Friday, April 20, 2018

Beirut

Not that Beirut is a bad movie, but there was a point during it when I wondered if I might rather see Brad Anderson direct Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in a romantic comedy, if only because it's been nearly twenty years since he's made one. And I've got to wonder if the reason that Anderson never really seems to have made the leap from capable B-movies and TV to being a can't-miss filmmaker is that he hasn't done one.

Consider: His first feature to grab attention was Next Stop Wonderland, followed by Happy Accidents, and then after that, he did two genuinely harrowing movies in Session 9 and The Machinist. I don't know Anderson's process or approach, but it sure seems like shifting gears allowed him to focus on the contrast and really do something elemental on those. He's made good movies since then and done good TV (he was a big part of why Fringe was as strong as it was), but never anything to approach that 1998-2004 run. Since then, he's more or less done thrillers, and he's good at them - this one, for instance, shifts into a higher gear after a slow start - but none of them have been truly exceptional. It might be worth switching things up to see if doing so would produce a more memorable movie.

Beirut

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 April 2018 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

A movie's name just being its location doesn't always mean that the filmmakers had a sense of that but not the story, but it's not a bad way to bet. Certainly, it's not a theory that Beirut seems keen to debunk; much of the film's first half is explaining to the audience that Lebanon in general and its capital in particular were nervously cosmopolitan melting pots before the civil war, and then touring the blasted remains afterward. It takes a while for the specific story to really kick into gear.

The initial explanation comes during a prelude, as American diplomat Mason Skiles (Jon Hamm) describes the history of the place to a visiting Congressional delegation when he receives a visitor - his co-worker Cal (Mark Pellegrino), warning him that Karim Abou Rajal, the Palestinian boy Mason and wife Nadia (Leila Bekhti) have taken in, has a terrorist big brother, and they want to question him now, since brother Raffik is suspected to be in town. It goes badly, and ten years later, in 1982, Mason is now mediating small labor disputes in Boston, but is recruited to give a lecture at American University in Beirut. He knows that's cover for something else, and it is: Cal is now head the CIA's head of station and has been abducted, with the kidnapper (Idir Chender) only willing to negotiate with Mason, demanding Raffik's release. The team on station - Donald Gaines (Dean Norris), Sandy Crowder (Rosamund Pike), and Gary Ruzak (Shea Whigham) - are reluctant to work with this burnout, but the pieces that don't add up soon threaten to snowball into a much bigger problem… Though that might suit some of the people involved just fine.

When all of this does start to come together, it's not really because the pieces are particularly fascinating or well-established; the opening establishes a setting, but not the relationships that are going to drive the movie. The opening lays a bit of groundwork for what would happen later, but not necessarily the bits that would wind up being most important; you'd think that Cal and Mason were more rivals than close friends from the prologue. Still, the economy to Tony Gilroy's script that can lead to not initially seeing that pair in full turns out to be fairly useful once it shifts from atmosphere to thriller; the plot may not be terribly complex, but there's enough to it for a couple of surprises and satisfying moments that are not exactly surprises. It also threads a needle that many period thrillers don't, creating a story that has high stakes without inserting too much into the actual history.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 April 2018 - 26 April 2018

It's not that there's nothing notable this weekend, but if you've got stuff you want to see and have been putting off, better get it in before stuff both massive and local eats up a lot of screens.

  • The big local event is Independent Film Festival Boston 2018, which starts up on Wednesday and continues for the next week. The opening night film in the Somerville Theatre's big room is Eighth Grade, with director Bo Burnham and actress Elsie Fisher; on Thursday, they expand to the other four screens and the Brattle, with a bunch of short films, American Animals, A Kid Like Jake, This One's for the Ladies, and more.

    The Somerville Theatre has a couple of live events in the big room before that, plus a special "Aisle of Dogs" screening of Isle of Dogs where you can bring your dog and also raise money for a good cause. Their sister cinema in Arlington, The Capitol, has a "Throwback Thursday" show on the 26th, screening Flashdance.
  • Before that, the multiplexes get some things that could serve as counterprogramming to the big stuff hitting every screen next week. I Feel Pretty stars Amy Schumer as a woman who, after a bonk on the head, believes herself to be the most attractive and capable woman in the world, although, it's not like Schumer is unattractive already, except maybe by exaggerated movie-star standards. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. There's also Super Troopers 2, which I think might be Broken Lizard's first production as a group in over a decade, but I guess folks liked the first. This one has the group manning a border area after hostilities erupt between the U.S. and Canada, and plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There's a slightly smaller release for Traffik, a thriller featuring Paula Patton and Omar Epps as a couple vacationing in an isolated cabin only to find themselves surrounded by by bikers. It's at Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    This year's monthly Studio Ghibli series kicks off this week with The Cat Returns, playing Fenway and Revere in an English dub on Sunday and Wednesday, and Japanese subtitles on Monday. Wednesday at those spots also features a special premiere of the "Cobra Kai" YouTube series, which follows up on the original The Karate Kid thirty-odd years later; the event includes the original film before the first half-hour episode. And while it looks like there won't be any Marvel Marathons leading up to Avengers: Infinity War opening Thursday night, it'll probably be very difficult to see anything else at the multiplexes after 6pm or so.
  • Kendall Square gets Kodachrome, which stars Ed Harris and Jason Sudeikis as a father and son on a road trip to the last lab developing the film of the title lest certain memories be locked away forever. There's also A Bag of Marbles; that story of two Jewish brothers fleeing the Nazis in rural France is slated for a week.
  • After an initial "Cinema Jukebox" presentation on Thursday, The Coolidge Corner Theatre starts a run of Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, a documentary on the pop-punk icon that, by all accounts, she more or less took over, because nobody makes Grace Jones a passive subject. They also pick up equine family adventure Lean on Pete, though it's mostly in the smaller rooms aside from a Friday "Box Office Babies" screening.

    They've got a special midnight screening of Best F(r)iends on Friday, with star Greg Sestero in person for the Room fans. That's not their "4/20" movie, and I don't know if Friday qualifies, though Saturday's Half-Baked fills that slot. Both of those are on 35mm film. Saturday also has a midnight screening of Lowlife, a loopy crime flick (one of the characters is a disgraced luchador) which is genuinely terrific, one of the best finds at Fantasia last summer (it plays next weekend, too). There's also a "Stage & Screen" presentation of Working Girl on Monday (promoting the Huntington Theater Company's production of Top Girls). There's also a "Wide Lens" presentation of Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, followed by a discussion of undocumented immigration. Thursday night is a live show, "Talk/Play" with Kenny Werner.
  • The Brattle Theatre plays host to the Women In Comedy Festival for much of the weekend, and then a number of one-nighters before IFFBoston moves in on Thursday. There's a free "Elements of Cinema" screening of People on Sunday on… well, Sunday, including a short and discussion with BU professor Peter J. Schwartz, while director Jason Kohn is the guest for Monday's DocYard screening of tennis documentary Love Means Zero. Tuesday is Trash Night, and then on Wednesday they decide that they're going to taunt those of us who like both independent and big franchise films by playing Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, with The Last Jedi on the schedule for a week later.
  • Apple Fresh Pond continues Hindi feature October (as does Fenway), and Telugu film Bharat Ane Nenu, also opening Hindi/Iranian film Beyond the Clouds, in which a family's black sheep drags his sister into trouble while on the run.

    If you like Chinese films, Boston Common has Dude's Manual, a college romantic comedy. Revere still has Dominican film Veneno.
  • The Harvard Film Archive and Goethe-Institut program a new retrospective, The Management of Shattered Identity: German Films, 1945-1957, looking at the postwar entries in what had been one of Europe's most vibrant national cinemas. The weekend's selections are Under the Bridges (Friday 7pm on 16mm), Film Without a Title (Friday 9pm on 35mm), Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (Saturday 7pm), Peter Lorre's The Lost One (Saturday 9:15pm on 35mm), and Jonas (Monday 7pm on 35mm). The gaps in that schedule include a special $5 Saturday screening of The Sound of Music, and two documentaries in their Wim Wenders series on Sunday: Buena Vista Social Club at 4pm and The Salt of the Earth at 7pm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues the three films they have been running for the last week, with scattered screenings of November (Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday), 24 Frames (Friday/Thursday), and Cezanne: Portrait of a Life (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday).
  • The Boston Jewish Film Festival has a special retrospective at The West Newton Cinema over the next week, showing some of the most popular presentations from their 30-year-history: Paper Clips plays Sunday afternoon with one of the documentary's subjects on hand, Live and Become with special guest on Monday, Above & Beyond on Tuesday, and Walk on Water on Wednesday.
  • Monday's Belmont World Film show at Studio Cinema is What Will People Say, in which a second-generation immigrant in Norway is sent to Pakistand for having a local boyfriend, only to get shipped back north for a scandal there.
  • CinemaSalem has the latest from IFFBoston alum Lynn Shelton, Outside In, starring Jay Duplass as an ex-con drawn to the former teacher who was one of the biggest advocates for his release..

I'll probably catch Kodachrome and A Quiet Place before the festival, and even if I can't get to Lowlife and November, the rest of you should, because they're pretty fantastic.

This Week In Tickets: 9 April 2018 - 15 April 2018

Isn't it supposed to be spring now? Because it was cold out this week, whether in the bleachers at Fenway or killing time in Harvard Square before a show at the Brattle.

This Week in Tickets

I mean, I actually hung around work for an extra hour or so because that meant I could come close to rolling off the bus and into the Brattle for the DocYard presentation of Spettacolo, which I missed at IFFBoston last year despite being curious about the new one from the makers of Marwencol. Unfortunately, I really wasn't into it; it seemed like a decent enough movie, but I was in and out. Remind me to catch it on Prime sometime.

Tuesday night was the first game in my Red Sox season ticket package, and despite it being something like 38 degrees Fahrenheit, which is not idea. What is ideal - Chris Sale pitching and the Sox hitters pulverizing the Yankees' supposed ace. It was fantastic really, with the one obnoxiously loud Yankees fan in my section eventually getting shut up after having shrieked at Aaron Judge's home run like it did more than turn a 5-0 game to a 5-1 game. My seat is right behind the visiting dugout, and there was a point in the 9-run sixth inning where a guy yelled "you're next!" at the guy warming up like it was a threat. Which it was; the pitcher loaded the bases and then saw Mookie Betts hit a grand slam. It was fantastic.

Since it was a Yankees series, I kind of stayed in and watched NESN the next couple nights, and then headed back to the Brattle on Friday for Claire's Camera, in for a quick weekend engagement kind of tied to a Hong Sang-soo retrospetive at the Harvard Film Archive. It's kind of neat. The next night was Big Fish & Begonia, which I thought was going to be subtitled, but was shown dubbed instead. I suspet the original version is better, but wasn't quite up for seeing it a second time to be sure.

Finally, on Sunday, I went to the Icon for Rampage, and you know what was weird? There was a credit for "inspired by the Rampage video game", but no company credit like you'd usually see. Has it just been lost in bankruptcies and mergers and such, or has it been swallowed by Warner? Odd. They also started a thing where local chefs design a popcorn bucket, with this one featuring pecans. Weirdly sticky.

Still more BUFF reviews catch-up to do, and I'm always updating my Letterboxd account.

Spettacolo

N/A (out of four)
Seen on 9 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (The DocYard, DCP)

I was just not up for this movie like I thought I was going to be, zoning out badly at several pints and really not connecting with things brought up during the post-film discussion at all. It would up feeling like an interesting idea that just never had the right details cohere. That's how it works with documentaries sometimes - the story they saw in the beginning didn't really emerge, and what did became self-aware in a way that didn't quite work for me.

Rampage

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 15 April 2018 in Showplace Icon Boston #2 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

A good-enough giant monster movie, which isn't a bad result if you want to see giant monsters level a city and fight every once in a while. It's not smart like the original Godzilla (or its recent reboot), and it doesn't have any single bit of action as delightful as Gipsy Danger picking up a ship and bludgeoning an alien to death in Pacific Rim. When it does actually have giant mutated animals fighting, though, there is some fun to be had, with the last act being a pretty well-sustained brawl.

It doesn't hurt that Dwayne Johnson never just coats even in a movie where he'll be upstaged by lots of digital effects, either - he's always giving his all and has a game partner in Naomie Harris, who makes for a love interest/scientist that's a lot of fun on her own. It gets sketchy after that - Malin Akerman and Jeffrey Dean Morgan sometimes seem to be chewing a bit too much scenery, even given the plot they've got to work with - especially given the good work by the mocap/effets guys to bring the big albino ape to life.


Spettacolo
Red Sox 14, Yankees 1
Claire's Camera
Big Fish & Begonia
Rampage

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Big Fish & Begonia

Probably not much time to catch this even if you're reading the review just as it goes up, as it's only playing single evening shows at Kendall Square and Boston Common for tonight and tomorrow, and I think only tonight's screening at Kendall Square is subtitled. That surprises me a bit - I actually went through the listings on AMC's website to see whether they were showing subtitles or dubs, and they all seemed to be listed as subtitles. I get there Saturday night, though, and it's all in English.

Kind of a bummer, that, and surprising - they play a lot of Chinese stuff there, and most of the times they've played animated films from Shout! and Funimation before, they've been subtitled. Makes me wonder if they drew bigger crowds for the dubbed In This Corner of the World than the original subtitled run. It brought back memories of watching anime dubbed by the U.S. distributor's office staff, and that's not exactly a plus in my book, although I gather that this sort of voice-over talent has its own fandom.

It's one to put on the list of "animated films with young female leads to give my nieces", but not that high - it's not exactly violent but overwhelming, and sends something of a mixed message.

Dayu haitang (Big Fish & Begonia)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 April 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

I wonder, a bit, if I would have enjoyed Big Fish & Begonia a bit more if it had played subtitled (as advertised) rather than in an English dub, or if a better handle on Chinese folklore would help. It would have still bumped up against some technical issues, I think, but, likely would have had a lot fewer "wait, why" moments. I don't imagine kids would stop and scratch their heads quite so much, but this movie is just far enough off the beaten path outside of China that kids might have to be led there.

It opens in a world beneath our own, where the ocean is like the sky, populated by magical beings who control the natural world above. Chun will control the blossoming of begonias someday, and like the other sixteen-year-old godlings, she is to spend a week in the world above in the form of a red dolphin, observing how their action affect it, though she is not to make contact with the humans. She almost doesn't make it back, getting caught in a net during a storm, but a young fisherman frees her at terrible cost. Overwhelmed by guilt, she makes a deal with the man who keeps the souls of humans who have passed on - they take the form of fish in this other world - intending to raise the one there on her account until it is large enough to swim home and return to life. But though her friend Qiu will help her with anything - he's got a powerful crush - they're just kids, and not prepared for how others will see this as a chance to satisfy their own ambitions, or how Chun raising "Kun" may have dire consequences for their whole world.

That last part, which sets up the danger of the situation, too often doesn't make a whole lot of sense; Big Fish & Begonia is the sort of fantasy where every use of magic comes with strikingly cataclysmic side effects not detailed until after the fact that don't necessarily follow from the actual situation, with seemingly just as many adjustments to actually achieve the desired result after the fact. It shows a fair amount of plotting where, even if simply telling the truth might have made things worse, it never even seems to come up as an option. On top of that, the writers seem afraid of the life triangle at the center - understandable, when two of the people involved are almost never human at the same time, and making them seemingly sexless at the end just confuses matters more.

Full review on EFC

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Claire's Camera

Sorry about not getting this finished/posted in time for it to serve as a recommendation to catch the movie before it leaves the Brattle, or any of the Hong Sang-soo films at the Harvard Film Archive; sometimes the words just don't come and the 70-minute film that you figure can get by with a paragraph less proves hard to pin down.

The film itself is pretty good, but one of the things I liked that doesn't necessarily play into the rest of what I thought of the movie was how Hong used the location: Though the Cannes film festival is an important part of the film's background, he avoids it aside from some rented office space and a reference to a party, and while that might have been a practical matter - I suspect that even when made by festival favorites, shooting the red carpets and such might have been a big outlay for a small indie - pushing the glamor to the side, kind of focusing on the business end, works for this movie. It did bump Cannes and the French Riviera in general a bit higher up on my list of places to visit, though probably well away from festival time. Hong makes the city look like a really pleasant combination of Paris and San Diego, and does that sound terrific or what?

La caméra de Claire (La caméra de Claire)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

Cannes has become so associated with its film festival that just setting a movie there seems to warp perception of it and the people involved; it becomes part of this insular world that means something to filmmakers and influential critics who perhaps don't realize how many people it can leave on the outside. Claire's Camera mostly avoids that - it's set in that world and in many ways about it, but not so much so that it loses its basic charm.

Part of that is that it makes the closest thing the film has to a native - Isabelle Huppert's Claire, a Parisian teacher who carries around an instant camera and has come to see a friend's movie at the festival - the most complete tourist among the central group of characters. She's not out of place - Claire can sling the artsy musings as well as anybody who does it for a living - but she's just enough of an outsider to have a little bit of a raised eyebrow at the antics of the film people. It's a fun part for Isabelle Huppert, who is not exactly best known for cheerful, upbeat roles, but plays Claire as something of a much-loved aunt here, often surprised and curious but clearly enjoying the new situations she's finding.

Though Huppert is first-billed, the film spends more time following Jeon Man-hee (Kim Min-hee), who works in film sales and who, between the first and second time the audience sees her, goes from clearly being reluctant to join her boss Nam Yang-hye (Chang Mi-hee) and director So Wan-soo (Jung Jin-young) at a party to having been pressured to quit, though she hangs around rather than go back to Seoul because it's not like Nam is going to pay the fees to change her ticket (not that Nam considers this). What's going on between that trio isn't terribly complicated, but they're a pleasure to watch nonetheless - Kim Min-hee has an easy charm whether working in Korean or English, and she's able to make Man-hee's stumbles in her second language work for the character: It highlights her inexperience in some sports but never marks her as truly ignorant, and it highlights what a likable, gregarious person she is that she keeps trying (and, when she has a wordless moment of understanding, the clarity on her face is twice as effective). Chang Mi-hee has moments when Nam is trying to keep So in line or be his bad cop that echo Lesley Manville's Phantom Thread performance nicely, but with more of a desire for approval in there. Jung jin-young, meanwhile, is perhaps most notable for sort of shifting 45 degrees emotionally at a certain point; he plays the familiar image of a somewhat spoiled artist who seduces when it seduces him and then acts patrician to try and keep young women in line. It's well-done, right down to the layer of charm showing a little wear.

Full review on EFC

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Boston Underground Film Festival 2018.03: The Queen of Hollywood Blvd & Let the Corpses Tan

Friday night at the festival, and I felt pretty gassed by the end of the week - it was either the week I ran out of patience with something at work or the next, when I was really throwing myself into trying to get the thing I proposed doing instead out. Even if I were a guy who went for the edgy midnight shorts program or parties, I just wasn't going to be up for it this night

I'll bet these guys were, though.



That's Queen of Hollywood Blvd director Orson Oblowitz in the center, and his mother (and star of the movie) Rosemary Hochschild on the right. They aren't really the folks they play in their movie, but you can sort of see where Queen Mary came from in Hochschild, a certain flamboyance that's hard to fake.

Oblowitz also talked a great deal about how excited he was to work with Michael Parks, and that his role in the movie eventually came to reflect his reticence to accept it, that his voice was going and he couldn't really sing anymore. In fact, a chunk of the Q&A had Oblowitz on his phone, trying to bring up the sweet, rambling message he got from Parks saying that he didn't think he could take the job because of it (and to not talk so fast when leaving a message himself).

After that was Let the Corpses Tan, which reminded me that I've got to order a copy of The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears and get through it sometime; I think I saw it at BUFF in a 10pm (or later) slot and wasn't really able to stay awake through much at all, despite having loved the same filmmakers' Amer. There was not much chance of that being the case for this - though I was as fatigued as I've ever been three days into a film festival, the gunshots in this movie are mixed as loud as any I've ever heard, and will jolt you to full alertness any time you're even thinking of drifting off.

The Queen of Hollywood Blvd

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

The folks who made The Queen of Hollywood Blvd probably don't consider themselves lucky that it wound up being the last thing that Michael Parks worked on before his death, but it probably won't hurt them to be the answer to a trivia question, in either the short or long term. They don't really need to trade off that - the film is just eccentric and singular enough to stand out from a potential sea of modern grindhouse flicks on its own - but it's not as if the title character would pass up that sort of boost to her business.

That would be "Queen Mary" (Rosemary Hochschild), who has been running her strip club, "Mary's Dine & Dance", for decades, although it seems that she's never actually owned it, and loan shark Duke (Roger Guenveur Smith) has decided to repossess it on her 60th birthday. He sends a fellow called Punk Rock Charlie (Matthew Berkowitz) to get the keys and take over as manager, and she does not go quietly so Duke goes to plan B - kidnapping her son and saying she'll maybe get him back if she kills a different thorn in his side.

Star Rosemary Hochschild is the mother of writer/director Orson Oblowitz, and that he wrote this movie with her in mind, flatly refusing to make with anybody else, might make one stare blankly for a moment or two before commenting that this must be an interesting family. It makes more sense once you see the movie; though Oblowitz is not exactly on-screen long enough as Mary's mush-mouthed idiot of a son to serve as much more than a plot device - there's a more obvious maternal bond with Grace (Ana Mulvoy Ten), the teenager a pimp (Jon Sklaroff) is trying to place in the bar - it's not hard to see the admiration that Oblowitz has for her even if he's also written Mary as dangerously impulsive and occasionally walking a fine line between non-judgmentally cosmopolitan and ruthlessly amoral. She's a fighter with a decent core surrounded by rough edges of which she is categorically unashamed, and Oblowitz shoots her larger than life, either pushed to the front of the frame to dominate it or given a wide berth as she walks down the Boulevard in slow motion, one of the many colorful characters that reside in that part of town made the center of attention.

Full review on EFC

Laissez bronzer les cadavres (Let the Corpses Tan)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Let the Corpses Tan isn't the same sort of ultra-violence as high art as other films you might describe that way - it's more about the striking image than the impeccable choreography, the sort of thing that you can screen-capture and show to someone who doesn't necessarily go for big action rather than the clips you dissect looking for cuts and doubling. Fortunately, it's in the hands of some of the best in the business at creating striking images and just enough to stitch them together, and they're happy to dispense with subtlety.

The story is simple enough - it's July, the sun is pounding down in a sparsely populated area near the Mediterranean, and Luce (Elina Löwensohn) has a couple of guests at her villa - friend-and-likely-lover Max (Marc Barbé) and his lawyer (Michelangelo Marchese) - but doesn't know said lawyer is working with a criminal crew led by Rhino (Stéphane Ferrara) planning to knock over an armored car and lay low at Luce's place with the quarter-ton of gold within. Of course, that's not the sort of crime that goes unnoticed in the best of cases, and things start to get fairly crowded when not just the police, but Max's estranged wife (Dorylia Calmel) shows up with son (Pierre NIsse) and nanny (Marine Sainsily) in tow. And when all hell breaks loose, the timetable for an inevitable double-cross tends to get moved up.

Belgian filmmakers Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani did not go in for complicated stories in their previous two films, and Corpses doesn't exactly break that pattern. But while they still don't supply a lot of detail in the plot, what there is serves to clarify rather than confuse, putting the connections between scenes within reach rather than pushing them just out of reach. They still aren't providing a lot of exposition, and having the whole thing turn into a big shootout doesn't mean they won't occasionally fragment the narrative, but they're serving a different sort of emotional end here, looking for adrenaline-charged thrills rather than mounting unease, which leads them to sometimes be a little more playful.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 6 April 2018 - 12 April 2018

Kind of a weird weekend for new releases, to be honest: Two counting on questionable name-recognition, two named after fall months despite coming out in April, a couple that opened Wednesday.

  • Then again, you don't really need to remember the 1980s arcade game to be interested in Rampage, which is Dwayne Johnson and some fun character actors running around while Chicago (eventually) gets messed up by giant mutated animals in 3D. That plays the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), the Belmont Studio (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), the Embassy (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax 2D & Dolby), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D), Revere (including MX4D & XPlus), and the SuperLux (2D only). Meanwhile, horror movie Truth or Dare seems to be getting marketed as "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare", and I don't know how many people outside horror nuts really care about Blumhouse, but maybe the Madonna documentary casts a long shadow. Anyway, this one has Lucy Hale as a college kid who plays the wrong game in the wrong room or some such and people start dying when they don't play along. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    I am mildly and morbidly curious about Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, an animated movie from "Fun Academy Motion Pictures" about a stray dog adopted by a soldier during World War I who is, apparently, the most decorated dog in U.S. military history. The main filmmakers are guys who make war documentaries and serve as military advisors rather than animators, and the voice cast includes Logan Lerman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Gerard Depardieu. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, and Revere. The Icon theater in the Seaport plays Boston for a week around Patriot's Day.

    Some of last week's one-offs continue into this weekend, with Grease playing Fenway Assembly Row on Saturday and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior plays Revere on Sunday. Family movie Phoenix Wilder and the Great Elephant Adventure plays Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Monday; The Dating Project plays those places Tuesday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and open You Were Never Really Here, with Joaquin Phoenix as a traumatized vet who tracks down missing kids and finds himself on a case that may break him, especially considering this is a Lynn Ramsey movie and she doesn't mess around. The Tuesday show at the Coolidge is an "Off the Couch" screening, and that theater also opens IFFBoston alum The Peacemaker in the Goldscreen, a documentary about Padraig O'Malley.

    This Friday is a 13th, so that means the midnight show that night is a 35mm double feature of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter & Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, skipping the one in between. Saturday, they go with the last Hammer Frankenstein film, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, also on 35mm. Members get free admission to the Strano Film Festival Showcase on Sunday, with special guests related to each short in this Earth Day presentation. Another short film package, the Animation Show of Shows, plays Wednesday morning for all the kids on vacation. They also get a jump on their run of Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, with a "Cinema Jukebox" screening on Thursday night.
  • Kendall Square opened Beiruit on Wednesday, as did the Capitol, the Embassy, Boston Common, and Revere; it's the new one from director Brad Anderson, who feels like he should have gotten something big by now, written by Tony Gilroy and starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in a period thriller. The Kendall also opens Lean on Pete, with Charlie Plummer as a teenager who makes friends with an aging racehorse at his summer job, and a one-week booking of Belle du Jour, which just got a new digital restoration.

    They also host the remaining sessions of The Boston International Film Festival (which is NOT IFFBoston) through Monday, and it might be worth checking the schedule - there are gaps where a bunch of programs aren't listed on the site any more.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a brief weekend between festivals, and plays Hong Sang-soo's latest, Claire's Camera, which has the Korean director (who has a retrospective finishing up at the HFA this weekend) in France with the rare comedic performance by Isabelle Huppert as a schoolteacher on her first visit to Cannes. It runs Friday to Sunday, although the 9:30pm slot those days is the tail end of Awesome, We're F*ckin' Ten: An Oscilloscope Retrospective, which features a 35mm print of Bellflower on Friday, Shut Up and Play the Hits on Saturday, and The Road Movie on Sunday.

    After that, it's Muppet Marathon Madness on Marathon Monday, with a quadruple feature of Labyrinth, Muppet Treasure Island (on 35mm film), a Muppet Movie sing-along, and The Dark Crystal. Then it's back to festival festivities, as they tie into the Cambridge Science Festival with a quick Loving the A.I. series: The Final Cut of Blade Runner on Tuesday, a 35mm print of Her on Wednesday, and Ex Machina on Thursday.
  • In a weird coincidence, Apple Fresh Pond also has something from a director who just had an HFA series, with Submergence the latest from Wim Wenders. It splits time between James More as a man held prisoner by terrorists and Alicia Vikander as a scientist exploring the ocean floor, the two having met the Christmas before. They also have An Ordinary Man, starring Ben Kingsley as a war criminal in hiding.

    One of their Indian movies this week is interesting in that it is apparently dialogue-free (I'll bet it's not actually "silent" as it claims), with Mercury looking like a slasher-type with the youngsters being attacked by a man driven mad by mercury poisoning; the filmmaker seems to have mostly worked in Tamil. They also get subtitled Hindi feature October, with Varun Dhawan and Banita Sandhu as interns in the same hotel - only two shows a day at Fresh Pond, but a full slate at Fenway. Telugu film Krishnarjuna Yudham continues, and they'll be opening Bharat Ane Nenu in that language on Thursday.

    Chinese animated film Big Fish & Begonia, in which a teenager from the spirit world visits Earth in the form of a dolphin, plays one nightly screening at Boston Common all week after having opened on Wednesday the 11th. It screens in subtitled Mandarin there, and there will also be two nights at Kendall Square, with Wednesday's dubbed in English and Thursday's subtitled. If Spanish-language film is more your speed, Dominican film Veneno opens in Revere, telling the story of the island's most famous wrestler.
  • The Somerville Theatre has the first of their bi-monthly "Slaughterhouse Movie Club" screenings on Friday, with "Crazy for Swayze", which combines a night of Patrick Swayze-inspired burlesque with a 35mm print of Road House. And while it's not until next weekend, tickets are probably going fast for "Aisle of Dogs", where you can watch Isle of Dogs with your pupper on the 21st, although you've got to bring a blanket for the to sit on.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts one-ups October with November, and I highly recommend it - this fantasy from Estonia is bizarre, imaginative, hilarious, and tragic, and has gorgeous black-and-white photography to boot; it may have been my favorite from last year's Fantasia Festival; it plays Friday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Other intermittent runs include Abbas Kiarostami's final film, 24 Frames (Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday/Thursday), and Cezanne: Portrait of a Life (Thursday)

    They also have their monthly "On the Fringe" screening on Friday, with Daughters of the Dust an essential part of the year-long "Indie FIlm in the 90s" program. There's also the back end of the annual Hollywood Scriptures series with two more"Childhood Stories" - The Florida Project on Saturday and The White Ribbon on Sunday.
  • The Museum of Science opens a condensed, 4-D version of The Martian this weekend, which lops a full two hours off the runtime to get it down to 15 minutes, but with a lot of in-theater effects; it's a $6 add-on to a museum visit. the New England Aquarium, just added Pandas last week and picks up Oceans 3D: Our Blue Planet this weekend
  • The Harvard Film Archive wraps their Hong Sang-soo retrospective with On the Beach at Night Alone (Friday 7pm), Right Now, Wrong Then (Friday 9:30pm), Yourself and Yours (Saturday 7pm), and The Day After (Saturday 9:30pm), with cross-square triple features possible by catching Claire's Camera at the Brattle in the afternoon. After that ends, they show both versions of The Beguiled, with the 1971 version directed by Don Siegel on Sunday night (on 35mm film), followed by Sofia Coppola visiting with her 2017 edition on Monday evening.
  • Emerson's Bright Lights program at Paramount Theater got to the end of its schedule, but they have "Matters of Life and Death: Short Film by Robert Todd" on Tuesday the 17th, with the professor doing a Q&A after his latest 16mm creations; I believe an earlier screening of this was cancelled due to the weather.
  • Belmont World Film continues Monday with Streaker at Studio Cinema; it comes from Switzerland and features a high school teacher taking bets on how long streakers can avoid security to raise money to build a museum
  • CinemaSalem has Furlough, a comedy with Tessa Thompson as a parole officer watching Melissa Leo, in the small room, and Borg vs McEnroe one one of their other screens.


There is some weird stuff this week! I'll try and catch some combo of Claire's Camera, Beiruit, You Were Never Really Here, and Big Fish & Begonia (okay, fine, and Rampage), and I'm weirdly curious about Sgt. Stubby and Mercury.

Monday, April 09, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 2 April 2018 - 1 April 2018

Kind of a quiet week, between work and staying it to watch baseball in my nice warm apartment.

This Week in Tickets

Still, I was able to get to a nicely-timed show of The Death of Stalin, which is kind of a delight. I probably would have seen more on the weekend, but my schedule got disrupted by some last-minute stuff at work Friday and sleeping in Saturday.

Actually, I planned to see Isle of Dogs Saturday night, but it was sold out, and I didn't realize until came back to see it on the larger screen Sunday that the theater at Boston Common is apparently now covered by MoviePass again. I guess they couldn't strong-arm AMC and decided to put off trying again until later (and, in related news, they appear to have dropped their prices again to get more members and thus more leverage). No big deal, but if I'd known, I might have gone about arranging things differently and not done the double feature and the full-price ticket for Gemini.

Not that I'm cheap or anything, just a wee bit frustrated that those guys can sometimes seem to go out of their way not to deliver useful information.

Anyway, short week, but there's more BUFF reviews coming up, and my Letterboxd account is always updating.

Isle of Dogs

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 8 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

From the very first previews of Isle of Dogs, the movie seemed to rub me the wrong way, though I hoped it was just my problem. And maybe it is; other folks in the theater seemed to like it well enough. Still, it seems like the phoniest of Wes Anderson movies to me, so determined to be charming and cool but unable to understand that those are two of the hardest things to force individually, let alone at once.

It would feel mannered under the best of circumstances, but there's something about its use of Japanese imagery that seems especially tacky. Using a foreign land to focus the audience on the dogs' efforts isn't a bad idea, but Anderson doesn't commit to it enough to make humans, rather than Japanese, the others and the bit where the white exchange student usurps all of her local classmates... Well it's not a good look (and there are plenty of people who can speak to this more directly than I can).

This doesn't make Isle of Dogs an awful movie, but it does diminish the good parts, which is a shame; there's a lot of quality animation and wit to it. There's just also a lot of Anderson's most obnoxious qualities to go along with his best.


The Death of Stalin
Isle of Dogs
Gemini

Gemini

It's not entirely unusual for a movie to wait a week between its initial American opening and playing Boston, but I don't really get the impression that Neon and Stage 6 were doing a tiered opening for this. In fact, I strongly suspect that Boston Common was planning to open Chinese horror film The Possessed on the 6th, and when China Lion canceled their release because the Chinese censor board removed it from the schedule in China - apparently, it was approved as a found-footage-style film built around people exposing exorcists in rural China, but the filmmakers started talking up the weird things they saw while making it, then it became too much about the supernatural - and it left the theater with a somewhat bigger hole in their schedule than they'd want want to fill with holdovers or extra shows for A Quiet Place and Blockers. I was kind of hoping for The Endless, but was kind of happy to see the new one from Aaron Katz; I'd liked his last three films.

It's a bit of a disappointment - I don't think there was really much of a story there - but I was glad to see it and a bit surprised that I'd heard nothing about it before; Katz's last, Land Ho!, managed to hang around here for a while, although I suspect that both it and this are enough of a departure from his earlier indie-youth work that there's not a lot of carry-over. It makes me wonder if it's notably harder to establish even a niche reputation now than it was even five or ten years ago - Katz hasn't yet had something go straight to Netflix and thus kind of flown lower on the radar, but it doesn't seem like "if screens only have 18 seats, you can program something with pretty narrow appeal" is exactly countering "fewer seats per screen means more of the same number of screens to a smaller number of films" the way I'd hope.

Still, it got out there, and I dig that Neon is, at least in this case, attaching a short to its feature. I don't know to what extent it's going to be their standard operating procedure - I'm guessing both the feature and the short have to be fairly compact, as is the case with the 93-minute Gemini and 4-minute "Aspirational" - but more people getting to see and enjoy short films seems like a good thing.

"Aspirational"

* * (out of four)
Seen 8 April 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (Neon Shorts, DCP)

Including "Aspirational" with Gemini is not a bad match as short/feature pairings go, although there's a bit of a backhanded compliment in there: Aside from having similar subject matter, it's also not exactly something that's going to overshadow the middling feature it's attached to. It's one easy joke, told well enough, and not really extended too long, but it's not really a good joke.

It's kind of punching down, having Kirsten Dunst flummoxed by two fans (of sorts) that just want to take selfies and maybe get the images tagged, not even asking questions. I half-wonder if it's the opposite of the usual critique that a feature would make a good short - this is a short that might make for a good bit within a feature, but which on its own seems like an isolated bit of sneering, without a punchline good or unexpected enough to stand on its own.

Gemini

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 April 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

Gemini feels like the idea of a decent movie without much of the interesting detail, as if filmmaker Aaron Katz knew he wanted to do another mystery-influenced film along the lines of Cold Weather and was intrigued by the star/assistant dynamic, but overestimated how this sort of Hollywood story would appeal to outsiders by a lot. It looks good and sets a mood, but it comes perilously close to just being an outline with slick reference pictures, not something worthwhile on its own.

It starts out with Jill LeBeau (Lola Kirke), personal assistant to actress Heather Anderson (Zoe Kravitz), switching between phones in her car, fielding calls for her employer. Heather's ex Devin (Reeve Carney) is the first to say he's going to kill her over some slight, but not the last, as Heather sends Jill into a meeting to drop out of a movie for her. As that film's producer (Nelson Franklin) storms out, a fan (Jessica Parker Kennedy) shows up, asking if Heather and Jill are really as close as the rumors claim, along with an annoying paparazzo (James Ransone). There will be a few more stops that night - Jill's place, K-town karaoke with Heather's maybe-girlfriend Tracy Kim (Greta Lee), and then to Heather's. Jill's got an early meeting the next day - not satisfied with bailing on her next film, Heather doesn't want to do reshoots on the current one - and she returns to a crime scene. Detective Edward Ahn (John Cho) initially treats Jill as a witness, figuring she remembers details better than most, but she's soon the prime suspect and looking to figure it out on her own.

This is the sort of movie where the title seems like it gives the whole game away, although the one that it apparently started out with ("Heart Heather") isn't a whole lot better. That's not necessarily a big deal, since the solution to the mystery does not seem to be what's actually important - but if it isn't, then what is? Katz never really finds an answer to that. There are some vague thoughts about the demands of celebrity and the privilege of wealth and fame, but they're not exactly new and structuring the movie as a whodunit keeps Katz from diving in to look very closely lest he give things away too soon or stretch the story too far past its climax. That rich folks can be flaky and not realize the consequences of their changes of mind on those around them isn't much to hang even such a relatively short film on.

Full review on EFC

Saturday, April 07, 2018

The Death of Stalin

I must admit to being mildly curious how wide this opened and is opening around the country, as it's playing a lot of local theaters in Boston, with multiple screens for several. Is this just something that local theaters thought we would like, the way it's being rolled out in all big cities, and how is it going to play in places like Portland and Worcester when it finally gets there?

I'm also kind of looking forward to picking up the original graphic novel next week, just to see how much came from there and how much is Armando Iannucci. My curiosity is also mildly piqued by the fact that the team that did the comic also did one called "Death to the Tsar", which means they have carved out a curiously specific niche.

The Death of Stalin

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

The Death of Stalin is one of the more audacious bases for a comedy you'll see, and one that may be coming a bit late to come across as truly daring - the Cold War seems just long enough ago for this story to seem more abstract than immediately terrifying - but it's not hard to see a metaphor in its madness regardless. Armando Iannucci has made a still-timely look at both the absurdity of having to live in fear and how it warps minds so that what comes after is a sort of scramble, with even the most diabolical often setting to strike randomly, hoping for an opponent's mistake as much as anything else.

The fear is on display right away, as a Radio Moscow producer (Paddy Considine) receives a call from the leader of the Soviet Union - he's terrified that he'll be a minute or two off the time he was requested to call back, and when he finds out that Stalin Josef (Adrian McLoughlin) wants a recording of the night's broadcast that wasn't made - well, he scrambles. Meanwhile, Stalin is yukking it up at his dacha with the members of his inner circle of Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Gregory Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), even though Molotov and his wife are on a list of enemies to be liquidated. He then suffers a cerebral hemorrhage while listening to his new record, and when he's found the next morning, the Central Committee are faced with a sticky situation: Most of the best doctors have been purged, and trying to maintain a tyrant's favor just in case he pulls through doesn't necessarily put one in the best position when scrambling to pick up the reigns of power should he not.

We've all been there, crazy as that can sound; few other leaders may have matched Stalin for scale in ruthlessly removing anyone seen to be a threat (and anyone around them, just in case the next guy might find martyrdom useful) and making use of the resultant paranoia, but most people have dealt with pettier tyrants and observed the combination of ambition and cowardice that it takes to function around them. It's a tricky thing to get right sometimes, and Adrian McLoughlin's Stalin may be the weakest part of the movie: He's as ridiculous as his underlings, but never quite displays the hidden danger that the other men get a chance to show.

Full review on EFC

Friday, April 06, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 26 March 2018 - 1 April 2018

Skipping over a post for now, because BUFF takes much more than a week to properly write up and falling behind kind of stinks.

This Week in Tickets

After mainlining 13 features and two short programs in five days at the Boston Underground Film Festival, it would make sense to just not do movies for a bit, but Pacific Rim: Uprising was only going to be on the area's biggest sreensfor a little lessthan a week. The smart move probably would have been Tuesday, with the cheaper tickets at AMC on Tuesdays, but work's been unpreditable, so it made sense to take the night I have. Fun movie, although not really as good as the first.

So, on Tuesday, I went to Best Buy to pick up Star Wars: The Last Jedi on disc, winding up coming away with more because they had a 3/$50 UHD sale, and seemed to be liquidating the last of their 3D Blu-rays for $10. Like I mention in the write-up for the next film, the 3D stuff is getting tougher to find these days, and I was kind of disappointed not to have a 3D version of The Last Jedi - it worked quite well in that format - but I'll probably watch the UHD version more anyway.

heck, I opted to watch the next movie in multiple theatrical formats, catching Ready Player One on 70mm film at the Somerville Theatre on Thursday, and 4K digital 3D "Icon-X" at the Seaport on Thursday. Different but both pretty entertaining experiences, and I think I'm liking the movie more as I think about it more. It's going to be a fun one to freeze-frame on disc.

And that was it. There was baseball to watch, after all, and the Red Sox have been looking pretty good.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 26 March 2018 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, 3D digital Imax)

It's a bit of a fool's errand to try and do a sequel to Pacific Rim; not only are the filmmakers who pick it up almost certainly not going to be on the same level as Guillermo del Toro, but he and Travis Beacham went straight for the last stand last time - a follow-up to something basically finished is even more redundant than usual. You can see it in how this plays out, not just with a bunch of characters absent without explanation, but a story that often feels like it followed the budget sequel template carefully: Careful universe extension that rolls back triumphant bits of the first, a shift from embracing the grandiosity of the genre to "not taking itself so seriously", a young and cheap cast, and even seeming to use Ramin Djawardi's awesome theme sparingly, like they'd have to pay Warner Brothers royalties or something.

But, you know what? It's still giant robots battling giant monsters, and the people creating the CGI mayhem know how to stage things just so in order to get a great big smile on my face. The movie is bookended with a couple of really fun sequences, and a script that could have had all of its eccentricity sanded off to try and make it easy to feed to a global audience still manages to not just be genuinely odd at points, but occasionally relies on its oddness to work.

Dropping John Boyega into the middle of it doesn't hurt. You've seen this sort of charming but not really dangerous "rogue" a lot, but Boyega brings a lot of the same charm to it that he brought to Star Wars, and he both recalls Iris Elba and plays off Rinko Kikuchi and Scott Eastwood well enough to get the audience to buy him in this spot. The rest of the new cast isn't quite so great (and Max Zhang seems badly underused), but they generally do their job well enough to make their goofy robot-monster movie work.


Pacific Rim: Uprising
Ready Player One (70mm)
Ready Player One (digital)

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 6 April 2018 - 12 April 2018

Mildly curious, looking over what's opening in the Boston area this weekend, whether Chappaquiddick is opening quite so wide outside of Massachusetts and whether Boston Common had to scramble when the Chinese censorship board punted a movie. Bummer it didn't open a window for The Endless, but I'm guessing one of the boutique places will grab it for late shows.

  • Even without that one opening, there are a couple of things that are apparently pretty darn good from the folks at SXSW, even if I didn't love their previews. A Quiet Place is a post-apocalyptic horror movie starring and directed by John Krasinski as the head of a family (including real-life wife Emily Blunt) who must keep silent because the monsters will kill anyone who makes a sound and which have exceptionally keen hearing. It's at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema for those who want their complete silence in the best surround sound), Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. There's also Blockers, in which three parents (John Cena, Leslie Mann, and Ike Barinholtz) discover that their daughters are planning to lose their virginity after prom and clumsily attempt to intervene. Apparently, it's more sympathetic and smarter than it sounds. It plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    There are also a couple of films based on real-life stories that maybe don't look quite so strong. The Miracle Season is an inspirational sports thing, in which the star of a high school volleyball team dies suddenly, and her best friend must lead the spiralling team the next year. It plays Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Then there's Chappaquiddick, which has Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy and digs into the events around the infamous accident that killed a young campaign staffer. It's at the Kendall, West Newton, Boston Common, the Seaport, South Bay, and Revere.

    Would Gemini be playing Boston Common if China hadn't decided The Possessed looked too supernatural for release? Dunno, but it's John Cho as a detective investigating something that happened between a starlet (Zoe Kravitz) and her assistant (Lola Kirke), and filmmaker Aaron Katz made Quiet City, Cold Weather, and Land Ho!, so I'm glad. They (and Revere) do get Chinese animated film Big Fish & Begonia, in which a teenager from the spirit world visits Earth in the form of a dolphin. Single shows both days, and no information on whether it is dubbed or subtitled.

    The Somerville Theatre has live events in the big room on Friday and Saturday, but they go back to running the 70mm print of Ready Player One on Monday. There are TCM screenings of Grease at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Sunday and Wednesday. There's also a documentary on Congressman Brooks Douglass, The Amendment, playing Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Wednesday. Revere also has the first of two screenings of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior on Thursday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of several places to open Finding Your Feet, one of those retired-English-lady films, starring Imelda Staunton as a woman who discovers her husband of four decades is having an affair, and moves in with her sister (Celia Imrie) and taking a dance class. It's also at the Kendall and West Newton.

    Their midnight screenings on both Friday and Saturday are Mad Max: Fury Road, with the standard version on Friday and the Black & Chrome variety on Saturday. The Saturday morning in-between features a "Science on Screen Jr." presentation of The Last Unicorn, with Elaine Brewer of the Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program talking about their efforts. There's a Sunday morning kids' show of Chicken Run, while the other screen hosts the Geothe-Institut's monthly German-language film, Three Peaks, then a preview screening of The Peacekeeper with director James Demo and the film's subject Padraig O'Malley there to introduce it. Monday's Big Screen Classic is a 35mm print of Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, and there's an Open Screen night on Tuesday.
  • Kendall Square not only opens Finding Your Feet and Chappaquiddick, but also gets Stanley Tucci's new one, Final Portrait, with Armie Hammer as an American who commissions artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), only to find him reluctant to finish. They also open Japanese documentary Ramen Heads, which goes behind the scenes of one of the country's top ramen shops.

    On Wednesday, they and their sister cinema in Waltham, the Embassy, open Beiruit, with Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike as CIA agents trying to free a colleague in 1982 Nice to see Brad Anderson get something into theaters. They also have two screenings of Distant Sky - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Live, though the 7pm show appears to be sold out already.
  • The West Newton Cinema is the only place playing a couple of films this weekend. For Spinning Man, they actually have the author of the original novel about a professor who becomes a suspect when a student goes missing, with Guy Pearce as the prof, Minnie Driver as the wife, and Pierce Brosnan as the cop. They also get World War I drama Journey's End, with Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Toby Jones, and Asa Butterfield.
  • The IMAX screens mostly used for traditional eye-popping docs shuffle things up a little, with The Museum of Science putting National Parks Adventure, Mysteries of China, and Dream Big into rotation. the New England Aquarium, on the other hand, adds the Kristin Bell-narrated Pandas to their 3D screen. I think both of those places are still screening on genuine Imax film, though I'm not certain.
  • Wicked Queer wraps up its 2018 edition this weekend with screenings at The Brattle Theatre, the MFA, and ArtsEmerson's Paramount Theater, as well as a closing night screening of Anchor and Hope at The ICA on Saturday (although the other spots are showing films from Boston's LGBTQ festival through Sunday).

    Unconnected to that festival, the Brattle also has a special free Crows & Sparrows screening of Wang Xuebo's Knife in Clear Water with Chinese film historian leading a discussion afterward. Once the festival ends, they welcome back IFFBoston selection Spettacolo and director Jeff Malmberg for a DocYard presentation, and then kick off Awesome, We're F*ckin' Ten: An Oscilloscope Retrospective with Awesome, I F*ckin' Shot That in 35mm on Tuesday, a double feature of The Fits & Wendy and Lucy (the latter on 35mm) Wednesday, and single shows of Embrace of the Serpent and The Love Witch (that one also on 35mm) Thursday; more will follow the next weekend.
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes Wim Wenders this weekend, although a lot of folks were already on top of that: Although Friday night's The State of Things and Monday's Notebook on Cities and Clothes are not sold out, Mr. Wenders's appearances with Paris, Texas on Saturday and Wings of Desire on Sunday are completely reserved by members, with unclaimed tickets being sold at 6:45 those nights. He also gives the last of this year's Norton Lectures at the Sanders Theater on Monday afternoon (tickets are free and available the day of the lecture). They also welcome filmmaker Rigoberto Perezcano for his film Carmín Tropical on Sunday afternoon.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps up their 17th Annual Boston Turkish Film Festival with What a Crush on Friday, The Big World and Dream (followed by a Q&A with director Derviş Zaim) on Saturday, plus Sour Apples and Ayla, The Daughter of War (possibly featuring director Sıtkı Can Ulkay) on Sunday. On Wednesday, they begin a run of Cezanne: Portrait of a Life (also plays Wednesday) and their annual Hollywood Scriptures series, this time focusing on "Childhood Stories", with Lion on Wednesday and Mustang on Thursday.
  • The free Bright Lights at Emerson's Paramount Theater next week goes with unconventional biographies: I, Tonya on Tuesday and The Disaster Artist on Thursday. As always, there will be a discussion afterward.
  • This week's Belmont World Film Monday presentation at Studio Cinema is Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, a spaghetti-western-influenced revenge story from Indonesia.
  • The Boston International Film Festival - an entirely separate thing from Independent Film Festival Boston which often seems to be scheduled to confuse people - opens this Wednesday, with the opening night presentation of locally-produced sci-fi film Chimera at the Showcase Icon Theater in the Seaport. It moves to Kendall Square from there, settling in for the better part of a week.

    The Icon theater also has a special benefit screening of Boston to benefit the Martin Richard Foundation on Thursday, just before the documentary on the Marathon settles in for a one-week run.
  • Apple Fresh Pond continue Telugu shows of Rajaratha while opening two more in that language - Chal Mohan Ranga on Friday and Krishnarjuna Yudham on Wednesday.
  • CinemaSalem picks up Oh Lucy! (also still playing in West Newton) for the small room.
Sure, I'll check out A Quiet Place, Blockers, Gemini, and Beiruit. Probably also Isle of Dogs, which expands a bit, and/or Itzhak, which moves over to the Capitol.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Boston Underground Film Festival 2018.02: Pin Cushion & The Theta Girl

Thursday evening, when you can get a seat at Bartley's before the movie because a lot of folks aren't going out and the first feature film starts at 7:45pm due to some combination of a packed shorts package on the one end and shorter movies on the other, with the sense that the organizers programmed by starting backward from how late the theater would let them stay. I like nights like that; you get real food and movies that don't mess around.



Consider, for instance, The Theta Girl, presented by screenwriter David Axe (left, with programmer Kevin Monahan), whose day job is reporting for Vice but wanted to do something similarly grimy but more ridiculous here: The rule in writing the script was basically that there had to be nudity, gore, or drug-induced hallucinations every five or ten pages, with the idea being that the finished film would never be boring for very long. On that count, they succeeded - it's not dull, by a long shot.

It's also very much the sort of movie that gets put together with what they can; the closing credits state that it was made for the price of a used car by complete amateurs, so you've got no excuse not to make your own. There was, as you might imagine, a lot of barter involved in getting it put together; it's the sort of movie where you get to shoot at a bar because you say that the bartender can play himself. You apparently get to shoot in the oldest church in South Carolina - a modest place that looks like it has served the same congregation and been kept in good repair, but seldom really changed - by telling the people involved that it will be the site of a spiritual battle between good and evil, drawing out the dialogue scenes until the person there to monitor you goes home for the night, and then breaking out the knives, blood bladders, fake eyeballs, and intestines. A pastor is still going to walk in on you, but he turns out to be the cool one.

My favorite question and answer was about all the nudity for a movie shot in South Carolina, and whether it was hard to find folks willing. Axe said that every city the size of Columbia, SC, has at least fifty people who are not only willing to get naked on camera, but are kind of looking for an excuse to do so - and that if you can find one of them, they'll usually lead you to the other forty-nine.

Aside from that, there were a lot of very specific questions about the pharmaceutical inspiration for Theta, and equally specific answers, which might honestly be the most underground this festival has felt since they lost a certain sponsor and stopped throwing vibrators to the audience..

"Dogged"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, digital)

This may not quite be the platonic ideal of Underground Film Festival Shorts, but it's pretty close: A very conventional, easy-to-relate, downright adorable situation is introduced; the filmmakers play it out in a manner that's kind of sly and well-executed; and then it takes a crazy turn into the bizarre and most likely pretty gross. It's a sort of humor that is looking to shock in a blunt way without a lot of nuance, and I kind of like to have the nasty joke hit a bit more precisely.

Still, there's a bunch that works; the bits with Charlie Boyles as the little girl who really wants a dog are adorable, especially with the parents who are always too tall to be in frame, and the "that's some bullshit" look when she runs up to a dog only to see it has an "I'm working, do not pet" harness is dead on. These bits lead to a payoff that doesn't quite hit for me - just not quite the right combination of deadpan/gross/hysterics, although it's not that far off.

Pin Cushion

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Pin Cushion is a pretty fair "being a teenage girl is brutal" movie, albeit the sort that tends to pile on the cruelty higher than the unique insights, but at least this one doesn't seem particularly impressed with itself for having some particularly witty take. Filmmaker Deborah Haywood seems aware of a certain shabbiness to her setting and characters but winning to embrace it, which can make for a squirmy watch, but appropriately so.

It starts with mother Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and her teenage daughter Iona (Lily Newmark) looking at a small house in a small village, into which they soon move. They're an exceptionally close pair, with Lyn needing some assistance with day-to-day tasks (she has a hunchback and one leg a bit longer than the other) while Iona has never fit in at school, but that may change - not so much because a nice-seeming boy (Loris Scarpa) takes a shine to her, but because queen bee Keeley (Sacha Cordy-Nice) and her friends Stacie (Sasika Paige Martin) and Chelsea (Bethany Antonia) suddenly pivot from being obviously mean to Iona to bringing her into the group, at least superficially.

That the power dynamics among teenage girls can be incredibly vicious and downright Machiavellian is not exactly a new observation on Haywood's part, nor is the fact that they often continue into adulthood. The specific arc of Iona's new frenemies is familiar - Keeley sees while changing for gym that Iona could actually be a threat if she learned how to talk to people or pay attention to her appearance and decides to either co-opt this or set Iona up for a fall - as is the obvious parallel of Lyn being shut out of the somewhat on-the-nose "Friendship Circle" at the community center. There's interesting moments to be found nevertheless, from an intriguingly candid conversation about starting over with Keeley to trying to figure Chelsea out (she seems well aware that her friends aren't nice people but gives token push-back when Keeley and Stacie are being cruel), while Lyn's side of the story often puts a strong focus on the hypocrisy of people who claim to take pride in resolving conflicts.

Full review on EFC

The Theta Girl

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Psychedelic and hyper-violent are not always a great pairing, and The Theta Girl doesn't always find the right way to blend the two. It's got a likable title character and a decent-enough hook, but seems far more interested in quickly running up its body count rather than exploring its altered states, even though those are the memorable, unique scenes.

The altered states come from a drug named "theta", which a young woman by the name of Gayce (Victoria Elizabeth Donofrio) deals while her girlfriend Yolanda (Quinn Deogracias) and her all-girl band "Truth Foundation" play a gig. Not their gig - they basically push Coin (Cleveland Langdale) and his band off the stage) - but a lot of the folks are there for the theta, and it's a hell of a trip: It temporarily transports the consciousness of everyone taking it - including a trio of snotty missionaries (led by a guy who seems to recognize Gayce) who get a pill dissolved in their glasses of water by the annoyed bartender (Shawn Dell Corley) - to another dimension, where an otherworldly entity (Nikki Gonzalez) greets Gayce like an old friend. Either Gayce is probably not taking the Entity's apocalyptic talk seriously enough, or somebody has a really bad trip, because someone gets their intestines ripped out, and whoever did it is on their way to the band's post-show orgy. Gayce recruits her supplier Derek (Darelle D. Dove) to bring her to the guy cooking this stuff to find out how to stop what's happening - or at least get revenge.

Mostly revenge; writer David Axe and director Christopher Bickel may not get to the first kill right away, but once they do, they don't waste a lot of time. In fact, they are almost too enthusiastic - as much as having a bunch of people bunched together gives them the opportunity for a massive bloody rampage, it also thins the cast out awful quick, and what they've got for story in the back half feels a bit underdone: The filmmakers spend a lot of time on making the final confrontation something personally connected to Gayce, as if the grisly murder of a bunch of her friends wasn't quite enough, and as much as it's not bad material, it feels a bit like a side story rather than what the rest of the movie is driving towards.

Full review on EFC

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Ready Player One

It just now hits me, after seeing it twice opening weekend, that Warner Brothers opened a movie about gamers trying to find the ultimate "easter egg" on Easter weekend. I gather it wasn't the original plan - I believe the film was originally scheduled to open in December - but someone at the studio apparently remembered that the last time Steven Spielberg had two films open within a couple of weeks of each other, neither Tintin nor War Horse particularly benefited, and why go up against Star Wars? Heck, it probably wouldn't have helped either party for this and Jumanji to open close to each other, either. Heck of a backup plan for them.

It also left me a clear-enough schedule to catch it twice opening weekend, which is not necessarily something I'd do with even a great movie very often, but I saw no reason to actually make a choice between my love of actual film and 3D here. And, make no mistake, I was very glad to see the film in both formats - the 70mm print the Somerville got is pretty darn nice, and I'll go for that every time a studio will give them a real print, but this is kind of a film that seems like it should be shown in digital 3D. It's a bit pricey to do both - although, surprisingly, the online member prices for the Icon can be affordable; $14 for 3D on their Icon-X screen at 3:30pm. There aren't nearly as many 3D screenings as I'd hope for, considering that this film was made for it. Of course, I'm finding that's the case on home video, too - when RPO hits disc, the odds that I'll be able to buy one box that contains both 4K and 3D versions are slim. I get it - there's only a few of us weirdos that wanted 3D in our living room, and I'll probably go with the 4K version most of the time I watch it. You practically have to hope there's a special-edition region-free UK release for that.

Thankfully, it's good enough to work on a second viewing, and honestly good enough to leave me with a lot to write about. Like a lot of Spielberg's work, it's probably something I'll come back to and see as something more impressive later because he's good enough to make a lot of things look effortless, only to find that there's always more there when you keep digging.

Ready Player ONe

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 March 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 70mm)
Seen 31 March 2018 in Showplace Icon Boston #6 (first-run, RealD 3-D DCP Icon-X)

It can be hard enough to take a movie (or other piece of art) for what it is and talk about that rather than what you want it to be, especially in a case like Ready Player One, which features a guy as incredibly talented and successful (and yet somehow still polarizing) as Steven Spielberg adapting a novel that has been accused of being little but a shallow exercise in unthinking nostalgia. The result seems to be something of a Rorschach Test that reveals as much about the viewer as it does stand on its own - or that may just be me trying to impose my own conflicted opinion upon it, trying to find a reason why I don't like it quite as much as I want to and feel a little guilty about the reflexive smile that appeared on my face throughout.

Start with the opening scene - Van Halen's "Jump" plays on the soundtrack while Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) makes his way through "The Stacks", a neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, where trailers and prefab homes are piled atop each other in a huge jumble, making his way to a little nook where his virtual-reality gaming rig is located. On the one hand, it's the sort of casual world-building that's never as easy as it looks, with Wade's narration about economic malaise and the population's retreat into the virtual reality of "The Oasis" reinforced by sight gags seen through windows while octocopter drones delivering pizza and the throwback logo of the chain on the box show how both street-level automation and a 1980s aesthetic permeate its 2045. Structurally, it's kind of clever as well - Wade crawling through his neighborhood like it's a Nintendo platformer foreshadows his skills within The Oasis and maybe wedges itself in the viewer's head just enough that when fellow gamer "Art3mis" (Olivia Cooke) tells "Parzival" that he's always lived in the game, it's got a little extra oomph; it's also introducing secret rooms early on in a movie that will see Wade and his friends continuously questing for keys that unlock hidden chambers within hidden chambers.

It's oddly muted, though - there's not a lot of expression on Wade's face as he does this; it's not a speed-run or the joy of exploration and puzzle-solving of parkour, and "Jump" is just the first of a half-dozen up-tempo 1980s cuts that just seem to lie there on the soundtrack, not exactly adding to a scene's energy but not serving as an ironic counterpoint, either. It's tempting to say that integrating pop music into a movie is just not something that Spielberg has done that often - why bother, when you've got those great John Williams scores? - but it's fair to wonder if he and writers Zak Penn and Ernest Cline (adapting his own novel) are maybe trying to talk a little bit about pop culture stagnating at some point and just being remade, revived, and re-released forever, but without making it less fun for those - including this writer - who genuinely love many of the things referenced in ways big and small, all over the screen. It's a balance that's almost doomed to be off at some point, because it's difficult to be sincere in one's love for something and simultaneously know that hanging onto something from one's youth (or someone else's!) without occasionally reconsidering it does oneself and the art little good, even for those who seem like they'd be clear-eyed about it.

Full review on EFC

Friday, March 30, 2018

This Those Weeks In Tickets: 5 February 2018 - 18 March 2018

Well, I wasn't going to allow myself to fall behind like this, but festivals and vacations and such got us here, catching up on six weeks:

5 February - 11 February
12 February - 18 February
19 February - 25 February
26 February - 4 March
5 March - 11 March
12 March - 18 March

This Week in Tickets

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool was only in town for a week or so, and it got a little attention because it was expected to get some Oscar nominations for Annette Bening or at least Elvis Costello, and they both had an argument. Still, well worth a watch. It probably would have made sense to hit the sack immediately afterward, but instead I opted to put a pin in the first leg of my plans to watch all my discs of entries in series that I haven't finished with The Vanished Murderer, which... wasn't good. A real disappointment, honestly.

After that, it was time for the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, which was as always a mixed bag. The opening weekend included Junk Head & Ayla on Friday; Flora, The Gateway, and Andover on Saturday; and Kill Order on Sunday. That's not a festival schedule that entirely fills the weekend, but I also tried to catch all of the Oscar-nominated shorts. I missed the docs - you've really got to buy ahead of time when stuff's in the GoldScreen - but I did manage to catch the Animated Oscar Shorts as well as the Live Action Shorts.

This Week in Tickets

The next week was also pretty much all festival, with Beyond Skyline on Monday; Space Detective & Darken on Tuesday; Before We Vanish & Tangent Room on Wednesday; Division 19 & Paradoxical on Thursday; Framed on Friday; and Closer Than We Think, Muse, and Canaries on Saturday. That's a busy week, but one of the reasons I am kind of down on letting it eat an entire week is that we're starting to see a lot of Chinese New Year releases, and I was only able to get to two of the three that came out that weekend - The Monkey King 3 and Monster Hunt 2 - around the festival.

And then, after the "festival" part was over, it was time for the Marathon! As I say in the roundup, I kind of got to the point where I decided that the event probably wasn't for me anymore early this time around, because who wants to see movies with people who think they can make a Spielberg classic better with their call-outs, especially if so little is going to be on film? Supposedly, the Somerville Theatre will be playing a larger part next year, but we'll see how it's looking closer to the time. Anyway, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Time Machine '60, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, "Haley", The Lost World '25, Marjorie Prime, and Bride of Frankenstein got us to midnight...

This Week in Tickets

... and Shivers, Night of the Living Dead, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", World WIthout End, The Little Shop of Horrors, Yellow Submarine, Army of Darkness, 20 Million Miles to Earth, and Looper got us to noon or so.

I half-considered doing another movie during the afternoon, but figured I'd be better off doing laundry, packing, and such before heading out on vacation - at one point, I actually planned to get on a plane that evening and let the whole "being exhausted from being up 36 hours" help me sleep on the flight and beat jet lag, but I didn't go that route. Instead, I headed to New Orleans, which isn't entirely my bag - a lot of the cool tourist stuff is in the French Quarter, which is bigger on drinking and noise than I am. Pretty great food, though, and I had fun visiting Steamboat Natchez, The National WWII Museum, The Louisiana State Museum (well, the ones that were in NOLA and open: The Calibdo, The Presbytere, The 1850 House, and The Jazz Museum at the Old Mint), The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, a swamp tour, Preservation Hall, the Sculpture Garden, and jazz at Snug Harbor. A full week, and I ate beignets the way I eat poutine in Montreal, at a rate completely unsustainable if they were common in the Boston area.

And, yeah, I saw a couple movies while I was there, both because I'm not drinking after dark the way a lot of tourists are and because I was feeling kind of spoiler-averse. So I went to Black Panther on Wednesday and Annihilation on Friday. There was only really one cinema particularly close to the hotel, Regla's "Cinebarre Cafe", which charges premium prices (or at least, enough for MoviePass not to cover it) and has table service, but doesn't really feel that much like a fancy spot in the theaters. Decent enough, though, and the movies were pretty darn good.

Black Panther

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 21 March 2018 in Regal Canal Place #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Separate the Marvel stuff from this movie - and, believe it or not, you can do that fairly easily; you really don't need Captain America: Civil War even though important setup happened there - and you've still got something pretty terrific: An African-influenced bit of science fantasy that manages to balance two concepts extremely well. Black Panther's Afro-futuristic setting both asks us to imagine a world where Africa wasn't colonized and developed independently with all of its resources and, for those who would point out that this is a fantasy, it wrestles with the idea of what obligation the fortunate have to the less fortunate, and what the best course is when that good fortune comes after a lifetime of denial.

It's a non-DC superhero movie, so you can guess where it will land to a certain extent, but it's also a pretty great bit of pulp entertainment, with great big action that draws from both totemic fantasy and dizzying science fiction, set mainly against beautiful African (approximating) vistas but traveling enough to have fun set-pieces in London and Busan. Writer/director Ryan Coogler occasionally slows things down enough to both get some background out and let a character articulate his or her point of view, but it never becomes drab, and even the characters who supply a lot of the jokes are seldom played for fools. The movie never gets dumb to have fun.

It's also got a cast worth loving; Chadwick Boseman and Martin Freeman return from Civil War and both kick things up a notch as the title character and the token American ally (although, I must admit, as a fan of the comics I much prefer Everett K. Ross as a State Department liaison in way over his head than as a CIA operative), but Michael B. Jordan makes a pretty darn charismatic villain, the trio of Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright are great as the warrior women who have their king's back in different ways, and even the smaller roles are well-filled.

Annihilation

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 23 March 2018 in Regal Canal Place #6 (first-run, DCP)

Right now, I think Annihilation is pretty darn good, and I'm only half-joking when I say that I want to see what I think of it after it's given me a few new varieties of nightmare. That is to say, it may wind up seeming even better.

And, make no mistake, it is pretty great as it sinks its audience into a situation that finds something more to disturb in every moment - a returning husband who is just demonstrably more shaken and traumatized in every moment until he starts shaking apart, a team of people who are not only all damaged goods but seemingly aware of it in the least reassuring way possible, chimera-like plants and animals that display a certain beauty despite verging on the unearthly... and then it starts in with the things that are more obviously horrific, split right down the middle between the familiar and the really terrible idea executed extremely well.

Then things get weird.

Much of this movie reminds me of Sunshine, the screenplay writer/director Alex Garland wrote for Danny Boyle, especially how both feature rational, capable people more or less destroyed by getting too close to something that they can't possibly grasp, whether it be the awesome power of the sun or an incursion onto Earth by a life form that not only may lack comprehensible motivation but which may be so different that the lecture Natalie Portman's Lena gives to her students about the cell being the basic building block of life may not apply. It's also got a nifty cast, an aesthetic that veers between practical and impossible while using piercing light to put the audience off-guard, and a last act that is visually stunning but also challenging in how it pushes into bizarre situations without much in the way of explanation at all.

Indeed, it's so willing to trust the audience to catch up then that it makes the blemish of its framing device a little more noticeable; maybe the flashbacks/forwards help the audience identify with Lena more because they see something in her relationship with her husband, but it both could have come out in conversation with the other characters and seems kind of small, conventional potatoes against the rest of what's going on. It's hardly a problem (though the film only going that far is apparently why some of the producers and its studio lost a certain amount of faith in it), especially when it's so great otherwise

This Week in Tickets

My flight back was fairly early on Tuesday morning, although I was soon headed back downtown because Federal Express wouldn't deliver a parcel with my Red Sox season ticket package while I was away, and that meant going halfway back to the airport. The FedEx facility is pretty near the seaport, but Icon was only open for the very early and very late shows that day, so I couldn't give it a look. Weird schedule. So I wound up headed to Boston Common to do a double feature of Game Night and Operation Red Sea, not yet aware that the latter would have a pretty impressive run there.

I mostly let go of scrambling to see all the Oscar nominees before the ceremony, because feeling like I was fulfilling an obligation would probably lead me to not actually enjoying Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name even if I wouldnormally go for them. I did wind up going for the Documentary Shorts, although their length and scheduling meant seeing the first three at the Coolidge on Thursday night and the last two at the ICA on Saturday, where they wound up playing in reverse order, confusing some of the folks there. I might have done that double feature, but I'd already purchased tickets for a different double feature a few weeks earlier, with the Alloy Orchestra accompanying The General and A Page of Madness at the Somerville Theatre.

Sunday would be Oscar Night, but instead of catch-up my matinees were a couple of foreign oddities. I got up early to take the T out to Brookline for the Goethe-Institut screening of Wild Mouse, which I might not have prioritized if the Wilde Maus roller coaster in Wiener Prater hadn't caught my eye when I was on vacation in Vienna last fall. That's probably not the best reason to see a movie, but, on the other hand, if that can be a reason for you to see a movie, you really should make the effort. After that, it was up the Green Line for Detective Chinatown 2, and then home for the Oscars. Which were fun; I like the positive vibe Kimmel brings to it and years where, even if one movie wins a lot, nothing really dominates.

The General (1926)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 3 March 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Alloy Orchestra, digital)

I know the Alloy Orchestra uses this to get people to come out for the back end of a double feature which is somewhat more esoteric, but it's nevertheless a great experience on its own - a fantastic movie and they've honed their propulsive score to perfection.

Other than that, what to add to the other times I've talked about this movie? It's a ton of fun, the choreography and stuntwork is fantastic, and even in an era where we probably want to be a little more conscious about presenting the Confederacy as heroes, there's something absurd enough about the way Buster Keaton presents them to make it go down a bit easier.

Full review at EFC (from 2004).

Kurutta ippêji (A Page of Madness)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 3 March 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Alloy Orchestra, digital)

Ever since learning about the Japanese tradition of narrated spent films, I've wondered if seeing something like A Page of Madness without a benshi is a bit off the original intent. It's a fascinating film to watch and the lack of intertitles makes it feel like a pure, abstracted silent, but maybe it wasn't meant to be quite so abstract.

It's intriguing nonetheless, spending most of its time in a mental hospital where a humble janitor seems to have more empathy for the patients than either the doctors or their visitors, particularly a woman who seems to have snapped after losing a child. It can sometimes straddle a fine line between gawking and sympathy in how the inmates are observed, and the story could occasionally use that narrator as it presents alternate outcomes.

It's often striking, though, especially for how willing the filmmakers are to muddle which side of the bars one is on from shot to shot. There will often be no visual signifier to distinguish looking out and looking in, which both makes it easier to see insanity consume the seemingly sane and to wonder about often this sort of commitment is less helpful than convenient, or if the cruelty toward the patients is more dangerous than their afflictions.

The Alloy Orchestra were quite good, as usual, even if certain bits of the score did seem a bit more awkwardly "oriental" than is comfortable from western performers, although that diminished the deeper one got into the film.

This Week in Tickets

The next week was a little more relaxed, starting with a sort of mini-theme that nobody involved would have planned: On Tuesday night, I hit the Brattle to see Skyfall on 35mm film as part of their series on Oscar nominated winning cinematographer Roger Deakins. It looked fantastic, obviously, but it also served as a bit of a contrast to Agent Mr. Chan the next night, which was a straight up James Bond spoof, something a little less relevant in an era that has already seen the "Bond Begins" of Casino Royale.

The weekend was about going to theaters I don't hit that often. Early Man was down to just matinee shows in the small room at Fresh Pond, and it's a bummer it didn't have more success here; it's quality work from Aardman, although I didn't realize that it had been a decade since Nick Park's last directing credit. Later that evening, I headed to the Seaport to catch Red Sparrow on their big "Icon-X" screen, and returned the next morning to see A Wrinkle in Time in 3D. The picture is extraordinary (for digital), although that's really not the place to go to see how kids are going to react to that movie.

Skyfall

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 6 March 2018 in the Brattle Theatre #1 (Roger Deakins, 35mm)

There are a lot of reasons why Skyfall is an all- timer as far as James Bond movies are concerned, but it was playing the Brattle as part of a Roger Deakins series, so you'll forgive me for mainly focusing on how it looks amazing. It was on film, too, a pleasant surprise considering that it's not always a sure thing that actual prints exist when the movie is of such recent vintage.

I am, personally, very glad that this one in particular was good, because my second viewing was actually in London, at the Imax theater not far from Parliament where some of the action took place, the sort of thing that sticks a movie in one's head just a tiny bit more.

One thing that really struck me was how it disassembled both classic Bond and the newer pictures in order to ultimately arrive at a version of the franchise that is both traditional and very modern. It's an impressive balance that they couldn't really achieve again with Spectre, and I hope like heck that Danny Boyle can hit this spot for Daniel Craig's expected last go around.

This Week in Tickets

The next week would be pretty quiet - it snowed again, so I didn't mess around for a couple of days - but it led to a decent weekend: I caught Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story on Friday night, which I enjoyed, and then Tomb Raider on Saturday, heading out to South Bay because they had the cheapest 3D show. Probably won't be doing that much in the future; it's a hike and I like the way that the theaters are set up at other places a lot better than that spot.

Tomb Raider (2018)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 17 March 2018 in AMC South bay #6 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

I wouldn't say that Tomb Raider doesn't deserve Alicia Vikander; it's got the makings of a top-flight adventure series despite being a second run at something adapted from a video game and having someone like Vikander in the lead can only help. But it absolutely needs her; in an age where new big-screen pulp shows up every week and only a few have truly great action or effects, someone who can grab the audience between the running, jumping, and punching is a must.

Tomb Raider isn't one of the great ones; its story is one part lost-parent quest and one part vague, almost incidental conspiracy. The filmmakers show only the vaguest interest in the mythological story being chased down, the sort is moved forward by people doing something dumb just to make things happen, and it absolutely involves a collapsing floor that is apparently not a big deal on the way out of the trap-filled tomb. The action is fine but often uncreative; you'd think they would pick up some guys to help with that during a stop in Hong Kong.

There's no denying it's got all the pieces, though, with a star who always makes her scenes worth watching improving a film that, even if it seldom hits the highest heights, seldom screws things up. With a supporting cast for the first that includes Kristen Scott Thomas, Walton Goggins, Nick Frost, Dominic West, Daniel Wu, and Derek Jacobi, some of whom could come back, it's certainly well-placed to be a decent film series if the producers fine-tune it in the right ways.


Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
The Vanished Murderer
Junk Head & Ayla
Flora, The Gateway & Andover
Kill Order
Oscar Animated Shorts
Oscar Live-Action Shorts



Beyond Skyline
Space Detective & Darken
Before We Vanish & The Tangent Room
Division 19 & Paradoxical
The Monkey King 3
Framed
Closer Than We Think, Muse & Canaries
Monster Hunt 2
Sci-Fi Marathon



Sci-Fi Marathon
Black Panther
Steamboat Natchez
National WWII Museum
Annhilation
Louisiana State Museums
Preservation Hall



Snug Harbor
Game Night
Operation Red Sea
Oscar Documentary Shorts
Oscar Documentary Shorts
The General
A Page of Madness
Wild Mouse
Detective Chinatown 2



Skyfall
Agent Mr. Chan
Early Man
Red Sparrow
A Wrinkle in Time



Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Tomb Raider