Monday, June 18, 2018

Race 3

I kind of guessed that Race 3 wouldn't be very good, but I expected it to be a little more fun than it was. Instead, it felt like it was going through the motions most of the time, content to splash a good-looking cast across the screen but just have them play generic crime-movie types who morph into other generic crime-movie types when some secret is revealed. I do wonder if I did this to myself, though, by going to the least-expensive 3D show I could find, which meant I wound up in there alone. I don't know if an audience would have pointed me at things in this movie that were actually good but which I'd missed, but I think I might have discovered a little more fun.

One thing I can recommend is the 3D work, which is actually pretty impressive for a conversion. I've got a sneaking suspicion that all the Indian names you see in the 3D conversation credits of other movies saving their best work for the home team.

Race 3

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2018 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

If one's filmgoing tastes stretch far enough for Indian action-adventure and Race 3 is playing at the local multiplex - and it's more likely than usual; the big Eid release is getting more screens than Bollywood films typically get in the U.S., including some in 3D - the number in the title should not deter you; it's not connected to the two previous movies and even the returning actors are playing different characters. No, give it a pass because it's not very good, a prime example of how a movie can have a little bit of everything and not enough of anything.

It revolves around Shamsher Singh (Anil Kapoor), a weapons manufacturer chased out of the Indian town of Handia to the island of Al Safia twenty-five years ago. His family serves as his inner circle and most ferocious enforcers: Stepson Sikander (Salman Khan), who has recently spent time in Beijing; daughter Sanjana (Daisy Shah), a martial-arts expert; her twin brother Suraj (Saqib Saleem), a fast-car-loving hothead; and Sikander's bodyguard Yash (Bobby Deol), practically part of the family. The favoritism Shamsher shows Sikander has the twins plotting against their step-brother, who has recently met the charming Jessica Gomes (Jacqueline Fernandez) on a trip to Beijing. And while Rana Singha (Freddy Daruwala) is their fiercest competitor, Shamsher has his eye on a hard drive full of blackmail material in a Cambodian bank vault that could give him the leverage he needs to return home.

There's a good action/adventure movie or two to be found in there, but Race 3 has as bad a case of Bollywood bloat as I've ever seen. It's the sort of movie that tells you Sanjana knows three kinds of martial arts and that her brother loves driving fast cars in an efficient briefing at the start and then doesn't have them get into a fight or a chase for the two whole hours. In the meantime, the record labels which pay for these movies need to get their numbers on the soundtrack, even though that means little really happens before intermission - the musical numbers are either stalling scenes of them hanging around nightclubs but not actually advancing things, or very familiar romance montages. Given how the opening of the film is a major bit of tell-don't-show, it's a lot of running in place despite a couple early action scenes.

Full review on EFC

Friday, June 15, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 June 2018 - 21 June 2018

Hey, new Pixar this weekend. That's usually a pretty good thing to build one's moviegoing around.

  • That new Pixar is a long-in-the-making sequel, Incredibles 2, and it's pretty darn good - hits the expected notes, but does so pretty darn well, and it's a reminder that Michael Giacchino's score for the first is one of the best things he's done, too. Worth checking out in 3D, even if it's not always the flashiest use of the format; it's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond, West Newton (2D only), the Belmont Studio (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row, Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    For the grownups, there's Tag, about a group of friends including Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, and Jeremy Renner who have been playing the same game of tag for more or less their entire lives. It's also got the tremendously under-used Isla Fisher, and incredible CGI arms on Renner, who apparently broke his arms during the filming and apparently recasting was just out of the question. That's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. Several places also opened Superfly on Wednesday, with the remake of the blaxploitation classic playing Fresh Pond, Assembly Row, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere. Boston Common and Revere also have Gotti, which features John Travolta as the infamous mob boss.

    The June Studio Ghibli movie is Isao Takahata's Pom Poko, playing Sunday, Monday (subtitled), and Wednesday at Fenway and Revere. Many places will also have a double feature of Jurassic World and its new sequel on Thursday.
  • IFFBoston selection Hearts Beat Loud plays Kendall Square, West Newton, and Boston Common; it features Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons as a father-daughter pair who start playing music together in the summer before she heads off to med school. The Kendall also gets Nancy, starring Amanda Riseborough as a woman who attempts to convince a couple that she is the daughter who disappeared thirty years ago. That's the thing on the one-week calendar; there is also a one-night booking of McKellen: Playing the Part, which looks like it's mostly documentary but has a number of people credited for what looks like plentiful recreations of Sir Ian McKellen's early life and roles.
  • Race 3 is the big Bollywood opening this week, with the latest entry in the popular action-crime series featuring a mostly new cast, and even returnees Anil Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez seeming to play different roles if IMDB can be believed. It's in 2D at Apple Fresh Pond, 3D at Boston Common, and a mix of the two at Fenway. Fenway also has Veere Di Wedding continuing, while Fresh Pond is down to Tamil screenings of Kaala, and also has Telugu romance Sammohanam. They also have a couple shows per day of American indie The Year of Spectacular Men, written by and starring Madelyn Deutch as a young woman making a mess out of her life just out of college, also notable for being co-star Lea Thompson's first feature as director (though she's apparently been doing a fair amount of TV). Chinese movie How Long Will I Love U is still going at Boston Common.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre starts their 70mm run of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey this weekend, meaning two of the small handful of prints made for this release are kicking around the Boston area, with Tuesday's show introduced by Wade Roush of the "Soon(ish)" podcast. In a loose tie-in, they will also have Filmworker, the documentary about Kubrick's long-time aide-de-camp, playing matinees in the GoldScreen room.

    The midnight martial-arts month continues with a weekend of video-game adaptations: Street Fighter on Friday (which isn't much but has one hilarious moment from Jean-Claude Van Damme), and Mortal Kombat in 35mm on Wednesday; they're presented by Hadley barcade "The Quarters", who lent the theater an MKII cabinet for the weekend. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Once Upon a Time in the West, there's a special "Wide Lens" screening of Moonlight with post-screening discussion, and a "Cinema Jukebox" show of Gimme Shelter on Thursday.
  • The West Newton Cinema is where you'll have to go to catch A Kid Like Jake, featuring Claire Danes and Jim Parsons as parents discovering that their four-year-old son may be transgender.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a David Lynch Weekend, with Blue Velvet Friday, a 35mm double-feature of Mulholland Drive & Lost Highway on Saturday, and a twin bill of Eraserhead & Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me on Sunday. IFFBoston has a preview of Searching on Monday, it's Trash Night on Tuesday, and there's a special event on Wednesday: In the Bedroom on 35mm with director Todd Field and the original novelist's grandson Andre Dubus III in person.
  • The Somerville Theatre extends their 70mm run of 2001: A Space Odyssey for a third week, although there is no show on Friday because of a live event. Their midnights this week are Joe Dante's Matinee on Friday and Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights on Saturday, both on 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has an Arab Film Weekend from Friday to Sunday, with Beauty and the Dogs (Friday/Saturday), Solitaire (Friday/Saturday), Sheikh Jackson (Friday/Sunday), 17 (Saturday/Sunday), and Until the Birds Return (Saturday/Sunday). On Wednesday, they kick off the Roxbury International Film Festival with an outdoor screening of Black Panther, followed by animated film Liyana on Thursday, both with live entertainment before the shows.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more Luchino Visconti, with Rocco and His Brothers on 35mm Friday (a later screening will be a restored DCP, so pick your poison), Senso on Saturday (also 35mm), and Obsession on Sunday..
  • The Regent Theatre has sing-along screenings of Jesus Christ Superstar on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with stars Ted Neeley, Bob Bingham, and Kurt Yaghjian there in person, judging the costume contest; they'll also take the show on the road to Worcester on Tuesday.
  • The outdoor movie schedule for the summer is starting to fill in, with Joe's Free Films showing When Harry Met Sally (at the Boston Harbor Hotel)
  • and The Incredibles (at Tufts) on Friday, Back to the Future (at Remnant Brewery) and Rear Window (Coolidge at the Greenway) on Tuesday, along with MFA/RIFF show of Black Panther on Tuesday.

Having already caught Incredibles 2, I'll probably go for Ocean's 8, Tag, Matinee in the coming days. Maybe Race 3 and Year of Spectacular Men.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 4 June 2018 - 10 June 2018

"Yep, quiet summer this year. No need to really get all worked up about falling behind, let's just see what's coming this weekend OH MY GOD."

This Week in Tickets

Well, at least I proved to myself that I could do those five-film days, get something quick into Letterboxd and maybe onto eFilmCritic, before hitting Fantasia next month, but, whoa, that's a busy weekend.

It kicked off with some baseball, the second of three games in my 10-ticket package to collide with a movie thing, and this time the game won. On the one hand, it was my second game pitched by Chris Sale in a row; on the other, it was my second in a row where Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez did not play. That is a recipe for a pretty low-scoring affair, and in this case, a 1-0 loss. Went quick, though, and it was a beautiful night.

Going to that meant I missed the first double feature of Noir City: Boston, but I'd seen the "A" portion of it before, so it wasn't so bad. The event as a whole was a lot of fun, in large part because it was not unambiguous classics, but some that were kind of ridiculous or mediocre.

Two double-features a day should be enough, but I made up for missing the first night by catching an extra crime film each morning. Believer was okay, although not nearly as good as Drug War, the Johnnie To film being remade; Hotel Artemis is a neat setting with a great cast that never really gets its story going.

Another summer weekend coming up, first impressions will be on my Letterboxd account.

White Sox 1, Red Sox 0
Hotel Artemis
Noir City: Boston - Murder, My Sweet / Strangers in the Night
Noir City: Boston - The Killers / So Dark the Night
Noir City: Boston - Force of Evil / The Guilty
Noir City: Boston - Try and Get Me! / Shakedown

Noir City: Boston - Murder, My Sweet, Strangers in the Night, The Killers, So Dark the Night, Force of Evil, The Guilty, Try and Get Me!, and Shakedown

I've been flirting with the idea of going to the main "Noir City" festival in San Francisco for a few years, even before I got to experience the Castro at the silent film festival, and maybe I'll do it some year - it sure looks like it would be nicer weather than Boston that week. I kept putting that off, though, and that seemed okay when they made the announcement late last year that it would be coming for me, settling in for a weekend at the Brattle Theatre, which seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

Unfortunately for me, it ran into my Red Sox 10-game package, so I missed Friday night, which I was kind of okay with - I've seen The Glass Key a few times - but still left me plenty of noir to see, with two double features per weekend day. The double-feature format was one of the neat things about this particular series, in that they were pairing "A" and "B" movies and doing it as single-admission double features, with Ned mentioning that the idea was rare enough that they occasionally get calls at the Brattle asking if you have to watch both ("yes, at the beginning of the first movie, seat belts automatically fasten and don't let you out until after the second").

Ned wasn't the main host, though, as the FIlm Noir Foundation's "Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller was there to introduce each one. I'm afraid I'm not familiar with him because my cable package doesn't include Turner Classic Movies (Comcast bundles it with five college sports channels I will never watch, and I've got good rep theaters nearby), so I never see his "Noir Alley" presentations. He's got a lot of fun anecdotes, although I'm kind of a "get to the movie" guy, myself.

He did deliver one bit of information that I felt like I should have known, that being what these movies were called at the time. "Film noir" didn't enter the lexicon until a decade or so later, when French critics and filmmakers started examining them and incorporating their influence directly. American studios called these films "murder dramas" and "crime thrillers", the former tending to feature amateurs and being marketed to women, the latter about career criminals and marketed to men. The Killers, he noted, was successful and seminal because it functioned as both.

Me, I'm now just looking for a reason to use "murder drama" in its proper context.

Murder, My Sweet

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

This is the less celebrated of the two Philip Marlowe movies released in 1944, and for good reason, but it's still a good piece of crime cinema with an enjoyably likable Dick Powell as Marlowe and a lot of good bits around him. I was pretty darn enthusiastic the last time I saw it (at the HFA's "Five O'Clock Shadow" program in 2015) and not quite so enamored this time around, but it's still pretty terrific.

At times, it's a little too ambitious in trying to replicate Chandler's prose or create a filmic equivalent, but that's better to try than homogenize it. Still, for my money, this movie is all about poor Moose, a hulking brute who I suspect wasn't quite the fool Marlowe meets before he became a crook (I'm retroactively saying he's got CTE) and is now a sad, lovelorn loose cannon after doing his time. He's the tragic result of Chandler's predilection for ending chapters by knocking someone unconscious, and you have to hope that any woman Marlowe meets will be the one who helps him escape that fate.

Full review on EFC, from 2015

Strangers in the Night

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

This thing is utterly bonkers, an amateurish-seeming B movie that would likely collapse even further if it ran more than its 56 minutes, but it's a (sometimes literal!) trainwreck you can't look away from. The plot is daffy but kind of compelling, and it's got a bunch of people both in front of and behind the camera doing their level best even when the star is wooden and the story sloppy.

And it is a complete mess, taking bits from other, better stories and cobbling them together into something with a soldier (William Terry) who meets a nice lady doctor (Virginia Grey) on his way to meet the girl he corresponded with during the war, only to find she's not around but her mother (Helene Thimig) practically worships at the girl's portrait like it's an altar. What's going on is obvious enough that characters seem like they have to be really oblivious to miss it, there are a lot of things that don't even play natural by Gothic standards, but there are some surprisingly good bits buried inside the accelerated, often abrupt story, and the filmmakers fully embrace how nutty thing are by the end, which is the only way to go.

And make no mistake, that finale is something. It goes from a scene that deserves heckling to laying out just how silly its events are without shame. There's a moment during the finale explanation when the filmmakers cut to a genuinely hilarious "uh... what?" blank look on the characters' faces, just before a delightfully over-the-top coup de grace. It sends you out amused, if nothing else.

The Killers

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

An all-time classic noir, described in the introduction as the intersection between "murder dramas" and "crime thrillers", and as such featuring something for everyone, even before considering how downright genteel criminals apparently were then - no worries about being seen or eliminating witnesses. It's awful clever in how it sneaks the love story you don't expect in under the one you do.

This time around, I'm really stuck by what the filmmakers did with shadows. They're deep and eye-catching toward the start, quietly receding as the investigation yields greater clarity. The use of flashbacks is more clever than I remembered, too, using narration to keep the big heist less suspenseful because it turns out to be less important than everything else, but even in that sequence never failing to draw the audience in.

What I thought when I saw it in 2012

So Dark the Night

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Well, at least that didn't turn out to be the solid hour and a half of franglais I was initially fearing, even if it often seemed headed in that campy direction early on, with the filmmakers occasionally seeming unsure whether the accents and production design was enough. So there's that.

Instead, it seemed like someone trying to do Hitchcock without his incredible talent - director Joseph H. Lewis and his collaborators have just enough ambition to set up some memorable shots and they make the same blunt attempts to craft a monster out of deviant psychology, but the characterization and storytelling panache that disguises how little is actually happening as the filmmakers try to make things simmer just isn't present. It's like the people making the movie gets so excited by the possibility of its twist ending that they can't help but blurt it out early.

Force of Evil

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Sometimes a dry story about how the numbers racket worked, sometimes a flick that has more genuine style and personality than 90% of its competition. I ultimately liked its potential more than the thing itself. I some way, that's to be expected because this seems to be far more a passion project than most noirs, with the director not just credited with the script, but co-writing it with the writer whose research inspired the story. It a world of competent programmers, this is the work of someone with something to say and a strong desire to make an impression.

I'm also kind of impressed with just how thoroughly and flagrantly predatory its antihero was to the sweet love interest, though. I'm not sure whether it was meant to be a further illustration of how John Garfield's Joe Morse is an amoral man in a scuzzy business or if it was 1948 and this was supposed to come across as flirtatious, but it worked as the former 70 years on.

The Guilty

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Efficient bit of film noir that could probably get more use out of having its two female leads be twins, especially since the main femme never seems quite so fatale as she's meant to be; this could have been a really terrific double performance for Bonita Granville, although having the focus be so solidly on "bad girl" Estelle may give her the chance to make her a bit more nuanced than a movie where the contrast between the twins is the focus. It makes me a bit curious to see what Cornell Woolrich's original story ("He Looked LIke Murder") was like - did it spend as much unnecessary time on whodunit material that isn't really important, or less? The film never seems to find what it means to focus on.

It's a bit hindered in other ways - the budget and necessary restraint where violence is concerned makes the audience take more on faith than they should, and some of the acting is kind of rough. There are enough good performances and run-down ambiance (the introduction focused on how miserable Woolrich's world could be) for an ambitious B, though.

Try and Get Me! (aka The Sound of Fury)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Try and Get Me! is more than a trifle heavy-handed (to put it mildly), especially once a thoughtful professor starts putting the moral lesson of the film into so many words. Director Cy Endfield and writer Jo Pagano (adapting his own novel) are foregrounding social concerns that will probably always be relevant, and even when Jiminy Cricket in the form of an Italian physicist (Renzo Cesana) who knows reporter Gil Stanton (Richard Carlson) from the war isn't talking about the need for the press to show restraint, they're making progressive points. It's why the movie sometimes seems to struggle a bit; the stories of Stanton and factory worker turned getaway driver Howard Tyler (Frank Lovejoy) are linked, but neither seems like much as they're advancing individually

Still, it's tough to deny the effectiveness of the final riot that comes when the two collide; it's a big scene with a bunch of extras that feels like it belongs in a Technicolor epic rather than a a B&W crime movie, although it's not entirely unexpected, given how well the early crime hits are executed. Much of the cast is businesslike, but Lloyd Bridges is kind of a hoot as the reckless crook who pulls Howard into a life of crime. The most wonderfully black-comic moment belongs to Adele Jergens as the Bridges character's girlfriend, dressed to the nines and enjoying the camera when the press starts to cover the arrest and trial.

It inevitably winds up three or four movies stitched together, but does do most of them well.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Noir City: Boston, 35mm)

Pure pulp, this film is, introducing an unscrupulous lead and then not choosing to complicate him at all. Photographer Jack Early (Howard Duff) is a bastard from the start, but a talented enough one to make the audience buy his rise and identity with his ambition, and the filmmakers find just the right way of building him from maybe being inexperienced and desperate to enjoyably ruthless to downright villainous. Duff's not quite charismatic enough in the role to become a great anti-hero, but he's good enough, especially as the filmmakers show every female head turning, one of the more overt uses of male sex appeal in the genre - how often is the good-looking guy a woman's potential downfall?

The film doubles down on that, diving into the muck with the same sort of recklessness as its protagonist, making the danger of it a bit of fun. There's a lot of fun had with the gangsters, who are in their way more honest than the photographer who sees a way to extort them, but not so much that a viewer can't enjoy Early getting one over on them. It's not quite so much fun to watch him try and do the same with the two women who catch his eye. Both Peggy Dow and Anne Vernon are sexy as heck and their characters more so for being witty, capable, and not entirely ready to fall for Jack.

It ends just as abruptly and madly as it started, with double-crosses, violence, and a capper that is only wonderfully nuts than the one in Strangers in the Night because there's a scene where the characters acknowledge the irony rather than a quick "The End". It's just ridiculous enough at that point to be unambiguously fun pulp, but a little excess winking doesn't hurt it too much.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.04: Tre Maison Dasan, The New Fire, Never Goin' Back, and Don't Leave Home

Ah, Saturday at IFFBoston, the longest day. It used to be you could squeeze five movies out of the festival this day - they would know who the truly hardcore were by who raised their hand for 18 movies at the last show and who had managed 19, but not this year

First up: Tre Maison Dasan, who did not line up in title order:

Left to right, that is Maison, director Denali Tiller, Dasan, Dasan's scene-stealing cousin Alivia, Tre (who goes by T.J. now), and Dasan's mother Jacqueline.

They are all pretty great, happy to talk about how weird it was to have Tiller shooting this movie and self-aware enough to realize that they all used the word weird. They were up-front about how you can't make this sort of movie without having an effect on what you're shooting, but that's okay; nobody feels bad about helping at-risk kids out a little. Of course, you could tell that there was some negotiating going on from the number of scenes where T.J. has a bag from McDonald's as the filmmakers knew what would get him in a good enough mood to open up.

The best part was just seeing that T.J. and Jacqueline were doing okay. T.J. went through a lot over the course of the time he was being filmed and wasn't starting out in the best place, so seeing him upbeat was great. Jacqueline was released from jail early on, and was pushing the Kickstarter for a children's book she had written to help other kids in her son's position.

Then, to the Brattle!

I think that's WBUR's Bruce Gellerman, The New Fire director David Schumacher, Caroline Cochrane of Oklo, and pro-nuclear activist Armond Cohen. Yeah, that's right. I am amazed that I got that out of notes scribbled on the back of a CVS receipt that has been transferred from pocket to pocket for a month.

I wonder if enough good science docs get made in a year to make for a festival during some off month at the Brattle or Somerville (October, perhaps); they get a good turnout at IFFBoston but seldom seem to be great movies. It kind of pains me to say that, because they're some of the ones I look forward to the most, and I should really be more in the tank for the nuclear power movie than I wound up being. If nothing else, they make for some of the more unusual Q&As, because there is always a few people in the audience whose expertise is way beyond what the movie actually gets into, and they are going to try and hijack the discussion in specific, detailed ways.

After that, it was back to Somerville for Never Goin' Back, and as much as I enjoyed it, I kind of sighed when I saw the A24 logo in front. They do good stuff, but an indication that a movie has already got distribution with no Q&A afterward is a missed opportunity to see something that might not play in a theater otherwise. Then again, I might have just gone for Support the Girls instead, and that's also got distribution. So who knows?

Finally, I went downstairs for Never Leave Home, a decision that was 60% "this film starts and ends before everything else playing after 9pm", and I still found myself drifting in and out, missing enough that I couldn't even pretend to write something about it. Filmmaker Michael Tully did videoconference in for a post-show Q&A (apparently some other film festival got him in person even though IFFBoston has played all his films and he says he loves us), talking about how he liked bouncing around genres, with Irish folklore horror one he wanted to do. Like a lot of people who play in that genre, he raved about his location scouts, saying they were planning to go to a lot of different places for different scenes, but instead found what they needed in one place… Which of course was haunted.

Tre Maison Dasan

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2018 in the Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Tre Maison Dasan will often be described as a documentary about growing up with at least one parent incarcerated, but it's not quite that: It's about being a kid whose mother or father is in jail, and that's something different. These three boys have too little control over their situations to overcome much, so the audience is placed in a position of mainly watching and trying to understand without much judgment. It's a tricky sort of documentary - the filmmakers can't really want the drama that creates a traditional storyline - but one that often proves engrossing and illuminating.

The title names the three kids in the general area of Providence, Rhode Island, from youngest to oldest: Tre Janson is thirteen and already starting to find trouble; he and his father compare ankle monitors when Tre visits him in prison, and that father often seems like the most stable one in the family, considering how erratic Tre's mother Kerri can be. Maison Teixeira is eleven and on the autistic spectrum, living with his grandmother so he can both be close to close to his father and attend a special-needs school while his mother is out in California. Six-year-old Dasan Lopes is probably the most fortunate - not only has he been taken in by extended family, with a cousin who is like a sister to him, but his mother Stephanie is just about to be released as the film starts, and is determined to make things work..

These three are an interesting group of kids and you can see why producer/director Denali TIller chose them; they've got big personalities and distinct situations. One of the more interesting choices she makes is that none of the parents are in jail for smoking weed or something else that would make this a film about all the ways in which the American justice system is prone to excessive incarceration. That's a worthy topic, but there's something fascinating by the situations shown here, as all three parents try to take ownership of their past misdeeds. Watching them do so does sometimes implicitly raise the question of what the system should do, but it's the way they handle it that's most powerful, from how Maison's father seems to be trying to keep his son from to thinking too highly of him to how Dasan seems unable to process that his loving mother could have done something so awful

Full review on EFC

The New Fire

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

This documentary about the future of nuclear power - one which, it argues, should not be "disappearing as soon as possible" - feels like it's either being made much too early or as a high-level pitch for investors. It has a very optimistic attitude, which is welcome enough, but relatively less in the way of numbers. Not a bad introduction, but maybe it's too simple for the choir that it will inevitably be preaching to.

It makes its initial argument in impressively clear fashion: That while renewable energy sources like wind and solar power have been making great strides in both volume and price per kilowatt-hour, they are far from being able to cover the "baseload" - a predictable, constant supply of electricity not dependant on weather or other variable factors - that the United States and the rest of the world rely upon and which is generally supplied by burning hydrocarbons such as coal and natural gas. Director David Schumacher is fairly quick in terms of outlining why continuing along with that is not a great idea (if you're part of the audience for this film, you are probably at least somewhat familiar with how humanity is driving climate change), but relatively thorough in talking about the size of the hole that needs to be filled.

The film is also fairly competent in talking about the upgraded forms of fission power that could displace coal, oil, and the like, coming at them via start-ups aiming to implement them in the near future: Transatomic, founded by Leslie Dewan & Mark Massie, aims to create safer large reactors cooled by molten salt rather than water; husband-and-wife team Caroline Cochrane & Jacob DeWitte are behind Oklo, which envisions small sealed reactors powering "microgrids". Both groups find themselves bumping up against regulatory agencies that, beyond being properly cautious, are designed to be navigated by large, established players.

Full review on EFC

Never Goin' Back

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2018 in the Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

An enjoyably crude comedy about two people whose simple-if-ill-advised plan for a weekend at the beach is detailed by a bunch of disasters both of their own and others' making, Never Goin' Back is a bit of a standout right now because they don't necessarily make a lot of these movies about teenage girls. And while it's noteworthy for being unusual now, it will probably age well because it's genuinely funny throughout.

The girls are Jessie (Camila Morrone) and Angela (Maia Mitchell), high-school dropouts sharing an apartment in Fort Worth with Jessie's older brother Dustin (Joel Allen) and his friend Brandon (Kyle Mooney). Jessie's seventeenth birthday is next week, and Angela's just announced they'll take a trip to Galveston to celebrate. The thing is, she's paid with their rent money, which is not necessarily a problem, since they've got double shifts at the diner all week. That doesn't necessarily take into account Dustin's plan to make some money selling drugs with his new buddy Tony (Kendal Smith), which could easily go south because, even when this group isn't high, none of them are really that bright.

Dumb folks are usually the sidekicks or supporting characters in a movie because it is not easy to move a story forward in a satisfying way based upon a bunch of decisions that don't exactly make sense. Writer/director Augustine Frizzell gives Jessie & Angela goals that at least seem reasonable on a certain level, even if they're almost certainly doomed, and there's a certain mild delusion that the audience can sympathize with - that even if what they're doing is unlikely to work, what they want, whether it be a couple days off or just a toilet Jessie isn't afraid to sit on, is not unreasonable, and you can kind of get behind the world being fair.

Full review on EFC

Don't Leave Home

Seen 28 April 2018 in the Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

The last show of a long day, and I'm not going to lie: Even at the time, I didn't feel like I retained enough to put an entry into Letterboxd, and that was a month and a half ago. I was wiped out, so I can't give this one a truly fair assessment.

Still, if it pops up in a good slot at Fantasia or makes it to a local theater, I'll certainly consider giving it another shot. It kind of hit me as a sort of generic Irish-folklore horror story with a nifty concept - various pieces of art consuming people, repeated as one work inspires another - and a terrifically creepy set of locations, from the inside of a manor that seems uncomfortably large as the home of a clergyman (even if he is also an artist who presumably comes from money) to a gazebo setting that absolutely feels like it could swallow a person up. Writer/director Michael Tully and his crew make piece feel otherworldly even when they're not materially different than the area around them.

To the extent that horror operates on feel, this movie generally hits its target. To the extent that a movie needs to rely on one event leading to another, it seemed a lot fuzzier. The great horror movies find ways to make that work, with the irrationality overwhelming the characters and the audience (or the heroine finding a way to overcome her fear and cut her way through to a goal); this one had me stuck in between, and not in a good way.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Hotel Artemis

Another day, another opportunity for saying that I'm making up for missing the first night of Noir City: Boston by having an extra bit of crime in the morning, although this one wound up being a tighter fit (shorter run-time, but started later and had more trailers attached). Not quite as good, either, although I'm not going to lie - neither is necessarily a huge improvement over sleeping in a couple extra hours, although neither is something I wanted to miss.

I do find my appetite starting to get good and whetted for the Fantasia International Film Festival. I mention in the start and end of the EFC review that both it and last week's Upgrade feel like something that might play Fantasia (or Fantastic Fest, if that's your frame of reference) feel like genre-festival movies: They've got heightened, detailed settings, but with enough blood and a low-enough budget that they don't feel like the sort of things that hit the multiplexes in the Marvel Age of Movies. They'd be a bit of a big deal at a festival, given how our eyebrows tend to lift a bit when we see names like Ethan Hawke and Antonio Banderas in the program (and holy crap there was a movie with Mel Gibson in it a year or two ago!), and something with Jodie Foster would seem nuts. For better or worse, these both seem like movies that play those festivals but don't hit the mainstream, and I'm not exactly sure what it means that these two got the release they did.

Hotel Artemis

* * (out of four)
Seen 10 June 2018 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, DCP)

How in the heck does this thing wind up playing a whole bunch of mainstream theaters in summer 2018? It feels like the natural home for this sort of idiosyncratic weird-corner-of-a-larger-unseen-universe flick is a genre film festival (where we're all wondering how a film starring Jodie Foster landed there) or a 1990s video store shelf. Even more than Upgrade last week, it's a weird grindhouse oddity pushed wide like something with broad appeal, although it doesn't even deliver on its weird promise as much as that one.

The year is 2028, Los Angeles is rioting because the private company that controls the water supply is turning off the tap, and that's either the best or worst time to rob a bank. Unfortunately for Sherman (Sterling K. Brown), his brother Lev (Brian Tyree Henry), and their accomplice Buke (Kenneth Choi), it means a lot of extra armed cops on the street, but they've got a plan for when the bullets find them: Chips in their wrists give them access to Hotel Artemis, whose first dozen floors may be abandoned, but the penthouse floor has been converted into five highly automated medical bays for criminals overseen by The Nurse (Jodie Foster), a hard-drinking, agoraphobic physician who has lost her license, and her hulking orderly Everest (Dave Bautista). This crew is assigned to the Honolulu and Waikiki suites, with Acapulco occupied by an obnoxious arms dealer (Charlie Day) and Nice by an international assassin (Sofia Boutella). That leaves one for The Wolf King of Los Angeles (Jeff Goldblum), who's about an hour away. Except there's a cop (Jenny Slate) wounded outside the entrance, and while that's obviously against club rules, The Nurse knows her from before.

That sounds like a great ticking time bomb of a setup, but that turns out not to be the case. Writer/director Drew Pearce has nested an interesting setup inside a believable near-future dystopia, but the story is absurdly slow to develop. The movie's first half is characters acknowledging each other as different degrees of mysterious and cool, but all they do is to complain that they can't watch TV, and let's be frank: If the people in the movie think what is going on in the background is much more interesting than their situation, why shouldn't the audience? It seems to be trying to live in the world of John Wick without establishing anyone other than Foster's Nurse as being as worth one's attention as John Wick, so that when a maybe half-decent action finale happens, we're not really invested.

Full review on EFC

Saturday, June 09, 2018


I missed the first night of Noir CIty: Boston last night (baseball!), so I'm joking that I made up for it with a little extra crime this morning. It unfortunately isn't quite so great in either direction as the first proper double feature of the day (the fine Murder, My Sweet and the bonkers Strangers in the Night), but it was pretty decent and drew a not-bad crowd for a morning matinee on a beautiful weekend. Hopefully enough of one that AMC will step up the Korean releases in the future, as they've generally been more willing to skip a Korean movie that crosses the Pacific than a Chinese one.

I do have to kind of laugh at the end of this one, though, especially considering how I've treated the epilogue of the film it's based upon, Johnnie To's Drug War, as something of a regular punchline:


It's a rule in Mainland Chinese crime films that Crime Does Not Pay, so anybody who commits those crime must face punishment at the end, and Drug War ends with Louis Koo literally being brought into the execution chamber to die by lethal injection, screaming that he knows more and they can make a deal while the one cop who survived the final shootout watches in righteous judgment. It's not entirely tacked-on - the man's fear of the death penalty is what motivated him for much of the movie - but it's a rapid return to law-and-order after an entire movie of fast-moving, improvised chaos. It feels like the sort of script note the Chinese Censor Board would give, and also the sort of exaggerated compliance that mocks it.

This one has the equivalent character escape, only to be tracked down in Norway by the detective. They meet, sit down to talk, and then a drone camera zooms out from the snowy compound, the only noise one gunshot. It's the exact opposite, but in its own way kind of ridiculous, one last bit of gratuitous ambiguity as the cherry on top of a movie that tried to be about people not being what they seem but didn't have anything new to say about it. It feels like imitating a clever thing, especially director Lee Hae-young hasn't really done much to convince us that the cop is anything but focused and the crook anything but ruthless.


So, I may joke about how didactic Drug War is, but I also respect it a bit more - To knows what he's making and delivers the best damn genre movie he can, with interesting commentary and characterization to be dug up on close examination, while Lee seemingly tries to elevate the crime story but doesn't come up with something nearly as clever or thrilling.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2018 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

A fair number of people, this guy included, spent a fair amount of time and words a few years back talking about how Johnnie To's Drug War was different from (and, arguably, less than) his Hong Kong crime movies because of the involvement of the Chinese censor board; watching Believer, the new South Korean remake, suggests that maybe it deserved a little more credit for being a heck of a crime movie. This new version has a lot of the same beats and handles some well enough, but Lee Hae-yeong is no match for To.

The story opens with an obsessed cop, Jo Won-ho (Cho Jin-woong), recruiting Cha Soo-jung (Keum Sae-rok), a teenage junkie who has helped him before, to help chase down a lead on the mysterious drug lord known only as "Mister Lee". What she finds doesn't seem to match with anything, but they are soon gifted something much more solid: Oh Yeon-ok (Kim Sung-ryung) arrives late for a meeting of Lee's lieutenants and thus escapes one of his regular purges-by-bomb. Also surviving is Seo Yeong-rak (Ryu Jun-yeol), who lived in that greenhouse turned meth lab, and he presents another opportunity, as he was not expected to be there and thus it would not be unusual for the frequent go-between to keep his appointment to escort Park Sun-chang (Park Hae-joon) to a meeting with Chinese supplier Jin Ha-rim (Kim Joo-hyuk) - and by having "Rak" tell Park that the meeting was delayed, Won-ho can impersonate both parties in turn.

As with the original, that sequence is the centerpiece of this movie, and it's arguably the reason you officially remake Drug War rather than just use the generic bones of it to create something similar: Lots of gang movies feature a cop trying to infiltrate the mob this way, but the immediate turnaround where the filmmakers present the same scene a second time, just with the roles recast, is an audacious move, a test of both Lee Hae-yeong's skill as a director and Cho Jin-woong's as an actor. As the cops execute the mechanics of a heist movie in the background, Lee finds ways to make the seemingly easier second time through more tense than the first, while Cho does impressive work showing us the driven cop trying to portray two different monsters. Explicitly showing your cast acting is a dangerous game; expecting them to do show that fake persona on top of the "real" thing twice in a row without stumbling is pushing it.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 8 June 2018 - 14 June 2018

Next week is nuts - a big-ish thing, some festival favorites, smaller genre material, and a ton of stuff on actual film. It is going to be difficult to not spend every day in the theater.

  • The Noir CIty festival in San Francisco has spawned a number of satellite events over the past few years, the the first Noir City: Boston takes place at The Brattle Theatre this weekend. It's all 35mm and all true double features, with no separate admission, with one well-known flick up first and a rarity occupying the "B" portion, and introductions by Eddie Muller of TCM and the Noir Foundation. The pairings are The Glass Key & Street of Chance on Friday night, Murder, My Sweet & Strangers in the NIght Saturday afternoon, The Killers & So Dark the Night that evening, Force of Evil & The Guilty Sunday afternoon, and a final pairing of Try and Get Me! (aka "The Sound of Fury") & Shakedown on Sunday night.

    The days after that were initially a hole in the schedule, but it's been filled in with a secret members' screening on Monday (a 1980s neo-noir in 35mm), and then How to Talk to Girls at Parties on Tuesday and Wednesday (couldn't have told me about that before hauling myself out to Brookline at midnight, guys?). There's also a "Twin Peaks Social" event on Thursday to lead into their upcoming David Lynch Weekend.
  • Let's start the new releases with IFFBoston closing night film Won't You Be My Neighbor?, a sweet, smart film about beloved children's television personality Fred Rogers, and how he really was the guy you remember from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common, expected to expand in the weeks ahead. There will be crying.

    There will, apparently, be other reactions to Hereditary, the buzziest genre movie of the spring festival season. People seem to be genuinely freaked out by this film starring Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne as a family maybe not mourning a recent loss but wondering if they'll be able to escape her malign influence, supernatural or otherwise. It's at the Coolidge, the Somerville, the Kendall, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    The Coolidge also continues their martial-arts midnights, with The Raid on Friday and Jean-Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport on Saturday, both in 35mm. Geothe-Institut presents When Paul Came Over the Sea on Sunday morning; the documentary covers the story of a migrant who has a grueling path from Cameroon to Germany, with the director unable to remain detached from his story. Monday has the local premiere of Universal's new restoration of The Man Who Laughs, including a live performance of the score they commissioned from the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra. There's also Open Screen on Tuesday.
  • Another IFFBoston selection, American Animals, opens up at Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Fenway. It's a heist movie about four young men trying to steal a rare book, apparently self-referential but not jokey.

    The Kendall also has a one-week booking of Summer 1993, filmmaker Carla Simón's look back at adjusting to life in the country rather than the city when she was orphaned and taken in by relatives as a young child. And, finally, there's a one-night presentation of To A More Perfect Union: United States v. Windsor, a documentary on the pivotal case that was a turning point in the battle for marriage equality (also at Fenway).
  • More theaters have a more conventional, star-studded heist movie, with Ocean's 8 featuring Sandra Bullock & Cate Blanchett assembling a team to rob the Met Gala and maybe get some payback. It's also got Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Rhianna, Awkwafina, and Helena Bonham-Carter. That's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax), Revere, and the SuperLux.

    There's also the genuinely peculiar-looking Hotel Artemis, with Jodie Foster running a hospital for criminals as riots overtake L.A. in the near future. Fun cast including Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, and Jeff Goldblum, written and directed by Drew Pearce (who's been behind the scenes on some fun Marvel stuff). It can be found at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row. Boston Common also opens blaxploitation remake Superfly on Wednesday.

    There's a double-feature of Jumanji & Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle on Sunday & Monday at Fenway and Revere, with the pair also featuring an anniversary presentation of Brian De Palma's Scarface on Sunday and Wednesday. The movie edit of Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks plays Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Monday to promote the upcoming Blu-ray of Tom Baker's first year on the show (though I'm not sure whether that was shot on film or if this is upconverted from video).
  • Hindi-language film Veere Di Wedding continues at Apple Fresh Pond and Fenway, while Kaala continues to play in Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi (Tamil is the original language). They also give half a screen to Zoo, an Irish family film about a group of kids trying to save a baby elephant as Belfast was being bombed during World War II (although, bizarrely, the information on the theater's website is for a zombie apocalypse comedy by LFO's Antonio Tublen - someone's going to be disappointed).

    How Long Will I Love U has a third week at Boston Common, which is a pretty nice run for it. They also get Believer, Lee Hae-yeong's remake of Drug War starring Cho Jin-woong and Run Jun-yeol
  • The Somerville Theatre continues their run of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and will even extend it for a third week. It bumps their monthly "Silents, Please!" screening of the original 1927 Chicago to a second screen, meaning Jeff Rapsis will be accompanying a DCP rather than the usual film. The Midnight Specials are both 35mm, though, with Comicazi handing out door prizes to people coming to see Excalibur on Friday and a special pre-show for The Apple in the Museum of Bad Art on Saturday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their runs of Bill Gunn's Harlem documentary Personal Problems(Friday/Wednesday/Thursday) and Filmworker (Saturday/Sunday/Thursday).

    In between, there's an "MFA Pride" screening of Call Me By Your Name on Friday, as well as a presentation of Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes, Feeling Heart on Saturday, in association with the Roxbury International & Boston Women's Film Festivals, and followed by a Q&A with director Tracy Heather Strain. Anime Boston presents Mary and the Witch's Flower on Sunday afternoon. As a tie-in with Personal Problems, the director's classic Ganja & Hess plays Wednesday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues Luchino Visconti, Architect of Neorealism with a second show of The Leopard (Friday 7pm) and screenings of The Innocent at 7pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Well, I'll be living at the Brattle for the weekend, trying to fit Believer and Hotel Artemis in there, with Ocean's 8 and Hereditary sometime during the week.

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.08: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Jumping ahead to closing night of the festival because I am slow and distracted and the release of this particular movie has caught up with me, and based upon the larger-than-usual number of likes friends and family gave when I posted the quick version on Letterboxd the night I saw it, there are some people out there who would probably like the heads-up that they can actually go to a theater and see it now.

And, go do that. Brian Tamm, one of the festival's directors, pointed out that they tend to program a lot of movies about bad people, or where decency is rewarded by being put through the wringer, and it can be kind of exhausting for them and even for the people attending the festival after eight days. We're probably not close to summer movie burnout yet, but it probably woo't be a bad thing to slow down and watch something like this in a week or two.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 May 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

All many people will want and need from Won't You Be My Neighbor? is to be assured that Fred Rogers really was the guy he seemed to be, and to maybe revisit his television house and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to recapture the feeling of love and understanding and utter lack of irony that they could find for a half hour every day during their youth. Filmmaker Morgan Neville does that and does so with earnest sentimentality but not saccharine nostalgia. So, good job there.

What elevates the film is its clarity. Much as his subject did, Neville will show how Fred Rogers did something, say conducting an interview, and point out specific things he did (in that case, tending to get very close to a person and wait for them to elaborate) that enabled him to connect with children in ways many adults don't consider. Without making his film a tutorial on how to produce good content for children, Neville pushes back a bit on any assumption that because Fred Rogers was so singular, and his words often so simple, he must somehow be a creature of instinct rather than someone who considered things carefully.

The filmmakers aren't afraid to show that, as he aged, Rogers would sometimes find himself feeling inflexible the way the rest of us do, though he was also able to grow. There's a touch of disgust in his voice as he talks about certain modern things in the interview footage from later in his life, especially when contrasted to his determined but optimistic testimony before Congress about the need to safeguard public television in 1968, for instance, an understandable reaction to the time Neville spends comparing Rogers's show to the mercenary slapstick most other producers make for children. There's much more ambiguity to how he spends enough time for significance on a couple of sequences thirty years apart, where Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons (played by Fran├žois Clemmons) cool their feet in a wading pool - pointedly connecting to how the first segment was about accepting neighbors of different ethnicities in the first case, leaving a little bit of room in the second even though the film includes it close to material on Rogers more unreservedly accepting Clemmons's orientation.

Full review on EFC

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 28 May 2018 - 3 June 2018

The spread below is clearly the work of an aging dork whose favorite baseball team is doing just well enough to keep him home watching the game rather than going outto see a movie I may be on the fence about.

(There may have been rain, too)

This Week in Tickets

After a pretty busy weekend, I recoveredon the actual holiday and was lucky enough to have Tuesday off too - we kicked off a bunchh of processes at work that we didn't figure would finish until then (mine crapping out midway through). Gave me a chance to see Solo: A Star Wars Story a second time, this time in 2D at the Seaport's premium theater, and that's a good call. It's a pretty good movie, but it's also one where a chance to see it a second time, on its own terms rather than with the baggage you bring in, certainly doesn't hurt. Also not hurting - both screenings were 4K laser, which helps this movie particularly.

It was a quiet rest of the week because a new Star Wars movie sucks the air out of the multiplexes a bit, but I was looking forward to Upgrade. Not one I reallly loved, but it does a few things very well, and the folks who like their bloody 1980s sci-fi/horror should dig it.

Then at midnight, I hit the second and final show of How to Talk to Girls at Parties, which was also kind of neat but ended too late for me to catch the 66 bus halfway home afterward, and I walked much too far trying to find a cab rather than just calling one. Left me pretty wiped on Sunday, and shaking my fist at the sky a little bit when the Brattle announced they would have it at non-midnight hours a week and a half later.

With the big movie out of the way, there's a ton next weekend. Rough drafts on my Letterboxd account, as usual..


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 2 June 2018 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, DCP)

The direct descendant of all those 1980s movies that had a ton of cyberpunk ideas and a matching tendency toward blood and guts, Upgrade at least never seems stuck in that particular past; it's the 2018 version with a little extra snark and a lot more ease in telling this sort of story to a wider audience. It's mean and nasty and only acknowledges that its violence might mess the characters up briefly, slickly and skillfully made by guys who maybe like the splatter a little too much. Not quite my thing

That said, they're good at it, sometimes seeming to use CGI in the background not just because it's less expensive for some things or more efficient for constructing an extremely detailed world, but to emphasize how tactile other parts are. Writer/director Leigh Whannell and his crew are pretty good at staging the Jackie Chan-type stuff that naturally comes from a man out for revenge having a computer that knows everything operating his body, and star Logan Marshall Green gives a great physical performance in all of his movements, even if he (and the rest of the cast, to be honest) are kind of bland as characters.

It doesn't necessarily fizzle at the end, in that the finale is more or less the culmination of everything that has come before, but it's also kind of unsatisfying. Whannell gives it the end that a certain type of sci-fi fan often asks for, but it's unsatisfying, not just because one's instinct is to root for a certain thing, but because everything leading to it winds up feeling like something retroacttively included to justify a gotcha moment as opposed to something that came out of the moment.

Solo: A Star Wars Story
How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Monday, June 04, 2018

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Three midnight movies I wanted to catch this weekend, two slots, and I was kind of zonked by eleven on Friday, so I missed Die Hard at the Somerville or this one on its first night at the Coolidge. Which meant, when I went to see it on Saturday, I got a double-take from Nancy when she saw I was seeing this rather than Big Trouble in Little China. Which, I'll admit, is more my usual speed, but sometimes you go for the thing that is only going to be on the big screen for a couple of nights versus the thing that does play somewhere or another every few years.

Not necessarily the greatest decision, although I'm glad to have seen How to Talk to Girls. I may want to dig out the copy of the graphic novel Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon did based on the same story, though, just to see how different they are - I suspect the comic was less music-oriented, though maybe the story was. Of course, not being a big Neil Gaiman fan, I suspect I was one of relatively few buying it as a "Moon/Ba" book rather than a Gaiman one.

It was, unfortunately, juuuust long enough to keep me from catching the last 66 bus, and I suspect I should have walked the other direction to find a taxi stand, because I wound up walking through Allston, past the house I lived in a couple years ago, and into Harvard Square, which took about forty-five minutes. Probably could have made it home on foot in another half hour, but ten bucks to not do that sounded pretty good at that point. The cab driver initially thought I had seen something called "How to Attack Girls After Parties", and must have thought me a monster for being into something like that.

That got me home at 3am, and useless for all of Sunday. I've got to be honest, I might be getting a little too old for this. Not sure how I'll keep up a Fantasia schedule next month, although I'll certainly try.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2/3 June 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run/after midnite, DCP)

Neil Gaiman's gift as a writer is that he can merge the fantastic with a sense of human isolation and, if the audience is receptive to that idea, make a person feel connected to the travails of a lonely god; director John Cameron Mitchell has shown a similar ability to connect with people at the margins. Mitchell adapting a Gaiman story sounds like it should be perfect, but How to Talk to Girls at Parties often comes across as having their talents a bit out of sync. Not enough to backfire, but the film only comes fully to life in its strangest moments.

There's a moment toward the end when Mitchell and company seem to show that, as local punk icon Queen Boadicea (Nicole Kidman) hears someone start to talk about wanting to buck the system and say something with music and makes it clear that she's heard this story a lot. It's not a bad story, but there's a certain irony to how, in the 40 years since this film's 1977 setting, punk as rebellion has been digested and normalized, with earnest Henry "Enn" (Alex Sharp), nerdy-and-probably-more-new-wave-than-punk John (Ethan Lawrence), and pugnacious Vic (A.J. Lewis) needing a lot more than their taste in music and decent performances to stand out. It's very familiar material, whether you like the scene or see movies like this as being about the one person in it who is not completely obnoxious.

That's why the three taking a wrong turn and ending up at something very different from the after-party they had intended to visit winds up being so much fun - these guys having absolutely no idea how to react to an abandoned house full of (mostly) young people in bright, color-coded outfits, doing bizarre dances to atonal music, and apparently having a completely different cultural frame of reference puts the punks on their back foot. It's tremendously funny - Mitchell throws trippy visuals, physical comedy, and a bunch of what sounds like utter nonsense delivered with complete conviction at the audience in a way that's just rapid-fire enough to ensure they laugh at every particular bit - but a huge part of the gag is seeing the rebels painted as the conventional ones. Yes, Enn winds up befriending Zan (Elle Fanning), who is feeling the need for her own sort of rebellion, but that most obviously leads to a bunch of jokes about how Enn, Vic, and John just think Zan and her housemates are Americans, as opposed to extraterrestrial bacteria colonies that have agglomerated into the forms of human beings.

Full review on EFC

Friday, June 01, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.03: Leave No Trace & Rodents of Unusual Size

I don't try to build theme nights at a festival, but when they appear naturally, as this "memorable pockets of rural America" double feature did, they're kind of fun.

First up was Leave No Trace at the Brattle, with producer Linda Reisman, writer/director Debra Granik, and WBUR's Erin Trahan moderating. Granik has been someone friends and I have been known to use as a frustrated example when talking about how opportunities for men and women are not exactly fairly distributed - this comes eight years after Winter's Bone, which launched Jennifer Lawrence's career and saw Granik nominated for an Oscar, and you can sure find a lot of examples of men getting a chance at bigger productions without having anything that successful. She didn't talk much about that - what's to say, really, that anybody in the audience for this film doesn't already know? - and maybe she's not particularly interested in making that sort of movie. She does this type so well, after all.

She and Reisman talked a lot about how they put this one together, praising the location scout in particular for finding them a lot of great spots to shoot. There were also some entertaining stories about how Thomasin McKenzie was fantastic but working with a young actor from New Zealand on this sort of film could be kind of challenging - you have to audition from the other side of the planet, and having her call to talk about her research and practice her American accent. They also mentioned that the screenplay wound up having a few major changes from the original novel (My Abandonment by Peter Rock). It's an interesting set of seemingly opposite impulses, casting a wide net to find McKenzie and clearly having a strong structure, but also building around the locations and pulling a lot of people they met there into the cast.

It was a good Q&A, and went on just long enough that I was seated at the Somerville just as Rodents of Unusual Size was starting and thus wound up in the front row staring straight up at those projected way bigger than life.

Quinn Costello, one of the film's three directors, came to talk about his film, with Jackie from the festival handling the host duties. Costello served as the film's editor and talked about how, once they'd hatched the idea of the film, he and the other two directors sort of tag-teamed while they were on the ground, as they were not necessarily all there at the same time.

It was a fun movie which sometimes led to fun questions, including whether they had eaten any nutria (whether from first or second hand experience, he gave the impression that it was not better than steak like some of their subjects claimed). Asked about the title, he said that the filmmakers weren't looking to go for the Princess Bride reference - it's not used in the film at all - but that pretty much every zoologist or other scientist they talked to went to the that unbidden, so they might as well use it so long as MGM wouldn't charge them an arm and a leg.

Leave No Trace

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

It's been far too long since Debra Granik's previous feature, Winter's Bone, although it's important not to ignore Stray Dog, the documentary she made a few years ago, which followed a group of veteran bikers, as likely being a major influence on this long-awaited follow-up. Its details echo in this very different story, although not so blatantly that what she and her cast do here ever feels like mere transcription - it's a terrific little film that makes one hope the industry will give her what she needs to make its like more often.

This one opens in a state park in the Pacific Northwest, where widower Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter of about fourteen, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), are camped out and have been for some time. Both are intelligent and resourceful, and occasionally go into town to convert the benefits and medication Will gets at the VA into resources, and regularly drill concealing their camp so that they will not be discovered. It can't last forever, of course, but when they are found, the social workers make great effort to minimize the difficulty adjusting - a fellow veteran (Jeff Kober) not only offers Will a job, but a guest house where he and Tom can live without being overwhelmed. It may still be too much for him.

The time Granik spent with the bikers of Stray Dog likely gives her a better-than-average handle on the details of Will's PTSD, especially in terms of what helps and how much; people who have seen the previous movie will have two smiles on their face when a few small dogs show up as the film goes on. She and co-writer Anne Rosellini leave enough details laying around that a general picture can emerge but avoid moments where one person ever tells another what happened or what to do. Will's state of mind isn't going to be patched by reverse-engineering the origins of his trauma, and there's not some solution that applies to those afflicted generally. Granik builds a story that highlights how internal Will's guilt, shame, and fear is while still finding ways to keep things somewhat active.

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Rodents of Unusual Size

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

I went on vacation to New Orleans just a couple months before seeing this movie, and while I would not have made other plans if that sequencing was reversed, just seeing its poster or even an image or two of nutrias might have given me pause, especially when I got to the part about how members of this 20-pound species can make their way up sewer pipes and into toilets. But that's also a big part of the appeal of this documentary: Discovering that there are peculiar and fascinating things not far out of plain sight.

In this case, that's the nutria, a rodent with a rat-like tail on one end and orange tusks on the other, imported from Argentina around a hundred years ago to be raised for their pelts. They got loose during a flood and spread throughout the bayou, trapped by Cajuns until the 1980s, when the bottom fell out of the fur market. No longer hunted by humans and not having any natural predators (they breed faster than alligators can eat them, especially in the winter), their population exploded, and as invasive species tend to do, they had a devastating effect not just on the local wildlife but on the very bayou itself, to the point where the state of Louisiana has offered a bounty of five dollars for every nutria tail brought in.

That paragraph could serve as the entry on nutria in a textbook that has a lot of material to cover and it's fair to wonder how one gets an entire film out of it, but Rodents of Unusual Size becomes a nifty little documentary because it's about something that initially seems small and singular but which actually touches upon much larger things. Filmmakers Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler, and Jeff Springer started from a simple starting point - these unusual animals and the people who trap them - but they are quickly able to expand the subjects covered to the idea of invasive species and how human and environmental systems interact. It is, aside from being a fine primer on its own topic, also just a good introduction to understanding just how far-reaching consequences can be.

Full review on EFC