Friday, September 30, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 30 September 2016 - 6 October 2016

My niece and I have our birthdays this weekend, and it looks like we're getting Chinese movies (among other things)

  • A bunch of what's coming to the multiplexes seems to have been a long time coming, or at least, I feel like I've been seeing previews forever. Deepwater Horizon has been a mainstay of the Imax preview packages, for example, with Mark Wahlberg as a worker on the titular oil rig when disaster strikes. It's at the Somerville, Jordan's Furniture (in Imax), Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Fenway, Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux. Masterminds, meanwhile, bounced from shelf to shelf over the past year before finally escaping this weekend, with Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig (plus two other Ghostbusters), and Jason Sudeikis in a true-life story of an armored car robbery that went off the rails. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    It seems like they've been advertising Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, which on the one hand is a quirky Tim Burton adventure well after that was exciting, but on the other hand has Eva Green as Miss Peregrine and Sam Jackson as the villain. Hopefully he's not quite as indifferent toward the 3D as I've heard he was with Alice in Wonderland. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway (including RPX 3D), and Revere (including XPlus).

    Revere also has a "Little Screen" presentation of classic children's television on Saturday and Sunday morning, while they and Fenway will be showing Young Frankenstein on Wednesday evening. In addition, Queen of Katwe goes wide, already playing at the Coolidge, Kendall, and Boston Common, it expands to West Newton, Assembly Row, and Revere
  • Kendall Square plans a major turnover next week, but just opens the one thing this Friday: Command and Control, a documentary which lays out the history of how the United States handled nuclear weapons through the Cold War. They also wrap up their presentation of the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy with Rurouni Kenshin Part III: The Legend Ends on Tuesday and Wednesday. It's a bit slow picking up from where Part II left off, but has a great final run of action.
  • There's four screens' worth of Chinese movies playing at Boston Common - they keep SoulMate around, adding another romance with I Belong to You, an ensemble picture featuring Bai Baihe, Yang Yang, Jang Du, and a number of others in an adaptation of Zhang Jiajia's short stories centered around a pair of radio DJs. They also pick up a couple action/adventures, including the new Dante Lam pic, Operation Mekong, with Eddie Peng as the lead of a task force hunting down drug smugglers in the Golden Triangle. They also have a big 3D fantasy, L.O.R.D. - Legend of Ravaging Dynasties, whose cast includes Fan Bingbing, Kris Wu, YangMi, Amber Kuo, and Aarif Rahman.

    Over at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond adds M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, a biography of the extremely popular cricket player, adding that to the Bollywood lineup of Manju and Pink. There's also Kannada-language Doddmane Hudge.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre mostly keeps the same schedule, but they bring back The Innocents in the Goldscreen; it's a nifty-looking story about pregnant nuns in the aftermath of WWII.

    They also start a new series of midnights leading up to Halloween, beginning with The Omen on Friday and a 35mm print of To the Devil a Daughter on Saturday. Saturday's midnights also include the annual Serenity fundraiser, while the Sunday morning Goethe-Institut German film is Fuushima, Mon Amour. Monday brings a 35mm Science on Screen presentation of A Face in the Crowd, with psychiatrist Dr. Steven Scholzman examining how a manufactured populist can accumulate political power. There's also a special screening of Screenagers, a documentary on teenagers growing up with ubiquitous data, on Wednesday, with discussion afterward
  • The Brattle Theatre begins the weekend as the main venue for the GlobeDocs festival, with screenings all of Friday and Saturday, plus Sunday afternoon, every one of them having guests if not directors (I can vouch for Tower on Saturday being quite good). The festival also has screenings at WGBH's Yawkey Theater on Friday and Saturday nights, and two final shows at the Coolidge Sunday afternoon and evening.

    Sunday night, IFFBoston has a free preview screening of American Honey (pass required), with actress Sasha Lane on hand for a Q&A afterward. They fill the schedule from Monday to Thursday in one of the best ways possible, showing a 35mm print of The Maltese Falcoln for its 75th anniversary.
  • The Harvard Film Archive begins the weekend with an entry in their Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet retrospective, with These Encounters of Theirs playing Friday at 7pm on 35mm (and, because it's only 68 minutes, the short "Proposition in Four Parts" beforehand). That evening continues with a 35mm print of less-known blaxploitation flickk Sheba, Baby as part of "Pam Grier, Superstar!", also on 35mm. They welcome guests for the rest of the week, with Abbas Fahdel presenting his two-part film Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) on Saturday and Sunday nights, and Andrés Di Tella showing his film essay 327 Cuadernos on Monday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps up their Ronald Reagan series with one last show of The Killerson Friday, also continuig their run of Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil with screenings Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And since they mostly work a monthly calendar, that means new things start on Saturday the 1st, including My King, a drama starring Emmanuelle Bercot and Vincent Cassel that was very popular at the museum's French Film Festival; it plays Saturday and Sunday. Saturday also has the museum's showing of this year's Manhattan Film Festival shorts program.
  • Bright Lights at Emerson's Paramount Theatre has two films with something to recommend them this week: Tale of Tales on Tuesday is a lush set of adult fairy tales that gets impressively weird, while Thursday's Where to Invade Next is Michael Moore at his most broadly appealing, looking at programs and policies in other countries that could be imported (often re-imported) to make life better in the U.S. Both are free and feature post-film discussions.

    The Boston Latino International Film Festival has two shows at the Paramount's Bright Screening Room on Friday (Playing Lecuona and El Clan), as well as a ull day of programming in Harvard's Tsai Auditorium. Then they move to the Northeastern University campus for two more days on Saturday and Sunday.
  • The Somerville Theatre just finished their 70mm festival, but they are still playing a fair amount of film. They welcome Jeff Rapsis to accompany the last (official) "Silents Please" of the year on Sunday, which features Douglas Fairbanksin The Mask of Zorro. Then, on Wednesday, they have a somewhat random double feature of The Thin Man & Requiem for a Heavyweight ("Thin/Heavy", they're calling it). All are on 35mm. Probably not the case at The Capitol, which continues "Before Vampires Sucked" on Thursday with Wesley Snipes as Blade.

Carving out time for the new releases will be tough - I want to see Sheba, Baby on Friday, I've got my last Red Sox ticket of the regular season on Saturday, and I must exchange presents for cake with my niece on Sunday. Still, I figure to double up on Hammett, check out some things I've missed, and at least check out the Chinese action movies.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Dressmaker

Stuck late in work, so I couldn't get to Rocky in 35mm at the Coolidge, so I couldn't check that off my list of "movies everybody is assumed to have seen but I haven't". On the other hand, seeing a bunch of those in all the millimeters at the Somerville over the past week or so has taken the sting out of that.

It's a weird movie, tough to categorize in some ways, with probably the best indication of how that's the case being that AMC played the "thriller" intro clip and a trailer package featuring that sort of movie, and that really wasn't the sort of vibe I got from the poster and descriptions I'd seen for it (I don't recall ever seeing a preview); even the ones that hinted at Tilly getting even for past injustices made it sound more comic than it was. There's so much slapstick in this movie that while I'm sure you can find plenty of suspense films that are similar, it feels like a comedy for a long time.

(Aside: Director Jocelyn Moorhouse's husband P.J. Hogan is not just credited as a co-writer and producer, but as the second unit director. I don't make note of them being married in the main review because I don't even want to hint that it's less her movie, but I do find it interesting because I tend to think of second unit as a job for people on their way up than someone as relatively established as Hogan, even if he hasn't really done a whole lot since that version of Peter Pan that everyone realized they liked after the fact. Really, the only other instance I can think of off the top of my head where someone relatively well-known like that did such anonymous work is Sam Raimi doing the same job on The Hudsucker Proxy and Steven Soderbergh doing the same on The Hunger Games.)

It's kind of a bummer that EFC has star ratings at times, because I kind of have to mark down that The Dressmaker is disappointing and below average, even though there's enough stuff that I like in it that I wouldn't call it a "do not see". It is, however, the sort of movie where membership at your local independent boutique house or MoviePass is kind of terrific, because while this might not necessarily be worth $15 to you, it's at least got enough interesting bits and looks nice enough that there's value to seeing it on the big screen, and to the filmmakers and distributors getting a little money for doing something unusual.

The Dressmaker

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 September 2016 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

The Dressmaker feels like somebody had a script for a nasty, weird sort of film noir, but it was only an hour long, so they padded it out with charmingly quirky material that it was playing as twisted otherwise, and then bolted the two halves of the movie together in a way that doesn't work with either. Being eccentric in either direction might have made a memorable movie; trying to be both just makes a mess.

It starts memorably enough, as impeccably dressed Myrtle Dunnage (Kate Winslet), now going by Tilly, gets off the bus in her remote Australian hometown, declaring that she is back and remembered every horrible thing done to her as a child. She makes her way back to her old house, where mother "Mad Molly" (Judy Davis) doesn't recognize her but both Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving) and handsome neighbor Teddy McSwiney (Liam Hemsworth) do. In her time away, Tilly has become a brilliant seamstress and designer, but how will that help her get revenge - or discover whether she is really committed a murder as a child like people said?

The early scenes of The Dressmaker are as impressively vicious as it is off-kilter, from the flashbacks of kids being cruel to each other to the well-dressed femme fatale vowing revenge to how even an amusing bit of physical comedy comes with the acknowledgment that the funny old man has a long history of beating his wife. Even if there are explanations for why there seems to be such a gap in the Dunnages' memories as to just what Tilly did to be exiled (she was about ten and her mother has seriously deteriorated), it certainly feels like it's too dark to remember. How she'll be able to weaponize good taste and skill with a sewing machine to get her revenge is a fair question, but it's one that promises to be entertaining - even if being distractingly sexy seems a bit like an overused joke, an early scene where she's pulling golf tees out of loops integrated into her stylish dress like a bandolier (with her house on top of a hill, she can target the rest of the town with an accurate drive), or as former classmate Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook) trades sharp, frank lines with Tilly while engaging her services. That's a scene that plays like film noir gangsters planning to work together despite past double-crosses, only it's about how she was mean as a kid and wanting a pretty dress.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Age of Shadows

I must admit to being kind of shocked that The Age of Shadows is South Korea's nomination for the Oscars' foreign-language film category; as much as I love Kim Jee-woon, Park Chan-wook also has a new movie coming out this year, and both he and his film (The Handmaiden) seem to be more typical of what people associate with that sort of award. It makes me wonder if that's a bit of a disappointment or if there's something political to the process.

I'm also kind of curious to see how the rapid-release model plays with something which may wind up nominated - this is coming out in the U.S. just two weeks after South Korea, so it's entirely possible that by the time nominations come out it will be on video already, a major change from when the general policy was to wait for nominations and then give something an art-house run once that was out.

As to actually seeing this one I had my ticket for the movie ripped right behind what seemed like a nice Korean-American family with young children, and I sort of wonder how much of the groups of people leaving and coming back during the film was them, because I know I'd certainly be thinking of getting the elementary school kids out as soon as the guy pulled his own big toe off (after it was basically severed by a gunshot). It does kind of strike me that, for all that the Indian and Chinese movies that make quick trips to North America include a fair amount of family-friendly material - partly due to the censor boards, partly due to there being a lot of broad-appeal romantic comedies in the mix - the Korean movies we get are pretty much the hard stuff, with something like The Pirates being an outlier. It makes sense - folks distributing Korean movies here are going to target the cult/genre/boutique audience more than the immigrant one, just because of size, but it does kind of stink for Korean-American families who want to see something on the big screen.

Mil-jeong (The Age of Shadows)

* * * 3/4 (out of four)
Seen 25 September 2016 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

Hearing that The Age of Shadows was selected as South Korea's entry for the Academy Awards' Foreign Language Film award was a bit eyebrow-raising - not only have certain other noteworthy Korean directors made well-regarded pictures this year, but filmmaker Kim Jee-woon's output, varied as it may be, is genre movies, not necessarily the sort of thing that is considered for awards, whether action, horror, or crime (all of which he has excelled at). This time around, he's making a period spy movie, and, yes, it is good enough to be right up there with the best of the year.

It starts off with a terrific opener, as Kim Jang-ok (Park Hee-soon), a resistance leader in 1920s Korea, discovers that the appointment he'd made to raise money for the organization was actually an ambush, set up by former friend Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-ho), now working for the occupying Japanese government's police force. Kim sets it up as a chamber piece, starting as a nifty procedural before pushing into suspenseful territory, and then kicking off action with a shot and then serving the audience up a fantastic chase. It's not quite the film in microcosm, but it shows a pattern that Kim will repeat throughout the film, starting off slow but then picking up speed, with composer Mowg increasing the tempo as Kim starts jumping around, cranking things up before pulling back and letting the audience be impressed by the choreography.

After that, the main story kicks in, as Lee tries to follow the trail to Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo) and Jo Hwe-ryung (Shin Sung-rok), partners in an antique shop and photography studio that serves as a front for the resistence, hoping they'll lead him to Shanghai-based resistence leader Jung Che-san (Lee Byung-hun) and his "secretary" Yeon Gye-soon (Han Ji-man). They're meeting with a Hungarian explosives expert (Foster Burden), and while they all seem to despise Jung-chool, it's interesting that he bristles when his commander Higashi (Shingo Tsurumi) partners him with Hashimoto (Um Tae-goo), whose impulse is to pounce on every bit of information.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 23 September 2016 - 29 September 2016

Toronto is done and the 70mm festival at the Somerville is also wrapping up, which means it's time for theaters to start getting the bigger-name stuff again in the drive to Oscar season, with South Korea grabbing some of the attention.

  • But first, catch the end of the 70mm and Widescreen Festival at The Somerville Theatre, twelve years in the making and finishing up with an impressive second weekend: 2001 and Star Trek IV Friday night; a 35 Technirama Print of The Vikings at noon on Saturday, followed by It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on 70mm at 3pm (note the schedule changes after some shipping issues), and Spartacus on 70mm at 7:30pm; and IB Technicolor prints of The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur on Sunday.

    Up the 77 line, their sister theater in Arlington, The Capitol, gets a head start on Halloween by inaugurating a "Before Vampires Sucked" series with the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Thursday.
  • Queen of Katwe has a limited opening this week, but still a fair number of Boston-area screens. The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one, and it's also playing at the Kendall and Boston Common. Directed by Mira Nair, it has newcomer Madina Nalwanga as a Ugandan chess prodigy, with Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo also in the cast.

    A much smaller opening is Goat, playing at 9:15pm daily in the GoldScreen, a thriller from directer Andrew Neel focused on fraternity hazing, notable for having David Gordon Green. A bit later, there are two classic midnight movies, with Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! on Friday and Eraserhead, both on 35mm. Saturday is also Art House Theater Day, and they celebrate that with a morning screening of two A Town Called Panic shorts ("The Christmas Log" and "Return to School"). They also have a 35mm print of Rocky as a Big Screen Classic Monday.
  • Kendall Square will also be opening The Dressmaker which features Kate Winslet in the title role as a woman who returns to her Australian hometown after a long stay in Paris, leading me to wonder if it's her first time in Australia since Heavenly Creatures. Neat cast, including Sarah Snook and Hugo Weaving. It's also at Boston Common.

    They also have a one-week booking of one of my favorites from IFFBoston, The Lovers & the Despot. It's a documentary about a subject everybody who loves movies has heard about - North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il kidnapping a South Korean director and his movie-star wife and forcing them to make movies north of the border - and fleshes it out as more than a joke, with quite the sweet, understated romance underneath.
  • The big thing at the multiplexes, meanwhile, is a new remake of The Magnificent Seven, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, and more as a band of outlaws brought in to defend a small town against a cruel industrialist. It opens all over the place, at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Belmont Studio, Jordan's (in Imax), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), Revere (including MX4D and XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    There's also Storks, a 3D animated movie which presupposes that storks really did deliver babies but have moved to package delivery, though there's one newborn left, and an orphan raised by the storks teams up with one in line for a promotion. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    There's also The Hurt Business, a documentary on the world of mixed martial arts that, given the dollar signs used instead of esses in the posters, likely aims to be a little critical. It plays Thursday night at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.
  • Boston Common also gets The Age of Shadows, the new one from director Kim Jee-woon, who has made some great stuff (The Good, the Bad, the Weird, A Bittersweet Life, I Saw the Devil, etc.) and considering that this thriller set during the Japanese occupation of Korea has been selected as South Korea's submission to the Oscars, I'm giddy to see what he's come up with. They also have two Chinese films, keeping Cock and Bull and bringing in SoulMate, in which a woman's life is upended when a high school friend publishes a novel based upon their youth.

    Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond sticks with Manju, Pink, and Thodari for Indian films, also picking up Tamil comedy Aandavan Kattalai. They also keeps Mr. Church around for another week - really unusual for the indies they book - having it share a screen with Total Frat Movie, a throwback college comedy that has Tom Green as the college's dean, in case you want to feel old.
  • The Brattle Theatre builds an Only at the Art House week around Saturday's Art House Theater Day, kicking things off on Friday with author Emma Donoghue introducing Room. The main event on Saturday includes separate showings of the newly-remastered Time Bandits and Phantasm, with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in between. Sunday starts with a benefit screening of Guardians of the Galaxy and then continues with a 35mm print of Rear Window and then the chaging-of-the-guard double feature of The Dying of the Light & Out of Print. Monday's DocYard presentation is What Tomorrow Brings, a documentary about the first girls' school in an Afghan village, and director Beth Murphy will be on hand with a surprise guest. Tuesday has a 6pm screening of Matilda to make up for the one that failed when Mara Wilson was there as a guest, followed by Under the Sun, a documentary shot in North Korea where nobody involved realized the cameras were always rolling. On Wednesday they've got a 35mm print of Minority Report, and Thursday is one of my favorite annual oddball film events, the International Pancake Film Festival. It's got a nautical theme this year!
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts a short "Pam Grier, Superstar!" series with a 35mm print of Coffy, one of the great blaxploitation movies, on Friday night. Ms. Grier will be visiting mid-October, so why not catch up with some of her best work? They also continue their Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet retrospective with History Lessons (Friday 9pm), eyes Do Not Want to Close at All Times, or, Perhaps One Day Rome Will Permit Herself to Choose in Her Turn (Saturday 7pm), The Death of Empedocles (Saturday 9pm in 35mm), a selection of short films (Sunday 4pm), Moses and Aaron (Sunday 7pm in 16mm), and Workers, Peasants (Monday 7pm), with Sunday's screening also having a discussion and a viewing of an exhibit on the team's works.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more Reagan In Hollywood: The Origins of a Conservative Icon with Law and Order (Friday/Sunday/Wednesday) and The Killers (Friday/Saturday). They also begin a short run of Hieronymus Bosch, Touched by the Devil for the 500th anniversary of the macabre artist's death. It's got screenings on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. There's also a screening on Thursday, documentary From This Day Forward, with filmmaker Sharon Shattuck examining the continued marriage of her transgendered father and heterosexual mother.
  • Bright Lights at Emerson's Paramount Theatre has a BOSCPUG get-together on Tuesday, and then co-presents Rosa Chumbe with the Boston Latino International Film Festival on Thursday, with director Jonathan Relayze and star Liliana Trujillo discussing this film about a gruff policewoman whose daughter runs off, leaving her own son behind, afterward via Skype from Peru. BLIFF will also be presenting a shorts program, La Buena Vida, and Amir at Harvard's Tsai auditorium that day.
  • GlobeDocs begins their annual Hub Week film festival on Tuesday with a 6-minute short ("The Dogist") at the Boylston Street AT&T store before moving to Fenway Park on Wednesday for two NESN docs on David Ortiz. On Thursday, it's back to the phone shop for ESPN's Ortiz docs, while the Yawkey Theater at WGBH hosts Command and Control with the executive producer on-hand for a Q&A.
  • The Regent Theatre has two film events this week: Tech venture capitalist documentary Silicon Cowboys on Wednesday - hosted by one of those folks who is using it as a fundraiser for St. Baldrick's Foundation - and the 19th Manhattan Short Film Festival on Thursday, in which viewers across the country will be able to vote on which film gets an audience award.
  • There's also the bulk of the Boston Film Festival, which is at the Revere Hotel's Theatre One near the Boylston T stop on Friday with Finding Oscar and First Girl I Loved, The Boston Public Library Saturday afternoon with Bang! The Bert Berns Story and Midsummer in Newtown, AMC Boston Common Saturday evening with Delinquent and Interior Night, back at Theatre one for Sunday afternoon shorts programs, with AMC Boston Common also hosting two fighting movies on Sunday (Unforgotten: The Paul Pender Story and American Wrestler: The Wizard). The two Closing Night films (SEARCHDOG and Kepler's Dream) are actually at the Patriot Cinema in Hingham on Sunday night
I'll catch the Friday and Saturday shows at the Somerville, although Sunday's iffy (brilliant print or no, three-plus-hour biblical epics are not my thing). Age of Shadows, The Dressmaker, and The Magnificent Seven are also on the docket, and I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen Rocky yet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Chinese Crime: Cock and Bull, Z-Storm, and S-Storm

There's "I'm going to try and see four movies on Sunday" and there's "I'm going to do a double-double feature, with the latter being much more rare - it's not only not necessarily easy to find two movies that go together playing at the same place, but when you do, they're often scheduled to make a double feature difficult, because AMC does not want you to actually use that free refill on the large soda while seeing a second movie, and they don't figure on you visiting the concession stand twice in one afternoon/evening. They want you making two trips on separate days.

And while their two Chinese movies this week were scheduled so that an evening double feature would mean waiting around for an hour, they actually lined up pretty well in the early afternoon. So that's how Cock and Bull and S Storm wound up being the front half of the double-double. Not that they necessarily made it easy:

Neither Sand Storm nor Tristram Shandy, a Cock & Bull Story were playing there that day, and while I imagine most people could figure it out easy enough, I do idly wonder if any of the folks in nearby Chinatown who don't necessarily speak English as a first language might have had issues, especially since I didn't see anyone actually manning the box office when I got in, which has to kind of sink for people who want to pay with cash as well.

At least it's getting easier to catch up on the originals before these Chinese sequels come out, as I was able to rent Z Storm via Amazon Friday night. It was after getting back from a Red Sox game, so I was kind of worn out by the time I started it at almost midnight, but think of how useful that would have been if there had been any sort of strong continuity between the two films, rather than one actress showing up as a different character and what looked like a recurring nemesis completely forgotten.

Anyway, they wound up being a fun pairing, and then I headed up the Red Line to see Disney's Sleeping Beauty and Tron as part of the Somerville Theatre's 70mm/Widescreen Festival. As I post this, it's still got a couple of days, so give it a shot if you haven't been yet; most of these prints look gorgeous, and as much as I appreciate digital projection for things like making it a lot easier to show Chinese movies near-simultaneously with their debut in their native land, there's nothing like film.

Zhui xiong zhe ye (Cock and Bull)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2016 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

I'm not one to demand perfect accuracy on a movie poster or video box, but the one for Cock and Bull that featured one of the characters brandishing a great big squirt gun in contrast to the more realistic weapons of the others really does the film a bit of a disservice. Not only does this never actually happen, but it gives the impression of a zanier, more absurd movie, and that sort of thing never appearing may disappoint those who might otherwise like this sort of twisty, darkly comedic crime story.

It starts out conventionally enough: Brother Cat, a gypsy cabbie in rural China, has been murdered, and widow Ma Xiao Lan has wasted no time in pointing a finger at Song Lao-er (Liu Ye), a mechanic who has fought with Cat on occasion, leading him to point out that last fight involved her affairs. Tagged as the prime suspect, Song hunts down Cat's distinctively-repaired motorcycle, a trail that will lead to Wang Youquan (Duan Bowen), a young man intending to move to Guangzhou with girlfriend Yang Shuha (Wang Ziwen), and Dong Xiaofeng (Zhang Yi), a small-time criminal working at the Victoria nightclub. With none exactly matter criminals or sleuths, untangling (or getting away with) this crime could be pretty tricky.

Writer/Director Cao Baopin chooses to complicate things a bit by breaking the film into chapters, switching the primary point of view as each chapter is named for a different crime-story archetype, and it's kind of a relief that he opts not to show off how cool and nonlinear his storytelling is: There's no hacky rewind effect, and despite there being four chapters, he only really jumps back and shows a large chunk of the story from a different character's perspective once; the other times he'll do a quick catch-up and mostly move forward from where he'd previously left off, just with the focus on someone else. It makes watching the movie less of an obvious game of spring connections and more of an actual mystery for much of the early going (and even when the audience knows what happened, the motive and how things will shake out holds its curiosity), although Cao is a bit clumsy with it at a couple of points, most notably when ending one act with a cliffhanger-like event that is immediately undercut.

Full review on EFC.

Z Feng Bao (Z Storm)

* * (out of four)
Seen 16/17 September 2016 in Jay's Newest Living Room (catch-up, Amazon Video)

It surprises me a bit that Z Storm did well enough in Hong Kong to merit a sequel; though as sleek a crime movie as they come with a decent idea at the core, it's roughly as dull as investigating bribery sounds, the sort of movie that spends more time making sure the viewer recognizes an agency's mission as important than making the case exciting.

It starts off with an entertaining bit of sleight of hand, though, as a team from the HKPD's Commercial Crime Bureau led by Wong Man-bin (Gordon Lam Ka-tung) makes a high-profile arrest of Law Tak-wing (Lo Hoi-pang), Hong Kong's "Godfather of Accounting" - only to have Wong offer to make it all go away. That's when Wong's abused wife and original informer Chang Chi-Chou (Joe Cheung Tung-cho) bring their case to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, where William Luk (Louis Koo Tin-lok) leads the team trying to find the connection between Law and Wong. It appears to be Malcolm Wu (Michael Wong Man-tak), the front man for the mysterious Mr. Zoro and the "Z Fund", which offers returns so good the the HKSAR is about to invest in it directly.

As much as the corruption and economic crimes like those at the center of Z Storm are at the root of more problems than the more conventionally violent transgressions, they can be tough things to build an entertaining film around; Johnnie To has done it a few times, but look at how things like The Big Short have to go off on stylistic tangents to get the information in. For the most part, writer Wong Ho-wa and director David Lam Tak-luk keep things on a relatively high level, but that means that they're not diving into what makes their movie different from other crime dramas, from the forensic investigations to how ICAC necessarily comes into conflict with other law enforcement agencies, or even sensationalizing it enough to get a good pulp story out of it.

Full review on EFC.

Z Feng Bao II (S Storm)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 September 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

If you've seen Z Storm, the opening title sequence of this sequel will immediately inform you that the scales have gone down a great deal - where the last one sketched out all of Hong Kong as being under the Independent Commission Against Corruption's watch, this one illustrates a soccer game. And while scaling back is generally not a great sign for sequels, it's the best thing for S Storm; it frees filmmaker David Lam up to make a more action-packed, entertaining movie.

Though the ICAC usually handles government corruption, all kinds of bribery fall under their purview, including accusations against Tang Siu-hung (Terence Yin), who works at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, one of the world's largest sports books. ICAC investigator William Luk (Louis Koo Tin-lok) brings in old friend and Jockey Club expert Wong Mai-ling (Ada Choi Siu-fan) to consult on the case, but before they can make much headway, Tang becomes the problem of detective Lau Po-keung (Julian Cheung Chi-lam). Their investigations clash with each other and the internal one being conducted by JC's Terry Lun (Bowie Lam Bo-yi), and the trail of an assassin (Vic Chou Yu-min) crosses with Ebby Lau (Dada Chan Ching), a sports-bar waitress with a grudge against gamblers.

Not exactly a diabolical plan that would bankrupt the entire HKSAR if it's not stopped, but it at least offers up some immediate danger, and creates situations where people are in conflict even when the assassin isn't shooting someone at the moment: The ICAC and HKPD teams sometimes have a hard time working together, Po-keung is considered a lazy underachiever, which means being on his team is stalling careers, and though Terry was William's and Mai-ling's mentor, his sense of duty is pulled between the government investigation and his employers at the Jockey Club. Things that start off as side plots (like a social-media celebrity who passes herself off as the philanthropic representative of a large corporation) feed into the main story but at least add a little color on the way.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Found Footage Redux: Operation Avalanche and Blair Witch

Funny thing, timing - I decided to bump Operation Avalanche in the Fantasia review queue because it was coming out in some areas on Friday, and my first thought was to talk about The Blair Witch Project and how, even knowing that it was not actually a documentary when I got to see it, it still felt real and thrilling in a way that many of the other films that picked up the found-footage/mock-doc gimmick afterward didn't, with one of the rare exceptions being Matt Johnson's The Dirties... And then, just as soon as that's done, I squeeze the new Blair Witch movie in during a gap in the Somerville Theatre 70mm festival, and have something close to the same feeling.

I still recommend both of these movies, and if you're in one of the places where they're playing Operation Avalanche, I bet they make a fun contrast, with one updating the technology to show the things we can do now and the other doggedly throwing back. Both have a little trouble recreating what made their predecessors really memorable, but that doesn't necessarily take away from what they are in the here and now.

Operation Avalanche

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 July 2016 in the J.A. de Seve Cinema (Fantasia 2016, DCP)

I'm moderately surprised that, in the post-Blair Witch Project world, there wasn't more one-upmanship in attempting to further blur the line between reality and fiction the way that film did, genuinely making the audience question whether they were actually seeing found footage or not. Instead, it became a style but a recognized one, where the details of how well the filmmakers are faking it are likely to be observed and dissected in real time. One of the few films to create the same sort of nagging worry that maybe the viewer is seeing something real and horrible was The Dirties, and though the same crew has reunited for another but of faux-found-footage with Operation Avalanche, they're smart enough to know that you probably can't get what is in large part the same audience to fall for the same tricks from the same people twice.

This time around, filmmaker Matt Johnson co-star Owen Williams cast themselves as two of twenty-five Ivy League "Bright Recruits" hired by the CIA straight out of undergrad in 1965, but who by 1967 are bored investigating Stanley Kubrick for "Deep Red", and scheme to get themselves assigned to Operation Zipper - finding a mole inside NASA. Their brainstorm is that while the real rocket scientists there would spot anybody going undercover as an engineer immediately, they could pose as documentary filmmakers for public television. It gets them in the door but their various wiretaps let them in on a potentially bigger secret: There's no way to meet President Kennedy's challenge to land on the moon by the end of the decade - it will be '71 at the earliest - but Matt has another idea - why not fake the moon landing?

Most films of this sort, even if they don't intend to actually trick the audience into thinking that they're watching something real, at least aim to avoid obvious chances for the first to say "ha! obviously staged!" Johnson and co-writer Josh Boles (who, amusingly, appears in the film as Johnson's handler "Josh Boles") keep that in mind, but they also know that both having already done a movie like this and the subject matter they have chosen are working against them. So they have a bit of fun, demonstrating the technology that they're using in-story when many films would prefer the audience just not think of it, letting Johnson and Williams play their on-screen alter egos as a broadly-drawn goofball and straight man rather than having to blend. There's no winking at the camera - they are not making a spoof even if they are making a comedy - but they recognize that they've got no cover, and that gives them room to let the moments when they encounter familiar conspiracy theories or unlikely bits be fun, rather than just dry.

Full review on EFC.

Blair Witch

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2016 in Somerville Theatre #4 (first-run, DCP)

Blair Witch probably does The Blair Witch Project as well as a any movie since the original, and that's no bad thing - once upon a time, before home video or even television reruns, the purpose of sequels was just to give the audience more of a thing they liked more than a next chapter, and this film does that well. The thing is, even beyond how capturing the out-of-nowhere uncertainty of the first film is all but impossible in that first movie's shadow, one almost wishes that writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard had made a knockoff rather than a sequel - covering the same ground as well as they do might work better if it's not explicitly the second time through.

It is, though - after a very familiar disclaimer about how these memory cards and DV tapes were found, we're introduced to James (James Allen McCune), whose sister Heather was one of the people who disappeared in the woods about 17 years earlier, when he was four. A new bit of video surfacing on the internet has him thinking she may still be alive out there, and his friend Lisa (Callie Hernandez), herself a film student, opts to document it. Also along are his oldest friend Peter (Brandon Scott) and his girlfriend Ashley (Corbin Reid), and they wind up joined by Lane (Wes Robinson) and Talia (Valorie Curry), the couple that found the new tape. So they go out in the woods, hoping to find the house on the tape(s), although that didn't exactly work out well for James's sister.

It's been a while since I saw the first movie - possible since the original release - but I suspect that the new one actually has a stronger ensemble, both in terms of the characters on the page and the cast bringing them to life. Though maybe not the most ambitious exercise in creating characters likely doomed to get knocked off by some supernatural force, Barrett's script quickly establishes who htey are nad how they're tied together, and the cast adds enough little shadings to that to make them seem real enough to get hooks into the audience: There's a chemistry between James Allen McCune and Callie Hernandez that can hint at unwitting attraction - or maybe Lisa being aware James likes her and using it to get this story - as well as awkwardness at people presuming their a couple; at any rate, these people seem to have history without manufactured drama. Brandon Scott especially does a sneaky-good job; he's got deadpan bits that would get big laughs in a horror movie calibrated slightly differently, and he handles moments when Peter can be kind of abrasive with aplomb. Wes Robinson and Valorie Curry weave in and out of the movie as characters outside the central group, but their moments are some of the best, and Corbin Reid handles the often thankless jobs given to Ashley very well.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 16 September 2016 - 22 September 2016

Sorry I didn't do one of these last week. I managed to avoid the weekend where all of Boston moves, but it was a tough one. I am terrible at estimating the amount of work that needs to be done, and if I have to do this again, I'm shelling out the extra money to have the movers pack and unpack my stuff as well as cart it. It's worth it. Bummer that I'm now ten or fifteen minutes walk from Davis Square this week, too.

  • And why's that? Because Ian, Dave, and the crew at The Somerville Theatre are finally getting to do their great big 70mm and Widescreen Festival, with a ton of great films presented in the highest-quality film prints you can find, some of them tremendously rare in this format and all of them looking like you wouldn't believe if you've just seen them on video or digital. Heck, it's probably several tons, with all the celluloid involved. Look at this line-up: Lawrence of Arabia on Friday, Lord Jim and West Side Story on Saturday, Sleeping Beauty and Tron on Sunday, Ride Lonesome (35mm) and The Wild Bunch on Monday, Interstellar on Tuesday, Silverado on Wednesday, and West Side Story again on Thursday. Note that Saturday's originally scheduled It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has been pushed to the 24th because of a shipping issue. Individual tickets and full-festival passes are available. They want to make this an annual thing, and you want that to, so go check out a ton of this great stuff!
  • It should be a crazy week there for other reasons, as two of the week's big openers are playing the Somerville as well. The big awards-targeting film is Oliver Stone's Snowden, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing the infamous intelligence analyst who turned whistleblower when he discovered the extent to which the US government was engaged in illegal surveillance activities as a matter of course. Nice cast, and Stone is not going to shy away from controversy. It's at the Somerville, Coolidge Corner (including an "Off the Couch" screening with members of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society), Apple Fresh Pond, The West Newton Cinema, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    And then there's Blair Witch, a (second) sequel to the film which made found footage an important part of the horror genre a decade and a half ago, this time handled by writer Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard, who have made some pretty great genre flicks over the past few years and deservet he boost this will give them. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway (including RPX), Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    Another long-time-coming sequel also opens wide, Bridget Jones's Baby. This one has Renee Zellweger's signature character getting her life under control after a breakup, but not sure whether Colin Firth or Patrick Dempsey is the father of her forthcoming child. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Boston Common is the place in Boston to see Kicks, in which a 15-year-old kid in Oakland has his brand-new sneakers stolen and will go through a great deal to get them back. They'll also be the theater showing a "Quote-Along" version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the next few Fridays and Saturdays, which sounds like a special kind of hell despite it obviously being a great movie. Over in Revere, they have matinees of Blinky Bill The Movie Saturday and Sunday mornings (Bill being an animated koala), and TCM presentations of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Quit Worrying and Love the Bomb on Sunday and Wednesday.
  • It's a pretty busy week at The Coolidge Corner Theatre as well, as they open three new movies to turn over most of their screens. In addition to Snowden, they're the place opening The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (The Touring Years), Ron Howard's new documentary on the years from 1962-1966 when the Fab Four became the biggest rock band the world had ever seen. Those two getting the larger screens means that Cameraperson, in which documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson turns the camera on herself, will mostly play in the GoldScreen, although it gets a bigger room on Sunday afternoon when Johnson visits in person for the 2pm show.

    On top of all that, they're busy at midnight (a little past, actually, but we'll call the 12:15am shows Friday and Saturday nights rather than Saturday and Sunday morning). Both nights screen Antibirth, a BUFF and Fantasia selection starring Natasha Lyonne as a trainwreck who knows that sex is the one thing she hasn't done in months, so what the heck is rapidly growing in her abdomen? They also continue a month of 35mm prints of seminal midnight movies, with Cannibal Holocaust on Friday and I Drink Your Blood on Saturday. They're also using 35mm film for Monday's Cinema Jukebox presentation of Selena, which will be kicked off with a liver performance by the ZUMIX Latin Ensemble.
  • Kendall Square will be picking up what may be my favorite of Fantasia's Polish Genre Film sidebar, Demon. Sure, it's a conventional possession story in a lot of ways, but it also does a great many things well. In terms of festival alumni closer to home, they get IFFBoston selection Author: The JT LeRoy Story, a documentary on how the a young turk author turned out to be the creation of a 40-year-old housewife.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond gives a full screen (at least on some days), to this week's "probably also on VOD" selection, Mr. North, as does the Lexington Venue. The film stars Eddie Murphy as a man hired to cook for a recent widow and her daughter who, naturally, grows somewhat attached. It seems like a long time since Murphy last slowed up on screen, doesn't it? Apple (along with Showcase Revere) also have Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, a documentary on an Australian megachurch which appears to include a lot of music and has been kicking from one distributors shelf to another for a year and a half. Music of a different sort takes center stage in A Fat Wreck, a documentary on punk label Fat Wreck Chords, which apparently "blazes exciting new ground in the cinematic genre of puppet-driven punk rock music documentary filmmaking", which I presume is just having one show on Thursday rather than opening for a run - that's a specialized thing.

    Fresh Pond has a fair slate of Indian movies as well, with Bollywood thriller Pink getting the full-screen treatment. It stars the ubiquitous Amitabh Bachchan as the grumpy retired lawyer living near the young women in South Delhi, called in to help when one is charged with attempted murder after a girls' night out. Saturday has screenings of Kannada film Mungaaru Male 2 and Pretham (which has no language listed), with Tamil film Thodari opening Wednesday.

    Over at Boston Common, there are two films from the Chinas. S-Storm comes from Hong Kong; it's a crime thriller starting Vic Chou, Louis Koo, and Dada Chan as anti-corruption cops investigating gambling. Our maybe they're not cops; I haven't seen the film this follows, Z-Storm, yet. The mainland offers up Cock and Bull, a goofy-looking capper that has an innocent bystander played by Liu Ye get caught up in a bizarre murder.
  • The Brattle Theatre has an interesting well coming up, starting with a weekend Wicked Queer: Flashback series series highlighting the barrier-breaking LBGTQ film of the 1980s and 1990s. Friday has single features of Watermelon Woman and Bound (the latter 35mm and also screening Saturday night); Saturday a35mm double feature of Desert Hearts & High Art; Aimee and Jaguar (16mm) & Bent (35mm) on Sunday; with Mala Novhe (35mm) & Poison wrapping it up on Monday.

    While that's going on in Cambridge, the Brattle staff will also had out to Allston for a "Zone 3 Outdoor Film Festival" at 267 Western Ave, playing Flash Gordon on Saturday night and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension Sunday night. They will then return home for Trash Night on Tuesday, a secret member screening on Wednesday, and a special presentation with Independent Film Festival Boston on Thursday: A 25th Anniversary presentation of Shakes the Clown with director, star, and frequent festival guest Bobcat Goldthwait in person. As much as this movies been a punchline for nearly that long, it turned out to be the start of a fiercely independent filmmaking career.
  • The Harvard Film Archive begins Not Reconciled: The Cinema of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet< on Friday with a visit from filmmaker John Gianvito, who will introduce a 35mm short program at 7pm before a film he considers a major influence, Too Early/Too Late, plays at 9pm. From the Cloud to the Resistance and Fortini/Cani play Saturday, while Monday offers both a book event at 6pm and a 35mm print of Antigone introduced by UMass Amherst faculty member Barton Byg on Monday. In between, on Sunday, Jeff Rapsis visors to accompany two in a series of lesser-known Russian silent films, Yakov Protazanov Queen of Spades and Father Sergius, both on 35mm film.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their showcase of Reagan In Hollywood: The Origins of a Conservative Icon this week with The Hasty Heart (Friday/Saturday/Sunday), Desperate Journey (Friday/Saturday), Night Unto Night (Sunday/Wednesday/Thursday), and Storm Warning (Wednesday), the latter taking him with Ginger Rogers and Doris Day in a crime story featuring the Ku Klux Klan terrorizing an apparently all-white town.

    They're also starting an "mfaNOW" series where the museum is open overnight from Saturday to Sunday, including a film program celebrating the works of Philip K. Dick. It kicks off Saturday night/Sunday morning at 1am with Blade Runner: The Final Cut.
  • ArtsEmerson starts their fall "film" program at the Paramount Theater's screening room this weekend with an encore of Mark Strong in the Young Vic's production of A View from the Bridge; as has been the case in recent years, is pretty much all filled stage productions. Bright Lights started back up last week, though, and that free film program features Chi-Raq on Tuesday, followed by a panel, and The Trust on Thursday, with director and Emerson alumnus Been Brewer doing a Skype Q&A afterward.
  • The Regent Theatre has the touring Telluride MountainFilm short program on Friday evening, along with a community event on opium dependency on Monday that includes a screening of short film "If Only"
  • Oh,and the Boston Film Festival is apparently still a thing, opening Thursday evening at AMC Boston Common with Under Fire: The Untold Story of PFC. Tony Vaccaro, a documentary about a WWII infantryman who documented the war from the trenches

After a Red Sox game Friday night, I'm going to be living at the Somerville Theatre for the 70mm fest. May try to sneak other stuff in, but that's priority #1.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 2 September 2016 - 8 September 2016

I've been refreshing various sites all week thinking that Skiptrace would eventually show up, but no dice. Weird, since I've seen a bunch of trailers for it, not even necessarily at Chinese movies. Maybe next week, but with the whole bunch of nothing coming out, you'd think there'd be an audience.

  • I mean, I've got hopes for Morgan, it's a sci-fi thriller filled with good actors (Kate Mara,Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti) including Anya Taylor-Joy of The Witch in the title role as a genetically engineered "next step in evolution" who obviously is not completely docile. That's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

    The Somerville Theatre also opens Summer of 8, a coming-of-age film with eight teens enjoying the last trip to the beach before leaving for college, albeit in the Micro-Cinema. They also pick up IFFBoston selections Don't Think Twice and Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. Their sister cinema in Arlington, The Capitol, gets 2D matinees of Kubo and the Two Strings, and also gets Equity and Café Society.

    Labor Day weekend also tends to bring a Mexican film, so No Manches Frida pops up in Revere, featuring Omar Chaparro as a recently paroled thief who finds that the place where he hid the money has become a school, so it's time to pretend to be a substitute and fall for a dedicated and pretty teacher (Martha Higareda). They also have Sunday and Wednesday screenings of The Never-Ending Story, as does Boston Common

    Aside from that, a fair amount comes back for a few extra shows to try and push films over certain box office thresholds, most notably Star Trek Beyond in Imax 3D at Boston Common, while several places bring back Ghostbusters and The Secret Lives of Pets. And, because Warner Brothers has gotten frighteningly good at exploiting recently-passed actors, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory plays Boston Common and Fenway over the weekend, with Boston Common also having Blazing Saddles. Many of these second-run and tribute shows will be at reduced prices, too.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of a number of places opening The Light Between Oceans, featuring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander as a pair of lighthouse-keepers who raise a foundling child as their own. It's also at the Kendall, The West Newton Cinema, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Revere, and the Superlux.

    They also get I Am Not a Serial Killer, a pretty nifty young-adult horror-thriller that includes a great Christopher Lloyd performance, at midnight on Friday and Saturday. That's upstaris; downstairs they kick off a series of classic midnight movies with Pink Flamingos on 35mm Friday night and Freaks on 35mm Saturday. Also on 35mm is Monday night's Big Screen Classics screening of Jaws, which I think is becoming a Coolidge Labor Day tradition. There's also a special Tuesday Balagan screening of films from Cologne with several of the German filmmakers in attendance. Thursday night, they and the Kendall will both be showing Nick Cave's One More Time with Feeling, which is a chance to hear his new album before its release the next day. I seem to recall some signage about 3D at the Kendall, but I'm not seeing any of that now.
  • Kendall Square also picks up two selections from IFFBoston. The Hollars was the opening night presentation and a pretty entertaining comedy from director and star John Krasinski, playing a writer traveling home when his mother falls ill. Great cast, including Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Sharlto Copley, Anna Kendrick, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Krasinski will be appearing at the Friday & Sunday 7pm shows, but those are sold out. It's also at the Embassy and Boston Common.

    The other is Little Men, which nearly everybody else liked a whole lot more than me; it's from Ira Sachs and has a couple of kids becoming close friends when one's father inherits the building where the other's mother has a shop, a situation that causes trouble later on. Then there's Complete Unknown, the one-week booking which has Michael Shannon as a man who sees an old friend (Rachel Weisz) who it turns out reinvents herself every few years. Joshua Martson of Maria Full of Grace directs.
  • The Brattle Theatre will be undergoing renovations from Tuesday to Thursday, but until then, they've got a couple notable double features. Evenings from Friday to Monday pair Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused & Everybody Wants Some!!, while Saturday to Monday repeat last week's GKids retrospective finale, a double feature of My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service at noon.
  • Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond continues Janatha Garage, the Telegu action movie, and also picks up Akira, which is not the anime sci-fi classic, but a Bollywood thriller starring Sonakshi Sinha as a college student who gets entangled in a crime ring involving a bunch of corrupt cops.
  • With the season changing, The Harvard Film Archive wraps up the summer calendar on Friday with the last two films of the Rouben Mamoulian retrospective with Blood and Sand and Song of Songs, the latter in 35mm, while Monday kicks off an Oliver Stone series with Born on the Fourth of July.

    In between, they have their annual overnight marathon, with Night Train offering over ten hours of 35mm rail-based classics starting at 7pm on Saturday: Twentieth Century, Night Train to Munich, The Narrow Margin (1952), Nayak, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), and Snowpiercer. That is a bunch of concentrated great movie.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps their runs of Kamikaze '89 (Friday/Saturday) and The Other Side (Friday/Saturday/Sunday) over the holida weekends, while continuing Eva Hesse (Friday/Saturday/Wednesday/Thursday), with Thursday's show welcoming director Marcie Begleiter for a post-screening Q&A. Thursday the 8th is also the start of their "Reagan In Hollywood: The Origins of a Conservative Icon" series with a double feature of two short (~1 hour) B-movies, Secret Service of the Air and Code of the Secret Service, and who knew he had a franchise of his own back in the day, playing Secret Service Lt. Brass Bancroft?
  • Labor Day weekend marks the end of most of the outdoor movie series, although Joe's Boston Free Films has the Harbor Hotel showing the 2009 Star Trek Friday night and Cinema Somerville keeping things unpredictable with the 1952 Jack and the Beanstalk on Thursday.

I'm probably going to be good and limit myself to Morgan and the Night Train series this week, seeing as I'm moving next Friday and there's a lot to pack.

Festival-Adjacent: Don't Breathe and A Flying Jatt

It's starting to feel like I'm never going to finish the Fantasia Festival reviews between work, house-hunting and packing stuff up to get things across town, especially since other new releases that the other folks at EFC don't write up keep coming out.

These two are a kind of interesting weekend for me as I had to schedule them around Chinatown's Films at the Gate on the one hand, and on the other were easy connections to Fantasia: Don't Breathe was actually one of the closing films (I went for On the Silver Globe both out of curiosity and because my pass didn't cover the big studio release), and I was kind of impressed with star Tiger Shroff as a screen fighter, enough to make me certain to make time for the Indian superhero comedy, even though it was only playing six days at odd times.

While watching Don't Breathe, I found myself thinking that it was kind of an interesting coincidence that I was seeing a movie with one of the year's worst movie dogs the day after one with one of the best, and it made me wonder whether getting a dog to act cute or nasty is more difficult. I suspect working with an angry-seeming dog is more nerve-wracking, but what do the trainers have to do differently?

Anyway, Don't Breathe is a lot of fun. A Flying Jatt isn't quite so much, but I kind of wish it had hung around longer so that the curious might have a chance to check it out.

Don't Breathe

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 August 2016 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, DCP)

The interesting, if not always good, thing about Don't Breathe, it's that it's just creative enough that it doesn't need to push the envelope with gore in order to make an impression on the audience, but for the sake of surprise still escalates, just in a different direction. It is, by and large, what you'd call successful in its aim, twisting something familiar into a movie that comes by its jumps fairly and often, even if a bitter may disapprove of how it gets there.

Though in real life, Detroit is on something of an upswing, there are still areas where the one occupied house is surrounded by abandoned units. Those houses are being burgled by three young people - Alex (Dylan Minnette), who swipes the alarm codes from his dad's security company; Rocky (Jane Levy), the best friend on whom he has an obvious crush; and Money (Daniel Zovatto), Rocky's boyfriend - trying to amass enough cash to set themselves up in sunny California. Alex is careful, making sure that their crimes don't rise to the legal threshold of a felony, but Money has found the proverbial Big Score, a blind widower (Stephen Lang) with no neighbors who likely has a lot of cash from a wrongful-death settlement in the house. That the house is locked down so tight indicates that the money is almost certainly there - but also that its owner is more formidable than he seems.

Aside from a brief flash-forward at the start, director Fede Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues take a little bit of time getting the crew to the house, and that set-up is a bit more frustrating than it needs to be. There's an opener where we see how they usually rob a place, and is not a bad example of establishing characters and relationships through action, but after that, we're either given too much or too little: We see Rocky with the cute little sister and useless mother (with am equally unemployed boyfriend), and it almost creates too much sympathy, especially with Alex being played a little too nice - we see how he swipes his father's codes but it seems like the film could use something that plays up either how he's betraying his family to impress people who don't actually like him that much or that he's not as sweet as he seems. If the group had arrived at the house with some sort of strong internal conflict, a palpable desperation, or even a starker amorality, then maybe the filmmakers still have to push an envelope to position them as the protagonists compared to the villainous homeowner (just read practically any comments section to see how many people will shrug off people getting killed if they've committed any sort of offense), maybe that plot device feels a little less trivialized in an attempt to get the audience pulling in the right direction.

Full review on EFC.

A Flying Jatt

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 August 2016 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #1 (first-run, DCP)

A Flying Jatt doesn't have the same sort of scale or budget as an American superhero movie, but in part because of that, the film plays as a charming throwback to the origins of the genre. It's often silly and is not particularly worried about being seen as kid-oriented, things that sometimes seem to terrify both the film and comic divisions of Marvel and DC. It gives good and evil appropriate powers and costumes and lets them fight it out, and it's surprising how many superhero stories miss that basic appeal.

This one opens with the villain, Malhotra (Kay Kay Menon), who is very upset that the transport costs from his polluting chemical plant are so high, apparently because the plot of land they need to build a bridge across the lake is occupied by a tree which has a sacred symbol occurring naturally in its bark, but the owner - Bebe Dhillon (Amrita Singh) - not only refuses to sell, but is downright abusive, especially after a few drinks, needing to be held back by her sons Rohit (Gaurav Pandey) and Aman (Tiger Shroff). Though the latter is a martial-arts teacher at the local school, few really feel he takes after his late father, known as "The Flying Jatt" for being the first Sikh to learn kung fu at Shaolin Temple. But when Aman fights Malhotra's gigantic Australian hired gun Raka (Nathan Jones) at the tree, he comes away with the abilities of a superhero - although things like his crippling fear of heights may hold him back.

The thing where Aman spends a lot of time flying about a meter from the ground is one of the more quietly funny bits of a film that runs long enough to be a great many things, as many Bollywood movies do, and that sort of silliness is an area where it excels. The montage of terrible potential costumes is a bit of a bore (future filmmakers should consider retiring this obligatory sequence unless they have a really clever take on it), but the slapstick and secret-identity hijinks that ensue tend to be fairly entertaining.

Full review on EFC.