Sunday, October 29, 2017


I kind of wonder what the timeline on this movie is, because between it and Gambit, I'm kind of wondering if the films that the Coen Brothers write but don't direct are initially developed for themselves, handed off to someone else when they can't get it to work (because, hey, might as well get paid for the effort even if it feels like a dead end), and then made into disappointing movies because, as good as George Clooney and writing/producing partner Grant Heslov are, they're not brilliant like the project's originators are, and probably don't have a different-enough perspective to make it work when the genuine geniuses couldn't.

Of course, they're talented enough that they don't really screw things up, but it really feels like they're working backwards at times - they've got the pretty fun third act, with Oscar Isaac and the escalating violence, and they need to get there, and never really fill in enough of the story to make it worth it.

This wasn't even my actual plan for the afternoon - I was going to see the animated film from Japan - but the MBTA's continuing use of shuttles because the Longfellow Bridge is still being rebuilt was even slower than usual this week, because there's apparently another section of the subway that needed shuttle buses this weekend too, and they got the actual MBTA buses and drivers and the middle of the Red Line got the charter buses that really don't fit a lot of people for their size and staff who maybe aren't quite as used to moving a lot of people around as the public transport specialists are. So I missed the start of my movie, bought tickets for this, and wound up with a bunch of seniors around me.

I've covered this material before, but for all people complain about millennials and teenagers always pulling out their phones or talking during movies, I always have worse luck with boomers, who just chat constantly, especially during a film set during their youth, giving them lots of chances to say "I remember that" while they're whispering about what they figure is going to happen in a not terribly tricky thriller. Just a constant nuisance though only worth hissing "be quiet" to once or twice.

But, still, it's worth remembering - people of all ages can be terrible at the movies; it's not just the people younger than oneself. And, come to think of that, isn't that sort of an appropriate thing to accompany a movie about how the good old days weren't that good?


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 October 2017 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, DCP)

They didn't mention race much in the trailer for Suburbicon, or give much attention to the kid who resides closest to the center of the movie, and while keeping something in reserve isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's also kind of something that happens with the movie itself, in that director George Clooney never really gets into the good, meaty stuff.

The film opens with a sly comment on integration that quickly gets pointed, as an animated sales pitch for the titular town touts its diversity with lily-white families from all across the country, only to freak out when the African-American Mayers clan buys a house there, leading to freakouts and alarmed town meetings. Their backyard abuts that of the Lodge family - father Gardner (Matt Damon), mother Rose (Julianne Moore), and son Nicky (Noah Jupe) - and Rose's sister Margaret (Moore) prods Noah to go play with his new neighbor Andy (Tony Espinosa). A few nights later, two men break into the Lodge house, knocking the entire family out with chloroform - something the already-disabled Rose cannot handle. It's a weird crime, and just gets weirder the closer anyone looks.

Not that there's a lot there; the mystery storyline is both exactly what it looks like from the start and missing a few details that might make it memorable. There's a number of things about the set-up that seem like they'd be really nifty if fleshed out - Margaret is a mass of potential contradictions while Gardner is presented as so generic that it's tough to get a handle on what he wants, with the filmmakers seeming to have little interest in what's in his head once they've done the jokes about everyone offering him the same platitudes. It's a story that only really comes to life when it gets weird or derailed by truly random events, although the basic material is strong enough to work regardless.

Full review on EFC.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 October 2017 - 2 November 2017

Last weekend before Halloween, so some places are pulling out all the stops, and it looks like the good fall movies are finally starting to roll out. Woo-hoo!

  • Suburbicon looks like one of the "good" fall movies - George Clooney directing Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac in a story about an office drone in the 1950s who loses his wife in a home invasion and becomes increasingly violent - but isn't getting great reviews. It started from a Coen Brothers script, but Gambit sort of implies they push their lesser works off to others. It's at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    I've seen roughly a billion previews for that, but surprisingly, not a one for Jigsaw, which is weird for a relaunching 8th entry in the Saw series, with Michael & Peter Spierig (of Undead, Daybreakers, and Predestination) supposedly giving it a more stylish revival. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), Assembly Row (including Imax), Revere (including MX4D and XPlus), and the SuperLux. Another thriller, All I See Is You, gets a smaller release, with Marc Forster's film about a blind woman who discovers something is amiss in her marriage when she regains her sight. It's at Boston Common and Revere. There's also a week-long release of Harry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas, showing twice a day at Fenway.

    There's also Thank You for Your Service, a drama about servicemen returning from the Middle East and having difficulty re-integrating. It's at the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    The Disney Junior HalloVeen Party" has a final show at Revere on Saturday. There's also this month's Studio Ghibli film, Spirited Away, which plays Fenway and Revere on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, with Monday's subtitled and the other two dubbed into English. There's also the Director's Cut of Little Shop of Horrors on Sunday and Tuesday at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere, while Fenway concludes the Regal Halloween series with The Shining on Monday and Tuesday. There's also a one-night only screening of new horror movie Keep Watching at Boston Common and Assembly Row.

    And then, with Halloween over, A Bad Moms Christmas opens on Wednesday, November 1st, playing at the Capitol, Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.
  • Wonderstruck opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, West Newton and Boston Common. Writer Brian selznick has done pretty well to get his two concrete block-sized children's books adapted by the likes of Martin Scorsese (Hugo) and Todd Haynes; this one follows two children who arrive in New York City fifty years apart. The Coolidge also opens Psycho documentary 78/52 in the GoldScreen for late shows, with a midnight screening on Friday night.

    Their midnights also finish their October Italian Horror series with Black Sunday on Friday, while the Saturday overnight Halloween Horror Marathon kicks off with 35mm Night of the Living Dead and Zombie and continues for another nine hours of unannounced prints. The Saturday morning kids' show, Day of the Dead, is not hugely spooky, but it is kind of charming. It's back to scary on Monday with a "King of Halloween" double feature of Carrie & Christine on 35mm, and continues the Stephen King fun by showing a print of Pet Semetary on Halloween night, with actress Denise Crosby and John Campopiano, who directed a whole documentary about this movie.
  • Kendall Square is one of a couple places opening The Killing of a Sacred Deer (it's also at Boston Common), the new one by Yorgos Lanthimos, with Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman as a couple whose lives are turned upside down after taking in a troubled teenager; given that this Greek nutter is in charge, it's probably strange than it sounds.

    The Kendall also picks up a couple documentaries, with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's Human Flow chronicling stories of refugees and other migrants, while The Paris Opera takes a behind the scenes look at… well, take a guess. That one's booked for a week, and there's also a single screening of Kedi on Sunday for National Cat Day.
  • It's taken over a year for A Silent Voice to make it's way from Japan to America, because Japan is unlike every other country in that they don't push stuff across the Pacific quickly. The animated drama about a school bully who finds himself rejected after tormenting a hearing-impaired girl, but gets a chance at redemption later plays at Boston Common.

    The Diwali movies continue at Apple Fresh Pond - Secret Superstar, Golmaal Again, and Mersal continuing. They also open Telugu drama Vunnadi Okate and Malayalam thriller Ramaleela, and also have a Sunday screening of Bengali romance Projapoti Biskut.
  • The Regent Theatre opens Halloween Pussytrap! Kill! Kill!, in which an all-girl punk band including Sara Malakul Lane must survive a booby-trapped house, with a mastermind voiced by Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine taunting them throughout. Veteran actress margaret O'Brien and ex-Jump Streeter Richard Grieco are in it, too! It plays in the "Underground" screen from Friday to Sunday and in the main room from Monday to Thursday. They've also got motocross stunt flick Moto 9 on Saturday evening and meditation documentary Walk with Me on Sunday afternoon.
  • The Brattle Theatre is going all-in with Halloween stuff or joining in on Netflix's massive Stranger Things 2 promotion, or both! Strange Inspirations is a ton of (mostly) 1980s movies that inspired their retro horror series, with mostly 35mm prints in double features: Alien & The Thing on Friday, E.T. & Close Encounters on Saturday (both DCP), Stand by Me & The Goonies on Sunday, a single-bill of Buckaroo Banzai on Monday, Ghostbusters & Prince of Darkness on Tuesday, single features of Explorers and A Nightmare on Elm Street on Wednesday, and a pairing of Firestarter (DCP) & Scanners (35mm) on Thursday. Filling in that extra spot on Monday is a free 35mm "Elements of Cinema" screening of the original Planet of the Apes, with philosophy podcaster Wes Alwan leading a discussion afterward.
  • Bright Lights has Prevenge for their Halloween show on Tuesday, with BUFF artistic director Kevin Monahan leading the discussion afterward. They continue in the same vein on Thursday, when director Anna Biller brings a 35mm print of The Love Witch. As usual, both are free, but the Bright Screening room in Emerson's Paramount is small, so get there early.
  • The Somerville Theatre finishes up their Halloween stuff with a 35mm double feature of the classic Frankenstein & Bride of Frankenstein on Friday, and then the Teseracte Plays accompanying The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Boston Common also has a different group on both Friday and Saturday). There's also a Boston Underground Film Festival "Dispatches from the Underground" program in the Micro-Cinema on Wednesday, 2016 Fantasia selection Man Underground.

    Sister cinema The Capitol plays host to The Arlington International Film Festival through Sunday, with a pretty packed schedule that includes Chasing Trane on Friday night, IFFBoston alum Maineland on Saturday, and many shorts on Sunday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive begins The Legends of William Wellman, a retrospective of the filmmaker's work that stretches from the silent era to the 1950s, with Beggars of Life (DCP) and Night Nurse on Friday, The Public Enemy on Sunday, and The Ox-Bow Incident on Monday. Their monthly kids' show on Saturday is Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, followed later in the day by their last two films celebrating Houghton Library collections - in this case, the LSD Library: Barbarella and Monkey on My Back. Sunday night features a pair of Danny Lyon featurettes - Los Ninos Abandonados (16mm) & "Llanito" (digital), while Sunday has a free screening of 1976 Soviet comedy-drama Slave of Love (digital) at the Tsai Auditorium. All in 35mm, except where indicated.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has the back half of their Boston Palestine Film Festival, with Sunday night's closing film Stitching Palestine featuring a conversation with director Carol Mansour and producer Muna Khalidi. Their last screening of Kékszakállú (Bluebeard) is on Friday, but the November schedule starts on Wednesday with two documentaries that will play throughout the month. Dawson City: Frozen Time parallels the boom, bust, and rebirth of a Gold Rush town and the silent-movie prints that wound up their, protected by the extreme cold, while "Chartres: Light Reborn" follow the restoration of a French cathedral, with Wednesday's first showing followed by a panel discussion. On Thursday, they open the Turkish Festival's Documentary & Short Film competition with a special presentation of The Turkish Way, with a local Turkish chef introducing the food movie and the Antioch Civilizations Choir performing afterward.
  • The Museum of Science wraps up their Saturday Night Creature Features series at the planetarium with the surprisingly good giant-insect movie Them!.

I skipped Beggars of Life at the Brattle last month, so I'll catch it, Wonderstruck, A Silent Voice, and Human Flow, and probably see some crap rather than Sacred Deer. Then, it's on a plane Thursday night for a vacation that already has one movie-related tour booked.

IFFBoston 2017.182: In the Fade

I say it every year, but more festivals should do mini-festivals six months after the main event, just to help folks catch up on what's out there that may slip through the cracks otherwise. I haven't been able to get to as much of this year's Fall Focus as I'd like - Sunday was busy and Tuesday had me at work late enough to only make the late show, but that's okay - I've seen Blade of the Immortal and both Lady Bird and Last Flag Flying are a month at most from playing multiplexes.

I liked the heck out of this one, though. It's an impressive-as-heck bit of work from Diane Kruger, whom I am probably severely under-rating when I say that she often came across as an appealing blonde who could often be exchanged with another without it making a whole lot of difference, and I pretty much completely lost track of her between National Treasure and The Bridge. Part of that was because she spends a lot of time doing French work, but I actually felt kind of surprised to see she'd been in Inglorious Basterds. I'm pretty sure I won't be overlooking her again after this.

Also: I don't usually correct the Letterboxd entries I make on my way home from a movie, but my initial version referred to "Faith Aiken" as "she", as opposed to male director Fatih Akin. Oops.

Aus dem Nichts (In the Fade)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 October 2017 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus 2017, DCP)

The last act of In the Fade doesn't seem like it should be especially nerve-wracking - the film has rearranged itself to more closely resemble a thriller, certainly, and the condensed form doesn't hurt, although that may not generate tension on its own. But despite that, it felt like the caffeine from a soda I drank at work hours earlier was just hitting me - all the meticulous work Faith Akin and his collaborators put into the film was having a cumulative effect, and getting every little thing right is the way a good movie becomes a great one and a movie that never seemed to be about creating excitement, per se, has one on pins and needles by the end.

It opens with a flashback to prison, where jovial immigrant Nuri Sekreci (Numan Acar) is about to marry Katja Jenssen (Diane Kruger); cut to a few years later, and Katja is picking their 6-year-old son Rocco up from school and dropping him off to the small office where Nuri runs a small business that serves Hamburg's Turkish community in a number of ways so he can watch the boy while Katja has a spa day with her pregnant sister Birgit (Samia Muriel Chancrin). She returns to a horrific scene, and while the police seem eager to focus on Nuri's past as a drug dealer or other immigrant communities, Katja is certain that the perpetrators are homegrown neo-Nazis.

Despite that keyed-up reaction as the film started toward its finish, this isn't a thriller, not really. The first chunk of the movie is an unvarnished look at loss and pain, although it's got a few interesting tricks to play along the way. Pay close attention, for instance, to how Akin makes it easy for even an open-minded viewer to notice Nuri's friends or the lady in a headscarf as Katja leaves the office even though she actually has a quick, important conversation with someone she will soon finger for the crime - it's a moment that could prod viewers to recognize their own prejudices, but the manipulation involved is just clear enough that it can come across as fair rather than accusatory. Once the film is firmly into the aftermath, there's similar attention to detail that links what comes before or after; a shot will linger on the toys that have been left lying around the Sekrecis' house, sure, but the characters are never just sitting, staring into a void; they're doing something and interacting, and while there will be a thread between those little activities and what happens later, it's seldom set-up for an "aha!" moment as opposed to a bit of cohesion that holds the movie together. It's not too subtle to be consciously seen, but it is the sort of thing a person notes and accepts without surprise because it fits with what one has seen in limited previous dealings with these people.

Full review on EFC.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Fantasia 2017 catch-up, part 3: The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue; Almost Coming, Almost Dying; Death Note: Light Up the New World; 78/52; Friendly Beast; November; You Only Live Once; M.F.A.; and DRIB

With the IFFBoston Fall Focus going on now and an actual non-film festival vacation coming up, I'm making the decision to punt on the last two unreviewed films of day #15, Town in a Lake and Dead Man Tells His Own Tale). It's been three months, my initial Letterboxd entries are not exactly detailed, and something's got to give if I'm going to get to The Endless with any of my brain power intact. It's kind of unfair that these are the ones getting the short end of the stick, because they're basically suffering from being at the tail end of a stretch where the festival was just scheduled so tight that I couldn't get more than a short paragraph or two into my phone between movies and surrounded by shorts that have to get their write-up in real time. It's not that they're bad movies - Town in a Lake is kind of great! - but even those of us super-dedicated to earning our press passes by trying to write something on every darn thing that we see at a three-week festival can't quite manage it.

Heck, releases caught up with me three times during this batch, as both 78/52 (now with the subtitle "Hitchcock's Shower Scene") and M.F.A. both got theatrical/VOD releases just as I was getting to them (not sure when DRIB hit the streams). Sadly, November does not yet to be on any schedules yet, and what the heck, distributors? It's almost November and this thing is weird and gorgeous. I know screens are going to be tough to come by, but that's kind of on you for letting it sit so long, you know?

Anyway, 13 left, with 2 I almost probably won't get to. That Crush Cream Soda and Oh! Henry bar that I've been sitting on since the end of the festival as my reward for finishing these up are almost in my belly!

Yozora wa Itsudemo Saiko Mitsudo no Aoiro da (The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Camera Lucida, DCP)

It's unusual for a film to be based upon a book of poetry, even one with a title like "The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue" which frequently allows one of its characters to narrate with a voice that is piquant in its cynicism. Seeing the credit for poet Tahi Sihate is a little more surprising given that director Yuya Ishii adapts it into a film that has a strong narrative despite appearing to be just as focused on what its characters think as what they do.

The narration comes from Mika (Shizuka Ishibashi), a nurse in Tokyo who earns extra money in a hostess bar, though as you might expect from someone whose thoughts tilt toward the dark, she's pouring drinks rather than putting on a big smile and flirting with the customers. That's where she bumps into a trio of construction workers - uncertain Shinji (Sosuke Ikematsu), sarcastic Toshiyuki (Ryuhei Matsuda), and homesick Filipino Adres (Paul Magsign). As they both live or work in the Shibuya section of Tokyo, Mika and Shinji find their paths crossing regularly and they start to form a tentative friendship, even if Toshiyuki is the one that asks Mika out.

It's a sign of just how well-sketched the characters in this film are that Mika can talk about how love does not exist on this earth and also say it's stupid and destructive without the viewer saying, hey, take a cynical side here, or feel like she or Ishii is just being antagonistic. Ishii sets actress Shizuka Ishibashi a difficult task in making Mika so generally abrasive without quite pushing the audience away, especially since he doesn't give her cool, snarky lines to lean on. Ishibashi proves good at directing Mika's doubts inward and presenting her as frank and suspicious but not mean, at a certain remove but showing that she's not aloof even if she may seem disengaged.

Full review on EFC.

Kumoman (Almost Coming, Almost Dying)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, Blu-ray)

There's likely a bit of truth in the way Almost Coming, Almost Dying slows down after a bizarre, titillating beginning: Recovery is not always hard in a way that obviously challenges someone, but it's often kind of boring and/or embarrassing, with a lot of waiting to see if something has healed properly or not being sure how to ask if this illness has affected something intimate. And so, after a fair amount of funny nudity and a themed "massage parlor" to open things up and get Manabu (Misoo No) into the hospital, the rest of the movie seldom strays far from his bed as he spends a month convalescing from a particularly ill-timed brain hemorrhage.

It could be deadly-dull stuff (although I suspect that some Americans may find six weeks of care without worries about paying for it an exciting fantasy rather than a disorienting situation), but director Toshimasa Kobayashi and screenwriter Hiroyuki Abe are good at finding the little things that are weird or unnerving or thought-provoking and giving them just enough room to play out and lead into the next one without ever seeming to focus too much on any one thing. It preserves the singular point-of-view of the real-life Manabu Nakagawa's autobiographical manga without indulging in too much navel-gazing; though very much his specific story, the filmmakers maybe spot some irony in how the hospital stay twists Manabu's initial situation as a 29-year-old man living with his parents and seldom leaving his room: Having others attend to his needs while remaining isolated suddenly becomes a far less enjoyable experience even before the question of how he got there rears its head.

That sense of isolation and disconnection isn't necessarily something that necessarily comes to the forefront for most in the audience; the filmmakers camouflage it with more obvious surrealism and what is generally very good examples of the comedy of embarrassment. Some of it is standard "pretty nurse for whom you have no mystery" stuff, although there's also a number of scenes where on family member tries to run interference to keep others from figuring out just where Manabu had his aneurysm that are perfectly executed comedy. They're also mindful of how they use the "Kumoman" mascot - a furry that personifies both Manabu's RCVS and his fear of another seizure - not letting these flights of fancy overtake the humans at the center or letting that fear get shunted too far aside by its oddity.

Full review on EFC.

Death Note: Light Up The New World

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Action!, DCP)

Was there really any particular demand for another spin-off of the theatrical Death Note series, or was the recent Japanese live-action television adaptation just a reminder to the rights-holders that there was money to be made? It doesn't particularly matter, I suppose, because this new addition coming ten years after the pretty entertaining 2006 two-parter is the worst sort of legacy sequel, picking up the convoluted mythology of the first but lacking the characters who initially got their hooks into the audience, or any particularly interesting successors.

A prologue states that the God of Death was so entertained by the chaos caused by the Death Notes ten years ago that he sent a dozen more of these magic notebooks to Earth, allowing a whole new set of people to kill someone just by writing the victim's name (and, optionally, manner of death) while picturing his or her face. The Death Note Task Force is revived, this time led by Interpol detective - and L's "true heir" - Tsukuru Mishima (Masahiro Higashide) and masked private investigator Ryuzaki Arai (Sosuke Ikematsu). It soon becomes clear that someone is trying to take control of all the Notes, quite possibly Yuki Shien (Masaki Suda), a hacker who considers himself "Kira's Messenger". He has sent a "Kira Virus" out that hints that the original Kira, Light Yamagi, is somehow still alive, which draws in Misa Amane (Erika Toda), now a successful actress whose memory of having used a Death Note was erased even if her feelings for Yamagi linger.

That paragraph likely sounds impenetrable for those who haven't encountered this material in one form or another before (there is the original manga, an animated adaptation, the two previous live-action movies which spawned spinoff L: Change the World, the Japanese live-action TV series, and the recent American live-action film), although odds are that there aren't many of those in the film's target audience: Death Note was a cultural phenomenon in Japan and one of the country's most popular cultural exports for a time. And there's certainly potential in a sequel, with an international scope and a "new world" of social media interaction that offers more at both extremes of anonymity and transparency that was just getting started when the earlier iterations came out. Though few characters survived the previous movies, you could probably build a heck of a thriller or satire around Misa as what looks to be a mature, decent woman whose celebrity is built on infamy she can no longer fully recall alone.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Do we really need an entire 90-minute documentary on the shower scene in Psycho? No, but then again, we don't need a lot of things that turn out to be pretty interesting, and Psycho was a pivotal moment in film history, with the shower scene one that absolutely everybody who has seen it remembers. You could spend a lot more than this time breaking it down - Hitchcock did take a full week to shoot that minute or so of film, after all, and then there was editing and music and all that, so there was thought put into it, and unpacking what seem like thought processes is usually worth doing.

It's probably not surprising that some of the best unpacking comes from editor Walter Murch, who has detailed an authoritative commentary on every cut and decision that Hitchcock and editor George Tomasini made - the man knows his craft and his voice and delivery are such that he can get out a lot of facts and not make it feel particularly dry. He's not the only one to walk the audience through what Hitchcock and his crew did; there are literally dozens of filmmakers and scholars from Peter Bogdanovich to Karyn Kusama to give their insight (conspicuous by his absence is Gus Van Sant, who famously did a shot-by-shot remake of the film). The only primary source that filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe really has left to talk to is Marli Renfro, the pin-up girl who served as Janet Leigh's body double, and her perspective is obviously very specific, although that's part of what makes the clips with the sweet old lady all the more intriguing.

It's not necessarily something that could work for the whole film, and finding the right balance of what to recount, what's background, and interpretation can sometimes be difficult. That's why it's probably more useful than it sometimes appears for director Alexandre O. Philippe to cut to the next two or three generations of filmmakers and fans who are sometimes just gushing or throwing out an undeveloped idea. Even when they're not necessarily providing new insight, it's useful; as the audience can feel these people learning something with them, making it less like a lecture and more like an interactive process. It's lubricant, even if some (like a young film professor who comes off far more as a fan than expert) are energetic enough to become off-putting.

Full review on EFC.

O Animal Cordial (Friendly Beast)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017, DCP)

Friendly Beast looks like a pretty typical single-location hostage thriller, a group of somewhat disagreeable people having guns pointed at them by petty criminals in way over their heads, but it's not very long before filmmaker Gabriela Amaral Almeida takes a hard turn, making a movie that, plot-wise, makes almost no sense as coming from that situation. And yet, once it gets rolling, it works; we certainly buy these characters feeling under-appreciated and disrespected enough to take this opportunity to seize the moment and the film.

It's almost closing time at "La Barca", a restaurant somewhere in Brazil, late enough that owner Inácio (Murilo Benicio) is sending Lucio (Diego Avelino), one of the servers, home. There's just one customer there - Amadeu (Ernani Moraes), a big guy eating his rabbit alone, at least until Bruno (Jiddu Pinheiro) and Veronica (Camila Morgado) arrive, already seeming half in the bag. It's a hassle for Djair (Irandhir Santos), the chef, who has already started closing the kitchen down and told his assistants to take the rubbish out, but the restaurant isn't so profitable as Inácio's dreams, so he has hostess Sara (Luciana Paes) sit them down and take their orders. Which means that when Magno (Humberto Carrão) and another couple masked men come in to rob the place, there's a couple more potential hostages. But when things don't go as the robbers plan, Inácio is still egotistical and paranoid enough that things nevertheless might not end peacefully.

Indeed, the way things wind up rearranged makes little enough sense that it seems like filmmaker Gabriela Amaral Almeida has more or less dispensed with plot to venture into a surreal world where dominance games of sex and violence happen entirely as their own thing without having any sort of specific goal. Heck, that's arguably what happens; Inácio and Sara don't necessarily have psychotic breaks in the strictest possible sense but their worldviews have been upset enough that they no longer take reacting in a rational manner for granted. As much as the extremity and, indeed, foolishness of some of their actions may leave viewers scratching their heads, they're not necessarily unreasonable; fear and violence can mess people up, even if there's something vaguely simple or rational about the original plan.

Full review on EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Camera Lucida, DCP)

Rainer Sarnet's Estonian fantasy opens with some familiar, but beautifully-lensed, stark images of life in and around a poor, pre-industrial village, and just as you're starting to form an image of what this movie will be like, it drops some utterly bizarre fantasy elements into the mix as a family's kratt goes berserk from lack of work, stealing the cow and trying to lift it like a helicopter before having its mind blown after being told to make a ladder out of bread like a computer trying to parse illogic in an original-series Star Trek episode. If you've never heard of a kratt before, it's a jaw-dropping display of WTFery with which to open the film. For those raised on the Disney-fied versions fairy tales that came out of Western Europe, Eastern European folklore is weird.

Weirder still - Sarnet basically spends the movie accepting its premises while still allowing some modern vernacular to make its way in. The crossroads demon is neither regal, creepy, nor mischievous, for instance; he's a loudmouthed jerk who can be fooled but not pushed around. Witchcraft works, the plague is a shapeshifting creature that can be made to swear oaths, and departed relatives enjoy a nice sauna on All Soul's Day. It's a world where medieval superstitions have some basis in fact but which is fascinating because the people in it, from infatuated young Liina (Rea Les) and Hans (Jörgen Liik) on up, are all people we can relate to. In some ways, it seems like an attempt at partial immersion - the twenty-first century audience that buys a ticket to this sort of film is by its nature well-removed from the superstitions that ruled these people's lives (and which often still hold sway in areas where life has not changed that much), and might have a hard time seeing both the absurdity of the situation and the very real pressures the people involved faced.

It is, of course, not always a happy situation - life is cruel and requires grabbing for anything you can get in this place, so that person you understand is probably ready to screw over someone else you kind of like. There's a weary acceptance that takes some of the edge off, though, and enough genuine love in the hearts of Liina and Hans to give the audience some hope. Things might be simpler if the pair just loved each other, but Sarnet (working from a novel by Andrus Kivirahk) is not going to make it that easy - though Liina loves Hans, Hans is smitten with the new Baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis), a beautiful but sickly young German girl who has her own issues, while Liina has been betrothed to a local merchant. Indeed, there are enough intrigues and background characters that while the film plays out in a relaxed-enough manner - no scene is too frantic and the editing never seems rushed - the audience may at times wish for a little less, because there's just not time for everything to get its full due, even if all the details are intriguing in their own right.

Full review on EFC.

Sólo se vive una vez (You Only Live Once)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International FIlm Festival 2017: Action!, DCP)

Boy, is You Only Live Once a mess, starting from a solid thriller set-up, moving through some genuinely inventive action beats, before spending the bulk of the film in a hackneyed plot that overlooks some pretty darn basic things in order to make the "hiding-out" comedy work, before getting back into some over-the-top action toward the end. It's a genuinely dumb script that decides on a tone but not really a cast, often seeming to make things up as it goes along.

Leonardo Andrade (Peter Lanzani) is the guy who will eventually need to hide out, as he and lady friend Flavia (Eugenia Suárez) are setting up a schlub (Carlos Areces) whose job as a "food engineer" sounds ridiculous but apparently pays well and merits security - at least until ruthless French businessman Duges (Gérard Depardieu) shows up and demands he fork over the formula for the new preservative he's created. Soon enough, Leonardo has a blackmail tape of murder rather than infidelity as well as a flash drive people will kill for, so he's got to hide. Fortunately, there's a bus to a dormitory where Orthodox Jews from all over the country are having a sort of encounter group, so "Pablo Cohen" gets on board. New roommate Yosi (Dario Lopilato) sees something is up immediately, but both his fiancee Sara (Arancha Marti) and Rabbi Mendi (Luis Brandoni) seem to have taken a shine to Pablo, so Sara, Yosi, and Leonardo's estranged brother Agustín (Pablo Rago) - a priest! - get drawn in when Duges starts sending assassins to sniff Leonardo out.

There's something rather tacky about this sort of story - it lends itself to the broadest possible stereotypes while things only seem to get worse as the jokes get walked back (look, these guys are mostly like regular people!). Screenwriters Sergio Esquenazi and Axel Kuschevatzky mostly avoid that - Yosi, Sara, and Mendi have their eccentricities which certainly get exaggerated by their background but would probably be oddballs regardless - but there are still a lot of moments where someone might squint and wonder if Leonardo's first encounter with a specifically Jewish thing really counts as an actual joke in 2017. Thankfully, they and director Federico Cueva are often able to turn that into energy - Leonardo's enthusiasm for a certain group that is not necessarily thought of as Jewish first and not pausing when confronted with neo-nazis are at least fun, and an example of how the filmmakers are not necessarily going to get methodical and over-serious as the plot takes over - which is not necessarily something that a lot of action-comedies can say.

Full review on EFC.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2017 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017, DCP)

Rape-revenge films are kind of nasty things, although this one at least had that it was written and directed by women going for it. That at least makes things a little less creepy and exploitative, if not necessarily different but one can perhaps watch it without second-guessing it so much. It's easier to watch a scene where a woman is painting naked as a sign of reclaiming her own agency where physicality is concerned and feel like that's actual intentions rather than an excuse that way, for sure, although it's still not the most creative way to tell this story.

It takes place on the fictitious Balboa University, where Noelle (Francesca Eastwood) is a sweet young art student, kind of shy, doing work that her professor (Marlon Young) criticizes as being kind of conventional, though her friend and neighbor Skye (Leah McKendrick) is more encouraging. Still, she catches the eye of Luke (Peter Vack), a hunky classmate who asks her to to join him at a party at his frat's house, where he goes more than a bit too far. As is often the case, the school's counselor (Mary Price Moore) is no help, maybe not quite victim-blaming but clearly not advocating for her, and when Noelle goes to Luke to demand an apology… Well, she doesn't get one, but his falling over a railing is a different sort of satisfaction that she wouldn't mind feeling again.

Though less obviously misguided than some of its peers, M.F.A. is still a movie that can't help but feel like the filmmakers are checking things off, pointing out the things that you need to know and they need to say about campus rape culture but not necessarily digging deep into it or using that to establish a specific, unique situation. Noelle takes revenge for herself and others, in ways that are more real-world than elaborate, but finding new inspiration for her art as she stays just far enough ahead of the police to build up a little suspense. And, yes, that "new inspiration" bit is kind of gross no matter who is telling the story, although at least nobody brings up the idea that her horrible trauma may be a blessing in disguise. Director Natalia Leite and writer/co-star Leah McKendrick step fairly carefully in trying to avoid false notes, which gives their movie both a certain earnestness and a corresponding stiffness.

Full review on EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 July 2017 in 26 July 2017 in Auditorium des diplômés de la SGWU/Théâtre Hall (Fantasia International Film Festival 2017: Documentaries from the Edge, DCP)

Though screened as part of the festival's "Documentaries from the Edge" program, DRIB probably only qualifies as a for how it includes some original material that led up to the events depicted and cutaway bits that talk directly to the audience; otherwise it's all "recreations" that have a certain amount if license admittedly taken. It could, perhaps, do with a bit more - the filmmakers' relationship to their story's absurdity often leads to jokes not landing quite as well as they could, although there's enough of them for the movie to work, especially for fans of the absurd.

Actual footage, we are told, cannot be used because of the non-disclosure agreement that Amir Asgharnejad signed when he agreed to work on an ad campaign, so he is forced to recreate his experiences. An Iranian-born comedian who grew up in southern Norway, Amir became a fan of Andy Kaufman when his father died, and a Kaufman-like bit where he picks fights on the street that he can't win goes viral on YouTube. An American advertising agency hits on the idea of sponsoring and product-placing energy drink "DRIB" into the series - creative director Brady Thompson (Brett Gelman) envisions a stealthy, unacknowledged campaign - and somehow, Amir never really gets the chance to tell anyone but sensible copywriter Cathy Rothman (Annie Hamilton) that all the original fights were faked.

For all that Asgharnejad and filmmaker Kristoffer Borgli are going for a story that is stranger than fiction, the absurdity of the situation is not as Kafka-esque as the initial introduction makes it sound: Hollywood is weird but there's never any conflict between its strangeness and Asgharnejad trying to interact with it - as much as he quite reasonably doesn't want to get punched in the face by a bunch of Los Angeles bodybuilders, he often seems more a detached observer rather than someone getting caught up in more than he can handle or comprehend. If the fact that an audience can watch this and not be shocked or befuddled is meant to be an indictment of modern consumer culture, it doesn't quite work out that way, and Asgharnejad at times seems like a guy planning this movie rather than stumbling into it.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Loving Vincent

Good job, movie - you got booked at Kendall Square for a one-week engagement, but I caught you during week #3 when you still were still running a full schedule. You've made over a million bucks, which is not a small achievement for an animated film for adults from a tiny, tiny distributor, and you maybe haven't even hit the top of your curve. As much as this isn't a movie I really love - I found myself kind of impatient at a few points and was kind of surprised by the applause at the end - but you've got to root for an independent movie having that kind of success, even if it's an order of magnitude or two less than what usually passes for a box-office success story.

Loving Vincent

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 October 2017 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run, DCP)

The opening titles of Loving Vincent make sure to remind the audience that every frame has been hand-painted by hundreds of artists, and in a way, that's the same sort of thing as "based on a true story", making a viewer feel guilty for any shortcomings they find even if that's not strictly the intention. One is going to be struck by the way this movie looks, regardless of whether the rest of the way the story is told has its bumps.

And, make no mistake, this film is striking; from the opening credits which evoke "Starry Night" to the end, filmmakers Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman have chosen to evoke Vincent van Gogh's work with oil-painted backgrounds and foregrounds, often with thick gobs of paint that show the brushstrokes, occasionally having the scene open with a specific work or resolve into one. It is, obviously, a formidable effort made only a little less impressive when one watches the end credits and sees that there has been some compositing going on - it's still a lot of strokes that it's impressive are kept straight from frame to frame, let alone second to second. Kobiela & Welchman seldom present truly static images, but are judicious in their motion - the instants captured by van Gogh are not swallowed by busy animation, but they give figures from those paintings a messy life that they cannot have on canvas, no matter how evocative the original pieces may be.

But what do the filmmakers use that life they have bestowed for? They open the film in Arles, a year after van Gogh's death, with postmaster Joseph Roulin (Chris O'Dowd) charging his ne'er-do-well son Armand (Douglas Booth) with delivering a letter Vincent had sent to his brother Theo. Armand has little enthusiasm for the job - he did not think of the eccentric artist as fondly as his father did - but makes his way to Paris to meet art supplier Pere Tanguy (John Sessions), only to find out that Theo followed his brother six months later, with his family vanishing from Paris soon after. He does offer a tip, saying that Armand should meet Doctor Gachet (Jerome Flynn) in Auvers-sur-Oise, where the painter died, but as he waits for an appointment, he soon finds himself not simply looking for a forwarding address, but trying to solve the mystery of the man's death, as suicide seems out of character, but every conversation with people from Gachet's daughter Marguerite (Saoirse Ronan) to the local innkeeper (Eleanor Tomlinson) and the boatman with whom van Gogh spent a great deal of time (Aidan Turner) gives contradictory information which further suggests to Armand that something is being covered up.

The actual story that Kobiela, Welchman, and co-writer Jacek Dehnel come up with is a stumbling assembly, and when viewed as a mystery story it seems especially poorly constructed: Armand never seems to come to any conclusions of his own, just plodding along in whatever direction the last person he met with a strong opinion indicated, and often arriving at questions he really should have covered already. Information is repeated enough to frustrate a viewer who can recognize time being killed, and for the portion of the audience which already knows much about van Gogh's life and death, it is inevitable that his path will ultimately lead back to the spot where they started, just with these fictional or fictionalized versions of people included.

Strip away that which is specific to van Gogh - no easy task, as he is in every inch of every frame - and a more interesting idea does emerge: Armand is struggling to comprehend the man's suicide, because even with van Gogh's history of erratic behavior and self-doubt, it is not something that easily fits into Armand's view of the world, and it is far easier to comprehend villainy or recklessness than that (although, to an extent, Armand's mind can't help but see others' recklessness as villainy, despite his own shortcomings in that area). Seen that way, his ping-ponging from one point of view to another makes a sort of sense, as does any eventual peace necessarily coming from outside the situation in question. It's complicated a bit because these late-19th-century people don't have the vocabulary to talk about mental illness that the early-21st-century people in the audience do; "melancholia" feels like an imprecise and misleading term, even if it is period-accurate.

It's interesting that the filmmakers stuck with that particular vocabulary, because while using more modern terminology would have been obviously anachronistic enough to feel wrong, the voice-acting is is just short of that anyway, as the cast speaks with accents that are specifically-British enough to sound odd in a film where nearly all the characters and locations are French. It's not bad - this kind of voicework is probably better than trying to speak English dialogue with a pseudo-French accent that's not suited for it - but it's a bit jarring. It works, by and large, and the score by Clint Mansell is also impressive, seeming well-matched to the style and setting but also fit for a modern, active film.

Indeed, the way the acting and music mesh with the design of the film is impressive; much of the film is clearly rotoscoped (at least some, though not all, from the main voice cast), and the filmmakers do a good job of letting the performances come through without either smothering them or pushing the style of the film to the background. They also do well to vary that style a bit even in the film's present day, as well as using the added clarity to the black-and-white flashbacks (modeled more on van Gogh's pencil drawings than his paintings) to make them distant but not indistinct.

Drop that line from the opening, let the audience think that this is done with some sort of "conventional" CGI, and maybe Loving Vincent isn't quite so immediately impressive; maybe the shortcomings of its storytelling make a bigger impression. Even then, though, it would be something to see, and will impress whether one has a particular interest in this artist or not.

Full review on EFC (dead link).

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Fortress

Well, that was kind of disappointing. Not really bad, but never exciting, and it certainly didn't help that I think there were two of us in the theater. As much as I love Lee Byung-hun, I kind of wish that AMC had chosen to book the other Korean movie getting an American release this week. Resurrected Victims may not have had the big Korean stars this one had (and a name director, although anyone buying a ticket because they enjoyed Miss Granny and figured he'd do something similar was likely in for an even bigger let-down), but the premise of the dead coming back as ghouls to punish their killers and the hero trying to prove he was framed under those circumstances sounds like it'd be a heck of a lot more fun & exciting.

Namhansanseong (The Fortress)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 October 2017 in AMC Stonebriar #22 (first-run, DCP)

The Fortress is not what one would call a rousing war epic, but while it may inevitably serve as an anti-war story of sorts, it is perhaps too cerebral, too involved in the specific intrigues of this particular siege, to have a genuine message along those lines. That is not in and of itself particularly negative; what happens in this fortress is interesting enough. But it often means that the larger issues that might resonate in the present get left behind - this and that happened, and as a result, Korean history took a turn, and that's all there is to it.

The film picks up on 14 December 1636, when Joseon King Injo (Park Hae-il) and his cabinet has retreated to the Namhan Fortress ahead of the Chinese Qing army, which aims to put Korea under its control despite it being loyal to the Ming Dynasty. Though defensible, Namhan is easily isolated, which is why Choi Myeong-gil (Lee Byung-hun), Minister of the Interior, meets with Qing General Ingguldai to attempt to negotiate peace. That's a move strongly opposed by Kim Sang-hoon (Kim Yun-seok), Minister of Rites, who feels that the best option is to fight, and soon, as the greater Qing Army - including the Khan himself - is approaching. As they debate this, villagers like blacksmith Deo Nal-soi (Go Soo) and his brother Chil-bok ("David" Lee Da-wit) are conscripted, and the only hope seems to be getting a message out to the field marshal of the southern army, but the Qing are rapidly cutting off all routes to and from the fortress.

While Sang-hoon's opposition to Myeong-gil is staunch and principled, it is often nothing compared to Prime Minister Kim Ryu (Song Young-chang) and the bulk of the courtiers, who call for the would-be diplomat's head but are often far more focused on "dignity" and respect than the practicalities of this difficult fight. It's a promising core for the movie - the ideas introduced right from the start about the perils of a ruling class that holds itself separate from its people while still counting on a certain exceptionalism are good, meaty issues which have application will beyond 15th-century kings and courtiers. When writer/director Hwang Dong-hyuk is poking at them, there's interest to the movie, and as it goes on, the fact that the two characters most positioned in opposition to each other actually have more in common by way of their having actual ideals and connection to the people makes for genuine curiosity at how they may find common ground. Both are introduced with clear indications of their commitment to serving the kingdom despite risk to themselves and their souls, without an obvious way to reconcile their difference.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 October 2017 - 26 October 2017

Some poisonous reviews for the weekend's two biggest releases, so it's probably a good thing that, six months having passed since the 2017 edition of Independent Film Festival Boston, they're ready for more with the better part of a week's worth of previewing some of the fall's more interesting movies.

  • That would be the IFFBoston Fall Focus (or, as we like to call it around here, "IFFBoston 2017½"), encompassing seven films over four nights at The Brattle Theatre, and opening on Sunday night with Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird and Takashi Miike's Blade of the Immortal. It continues on Tuesday with Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying and Faith Aiken's In the Fade, Wednesday with Thoroughreds and Thelma, and closes Thursday with Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Some of these have upcoming theatrical releases, but in some cases it's your only chance to see them on the big screen.

    Before that starts, though, they have the new restoration of Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris, playing as a double feature with Stalker (which is a lot of deliberately-paced Soviet science fiction) from Friday to Sunday afternoon. They also have a DocYard presentation on Monday, with director Salomé Jashi dialing in after The Dazzling Light of Sunset to talk about her look at a low-budget local news team in the Eastern European country of Georgia.
  • In other festival programming, The Boston Asian American Film Festival moves from the Brattle to the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount Theater, which is fairly small, so a bunch of shows are already sold out. There still seem to be tickets available for Friday's AKA Seoul, Saturday's Finding Kukan and Resistance at Tule Lake, as well as Sunday's I Can I Will I Did.

    The room goes back to Bright Lights presentations after that, with Rasheed playing on Tuesday with director Samia Badih doing Q&A afterward and An Inconvenient Sequel on Tuesday, preceded by a live feed from Al Gore and a panel discussion afterward. As always, these are free and open to the public, but, again, small room, so RSVP early.
  • The two biggest mainstream releases have apparently been dressed up to look nice after sitting on shelves for a while, which is a shame. I was really looking forward to The Snowman, with Tomas Alfredson (who did Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) adapting one of Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole novels with Michael Fassbender as the detective in question, but the word is not good. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere. Then there's Geostorm, a film with Gerard Butler fighting sabotage of a global weather-control system from Dean Devlin, which is finally getting a big 3D/Imax release after sitting on shelves for a couple years. It's at Apple Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 3D), the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway (including 2D RPX), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only). Also said to stink: Tyler Perry's Boo 2! A Madea Halloween (which is, if nothing else, a punctuation nightmare), which plays at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Getting better reviews is Only the Brave, which follows an elite group of firefighters as they attempt to control one of the worst wildfires in history. Nice cast (Josh Brolin, Miles teller, Jennifer Connelly, Andie MacDowell, Jeff Bridges), and I suspect director Joseph Kosinski will be really good at handling the large-scale action (he was good at scale, if not story, with Tron Legacy and Oblivion). It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. There's also Same Kind of Different As Me, with Greg Kinnear and Renee Zellweger as a couple whose marriage is falling apart until a homeless man played by Djimon Hounsou comes into their lives, though you have to head out to Revere for that one.

    Revere, Assembly Row, and Fenway all have "Disney Junior at the Movies: Halloween Party" on Saturday Morning, with Fenway and Assembly also having matinee screenings on Thursday. Regals' Halloween series continues at Fenway with a double feature of the 1982 Cat People & Videodrome on Monday and Jaws on Tuesday, while Revere goes with The Witches of Eastwick on Thursday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one place to get Goodbye Christopher Robin, featuring Domhnall Gleeson as author A.A. Milne, who created the Winnie the Pooh stories based on his son's toys. It also plays at Kendall Square.

    The Coolidge also continues with a bunch of Halloween programming, doubling up on midnights this weekend: They'll have the new 4K restoration of Rawhead Rex upstairs on Friday and Saturday night, while Dario Argento's The Stendahl Syndrome plays in the main theater at midnight Friday (also newly restored), while Argento's Deep Red plays on 35mm Saturday. There's a break from the scary stuff as Goethe-Institut presents The Young Karl Marx at 11am Sunday (from I Am Not Your Negro director Raoul Peck), but then it's back to horror: The special "Composer's Cut" of The Beyond plays Tuesday night, with Fabrio Frizzi conducting a live orchestra playing his expanded score, along with opening band Dust Witch. Then, on Thursday, there's a 35mm "Rewind!" screening of The Monster Squad, with after-party at Osaka.
  • In addition to Goodbye Christopher Robin, Kendall Square opensBreathe, featuring Andrew Garfield as a man who is paralyzed from the neck down at a young age, but who invents a portable mechanical lung so he is not simply warehoused like many others who need assistance breathing. It's also at Boston Common and West Newton. They also have a special one-week booking of The King's Choice, featuring Jesper Christensen as King Haakon VII, who was on the Norwegian throne when the Nazis invaded during World War II.
  • It's Diwali, so not only are some big Bollywood movies being released, but Apple Fresh Pond has to share them with the bigger chains. Secret Superstar, for instance, also plays Boston Common, while Golmaal Again takes its wacky gang rivalry to Fenway as well. Tamil-language Mersal and Telugu Raja the Great are also sticking around at Fresh Pond.

    If you're more interested in Korean fare, Boston Common has The Fortress just a couple weeks after it opened in its home country, with Lee Byung-hun and Kim Yun-seok as royal retainers trying to convince the King to negotiate or fight their way out of a siege.
  • The Somerville Theatre continues their month of Halloween programming with an eclectic group of 35mm prints: Cabin in the Woods plays as part of a "Cabaret in the Woods" themen night on Friday, while Sunday features a double feature of Don Knotts in The Ghost & Mr. Chicken and Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy, and Wednesday features the original version of The Haunting. There's also a Boston Underground Film Festival shorts program on the calendar, but neither the theater nor the festival has more information than that.

    CinemaSalem has a lot of "The History of Halloween" shows, and while they have a fair amount of live events this weekend, they've also got Rocky Horror on Saturday (different live show than AMC Boston Common, which also has one that day), the restored Night of the Living Dead on Sunday, and the 10th annual Druid Underground Film Festival program on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes Croation filmmaker Rajko Grlic on Friday to present his latest film, The Constitution, which examines the nation through the eyes of a cross-section living in a Zagreb apartment building. There was going to be another filmmaker visit over the weekend, and though it was cancelled, Danny Lyon's "Soc. Sci 127" & "Little Boy" will play Saturday evening while his Willie plays on 16mm Sunday night. The Chantal Akerman series finishes Sunday afternoon with Hotel Monterey, while Warren Beatty's Reds plays on 35mm Monday night, with an introduction by Houghton Library director Thomas Hyry.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts begins their annual Boston Palestine Film Festival on Friday with Ghost Hunting (which also plays Saturday); it also features A Magical Substance Flows Into Me (Saturday), a shorts program (Sunday), Off Frame (Sunday), and Personal Affairs (Thursday). They also have a Thursday-afternoonscreening of Kékszakállú (Bluebeard).
  • The late-night Saturday Night Creature Features at the The Museum of Science planetarium wasgood last week, so they make up for it with This Island Earth at 11pm this Saturday.
  • Jeff Rapsis visits The Regent Theatre to accompany silent thriller The Man Who Laughs, these days best known for inspiring the look of Batman nemesis The Joker but a classic in its own right, on Wednesday. That's followed on Thursday night by a group of local filmmakers in the "Iconic Film Fest".

I'll probably hang out at the Brattle for most of the week, but will be unable to resist some of the less-impressive mainstream stuff. I will check out The Fortress, of course.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Foreigner

There's probably a great book to be written about Jackie Chan and the not-quite-inevitable rise of China, and how he went from courting the west in the 1990s as the specter of the handover hung over Hong Kong to being one of the most enthusiastic Hong Kong stars to make the jump to the mainland, becoming a real cheerleader for China. And, hey, fair enough; it's his country one way or the other, although it's interesting to note that he's been one of the louder voices talking about how Chinese film is disrespected compared to other world cinemas, especially now that there's a lot of money in Mandarin-language film, even if it is almost entirely a matter of domestic grosses.

(For example, did you know a Jackie Chan movie made $250M this year? It's true, Kung Fu Yoga did that, almost entirely in the People's Republic.)

There's reason why Chinese film hasn't necessarily gained the respect that, say, South Korean film has despite the Chinese audience now being a tremendous part of any smart producer's business plan; the actual censorship board and the other pressures on filmmakers to produce a product that shows China in a certain light leads to films that often feel compromised, and the fact that the PRC is submitting Wolf Warrior 2 to the Oscars' foreign language category isn't a great look - it made a ton of money, but it's just an okay action movie whose rah-rah politics aren't going to appeal to the mostly-Western voters in the Academy.

But, both Chinese and American producers see too much money on the other side of the Pacific to not try and grab both, although there's been something almost deliciously random about how attempts to appeal to the "world market" succeed or fail: Donnie Yen in Star Wars doesn't make for a huge hit in China, but Donnie Yen in xXx does (while kind of tanking in America). Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville in Skiptrace goes straight to VOD in North America (to the point where people are saying Chan hasn't done an English-language movie since The Karate Kid), despite being a lot of fun. This comes out, and does okay in China (it'll probably make more there than in English-speaking territories), but seems like it really shouldn't - it's not very Chinese at all.

There's something a bit quixotic about how, being able to achieve the same sort of massive success back home that he couldn't sustain in Hollywood, he's now driven to find a way to have a crossover hit with both audiences and critics, an even bigger goal.

The Foreigner

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 October 2017 in AMC Stonebriar #22 (first-run, DCP)

That The Foreigner could likely function almost as well without his title character is either its main weakness or what makes it interesting: It's a fine IRA thriller with a potentially game-changing wild card, and though it does not play that card quite as often as it might, that very fact can sometimes keep the audience off-balance as much as it provides expected thrills.

It's been nearly twenty years since the Good Friday Agreement, but as the film opens, a bomb goes off in London, killing 18 and wounding more, with a group calling itself "the Authentic IRA" claiming responsibility. Deputy Minister for Northern Ireland Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) is immediately called away from his young lover Maggie (Charlie Murphy), to try and use his background - he was a member of both the IRA and Sinn Fein in his younger years - but though he professes shock, he also sees an opportunity to pressure cabinet minister Katherine Davies (Lia Williams) on a matter of pardoning fugitives, saying it could help defuse the situation, even as he meets other IRA leaders to demand an inventory of their arms and explosives to find who is supporting this rogue group. As all this is going on, Quan Ngoc Minh (Jackie Chan) - an immigrant who lost his daughter Fan (Katie Leung) in the blast after losing the rest of his family fleeing Vietnam - visits first Richard Bromley (Ray Fearon), the head of the counter-terrorism investigation, and then Hennessy, looking for answers. Certain Hennessey knows more than he's saying, Quan resolves to pressure him in a way the former terrorist can understand.

Though the film opens with a cute scene between Quan and his daughter, and spends a fair amount of time showing his utter devastation upon losing her, the bulk of the film takes place in Belfast, focusing on Hennessy and treating the question of whether he had some part of planning the attack or whether he's just a smart politician who can work a bad situation to his advantage even as he tries to resolve it. The film plays this enjoyably close to the vest while also exploring how, despite the official peace, the situation remains fraught because there are older folks who can't let go and younger people who don't remember just how bad the bad old days were. It's an intriguing plot for a thriller on its own, meaty enough to carry the film.

Full review on EFC.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Happy Death Day

Happy coincidence: I just finished fleshing out my review of A Day from Fantasia a couple weeks ago (catch up here!), so it's kind of fresh in my mind as I write up another time-loop horror, this one played much funnier even if it does hit a few of the same themes. I like this one a whole lot more, and a bit more than I thought I would, despite despite liking the trailer more than a lot of the ones for youth-oriented horror I tend to roll my eyes at. That's pretty impressive, because I wasn't terribly fond of director Christopher Landon's previous film (The Scouts Guide to the Apocalypse) nor the comic-book work of writer Scott Lobdell (a guy who always seemed to have the least interesting runs on the books he picked up).

It does give me a real appreciation for how well they rearranged the typical slasher/mystery plot, though. Most successful slashers get any initial whodunit impulses smothered by sequels, with Scream probably the most notable exception - it actually leaned harder on the murder mystery with the follow-ups even as it was talking about horror movie tropes, with resurrection off the table. It's a really great way of changing things up, though, as despite the supernatural elements, this really becomes "who wants to kill Tree bad enough to actually go through with it" rather than "what awful secret do all these people share" while still giving the audience plenty of kills. It's a clever-enough way to get the two genres in line that it will be hard to repeat.

Of course, Blumhouse probably will try to repeat it, and I've kind of got no idea how that works. Sure, resurrection is a part of the premise, but it's not a mystery if you bring the same Babyface back and I don't think it needs the complication. Sure, you could just do the same thing again with new characters, but I'd hate to lose Jessica Rothe (either as an early-movie kill or as not present because there's a new cast). But, then, I didn't really figure this would work, so I'm willing to be surprised.

Happy Death Day

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2017 in AMC Stonebriar #16 (first-run, DCP)

There's an old-man part of me that is inclined to grumble about how Happy Death Day never really spends a whole lot of time on the whys of its time-loop plot, chalking it up to kids raised on video games just taking the idea of multiple lives for granted (at least, until realizing that the people actually making the movie are a generation older and grew up playing the same Atari 2600s I did). That's the part of this particular movie the audience has to just go with, but when you put that aside, there's still a fun scary movie underneath, one that arguably hides its clever construction well enough to come off as enjoyably dumb fun.

The girl stuck in the loop is Teresa "Tree" Gelbman (Jessica Rothe), a sorority brat who wakes up the morning of her birthday in the dorm room - dorm room! - of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard), though she can't remember much of the previous night, although both Carter and sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews) make it clear she was even more drunkenly out of hand than usual, flirting with Danielle's boyfriend Nick (Blaine Kern III). She blows off her father's phone calls, tells a guy she went on one date with (Caleb Spillyards) to buzz off, and tosses the cupcake her fellow pre-med roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) baked for her in the trash. All this makes her late for class, but she's sleeping with teacher Gregory Butler (Charles Aitken), an MD who also practices at the local hospital. She's still got time for a couple more displays of random bitchiness before being attacked by a guy wearing the mask of her college's creepy baby mascot on the way to a party and winding up dead. Fortunately for her, the day resets, although it will take a few iterations for her to realize it's not just a really scary form of deja vu.

Happy Death Day has done well enough at the box office that, if a sequel isn't already being planned, it will be hard to resist, but such a movie will have difficulty tapping into what makes this one work: Writer Scott Lobdell seems to spot how a lot of slasher movies are, at their heart, whodunits where the potential victims must figure out who is behind the mask, but how this kind of doesn't work that well because you need a motive for the murderer to kill a lot of people, which makes for an unsatisfying murder mystery ("he's nuts" only goes so far and "they all deserve it" isn't much better). Letting "Babyface" knock Tree off again and again gives the audience the fun multiple kills of a slasher movie while keeping the mystery angle fairly focused on Tree.

Full review on EFC.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 13 October 2017 - 19 October 2017

Ugh, basically five days of the next seven in a Dallas suburb for a business trip. There is a theater there, but I bet they're going to try and make us do team-building stuff instead.

  • Could Jackie Chan's best movie this year be an English-language one? The Foreigner actually looks interesting, with Chan playing a Vietnamese special forces veteran who, after his daughter is killed in a bombing, decides to go after a government official (who used to be with the IRA) played by Pierce Brosnan, reuniting with GoldenEye director Martin Campbell. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere. There's also Happy Death Day, a time-loop movie about a college student who relives the day of her murder until, hopefully, she finds a way to avoid it. It's at Apple Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere (including XPlus).

    The most interesting-looking thing this weekend is probably Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, featuring Luke Evans as the college-professor creator of Wonder Woman, Rebecca Hall as his wife, and Bella Heathcote as their lover. So, yeah, going to get into the kinky aspects of Marston and his creation. It's at the Arlington Capitol, The West Newton Cinema, Boston Common, Revere, and the SuperLux. Another biography coming out this week is Marshall, with Chadwick Boseman adding Thurgood Marshall to his roster of noteworthy real-life figures played, although I've seen word that Josh Gad is playing the actual protagonist. Either way, it's at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Fenway also picks up an Irish documentary of some local interest, Rocky Ros Muc, which tells the story of Sean Mannion, a boxer from Galway who made his way with Boston and wound up in contact with the city's gangsters. Boston Common goes for Scotland rather than Ireland, with Brave the last film in their series of Disney Princess films.

    There's also special screenings of The Princess Bride at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Sunday and Wednesday, and the Samurai Jack movie is at the same places on Monday. There's also a surprisingly big release of Tokyo Ghoul, which I kind of liked at Fantasia, at Boston Common (Monday through Wednesday), Fenway (Monday/Tuesday/Thursday), Kendall Square (Wednesday and next Sunday), and Revere (Monday/Tuesday/Thursday). Fenway also has the Regal Halloween shows, with a double feature of King Kong & Them! on Monday and the original Nightmare on Elm Street on Tuesday.
  • The Florida Project, the new one from Tangerine director Sean Baker, opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common. It follows a mother and daughter living week-to-week in a hotel outside Orlando; it also feature Willem Dafoe. Tuesday's 7:15pm show at the Coolidge is an "Off the Couch" show, with folks from the Boston Psychoanalytic Society leading a post-film discussion. The Coolidge also picks up IFFBoston's Dolores, which also continues at Kendall Square.

    Since it's Friday the 13th, they've got an off-site event at Rocky Woods Reservation, showing the second and seventh movies in the series. If you can't get out there, they've got The Room on 35mm at midnight. They're also the New England stop for the newly discovered uncut 35mm print of Suspiria, running it at midnight on Saturday (already sold out), and Tuesday evening as part of a double feature with Inferno. There's also a Science on Screen presentation of Guillermo del Toro's Mimic on Monday, with BU professor Jerome O. Klein talking about insect-borne diseases beforehand. They also welcome another set of guests on Thursday, with the Alloy Orchestra accompanying Sergei Eisenstein's Strike!.
  • Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House opens up at Kendall Square & the Embassy, featuring Liam Neeson as the title character, better known as Watergate source Deep Throat. Kendall Square also opens The Meyerowitz Stories: New and Selected, with Noah Baumbach presenting another family of New Yorkers who don't really get along, this one including Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, and Noah Baumbach. Probably just opening for a week, because it's also on Netflix, but it's at least good to see the streaming service try and get stuff out for a week.

    Also likely only around for a week at the Kendall is Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton, with director Rory Kennedy on hand Saturday evening to answer questions about her documentary of the surfing legend.
  • The Brattle Theatre serves as the main home of the GlobeDocs Film Festival from Friday to Sunday, with Ai Weiwei's Human Flow serving as a centerpiece show on Friday night, though they also return to the Coolidge on Sunday for I Am Evidence and closing night film A Fine Line, with special first looks at WGBH productions at the station's Yawkey Theater.

    The Brattle fills Sunday evening with their last two 35mm shows of Baby Driver, After that, they piece a schedule for the next four days together. The DocYard welcomes Strong Island director Yance Ford on Monday, while Tuesday is Trash Night. There's a free Harvard University Native American Program screening of documentary More than a Word on Wednesday afternoon, although the evening show has not yet been announced. On Thursday, they host opening night of The Boston Asian American Film Festival, featuring The Jade Pendant.
  • Bending the Arc was the sold out opening night of GlobeDocs, but The Somerville Theatre gives it a one-week booking, giving more of us a chance to see this documentary about doctors who united to save a Haitian village in the late 1980s. They also continue their Halloween programming, with Poltergeist in 35mm on Friday, the "Old School Game Show Halloween Hellraiser" on Saturday, a 35mm double feature of The Love Witch & The Horror of Dracula on Sunday, The Babadook on Monday, and a double-feature of The Amityville Horror & Session 9 on Wednesday (the latter three say digital on the calendar, but they were able to dig up a print of Scream last week, so maybe you'll get lucky). Their sister theater, The Capitol in Arlington, also goes for spooky stuff, with a double feature of Friday The 13th 1 & 2 on Friday the 13th, and Jeff Rapsis accompanying silent The Golem on Throwback Thursday. Jeff will also be at the Aeronaut Brewery on Sunday, accompanying Nosferatu.

    CinemaSalem continues to show "The History of Halloween"in the small room, and has some interesting double features in one of the larger rooms over the weekend: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge & Crusing on Friday, Halloween III: Season of the Witch & Videodrome on Saturday, and Let the Right One In & Fright Night on Sunday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive is all special events, opening the weekend with "The Lyric Lens", a collection of three Stan Brakhage short films on 16mm introduced by Nathaniel Dorsky & Jerome Hiler. Saturday is another special event, with Jerome Hiller doing a presentation called "Cinema Before 1300", and Nathaniel Dorsky introducing his own new 16mm films on Sunday. Rick Prelinger is on-hand to introduce his experimental documentary Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles on Monday, and then gives a lecture ("Effacements in the Repository: Do Physical Objects Have the Right To Exist?") at the Lamont Library on Tuesday afternoon. (Accidentally listed this incorrectly last week; sorry!)
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more screenings of Kékszakállú (Bluebeard) (Friday/Wednesday), Ex Libris: New York Public Library (Sunday/Wednesday), and Swim Team (Thursday). They also have two "Costa-Gavras: Encounters with History" screenings: Amen. on Sunday and Z on Thursday, the latter shown on 35mm film and followed by a panel discussion.
  • Apple Fresh Pond keeps showing Judwaa 2 and Mahanubhavudu, with Malayalam film Udaharanam Sujatha Saturday afternoon, while Mersal, a Tamil-language thriller starring Vijay in three parts, and Telugu action flick Raja the Great open Tuesday and Bollywood musical Secret Superstar opens Thursday. They also have a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday with the Teseracte Players, who also bring the show to CinemaSalem on Saturday. As usual, Boston Common also has one on Saturday, though with a different group of people making it an interactive experience..
  • The Museum of Science appears to be altering good and bad Saturday Night Creature Features in the planetarium during October, as last weekend's crap-fest gives way to the absolutely fantastic Forbidden Planet at 11pm this week.
  • The free Bright Lights screenings in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room this week are Band Aid on Tuesday and Colossal on Thursday, both followed by Q&As - the former with producers (and Northeastern alums) Natalia Anderson & Kristen Murtha, the latter with professor Sarah Zaidan.
  • The Regent Theatre has Swing Away on Saturday, which is apparently its regular release despite having played at the Somerville six months ago.

My plans involve being out of town and thus only to see whatever's at a mall multiplex rather than all the cool Halloween stuff (though I may try and cram Poltergeist in). So, The Foreigner, Wonder Women, maybe Happy Death Day and The Florida Project.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

City of Rock

I mention it a bit in the review, but I find it kind of interesting that Well Go USA is the label distributing City of Rock in North America, because they seem a bit more focused on the general audience than the likes of China Lion, Magnum/Chopflix, and Cheng Cheng, which tend to target the Chinese emigrant/expatriate audience and consider any tickets purchased by the likes of me a windfall. It's not specifically Chinese in some ways - you can transplant the basic story anywhere and it would still work - but there are a bunch of unsubtitled songs and cameos that I suspect relatively few of us outside the Mandarin-speaking audience will get.

One of the things that struck me about the trailer when I saw it was that it played up the potentially-gay stuff a fair amount - Hu Liang dropping double entendres about sleeping in the same bed as Cheng Gong, what seemed like a reference to the hair-metal band that put the "City of Rock" on the map "coming out", and that latter part doesn't get mentioned in the film (and, to be fair, it seemed like a weird edit as much as something organic) while I'm kind of curious what people make of Hu Liang - it certainly seems like Da Peng plays him gay, and they don't pair him off with anybody at the end, although I was kind of under the impression that this was a no-no in Chinese film, so maybe it's some Celluloid Closet stuff.

Also worth noting: I got an email from someone asking where I saw Da Peng's first film, Jian Bing Man, a few weeks ago, which was kind of random, but I'm kind of surprised to see that, despite having come out theatrically in 2015, it's pretty darn impossible to watch - it didn't get a physical media release anywhere, and it's not streaming on any service that I can find. You would think, what with Well Go promoting City of Rock as Da Peng's follow-up to Jian Bing Man, they might have scooped up those rights and put it on their Amazon channel at the very least, but apparently not.

That, by the way, is nuts - how can a movie that was released in American theaters a mere two years ago just have so completely fallen off the map? Sure, maybe it's streaming on Chinese services, but, dang, I didn't think I'd be able to use "you might not get another chance to see it in the near future" as a reason to see new releases, even niche ones, in theaters with so many other options available these days!

Feng Ren Ji Yue Dui (City of Rock)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2017 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

As enjoyably goofy as I found Chengpeng "Da Peng" Dong's first film (Jian Bing Man, aka "Pancake Man"), it didn't quite prepare me for how charmingly silly and sweet City of Rock would be. It's the most familiar rock & roll movie plot ever (mismatched band has to put on a show to save their inspiration from a greedy developer), but the jokes are good, the music is catchy, and the cast is awfully easy to like. You don't necessarily need to innovate if you do all that well.

The city in question is Ji'an, described as a border town in the northeastern part of China, where the hard-rocking band "Broken Guitar" burst upon the scene twenty years ago, inspiring not just seven-year-old Hu Liang but leading the city to rename its public square the Park of Rock and erect a Grand Guitar monument. Now, though, the Park of Rock is threatened as developer Ding Wei (Wang Jinsong) looks to turn it into a theme park, so Liang (Qiao Shan) cold-calls Beijing talent manager Cheng Gong (Da Peng), offering 500,000 yuan to help mount a show to save the park. When Gong gets there, though, he finds out that Liang has neither money nor band, and the scramble to form one yields ten-year-old keyboard player Qiao Meixi (Qu Junxi), who has to sneak out to practice because her mother is strict and intimidating; Taiwanese drummer Explosive (Li Hongqi), who came to Ji'an to find the tattoo artist he fell in love with at first sight; bassist Ding Jingquo (Coulee Na Zha), looking for a distraction since she's just broken up with her boyfriend and broken her leg; and Yang Shuangshu (Han Tongsheng), an elderly gynecologist who was Broken Guitar's original guitarist but had a fall on-stage and left the band before they hit it big.

It's a measure of how effective things are that non-Mandarin speakers in the audience should be able to thoroughly enjoy it despite the fact that something like a third of it will blow right past them, as the songs were not subtitled in English and the end credits reveal a ton of cameos by Chinese rockers (just about every character who only popped up in one scene). In some ways, this works better than expected; subtitling a song often leads to awkwardly translated rhymes that take up more of the viewer's attention than they're supposed to; the only time the lyrics are truly necessary to a joke they got a line of dialogue, and none of the cameos stopped the movie for a look-at-this reaction. I doubt Da Peng was particularly trying to make it accessible to non-Chinese audiences, but the fact that it worked and is even being distributed by a label that targets a broader audience indicates just how well everything else works, even if you can't spot the reference.

Full review on EFC.