Tuesday, January 23, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 15 January 2018 - 21 January 2018

Check it out - actually getting through some of the discs I've accumulated over the past few years. Not sure that I'm actually outpacing the rate they're coming in, but it's more than I've done in a while.

This Week in Tickets

I opened the week playing with 3D Blu-rays again, with two 3D Infernos - a 1953 Technicolor noir and a 2013 Hong Kong firefighter action movie. Lots of space between them, but they're both interesting and good fun to watch.

After the Hong Kong movie, I stuck to the far East for the next couple shows - the "Special Premiere Event" of Mary and the Witch's Flower on Thursday and A Better Tomorrow 2018on Friday. The former was pretty darn good, certainly indicating that Studio Ponoc is capable of picking up where Ghibli left off (before Miyazaki decided he wasn't quite done yet). The latter suggests there isn't much point to remaking a movie that was a big deal unless you can do something similarly revolutionary with the new version.

Saturday was spent lazing around the apartment and then headed out to Fresh Pond forMom and Dad, and that was a bit of an experience. Fresh Pond has upgraded its seats to the power-recliner models in most, if not all, of its theaters, which cut theater #9 from something like 80 seats to 18 (plus a couple wheelchair spots), but for some reason unfathomable to me they built it with a center aisle. Center aisles in movie theaters are generally awful, but this arrangment made it impossible for three people to sit in a row (two seats on each side of the aisle), and there were three three-person groups at the show. Apple Cinemas also apparently doesn't just have the movies on a timer and sometimes they forget these smaller movies, so I had to go out at 8:15pm to get them to start the 8pm movie (which had 11 people in it, a pretty good crowd for something you booked in an 18-seat theater).

Then, an hour and a half later, it ends on a bit of an odd note - and how could something this nuts end otherwise - and as I'm getting up to move out, someone from the audience comes back in, says that the movie's not over, the disc just skipped to the end credits, and there's another half hour, because the movie is 2 hours long. So we get back to our seats, and the folks in the booth start skipping to different chapters, rewinding, and so on until, ten minutes later, we get to the end. They're giving out refunds and passes at the ticket desk, figuring there must be forty minutes missing, but let me tell you, there is no way you can tack forty minutes onto the end of that movie. What we figure out is that this movie is 83 minutes long - or 1:23 - and someone typed "123" in as the running time in a few places (including IMDB), so folks thought it should be 2:03.

So, on the one hand, I got to watch something that would otherwise just be on VOD in a theater, which is good, and support a small local business, which is also good. On the other... Man, everything about that could have been done better!

At least that was only one T stop away; 15 minutes between trains on the Red Line on Sunday (with a busker in Davis playing what felt like the same song on Spanish guitar the whole time) meant I couldn't make it to Coolidge in time for the 70mm Phantom Thread, and instead saw Den of Thieves at Boston Common. Based upon the number of Oscar nominations Thread received this morning, it was not a great substitution. Amusingly, the show I watched on the DVR afterward had a similar plot but a better cast.

After that, I pulled the top Blu-ray off the pile and checked out Sha Po Lang: Parado, since it was the central feature when I ordered a bunch of things from Hong Kong and I figured I should try not to delay. It's interesting, at least, and it's got me started on a "watch the parts of series I haven't seen yet" jag.

As always, quicker updates on my Letterboxd page, for those that like first drafts.

Mom and Dad

* * (out of four)
Seen on 20 January 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge #9 (first-run, projected Blu-ray)

A numer of folks in the audienct thought that this film was not 1 hour 23 minutes long, but 123 minutes, and though they had fair reason to epect that, there's no way this film has another half hour in it despite all the places I've seen listing it as just over two hours.

Because, to be honest, 83 minutes is stretching it. This thing takes forever to get going, is padded out by some really pointless flashbacks, and never really finds a good pace with that. Writer/director Brian Taylor also never quite seems to figure out if he wants to play up how utterly unthinkable his plot of parents suddenly attacking their children is or if he wants to play it as a dark fantasy, the impulses apparently zapped into parents' minds bringing barely-buried impulses rather than inserting new ones. It may be why the action is cut to near-incomprehensibility, even by his standards, and why he's weirdly stingy with the blood and gore. It's weird (at best) to want parents murdering kids more graphically, but being so obvious in pulling away when half the point is bring on the edge does him no favors.

On the other hand, there is Nicholas Cage going full Nic Cage on this thing, impressively finding a higher gear even after establishing his character as a weirdo. He's almost upstaged by Selma Blair, though, who makes the other half of the titular pair more reserved in her initial resentment and more deadpan in her insanity. They give the movie exactly what it needs, and however much of a mess the film may be on the whole, they make damn sure it's got its moments.

Sha po lang: taam long (Paradox)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 20 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (finishing the series, HK Blu-ray)

So far as I know, no North America distributor has yet bought up the rights to the latest entry in the "Sha Po Lang" franchise, renamed it Kill Zone 3, and waited until nearly a year after its Hong Kong release to release it, and that's both kind of surprising and kind of not: As much as noteworthy Chinese movies have been getting same-day (or at least quick) releases abroad in recent years, and this series is certainly noteworthy, this entry is a different beast, less focused on the martial-arts action and more on the dark, underlying themes.

It continues the series' tradition of starting fresh with each entry, with characters from the previous film in different roles. In this case, Louis Koo Tin-lok plays Lee Chung-chi, a Hong Kong detective who tends to still think of his daughter Wing-chi (Hanna Chan Hon-na) as a little girl, although she's not that pre-schooler any more, breaking the news that she's in love and pregnant as Chung-chi is buying her dinner for her sixteenth birthday. Inspector Lee does not take that well, and soon Wing-chi has run off to Pattaya, Thailand, to visit a friend who works there as a tattoo artist (Iris Lam). She goes missing, and Lee convinces local detective Chui Kit (Yue Wu) to let him tag along on the case. It turns out that she's been kidnapped by organ traffickers led by ex-mercenary Sacha (Chris Collins), and the mayor needs a new heart.

Louis Koo is a big star in Hong Kong, but he's not primarily a kung fu guy like the previous stars of these movies (Donnie Yen, Wu Jing, and Tony Jaa). He can play intense with the best of them, and doing so forms the backbone of this movie, from the tightly-coiled rage as Lee discovers just how grown-up Wing-chi is to his determination upon discovering who is responsible for the horrific ordeal she's been put through. It's not a terribly broad range of emotion to play, but Koo finds the right nuance for each scene to keep Lee from just being a set-jaw robot with one operating mode; whether Lee is pushed further into despair or given a temporary glimpse of hope, it feels authentic right down to a moment visiting Chui's wife in the hospital where he still seems focused but not unable to grasp what others are also going through. The crime film industry cranks out enough cops like Lee Chung-chi every year that it's tough to make a new one stick out, and while Koo may not manage that, he doesn't often misstep and the movie gets the job done because of him.

Full review at EFC

Inferno (1953)
Out of the Inferno
Mary and the Witch's Flower
A Better Tomorrow 2018
Mom and Dad
Den of Thieves
Sha Po Lang: Paradox

Monday, January 22, 2018

Den of Thieves

I didn't plan on this being my only theatrical film for the day - I was going to catch the 70mm Phantom Thread at the Coolidge at 4pm - but I wound up waiting for a train for fifteen minutes in Davis, and when it reached Park, it was pretty clear that I wasn't going to make it to Brookline on time. So, since Den was going to be my evening show, I got off the train there, killed some time replacing shoes that were falling apart, and went to the Boston Common theater. Mildly surprised that there was a non-tiny audience, because (stereotype alert!) I would have figured that most of the people who wanted to see this would be home or at the bar watching the Patriots game. I mean, aside from just looking like a football-fan movie, there's actually dialogue where folks in the robbery crew playing high-school football together is treated like a bond just as strong as being in the Marines together.

Anyway, it gave me a little more time to watch other things when I got home, including starting my "finish the series" binge with Sha po lang 3: Paradox and pulling the last episode of The Blacklist off the DVR - where, coincidentally, Red got involved in a plan to rob the Denver mint of tens of millions of dollars of currency meant to be destroyed. Roughly a third of the length of the film, and admittedly starting from a position of familiarity, now does the TV version of this story have James Spader and Nathan Lane while the big screen settles for Gerard Butler and Pablo Schreiber?

Den of Thieves

* * (out of four)
Seen on 20 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

140 minutes long, this thing is, and that doesn't even include the line from the trailer about the crew being addicted to heists. What the heck is up with that? Sure, sometimes a moment that can seem too on-the-nose in the film can be great for selling it, but other times it can seem like a clear sign that the movie won't just get to the point, and that's the case here. Den of Thieves is a thriller that spends a lot of time screwing around but not much actually thrilling.

It starts off promising enough, with a well-organized crew robbing an armored car with overwhelming force when it stops at a donut shop, at least until one of the guards twitches wrong and a shootout begins. "Big Nick" O'Brien (Gerard Butler) of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department's Major Crimes Squad catches the case, finding it odd that a team as well-organized as this one seemed to be wouldn't know the van they stole was empty. Still, he recognizes the style as that of Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), an ex-Marine whose recent time in prison corresponded to a drop in the number elaborate robberies like this. Surveillance footage leads them to Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), a bartender with a couple of auto-related convictions whose fear of a third strike should get him to inform and allow Nick's crew to catch Merrimen's in the act. But Donnie says they keep him out of the loop until game day, which means they don't know Merrimen's target is the insanely-secure Federal Reserve building.

There are a bunch of other characters floating around - a pretty generic bunch, all sowle and shaggy and tattooed in the same way - but those three are the only ones of any consequence, and ideally they'd be more than enough. Gerard Butler is, admittedly, pretty good as a dirtbag cop, unpretentiously smart and casual in his entitlement. Nick's the guy you're kind of rooting for by default, and Butler makes sure that he doesn't seem particularly righteous but also never particularly burdened by guilt, he snaps crude lines off to show he's quick-witted but not exactly deep. O'Shea Jackson Junior looks like he could be a bigger star than his dad, showing an easy charm and able to play Donnie as realizing he's in over his head but still pushing through on confidence. It's not particularly Pablo Schreiber's fault that his third leg of this troika, Merrimen, is pretty much a non-entity - the script by director Christopher Gudegast and Paul Scheuring gives him even less than his co-stars - but he really doesn't project any sort of consistent personality at all. The movie needs a master thief, but Merrimen never seems compulsive or greedy or bored and only excited by planning a tricky operation.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Better Tomorrow 2018

Hey, new trailers for Monster Hunt 2 and Monkey King 3! I've been seeing the same teaser for that first one for a while. Bummer that the theater hasn't been picking up the Korean movies that have been coming out lately, because 1987 looks great and I really should have the opportunity to put the new one from the director of Save the Green Planet and Hwayi: A Monster Boy in front of my face.

That Monkey King trailer has me planning another movie binge, trying to catch up on movies where I've seen one part of the series but not the rest, even if I might miss MK3 between vacation and the SF marathon.

Got a decent crowd, though, some of whom really got into moments that I missed, and it's been too long since I've seen the 1986 version that I didn't really know whether it was recognizing a callback or some contemporary Chinese culture thing. It was, generally, weird to see actual posters from A Better Tomorrow in the movie; it's way more than tipping a cap.

Ying xiong ben se 2018 (A Better Tomorrow 2018)

* * (out of four)
Seen on 18 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

What, I ask, is the point of remaking A Better Tomorrow without John Woo and Chow Yun-fat? It's admittedly a fine enough crime story that under normal circumstances it could stand a new version that adapts it to a different time or place, but as the movie that paired those two Hong Kong action legends, it's legendary itself, and it's therefore not good enough for a remake to just be competent. You've got to offer more than the same basic material in Mandarin rather than Cantonese and people using cell phones to make it worthwhile.

Instead, it's pretty much the same, maybe sanitized a little. Zhou Kai (Wang Kai) is a sailor who has a profitable sideline in smuggling on the route between Qindao, China and Tokyo, although he and best friend "Mark" Ma Ke (Darren Wang Ta-lu) are basically avoiding customs rather than moving anything truly illegal, which is less than some of their associates want, particularly Cang (Yu Ailei), godson of money man Ha Ge (Lam Suet), but Kai has the list of contacts. Some think it might be handy that Kai's brother Chao (Ma Tianyu) has become a cop, although Chao doesn't know about his brother's sideline and is too straight an arrow to get caught up in it. Unfortunately, the surveillance assignment he's just pulled really has the potential to ruin this family reunion.

Put the 1986 version of this story out of one's mind (either by editing your memory to forget it exists or by simply not having been aware of it before), and you've actually got the skeleton of a decent movie. Screenwriter/director Ding Sheng plays the story out well enough, finding a few details that reinforce each other nicely (the Zhous' father having early-onset dementia makes a nice sort of metaphor for how family members might not really know each other, and also creates a sort of duality when he's caught in the crossfire later on, both innocent victim and bearing the burden of the way he raised his son. One can snicker a bit about how the floor show at a club in Qindao stoically continues performing when a fight breaks out while the one in Tokyo flees in panic, but it's also worth noting that Ding does a fair job of threading the Chinese-film needle where crime doesn't pay but it also has to be appealing and stable enough for people to turn in that direction.

Full review at EFC

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Mary and the Witch's Flower

Well, that's one birthday present for my niece that loves Harry Potter sorted in a few months, which is a big part of what I wanted from this movie. Look, with four nieces and not wanting to repeat presents between them too much, a well-made movie with a pre-teen girl as the lead is a precious thing.

I was kind of expecting it to get more of a release than it seems to be getting, though - for a while, the emails from GKids were implying a wide release on the 19th, so I put off buying tickets for the special preview event until it started to seem like there wouldn't be a wide(ish) release, not even at just Boston Common or the Kendall. It meant I had to scramble to buy tickets, and pretty much all that was left was the very front and somewhat off-center or toward the back. Being me, I go for the front row and, yeah, that's not quite ideal. But I got to see it, at least.

I'm kind of surprised this isn't getting a wider release; it's pretty darn good and looks a darn sight better than at least half of the stuff you see getting previews before other family-friendly movies. I mean, honestly, parents, would you rather your kids had the opportunity to see this or Sherlock Gnomes, to say nothing about that awful-looking Peter Rabbit movie?

Mary to majo no hana (Mary and the Witch's Flower)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 18 January 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #10 (Fathom Events, DCP)

Though it's generally unfair to compare every cel-animated film that comes out of Japan to those of Studio Ghibli, especially if they made with kids in mind, this one invites it: Not only is the style fairly similar, but the filmmakers worked at Ghibli and built their new studio to do the same kind of work once that studio shifted to maintaining their catalog rather than producing new material. Also, I'd lay money that one character, a wise but curmudgeonly gardener, was modeled on Hayao Miyazaki. So it's not entirely unfair to watch the opening and tag it as Kiki's Delivery Service with a bit of Castle in the Sky mixed in, or flip those proportions when describing it later. What's important is that it turns out to be a worthy successor.

That opening gambit has a witch sneaking out of the building she's just burgled, chased by flying octopi as she escapes on her broom. She and her cargo eventually fall from the sky, her broom lost as the magical seeds dropped cause it to be swallowed by the woods. That broom will be found by Mary Smith (voiced by Hana Sugisaki in Japanese and Ruby Barnhill in English), a clumsy but well-meaning girl with unruly red hair who has moved to this small town ahead of her parents. The only other kid around is Peter (voices of Ryunosuke Kamiki and Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who teases her when running errands for the neighbors. Soon, a black cat has led Mary to the broom and a strange blue flower, with the broom launching like a rocket and bringing Mary to a school for magicians high above the clouds. There, Madam Mumblechook (voices of Yuki Amami and Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (voices of Fumiyo Kohinata and Jim Broadbent) tell her that she must be a prodigy to have found her way there - but down on earth, gardener Zebedee (voices of Ken'ichi Endo and Rasmus Hardiker) is telling Mary's Great-Aunt Charlotte (voices of Shinobu Otake and Lyna Baron) that Peter has gone missing.

I'm curious how much of Mary Stewart's novel The Little Broomstick director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and co-writer Riko Sakaguchi have altered in their adaptation, and how much they tried to leave as-is. At times, the movie shows a little bit of awkwardness that may be attributed to going from an English-language novel to a Japanese movie that was later subtitled in English, or maybe the filmmakers giving much more time to exploration than explanation. Wherever it comes from, though, they have an interesting tendency for what can seem like a half-twist, neither entirely sticking to the expectations that come with a kid who doesn't quite fit into the regular world discovering she may be meant for more nor completely subverting them. The filmmakers may occasionally stumble when embracing that sort of ambiguity, but it makes Mary a more interesting character and Endor College a more interesting place.

Full review at EFC

Friday, January 19, 2018

3D Infernos

About a week and a half ago, I posted about a couple of Japanese movies I bought as part of larger orders, pointing out that the other things in that order would make for a tremendously specific themed post, and here it is - two 3D movies named "Inferno", made sixty years and half a world apart!

Both, in a way, were "what more can I buy" purchases - Out of the Inferno was found while I was just digging around DDDHouse, looking at what was relatively cheap on 3D Blu-ray because, when you're ordering from Hong Kong, you might as well pack as many things as you can into a single order to save on shipping, and "3D movie from the Pang Brothers" raises an eyebrow for me. Then, of course, it sits on my shelf for a while because that's what 70% of the movies I buy do, as they're both a compulsion and a hedge against not being able to watch them the day I do feel like it because video stores no longer exist (or, at least, the nearest non-Redbox one is roughly an hour from my apartment on the T) and who knows if it will be on a streaming service I have a membership for the day I want to see it. Not that I'm likely to suddenly feel the need to watch this movie on short notice (especially when I didn't know it existed five minutes before ordering it), but it's the principle of the thing.

Similarly, I was on a 3D Blu-ray buying kick on Amazon, looking deep in the "people who bought X also bought Y" stuff when I found Inferno, though I was a bit alarmed at the price (something like $50 from resellers). It looked good enough to chase down elsewhere, though, which is how I eventually found Twilight Time's site and now will likely order a couple movies a month for them for the foreseeable future.

Both, thankfully, wound up pretty good, or at least good enough for a couple evening's entertainment. This pair of movies is also a kind of fun side-benefit to me liking 3D and kind of obsessively hunting it down (admittedly, partly due to necessity) - it's leading me to some fun places. Oftentimes, this sort of focus can get you into ever-more-narrow niches, but it's cool that even though it led me to this super-specific list (two 3D movies with the same name, at least in terms of what's on the front cover), the end result was two reasonably different movies.

Inferno '53

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 15 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (watching 3D stuff, 3D Blu-ray)

"3D", "Technicolor", and "film noir" are not three things that traditionally go together, and that's a large part of what makes Inferno such a nifty discovery: It really is all three, and not just that, it's good at all three. It takes an intriguingly gritty crime story, transplants it from the city to the desert and strips it to the bone, and gets a heck of a lot of impact from its visuals.

When it opens, Geraldine Carson (Rhonda Fleming) and her new paramour Joseph Duncan (William Lundigan) have already abandoned Gerry's husband Donald (Robert Ryan) in the desert and are covering their tracks. It's a crime of opportunity; Donald has a reputation for wandering off on his own, and if he falls and breaks his leg while Joe is showing him a mine to invest in, well, Gerry at least is able to convince herself that not rescuing him is different from actual murder. The trouble with that plan is that while they go through the motions of telling Carson's business manager Dave Emory (Larry Keating) that the boss is missing and misdirecting the search party, Carson is demonstrating more will to live and ingenuity for survival than most would credit the soft heir with.

That the audience never really sees Carson as the unimpressive, abrasive gadabout that the other characters describe leaves a bit of an empty spot in the film, but the nifty performance by Robert Ryan as the inconvenient husband is nevertheless a strong enough base to hold up the rest of the film. There's a sneering hatred and self-pity to him that gives way to the makings of a less grudging admiration as the tenor of his voice-over changes and his physical performance shows more assurance; the audience may not witness the entirety of Carson's arc, but we get enough to extrapolate the rest, and Ryan does a nice job with it. He's a little theatrical when on his own for much of the film, but he slides into a more natural mode when playing against co-stars later, and it feels like both what the movie needs to be entertaining and growth.

Full review at EFC

Tao chu sheng tian (Out of the Inferno)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 16 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (watching 3D stuff, 3D Blu-ray)

Brothers Danny and Oxide Pang made a splash on the Chinese film scene with The Eye and Re-Cycle, and have worked steadily both on individual projects as a team since, but the movies they have made don't seem to be booked at a lot of genre festivals any more. Maybe it's because they're like Out of the Inferno (aka "Inferno" and "Out of Inferno" depending how the title is translated) from 2013 - well-made enough but not unique. Hollywood makes things like this, and the Pang's good eyes roughly making up for the difference in effects budget between there and Hong Kong doesn't quite grab one's attention, even if it is a perfectly fine movie about heroic firefighters.

Four years ago, brothers Mak Tai-kwan (Lau Ching-wan) and Mak Keung (Louis Koo Tin-lok) were both offered jobs in the private sector; Keung took one, while Tai-kwan stayed with the Guangzhou Fire Department. Now, both of their lives are at a turning point; Tai-kwan has decided to leave the department so that his expectant wife Lam Si-lok (Angelica Lee Sin-je) doesn't have to worry about every day and Keung intends to propose to his girlfriend (Gillian Chung Yan-tung) after an event launching the company's fire-suppression products. Given that they are in use in the high rise where the company is headquartered - and, coincidentally, where Si-lok's OB/GYN (Wang Xue-qi) has his office - it's not going to be a great advertisement, as a set of unlikely circumstances will carry the flames through the entire forty-plus story building.

It's kind of a shame that this plot requires Keung's technology to be something of a spectacular failure; neither the script nor actor Louis Koo portrays him as particularly foolish or full of hubris. On top of that, it makes it a little harder for the filmmakers to talk about the practical difficulties firefighters in cities like Guangzhou face with skyscrapers growing like weeds, too high up for ladders to be stable or water pressure to be sufficient. The moments when the Maks have to solve that sort of problem are some of the film's most thrilling and intriguing, far more exciting than the familiar subplots about a lost kid and an opportunistic crime. Tai-kwan and Keung having different ways of approaching the same problem, and friction about how one is valued monetarily while the other is lionized (something that applies to a lot of fields where risk is involved) might be a much more interesting way to create tension between them than the late introduction of issues involving their father's death.

Full review at EFC

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 January 2018 - 25 January 2018

It's not really a great week, but it's one where a couple trailers that have been playing in front of seemingly every movie for the last month come out, so that's a relief, even if you don't go to them.

  • So, say goodbye to the trailer for 12 Strong, which features Chris Hemsworth as a U.S. soldier who led one of the first missions in Afghanistan after 9/11, going into enemy territory on horseback. Yes, it's the U.S. Army as the low-tech underdog against Afghan rebels at the start of a never-ending war! It's at Fresh Pond, the Capitol, the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux. And no more of the trailer for Den of Thieves, with Gerard Butler as the head of an elite unit of cops chasing down a similarly skilled group of robbers, both prone to excessive force. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay (including Dolby), Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There haven't been quite so many trailers for Forever My Girl, and I wonder if this would be playing (as many) theaters if star Jessica Rothe hadn't had a pretty decent hit in Happy Death Day, although here she's playing the high school sweetheart of a country star who is now returning home after ten years. It's at Fresh Pond and Boston Common.

    Boston Common also opens A Better Tomorrow 2018, a remake of the Hong Kong classic that first saw John Woo work with Chow Yun-fat. Ding Sheng directs this one with a group of up-and-coming young stars.
  • The Brattle Theatre almost has a conventional schedule this week, with Thelma playing all day from Friday to Tuesday and the latest shows on Wednesday and Thursday; it's a pretty nifty film by Joachim Trier about a young woman, away from home for the first time at college, who discovers that she may have uncanny and dangerous abilities. The 7pm shows on Wednesday and Thursday are A Woman A Part, with director Elisabeth Subrin on-hand to introduce her film starring Maggie Siff as an actress re-evaluating her life.
  • Apple Fresh Pond has no Indian films this week, but they do have a couple of American genre films that you'd otherwise have to catch on VOD. Mom and Dad features Nic Cage and Selma Blair as parents who are affected by a strange phenomenon which compels them to kill their kids. Written and directed by Brian Taylor, who's been doing nutty things on Happy! and also was half of the Crank team. There's also Small Town Crime, with John Hawkes as an ex-cop solving a brutal murder. Heck of a supporting cast on it.
  • Kendall Square gives half a screen's worth of showtimes to The Final Year, in which documentarian Greg Barker had incredible access to the Obama State Department in 2016.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre continues the 35mm "Snowed In" midnights with Let the Right One In on Friday and The Shining on Saturday; the monthly screening of The Room on Friday is apparently sold out, and that pushes The Midnight Man, featuring Robert Englund and and Lin Shaye. They keep Phantom Thread in the big room on 70mm film (except for one Sunday matinee), and further commemorate Daniel Day-Lewis's coming imminent retirement with a 35mm print of My Left Foot on Tuesday. They also have a special screening of Soul Witness: The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project on Thursday
  • The Somerville Theatre and West Newton Cinema both add Phantom Thread this week, with Somerville getting a 35mm print. The Somerville also programs two documentaries later in the week - Unrest, Jennifer Brea's film about her chronic fatigue syndrome, and 42 Grams, in which Jack C. Newell follows celebrity chef Jake Bickelhaupt as he makes his dinner club into a Michelin-starred restaurant.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has screenings of Canaletto and the Art of Venice Friday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons. They also continue the UCLA Festival of Preservation with He Walked by Night (35mm Friday/Sunday), Open Secret (35mm Friday/Sunday), Desert Hearts (Saturday), The Murder of Fred Hampton (35mm Saturday), Sons of the Desert (35mm Wednesday), Stranded (35mm Wednesday/Thursday), and The Lost Moment (35mm Thursday).
  • The Harvard Film Archive is the latest place in the area to have a Frederick Wiseman series, with 16mm prints of High School (Friday 7pm), Hospital (Friday 9pm), High School II (Saturday 7pm), and Primate (Monday 7pm). They also continue their 35mm The World of Bob Fosse program with a $5 matinee of The Little Prince on Saturday, Kiss Me Kate (Sunday 4:30pm), and Cabaret (Sunday 7pm).
  • CinemaSalem once again books two movies in the 18-seat room - not only are they the place to go if you don't want to wait until midnight for The Midnight Man, but they also have Freak Show, the first narrative feature directed by Trudie Styler, in which a male high achiever at a conservative school opts to run for prom queen. Fun cast list, even if most are likely cameos.

I'm down for A Better Tomorrow and Mom and Dad, maybe seeing the stuff I'm behind on and further drilling into my unwatched disc collection.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 8 January 2018 - 1 January 2018

Not quite doing a movie every day, but keeping up a pretty good pace - and saw movies in seven different places!

This Week in Tickets

This time, it meant starting at home, finishing up the second half of a pair of Japanese films with The Bullet Train, which was not quite so good as Confessions or Speed, the movie it inspired, but its still an interesting one. Tuesday, meanwhile, had me finding the last place in the area to be showing Downsizing in the early evening in the Boston area. Not necessarily worth prioritizing, really.

Thursday had me planning to see one movie and check out a new theater, but the T dragged me down. Fortunately, it got me to Paddington 2 at Boston Common, and that would wind up being the best movie of the weekend.

Friday was a break from new releases, catching a double feature of two from last year (Good Time & The Florida Project) at the Brattle. I'd enjoyed Good Time at Fantasia, but wanted to see it both from a better spot and on film, and had heard a lot of good things about The Florida Project, even if it somehow hadn't really penetrated that it was in large part a movie about kids.

Saturday, I finally got down to the Seaport to check out the new Showplace Icon theater there, with my first show there All the Money in the World, which isn't the greatest. A bit of a missed opportunity in not opening Proud Mary at that theater, as much of it takes place in the Seaport area. Instead, I had to catch it at Fenway.

I did laundry and lazed around the apartment on Sunday, although I walked out in the cold to The Commuter. Not good at all, but when I got home, I figured I might as well check out my UltraHD Blu-ray of Blade Runner before letting a friend borrow it and, guys, that's both a great movie and a fantastic-looking disc.

Not a bad way to end the week. As always, quicker updates on my Letterboxd page, though this week may be a bit slower..


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 9 January 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #10 (first-run, DCP)

Alexander Payne has a neat sci-fi idea in Downsizing, and a mind to use it both as a metaphor for the difficulties of changing one's habits to make the world a better place and as one for starting anew. He does not, however, really have a story, filling time with lots of set-up but not really putting anything in it that matters. Someone really good at creating a fantasy world could build it on the fly and not fiddle around with stuff that really will not wind up mattering. And, man, for everything he seems to get right about small-city/town people, he seems to stumble hard when he tries to widen his view.

You can see the clumsiness here, with every "XX years later", the way a possible environmental message always seems just out of the filmmakers' grasp, like it's an idea meant to push people into something but not something to really examine, the way the last act seems like just every random idea Payne had left glued together because he knew he wouldn't get another shot. It's a mess that leaves Matt Damon and Hong Chau kind of stranded - Damon's kind of great at being this whitebread guy searching for something more and it can kind of look hollow rather than sincere (he's at his best when he gets to be a guy who is able to offer something concrete but overlooked), and Chau's character often feels like she's right on the line of stereotype and authenticity.

And while in many ways this isn't quite so important as the other character/storytelling flaws, it seems tremendously disappointing to me that the filmmakers seldom really have fun with the scale changes that are the whole visual hook. There are long periods when you would never know these characters are just inches tall, and while that's in many ways the point (getting small hasn't really changed their thinking that much), it often seems like the filmmakers have been very careful in calculating cube roots but never figured that the physics of this world might be different - no example of the square-cube law in action, no consideration of how liquids behave differently at that scale, no idea of how if the small folks can have fingernail-sized cell phones, things must be different on the macro scale (just think of how much thicker fabrics should look, too). Even when the characters are getting into the outside world, it seldom looks enormous.

There's just damn little to fire the imagination in Downsizing, and its metaphors and satire are not nearly clever enough to fail on what should be it's most enjoyable high concepts.

Blade Runner (The Final Cut)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 14 January 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #10 (first-run, DCP)

The UltraHD disc I ordered because I was getting the sequel in that format and, hey, might as well get the original in 4K resolution, even if I don't necessarily watch it often enough to make it worth having another copy. Heck, I may not have ever actually watched the HD-DVD version I'm upgrading because this shows up at local theaters relatively often, and, yeah, that's "HD-DVD", so it's been a while.

I have seen it fairly often, because I do try and catch it when it plays, what with it being kind of terrific. Which cut doesn't really matter - it's fantastic all the way around. the revelation this time around was just how amazing the transfer on this disc is - it looks like it came straight from a pristine film print, and shows how it's a crying shame that most of the 4K discs that come out are recent films which have probably been through a 2K digital intermediate at some point, because this higher resolution is really going to look its best on something like this, where you can see every detail of the miniatures and the fine-grained film used to shoot the thirty-five years ago.

More classic movies on this format, please!

The Bullet Train
Paddington 2
Good Time & The Florida Project
All the Money in the world
Proud Mary
The Commuter
Blade Runner

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Commuter

Disappointing finish to a weekend of new releases, although not expected - stuff doesn't come out in January unless it's expanding or getting dumped, with just a few exceptions (not enough people went to see Paddington 2 this weekend!), and the Somerville Theatre had it in one of the even-numbered rooms despite what you'd think would be less mainstream stuff also playing. It wasn't going to be good.

Still, it was disappointingly bad; you expect a certain amount of competence from Neeson & Collet-Serra, and this thing was just dull nonsense

The Commuter

* ½ (out of four)
Seen on 14 January 2018 in Somerville Theatre #4 (first-run, DCP)

I've long repeated the adage that you can make any thriller something like 20% better by setting it on a train, but The Commuter challenges that rule in the strongest manner possible. Maybe it doesn't apply to stories that can only take place on a train, or maybe this story would be even worse transplanted to a stationary location, but either way, it's a remarkably stupid movie that wastes a lot of time before it even has a chance to become the entertaining sort of silly.

It gives us Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), a sixty-year-old former detective who has been selling insurance for the past ten years, taking the train into New York from Tarrytown every day, filling his time by reading along with his son's assignments for English class. At least, until today, when he's fired and can't quite bring himself to tell his wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) right away, meeting his former partner Alex (Patrick Wilson) for a few drinks before taking his normal 6:22 home. That's when he meets Joanna (Vera Farmiga), who tells him that there is twenty-five thousand dollars hidden in the bathroom and another seventy-five in it for him if he can find someone headed for Cold Springs - not a regular - code-named "Prin" and put a location tag on their bag. Michael soon figures out that this group means to tag Prin for assassination, but if the money is the carrot, a threat against his family is the stick, and there are people on the train watching to make sure he complies.

This is a ridiculously complicated plan, which is not necessarily a terrible thing in and of itself, but it's a complicated plan that runs far too obvious a risk of failure - what if Michael just can't figure out who the mystery person is? - and which doesn't really give anybody enough to do. Heck, even without Michael having a phone of his own, it could probably be thwarted by him walking from car to car and loudly announcing what's going on. Instead, he walks from car to car, acts kind of squirrely, does much less effective things that backfire, but never really seems to be solving a puzzle, but even getting him to do that requires a conspiracy with enough manpower on and off the train to make Michael utterly unnecessary. It also creates a bad rhythm for the movie - with stops every four minutes in the city and just slightly less often as the train moves to the suburbs, there's a stop-and-go pace that never lets the film build up any sort of momentum.

Full review at EFC

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Seaport Cinema: All the Money in the World (and Proud Mary)

I probably won't talk about the new Showcase Icon spot in the Seaport until I've been there a couple more times, seeing a few different movies there with different specs (a 3D one, one in "Icon-X"), but my first impression is that it feels like a place that will take a little getting used to; it's high-end but not right-to-your-seat delivery the way the likes of the Alamo Drafthouse or the SuperLux in Chestnut Hill is. It's gonna take a little more sussing out, although it's worth noting that the laser projection is pretty nice, and that's arguably the most important part.

Funny thing about going there this weekend: They didn't open Proud Mary, even though the clearly visible address for Mary's apartment is right in that very neighborhood, a couple blocks away. I joke about the movie's geography being terrible - there are at least two times when characters start at the public garden and wind up in completely unreasonable places, but someone probably would get on the T at Chinatown if they needed to get somewhere on the Orange Line, although I'm not sure that would necessarily take him any place they show him going.

The credits mentioned that it was partially shot in Chicago, so maybe I need my brother to watch this to tell me how many scenes of this set-in-Boston movie are obviously there if you know what to look for.

All the Money in the World

* * (out of four)
Seen on 13 January 2018 in Showcase Icon Boston #5 (first-run, DCP)

It's a harsh and horrible thing to say, but the various controversies that impacted All the Money in the World may have been the best things for it. Send this out into the world either with Christopher Plummer cast as J. Paul Getty from the start or with no frantic replacement of Kevin Spacey, and this is a pretty forgettable movie. Now, at least, it will be a footnote in an interesting story.

The film is based upon the story of how, in April 1973, Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer), the sixteen-year-old grandson and namesake of oil magnate J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, no relation), was kidnapped off the streets of Rome by a crew led by Cinquanta (Romain Duris). The crew demands a seventeen million dollar ransom, an amount mother Abigail Harris Getty (Michelle Williams) is completely unable to pay, having relinquished any financial compensation in exchange for full custody in her divorce. She pleads her case with with her former father-in-law, but Getty senior refuses to pay any ransom, though he does assign former CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to try find the kidnappers and get Paul back without paying.

As nightmarish a situation as that is, this particular kidnapping is not necessarily one that translates into a movie. It's a thriller built around a long-term waiting game, and the filmmakers never really figure out how to wring tension out of that. Maybe, perhaps, as a TV show, with room for subplots and the feeling that things are actually dragging out, it works (it will be interesting to see how well the upcoming miniseries Trust works), but the movie flattens that. The script by David Scarpa includes a number of flashbacks, but they seldom shed much extra light on any motivations or planting seeds that will germinate later, like Scarpa and director Ridley Scott know that there's a lot going on underneath this story, but can't find the pieces of information that would add insight rather than background.

Full review on EFC

Proud Mary

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 13 January 2018 in Regal Fenway #11 (first-run, DCP)

Proud Mary is not a terrific movie even by the blaxploitation throwback standards it's clearly striving for; though it sets the situation up with laudable efficiency on the way to a trim 85-minute running time, it still gets bogged down with boring gangster stuff and jettisons large chunks of that when it's not needed any more. It would be a bit of a drag if it didn't embrace being a pulpy B-movie both in size and willingness to dive straight into action; the sometimes-sluggish scenes where guns aren't being fired don't bury how well it works when it gets down to business.

The Mary of the title (Taraji P. Henson) is a killer working for Boston gangster Benny (Danny Glover) - like a daughter to him even though she and his son Tom (Billy Brown) are no longer together - and when she dispatched a Jamaica Plain bookie for him a year earlier, she made an orphan out of his son Danny (Jahi Di'Allo Winston). Danny's been running errands for an Eastern European creep who goes by "Uncle" (Xander Berkeley), and when a guilt-ridden Mary finally catches up with Danny and tries to get Uncle to back off… Well, it goes badly enough for Uncle's boss Luka (Rade Serbedzija) to feel retribution is called for unless Benny can deliver the one responsible - and Benny puts Mary in charge of finding that someone. Benny's money man Walter (Neal McDonough) looks like a good patsy, but there's no way it will be that easy.

It's not a bad plot, really, and given that the film is shorter than most that get a theatrical release, there's a good chance that it was cut to heck at some point - Mary framing Walter is basically one sentence of "who else?" and for someone really hell-bent on revenge, Luka pretty much vanishes when the movie has other fish to fry. What the three credited writers and director Babak Najafi are going for here is pretty clear, and maybe given a little more room to breathe and a more charismatic cast of characters, they'd be able wring a twisty crime story that really gets into Mary feeling disillusioned and recognizing how she's pushed Danny ointo the same path as her. Instead, the outline is clear but the details are drab.

Full review at EFC

The Florida Project (and Good Time)

Kodak put a listicle on their site last week describing the best cities to see movies on film, and Boston was #3 behind New York and L.A., which have the distinct advantages of being huge cities with large chunks of the entertainment industry to cater to. We will, however, come out for film and consider it valuable, which explains a big chunk of how Friday night's shows at the Brattle either sold out or came darn close - folks knew that seeing something recent like Good Time on 35mm was a big deal, even if they maybe hadn't been drawn to it during the regular engagement last year. The place was a little overwhelmed.

Of course, a lot of that had to do with The Florida Project, too - not a lot of people bailed after Good Time, and I gather the 5pm show was more people than they expected as well. I suspect it's getting a little more of a second wind than many films do during awards season, in no small part due to how its very young star is showing up at ceremonies and being an adorable seven-year-old. With so many things given out, with attendant distractions, and an ever-more-cynical group of people consuming entertainment news, Brooklynn Prince surely gets one to notice that this film is different than most everything else out there.

They make a good double feature, too - both films that draw the audience into a desperate situation without engendering too much sympathy, using a lot of folks who are either non-professionals or just getting their first jobs in front of the camera, and seeming to just let a story shake out. It can be a lot of that for one night, but both sets of filmmakers do it so well that it winds up very impressive indeed.

Good Time

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 12 January 2018 in the Brattle Theatre [(Some of) The Best of 2017, 35mm]

I'm not quite sure how much the the different circumstances of seeing Good Time affected my enjoyment of it - Fantasia surprised me with a twistier, more grind-house-y movie than I expected, and also followed it up with a terrific Q&A from the directors. Here, I knew what I was getting and didn't have the same sort of decompression and discussion afterward, it became a thing I did to kill time before The Florida Project to an extent. It's a tough thing to experience a second time with the same excitement as that first viewing.

Still… It's pretty darn good, and seeing a nice 35mm print up close rather than a DCP from way the heck up in seats that feel like the back of the balcony certainly improves part of the experience. The Safdies made a movie that oozes desperation and bad decision-making, and maybe seeing that as leading to inevitable downfalls makes one less enthused even if it's still chock full of good bits.

Original review on EFC (from August)

The Florida Project

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 12 January 2018 in the Brattle Theatre [(Some of) The Best of 2017, DCP]

The last few scenes of The Florida Project aren't quite completely different from the rest of the movie, but writer/director/editor Sean Baker bookends what is arguably the film's most simply devastating moment with shots that feel show the filmmakers' hands in a way the rest of the movie doesn't. It's an odd choice, but an understandable one - how do you end a movie that buries its structure so far under its surface? - and certainly not one that undercuts what an unusual experience this movie is.

It's told from the perspective of Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince), a six-year-old girl who lives with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in a Kissimmee motel, spending most of her time running around the area getting into mischief with her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Dicky, making a new one in Jancey (Valeria Cotto) while being punished for their last bit of troublemaking. It's not quite idyllic even if Moonee can't really see how Halley's position is getting more precarious by the week, but the motel's manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) looks out for them as much as he can without being an actual babysitter.

It must be somewhat terrifying for a filmmaker to place so much of a film in the hands of someone as young as Brooklynn Prince, and equally as easy for outsiders to second-guess it, speculating that as a result the film must be all improvisation, or that it's a case of perfect casting rather than actual talent. Whatever the case may be here, though, Prince is a joy to watch, contributing a boisterous energy level that certainly comes off as authentic from how Moonee doesn't quite know which words she's going to emphasize until they're out of her mouth or how she runs like she's throwing herself at something. Moonee blurts things out without ever sounding like she's doing it for effect - Prince is probably not so potty-mouthed in real life, but she certainly makes one believe that she's Halley's daughter.

Full review at EFC

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Paddington 2

So, which is more peculiar as a childless adult in one's mid-forties - seeing Paddington at a preview show with a mostly-empty theater, or showing up to a show full of families without any of your own? As much as you might get side-eye at the latter, the one I went to was oddly quiet and I really would have liked to be able to read the room and see if American kids enjoyed this nearly as much as I.

It was not my original plan, actually - I'd been planning to make The Commuter the Thursday preview I caught last night, and check out the new theater in the Seaport on top of that, but the Red Line was all kinds of awful; I got on the second of two packed trains out of Alewife, and it had to sit around and stop every time it nearly caught up with the first one, and by the time I got to Park Street, it was clear I wasn't getting to South Station, switching to the Silver Line, going another stop, and re-orienting myself and finding the place in time for the 7:30 show. Might as well go for the 7:45 at Boston Common then.
Only a couple folks in the theater, and it was a funny arrangement - me in the front section, a couple way in the back. Hopefully, a ton of folks bring their kids this weekend; it's really delightful and there's a ton of not-good stuff coming up for kids; let 'em see something good here.

Anyway, be glad that I can't really do the thing I came up with as I wrote the review, where I compare the way the Kingsman films use their exaggerated Britishness with the way that the Paddington ones do. I think they've both got a certain pride in their identity, although I seem to remember Matthew Vaughn using it more as an affectation and disguise while Paul King seems to find it true on top of being useful.

Paddington 2

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 11 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

Paddington 2 couldn't quite sneak up on me the way the first did - its American trailer spent most of its time on the closest thing the movie has to a gross-out gag, only for the film to later reveal itself as witty and big-hearted - especially since the folks in the UK have been much more vocal about what a lovely film Paul King has made the second time around. That's okay. Knowing to expect its very British brilliance actually makes it no less delightful.

After the previous film's origin story, this one picks up with Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw), a small orphaned bear who came to London from Peru and was named for the train station where he was found, quite settled in with the Brown family, although each of them is experiencing some of their own growing pains. He still writes to his Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton), and wishes to send her an extra-special present for her upcoming hundredth birthday. He lays eyes on a vintage pop-up book of London in a local antique shop, but it's terribly expensive, leading him to work various odd jobs to try to raise the money. He has almost managed it when he sees someone burgling the shop, but he winds up sent to jail for the crime. While the Brown family (Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin & Julie Walters) follow the trail of clues leading to out-of-work actor - and master of disguise - Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant), the irrepressible bear makes friends in the jail, including quick-tempered cook Knuckles McGinty (Brendan Gleeson).

There is really no end to the utter delight found in these films, which co-writer and director King fills with joyous, gentle slapstick and absurdity. It is far too British and polite to actually wink at the audience, but King knows just exactly how to create a tone that plays to kids and also lets adults have fun with how knowingly silly the movie is. And it's wonderfully silly and traditional, with a pop-up book that becomes a treasure map, kids with charmingly analog (and useful) hobbies, a sense that being polite and kind can do wonders. It's a film full of layers, with jokes just hidden enough that kids will be delighted to find them (pay attention to every headline in McGinty's newspaper), colorful adventure, and more well-earned emotion than one would think could possibly come from an animated bear. It is utterly earnest and aware that this can be a rare thing, and never so serious about that as it could be. It will get a joke or two out of how broadly adults can see it being played, but King and co-writer Simon Farnaby never look down or make fun.

Full review at EFC

Friday, January 12, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 12 January 2018 - 18 January 2018

Hey, welcome back, Hollywood studios! Glad to see you releasing stuff and opening other things wider this weekend. It's letting Kerasotes Showplace Icon get up to full capacity, and also letting everybody else shuffle things around.

  • In the middle of all this, The Coolidge Corner Theatre gets to break out the big projector and film to show Phantom Thread, the latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson and allegedly star Daniel Day Lewis's final film, on a 70mm print. Day-Lewis plays a dressmaker who becomes obsessed and controlling with his muse and lover, and it also plays Kendall Square and Boston Common, with the Somerville Theatre expecting a 35mm print in the next week or two. Note the Coolidge's Monday afternoon shows will use a DCP instead of film, and Tuesday's 7pm show is an "Off the Couch" presentation with an introduction/discussion from the Boston Psychoanalytic Society. They also start a month-long series celebrating Day-Lewis's career with a 35mm screening of his breakthrough film, My Beautiful Laundrette, on Tuesday evening.

    The Coolidge also continues cold-weather midnights this week, with John Carpenter's frigid classic The Thing at midnight Friday while the weekly screening of The Shining plays midnight Saturday, both on 35mm. There are also two Sunday morning presentations: "Shine On!: Animated Shorts from the Children's Film Festival Seattle" in the big room downstairs and Goethe-Institut presentation of German indie drama Western in the still-respectably-sized room upstairs.
  • Among the wide releases, the most prestigious opening is, obviously, Paddington 2, with the entire delightful cast of the first returning in a plot that sees a master of disguise played by Hugh Grant framing the little Peruvian bear for a theft and getting him sent to jail with colorful inmates including Brendan Gleeson. I am dead serious about how this is likely the best wide release, by the way; it is as wonderful as the first and it was something of a relief to see the new one rescued from being part of any boycott against the Weinstein Company. It is at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    For those that can't quite bring themselves to a movie made with kids in mind, there's a couple more action-oriented presentations that, fair warning, likely got delayed to January for not being that great. The Commuter is the latest collaboration of star Liam Neeson and director Jaume Collet-Serra, with Neeson playing an ordinary man (or is he?) blackmailed into some sort of train-bound murder plot. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (in Imax only), Fenway, South Bay, the Seaport, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. Proud Mary, on the other hand, features Taraji P. Henson in a blaxploitation-style flick about a hitwoman who finds a kid at one of her jobs and has to protect him from the employers who don't want any loose ends. It's at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay (including Dolby), Assembly Row, and Revere (including XPlus).

    After opening at Kendall Square and Boston Common last week, The Post expands to the Somerville, West Newton, Fenway, South Bay, the Seaport (including Icon-X), Assembly Row, and Revere. In other reshufflings, theaters which booked The Last Jedi can now use their big screens for other things, so Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle gets the RPX screen at Fenway and the MX3D screen at Revere. Boston Common also brings back Marshall for matinees.

    In one-offs, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere have documentary The Opera House on Saturday and Wednesday. TCM's classic for the month is The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, playing Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Sunday and Tuesday. There's a screening of Goodfellas at Revere on Sunday. Finally, there's the "Premiere Event" of Mary and the Witch's Flower, the first animated film from a pair of Ghibli vets, on Thursday, with the dubbed version at 7 and the subtitled at 8, at Boston Common (possibly dubbed only), Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere (possibly subtitled only). That's probably more places than will open it on the 19th (if anybody does in the Boston area).
  • Apple Fresh Pond keeps Telugu-language action flick Jai Simha, Telugu (with subtitles) thriller Prince in Exile, and Tamil-language heist movie Thaanaa. They also open Hindi horror movie 1921, which doesn't look to be a direct sequel to 1920 but comes from the same director, and Tamil thriller Sketch, with Telugu romance Rangula Ratnam starting Saturday.
  • The Brattle Theatre spends most of the week on (Some of) The Best of 2017, the the weekend featuring 35mm prints of stuff that was mostly digital when it came out: Good Time on Friday (playing as a double feature with The Florida Project on DCP), Wonder Woman on Saturday, and Dunkirk on Sunday. It's DCPs the rest of the week, with a twin bill of The Beguiled & Lady MacBeth on Monday, Logan Noir on Wednesday, and single features of A Quiet Passion and The Villainess on Thursday. That gap on Tuesday is filled with Trash Night.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues The Boston Festival of Films from Iran with Tehran Taboo (Friday), When God Sleeps (Saturday), Negar (Saturday/Sunday), and 24 Frames (Sunday/Wednesday). There's also another Friday matinee of Canaletto and the Art of Venice and screenings of The Square on Friday and Wednesday. Come Thursday, they start the UCLA Festival of Preservation, with a 35mm print of The Murder of Fred Hamptom co-presented by Roxbury International Film Festival and a DCP of Desert Hearts.
  • Belmont World Film has their annual family film festival this weekend, split between three venues: Opening night film Master Spy and Sunday's "Animal Kingdom" events will be at The Regent Theatre; Saturday's "Water, Water, Everywhere" program at Studio Cinema Belmont; and Monday's "Heroes in Our Midst" screenings are at the Brattle Theatre.
  • The Harvard Film Archive comes back from winter break with a weekend of member screenings, so if you're a member, you probably know what those are already. There's also a regular screening on Monday, with a DCP restoration of All That Jazz serving as a holdover from 2017's Bob Fosse program.
  • CinemaSalem has two movies sharing the tiny room this week - horror flick Devil's Gate and true-crime documentary Killing for Love.

I already caught Paddington 2, and recommend it. I'll almost be looking at the Good Time/Florida Project double feature, Phantom Thread, The Commuter, Proud Mary, Mary and the Witch's Flower, and some catch-up.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Japanese Cinema on Special Order: Confessions & The Bullet Train

Well, I don't know that either disc was really a special order, technically - you can find both on Amazon, mostly through resellers, although it's probably cheaper to go straight to the source.

Confessions I picked up at DDDHouse, an online retailer out of Hong Kong whose website can sometimes be a bit challenging to get through, but which offers pretty good prices (and the US$/HK$ exchange rate is currently pretty favorable on the American side) and reasonable shipping. I've made a couple orders from there since, mostly for stuff that hasn't been released in North America at all - and a couple cases, like The Mermaid, where we only get 2D versions of a 3D movie - but been hesitant to actually pop a disc in, just as a matter of not having a lot of time and a little fear of there not being good subtitles. Like, as long as I haven't watched one and been disappointed it's still potentially a good idea. So I haven't actually watched the thing I built the first order around (10 Years), but I will soon; the Confessions disc looked pretty good, and the subtitles were okay.

Tons of logos at the front before even getting to the menu, though, even more than when you see a foreign film in theaters and way more than the typical amount at the front of an American disc. If you ever need any demonstration that Hollywood is fundamentally different than most other movie industries, the fact that only a couple of production companies and distributors have enough skin in the game to merit an animated title card.

The Bullet Train came from Twilight Time Movies, again as part of an order for something else, but it was on sale and you might as well stack things up to save on shipping. They're a company I kind of wish I'd known about earlier; they press 3,000 copies of four or five titles each month, mostly available through their own site, and given that the numbers are relatively small, the special features are (1) this thing is available in HD at all and (2) an isolated soundtrack option. It's a nice disc, though - clean copy of the film, fine subtitles, and what may have been a decent supplement, although it was past midnight when I started it and it seemed too heavy on clips for me to finish.

I'll be ordering at least one film from them this month (Dragonwyck with Vincent Price and Gene Tierney), maybe more. I kind of wish I'd known about the company earlier; I get the feeling I may have missed a few things.

(Fun note: I bumped this to the top of my pile and decided to pair Confessions with it because they offered $2 off my next order for a review. After ten-plus years of doing these things, this is awful close to being the first actual remuneration!)

Coincidentally, both of my first orders from these sources included 3D movies named Inferno, which seems like as good a double feature review as any.

Kokuhaku (Confessions)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 29 December 2017 in Jay's Living Room (The Shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

Tetsuya Nakashima's Confessions is a movie just good enough to fall through the cracks: After the director's films Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko got raves on the genre and Asian film festival circuits, the producers of this somewhat more mainstream film targeted more prestigious audiences, opting for festivals like TIFF instead of those like Fantasia, and when it didn't sell at those, it wound up never officially making its way American audiences. It is, however, worth seeking out an import disc - the one from Hong Kong is Region A and has decent English subtitles - as it's absolutely good enough to see why the producers might have seen it as a possible breakout.

It's got a bit of a rough start, in part because the first of the film's confessions seems like the set-up for a certain type of movie. In a junior high homeroom, teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) announces - in a voice that barely penetrates the din from the rowdy students - that she is leaving at the end of the term, and she expects most of the students will be pleased. Their initial cheering tapers off when it becomes increasingly clear that she's got zero damns left to give, not only mocking a student who came to her for emotional support but implicating two - brilliant but cruel Shuya Watanabe (Yukito Nishii) and angry but timid Naoki Shimomura (Kaoru Fujiwara) - in the death of her four-year-old daughter Manami. She says she won't go to the police to have them reopen the case, though; she's just tainted two of the the individual cartons of milk handed out that morning with the HIV-positive blood of Manami's father.

As this plays out, Confessions has the feel of a movie that's not going to leave that room, playing out as a battle of wills between the teacher and her students, maybe with her exposing that they are all, in some way, complicit, or the the trouble-making kids showing that most of them actually have decent hearts. The film never quite finds a rhythm during this opening act, though; the students' quick reversion to rowdiness doesn't quite ring true and Nakashima is good at a lot of things, stillness and restraint are not his best tools. By the time Ms. Moriguchi has finished her story, it's clear that this confrontation can't be stretched much further.

Full review at EFC

Shinkansen daibakuha (The Bullet Train)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 8 January 2018 in Jay's Living Room (The Shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

When even the essay that accompanies the limited edition blu-ray disc of a movie repeatedly mentions that the 152-minute cut presented is really just too long, there's probably something to it - they may not need to sell anybody reading the booklet on the movie anymore, but it still seems like the writer would have to feel very strongly on the subject to repeatedly make that point to people presumably excited to have a copy of the film. He's not wrong - some releases were able to cut an hour out of The Bullet Train to get what I imagine is just as intense a thriller - but there's a certain appeal to its thoroughness and that at least makes an argument for keeping every scene.

The plot, at the time of the film's 1975 release, was devilishly clever: Tetsuo Okita (Ken Takakura) has placed a bomb on the 109 train from Tokyo to Hanaka. When the train accelerates above 80 kph (about 50 mph), the bomb will arm, and it will detonate should the train drop below that speed. Four five million dollars, he will tell the railway how to find and disarm the bomb. One accomplice (Kei Yamamoto) has rigged another train to explode as a demonstration, while another (Akira Oda) will help collect the ransom for the 1500 people on board. While the police try to hunt the bomber, it's up to Kuramochi in the control station (Ken Utsui) and engineer Aoki (Shin'ichi "Sonny" Chiba) to keep the train running long enough for a resolution.

The basic plot would serve as the (uncredited) inspiration for Speed nearly twenty years later, and it's instructive to see how Graham Yost's later script would streamline it for the better, most notably by getting the passengers down to a manageable number and actually giving them something to do; the potential body count of The Bullet Train may be enormous, but after the filmmakers introduce a number of passengers in the opening - including a celebrity and his entourage, a documentary film crew, and a captured fugitive who supplied Okita with his explosives - only to never do much with anyone but pregnant Kikuchi (Raita Ryu), who will inevitably go into labor (whether this is a direct result of someone slapping her to get her to stop panicking is not clear, but it's either the worst or most hilariously ironic use of that ugly trope). The interview with director Jun'ya Sato on the disc has him saying that he wrote the first half of the script and Ryunosuke Ono the second; perhaps Ono simply couldn't find anything to do with the subplots Sato set up and abandoned them. Instead, the film offers up a lot of generically frazzled salarymen causing a few near-riots because they can't get off the train and to their business meetings, and those moments are good and genuine-feeling, but it can be hard to get a sense of the threat's scale or a feeling of immediate danger with the action on the train so relatively unimportant.

Full review at EFC

Monday, January 08, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 1 January 2018 - 7 January 2018

First of the new year with movies from the new year, keeping up the one-per-day pace.

This Week in Tickets

Kind of liking the layout of this year's planner, too. It's smallish, but the layout works pretty well if I keep to one stub a day, with some extra room around the weekends. Considering how most of these calendars are made to organize work rather than play, there aren't a whole lot that cater to my desires.

As for actually getting full reviews done for the lot of 'em... Well, blame the cold (apparently a warm computer on your lap makes a dent in the chill) and a wasted day at work on the 8th as I waited for tech support to fix something and writing on my Chromebook was a good way of looking busy.

It would have been nice to open the year as well as I ended 2017, but even if Molly's Game had been as good as I'd hoped, the holiday/winter/Red-Line-generally-sucking-lately got me into Park Street too late for that, so I flipped the day's planned order an saw Ex Files 3 first. It was not good, and Molly's Game sagged in my head as I left the theater.

Work didn't line up with showtimes for the next couple of days, and I just wan't setting foot outside during the "bomb cyclone" on Thursday. Indeed, it probably wasn't a great idea on Friday, but a couple days indoors will get you stir crazy and there was new Spielberg/Streep/Hanks, so The Post it was.

Saturday wound up being a split-admission double feature of similar films, with Goldbuster & Hanson & the Beast not only both being goofy supernatural-tinged comedy/adventures from China, but they were splitting the same theater at the Common, meaning, yeah, I saw one, went downstairs, bought a ticket for the other, and came right back.

The next day's double feature was split across the river, with Hostiles at Boston Common and Dawson City: Frozen Time at the Brattle. They paired surprisingly well, though, from overlapping time periods to audiences maybe not being as patient with them as they could be.

So, there's week one down. As always, quicker updates on my Letterboxd page and a busy week ahead.

Ex Files 3: Return of the Exes
Molly's Game
The Post
Hanson and the Beast
Dawson City: Frozen Time

Go...North?: Hostiles & Dawson City: Frozen Time

Not exactly a planned double feature, but a pretty good one as it turns out, with both having a fair amount of focus on the 1890s and having folks go north, as Hostiles follows a trail from New Mexico to Montana and Dawson City goes much further. Happily, by the time I was actually out and about for this movie, Boston was no longer featuring Dawson-like temperatures, although it was a pretty cold weekend.

They're also both movies that at least some in the audience lost a little patience with; though I was taking my usual seats in the front section for Hostiles, a cold day means that you can hear boots stomp on the way out, and I was seated far enough back at the Brattle to see and hear folks get up and hit the restroom. Both of them are kind of lengthy movies - 2:15 is long for a western that actually doesn't have that much action after making the audience very uncomfortable in the first ten minutes, and two hours is a pretty long sit for a mostly-silent documentary. I'm kind of curious how much of the getting up and heading out of the theater in both cases was people not expecting to need to hold a drink in that long, people just being kind of fidgety, or people who genuinely weren't enjoying it.

(Fair amount of people whispering around me for Dawson City, too, although not constantly. Surprised it wasn't worse, to be honest - no dialogue and the desire to show your seatmate that you know what a documentary is getting at could prove much more irresistible for some movie-talkers!)

It was a bit disappointing that there were a fair number of people joining me in only requesting tickets for the one movie at the box office rather than the double feature. Wonderstruck is a pretty great little movie, and makes a more logical pairing with Dawson City as both rely on being modern silent films for much of the runtime. I suppose I wasn't the only one who needed to get groceries afterward and ws consoling myself with how it would soon be available as a 4K stream on Amazon Prime, although I surely hope it's on the high-res Blu-rays as well.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 7 January 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

Scott Cooper's new film is the latest film to de-mythologize the Western, shining a light on the ugly underpinnings of a genre once synonymous with simply morality and violence that provides a definitive resolution. This period and format has been so thoroughly deconstructed that one can watch Hostiles and not be entirely sure whether it is mean enough, despite it being quite brutal when it decides to dispatch a character or three, leaving little doubt that is not particularly interested in heroes from its beginning. It's the kind of movie where "going soft" is probably the best thing that could happen, and the big question is whether the movie earns it.

It's going to have a long way to get there, though it starts with the simple premise of a gunslinger escorting a party through hostile territory. The party being escorted is Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), who has been a prisoner in a New Mexico fort for the past seven years, and though once a fierce warrior, is now dying of cancer and has been granted clemency to return home to Montana with his family to die. The man chosen to lead the escort party is Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), who knows the territory and speaks the language, but he and Yellow Hawk are old, bitter enemies. All involved know the route is dangerous, a fact underscored when they find Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) in a homestead burnt out after a brutal attack by the Comanche.

That, of course, is just the shell of the movie; it doesn't get into how the group chosen to make up Blocker's party forms an intriguing cross-section of the U.S. Army, circa 1892, or how one must spend much of the movie turning the kindness Yellow Hawk's family shows Rosalie over in one's head, wondering if it's defensive or if it's messed up to question it. Or how Scott Cooper's screenplay (based upon a manuscript by the late Donald E. Stewart) in many ways seems to invert the way movies work, with its sharpest moments toward the beginning, particularly the scene where Blocker gets his assignment: It would be something very familiar, with Christian Bale playing the burnt-out veteran resisting being pushed aside (he will be mustered out after this mission) and Stephen Lang as the more moderate commanding officer, but Cooper sticks Bill Camp in there as a writer from back east, seemingly just to needle Blocker and bring out the worst in him, making the scene downright uncomfortable.

Full review at EFC

Dawson City: Frozen Time

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 7 January 2018 in the Brattle Theatre [(Some of) The Best of 2017, digital]

There are times when Dawson City: Frozen Time feels like a baited trap, a way for the filmmakers to are trying to use the fact that people who watch documentaries are, by and large, passionate about film as a medium, taking advantage of the fact that they've got a movie-history hook to talk about the long-term life of a boomtown. And if that's the goal, good job of it - many in the audience might not have sought out a more conventional film more directly focused on that topic, and it's not like filmmaker Bill Morrison doesn't give the audience a heaping helping of what they want as well.

The hook, as one may or may not know, is that because Dawson City was the end of a "circuit" early in the twentieth century (rather than thousands of prints or hard drives being produced so that a film could debut on the same day, the same prints would move from theaters in large cities to smaller towns in sequence), many prints wound up there and be warehoused - and eventually buried as landfill - because they were too expensive to ship back. These volatile nitrate prints would be forgotten until they were accidentally uncovered in the 1970s, by which time many of the films found were considered lost.

Many films about these events might see this story and wheel out Leonard Maltin, or film scholars who specialized in American cinema of the 1910s, talking about the careers of the people involved, and the painstaking process that goes into restoring the movies. Morrison, however, often finds himself more fascinated not by the films that got to this northern outpost but by how that outpost came to be and how its rapid growth and nearly-as-quick contraction created a place that would have a voracious appetite for film but also the circumstances where things could be easily lost. Morrison gives what often seems like more detail than necessary, a sometime bewildering flurry of names and indications of how often gambling halls and other institutions change hands, barely stopping to mention the frightening fact that the city's downtown business district burned down nine years in a row as a symbol of what sort of churn the place saw. As the timeline extends toward and past the period in which the films were buried, there's time to look at other parts of the life-cycle of this sort of town, from the corporatized, mechanized end of one way of life to the attempts to revive the image of it for tourists.

Full review at EFC