Thursday, March 31, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 1 April 2016 - 7 April 2016

It might be interesting to see if the bad word-of-mouth on Batman v Superman hurts the studios' plans not to compete too much with it, as there is very little reaching the multiplexes although some of the things hitting the boutique houses will probably expand there soon.

  • Take Midnight Special, a science fiction fim about a man (Michael Shannon) on the run with his "gifted" son. Looks plenty atmospheric, and director Jeff Nichols made Take Shelter and Mud. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Kendall, and Boston Common. Two of those locations - the Coolidge and Kendall - also open The Clan, about an Argentine family whose domineering father has made kidnap for ransom the family business.

    The Coolidge also has two midnight shows this weekend. The new one, Baskin, comes from Turkey, and follows a unit of five cops following a distress call in the country only to find something truly nasty, and has been getting a lot of buzz. The timely "classic" is April Fool's Day, a 1980s slasher that has a wealthy college girl inviting her friends to an island, where there's no escape. And while I normally don't make much note of the prior-night previews of upcoming films, Thursday's The Dying of the Light is a special case, as director Peter Flynn and other guests will be on-hand to discuss this documentary on how projection of actual film is becoming a dying art. One of the subjects listed is David Kornfeld, the excellent chief projectionist at the Somerville Theatre.
  • Kendall Square opens three other movies on top of that, including two more that might be pegged for wider openings. Everybody Wants Some!!, for instance, might not have a lot of big names, but it's directed by Richard Linklater and positioned as a spiritual follow-up to his much-loved Dazed and Confused shifting from kids just out of high school in the 1970s to kids entering college in the 1980s. It's also at Boston Common. I Saw the Light does have a more familiar cast, starring Tom Hiddleston as country-music legend Hank Williams. It also plays The West Newton Cinema.

    They also have a one-week booking of Take Me to the River, which stars Logan Miller as a teenager looking to come out at a family reunion in Nebraska, only to have things grow complicated when a cousin shows signs of having been abused.
  • The Brattle Theatre, having just finished up with the Underground Film Festival, brings in another, Wicked Queer, the newly-renamed Boston LGBT Film Festival, which also has screenings at the ICA, the MFA, the Paramount Theater, the Fenway Health Center.
  • There are some pretty thin pickings at the multiplexes as a result. I think the biggest opening might be Meet the Blacks, which stars Mike Epps as a man who moves his family from Chicago to Beverly Hills after coming into some money only to find he arrives just in time for the annual purge, and if they're using that actual term, they're not exactly distinguishing themselves from the thing they're looking to spoof or rip off (depending on how much this is a parody and how much it's a thriller), are they? Although, don't get me wrong, considering this was originally called "The Black Purge", there's some pretty good satire they could do if that's what they're looking for. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere. There's also God's Not Dead 2, which looks like a similarly-themed bit of religious propaganda with a new cast. Final role for Fred Dalton Thompson, highest-profile thing Melissa Joan Hart has done in years, and further evidence that Ray Wise really likes working. It's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere.
  • That does leave a few more screens open for Asian movies, though, meaning that Ki and Ka will play at Fenway as well as Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond. This Bollywood import stars Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor as a young couple where she is the breadwinner and he manages the home. Apple also keeps Kapoor & Sons around, as well as (likely) unsubtitled Telugu films Savitri and Oopiri.

    Apple is also bringing back Stephen Chow's The Mermaid, well worth checking out if you missed its run downtown. The new Chinese film at Boston Common is Chongqing Hot Pot, starring Bai Baihe as a disaffected bank teller and Chen Kun as one of three former classmates who open a hot pot restaurant next door and discover that they could easily rob the place.

    Fresh Pond will also kick off their April "Rotten to the Core" calendar on Thursday with Rock & Rule, Nelvana's 1983 animated sci-fi/action/fantasy film with a pretty great looking soundtrack.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues Guy Maddin Presents... with the famed Winnipeg filmmaker continuing the dig up what looks like really neat, off-key stuff. This week's selections include Children of Montmartre (Friday 7pm/digital), The Face Behind the Mask (Friday 9pm/35mm), The Threat (Saturday 9pm/16mm), and The Blackbird with live accompaniment (Sunday 5pm/35mm). They also continue their Alfred Guzzetti retrospective with Scenes from Childhood (preceded by "French Gestures") at 7pm Saturday, and then welcome Philip Trevelyan to introduce his films The Moon and the Sledgehammer (Sunday 7pm/DCP) and Lambing Monday 7pm/35mm). Thursday has artist Phil Collins on-hand for a free screening of Tomorrow Is Always Too Long.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, in addition to being one of the Wicked Queer venues, wraps The 15th Boston Turkish Film Festival with screenings on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Saturday includes two director visits - Faruk Hacıhafızoğlu with Snow Pirates and Şerif Yenen with Istanbul Unveiled - and Sunday has one, Emin Alper presenting Frenzy.
  • The Paramount is also a Wicked Queer venue, with Bright Lights screening Carol on Tuesday. On the next two days, they welcome documentarian Stanley Nelson, who presents the "It's All True" student documentary showcase on Wednesday and his own film, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, on Thursday.
  • This month's 35mm silent at The Somerville Theatre is D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, a sprawling cross-cut anthology that is really astounding for being 100 years old. wednesday's "Music & Movies Around the Corner" presentation is The Dream of Shahrazad, which looks at the recent revolution in Egypt through the prism of music.
  • The ICA has a "Crows & Sparrows" presentation on Saturday, with director Yang Zhengfan presenting his "slow cinema" project Distant, which consists of thirteen segments that are each one long take. He'll be joined by writer Lu Yangqiao for a discussion aterward.
  • This week's entry in the The Belmont World Film Series is Lamb, an Ethiopian film about a boy staying with relatives on a farm while his father looks for work in Addis Ababa. That's at the Belmont Studio Cinema.


Glad there's not that much, as I'm heading north to Montreal to catch the Red Sox' preseason games there (no, I really can't wait for baseball and summer). When I get back, I'll be looking to hit up Chongqing Hot Pot, Midnight Special, and maybe Ki and Ka.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Kapoor and Sons

I want exactly seeing blockbusters while I was in Texas, and was often seeing my movies outside the 7pm-to-8pm hour that is sort of the prime start time, but it was still kind of stunning just how big the audience was for this compared to the other films I saw there. I was quite possibly alone for both Creative Control and Summer Camp - I think one or two people may have sneaked in behind me during the previews - and there was maybe one other group of three people behind ours at Eye in the Sky. For this one, though? Rear section will-populated when I got there with ten minutes or so to spare, and I wound up being bumped from my customary spot just right of Center in the last row of the front section because a family of six or seven wanted to sit together. I really should stop being surprised when movies that don't go through the mainstream American news and publicity channels (or the more genre-centric ones I tend to frequent).

I was glad, because audience reaction is a big part of why is better to see films in the theaters, and toss one was having a good time. Although I must admit, I did find one reaction curious.

SPOILERS!

A large chunk of the audience gasped when Sunita opened up Rahul's computer and saw photographs of her son and her boyfriend, though it didn't seem like it was exactly a big surprise to me. Part of it was that the guy seemed indifferent to Tia's interest despite her being crazy pretty and a lot of fun to be around besides. But part, I think, was just because I'm used to American movies of this type, where one member of a large family being gay is almost a given. Plus, there were some pretty strong signals - the girlfriend with the androgynous nickname ("Nicky") that nobody had ever seen, the choice for Sunita to phrase a question "what sort of person is this?", and a moment when Rahul tells Arjun there's something he hasn't told anyone. Pretty clear foreshadowing, right?

Maybe not in this context, though. I think I mentioned two or three Indian movies so that I couldn't recall any definitively gay characters in them even though there certainly were some flamboyant enough that I wondered if that's what the filmmakers were going for. It was still kind of weak representation - we never get a good look at Rahul's boyfriend, and the film never finds a moment for even Arjun to say that there's nothing wrong with him being gay. I've heard that parts of India can be fairly tough places for this, so maybe filmmakers are trying to go slowly on this count.

!SRELIOPS

Enjoyable enough movie, at least, though I'm glad to finally be landing back in Boston as I write this and heading back up the Red Line to catch the trail end of BUFF over the weekend.

Kapoor and Sons

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 March 2016 in AMC Stonebriar #4 (first-run, DCP)

Like a lot of movies where the filmmakers want to both celebrate family and build a story about what kind of stresses it can place on people, Kapoor and Sons can swing from one to the other fast enough to make a viewer wonder just what sort of weird compartmentalization these people are capable of. Thankfully, they pull this off better than most, and manage to make one where the last act melodrama is fairly well-earned, even if it does spend a lot of time in zany comedy getting there.

For a while, "Kapoor and Grandsons" seems like it may be a more appropriate title, as it is the hospitalization of Amarjeet "Dadu" Kapoor (Rishi Kapoor) a week or so shy of his 90th birthday that brings his expatriate grandkids home. Rahul (Fawad Khan) is a successful author living in London, while Arjun (Sidharth Malhotra) is in New Jersey, currently bartending (he never sticks with anything very long) and polishing his first novel. After returning home, they both find their way to the house of the beautiful and funny Tia Mallik (Alia Bhatt) - Arjun for a party and Rahul looking to buy a place for an artists' retreat - and she seems to take a shine to both. Despite some issues between the pair in the past, they're mostly glad to see each other and Dadu, although it's clear that the tensions that exist between parents Harsh (Rajat Kapoor) and Sunita (Ratna Pathak) have, if anything, intensified since they last visited.

Dadu initially seems like one of the more tired stock comedy characters - the wacky old guy who swears and acts inappropriate to young women and otherwise horrifies his straight-laced family, but director Shakun Batra and co-writer Ayesha DeVitre see this coming from the very first scene and have his family show that he's always been like this, and he's been at his latest hobby of "rehearsing his death" for weeks. Dadu being this sort of rascal is never meant to shock, so his jokes at least have to be sort of good, if not groundbreaking. Rishi Kapoor does will by the character; he's got the requisite sense of innocent mischief and a nice way of delivering the punchline of a gag by implying that maturity is something he has rather grown out of, though it's not that far a pivot to being a sweet old man.

Full review on EFC.

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 March 2016 - 31 March 2016

Yeah, it is "sequels of dubious merit" week. And it doesn't look like a lot of relief next week. BUt don't worry - there are other options!

  • First and foremost, Boston Underground Film Festival continues through Sunday at The Brattle Theatre, and while I can't necessarily vouch for all of it, I can say that Cash Only on Friday night was pretty impressive when I saw it at Fantasia last summer, my friend Gabriela has a short in the "Fugues & Riffs" short program on Saturday and my friend Izzy has one ("Innsmouth") playing before Antibirth. There are also some special events at the Harvard Film Archive this year - Sympathy for the Devil and a live performance of Stand by for Tape Backup on Saturday and Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It, a West African remale of Purple Rain so named because the Tuareg language does not have a word for "purple", on Sunday. As usual, the homestretch on Sunday looks particularly strong with MAD, Karaoke Crazies, and Trash Fire.

    The Brattle occasionally takes a few days off to recover from that crazy festival, but this year the DocYard comes in with a selection of Field of Vision presentations from the MIT Open Documentary lab on Monday, and there will be an encore screening of North by Northwest on 35mm on Tuesday. No intro and you've got to pay this week (the Elements of Cinema screening sold out last week), but it's still North by Northwest on film. Wednesday and Thursday are still marked as TBA.
  • Despite pushing Krisha hard with a preview before nearly every movie I've seen there for the past month or two, Kendall Square has it down for a one-week booking. That film is the directorial debut of Trey Edward Shults and looks like a verite-style presentation of a family thrown into turmoil when the family's titular black sheep returns unexpectedly for Thanksgiving.

    The other two films opening also have their main characters in the title. City of Gold does this playfully, as it's a documentary about Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold, who spends as much time and as many words on discovering ethnically-varied neighborhood places as reviewing the work of celebrity chefs. Marguerite, meanwhile, comes from France and stars Catherine Frot as a wealthy woman with a passion for music whose friends have cruelly convinced her she has talent, leading her for her first performance in front of an audience of strangers.
  • And, I suppose, after seeing all those, it won't be hard to find a theater playing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the sequel to Man of Steel that adds Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne to Henry Cavill's Clark Kent, with Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor fanning the flames of their initial distrust. As much as everything about it makes me nervous, I did apparently enjoy the previous film enough to cautiously recommend overlooking its real problems. It is all over the place in 2D and 3D: Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D in Reading, Imax 3D in Natick), the Belmont Studio, Boston Common (including Imax 3D), Assembly Row (including Imax 3), Fenway (including RPX 2D/3D), Revere (including MX4D and XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    There's also My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, writer/star Nia Vardalos's second attempt to recapture the popularity of her surprise hit from 14 years ago (remember the short-lived sitcom My Big Fat Greek Life?), with the entire cast returning for a contrived reason to have another wedding. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, the Lexington Venue, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the Superlux. Boston Common will also be bringing back The Rocky Horror Picture Show after a couple weeks off at midnight Saturday, while Fenway and Revere will be presenting In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen on Monday.
  • In addition to keeping Kapoor & Sons around, Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond also has Bollywood action with Rocky Handsome, which despite its goofy title looks an awful lot like a remake of The Man from Nowhere, and I'm sure that this particular Indian version of a South Korean action movie could be the first time it's not a disaster. The trailer at least looks amusingly over-the-top with John Abraham in the middle of some crazy action. They also have a Tamil/Telugu remake of The Intouchables, Oopiri, and a Tamil horror/fantasy in Zero (Friday afternoon only).

    This week's "probably on VOD but why not give it a couple shows a day" selection is Fastball, an MLB-network produced documentary on the great fastball pitchers; it's fluffy, but entertaining enough. Thursday's Rotten to the Core presentation, meanwhile, potentially offers anybody disappointed with Batman v Superman a chance to see that it could be worse with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (arguably the first to really live up to the "rotten" part of the title).
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre keeps the same basic line-up this week as last (I heartily recommend Eye in the Sky), but offers some worthy special presentations. The Friday/Saturday midnight shows are Attack the Block, Joe Cornish's really great "Inner City vs. Outer Space" action-comedy which, among other things, gave the world it's first good look at John Boyega. There's also a Saturday morning screening of The Sound of Music aimed at kids, and a Monday evening presentation of Strangers on a Train on 35mm. Then, on Thursday, the next installment of the Francophonie Film Festival, Quebec's Louis Cyr.
  • The Harvard Film Archive spends most of the week with special guests: Visiting Professor Rachel Tsangari will introduce her latest film Chevalier on Friday, while Alfred Guzzetti presents a collection of digital short films on Saturday. I don't know if Guy Maddin has been introducing him programming, but the latest of his presentations, 1931's Josef von Sternberg/Marlene Dietrich collaboration, Dishonored, plays on 35mm Sunday afternoon. After that, it's back to guests, with director Billy Woodberry introducing his documentary on beat poet Bob Kaufman, And When I Die, I Won't Stay Dead, Sunday evening. Experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr has a set of new works on Monday. They'll also have another screening of one of artist Phil Collins's works, This Unfortunate Thing Between Us, on Thursday.
  • ArtsEmerson has another surprisingly full film program this week, with two shows a day of The Consul of Bordeaux, which tells the story of a Portuguese diplomat who issued 30,000 exit visas to French refugees (including 10,000 Jews) in 1940 in defiance of the wishes of his government. It shares time on Saturday and Sunday with a "Pavarotti Festival" that showcases three of the world's best-known tenor's most popular concert films.

    The other occupant of the Paramount's Bright Screening Room, Bright Lights, has two distinctive directors introducing their latest for free screenings. Cheatin', on Tuesday, brings Bill Plympton in for his bizarre twisted sci-fi romance, while Guy Maddin crosses the river from Harvard on Thursday to show The Forbidden Room, his mash-up of recreated lost films.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts is all about The 15th Boston Turkish Film Festival this week, with sreenings Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with Yearning director Ben Hopkins visiting Friday, award-winning shorts on Saturday, Nausea director Zeki Demirkubuz on-hand Wednesday, and Cold of Kalandar director Mustafa Kara leading discussion on Thursday.
  • I haven't seen any indication on The Somerville Theatre's website that they got an actual film print for Batman v Superman, which is kind of disappointing, but they've got a full schedule regardless: The Alloy Orchestra visits on Saturday night with two (separate admission) silent films, The Man with the Movie Camera and L'Inhumaine, while their "Music & Movies Around the Corner" series visits Brazil on Wednesday with Dominguinhos. The makers of Alienated (not one of my favorites from the recent Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, sadly) appear to have rented out the Micro-Cinema from Friday to Thursday, and it certainly looks like director Brian Ackley will be facing the music after each show.
  • This week's The Belmont World Film Series entry at the Belmont Studio Cinema is actually pretty notable - The Treasure is the latest from Romanian director Corneliu Poromboiu of Police, Adjective and 12:08 East of Bucharest fame; it's a comedy about trying to find treasure on the grounds of a house that was appropriated by the communists during the cold war.
  • The ICA will be the host for opening night of Wicked Queer, the new name for the long-running Boston LGBT Film Festival, on Thursday night. The night's presentation is Viva, an Irish film about a Havana hairdresser whose dreams of becoming a drag performer are turned upside down when his father re-enters his live, with Irish documentary short "Hand in Hand" tacked onto the front.


I will likely see Batman v Superman, Rocky Handsome, and Superman 4, because I just can't help myself, and catch as much of BUFF as this week's travel allows. The Treasure may supersede doing two 35mm Hitchcock days, and that doesn't leave a lot of room for anything else.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Eye in the Sky (2015)

Car spotted in the parking facility next to the Angelika Film Cafe:

Weird Plano police car photo

I'm guessing this is meant to be a sort of "hey, don't drive drunk, you're better off taking a cab home then being brought to jail in a cruiser" sort of thing, with an implied side of "of you're drinking enough to start trouble..." But it's not exactly clear, and I wondered if, perhaps, towns like Plano might actually have periods where the cops just don't have enough to do, and this helps with the budget.

Anyway, I wound up seeing this with a couple of co-workers who were apparently feeling just as stir-crazy by now as me; there's just really close to nothing to do given that there's Doubly one rental car per three people and little within walking distance. I'd walked the distance to the Angelika the night before, although I would necessarily recommend it, especially since a Texas-sized thunderstorm could happen the next day.

(Yeah, I know, this probably want really severe one at all by local standards, but it came out of nowhere for us.)

I'm glad it was a pretty terrific movie, though, considering one of the guys I was with hadn't been to the movies since roughly Avatar. It would really sink if he actually hit a theater and found the experience disappointing.

One last bit of trivia: I have now reviewed two entirely unrelated films named "Eye in the Sky" here and on eFilmCritic, along with a remake of the first one. Weird, right?

Eye in the Sky (2015)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2016 in Angelika Film Cafe Plano #3 (first-run, DCP)

What one often reads about Unmanned Aerial Vehicle strikes may lead such a person to believe that the way concern about collateral damage drives Eye in the Sky marks it as a fantasy, as does the stark, immediate decision that it presents those running such operations. On the other hand, presenting it that way certainly puts the issues that the filmmakers want the audience to consider in sharp relief, and also adds enough drama to the mix that the film is also a fantastic thriller despite it often being built on what might be described as frenzied inactivity.

The situation is this: A joint effort between Kenya, the United Kingdom, and the United States expects radicals from all three to converge in Nairobi today. UK Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in operational command in London, with the goal of the mission being for Kenyan intelligence officers to capture the terrorists so that they can stand trial. The UAV piloted by Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) from a US Air Force Base in Nevada is meant to provide surveillance so that a different unit in Hawaii can use facial recognition to confirm targets. It's never that easy, though - the suspects decamp for a less secure location before being positively identified, and while new intelligence may suggest good reason to escalate the rules of engagement from "capture" to "kill", few of the British politicians overseeing the mission alongside Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) are prepared to do so - especially since the collateral damage will almost certainly include an innocent little girl (Aisha Takow) selling her mother's fresh-baked bread right next to the terrorists' urban compound.

The screenplay by Guy Hibbert presents a situation that, while not ideal, is ideally dramatic, presenting the decision-makers with moral dilemmas made all more keen by the fact that both their intelligence and weaponry is rather precise, likely far more so than it ever is in the real world. That dramatic license brings the main theme - that being able to operate on a more granular level presents one with more specific, less abstracted, consequences - into sharp focus. Intriguingly, this works because of something that often seems like a cheap trick in the movies: A few scenes showing Alia early on get the audience to care about her more than the anonymous people around her, and the same thing happens with Watts and Gershon, who spotted Alia playing with a hula hoop earlier. Certainly, many of those involved would have qualms about random civilians, but this exploits a very familiar piece of human psychology to bring the issue into sharp relief.

Full review on EFC.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Summer Camp

Curse you, MoviePass, and your 24-hour rule. I'm going to be getting back to the hotel room at around 1 am central by the end of training.

Kind of strange that this one isn't playing Boston; I didn't even know about it before seeing it on the lousy of movies playing a nearby theater. I suspect that pay off this is because it seems to have taken a weird route. It was financed and produced in Spain, but like a non-trivial amount of Spanish genre films, shot in English, but wound up being picked up by Pantelion, a Lionsgate label that specializes in Spanish-language films, mostly Mexican, that might have some crossover appeal in the US. So, in order to serve that audience, the 90% of the film that is in English is subtitled.

Weird for me too watch, because my brain is trained to go to the subtitles and sort of tune out the soundtrack when they appear, which I occasionally miss a word as I remember that I don't speak Spanish. I do sort of wonder if putting this movie out via Pantelion hurt its chances of getting booked, especially since modest genre films were one of the things Lionsgate did so well for a long time (but, like New Line, they seem to act like it's something they've outgrown). The Boston-area theaters that book Spanish-language stuff mostly seem to go for comedies - I imagine Spanish-language movies get booked much more often in Texas - but may have gone for this with a different imprint and no subtitles.

Or not. They should have, though; it's a fairly fun horror movie that I think would appeal to a much broader audience than it's getting.

Summer Camp (El campamento del terror)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2016 in AMC Stonebriar #5 (first-run, DCP)

From the title alone, it's pretty clear that Summer Camp is not exactly likely to break new ground as a horror movie, but there's plenty of hope that it may do a familiar thing well, and the 81-minute runtime is also fairly promising - these things are best when there's just time to react, not think. It is pretty cool, then, to see this one exceed expectations - yeah, it's got a lot of things horror fans have seen before, but it doesn't waste much time and packs what time it's got with enough switch-ups to keep the viewer guessing.

The camp is "El Búho" in the north of Spain, which promises English immersion for the kids arriving in two days, which means bilingual counselor Antonio (Andrés Velencoso) is joined by three Americans: returning friend Will (Diego Boneta), who hooked up with both female counselors last year, resulting in their not returning; Christy (Jocelin Donahue), the kind of girl who brings heels to camp; and Michelle (Maiara Walsh), the kind of girl who may very well not own a pair. It is, apparently, not enough that Spanish summer camps tend to be located in creepy, abandoned manor houses whose pipes are busted - there's an RV full of rednecks parked on the grounds, one of the dogs in the petting zoo has a case of rabies unlike any the farm-raised Will has ever seen before, and there's a lot of pollen floating around despite it being late in the season.

So, naturally, it's only a matter of time before something akin to the 28 Days Later rage virus breaks out, resulting in, as one character succinctly puts it, "the eyes, the biting, the black stuff". The fun comes from how writer/director Alberto Marini (a long-time collaborator with executive producer Jaume Balagueró directing his first feature) opts for a hard swerve right when it's time for the carnage to start, and then spends much of the rest of the movie giving his characters too much information as to what may be causing this rather than too little. He and co-writer Danielle Schleif also come up with a nifty variation on the device which keeps the choices from reducing to the simple, familiar kill-or-be-killed/fight-or-flight scenarios.

Full review on EFC.

Creative Control

Tone can be a tough thing to get across in a trailer; I think I saw the preview for this one a handful of times over the past month or so without ever really pegging it as a comedy before setting it described that way. In retrospect, the preview does have a number of the film's jokes in it, but two or the minutes just isn't long enough to see whether certain bits are genuine pretentiousness or the ironic variety.

Speaking of irony, I would normally be seeing this in Kendall Square, but my employer sent me to Frisco, TX (a Dallas exurb which consists entirely of highways, office parks, and shopping centers) to learn a new database tool. We spent a good chunk of Monday on user-experience stuff, then had dinner, which left me with about an hour to kill before walking to the mall where the only theater within miles. Bad news: because I was going to late-ish shows, there was no going through the mall like Google suggested, and circumnavigation the outside added a fair chunk of time. Good news: Adult evening tickets are $10.92 compared to the $12.79 at home. Well, good news for MoviePass; it doesn't really matter to me.

Still, the weird thing - one goes to movies as a diversion from other things, for the most part, and what do I wind up spending a bunch of time writing about here. User interface design. Here's hoping for something a bit further from work tonight, even if this movie was a lot of fun.

Creative Control

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 March 2016 in AMC Stonebriar #2 (first-run, DCP)

There's a plot to Creative Control to go with its speculative elements, but truth be told, it's not at its strongest when either of those are front and center. Instead, it sings when the filmmakers find nifty little scenes that can be attached to those things, creating a moment that is true despite being absurd, satiric, stylized, or futuristic. By the time the film concludes, the lines that stretch from stay to finish don't much matter, but most everything in between is well worth it.

Those lines involve David (Benjamin Dickinson), an advertising man in the Brooklyn of the near future whose newest assignment is Augmenta, a next-generation set of augmented-reality glasses that he proposes marketing as a creative tool, commissioning eccentric multimedia artist Reggie Watts (Reggie Watts) to demonstrate their capabilities. He also gets a demo version to use for research, though another layer over reality may not be what he really needs: He's already popping pills, feeling disconnected from his yoga-instructor girlfriend Justine (Nora Zehetner), and maybe developing a crush on Sophie (Alexia Rasmussen), the girlfriend of his buddy Wim (Dan Gill). Not that he necessarily realizes this until he's creating an Augmenta avatar based on Sophie.

Star Benjamin Dickinson also writes and directs, and almost treats the film akin to its new technology at the start, introducing his main handful of characters with quick capsules of who they are, what they do, and how they are related to the others, a tutorial that cuts between them quickly enough to present them add together even when scattered across the city. Once that's established, Dickinson can start actually using these people for odd little scenes that build upon each other, seldom having to actually stop and explain anything. It's a good match for the dry comedy that serves as the film's backbone, allowing Dickinson and co-writer Micah Bloomberg to get to some fairly absurd places without spending much time worrying about explaining the joke or grounding it.

Full review on EFC.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Less-Than-Ideal Fathers: Papa and The Confirmation

Not exactly a planned double-feature theme do much as one that came about because work compressed the two indie-ish movies that came out this weekend together: I wound up staying late on Friday because I really wanted to get an audit of... stuff... done before the weekend (it is tough to describe my work without making it boring or worrying about spilling inside information), even though much of Sunday would be taken from me so that I could fly out to Texas for a week-long training session. So I stacked movies up on Saturday, coming pretty close to the entire space in between was spent on the T because they weren't all playing in one place. It arguably became a themed triple feature, since I went from The Confirmation to The Witch, and the father in that movie doesn't exactly set a great example.

One interesting note: Two of the three previews before Papa were for movies centered around Asian-American characters, which is a bit unusual; they're a part of the population that can be nearly invisible in theaters. Kind of fitting given the plot of that movie, even if it was mostly a movie about a Chinese guy in America.

Luo shan ji dao dan ji hua (Papa)

* * 1/4 (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2016 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

There's always something a bit off about movies like Papa - though they are set in America and surround their (in this case) Chinese star with local actors, the filmmakers don't quite know how everyday English sounds or the finer details of the culture, so what seems perfectly reasonable when the movie is shown in Beijing gnaw at am American viewer a bit. Sure, that's kind of background noise for a movie that fuses "unprepared parent" and "green-card marriage" genres and doesn't exactly reinvent either, but it also highlights their issues.

In this case, the poor sap at the middle of everything is Huang Bolun (Xia Yu), a talent agent who came to Los Angeles to find Nina Wang (Yang Zi), a client who went AWOL with Bolun's assistant Jason Chen (Dennis Joseph O'Neil) several months ago, leaving Bolun in deep trouble with Boss Du (David Wu). With Bolun's via about to expire, his friend Ye Qiang (Brother Sway) arranges a green-card marriage to Gao Yunshu (Jiang Shan). Not only is she not exactly what Bolun expected from her picture, but their Vegas wedding and "honeymoon" ends in disaster. That's when Bolun learns that not only does Yunshu have a fifteen-year-old daughter in Coco (Song Zuer), but four other adopted children besides. And while Coco is willing to play along to keep her family from being broken up, ICE agent Alicia Sterling (Macy Gray) smells a rat.

The credits make reference to this being a remake, although even if it weren't, portions certainly play out entirely as expected, right down to Bolun having to balance responsibilities and ambitions when it turns out that Coco is every bit the natural talent that Nina is. Often, both the script and director Zheng Xiao seem to feel as intimidated by the English/Mandarin language barrier as the characters are, never really seizing the chance to build a fast-paced, funny sequence out of the dozens of misunderstandings and bits of culture shock that this situation should produce, often being satisfied to just check the things one expects from this storyline off. The desperation that motivated the sham marriage on both sides never seems evident later on, and pieces like the return of one child's birth mother don't write fit. Right down to an epilogue that seems like a big leap from the scene that immediately precedes it, Papa often feels like the outline of a movie as much as the finished product.

Full review on EFC.

The Confirmation

* * 3/4 (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2016 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #8 (first-run, digital)

The title of The Confirmation doesn't do it a lot of favors, unless the misadventures that is characters go through parallel that particular Catholic ritual in ways that aren't particularly obvious to those of us who don't share their faith. Heck, it implies enough religious material to trigger bad associations with more genuinely faith-based films rather than one that puts that material on the edges of a fairly entertaining, if occasionally worried, father-son piece.

First communion and confirmation is coming up for Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), although he seems to be in pretty good shape, frustrating Father Lyons (Stephen Tobolowsky) with his lack of sins to confess. Mother Bonnie (Maria Bello) isn't quite as settled, going on an overnight retreat with Anthony's stepfather to work out some issues, leaving Anthony in the hands of Walt (Clive Owen), the boy's father, an alcoholic, chronically-unemployed carpenter. He does have a job coming up, at least until his specialized tools are stolen from the back of his truck. That means the pair are going to have to spend much of the weekend hunting them down, hoping that the various rogues that occupy the local carpentry community are more eccentric than dangerous.

Filmmaker Bob Nelson is making his directorial debut here, although the material isn't necessarily that far off from the work he's likely best-known for; shift the father-son relationship up a generation and make the quest a bit more quixotic, and you've got the bones of Nebraska. This particular sorry may take place in the Pacific Northwest rather than the Heartland, but it's still at home in a small town that has seen better times. Nelson uses that skeleton to a similar end, giving Anthony the chance to discover where he comes from, although having Walt be an active participant rather than just the catalyst is a big boost - he may not consciously be trying to discover or remake himself, but he's certainly on a path regardless.

Full review on EFC.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.04: Merge

Monday was "Critical Mass" day at the fest, which is the day that is used to showcase local filmmakers. It draws a good crowd and the folks who made the movies get to feel awesome for the evening. As I've said before, though, when you opt to narrow your sample like that, you are very lucky when something excellent comes out of it. Maybe they got lucky during the shorts program, although I wasn't working from home and able to get to the theater in time that day.

Heck, I barely arrived in time for the first feature, especially when I discovered that my pass wasn't where it belonged. I bought a ticket and headed downstairs, and that's when I found out that I wasn't just seeing an independent film, but a high-school class project for my $12.50. A pretty good high-school class project, as those things go, although it's always kind of weird mixing that sort of thing in with the more professional productions on the schedule.

Made for some interesting bits in the Q&A with writer/director/teacher Justin Bull, including bits such as how certain characters were written out of the movie midway through because of their spring break plans. It's also worth mentioning that this was apparently less a film course than an improvisation class, which may have been a big part of the issues I had with the movie both before and after I knew its backstory.

Then, after that, it was time for the second movie, Space People. I'd checked on-line and noted that it was 105 minutes lon, which can be a pretty handy thing to know when you discover that it's a cheaply-produced spoof that repeats the same not-very-funny bit twice in one scene. I tapped out about ten minutes into it, because I generally don't like this sort of goofing on the shortcomings of old movies and TV shows to start with (have I mentioned that the best way to pay tribute to them is to make the great film their makers were aiming for yet this year?). Most of them are only 75 minutes or so, though, but an hour and three quarters was just way too much to take. So I went home, sent an email about my pass being lost and watched The X Files

Merge

N/A (out of four)
Seen 8 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

The interesting thing about Merge is that there's a pretty solid idea or two underneath the obviously untrained execution, and even that execution proves interesting since, as it's almost all improvised by the teenage cast, it probably provides a much more interesting glimpse of the future than what forty-year-old screenwriters dream up.

It also, unfortunately, has certain holes that prove to be as frustrating as interesting. The entire setting, for instance, involves a group of gifted students coming together at a special school in rural Vermont; the instructor (Scott Fielding) makes mysterious comments about the students being some sort of only hope, but never actually teaches; the students just take test after test rather than actually learning anything. And, sure, maybe that is what high school seems like to teenagers, even ones in a fancy private school, but it often seems to be setting the audience up for something that just doesn't come. Maybe that's a flaw of the improvisation - things just went another way - but it's a movie; you can go back and fix those things.

More works than might be expected, though - as awkward as some of the kids are making up a story at times, they're pretty good with each other, and a few may even have a future in this if they want it. Considering that the Q&A had the students really developing the story, it's also kind of interesting that they played the transition from smart drugs to hive mind with less panic than many adult filmmakers do. Which, I suppose, may freak the more traditional adults in the audience out a bit more, but certainly points to the future being in interesting hands.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016 03: Displacement, Skyquake, and Polder

For a festival day on a weekend, Sunday went strangely quick, as there's apparently not much benefit to starting early or doing a late show on Sunday. Which was fine by me; it gave me a chance to head downtown for one of the two movies opening for Chinese New Year early on.

It wound up being a bit of an interesting theme day, as all three movies were sort of self-negating in one way or another, either via time-travel, unreliable narrators, or virtual reality. It's a broad enough application of the theme that one doesn't necessarily notice it as it plays out, but it looks kind of weird in retrospect. Given how the day went outside of the movies' plots, feel free to make self-erasure some sort of theme.

SKYQUAKE filmmaker Sandy Robson (really)

Like this. What the heck happened here? It came off my tablet with nothing from my phone showing that date, so I must have left my phone at home again. Still, the tablet usually takes a good picture despite how ridiculous one feels using it, so why is this picture of Skyquake writer/director/star/several other jobs Sandy Robson so deserving of the "horrible photography" tag? Heck if I know.

He led a pretty good Q&A, though; as a working actor who has been at it for quite some time, he was very comfortable in front of an audience, good at communicating in a way that other first-time directors (even those who have been in the business) often aren't. I it was fairly impressive that he came out here from Vancouver for a world premiere, although I did sort of wonder if there was anything closer to home that he might have gone for, even Slamdance.

It was kind of interesting that he went pretty dark for his first film and the next one he described sounded like an even tougher sell. Sometimes one might expect a guy who had spent a lot of time doing genre TV to go with what he knows, especially when that sort of procedural/fantastic material might sell on top of being a good way to ease oneself into a new job, but Robson went for what he doesn't often get to do instead. There's something amiable in that, even if the film is frustrating for its canceling large chunks of itself out.

One kind of amusing thing was that someone in the audience asked about the sort of streaking effect you could see in the whole picture but most obviously in the titles, only to be told that it was not deliberate but just an artifact of projection. The folks in charge of the festival seemed surprised to hear that this was fairly evident on everything in that room that wasn't a DCP (and the festival isn't alone here; the same effect was visible when I saw Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong at Apple a week or so later, and I think at another screening using a consumer-grade projector). It's a weirdly specific one - columns a few pixels wide displaying what is to their right at regularly spaced vertical intervals - that would probably make more sense to me if I knew more about how projector hardware works.

It was kind of a number that, after everybody noticed that this was going on, Polder made things worse by apparently being steamed from Vimeo at less-than-Blu-ray resolution. It was darn hard to see, and this movie could really have used a little clarity (there were also some adjustments necessary to get picture and subtitles on the screen at the same time). It made me really wish that more of the festival was handled by the venue's great projection staff rather than the festival organizers, although I don't know what they could do with some of the material.

And, somewhere in there, my festival pass vanished despite how it felt I was really careful about knowing where it was at all times. Which seems like a perfectly fitting way to end a day when the film's weren't bad but certainly did manage to pull a variety of vanishing acts.

Displacement

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

Short-term time travel is the trickiest sort of science fiction to create; it doesn't necessarily have to be a perfect Moebius strip structurally, but any shortcomings in that department must be more than made up in other ways. Displacement makes valiant efforts in both directions, and while not everything comes together, it does okay; at the very least, many science fiction fans will find as much to like add to nitpick.

It starts, as these adventures do, with grad student Cassie Sinclair (Courtney Hope) waking up in an ice bath with her memory fuzzy, and her boyfriend Brian (Christopher Backus) murdered in the hotel suite to which this bathroom is attached. It turns out that all of this is related to some sort of time-travel experiment which has Cassie jumping forward and back on the t-axis, trying to get information from faculty adviser Peter Deckard (Bruce Davison) and friend Josh (Karan Oberoi) while avoiding a mysterious organization represented by Dr. Miles (Sarah Douglas). Visiting Cassie's recently deceased mother (Susan Blakely) might be nice, though.

It's not a requirement that the female protagonist of a time-travel story be named Cassandra or some variation, but it must be almost impossible to resist giving that name to a lady who knows the future but will, sadly, never be believed. That's not the only familiar element to be found in filmmaker Kenneth Mader's script; there's the combination of one person being amnesiac and others being cryptic, and dire warnings all of this will tear the universe asunder if Cassie's activities aren't carefully controlled. There's also, unfortunately, the frustrating tendency to set up a situation that only works if cause-and-effect form a tight loop in one scene and then having Cassie break that sequence in the next.

Full review on EFC.

Skyquake

* * (out of four)
Seen 7 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

There are a lot of ways filmmakers can be too clever for their own good, but the most frustrating involve telling the audience, in one way or another, that the thing they've invested their time, money, and emotions on doesn't matter. Sandy Robson doesn't do that explicitly with Skyquake, and would likely argue that everything on-screen is important to the story or telling in some way, but he's made a movie that yanks the rug out from under the viewer a little too completely.

The "Skyquake", we're told, is a phenomenon where loud, strange noises come from a clear sky, though seldom in places where large groups can document it. No, it's usually folks like Adam (Robson), who lives in a cabin some distance away from any neighbors, and a peculiar type besides: Completely shaved, displaying signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior or some similar disorder, spending his days walking around the woods and nights dreaming of a missing boy (Aidan Kokotilo-Moen). His only contact with the outside world aside from the Internet is Grace (Brownen Smith), who delivers his fresh produce and researches the Skyquake mystery when she hears about it from Adam.

Robson is a Vancouver-based actor who has had a guest-starring role on seemingly all of the shows that shoot there, so it's at least a little to be expected that Adam is a chance for him to take center stage as opposed to being subservient to the regular cast. He certainly doesn't disappoint there; as much as Adam is initially defined by his extreme grooming regimen and other obvious visual cues, it's the way Robson pays attention to the smaller details and gives the character a bit of a personality and specific history even before explanations are offered that make the performance memorable. The cast is small, but he doesn't just make it a solo show with grudging acknowledgment of other people; Brownen Smith gets the time to be a multifaceted complement to Adam as Grace.

Polder

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

There are likely a great many odd cross-pollinations like Polder that even the most dedicated watchers of world cinema miss because a German art-house adaptation of a Japanese science-fiction novel would appeal to fairly specialized tastes under the best of circumstances, and this one is kind of weird even for that background. I was into it, but I'm usually down for at least half of that equation, and know plenty that aren't. It's worth a look for those feeling adventurous, at least.

Game companies with names like "Neuroo-X" are always trouble, and this case is no exception. Sure, when Marcus (Christoph Bach) and his friends started the company, they were a bunch of hippies with big ideas, but now it's big business and Marcus, their chief engineer, has disappeared on the eve of a major new product launch. The company may proceed anyway, despite the whole "virtual reality that immerses the player so thoroughly that getting out is difficult and/or fatal" problem. They believe the last bit of Marcus's code may be in the hands of his wife Ryuko (Nina Fog), although she's more concerned with their son and actually finding her husband than launching a new gaming system.

There's not a lot more going on than that story-wise, but what there is tends toward the strange and convoluted with plenty of stops along the way to make the viewer question what is real and what is virtual, despite what seemed like simple color-coding. That sort of convolution is not an uncommon feature in Japanese sci-fi - even "light novels" will often include some sort of chart that a reader can use to find where he or she stands at a given moment - and filmmakers Julian M. Grünthal & Samuel Schwarz aren't particularly interested in compromising their art for clarity: If the viewer stops paying close attention for a minute or two, she or he can get lost rather quickly.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 March 2016 - 25 March 2016

Ugh. Business travel all next week means I am missing out on some fun stuff in the Boston area, most notably at the theater that has been my home base for so long.

  • The Brattle Theatre, you see has a pretty great line-up this week. They kick things off with a special engagement of the restoration of River of Grass, Kelly Reichardt's debut film, and, yeah, stuff from just 20 years ago does need restoration. That plays Friday to Sunday, taking a brief break on Sunday afternoon for the Chlotrudis Awards, where the local filml society will present their awards for the best in independent/overlooked films from last year; this year's guests will include many from the cast and crew of Tangerine. Then, on Monday, one of the directors of IFFBoston selection (T)ERROR will visit with his film with The DocYard, and it's a nifty one. Then, on Tuesday, the free Elements of Cinema screening is a 35mm print of North By Northwest, and I submit that you will not see a better value in theaters this year.

    Then, on Wednesday, the always-terrific Boston Underground Film Festival kicks off with a bunch of stuff I wish I could get to: Polish teen vampire mermaid picture The Lure, a new restoration of Belladonna of Sadness, a Homegrown Horror block of New England-made shorts, British import Kill Your Friends, and a 35mm print of Larry Fessenden's Wendigo. Fessenden, by the way, produced/edited/co-starred in River of Grass, really tying the schedule together.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre also has a couple of noteworthy releases this week: Eye in the Sky stars Helen Mirren as a military commander navigating the tricky ethics of modern drone-based warfare. Aaron Paul plays the American pilot, and Alan Rickman has what I believe is his last live-action role. Also playing at Kendall Square and Boston Common.

    They also have My Name is Doris, starring Sally Field as a sixty-something who falls for a new co-worker half her age (Max Greenfield). Aside from generating a lot of praise for Field, it's worth noting that it's director Michael Showalter's first feature since 2004's The Baxter, which was also a fun twist on romantic comedy material. It's also at West Newton and Kendall Square.

    It looks like the last chance for many of us to easily take in their midnight programming, as the MBTA shuts late service down after Friday night. There are two options this weekend - the remake of Cabin Fever (that seems really fast, doesn't it?) and a 35mm print of Brian Trenchard-Smith's Ozploitation oddity Stunt Rock. At more reasonable hours, Monday offers a "Sound of Silents" program of three shorts - two by Charlie Chaplin and one by Fatty Arbuckle that also features Buster Keaton - with Donald Sosin, Joanna Seaton, and their group providing the score. There's also a national Science on Screen event Tuesday, with Harvard genetics professor George Church introducing a 35mm print of Steven Soderbergh's Contagion. Then, on Thursday, the Francophonie Film Festival presents Le Rang du Lion, in which a young man in Quebec, disillusioned with city life, winds up being drawn into what may be a cult.
  • In addition to those opening at the Coolidge, Kendall Square has a one-week booking for Creative Control, a near-future sci-fi thing in which a new augmented-reality technology wreaks odd havoc, including a guy having an affair with a virtual copy of his friend's girlfriend. Both they and their sister cinema in Waltham, The Embassy (as well as the multiplexes in Boston Common and Revere) aso open The Bronze, with Melissa Rauch as an unlikely gymnastics medalist who has been living off that fame for years pushed to train a new Olymmpic hopeful.
  • It looks like the only big multiplex release is The Divergent Series: Allegiant, the third in this series of young-adult adaptations about a girl who has multiple skills in a world where everybody only has one. Or something; I haven't seen them and it looks like Kate Winslet is no longer the villain, so half the appeal is gone, especially since this is apparenty just half of the final novel in the series. It's playing the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, 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. Revere, at least, will also be screening The Ten Commandments on Sunday and Wednesday (I think some other places are, but that's the listing I saw).

    Boston Common also has Papa, a Chinese comedy starring Xia Yuas a talent manager sent to L.A. to retrieve an AWOL client only to somehow wind up in an arranged marriage with five adopted kids. Macy Gray appears to have a cameo in it. Meanwhile, The Mermaid keeps chugging along, still at a full theater after a month.
  • New Bollywood at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, with Sidarth Malhotra and Fawad Khan playing brothers who had been living abroad that don't get along when they return to their hometown, and both falling for Tia (Alia Bhatt) is likely not going to help in Kapoor and Sons (Since 1921); looks like the sort of masala musical one expects upon hearing "Bollywood": There are also screenings of Tamil romantic comedy Kadhalum Kadanthu.

    They also seem to be the only place showing The Confirmation, and that just for two schows a day. It's the directorial debut of Nebraska writer Bob Nelson which stars Clive Owen as an absentee father spending the weekend with his son (Jaeden Lieberher) while his mother and new husband are off on a religious retreat, with wackiness ensuing. Nice looking supporting cast, including Maria Bello, Robert Forster, Tim Blake Nelson, Stephen Tobolowsky, Patton Oswalt, and Matthew Modine. The week's Thursday night cult movie is Phantasm, with any luck the new restoration that played SXSW last week (although a lesser transfer is more likely).
  • West Newton Cinema appears to be the only place in the area showing Remember, the new film by Atom Egoyan which featuers Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau as a pair of Auschwitz survivors - one physical disabled, one dealing with memory loss - tracking down the guard who killed their families.
  • Guy Maddin Presents... some more at The Harvard Film Archive, with this week's programming from the eccentric filmmaker and visiting lecturer including Moonrise and Man's Castle for a Frank Borzage Friday, New Year's Eve with accompaniment by Robert Humphreville and pre-code prison flick The Big House on Saturday, and James Whale's Remember Last Night? on Sunday afternoon. Alfred Guzetti visits in person for a sort of preview of his retrospective with Family Portrait Sittings on Sunday evening, and then the first of three versions of Hamlet that will play over the next month (Laurence Olivier's) plays Monday. They also have a pair of free-admission screenings on Thursday: "the world won't listen", a multimedia presentation by Phil Collins (a different one!) at 5:30pm, and a DocYard screening of Sembene! with director Jason Silverman at 7pm.
  • Interestingly, ArtsEmerson, is also showing Sembene!, on Friday, and they have the other director (Samba Gadjigo) on-hand. They also welcome visitors for Five Star on Saturday, with a musician, producer, and actors discussing their film about gang life. Bright Lights takes over on Sunday with the Emerson Film Festival, featuring the school's student filmmakers. On Tuesday, filmmaker Maria Agui Carter shows of Rebel, a documentary on Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who had a pretty incredible Civil War. Another director, Susan Gray, visits with her documentary Circus Without Borders on Wednesday, with producer Matt Valentinas shows An Open Secret, an exposé of sexual predators in Hollywood, on Thursday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts uses their auditorium for The 15th Boston Turkish Film Festival this week, with sreenings Friday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday, including Academy Award nominee Mustang and Remake, Remix, Rip-Off. There are also screenings of Talent Has Hunger on Sunday and Wednesday, Censored Voices on Sunday, and In the Shadow of Women on Wednesday.
  • The people at The Somerville Theatre just love showing film, folks, squeezing in another couple nights of The Hateful Eight on Friday and Saturday, and if you haven't seen it in 70mm yet, you owe it to yourself, especially since it's likely this is it (I expect Batman vs Superman gets screen #1 last week, especially if that gets prints). Channel Zero has their first screening room show in a while, presenting a film noir double feature of A Shortcut to Hell & The Hoodlum. The theater also start a new weekly series on Wednesday, "Movies and Music Around the Corner", which looks at world music, with Roaring Abyss first up, taking the viewer on a cultural tour of Ethiopia.

  • Two film presentations at The Regent Theatre this week, although the one in the "Underground" space (The Phenomenon Bruno Groening) looks less like a documentary and more like a sales pitch. They'll also be showing Janis: Little Girl Blue up in the main theater on Thursday.

  • The ICA has the Black Radical Imagination shorts program on Sunday afternoon. Curators of the program and featured filmmaker Terence Nance will introduce and lead discussion.

  • The Belmont World Film Series returns to the Belmont Studio Cinema this Monday, starting this year's series with Parisienne, which follows a 19-year-old Lebanese girl coming to Paris for school. Professor Franck Salameh will introduce it, and there's a reception beforehand.

  • The UMass Boston Film Series returns on Thursday with The Invisibles, a documentary that follows a group of refugees seeking political asylum in Germany. As per usual, the director (Benjamin Kahlmeyer) introduces and provides Q&A.


  • There is so much there that I would like to see, but I'll probably settle for Papa, Creative Control, Eye in the Sky, and whatever is playing in the multiplex nearest the hotel in Texas. You have no excuse to not catch North By Northwest, BUFF, the silents, and all the other great stuff in Boston this week.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2016

    Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.07: Alienation, The Phoenix Incident, and Mafia: Survival Game

    Went out of order on this one, because The Phoenix Incident had a Fathom Events screening on Thursday, so I figured it would make sense to have the review out by then, as that would almost certainly be its biggest release, even if it has a regular release planned. But, no, I get emails from the PR firm handling the film saying it's embargoed. Embargoes are dumb in most situations, but this one seems even more so considering that it was already released on video in the UK (in some form).

    But, anyway, enough about that...



    First film on the night was Alienated, with producer Princeton Holt and writer/director Brian Ackley. I get into it a fair amount in the review, but their movie really loses me as it goes on, until I found myself really disliking it.

    They seemed like nice folks; a little too fond of improv in their movie for my liking, and similarly sort of dismissing the inability to show the art which all the characters were talking about. There was also a sort of rambling talk about independent filmmaking and diversity in the industry.



    Here's Keith Arem, director of The Phoenix Incident. Similarly enthusiastic, though an entertainment industry veteran (albeit from the gaming end), so he seemed more accustomed to what amounts to making a presentation. He wound up talking up unconventional distribution and the plans for an integrated app and viral content.

    Then, after that, Mafia: Survival Game, which was terrible and had the second-worst projection of the festival to boot. You'd think something with a fair-sized Russian studio behind it would be able to send a DCP, even after the Friday-night debacle, rather than downloading a cruddy file to project on a substandard projector (which, again, is not the fault of the Somerville Theatre projection staff at all)..

    Alienated

    * ¼ (out of four)
    Seen 11 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

    Given the focus of the festival in question, it's not surprising that a fair number of the negative assessments of Alienated were along the lines of it barely being science fiction, but that's letting it off too easily. This movie is a chore to sit through regardless of which genre labels it is tagged with, an improvised mess that never discovers a route around its problems or a way to mask is unpleasantness compelling.

    It takes place, mostly, in the home of Nate (George Katt) and Paige (Jen Burry), a couple that has been together long enough to no longer be amused by each others' quirks when not taking the other for granted. Paige is the breadwinner right now, with Nate apparently looking for work in a half-heated fashion, between posting 9/11 conspiracy theories online and working on paintings, one of which was recently given to an ex-girlfriend. It's a point of contention between them even when Paige just wants to take a bath and watch The Michael J. Fox Show after work, even if it's a rerun. Not likely, because Nate saw a UFO earlier and thinks that Paige should be a lot more interested in that.

    This kind of soured-relationship movie tends to bring out one of three feelings toward its outcome in a viewer: Either you hope that the couple will work things out because there seems to be something with saving; you sadly hope they break up because, even if there's something appealing in one or both beneath the fighting, it's too far gone or some ingredient was wrong from the start; or you hope that they'll stick together because they are two genuinely miserable people and their staying together not only prevents them from spreading that may to other partners but increases the chance of a double homicide which just gets rid of them altogether. That Alienated falls into the third category is actually kind of impressive; it's easy enough to lose patience with Nate, but especially since Paige at least seems to be showing enough interest in his art for Nate's condescension to make her sympathetic, but Paige's particular flavor of passive aggression eventually becomes wearing as well.

    Full review on EFC.

    The Phoenix Incident

    * * 1/4 (out of four)
    Seen 11 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, DCP)

    I think that I vaguely recall the "Phoenix Lights" that give this film its name; at least, there was a feeling of familiarity when the footage appeared which demonstrates that filmmaker Keith Arem has either done a nice job of integrating real-world material or creating something that seems real. That's better than a lot of people making a science fiction story that fits into the real world's shadows manage, but like a lot of sci-fi looking to fit into that niche, it runs into some pretty hard limits on what it can actually accomplish.

    If you don't remember the Phoenix Lights, they were a set of unusually synchronized UFOs that appeared in the sky over Phoenix, Arizona, on 13 Match 1997. Less widely-reported, the film posits, is that four young men - Glenn Lauder (Yuri Lowenthal), Ryan Stone (Troy Baker), Jacob Reynolds (Liam O'Brien), and Mitch Adams (Travis Willingham) - out four-wheeling in the desert went missing that night. Police investigations initially focused on Walton S. Grayson (Michael Adamthwaite), a local cultist/hermit, but he was never charged - perhaps because of pressure brought to bear by the Air Force.

    Arem presents this as a mock documentary which incorporates a fair amount of found footage, and while this occasionally makes a film unusually compelling and gives the filmmakers an in-story reason for things to be kept hidden and excuses a few other rough edges, it's a style that has some overhead. Here, that includes a fair amount of time spent explaining that Glenn was the sort of X-Games enthusiast who built wearable cameras to capture his tricks because GoPro was not yet a thing in 1997, time spent arguing about turning the camera off, and a fair chunk of material where the unseen filmmakers hear that having your only son disappear without any sort of closure is awful from the people left behind a and get stonewalled by a fair number of bland government functionaries. When they do get information, it's because an informant shot in shadows to preserve his anonymity (something that the structure of this sort of film prevents the audience from carrying about, so it's all window-dressing) is narrating but not showing anything. Even when this sort of thing is made to look authentic enough, as is the case here, it's all material that is honestly not that important but takes up a fair amount of time.

    Full review on EFC. (At least, come 6 April 2016)

    Mafiya (Mafia: Survival Game)

    * (out of four)
    Seen 11 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

    Nearly every time I see a movie based upon a video game, I can't but help but comment about how directly translating that medium's structures and mechanisms to film creates something incredibly awkward. That is nothing, however, compared to watching Mafia: Survival Game slavishly stick to the party card game that inspired it and fundamentally miss what makes something a watchable movie.

    It reimagines this game as the most popular television show in the year 2072, where 12 people - some of them prisoners who will be freed if they win - compete for a pot of a million dollars that will be split among the survivors. This is meant quite literally - at the end of every round, the participants vote, and whoever is voted off is sent into a virtual reality simulation of his or her worst fears, and if you die in that... Well, you know.

    This is the point where I would normally list out those contestants, but it's very close to pointless, especially since I only managed to get eleven down while taking notes. They have, in theory, been chosen like the contestants on an actual reality show, with clashing personality types and folks with connected backstories, and there are some potentially interesting ideas in there - ballerina Maria (Natalya Rudova) competing against her stalker Ari or one of the prisoners (Artyom Suchkov) being on death row because the oligarchs convinced him to take the fall for a friend's drunk driving - but with twelve of them to cram into 96 minutes, and occasional forays into the control room with the show's creator (Viktor Verzhbitskiy) that certainly feel like Ed Harris's scenes in The Truman Show, there's just not enough time for any of them to be anything but shallow.

    Full review on EFC.

    Thursday, March 10, 2016

    Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 11 March 2016 - 17 March 2016

    It kind of looks like a fun weekend with a fair amount of off-the-beaten path stuff coming out.

    • Consider 10 Cloverfield Lane, a sort of cousin the Cloverfield that sneaked onto the schedule with little fanfare before the teaser came out just a couple of months ago, and stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a woman who wakes up in the locked bunker of a man (John Goodman) who says the world has ended outside. Maybe the title gives a hint how, maybe it doesn't. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Jordan's (in Imax), Boston Common (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.

      Then there's The Brothers Grimsby, with Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong playing brothers separated as children, one a good-natured idiot and the other basically James Bond, who reunite at a fairly inconvenient time for the latter. It's got a fun cast but that 82-minute runtime sort of screams "cut down to fit extra showtimes in before word-of-mouth kills it", though that seems a little less common these days. It's at the Somerville, Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, Revere, and the SuperLux. The week's other mainstream comedy is The Perfect Match, a player-gets-played romantic comedy featuring Terrence Jenkins and Cassie Ventura. It's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, Fenway, and Revere.

      There's also The Young Messiah, a movie about Jesus as a seven-year-old... Wait, is that really based on a novel by Anne Rice? Huh. That's at Boston Common, Assembly Row, and Revere; those locations, Apple Fresh Pond, and Fenway (at least) will also open Miracles from Heaven on Wednesday.
    • Kendall Square, meanwhile, is the only place opening Knight of Cups this week, a much more urban art-house movie from Terrence Malick than his usual pastorals. This one stars Christian Bale as a Hollywood writer and includes Cate Blanchet, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto, and Natalie Portman as the women in his life.

      They also get Embrace of the Serpent, Columbia's Oscar-nominated film about a pair of western scientists and their lifelong friendship with an Amazonian who is the last of his people. That's the thing on the official one-week calendar, although I suspect Trapped, a documentary about the fight against the attempt to crush abortion access through regulation, may have the more limited run. And speaking of limitedd runs, they will be screening Psycho-Pass: The Movie one Tuesday & Wednesday evenings; it's a follow-up movie to a popular anime series about a future where criminal intent is analyzed and squelched before it can be acted upon.
    • The Coolidge Corner Theatre's new release will mostly be in the screening room, because Rams, an Icelandic film about estranged brothers fighting to save their prize-winning sheep from a disease-mandated cull, is probably kind of a specialty thing. It does have some times in the GoldScreen and even Theater #2, though. They also book The Revenant for a one-week run (mostly) on their main screen, including an "Off the Couch" screening on Tuesday.

      Midnight on Friday & Saturday has Lady Snowblood, a classic revenge film about a woman in feudal Japan trained from birth to avenge her mother. Period revenge seems to be the theme Sunday morning as well, as this month's Goethe-Institut German film is The Dark Valley, in which a mysterious stranger is offered shelter in a secluded town for the winter, only to have the patriarch's children be murdered. That's Sunday morning; Monday night they have a 35mm presentation of Killer of Sheep that ties into the Huntington Theatre's production of How I Learned What I Learned. On Thursday, there's a "Francophonie Film Festival" presentation of Les Conquérants, a French film about two half-brothers who go in search of a relic that their father stole in order to return it to its rightful place.
    • The Brattle Theatre spends most of the week celebrating film noir's 75th anniversary with Prime Noir of the 1940s, and can you blame them? It's a week full of great stuff, mostly in 35mm. Note that some of this has moved around since the schedule was printed, starting with Friday's They Live by Night, pushed up so that it can be introduced by critic A.O. Scott. The series continues with Ministry of Fear & The Big Clock on Saturday, Bogie & Bacall double feature Key Largo & To Have and Have Not on Sunday, Act of Violence & Crack-Up on Monday, Kiss of Death (DCP, moved from Friday) on Wednesday, and Thieves' Highway (DCP) & They Live By Night (replacing Force of Evil) on Thursday. There's also a Trash Night on Tuesday, although the VHS crud of the month has not been announced.
    • The folks at The Harvard Film Archive are letting a Visiting Lecturer program much of their schedule for the next couple of months, and considering how iconoclastic that guy is, Guy Maddin Presents... should be a kick. This week's selections include Something Wild (Friday 7pm), Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Friday 9:15pm), On Dangerous Ground (Saturday 7pm), Hell Drivers (Saturday 9pm), and The Wind (Monday 7pm with live accompaniment by Martin Marks), all in 35mm. On Sunday, they have a different visitor, as John Gianvito visits with a massive Filipino documentary, Wake, starting at 3pm and running for about four and a half hours.
    • The Museum of Fine Arts has more screenings of Theory of Obscurity: A Film about the Residents(Friday) and In the Shadow of Women (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday/Thursday), and also starts a run of Talent Has Hunger, a documentary shot over seven years at the New England Conservatory, focusing on master cellist Paul Katz, whom the description makes sound like the opposite of JK Simmons in Whiplash. Friday night's premiere has filmmaker Josh Aronson, Katz, and a number of special guests; it also plays Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

      There's also a screening of Speed Sisters, a documentary on the first all-woman car racing team in the Middle East, on Sunday with director Amber Fares on-hand. Filmmakers and others will also visit on Wednesday for "Dreaming Against the World: Mu Xin in Focus", a documentary on the oft-overlooked but courageous Chinese artist. Director Tolga Karaçelik will be on hand Thursday with Ivy, where a cargo ship's crew descends into anarchy when the owner goes bankrupt. That's opening night for the Boston Turkish Film Festival.
    • Spring break has finished, so Bright Lights is back at Emerson's Paramount Theatre. This week's two free screenings are highly-awarded films: Room on Tuesday with the school's director of Violence Prevention and Response leading a discussion afterward and Tangerine with star Mya Taylor on Thursday.
    • Given how well Neerja seems to be holding on at Apple Cinemas Fresh Pond, I almost feel like I should check it out; maybe if it gets week five. In the meantime, they have a few other, mostly-unsubtitled (as far as I can tell) movies: Tamil romantic comedy Kadhalum Kadanthu, Tamil horror(?) anthology Aviyal, Telugu romance Kalyana Vaibhogame, Malayalam comedy Maheshinte Prathikaa.

      They're also doing a little more cult material, with a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday (it appears Boston Common does not have their usual Saturday screening this week) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch at 7:30pm on Thursday.
    • The Somerville Theatre has the last three nights of Irish Film Festival Boston, which includes new films and retrospectives, including Michael Collins and Garage, directed by Lenny Abrahamson of Room. Between the festival and live events, they're down to three or four screens most of the week, but have one more 70mm screening of The Hateful Eight on Thursday.


    My plans? A bunch of noir, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and who knows what else.

    Wednesday, March 09, 2016

    The Wave

    You're expected to do a bit of outcome-based analysis with disaster movies: There's a strong "if they'd only listed to that guy, so many lives wouldn't have been lost!" undercurrent to so many of them. But this one sometimes seems to go way off in the other direction.

    SPOILERS!

    I mean, that bus full of people who had evacuated all dying while Idun and Sondre survive - kind of rough, right? Part of it's liking Vibeke and how that moment of her and Sondre checking each other out in the hallway seemed more genuine than a lot of films that do more, but there really is the expectation that there's some sort of karmic balance to these things, that panic will get you killed but doing the right thing, even if it doesn't save you, will let you die bravely.

    The other thing about that bus: It means that the Ejikods are kind of terrible at saving anyone other than their own family, doesn't it? Kristian rescuing Anna when she was pinned between the cars was negated minutes later when he escaped from the SUV uninjured while she was killed, while everybody in the hotel Idun was evacuating, aside from the son who was skateboarding around the basement with his headphones on - right down to deliberately drowning the last one (she had reasons, but still)! The funny thing about that is, The Wave had really seemed to go out of its way to not make this a movie where a ton of people dying was okay so long as the family wound up together and past their differences, but instead, the simple fact of being family with the protagonist is all that can save you.

    !SRELIOPS

    I suppose that this sort of cancels out, and the end result is that these disasters are random and unsentimental. Which, on a certain level, is good - movies that reduce them to acts of god that kill thousands to teach one family a lesson, at least as far as the viewer's emotional reaction to the movie is concerned are kind of awful and encourage a really nasty sort of egocentric way of looking at the world. And yet, there's no denying that something is missing from these stories without it. It's a quandary.

    Bølgen (The Wave)

    * * ¾ (out of four)
    Seen 7 Match 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #3 (first-run, DCP)

    It's odd but fortunate that The Wave is getting an American theatrical release; it's the sort of international genre film that tends to go straight to video-on-demand and maybe doesn't even get a Region A Blu-ray. It's understandable, since massive destruction is the thing Hollywood does better than anyone else and there's thus little need to import more, despite the focus and specificity that something produced elsewhere can offer while still looking great on the big screen.

    In this case, the place is the town of Geiranger, a scenic spot on a fjord sitting beneath the mountain Åkneset. Geologist Kristian Ejikod (Kristoffer Joner) has been part of the team monitoring the mountain for years, though he's about to take a job for an oil company in the city. On his last day, they get some odd seismic reasons which bear further investigation, because a big enough rockslide would trigger a wave that, when traveling through the narrow straits in the area, could reach a height of 80 meters when it arrives at the town ten minutes later. For reference, the hotel where Kristian's wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) is putting in one of her last shifts, is 1.7 meters above sea level.

    There's a certain template to the disaster movie built out of how disasters often happen relatively quickly but audiences generally expect to spend more than an hour and a half in the theater once they've paid the going rate for a screen with all the relevant bells and whistles: A getting-to-know-you period establishing some sort of personal stakes, a visual-effects centerpiece, and then, unless you can afford/sell repeated aftershocks or recurrent catastrophe, the rescue of people who got trapped in a place that was momentarily safe but will now kill them slowly. You can practically set your watch to it, and either director Roar Uthaug or one of the writers was cheeky enough to actually have Kristian do so, starting a ten minute countdown as soon as he finds out that the mountain has collapsed (it's a sporty model that also indicates elevation, so we know exactly how much higher everyone has to climb while it counts down). Its not hard to guess what happens on either side of those ten minutes, either.

    Full review on EFC.

    Monday, March 07, 2016

    Boston Sci-fi Film Festival 2016.02: Embers, Arrowhead, House of Time and Einstein's God Model

    It's surprisingly peaceful to forget your phone sometimes, especially when you're spending the day at the movies just a block or two away from where you left it in your apartment. That's what I did on the second day of this festival, although it didn't actually put me or off touch with much - I had my tablet with me and the cable company's WiFi actually works fairly well in the Somerville Theatre, so I could write and look stud fairly well when need be. It just meant that there were few buzzing notifications that distracted me during the movie.

    It did mean using the tablets camera during filmmaker Q&As instead of the phone's, and while they're probably exactly the same, I bet I looked like 75% more of a tool.

    EMBERS filmmakers at Boston Sci-Fi

    That's Embers director Claire Carré and co-writer Charles Spano, who made one of the niftiest small-scale indies in the festival. One thing that came through to a very impressive extent was just how much they researched the subject and made sure that what they depicted on-screen made sense in terms of what we know about memory loss and cases of people being unable to form new memories. It's the sort of thing that many filmmakers would probably be willing to let go, because why weigh down your big idea with anything having to do with neurology, but which probably gave their movie a subconscious level of realism.

    They also mentioned that it was kind of an unusual shoot, taking place in three or four distinct locations - outside New York, the area around Gary, Indiana, and Poland. The latter came about kind of late in the game, with it sounding like they weren't going to show any of the film from the perspective of people with long-term memory until they found this great bunker to shoot in. Having those scenes also wound up increasing the amount of effects work done, though, both for the virtual-reality interface to Miranda's computer and when they discovered that what they thought was a simple cello piece was really hard, necessitating a body double. Aside from that, there was also a fair amount of graffiti removal done in other scenes, under the rationale that people who couldn't recall their own names probably wouldn't be tagging.

    Very cool folks; here's hoping we see a lot more from them.

    EINSTEIN'S GOD MODEL filmmakers at Boston Sci-Fi

    Here's some of the cast and crew of Einstein's God Model - co-star Mallory Bordonaro, writer/director Philip T.Johnson, co-star/producer Kenneth Hughes, and producer Craig Dow. It's not really a great movie, but it's a fair bit better than one which had its path to realization (guy loves movies but takes a different career path before putting something together) generally has. Oddly, it's got a release date listed on IMDB, which seems likely to be self-distribution or a VOD release with maybe a theater in someone's hometown.

    Looking at these two visits back-to-back from much later, I'm a little more tempted to roll my eyes at the festival's participation-ribbon approach to awards, given that Einstein's God Model won "Best Science" based on name-dropping and is own claims of being based on real science. The Embers folks sure seemed to integrate more research and also showed characters trying to do actual problem-solving, whereas Embers got a "Judges' Commendation".

    Next up: Skipping ahead a few days to get a review up before a movie has its one-night theatrical release.

    Embers

    * * * (out of four)
    Seen 6 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

    The shots of present-day ruins that open Embers are a reminder of sorts that worlds end all the time, on the scale of individual hopes and dreams, though those tiny apocalypses are often part of a greater calamity. That perspective is what makes this particular movie work - it has its one great disaster, but has the curiosity to ponder all of the person-sized ones that result.

    Those shots of run-down buildings soon give way to the people inside one as a guy (Jason Ritter) and a girl (Iva Gocheva) awaken with no memory, but they can speak well enough and reason that the matching handkerchiefs tired to their wrists are a symbol that they are meant to be together. Elsewhere, a young boy (Silvan Friedman) wandering alone crosses paths with an older man, at least until they encounter someone whose lack of personal history has him practically feral (Karl Glusman). James Robertson (Tucker Smallwood) is a bit more stable; he literally wrote the book on cognition before the pandemic and has devised systems to keep afloat while trying to train his memory. And in an underground bunker, Miranda (Greta Fernandez) lives with her father (Roberto Cots), regularly quizzed by a computer to make sure that she has not been affected by what happened outside seven years ago, practicing the cello, and bored out of her mind.

    Amnesia as an infectious disease is not a particularly new concept, but it's rarely as well thought-out as it is in Embers, even if director Claire Carré and co-writer Charles Spano don't put all their research and backstory on the screen directly. The most intriguing idea in the film, and the one which gives it a hidden foundation, is the implication that many people knew what was coming and made what preparations they could. And while we're trained, to a certain extent, to admire the preparations of Dr. Robertson and Miranda's father for being practical and possibly clever enough to at least partially beat this disease back, the simple step taken by the young couple who guess each other's names every morning seems the most important - they probably couldn't do what those other characters did, but maybe this kept them from becoming like "Chaos" (as the raging man is listed in the credits).

    Full review on EFC.

    Arrowhead

    * * ¼ (out of four)
    Seen 6 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre Micro-Cinema (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

    Though all independent films have to deal with the realities of building something that can potentially make its investment back, it's a little more obvious for genre films, especially science fiction. Not only does every bit of visual world-building cost, but the safest eventual market (basic cable) restricts the filmmaker by having fairly specific content and length standards. It's hard to tell what boxed Arrowhead in the most, but it leads to a film with decent ideas that can never get behind one and run with it for more than a short stretch.

    It opens with a fair chunk of exposition about one general defeating another but being the sort of less-than-magnanimous victor that inspires resistance and imprisons a lot of guys in mining camps. One of them is Kye Cortland (Dan Mor), tech-savvy enough to make himself useful to the guards but loyal to the fugitive General Hatch (Mark Redpath). He escapes, naturally, but winds up stranded in an even more inhospitable planet with young biologist Tarren Hollis (Aleisha Rose). The ship's computer R33F (voice of Shaun Micallef) is sometimes helpful, but this place is as weird as it is dangerous.

    That danger comes in a lot of different forms, and there are moments when the viewer will likely wish writer/director Jesse O'Brien had just picked one. As much as "what you might expect except for that one thing" often can keep a science fiction story from being much less creative than it should, not having that singular bit of mystery to focus on (our multiple mysteries that have some sort of connection), O'Brien never gets his story to build to anything or mean anything. The explanations that come at the end don't have much to do with half of what the characters have dealt with, and the challenges don't resonate with their inner conflicts. Nothing is ever pushing in the same direction.

    Full review on EFC.

    House of Time

    * * ¼ (out of four)
    Seen 6 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

    Ambiguity is a powerful tool for filmmakers and other storytellers if they can handle the challenges of using the same material to build two opposing narratives at once, and not just because pulling it off is an impressive achievement. It engages audiences' intellects as well as their emotions, gives them something to talk about afterward, and makes things feel more sophisticated than masterfully crafted clarity. The thing to watch out for - and what makes House of Time take a hard fall - is that pursuing ambiguity can lead to paralysis, an unwillingness to do anything that might mark one path as true, making that lack of a definitive answer the entire point rather than a reason to think more about a particular subject.

    It doesn't quite present itself as a puzzle from the beginning, but it comes close, quickly introducing the idea that Robert d'Eglantine (Maxime Dambrin) has invited five friends plus associate Elsa Orsic (Julie Judd) to an out-of-the-way country house on 18 May 2014 that he claims was near the site of secret SS experiments during the war that created a sort of wake that would take them back in time 70 years that night. Thinking it just a peculiar party game, the guests dress in period clothing and, sure enough, their mobile phones stop working at the appointed hour. That can be explained, especially since Robert has the resources not only for a hidden signal jammer but the other obstacles that keep them from exploring the world outside. But what of Mathilde Barthélémy (Esther Comar), an injured Resistance operative who shows up soon enough. She readily admits to having been an actress, but would she take a bullet for this sort of role?

    Taken on its own, the idea that the five guests (Elsa is there to be a medic of sorts) may either have been transported back to the Second World War or be part of an elaborate and potentially sadistic bit of role-play seems like it could be entertaining and even have a philosophical bent, but for some reason, director Jonathan Helpert and writer Jean Helpert are only willing or able to push things so far. That the question is open due to the lack of knowledge rather than conflicting information isn't a cheat, but it's the less exciting way to make a movie out of the situation. It necessitates the mystery being the source of the movie's tension rather than potentially being surrounded by Nazis or the likelihood that a friend is playing a cruel joke.

    Full review on EFC.

    Einstein's God Model

    * * ¼ (out of four)
    Seen 6 February 2016 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, digital)

    There's an atom-thin line between movies that separate themselves from the pack by being prepared with irreverence, eccentric characters, and black comedy and the ones that fail horribly because injecting that sort of thing into something that wants to be at least partially taken seriously is really hard to do, and I'm not quite sure which side Einstein's God Model falls on. There are moments when filmmaker Philip T. Johnson shows the wit to stand out from the large crowd of people building movies out of whatever discarded analog equipment they can find, but not as many as one might like; still, the good bits make it more memorable than a lot of the homebrew sci-fi out there.

    After an opening that shows an experiment from a few years back going as badly as they usually do in this sort of prologue, we meet Brayden Taylor (Aaron Graham) and Abbey Lucey (Kirby O'Connell), a young couple sweet and likable enough that Abbey can't be long for this world. Her death seems Brayden into a downward spiral until he eventually discovers a device developed decades ago with the intent of communicating with the dead. The last scientist investigating it is dead, but his protégé Louis Masterbrook (Kenneth Hughes) is eager to insist, and he gets them in touch with Craig Leeham (Brad Norman), a medium who owes his powers to that experiment from the start.

    Johnson puts a claim that this is based on "real science" and spends a lot of time name-dropping will-known physicists and inventors throughout the film, especially in a set of opening titles that will definitely amuse some in the audience, but it's likely not that much better than is typical. When you get right down to it, it's basically talking about ghosts and using lab equipment as props rather than religious or spiritual iconography. That's tricky; the best ghost stories work based more on pure emotion than mechanics, and taking a science-fictional approach inverts that, potentially pushing things too far toward procedure compared to feeling, and that's an obstacle that Einstein's God Model occasionally stumbles over, especially at the climax, when the shell game overwhelms the emotional attachment that supposedly enables it.

    Full review on EFC.