) quickly establishes that the Kodas connect with Suzu out of a sense of empathy and seem puzzled in a genuine way when someone in their lives suggests that they might or should harbor hard feelings toward Suzu. It's actually an exciting development despite appearing to be the very opposite of dramatic, both because it feels like the opposite of what always happens (and thus uncharted territory) and because, in doing so, Kore-eda is clearly setting up for a number of smaller, but no less intriguing, ways of looking at the situation.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Fantasia Daily 2016.10 (23 July 2016): Pychonauts, Phantom Detective, Assassination Classroom: Graduation Day, Tank 432, and Red Christmas

Lots of guests today, and there could have been more, but there was some weird scheduling, with two animated films overlapping. Not sure why you do that. It looked like I was going to be able to - Nova Seed at 12:45pm and 65 minutes long, with Psychonauts starting at 1:50pm. Would be a quick run underground, but Nova Seed had a 29 minute short ahead of it. So, because I didn't bother with the first part of Chihayafuru (since I wasn't going to see the second), I was able to get a reasonably late start, which isn't a bad thing when the night before wiped me out and I was staring down the barrel of another midnight.

First up: Psychhonauts co-director Pedro Rivero (c) being interviewed by Rupert Bottenberg (r), who has been programming the animation section for years though I don't recall him being quite so visible as he was this year.

I didn't make the connection that his co-director was actually the creator of the Psiconautas graphic novel, who also collaborated with Rivero on a "Birdboy" short. Rivero commented on it not being for kids, although he asked the parents of some of the ones who did stick around how they liked it. They seemed okay with it.

Next up - well, actually, much later that evening - it was time for Tank 432, with programmer Simon Lapierre, director Nick Gillespie, and producer Finn Bruce. Surprisingly, not a whole lot of talk about executive producer Ben Wheatley, even though things can often go that direction.

Lots of talk about the tank, including how they're getting a little more difficult to get hold of, and you can't just cut them apart in order to get better angles. There was also a little bit of conversation on what I considered sort of an unsatisfying ending - SPOILERS! I don't care how evil an organization you're running overall (or how maybe the population is kind of high), HR can't be pleased with a training plan that involves killing so many of your own people. !SRELIOPS

And, finally, we have Mitch Davis and the Red Christmas crew: star Dee Wallace, filmmaker Craig Anderson, and co-star Janis McGavin. The latter two came all the way from Australia, while Ms. Wallace was already in town because the series she's on for Amazon, Just Add Magic, shoots in Montreal. That's still a large amount of travel for one midnight screening, but Frontieres was going on, and this looks like something that could get distribution, even with the controversial subject matter.

A bunch of questions about this being an Australian Christmas movie, with a couple fun tidbits: It was apparently actually kind of difficult to find this sort of American-style house to use, as Aussie homes tend to favor building out rather than a second floor, since there's a ton of unused land. Christmas, meanwhile, is a big day - since Australia is in the southern hemisphere, seasons are reversed and it's summer and actually kind of a big beach day, but so many of their pop-cultural images of Christmas come from North America and Europe, there's a lot of winter imagery and fake snow around (even where you don't really get much snow even during a chilly August winter).

Dee Wallace was kind of the star of the Q&A, as she's been in a lot of great stuff, and is pretty cool with much of it being horror. As she points out, at a certain age the answer to "what makes a project appealing" is "the chance to work", but she sure seems pleased with being able to do this sort of material.

Psiconautas, los niños olvidados (Psychonauts)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016: Axis, DCP)

I'm not sure what "psychonauts" ("psiconautas" in the original Spanish) means as far as this title; if the original graphic novels involved an Inception-style trip inside someone's mind, it doesn't appear in the film, although I guess the "happy pills" some characters take might qualify as psychonautics. What does show up is a story of fed-up teenagers in a slightly post-apocalyptic future, and that's without mentioning they are talking animals.

Dinky is probably the most sick of everything; a clever mouse who wants to know more of the world than her island home, she's ready to run away, but not without her beloved Birdboy. She has accomplices in Sandra, a rabbit who hears voices, and the friendly Little Fox, but Birdboy is proving elusive, as is a boat that they can use to to the city. The only place they can buy one of those is amid the island's vast piles of trash, where rats quarrel over scraps.

There's a tremendous uncertainty to the world of Psychonauts; though the film opens with the rats chanting a mantra that would not be out of place in a Mad Max-style film, and a flashback shows what appears to be nuclear war, but when Dinky is introduced, she and her friends seem to exist in a world with a comfortable middle class, compete with school uniforms and alarm clocks. It is a reminder, perhaps, that what is a devastating apocalypse for one class or group can go almost unnoticed by another. What would normally be inanimate objects talk and plastic is rare, creating a situation that often seems unreal even by the standards of a talking-animal picture.

Full review on EFC.

Tamjung Hong Gil-dong: Sarajin Ma-eul (Phantom Detective)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

The first impression that Jo Sung-hee's Phantom Detective creates is that pulp is kind of the same the world over; the film may be based upon a series of Korean novels, but the look and though-guy attitude isn't far off from Sin City, which was itself an attempt to distill the American pulp tradition to is essence. And yet, as it goes on, it becomes undeniably South Korean, and the way that it reflects that place's fears and bravado makes a frequently clumsy movie intriguing even when it's at its most absurd.

It is October 1983, and Hong Gil-dong (Lee Je-hoon) is the top operative of the HDB Agency, a private concern that specializes in smashing human trafficking rings, something he's been raised to do since childhood. His only memories from before that are his mother being murdered and the face of her killer, and now he thinks he's finally talked the former down in the person of Kim Byung-duk (Park Geun-hyung). The trouble is, someone else has too, looking for his secret ledger of the "GU Group", and when Hong arrives at Kim's place, all he fonds are granddaughters Mal-soon (Kim Ha-na) and Dong-yi (Roh Jeong-eui) , and it is a bit unusual to allow ten- and six-year-old kids to tag along on your mission of vengeance.

For a guy with little memory, Hong Gil-dong narrates an awful lot, and that is something that can wear on a viewer pretty quickly, especially early on when he's not learning things particularly quickly. The same goes for the strongly-stylized look which seems like it belongs a few decades before the 1980s setting, at least where the costumes are concerned, and often veers into characters being superhuman brawlers with little notice; the first time villain Kang Sung-il (Kim Sung-kyun) did something like punching through a wall raises an eyebrow because, because for as much as it's clear from the start that Jo is going for something heightened, the film does take a while finding its level.

Full review on EFC.

Ansatsu kyôshitsu: sotsugyô hen (Assassination Classroom: Graduation)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

The first Assassination Classroom is a decent enough movie hurt in a big way by needing to reset at the end so that this one could be made, so it's fairly good news that the filmmakers stick to the two-film plan and let Graduation play out to to a fairly conclusive finale rather than try and find ways to extend the series indefinitely. Though more plot-oriented than the opener, it's a satisfying conclusion an entertaining series.

As in most classrooms, things aren't that much different for Kunugigaoka Junior High School class 3-E; they're still considered the dregs of the school; their teacher is still a bizarre yellow creature with tentacles, beady eyes, and the ability to move at Mach 20 (voice of Kanna Hashimoto); and they are still expected to find a way to kill him before he destroys the world like he did the moon come graduation day. After the events of the fall semester, Nagisa Shiota (Ryosuke Yamada) has emerged as the class leader, though Karuma Akabane (Masaki Suda) is probably smarter though undisciplined. Other students include Nagisa's crush Kaede Kayano (Maika Yamamoto), science genius Manami Okuda (Miku Uehara), genetically-augmented Itona Horibe (Seishiro Kato), a military robot with the AI of a schoolgirl, and more. One of them, though, is harboring a secret connection to a secret government program involving captured master assassin Shinigami (Kazunari Ninomiya), egomaniacal scientist Kotaro Yanagisawa (Hiroki Narimiya), and his prue-hearted fiancée Aguri Yukimura (Mirei Kiritani).

Unlike a great many of Japan's recent multi-part manga adaptations, there was a full year between episodes here, and it while they may just be following the source material, it seems as though director Eiichiro Hasumi and screenwriter Tatsuya Kanazawa took note of some of the first half's flaws and made some adjustments. Detours that take the kids away from the business at hand are reduced fairly drastically this time around, and the larger story about where "U.T." (for "unkillable teacher") came from and why he is so dedicated to teaching this class fills the gap. Truth be told, this one tells a complete enough story to make the first not strictly necessary, and is a better movie for it.

Full review on EFC.

Tank 432 (aka Belly of the Bulldog)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia 2016: Camera Lucida, DCP)

The man behind Tank 432, Nick Gillespie, often runs a camera on Ben Wheatley's films, and I worry a bit that he's picked up a bit too much of Wheatley's "let the audience put things together on the fly" style, which only really works when what's going on emerges a bit earlier. He still makes a nifty little movie, though one that's more great bits than great whole.

In an unknown war zone sometime in the future, a small group is bringing two hooded prisoners back to headquarters, but they've come under fire: Capper (Michael Smiley) is injured, commanding officer Smith (Gordon Kennedy) is losing patience, scouts Gantz (Steve Garry) and Evans (Tom Meeten) are looking down at Reeves (Rupert Evans), and corspwoman Karlsson (Deirdre Mullins) is dispensing drugs to keep people leveled as much as dealing with injuries. There's biological weapons in play, a young girl (Alex Rose March) found in a cargo container, and the only escape route leads to an open field with a broken-down Bulldog tank in the middle. That gets the survivors cover, but unless they can get the thing moving...

Well, then they'll be stuck in an enclosed space, getting on each other's nerves and barking at each other but kind of in a holding pattern until something either happens outside or the situation inside comes to a boil, and while at least one of the two eventually happens, it's a tough downshift - the movie goes from being on the run, poking at this scenario where all manner of things could happen, and being at each other's throats to just being at each other's throats, and for a certain chunk of the audience, that's not necessarily the most interesting part of the film. A good deal of that other stuff gets pushed aside until a climax that is not necessarily the most satisfying way to resolve them.

Full review on EFC.

Red Christmas

* * * ¾ out of four

Seen 23 July 2016 in the SGWU Alumni Auditorium (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

Some movies and filmmakers try and sneak their controversial subject matter in quietly or spring it on the audience later, distracting the audience with blood and guts (or the hallmarks of another genre) with the hope that the other ideas will sink in a little deeper that way. Craig Anderson is having none of that with Red Christmas, rubbing the audience's face in a touchy subject from the start, backing off just enough so that what comes next seems like even more of a minefield, and what comes after that is not just impressively vicious but perhaps worth a moment or two's consideration between the uses of sharp objects.

It's not looking like a great Christmas before that, though the last one at the old family home, with Diane (Dee Wallace) selling it to spend her golden years traveling with second husband Joe (Geoff Morrell). Maybe that's what brought all the children together, even if Virginia (Janis McGavin) and her husband Scott (Bjorn Steward) expecting seems very unfair to sister Suzy (Sarah Bishop) and her pastor spouse Peter (David Collins). Already there are Jerry (Gerald Odwyer), loud but fairly functional for a 23-year-old with Down's Syndrome, and Hope (Deelia Meriel), Diane's only child with Joe, set to start art school the next year. Then there's Cletus (Sam Campbell), who shows up with his face behind a shroud and drops a bombshell. And when he's not accepted...

The audience doesn't quite forget the prologue while this family drama is going on, but it's a relatively bold one, opening with a look at just how charged emotions were around abortion about twenty years ago - as contentious as it is now, there seems to be less outright violence than the attack on a clinic caps the montage in truly queasy fashion. Cletus's origins give the film a charge on two levels, the first being that it plugs into something that has real-world resonance, impressively doing it without overtly falling on one side or another (Cletus represents both the righteous and indiscriminate rage of anti-abortion activists). Anderson has also built his cast of characters so that Cletus's injection into the party reinforces the existing family tensions, ratcheting up the tension in a scene whether or not Cletus is a direct threat at that moment, planting mines that can explode in any manner even if Anderson were to do a fake-out that had Cletus exiting early.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 5 August 2016 - 11 August 2016

Sorry for skipping these the last few weeks. Montreal's been busy and awesome but it's going to be kind of nice to be home and, well, watching that set of movies.

  • I'll be back just in time for Suicide Squad to grab the big 3D screens, and, man, as a DC fan I'm kind of excited about David Ayer on this property and wondering if this is really what they want to go with after Batman v Superman didn't impress. Still, Margot Robbie looks like fun as Harley Quinn and Will Smith is Deadshot, so who knows. It's at the Somerville (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Jordan's (Imax 3D), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Fenway (including RPX 2D/3D), Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    For the younger set, there's Nine Lives, with Kevin Spacey as one of those workaholic dads who needs to be taught a lesson so he somehow gets magically turned into a cat adopted by his daughter. I guess it's kind of nice to see Barry Sonnenfeld directing a feature, but, wow, somehow that's only at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and Revere.
  • Two foreign-language holdovers at Boston Common worth mentioning: League of Gods is a bonkers action-fantasy from Hong Kong (but in Mandarin, because the Chinese market demands it) with Jet Li, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Fan Bingbing, Angelababy, and a ton of special effects. Down to one morning show a day, but does have to be seen to believed. They also keep the terrific South Korean zombie movie Train to Busan around, and it's one of the best action-horror types you'll see this year. On Wednesday, they open the Chinese version of My Best Friend's Wedding, with Shu Qi in the Julia Roberts role, and, sure, that works. The Indian films at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond are both apparently-unsubtitled Telugu, Manamantha and #Pellichoopulu, with Malayalam Vismayam on Saturday afternoon.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of a number of places opening Indignation, the first feature directed by long-time Ang Lee collaborator James Schamus, featuring Logan Lerman as a Jewish student at a very conservative college in the 1950s. It also opens at the Kendall and The West Newton Cinema.

    The midnight on Friday and Saturday begins a month of creature features co-presented by the Boston Yeti with Razorback, a cult favorite bit of Ozploitation from Russell Mulcahy on 35mm. They also use the film projectors on Monday for a "Cinema Jukebox" presentation of The Last Waltz and on Thursday for a "Rewind!" screening of Bring It On!, complete with cheerleading pre-show and after-party at Osaka. In between, they and the good folks at Boston Light & Sound will be bringing a film rig to the Greenway so that they can show The Creature from the Black Lagoon in old-fashioned anaglyph 3D.
  • Kendall Square are the first in the area to get Don't Think Twice (it's scheduled to hit the Coolidge next week), much-liked at IFFBoston with writer/director Mike Birbiglia part of a fun ensemble with Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, and more, as members of a New York improv troupe potentially torn apart when a position opens up on Not Saturday Night Live (Wink, Wink). They also get Gleason, a documentary about a former NFL player who gets the near-simultaneous news that he's got ALS and his wife is expecting their first child.

    They also have the first of three Rurouni Kenshin movies at 7pm on Monday (called "Rurouni Kenshin: Origins" here), and it's worth checking out; they were highlights of the last three Fantasia Festivals and not waiting a year between them will probably be cool.
  • The Brattle Theatre gives much of the weekend to Kalli Blues, in which a doctor from a small town in China goes on a journey to find a lost family member that becomes stranger and more surreal than he expected. It plays Friday through Monday.

    Around that, they have quality stuff from the vertical schedule, with a Saturday matinee of A Cat in Paris and a 35mm print of City Hunter as part of "Reel Weird Brattle Starring Jackie Chan" late Saturday and early Sunday. The Film Noir Femmes Fatales series continues with a double feature of Lizbeth Scott in Dead Recoking (35mm) and the recently-rediscovered Too Late for Tears, with matinees Monday and a full schedule Tuesday. Wednesday's "Under the Influence" pairing is Karyn Kusama's interesting The Invitation and the fantastic original version of Let the Right One In on 35mm. Finally, Thursday's "Kids International" show is Boy and the World.
  • The Somerville Theatre wraps up their "Midnight Specials" series on Saturday night with a 35mm print of Super Troopers, but they're only halway through "Play It Cool" on Thursday nights, and the first one I can make is great, a 35mm double feature of Get Carter with Michael Caine and Point Blank with Lee Marvin. Both have been remade, but these are legit classics.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues to showcase two filmmakers this summer. Theo Angelopoulos is represented with The Suspended Step of the Stork (Friday 7pm) and The Hunters (Saturday 7pm), both on 35mm . Robert Aldrich is showcased with The Angry Hills (Friday 9:45pm on 35mm), The Frisco Kid (Sunday 4pm on digital video), Emperor of the North (Sunday 7pm on DCP), and Verz Cruz (Monday 7pm on 35mm).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts concludes a run of two films: Nuts!, an animated documentary on how goat testicles were sold as impotence cures during the depression, plays Friday and Saturday, as does a holdover from the French Film Festival, The Measure of a Man. On Sunday, they begin a nice-looking "Rescued/Restored" series with Rififi, which also plays Thursday when it hands the baton to Akira Kurosawa's Ran.
  • Aside from the Coolidge's event Joe's Boston Free Films shows outdoor screenings for plenty, with The Good Dinosaur having multiple screenings and Cinema Somerville having the most unusual entry with a 1952 version of Jack and the Beanstalk starring Abbott & Costello.

My plans... Well, I'll probably see Suicide Squad, because I'm a sucker, though I don't know on which side of the border. We'll see how alert I am for City Hunter Sunday afternoon, and then there's noir on Tuesday, catch-up for Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Our Little Sister (and, yeah, Jason Bourne), and the Play it Cool double shot.