Thursday, May 31, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 1 June 2018 - 7 June 2018

Ah, the week after a new Star Wars-sized movie, when things don't necessarily get strange at the multiplex but you see people trying to slip a sleeper in there rather than another blockbuster.

  • Or, if you're like The Somerville Theatre, you bust out the film projector and make the projectionists really work. The big one - literally and figuratively - is the first of two weeks of the "unrestored" 2001: A Space Odyssey on a brand spanking new 70mm print. That will be playing on their main screen, and they don't give the projector much time to cool down on Friday and Saturday, as they'll be showing Die Hard on 35mm film at midnight on the 1st and John Waters's Hairspray on the 2nd, also on 35mm.
  • At the more conventional 'plexes, the most mainstream thing is likely Adrift, in which Shailene Woodley plays a young woman who is invited to sail across the Pacific with her more experienced boyfriend, only to find herself having to take charge in the aftermath of a devastating storm. It's at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The other two big openings are a bit more rambunctious. Action Point stars Johnny Knoxville doing what he does best - taking physical abuse - in the story of an infamously unsafe amusement park. It plays Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Upgrade comes from Saw/Insidious co-writer Leigh Whannell and stars Logan Marshall-Green as a paralyzed man who discovers that the spinal implant that allows him to walk has the functionality to make him a superhero, if he gives it full control. That one also plays Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Fenway has the second part of Best F(r)iends - the new project from the folks who did The Room - on Friday and Monday (when it also plays Revere). For those more interested in people who make good movies, TCM will be presenting 50th anniversary screenings of The Producers at Fenway, Asembly Row, and Revere on Sunday and Monday. This week's display of utterly incomprehensible anime naming conventions is Fate/stay night [Heaven's Feel] THE MOVIE I.presage flower, playing Fenway and Assembly Row on Tuesday and Thursday (probably dubbed both days). Revere has the first of a couple screenings of the original The Fast and the Furious on Thursday, and Boston Common has documentary Nossa Chape, following a Brazilian soccer team trying to rebuild after all but three players are killed in a plane crash, on Thursday; I'm not sure whether it's a one-off or a precursor to a run the next week.
  • Kendall Square shares IFFBoston alum The Gospel According to André with Boston Common, but the Kendall will also have director Kate Novack on-hand to do a Q&A at the Saturday evening show of her film about Vogue editor André Leon Talley. The Kendall also opens Mountain, a documentary featuring high peaks and those who scale them narrated by Willem Dafoe.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre appears to be the only place in the area getting Mary Shelley, which has Elle Fanning as the writer who created Frankenstein (and basically the genre of science fiction) at the age of eighteen, and they've got it in the smaller screening rooms. Ms. Fanning also stars in the other new release "opening" this weekend, playing an alien teenager in John Cameron Mitchell's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's How to Talk to Girls at Parties, which also features Alex Sharp and Nicole Kidman. Sadly, it's only playing midnights on Friday and Saturday.

    The "regular" midnights in June are a rare break in horror's tyrannical hold on the slot, although this week's shift to martial-arts action are both American tributes to the genre: The Last Dragon on Friday night and John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China on Saturday, both on 5mm film. There will be a special screening of First Reformed on Friday evening, with cinematographer Alexander Dynan there for a Q&A after the 7pm show. The 35mm "Big Screen Classics" screening of Duck Soup on Monday also has a deluxe presentation, with an extra fee netting you a "seminar" with a pre-screening lecture and post-movie Q&A with Boston Globe critic Ty Burr. There's also a 35mm "Rewind!" show of Ferris Bueller's Day Off on Thursday.
  • Apple Fresh Pond and Fenway both pick up Veere Di Wedding, which features Karrena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhaskar, and Shikha Talsania as four longtime friends looking for love while their families try to arrange marriages in a Hindi-language comedy. Fenway also continues Raazi while Apple has more Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, and also opens Officer, a hopefully-subtitled Telugu-language action-adventure starring Nagarjuna Akkineni and directed by the prolific Ram Gopal Varma. There's a screening of Marathi-language Bucket List (in which a woman tries to live out her recently-deceased teenage daughter's dreams) on Sunday, but the big event comes Wednesday: Kaala opens in Tamil and Telugu, with Hindi-language shows starting Thursday. It's a crime film featuring Rajinikanth (a bona fide superstar in India), Nana Patekar, and Huma Qureshi, taking place in Mumbai's Tamil-speaking underworld.

    How Long Will I Love U continues at Boston Common, for those more into Chinese film.
  • The Brattle Theatre and the Harvard Bookstore have a sold-out author event with John Hodgman on Friday, but the author will be sticking around to introduce The Dead Zone at 8:30pm. The rest of the weekend is a double feature of Annihilation and mother!, two messed-up movies that bookended a box-office losing streak for Paramount despite both being pretty darn fascinating. Annihilation plays late shows through Wednesday, with the Dance for World Community Film Fest claiming the early evenings there. Thursday is given to author Stephen Greenblatt, who pairs with the Actors' Shakespeare Project for the interactive program "Tyrant, Show Thy Face".
  • A new month means a new calendar of programs at The Museum of Fine Arts, with two films getting regular runs: Bill Gunn's Harlem documentary Personal Problems, fully restored to its rarely-seen original length, plays Friday and Wednesday; Filmworker, telling the story of Stanley Kubrick's right-hand-man Leon Vitali, plays Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday (it's also still kicking around at Kendall Square).

    The monthly "On the Fringe: Indie Film in the 1990s" show on Friday is a good one: The Hudsucker Proxy, a delightfully goofy collaboration between the Coen Brothers and Sam Raimi featuring Tim Robbins, Paul Newman, and Jennifer Jason Lee, playing on 35mm. The "On the Fringe" label is also being applied to Hoop Dreams, which plays Saturday afternoon. On top of that, there's an "MFA Pride" screening of A Fantastic Woman on Sunday.
  • The students may have left, but that means The Harvard Film Archive is about to dig into their summer-long retrospectives. First up is Luchino Visconti, Architect of Neorealism: They open this program set to run into July with The Leopard (Friday 7pm), White Nights on 35mm (Saturday 7pm/Sunday 4:30pm), and The Stranger on 35mm (Sunday 7pm). They also have their first family matinee of the summer at 3pm on Saturday, when you can catch the original The Incredibles on 35mm film for only five bucks. There's also the summer's first "Cinema of Resistance" screening, with Burmese/Taiwanese director Midi Z on hand to introduce his latest, City of Jade.
  • The Joe's Free Films list is not showing a whole heck of a lot of outdoor films this summer, with just Ferdinand on the Common (Friday) and Jurassic Park at Lawn on D (Thursday). That's kind of a bummer.


I've gotta say, this weekend's midnight roster is brutal - Die Hard, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and Big Trouble in Little China is just not possible. I'll probably try for one or two, and then hopefully hit Upgrade, Adrift, and First Reformed on top of that.

This Week In Tickets: 21 May 2018 - 27 May 2018

It may push bedtime back an hour or two, but I'm getting "This Week" up before "Next Week". What can I say, sometimes you just have a lot of Star Wars opinions to get out.

This Week in Tickets

First up this week was Raazi, a distinctly Indian spy thriller that starts slow but really picks up around the intermission mark. Ultimately, it winds up being pretty nifty, even if it lays the patriotic stuff on pretty thick for a genre where you tend to see more ambiguity.

It was the sort of big summer week where you can not just leave the week open, but catch some sports because one or two things are going to be grabbing all the screens. With a holiday coming up, we were let out of work early on Friday, which meant no trouble getting from Burlington to Fenway in time for a fun romp over the Braves, the sort where J.D. Martinez ties Mookie Betts for the league lead in homers but Mookie pulls back ahead, and Xander & Mitch Moreland hit one at well. Plus a JBJ triple, getting him out of the funk.

Saturday was a Memorial Day Weekend miracle, as I was able to get to Jordan's on two buses (technically three, as the 136 out becomes the 137 in and the 137 is the one that passes the furniture store) with time to spare. That never happens, and it might not have if I'd just checked the MBTA's website, which had me using three or four buses and the subway, while Google just said to take the 101 to Malden. I'm glad all that worked out, because Solo: A Star Wars Story demands to be seen well-projected, and Jordan's in Reading is probably the only place in the area I'd trust with a 3D show, between the laser projection and active-shutter glasses. I then got lucky, transit-wise, on the back end, just making the 137 and able to switch to the Orange Line. I somewhat appropratiely got off that train at the Chinatown stop and was able to slide into the Boston Common theater for How Long Will I Love U. Cute enough, but not so clever as I'd hoped.

I didn't originally order tickets for Sunday's ballgame before the start of the season, but when the Red Sox announced there would be a three-inning "alumni game" before the main one... Sure, I'll spend a little cash on a good seat for that. It was sloppy, but fun, and as a fan, how many chances to you get to see Pedro Martinez, Bill Lee, Oil Can Boyd, Mike Greenwell, Sam Horn, Wade Boggs, and a ton more play in the same game? Not many! That was kind of all the star power we were going to get, though, as the lineup for the main game lacked Betts and Martinez, and this team is not quite so fun without them. On top of that, Chris Sale had the rare bad game, it was chilly and windy, and the Red Sox lost 7-1. At least it didn't last that long, and I was able to make a quick trip up the Green Line to catch On Chesil Beah. Not bad, but I'm kind of glad I didn't spend a festival slot on it, you know?

Ah, well. Time to get started on the "Next Week" post and figure out what's going to be the next entry on my Letterboxd page.


Raazi
Sox beat Braves
Braves beat Sox
On Chesil Beach
Solo: A Star Wars Story
How Long Will I Love U

Solo: A Star Wars Story

For all that this movie has generated what one might oxymoronically call "strong apathy" - the thing where people make an effort to tell you how much they don't care, that they're feeling "Star Wars fatigue", or that doing a project like this makes the franchise irrelevant, etc. - it kind of fascinates me beyond my thinking that it's a fun sci-fi action flick.

For instance, the fact that directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, a team known for surprising and idiosyncratic films, were fired extraordinarily late in filming to be replaced with Ron Howard, who is often dismissed as blandly capable at best, is easy to dismiss as studio suits going for the safe choice rather than dealing with actually creative people. And there may have been some of that going on, but it's also sometimes worth remembering that sometimes you need the steady guy, especially when you're looking at a schedule and feeling a lot of uncertainty. Lord & Miller are, apparently, big into improvisation and "finding it in the edit", and if you're staring down a deadline and also planning to tie this movie in with other things, those must be terrifying words for a producer to hear.

And I suspect that Kathleen Kennedy hasn't had to hear them that much; she's spent much of her career producing Steven Spielberg's movies, and while Spielberg leaves room for his cast and crew to work, he's famous for knowing the movie he wants to make going in, communicating that to everyone involved, and then finishing early and under budget. Combine that with a screenwriter who, having mostly directed his own scripts in recent decades, is used to seeing what he wrote on-screen, and even if Lord & Miller's dailies did feel like what the producers wanted, they'd still be nervous. Going to Howard - who literally grew up on film and television sets and cut his teeth as a director working for Roger Corman - is a pretty smart move.

I don't necessarily think that this dooms Star Wars to being bland, corporate product. First, I wouldn't necessarily classify Solo as such; second, it's worth remembering the early years of Marvel, which were filled with directors like Jon Favreau, Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, and Joss Whedon, who are good at what they do but not exactly visionaries or guys who leave a distinct, obvious stamp on movies. It took a while for Marvel to get to the point where they were comfortable letting James Gunn, Shane Black, Taika Waititi, and Ryan Coogler build something their own within the framework. I suspect that Lucasfilm is just about there, and maybe Solo is their Ant-Man, the experience that teaches when to hold the reins tight and when to cut some slack.

You get past that, though, and the fact that it's very much an Expanded Universe thing that somehow made its way to the big screen. There have been stories about the pre-A New Hope Han before, of course, and what's kind of amazing is that this movie acknowledges them and everything else that Lucasfilm has over the years published in other media to feed the appetite of hungry fans, from Brian Daley's Han Solo novels to Aurra Sing to things in various animated series, even including a fictional form of martial arts only previously mentioned in a well-forgotten video game. It's a fun easter egg hunt for those who kept up on all of that stuff and retained it better than me, and even I smiled kind of stupidly when Lando mentioned that he once won one of the moons of Oseon in a game of sabacc. That's kind of a deep cut, going back over 35 years to a series of novels written by L. Neil Smith.

And while there are some who are going to resent that sort of fanservice - though in most cases, the stuff you don't recognize might as well be "that bounty hunter on Ord Mantell" Han mentions toward the start of The Empire Strikes Back, a bunch of nonsense words that sound good and create the illusion of a bigger universe. I understand the reticence at filling in the blanks like this, but I also think a lot of people are dismissing the joy of doing so a little lightly. To say you don't need to see Han Solo's origin story is to suggest that making Star Wars has some singular purpose of getting through Episode IX, which completes some important metaphor or is otherwise more important than a bunch of adventure stories with spaceships and laser swords.

I'm not entirely unsympathetic; I started gobbling a lot of this tie-in material up with Timothy Zahn's novels twenty-five years ago and was fairly completist until I found myself out of work and realizing that I did not recognize the character on the cover of the latest entry in Del Rey's massive series about invaders from outsider the galaxy. I stepped away then and found other obsessions once I got a new job, and wound up dipping my toe back into the pool mainly when the new material stayed close to the characters I already knew and loved - I ignored a lot of Dark Horse's comics until they started a new series set between Star Wars and Empire, for instance, but I know plenty of other folks who have no interest in those series, preferring spin-offs where the main character isn't part of the movie narrative and can therefore be killed.

There's room enough for both of those bands of fans, and it's why I'm not nearly as worked up about Solo's relatively low box-office as some. Not every new Star Wars movie needs to appeal to everybody who has ever liked one, $100M is still a lot of money, and from what I gather it's well-enough received by those who have seen it that it could wind up with good legs and a long tail on video. Indeed, Disney/Lucasfilm accepting that not every one of these movies is going to be a juggernaut might be the best thing for the series long-term, even if some huge success stories have conditioned us not to recognize steady performance as success.

And is that all? Nope, the very act of watching the movie has pushed something of niche interest - theatrical presentation - to the forefront. I started reading people talking about how Solo is shot dark and it's hard to see some faces during the press screenings, and this did affect where I went to see it on Saturday a bit: I like going to Jordan's Furniture in Reading a fair amount anyway, but knowing that they've got one of the brightest/highest-resolution screens in the area was good to know, especially since I opted for 3D, and they've got great active-shutter glasses there, blocking much less light than the polarized RealD glasses most places use and even the LCD glasses I have at home. Seeing how the lighting worked, I then decided to go to the Icon cinema in the Seaport for a second screening when I had a random day off on Tuesday ($10 for the deluxe screen with their app), since they also had 4K laser projection. It's noticeable that even someone like me who prefers actual film and proper matting but will settle for "good enough" at the theater without a lot of argument most days was being kind of particular.

But good luck trying to explain that to a lot of the movie's audience, though. The amount of light theaters use is not something most people think about, and even if they do, it's easier to place the blame on the filmmakers, because the booth is supposed to be standardized and full of technicians rather than artists, guys concerned with just getting it right. Most won't think about it in that sort of detail, though; they'll just come out, thinking the experience wasn't as good as they thought it should be, and dislike the movie and/or the experience of going to the movies, and carry that forward. And that's no indictment of them; I know a lot of people who are really into eating or drinking well, but I'm not, and I don't really have the ability to break down whether the service, what I ordered, or some ingredient in the particular dish being off will have me deciding that visiting a restaurant again in the future (or eating out in general) is not a priority.

Anyway, I've been telling people to check this out on premium screens, just because it's a better bet, but that's just one of many things about this movie that takes a lot of untangling.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 May 2018 in Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, 4K laser Imax 3D)
Seen 29 May 2018 in Showcase Icon Seaport #6 (first-run, 4K laser Icon-X DCP)

There are degrees of fandom for big properties like Star Wars, and the companies who own these properties have long created enough material to ensure that everyone can get as much as they want, especially when there were relatively long, fallow periods between main events. These tie-in materials are by their nature inessential, and even conditional - they are sometimes contradicted and booted out of canon - but, despite being more clearly created for mercenary purposes and being inconsequential by certain measurements, these secondary additions to the franchise can be quality entertainment. That's the sort of movie Solo is, tie-in material that wound up getting a big-screen budget and doing fairly well with it.

Indeed, Solo embraces the Star Wars fan who wants to take a deeper dive into its worlds in a way that I don't think any franchise like this ever has in the stuff made for the core, mainstream audience. It drops references to the mooted Expanded Universe and even the late-1970s/early-1980s tie-in novels in the same way that the original would mention unseen characters and events to give texture, and it's kind of fun nonsense whether it's nonsense words or sly winks to a given viewer.

In this particular go-around at showing the early years of the saga's smuggler with a heart of gold, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is a scrumrat on Corellia, whose main export appears to be be ships for the Galactic Empire. He's managed to swipe a container of valuable hyperspace fuel so that he and girlfriend Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke) can bribe their way off-planet, though only he makes it. He enlists to learn to fly but winds up in the infantry, eventually deserting to join a pack of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) alongside his girlfriend Val (Thandie Newton), pilot Rio (voice of Jon Favreau), and new friend Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). When a job goes sideways, Beckett and Han must convince Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany), a Crimson Dawn gangster, to give them a chance to make things up. Fortunately, Qi'ra has risen in the organization to become Vos's lieutenant, and not only puts in a good word for Han, but helps them recruit smugglers Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and their ship, the Millennium Falcon.

Full review on EFC

Monday, May 28, 2018

Independent FIlm Festival Boston 2018.33: On Chesil Beach

On the one hand, it's kind of tacky to use the "day 33" gag in the title when I haven't actually finished my regular IFFBoston reviews yet. But it seemed fitting, as something like five out of six previews shown before this movie - the exception being Crazy Rich Asians - were for other movies that had played during the festival. Nancy and her team put together a schedule full of stuff that turned out to be pretty in-demand, and hopefully got folks to notice the less-prominent selections playing alongside them.

On Chesil Beach

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 May 2018 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

There's no missing the point with On Chesil Beach; even before a couple flash-forwards that hammer things home in the most obvious way possible, it's clear what the filmmakers are talking about and where events are headed. It's not really a problem, since it's being played out by a couple of fine young actors and seldom fails to be anything less than beautifully mounted.

It opens in 1962, with young couple Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward (Billy Howle) honeymooning in the title's seaside town. Both just out of university, they're a bit of an unusual pairing - she's a musician from an upper-class family, he's from far more modest circumstances and studied history. They are nevertheless genuinely in love, but consummating the marriage weighs heavily on their minds - though they've kissed and been affectionate, both are virgins, and Florence in particular is tremendously nervous about her first time.

There's some clever foreshadowing of this right in the first scene, as they walk along a rocky beach talking about Chuck Berry, and Florence in particular is only able to dissect it on a technical level. Berry's sweaty, instinctual rock & roll has an energy that Florence has no experience with despite her being less repressed than she initially appears. Director Dominic Cooke and writer Ian McEwan (adapting his own novel) don't underline this particular point home as hard as they do later ones, and instead use it to build an interesting structure: A somewhat formal present-tense that draws on Cooke's time directing theater to build scenes around just Florence and Edward, putting them in a particular space and having them talk, which allows for flashbacks that seem a bit more open and filmic, from the one where they meet because Edward has nobody in his family he can show his pride in his school marks to later moments that work because of compression, nested timelines, and movement.

Full review on EFC

Sunday, May 27, 2018

How Long Will I Love U

Someone should option this for an American remake, but instead of casting white actors, set it in New York City's Chinatown (or, heck, Boston's) as it shrinks and faces encroaching gentrification. I'm not sure exactly how that script works, not the least because it's not the sort of thing an outsider can write, even if it can be written in such a way that's universal enough for an outsider to understand.

Chao shi kong tong ju (How Long Will I Love U)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 May 2018 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

How Long WIll I Love U doesn't exactly waste a fun premise and a likable cast, but it's almost never as inspired in its follow-through as it is when introducing things. The opening act of the movie gives us a nifty main setting and a quick introduction to a potentially fun couple, but the rest of the movie seems dedicated to taking it for granted on the way to a finale where there's a lot of plot but it's also even fuzzier than that of most time travel stories.

The film starts by introducing Shanghai residents Gu Xiao-jiao (Tong Liya) and Lu Meng (Lei Jiayin). She's 31 and having a friend arrange blind dates with wealthy men, apparently ready to marry anyone who will buy her a house; he's 25 and works for a real estate firm which is not interested in his plan to build "lofts" in an area he predicts will by highly developed in a few years. It turns out that they not only live in the same building but the same apartment - him in 1999, her in 2018 - and one night (well, technically two nights, I suppose), some strange phenomenon causes the apartments to merge, giving them each not only an unwanted roommate but the chance to change their futures.

Having both Gu and Lu be in kind of rough financial situations and basically the same sort of neighborhood around them is one of the less interesting ways to use this premise - think of what could be done with gentrification, development, or a part of the city more in flux! - but director Xu Lun has a blast in the early going, from the animated credits to the set that literally smashes everything that has changed in twenty years together. There's a cool secret lab that hints at a fun sci-fi side of all this and effects bits that are clearly meant to steer the characters from the consequential to the amusing. It's not all silliness, but it seems loose and free-wheeling, like Xu is going to have fun with this.

Full review on EFC

Friday, May 25, 2018

Raazi

Been a few months since my last Indian movie (just when the heck is 2.0 coming out, anyway - are they saving it for Diwali?), though not quite so long since I've been to Fresh Pond for a movie, and I was kind of surprised that they've pretty much entirely redone the lobby. The circular concession stand in the middle is gone, as are the video games and one of the staircases heading upstairs, and from the way what used to be the main ticket counter was closed, I suspect there's more work to be done on that side. It's now wide open in the center with self-serve concessions along the left wall, and some computer screens toward the right that I suspect function as ticketing kiosks. I suspect it's much less chaotic on a busy night than the old layout was, and when it's not busy, you can probably run a ten-screen multiplex with just two people.

I don't want to be too nostalgic about the way this theater was a couple of years ago - I've worked in them and sat in crappy seats in them and felt claustrophobic waiting for my show in them despite the building being a big cinder block. In some ways, it doesn't seem to fit - moving to this self-service paradigm in a place that was built for people to wait and work creates an odd conflict between form and function but not one that makes the experience worse. Just different, and maybe adapting to the needs of a younger audience not so used to full service and one with different needs - teaching a ticketing machine to communicate with someone whose primary language is Telugu is probably much easier than teaching a teenager to do so.

It's one more place that doesn't give me the same sort of sense memory as the theaters I went to when I was younger, and I kind of wonder whether there's anything to that.

Raazi

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge/Fresh Pond #5 (first-run, DCP)

Raazi is something of a weird one for people used to Hollywood spy movies, which tend to either be bigger or more morally ambiguous; this opens, at least, with some unequivocal flag-waving, and doesn't spare the talk of duty and straightforward setting of goals early on. For someone with an arm's-length interest in the India-Pakistan conflict, it can play somewhat dry. Of course, espionage is a dry business on the planning side, and writer/director Meghna Gulzar does all right when things get dangerous on the ground.

It's arguably always dangerous on the ground near the Indo-Pakistani border, but in 1971, war is neither far behind nor far off. Pakistani Brigadier Parvez Syed (Shishir Sharma) regularly receives intelligence from Hindu merchant Hidayat Khan (Rajit Kapoor), unaware that Khan is a double agent working for the Indian Intelligence Bureau. Khan knows he is onto something big, but also knows that his cancer will kill him before he can find out what, so he proposes something radical: Arranging a marriage between his daughter Sehmat (Alia Bhatt) and Syed's youngest son Iqbal (Vicky Kaushal). Sehmat is a clumsy university student, but as patriotic as her father, and after a few weeks of training with handler Khalid Mir (Jaideep Ahlawat), she's ready to discover that Iqbal is actually quite sweet and respectful, and the person she has to keep her eye on is Abdul (Arif Zakaria), who has been serving this military family since before the Partition.

Spying can be dull-but-dangerous in real life and it can be even easier to fall victim to cliché on-screen, especially when the filmmakers have a fair amount of running time and limited quantities of ambiguity, as is the case here. So, not only is there a bookend with a stirring speech about honoring the bravery of the nation's spies along with its soldiers on the deck of an aircraft carrier, but a fair amount of time establishing the Khan family's history in that business before Gulzar and company give the audience the inevitable training section of the film, with Jaideep Ahlawat flashing a scarred, stone face to intimidate Sehmat until it's time to see her get better at various things via the training montage. It doesn't help that this section and the wedding are where the songs show up - even Indian movies without lip-syncing and dancing are expected to sell soundtrack albums - and going by the subtitles, they are rote recitations of of what's happening on-screen, although those translations could very well be simplified to give the non-Hindi-speaking audience the gist

Full review on EFC

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 May 2018 - 31 May 2018

A couple years back, when the Brattle played The Force Awakens on a May 4th ("Star Wars Day") that fell during IFFBoston, they told a fan who was upset about the conflict that it wasn't really one, because they celebrate Orthodox Star Wars Day… May 25th.

  • Is the release date lining up with that or the original why Disney didn't bump Solo: A Star Wars Story to Christmas the way they did with the other Star Wars movies? Dunno, but whatever the reason, this weekend we get to see Alden Ehrenreich as young Han Solo, Donald Glover as Lando, and a fun group of actors in a movie started by Phil Lord & Chris Miller and finished by Ron Howard. It's all over the place: The Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (2D/3D Imax), Studio Cinema in Belmont (2D only), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including 2D/3D RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux.
  • Speaking of IFFBoston, one of the biggest hits from that festival, First Reformed, opens up at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common; it's the latest from Paul Schrader, featuring Ethan Hawke as a preacher tormented by his time as a military chaplain who gets sucked into a complicated situation involving the widow of a radical environmentalist. The Coolidge, West Newton, and Kendall Square also open The Seagull, an all-star adaptation of Anton Chekhov's play featuring Saoirse Ronan, Annette Bening, Elizabeth Moss, Corey Stoll, Brian Dennehy, and more.

    The Coolidge wraps their June month of witchcraft-oriented midnights with the recent restoration of Suspiria on Friday night and a 35mm print of The Craft on Saturday.
  • Kendall Square, West Newton, and Boston Common open another high-profile film that played IFFBoston, On Chesil Beach, which features Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle as a young couple in the mid-twentieth century who fall in love, get married, and then are uncertain about adding a sexual dimension to their relationship.

    Kendall Square also pulls out a few stops for their one-week booking of Filmworker, a documentary about Leon Vitali, who went from being an up-and-coming actor to Stanley Kubrick's aide-de-camp for over two decades. Director Tony Zierra and producer Elizabeth Yoffe will be on-hand for a Q&A after the 7:20pm show on Friday, and the theater will have 11am screenings of the various movies Vitali and Kubrick worked on through the long weekend: Full Metal Jacket on Friday, The Shining on Saturday, Barry Lyndon on Sunday, and Eyes Wide Shut on Monday.
  • Apple Fresh Pond still has Mahanathi and Raazi (also still sticking at Fenway), and also opens Parmanu: The Story of Pokhran, a Hindi-language thriller about India's clandestine attempts to test its first atomic bomb without neighbors, rivals, and allies finding out that they are soon to be a nuclear power.

    Fans of Chinese films can catch How Long Will I Love U, a romantic fantasy about two people who live in the same apartment 20 years apart suddenly finding that they each have an unwanted roommate when their timelines merge inside their bedroom. That one's at Boston Common.
  • Harvard University has their reunion the weekend after commencement, so the local cinam (The Brattle Theatre) has their Reunion Week, featuring movies that played multiples of 25 years ago. It starts off with separate screenings of The Piano (25th/35mm) and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (25th/35mm) on Friday evening, with Batman showing again Saturday afternoon. Saturday also has a double feature of Shadow of a Doubt (75th) & The Bride Wore Black (50th/35mm), while Sunday's double feature is Cabin in the Sky (75th/35mm) & Stormy Weather (75th), with the African-American musical theme continuing with a separate late show of CB4 (25th/35mm) that night. Monday opens with a matinee of The Ox-Bow Incident (75th) before a double feature of Tombstone (25th/35mm) & Posse (25th/35mm). It's single features for the next couple days, with a free "Elements of Cinema" screening of The Swimmer (50th) before Kuroneko (50th) on Tuesday, while Day of Wrath (75th) and Menace II Society (25th) play Wednesday. Thursday wraps it with a double feature of Dazed and Confused (25th/35mm) & Wild in the Streets (50th/35mm).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more screenings of In the Intense Now (Friday/Sunday/Wednesday/Thursday) and Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (Sunday), but the bulk of the remaining May schedule is the bck of their Christopher Nolan retrospective, featuring 35mm prints of Inception (Friday), The Dark Knight (Saturday), The Dark Knight Rises (Saturday), "Quay" & Quay Brothers shorts (Sunday), and Interstellar (Thursday).

    There's also a special screening of Paper Lanterns, a documentary about Hiroshima survivor Shigeaki Mori and his quest to add the 12 American POWs who died in the explosion and whose fate was long unknown to the official record. Not only will directors Barry Frechette and Max Exposito be present along with family members of the POWs, but Mori himself will be there in his only visit to America.
  • The Somerville Theatre begins their summer midnight series this weekend with Valley Girl on Friday night and The 'burbs on Saturday, both on 35mm in the big room. Valley Girl has an 80s Costume Contest with prizes from a local vintage store, too.
  • The Regent Theatre has a free screening of Taking Chance on Monday (Memorial Day), with the documentary's subject - Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, who escorted the body of a fellow soldier home - on-hand for a Q&A. They also have two presentations of the Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Festival - a set of new shorts on Wednesday and a greatest-hits show on Thursday.
  • It's not listed on the website, but The ICA will be playing a program of short documentaries from Independent Film Festival Boston as part of their Memorial Day open house on Monday.
  • If you missed Bye Bye Germany in Cambridge, it plays the small screen at CinemaSalem.


I've already got tickets to a couple baseball games and Solo, but I also figure to catch First Reformed, On Chesil Beach, How Long Will I Love U, and hopefully some of the nifty stuff at the Brattle. Don't know if I can make Paper Lanterns work or not.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.02: Crime + Punishment & "Arlington" Shorts

The unpredictability of festivals: Showing up well ahead of time for your first movie of the day, finding out that the documentary work-in-progress event from earlier was still going on so it's probably going to be dicey trying to make your second show two stops up the Red Line. Fortunately, that first show was the one I was most interested in for the night, and it had a nice guest presence too:



Left to right, film critic/host Jason Gorber, director Stephen Maing, private detective Manny Gomez, NYPD Sergeant Edwin Raymond, wrongfully-accused Pedro Hernandez (with little girl), and Pedro's mother Jessica Perez.

Maing and his team made a slick but not over-produced film, and it was interesting to hear him and some of the subjects talk about how they had to pick and choose what went in and where in order to construct a story and make it flow. Pedro's story, for instance, didn't last the entire length of officers' thread, so there was some care taken to not create discontinuities when cutting between them, and had more going on beyond what was shown, with Gomez eager to tell us that the DA was corrupt.

Most impressive, though, was how many of the subjects were, if not optimistic, also not pessimistic. Raymond pointed out that he was still going through a lot of the problems highlighted toward the end of the film, but didn't seem close to beaten, while Ms. Perez pointed out that several others in her family were studying criminal justice and related subjects, not necessarily as a reaction to what happened to Pedro but in part for knowing that the system won't improve until it's got different people in it.

Really hope this one gets a release of some sort beyond Frontline/PBS (which I think it's already ticketed for), the way that Abacus: Small Enough to Jail did.

By the time the Q&A was over, it was pretty likely that I wasn't going to make it to Davis in time for the 9:30pm show of White Tide, which looked like an enjoyably out-there true-crime story. So it was between Madeline's Madeline and a shorts program, and, well, after that Josephine Decker double feature at Fantasia four years ago, it's going to take multiple movies with good reviews to get me to try her stuff again.

Fortunately, the shorts program was basically the genre block and a good one, which I might have gone for anyway.



Only "Dog Out Window" director Bryan Chang (right) made it out for the Q&A, and he got the "please explain the thing that you deliberately left ambiguous" question. Someone in the audience was very certain that the girlfriend threw the dog out the window.

Crime + Punishment

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

At times Crime + Punishment feels like two related documentaries superglued together, as director Stephen Maing tells the stories of a dozen NYPD officers suing the department over an illegal quota system alongside that of a teenager held for a year before trial as a result of such a system. It makes for a somewhat crowded movie, but a compelling one, especially as one half of the story, at least, can have some resolution.

It opens by introducing the audience to Sandy Gonzalez, a uniformed officer in the South Bronx (40th Precinct) who writes relatively few citations and makes fewer arrests than many of his colleagues, though not necessarily because he is any less vigilant or committed. The issue is that even though such quotas have technically been forbidden in New York City for some time, officers are still very much judged on making numbers - tickets are a revenue source for the city, and it is often better to be seen as proactive (even if charges are later dismissed) than ineffective. Gonzalez, on top of contacting Maing, joins a class-action lawsuit filed by other officers who feel that their careers have stalled despite being good cops, with their lawyer employing private investigator Manny Gomez, who is also working the case of Pedro Hernandez, a teenager arrested for a violent crime on in part because the police were intent on making a quick collar.

It's no coincidence that those names are all Latin - nearly all of the plaintiffs in the suit are either Latinx or African-American, with much of the work being done within fraternities for minority officers. Ethnicity is an important factor in this story, although it's the sort where white viewers especially might bristle, seeing the relative lack of overt, slur-using racism and concluding that what these officers are seeing is a matter of class rather than race, if that. Maing seems aware of that impulse and works with it, both allowing his subjects to explain how the outcomes of this policy are effectively targeted and showing enough of the general way people interact with the police to let the audience feel the atmosphere created.

Full review on EFC

"Between the Trees"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston: Shorts Arlington, digital)

"Between the Trees" has a better set-up and feel than it has actual plot, opening with forest ranger Nat finding Harris camped out almost in Maine's "100 Mile Wilderness", in that he's familiar enough with the area and the rules to know that if he chooses to isolate himself just a few yards in that direction, he'd have to report his campsite and maybe have people looking for him. It's a clever hook that sets up the idea that a lot of trouble could be afoot.

As it turns out, those things don't really matter too much; the film jumps back as expected but doesn't have much time to push forward, or even give itself much of an opportunity to do so. On the one hand, that seems like a missed opportunity; on the other, there's no doubt that director Mandy Giampaolo makes what she's got creepy as heck. Harris initially comes off as a sort of familiar worn-down character, youthful but gaunt with stringy hair and an angry but hollow voice, so it's kind of no surprise what direction he goes, but Giampaolo and her star dive into it with delicious abandon, serving up woodland gods and nasty flashbacks in a chaotic but effective manner. It's the sort of frantic horror that often leaves a viewer not sure quite what he or she has just seen , but pretty sure how he or she felt about seeing it.

"Fish Tank"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston: Shorts Arlington, digital)

I suspect that even as stories with gay leads and horror movies both gain a certain amount of mainstream acceptance, queer horror will probably remain a bit of a niche within a niche, with the specific fears on display just a little far outside of most viewers' experience to really resonate. I suspect that there's still something universal on display in this movie about a guy (Tristan McIntyre) arriving for an online hookup already nervous - it's almost certainly going to be his first time with a man - and having every little thing that seems off freak him out a little more. It feeds into his paranoia and the difficulty of separating how his sexuality may not be wrong but maybe this other dude (Marcus DeAnda) is.

There is, as a result, a certain low-budget rawness to the movie that works in its favor: As writer/director Neal Mulani and the cast work on combining bravado and nervousness, cinematographer/editor Emily Hadley keeps the viewer furtively looking into various corners without things getting too twitchy. They create a creeping horror built in large part from what Noah takes in with him, but never able to be dismissed as simply that.

"Dog Out Window"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston: Shorts Arlington, digital)

Often, a good comedy short, even a pitch-black one, is made up of a set-up, a punchline, and just enough between to keep the latter's emergence a surprise, and I'm not sure that "Dog Out Window" really has more than the set-up, where a guy (Alec Silberblatt) dog-sitting for his ex Emma (Emily Daly) has to scramble when the dog bolts while his possibly-sociopathic current girlfriend Fran (Lauren Annunziata) visits. It gets the strong panicked moment at the start, but then really doesn't have anywhere to go before Emma returns, or even, really, after.

Maybe calling it a black comedy isn't quite fair - Fran is the only one who seems to be in that sort of movie, and Annunziata is kind of great at it, slinging dry one-liners with just enough bite to be funny but also the sort of relative lack of affect to get the audience genuinely concerned about her utter amorality. Silberblatt (who also wrote the short) is too panicked a straight man to make the right sort of contrast, but the whole deal where Jonah i's still sort of in love with Emma (despite her since realizing she likes girls) is a bit too sincere and messy to really work as a short.

"Hay algo en la oscuridad" ("Something in the Darkness")

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston: Shorts Arlington, digital)

Fran Casanova is playing with a lot of the basics in "Something in the Darkness", right down to the name that doesn't hint at anything specific but still tells the audience what they're in for. So you get a little girl (Luna Fulgencio) about to go to bed as her mother (Mariam Torres) and father/stepfather (Jonai Rodriguez) head out for the evening, but there's noises, a creepy doll that casts frightening shadows, the whole lot of it. The thing is, he's good at it; he and his crew know just how this sort of thing should be lit and colored, while the editing and the music work hand-in-hand. Everyone in the cast, especially young Luna Fulgencio are able to give a moment just the right hint of emotion and easily-grasped interconnection that the audience can feel "Darkness" as Veronica's story rather than a bunch of spooky standards stitched together.

And, maybe just as important, he's good at misdirecting the audience from it. There's a line at the start that implies that things should be a bit more in control, but Casanova is able to put it out of a viewer's mind as soon as it has served its purpose in not making them say "hey, wait…" at the beginning, calling back at the end. This is the sort of nightmare where something familiar suddenly seems unknown that seems perfectly reasonable as a kid alone in one's own dark house, but a film has to both make the audience at home and keep that familiarity from getting too lodged in their heads. Casanova manages that, so that while it's easy to look at this short days later and think it's nothing that hasn't done before, odds are that there is some genuine tension at the time.

"Hair Wolf"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Independent Film Festival Boston: Shorts Arlington, digital)

White guys like me can wind up feeling weirdly cautious expressing our love of something like "Hair Wolf"; it's not exactly for us, at least primarily, and talking about how we love its sheer exuberance relative to everything else we see should definitely earn us a stern talking to about how neither we nor our outlet reviewed Girls Trip and we only saw this because it was in a package with four other movies that we only saw because we arrived too late at the theater for Plan A. I laughed hard at stuff I usually don't, but it should be clear that I'm behind and shouldn't be patronizing.

I did laugh pretty hard because of this one, though. It plays its gag of the folks at a neighborhood beauty salon changing when a white girl (Madeline Weinstein) comes in to get an "ethnic" hairstyle with jokes that are so broad that the brain starts to reject them as satire until one realizes that there's a sharp point under the broad brush. Writer/director Mariama Diallo isn't mincing words with how white people trying to appropriate black culture has some backfire, but she's also making it a lot of fun, with bold colors, rapid-fire dialogue, and style that happily puts at least one foot well over the line into being a live-action cartoon.

The fun cast is a big help, too, especially Kara Young as Cami, the who initially thinks something weird is going on and sees her friends transforming before her eyes. Diallo and Young do a pretty terrific job of playing this as both wacky comedy and horror movie simultaneously, but not a spoof so much as absurdity that has tension underneath it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 14 May 2018 - 20 May 2018

Didn't realize until this morning that I kind of missed the chance for a Silence/Quiet double feature this weekend. It was just sitting right there

This Week in Tickets

That Red Sox game on Tuesday was... not great. It was raining all afternoon, the sort where you kind of want to hear that they've postponed the game before you get off the subway, but no. Instead, the bus and train wind up not getting to Fenway me until it's 7:30pm (game starts at 7:10), but fortunately the game is delayed to 8:50, so it's kind of cold and rainy until just past midnight, it's 1am before I get home and I'm still wired from the souvenir soda and my sleep schedule winds up messsed up for the rest of the week.

Oh, yeah, and the Sox lose, too.

The MBTA was slow on Friday, too, so when I got back to Davis it's five minutes before the seven o'clock show, and I figured my movie would be in screen 5 and only crap seats left. So I went to Deadpool 2, and then had a little time to do the grocery shopping before The Great Silence at the Brattle, one of my favorite classic film discoveries in a while.

Sunday, I was finally in the mood for A Quiet Place, and it's pretty terrific. I spent a lot of the past six months deeply suspicious of that one because the initial preview which ran before every movie didn't do much for me, and even when it started to get some praise, there were other things those weekends. Glad it wound up hanging around.

Relatively short week, but more coming. Rough drafts on my Letterboxd account..

A Quiet Place

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 20 May 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #11 (first-run, DCP)

Darn, but that is some high-quality monster movie making. Quality creatures, nifty details as needed, and a back half that is put together in near-perfect fashion. The filmmakers do something I particularly like, in that they tend to point toward the horrible but necessary sacrifice - with a wilderness full of monsters ready to pounce upon the slightes sound, the impending birth of a new baby seems like a no-win situation - but go for ingenuity whenever possible (which isn't all the time). They use kids being a bit behind the audience just enough for it to feel real without the kids seeming dumb.

The small cast is great as well. You usually don't get the likes of John Krasinski and Emily Blunt in this sort of movie, even taking into account that they're married and Krasinski directed/co-wrote the thing. After all, guys like Krasinski usually stick with Sundance-y things like Krasinski's previous two films; having them pop up in something like this is a real treat, as they give rock-solid performances with all the confidene of movie starsand no sign that they'reslumming. Plus, Millicent Simmonds is as good as she was in Wonderstruck, and that's a heck of a pair of movies to start your career with.

I'm glad this one lasted long enough in theaters to be there when I was in the mood for it. It's not just good in any environment, but feeling the crowd afraid to make noise (even though there's usually one idiot who doesn't know any reason but laughter) makes it even better.


Indians 5, Red Sox 3
Deadpool 2
The Great Silence
A Quiet Place

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Great Silence

Most important information first: This movie is having its last screenings of its "special engagement" at the Brattle tonight, so if you're reading this on Monday, 21 May 2018, in the Boston area, get yourself to Cambridge tonight. It's worth a look on the big screen, although I'm sure that the Blu-ray coming out next month looks nice.

I maybe shouldn't be taking a break from IFFBoston stuff to post about this, what with the risk of those movies' details falling out the back of my brain, but a couple of things at that festival got me thinking about how and why I keep writing movie reviews rather than using that time on something more creative or even watching all the things that are piling up on the shelf next to the TV (or reading the books and comics serving as good insulation in the bedroom). Eighth Grade pointed out the value of blogs, social media, and the like as diaries and time capsules, while The World Before Your Feet pointed out that progress on the project doesn't have to be particularly timely so long as you're getting something out of it.

And I got something out of The Great Silence. Not necessarily something I didn't already have - I've been drifting in the direction of being anti-gun and pro-social welfare programs for a long time - but for all that you often hear people talk about how spaghetti westerns (and revisionist American ones) were often very political in the time they were made, it often filters into the present as simple cynicism. That has its fans, though I'm not generally one who likes grit for the sake of grit. It clicked here, though - the wealthy man trying to use the law for his own ends; the idea that spending some money on "entitlements" (here, the wagon full of food), even for people who might not technically be entitled, is both more effective and more humane and more effective than ruthless enforcement; the escalating violence from everyone being armed and encouraged to use deadly force to resolve issues; the guy who thinks he's entitled to a woman's attention - all of it seemed crushingly relevant after another week with school shootings and the attendant cries by some to do anything but disarm.

It's tremendously frustrating that a violent, dark western made in 1968 and set in 1898 is so relevant in 2018, and I'm not necessarily good at talking about why 2018 kind of sucks in an effective way (some extended family apparently decided to drop me on social media when I minced no words about how they had done a bad thing with their Trump votes in 2016). Maybe recommending a movie that approaches all these interconnected issues in a direct but still metaphorical manner, or at least talking about why it resonates, is more effective. It at least feels like it might be useful.

Il grande silenzio (The Great Silence)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 19 May 2018 in the Brattle Theatre #1 (special engagement, DCP)

Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence is making the rounds right now, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with a new digital restoration, and despite its age and period setting, it feels especially incisive and contemporary in 2018. Truth be told, it probably never seemed anything else, but it never hurts to rediscover just how incisive this sort of western can be.

As it opens in winter during the 1890s, a group of outlaws are in hiding outside Snow Hill in the Utah territory, prices on all of their heads, although an amnesty is expected from the new governor (Carlo D'Angelo) soon. In the meantime, he's sent a new sheriff (Frank Wolff), and a mute gunslinger known as "Silence" (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is defending them, although Silence is canny enough to never fire a shot not in self-defense. That may not be enough to deal with Loco (Klaus Kinski), who despite his name and vicious streak is canny enough to make sure he's not provoked.

The date of the event which inspired the film is not mentioned until the closing credits roll, but it's not hard to place this movie toward the end of the era; there's an exhaustion to the way that the characters go through some of the motions of Western movies. It's a winter with deep snow rather than a desert of pounding sun, and the assumed lawlessness of the frontier seems to be breathing its last gasp, with the assumption of frontier lawlessness fading as the government at least acts as if it has the power to do something, to the point where even fugitives believe they may get a fair shot. Gunfighters seen as a scourge rather than heroes and legends, with even the title character having a specific sort of cowardice in how he cold-bloodedly arranges for the law to protect him in his assassinations.

Full review on EFC

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Deadpool 2

There are a fair number of Wolverine jokes in Deadpool 2, which is a fair target - since the first Deadpool, Logan got a fair amount of good reviews for transcending its genre and being Very Serious, and I suspect that the folks making the movie want to have a little fun with how Twentieth Century Fox clearly sees Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool as the new center of their X-Men franchise the way Hugh Jackman's Wolverine was, something I mentioned last year when writing up Logan.

Got lucky seeing this one on the big screen at the Somerville - I figured the whole day's worth of shows would be on screen #5 or something because there was a live show in the evening, but the 1pm show, at least, got screen #1, and will probably be camped out there until it's 2001 time.

(Sorry there's not more to say here; I really thought I hadn't written that Wolverine/Deadpool thing before!)

Deadpool 2

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 May 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

It's tough to do Deadpool twice; the first was a well-needed go at taking the piss out of Marvel's ubiquity and how seriously some fans take corporate shared universes, but the second can't help but build up its own continuity even as it spends the credits shredding the very idea. Plus, Marvel has done Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming in the last year, closing a little ground, which means Deadpool 2 has to go farther to try and get the same results - although, isn't that the case with most sequels?

There's enough continuity built up that it actually takes a while to get to the meat of the movie, where mutant assassin Wade "Deadpool" Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) screws up a mission with X-Men Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and winds up tossed in mutant prison "the icebox" with 14-year-old "Firefist" (Julian Dennison). That's bad. Worse is that the kid apparently grows up to be a supervillain who kills the family of time-traveling soldier Nathan "Cable" Summers (Josh Brolin) a few decades from now, requiring Wade to put together an X-Force team to rescue the kid - Bedlam (Terry Crews), Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård), Vanisher (invisible), Domino (Zazie Beetz), and powerless Peter (Rob Delaney).

There's a joke about ten minutes into the movie - the stinger to another self-parodying title sequence - that's the film in a nutshell, in that it plays on how familiar certain bits are for a laugh but is also building the story around them without actually subverting them. It's a narrow line to walk but arguably a necessary one to make a movie that is both a spoof of superhero universes and one that fits inside of one. The whole thing would fall apart as a contradictory mess if everybody involved weren't very good at both the winking at the audience and doing things for real.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 18 May 2018 - 24 May 2018

Three whole weeks since a movie based on a Marvel comic co-starring Josh Brolin came out? Time for another!

  • Not that Avengers: Infinity War is going anywhere, even though Deadpool 2 is going to grab some of the premium screens. Picking up on the promise of the bit after the first's credits, it has Cable coming back in time to prevent his own dark future, with Deadpool, Domino, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, et al getting drawn into the mess. David Leitch of John Wick fame directs, so the action should be terrific. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Jordan's (Imax), the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax), and Revere (including XPlus and MX4D).

    If superheroes aren't your thing, there are alternatives. Book Club has Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen as a group of friends reading 50 Shades of Grey together. That plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. There's also Show Dogs (which I'd seen no posters/trailers/anything for before yesterday), with Will Arnett as a cop accompanying his police dog (voice of Ludacris) undercover at a Las Vegas dog show. That can be found at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Fenway and Revere have the next leg of this year's Studio Ghibli series in Porco Rosso, in English on Sunday and Wednesday and subtitled Japanese on Monday. Fenway also has Godspeed: The Race Across America on Tuesday, a documentary that follows an unlikely pair on a cross-country endurance race. Some places are also showing the royal wedding on Saturday, but we're Americans - we had a revolution to be rid of that. Several places are also advertising "Fan Events" for their early Thursday shows of Solo: A Star Wars Story.
  • Beast arrives at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, West Newton, and Kendall Square just a couple of weeks after playing IFFBoston, and it's got a pretty nifty performance by Jessie Buckley as a young woman on Jersey looking to escape her domineering mother, though there may be danger in her new boyfriend. The Coolidge also has matinees of The Test and the Art of Thinking, a documentary about college entry exams, their biases, and the industry around them. The Sunday screening will be followed by a panel discussion.

    The theme of the midnight shows this weekend is suspicion of Satanism: A 35mm print of The Masque of the Red Death plays Friday night, while recent entry in the genre The Witch plays Saturday. There's a "Stage & Screen" presentation of The Misfits on Monday, with folks from the Huntington Theatre Company talking about screenwriter Arthur Miller, the subject of their new production Fall. There's another discussion after Wednesday's "Wide Lens" screening of She's Beautiful When She's Angry, and then something lighter on Thursday with a 35mm "Cinema Jukebox" show of Jailhouse Rock.
  • Kendall Square has Bye Bye Germany for a week; that offers Moritz Bleibtreu as one of a number of Holocaust survivors trying to earn enough money to emigrate to America after World War II in a dry-looking comedy. They also have Pope Francis: A Man of HIs Word, a documentary by Wim Wenders that follows the pontiff around the globe. That one also plays the Somerville, Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere.
  • The Brattle Theatre gets a head start on reunion weekend with a 50th anniversary booking of the newly-restored spaghetti western The Great Silence, a duel between Jean-Louis Trintignant and Klaus Kinski with a score by Ennio Morricone. That's got the screen to itself from Friday to Monday.

    After that, they play host to the film program of the Boston Calling Festival, curated by Natalie Portman and dedicated to the theme of "The Female Gaze" this year. Tuesday's films are Lolita (35mm), The Holy Girl (35mm), and The Diary of a Teenage Girl; Wednesday's are Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels and Belle de Jour; with I Am Not a Witch and The Exorcist wrapping things on Thursday.
  • Apple Fresh Pond, continues Hindi films 102 Not Out, Mahanathi, and Raazi (also at Fenway) and also screens Malayalam comedy Panchavarnathatha on Saturday & Sunday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues "Math, Mind, and Memory: The Films of Christopher Nolan" with 35mm prints of The Prestige (Friday/Saturday), Memento (Friday/Sunday), Following (Saturday), Interstellar (Sunday), "Quay" (with three Quay Brothers shorts on Wednesday), Inception (Thursday), and Dunkirk. They also have a screening of Van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing on Wednesday evening.
  • The Somerville Theatre is a week away from their summer programming starting in earnest, but The Capitol has a Throwback Thursday screening of Wayne's World on Thursday.
  • The West Newton Cinema and The Lexington Venue open Always at The Carlyle, a documentary about a hotel in New York City beloved by locals and travelers alike. Fitting to see it booked in independent holes in the wall, I guess.
  • The Regent Theatre has a one-off showing of Scream for Me Sarajevo on Thursday, the story of a 1994 heavy-metal concert taking place in the middle of a war zone.
  • CinemaSalem opens The Escape, starring Gemma Arterton as a woman who walks out on her old life to rediscover herself in Paris.


It is tempting to a trip to Salem for that last one, but it is on Amazon. I will catch Deadpool and The Great Silence, and there's plenty of other catch-up to do (both in theaters, on disc, and on the DVR).

Monday, May 14, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.01: Eighth Grade

Aw, yeah, one of the best weeks of the Boston movie year kicking off at the Somerville Theatre.



A bit of a drizzly night, but I wound up timing things pretty well, having just enough time between picking up my badge and them letting people into the theater to have myself a peanut butter, bacon, and banana "King" burger across the street without standing around getting rained on. Always a good sign.

Inside, there were a ton of seats roped off for A24, sponsors, and who knows what, pretty much the whole center of the theater, maybe the most I've ever seen at this fest. I guess writer/director Bo Burnham is local, which might explain some of that.



Meredith Goldstein of the Boston Globe (left) led the Q&A with Burnham and star Elsie Fisher, who are both enthusiastic guests. They talked about how it could be kind of an odd audition process, as Elsie pointed out that you don't often have directors and producers seeing her headshot and grousing that they didn't show the acne she had at the first meeting. Burnham also got the "how much was improvised" question, and he said that it was a much tighter script than most people expect, with only the last scene coming from the kids. They also backfilled a whole bunch of websites so that they could do all of that in-camera, saying that it always looks fake otherwise.

Eighth Grade

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

There has got to be a way of portraying awkwardness and uncertainty aside from dragging it out, and that Eighth Grade doesn't find it is kind of a bummer, because the are only a few scenes in the movie that don't feel like they are five times longer than they need to be. There are some terrific moments in this movie, and maybe one has to be a bit ground down to appreciate them, but it's entirely possible that I wouldn't get to the good parts of this movie in my living room as opposed to in a crowded theater.

The eighth-grader the audience meets is Kayla (Elsie Fisher), who creates videos on YouTube that very few watch and is frustrated that one of them predicts the "Most Quiet" superlative she's awarded during her last week of junior high. Her dad (Josh Hamilton) doesn't seem to get her, her crush (Luke Prael) is more or less unaware she exists, and the class's most popular girl (Catherine Oliviere) only invited her to the spring pool party because her mother told her to. Her class made time capsules at the end of elementary school, and she's frustrated that she hasn't become the cool teenager she was expecting to be.

Writer/director Bo Burnham has opted to make a film about today's middle-schoolers as of when he shot it in 2017, something he as much as admits is a moving target in-film as high-school students just three or four years older than Kayla talk about how things are different for kids her age than they were for them, even if it's just a matter of how long they've had their own phones and which social media platforms they use. The way Burnham engages with characters on their phones and social media is interesting, though, in that he tends to show it as is, with shots that emphasize the small iPhone screens when the audience needs to see what Kayla is texting or which encourage one to pay attention to their reactions rather than having some sort of balloon pop up with the content. It's a move that reinforces how opaque these conversations can be but doesn't make those involved look like drones.

Full review on EFC

Sunday, May 13, 2018

This That Week In Tickets: 19 March 2018 - 25 March 2018

Yep, someone just finished up writing reviews for a film festival that ended a month and a half ago!

This Week in Tickets

Well, that scan gives you an idea of what BUFF week is like - you show up, get in line for a ticket so that they can have an idea of how many people with passes are using them, get into another line to actually be let in, watch the movie, get back in line for a ticket to get in line. But, by the time it's done, you've seen a dozen or so movies in five days.

This year, the line-up looked like this:


Yep, busy weekend.

Anyway, if you don't want to wait a month to catch up on festival weeks, follow my Letterboxd page.


My Name Is Myeisha
Liquid Sky
Pin Cushion.
The Theta Girl.
The Queen of Hollywood Blvd..
Let the Corpses Tan
Top Knot Detective
Comedy? Maybe!
The Ranger
Revenge
Ghost Stories
The Ghost in You
MexMan
Tigers Are Not Afraid
TGood Manners

This Week In Tickets: 7 May 2018 - 13 May 2018

When someone reads these things in chronological order, the weird delayed nature of my post-IFFBoston break from movies is going to look a bit odd.

This Week in Tickets

But, hey, the Yankees and Red Sox were playing, which means there was highly-stressful television to watch mid-week. Much of the rest of the weekend got pushed back by circumstance, starting with the 350 bus just not arriving to take me back from work until it was too late to catch Racer and the Jailbird on Friday night, so that didn't get seen until Saturday afternoon. It's not bad, but not up to the standards of Bullhead.

Neat that Landmark's accepting MoviePass now, to the point where you can apparently get a ticket without a check-in. That closer relationship means Landmark is always at the top of the list in the app, even when there are a half-dozen places closer.

Then, on Sunday, the plan was Steamboat Bill, Jr., the first film of this year's "Silents, Please" series. It remains perfect.

The plan after that was to catch something over at Assembly Row, but the bus tracking data on Google Maps was wrong and I wasn't going to make it. Bummer.

I suppose I could watch something tonight, but there's enough TV to pull off my DVR tonight that it seems unlikely. In the meantime, there's IFFBoston stuff to write up, though much of it has a first draft on my Letterboxd account..

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

* * * * (out of four)
Seen on 13 May 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm w/ accompaniment)

Like I said before, Steamboat Bill, Jr. remains perfect, a thoroughly delightful combination of romance, slapstick comedy, and grand, incredible action. It was, as projectionist David Kornfeld and accompanist Jeff Rapsis pointed out before the film, Buston Keaton's last independent film before signing a contract with MGM, and an example of him at the height of his powers.

On the second or third time through, it becomes especialy clear that the randomness of the town of River Junction being destroyed is kind of weird. Looking at the first time I saw it, thirteen-plus years ago, back when WGBH was showing public-domain movies late at night, it looks like there was some mention of a tornado, but not in this one, so there's just this forecast of rain that evolves into a town-destroying super-storm like that's just something that happens in the midwest all the time.

Not that the oddness of this hurts the movie in any way; it's big and fun and pulls the audience along into some of the most memorable movie scenes ever put on celluloid.

Original review from seeing this in 2004


Racer and the Jailbird
Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Racer and the Jailbird

That construction in front of the Kendall Square theater is just never going to be done, is it? I feel like I've been going there via the parking garage for a full year now.

I was mildly surprised while writing up the "Next Week" entry on Thursday night to see that this was the new one from the director of Bullhead; that seemed like it was a big enough deal when it came out to be something that would get this more attention, although maybe that was just my perspective: It came out of nowhere at Fantasia, got picked up by Drafthouse Films at a point where a lot of the online film community was paying attention to them and boosting anything connected to the Drafthouse empire without a whole lot of question, getting nominated for Best Foreign Language Film when a lot of the conventional wisdom was that Belgium would submit the latest from the Dardenne Brothers. It's easy for a director to fade from consciousness, though, when it takes a few years to get a movie made and there was a Hollywood movie that didn't set the world on fire in-between.

Which is a bummer; even if Racer isn't the movie Bullhead is, it's interesting, and worth an evening or afternoon now that the Kenmore and other Landmark theaters are on board with MoviePass. It's interesting to see how director Michael Roksam and star Matthias Schoenaerts are playing with images of masculinity - Jacky was a steroid-fueled beast who was effectively gelded by what he became in their first movie, while Gigi seems more virile and attractive for how he is decent and occasionally afraid here. At the very least, it's worth seeing what they come up with the next time they work together.

Le Fidèle (Racer and the Jailbird)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 May 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

Director Michaël R. Roskam and actor Matthias Schoenaerts made a heck of an impression with Bullhead, enough that the pair returning to Belgium after making the pretty-good The Drop in America is at least worthy of some attention. Racer and the Jailbird is not the gritty-but-exciting seventies throwback that its English-language title might suggest; French title "Le Fidèle" is closer to what Roskam and his collaborators are going for. Either way, it's not quite the movie it could have been, though the cast makes it worth a look.

The jailbird is Gino "Gigi" Vanoirbeek (Schoenaerts), who made his best friends in juvie and is still robbing banks with them decades later. Bénédicte "Bibi" Delhany (Adèle Exarchopoulos) works for the family's construction business, but her true passion is auto racing. They meet at one of Bibi's races, Gigi claiming to be in automobile imports, and hit it off right away. They soon go close enough that Gigi is starting to think in terms of getting out after the next job, but those always have something go disastrously wrong.

They don't go disastrously wrong in a way that involves Bibi having to drive the getaway car, which would be a bit disappointing even if "drives a car well" wasn't the first thing the audience learned about Bibi. Roskam and co-writers Thomas Bidegain & Noé Debré build what would be a nifty straight crime movie if that was the angle they were going, in that even though the two main jobs in the movie are kind of brute force attacks without much prep-work shown, there's still a thrill to watching them, even with some of the more important events happening off-screen. Roksam stages this material well enough so that the audience doesn't have doubts when Gigi says that what he does is exciting and that he's good at it, even if that's not really the thrust of the movie.

Full review on EFC