Friday, June 29, 2018

Uncle Drew

I should really make more of an attempt to follow basketball next season. I don't necessarily feel something is missing after the Red Sox play their last game, but I do have fewer conversations with some people because I sort of stop paying attention to sports beyond "the Celtics and Bruins are doing well, this makes my co-workers and neighbors happy, and that is good" (and, I mean, I'm not going to follow football; that's just absurd). The Celtic do seem like a fun team that kept rolling when they had no business continuing in this year's playoffs.

What this means is that you can probably add another quarter- or half-star to the rating if your knowledge of present-day basketball and its players means you get jokes beyond "Shaq can't hit free throws" which I didn't. I had a good time with it anyway, though - certainly a better time than I would have had with Soldado.

Uncle Drew

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 June 2018 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

Uncle Drew at the high end of how good you can reasonably expect a movie produced by a soft drink company and starring a bunch of non-actors under several layers of prosthetic makeup to be, and that's assuming you don't dismiss movies with their origins in advertising right out of hand. That's mostly because there's a genuine love of basketball on display, and that can sometimes do more for a movie than a few more jokes or a particularly inventive script.

And make no mistake, a lot of this movie can be clunky. It opens with a mock-documentary bit about its title character, a legendary Harlem street-ball player from decades ago, but then spends a fair chunk of time with Dax (Lil Rel Howery), a sneaker-store employee who has scraped together the entry fee for Rucker Playground tournament and built a team around one star player (Aaron Gordon), only to have his old grade-school nemesis Mookie (Nick Kroll) steal his players and girlfriend Jess (Tiffany Haddish) kick him out. The guys at the barbershop tell him to recruit Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving), and he does so reluctantly, after seeing the septuagenarian school a bunch of youngsters. Drew insists on putting his old team back together, all as old as him and even less inspiring: Preacher (Chris Webber), whose wife Betty Lou (Lisa Leslie) doesn't want them leaving their church even for the weekend; Lights (Nate Robinson), who is legally blind; Boots (Nate Robinson), who hasn't walked or talked for years, although granddaughter Maya (Erica Ash) thinks the trip could do him some good; and Big Fella (Shaquille O'Neal), who now teaches kids karate and hasn't talked to Drew for fifty years.

Folks who follow basketball more closely than I do will probably catch more specific jokes - I got the bits about Shaq's character not making free throws, but that became a thing even non-fans knew - but it's not like the basic gag of guys who have aged a bit doesn't work on its own. One important surprise is that Kyrie Irving's Drew is kind of the least funny character of the group, whether because the rest of the team had to be more specific than "old guy really good at basketball" or because his true talents lie on the court. Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, and Lisa Leslie all get to play up big, silly bits while Nate Robinson does a surprisingly good job of communicating the body language of a guy who has allowed age to implode him. And Shaquille O'Neal is Shaquille O'Neal, a giant whose charisma exceeds his talent as an actor by enough that he can can carry more of the story than one might think. I really liked this group by the time the last game was over; they're clearly having fun.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 29 June 2018 - 5 July 2018

This week includes the Fourth, but you don't really seem to see a lot of movies released on that date. Kind of a day-of-week thing, but there's not even that much being released ahead of the holiday this weekend.

  • On the other hand, Kendall Square does have two things that played IFFBoston and which are kind of a big deal. Leave No Trace, aside from being terrific, is the first non-documentary from director Debra Granik since Winter's Bone, and it's not right that we've had to take so long. It's a pretty terrific tale of a veteran and his daughter who have been living on parkland and have trouble adapting to regular society when they're discovered. Producer Linda Reisman will be at the 7pm show on Friday.

    Damsel is the one advertised with a one-week booking; it's an oddball western from the Zellner Brothers with great performances by Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowski. Kind of rough in spots, but enough good parts to be worth one's time. It also plays out in West Newton.
  • At the mainstream multiplexes, the big opening is Sicario: Day of the Soldado, a sequel to the great, intense Sicario, although without Emily Blunt, I worry that it might be missing the moral confusion from which the first derived its power. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Much lighter fare is available in the form of Uncle Drew, which I gather is based upon a series of Pepsi commercials but is kind of charming anyway. And, hey, it stars Kyrie Irving of the Celtics, so it's got local appeal! That's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere - bummer the place by the Garden isn't open yet.

    The First Purge opens Wednesday at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere; Boston Common, Assembly Row have an Ant-Man double feature on Thursday as part of the early shows for the sequel. There are also special premiere screenings of Fireworks, the new animated film from the producers of Your Name, on Tuesday at Fenway and Revere and Thursday at Fenway.
  • Apple Fresh Pond and Fenway both get Sanju out of Bollywood; it's a biography of actor Sanjay Dutt, who apparently lived life to extremes, from superstardom to ruin. They also have late shows of Telugu comedy E Nagaraniki Emaindi.

    There are two Chinese movies opening at Boston Common this weekend. The Leakers comes from highly prolific Hong Kong director Herman Yau and features Chrissie Chau, Charmaine Sheh, Francis Ng, Sam Lee, and more in a thriller about the police and a secret transparency society getting to the bottom of a supervirus outbreak. There's also Animal World, a Mandarin-language adaptation of a popular manga starring Li Yifeng, with smaller parts for Zhou Dongyu and Michael Douglas as the villain.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre finishes their month of martial arts midnights with two 35mm prints hosted by archivist Dan Halsted: The only known print of Seven Grandmasters on Friday and Gordon Liu's Shaolin vs Wu Tang on Saturday. They've also picked up Hearts Beat Loud in the Goldscreen and extended their run of 2001: A Space Odyssey on 70mm through the Fourth (Wednesday) on screen #1, but that's it (well, at least likely it until the Somerville shows off their new print in September). After that, there's a 35mm "Rewind!" screen of Wet Hot American Summer and a preview of Whitney on Thursday.
  • The Brattle Theatre plays Jaws every Fourth of July, and lately they've been trying to build stuff around that, so this week it's "Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go on Vacation", a week of things doing either comically or horrifically askew away from work, mostly on 35mm. That includes It (DCP) on Friday, a double feature of M. Hulot's Holiday & Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation on Saturday, Hitchcock's second The Man Who Knew Too Much on Sunday, Tucker and Dale vs Evil & Troll 2 on Monday, single screenings of Jeopardy and Burnt Offerings on Tuesday, not just Jaws (film) but its first sequel (digital) on the Fourth, and a twin bill of Westworld & Race with the Devil on Thursday. There are also late shows of Boston Underground Film Festival standout Revenge at 9:30pm Saturday and Sunday.
  • This weekend's 35mm midnight specials at The Somerville Theatre are Car Wash on Friday and Xanadu on Saturday, the latter featuring a costume contest with prizes from High Energy Vintage and American Laundromat Records. Their sister cinema, The Capitol in Arlington, throws way back on Thursday with 1927 silent The Beloved Rogue, starring John Barrymoreas French poet and adventurer François Villon and Conrad Veidt as Louis XI.
  • Roxbury International Film Festival has its last two days at The Museum of Fine Arts on Friday and Saturday, finishing up with a special screening of A Boy. A Girl. A Dream: Love on Election Night at Fenway Park on Saturday evening, with director Qasim Basir in attendance.
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues to feature the films of Luchino Visconti with Bellissima on Friday (35mm), a selection of short films on Saturday (mostly 35mm), and Death in Venice on Sunday (DCP, although it will play on film a couple weeks later). The monthly $5 family show is on Sunday afternoon, tying into the World Cup with a 35mm print of Bend It Like Beckham, with free admission to kids wearing their soccer teams' jerseys.
  • The Regent Theatre has likely-adorable short films all weekend, with "The New York Cat Film Festival" on Friday and Sunday and "The New York Dog Film Festival" on Saturday. They also start a post-Fourth weekend run of 1776 on Thursday.
  • The Museum of Science adds "Great Barrier Reef" to their selection of OMNIMAX films starting on Thursday, rotating "Mysteries of China" out and reducing times for "Dream Big" and "National Parks Adventure".
  • Joe's Free Films shows outdoor screenings picking up this week, with Grease at the Harbor Hotel on Friday and Jaws at the Lawn on D that night. Coco plays at the Bremen Street Park on Saturday night, while Thursday features Hocus Pocus at Revere Beach, Back to the Future at Seven Hills Park by Davis Square in Somerville, and Moana at the Lyman Estate in Watertown


I am going to see so many Chinese movies this weekend between Boston Common and the Coolidge - here's hoping the 66 bus will be an option afterward! I've already caught Uncle Drew, Leave No Trace, and Damsel, so there's plenty of time for Soldado and seeing some of the good stuff at the Brattle (and maybe Fireworks, to get a bit ahead of Fantasia).

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.06: The World Before Your Feet and Under the Tree



Both during the film and the Q&A for The World Before Your Fee, Matt Green (left) says he's a year and a half behind on his blog, and, brother, I feel ya - note the 57-day lag between seeing this film and posting the completed review and my mild amazement that I'm going to have two full weeks between the end of writing about this festival and catching a bus for Fantasia. That's why I'm ending at the middle - every movie I saw at the festival after this one has already hit theaters and bumped up the list.

But enough about me! I'm also kind of astounded by the project of walking every block of every street in New York City, considering how utterly wiped I am after a day of trying to see every room in a museum or wandering a sliver of a city. Green talked about how he feels like he's coming to the end, with 500 to 1000 miles to go, but he's been at that figure for several years, and he keeps finding more roads and pathways to walk in the City, and it's fair to ask whether he's putting off what he does with the rest of his life off. He doesn't seem to have much interest in holding down a day job, or a place of his own, and I suspect he'll eventually write a book despite that not being his plan because what else is he going to do with his time and what he's amassed afterward? I kind of admire the ability to live an unencumbered life while also having a little side-eye toward how many other people have to keep busy in order to give him that freedom.

Anyway, it was an entertaining Q&A, in part because much of the film was made with just Green and filmmaker Jeremy Workman. They were honest about how, yeah, Matt probably benefited from doing this as a white male quite a bit, especially compared to the Jamaican fellow doing something similar. They joked a bit about the inevitable "you don't have to talk to my girlfriend" / "oh, we absolutely have to talk to your girlfriend" conversations.

Looks like that one has just been picked up for distribution, albeit by a pretty small label. Under the Tree got picked up by Magnolia, for that matter, although I'm not sure how major a label they are any more (they used to look like the next Miramax, but I don't see their logo much any more). So, if you're just now hearing about these way after the festival is done, it looks like you'll have a chance to catch them.

The World Before Your Feet

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #5 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

It's a competitive business, making an independent film and then getting it into theaters and festivals and in good position for streaming services, convincing people that it is worth their time and money. That's why I take a special joy in seeing movies like The World Before Your Feet make the cut despite being completely inconsequential. Go to enough film festivals, or see enough boutique-house films at a rate that approaches going to a festival, and it's something of a relief to see something that is pleasant and well made but free of the burden of convincing you that it's important.

The film follows Matt Green, a former civil engineer who has spent much of his thirties on a project to walk every street in every borough of New York City. Depending what you count as a street, that is somewhere between six and eight thousand miles (Matt is walking footpaths in public parks and cemeteries, so his number skews high). He is not necessarily being systematic about it - in some cases a day's starting point is determined by where his couch-surfing or cat-sitting - and he's opting to travel light enough to keep his expenses low rather than hold down a job. The film opens on day 1,258 out of about 2,200 and counting, and jumps around from there.

Between Matt's improvised, non-linear itinerary and the need to filter even more uneventful footage than usual, director Jeremy Workman (who also shot, edited, and produced the film) must have had a heck of a challenge finding a shape for his movie, and a great deal of his success comes from not imposing too much structure on it. The film itself is impressively freeform, spending time on random subjects like barber shops with z's replacing s's in their names ("Cutz", "Shearz") or "churchagogues" (former temples repurposed into churches after the Jewish community moved but still showing their old symbols if you know where to look), but managing momentum well; Workman may fade to black, throw up a new title card, and move forward (or back) a few months every once in a while, but it seldom feels like stopping and starting again.

Full review on EFC

Undir trénu (Under the Tree)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Under the Tree is a tight little story of simmering malice in the suburbs that starts testing how dark you want your comedy very early, to the point where it's arguably just a couple of jokes to slide the audience into quite mean-spirited material. Still, the veneer of absurdity over the building pressure (the latter more underlined by the score than the former) is enough to keep pulling the audience forward, as is the precarious balance between horrific potential and good intentions.

It starts with Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson) being kicked out of his house by his wife Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir) for what are understandable, if not necessarily insurmountable reasons, and as such winding up in his old family home while Agnes moves for full custody of their daughter Asa (Sigrídur Sigurpálsdóttir Scheving), where his mother Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) and to a lesser extent his father Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) tend to compare him with absent brother Uggi. They're having a disagreement with their next door neighbors, as their prize tree casts a shadow over the back patio where Eybjorg (Selma Björnsdóttir) likes to sunbathe, and Inga doesn't particularly like the younger woman her neighbor Konrad (Þorsteinn Bachmann) married anyway.

Trees like the one Inga and Baldvin have are something of a rarity in their residential neighborhood - the houses are densely packed and the rocky Icelandic soil is not particularly hospitable - so the most practically straightforward solution to the problem is off the table. There's something fitting about a tree serving as the personification of the couples' anger and resentment; it grows slowly but surely, its shadow harmless until it reaches a certain height and something else changes, and the root system has been growing as well, maintaining a firm grip on the ground (and suggesting that just getting out a chainsaw won't get to the whole issue). It's a living thing even if it seems inactive on first glance, pre-empting the question of how these neighbors ever got along. Director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson and cinematographer Monika Lenczewska shoot it and the backyards in question carefully, often framing scenes just wide enough to capture the entirety of the feuding families' house and yard, but just tight enough to exclude the rest of the neighborhood. Every once in a while they'll do the same on the other side of their houses, a brief reminder that all this melodrama may be hidden from passerby.

Full review on EFC

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 18 June 2018 - 24 June 2018

I decided I did not have the strength for two long movie commutes this weekend and maybe that was a mistake.

This Week in Tickets

First up, though, was an IFFBoston-sponsored preview of Searching at the Brattle on Monday. I was going back and forth, because it's going to be at Fantasia, maybe with a guest or two, but I figured the free slot there would be worth something.

The rest of the week was busy at work, especially Friday, which kept me long enough to be too late for 7pm shows and once that happens, I'm probably watching baseball, wondering if I'll have what it takes for a midnight. It turned out that I did not, figuring it was better to be able to get up at a reasonable hour to make the trip out to West Newton for The Catcher Was a Spy, a watchable movie that doesn't really get as much out of one of twentieth century America's more interesting lives as it could (the next time you think a movie is too high-concept, remember that this one about America sending a Jewish baseball player to assassinate the head of the Nazi atomic program is based upon a true story). After that it was back home for Lobster Cop, an enjoyably goofy thing from China about cops who take over a restaurant for a surveillance operation and wind up discovering one can cook.

The plan the next day was to head out to the furniture store for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, but that would have meant an hour hanging around waiting for a bus on either side, so I nixed it, not happy that none of the other premium screens were playing it in 3D. So I decided to hit the Seaport... who sold me a 3D ticket, handed me 3D glasses, and played the movie in 2D. I probably should have gone to talk to one of the really excessive number of employees they keep hanging around, but that might have meant missing some of the movie, and the opening bit is kind of good. So I sit, and it's okay in 2D, but you'd think there would be people standing outside handing out free passes or something.

Ah, well, it's not like it was something really made for 3D. As always, check my Letterboxd account if you want to see a preview of next week where I really don't care about spelling!

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 June 2018 in Showplace Icon at the Seaport #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Like Jurassic World before it, Fallen Kingdom can't be accused of not delivering what's on the label - it's got dinosaurs, guys who can't just be in awe of them, and a likable-enough bunch that actually have some bigger goals than just getting out alive this time. It even brings back Jeff Goldblum to explain why the whole thing is foolhardy in better-than-average pseudoscience.

And, as big blockbusters go, it does okay. The returning Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are still a likable pair who can sell dropping into this adventure from the sidelines well, the nosy-kid material works despite the filmmakers needing to use it for just a little more, and Ted Levine stealing the scenes where they let him go nuts as a mercenary hunter in grand fashion. J.A. Bayona is a good choice to direct; he might not be Steven Spielberg (few are), but he's more visually adventurous than other people they could have hired (including Colin Trevorrow, who will be back for the next); few others could or would have imbued the time on the island with a sense of tragedy the way he does,or made the moment that cements it works as well as he did. He does a lot of clever things, like allowing a bull in the China shop sequence to play kind of funny when others might have made it serious.

And there's something about the finale that feels flawed but perfect in conception: It builds on how the enormous Lockwood Manor merges a tech-y underground laboratory and what amounts to a private natural history museum in one complex. Where Jurassic World was about people taking dinosaurs for granted, causing them to make something bigger and bigger until the whole thing collapsed (sure, that could be a metaphor for big effects-driven movies themselves!), Fallen Kingdom backs up, letting characters love dinosaurs unconditionally, and as much as the secret supervillain headquarters underneath the exhibit hall is kind of silly, it fees right, something corporate and practical usurping the place that lets us love discovery.

The film's biggest issue is perhaps a bad case of middle-movie syndrome, though, where the big climax feels less like something the filmmakers have been building to than set-up for Part 3. It handles that better than most, but there's something just not right about a movie that ends with the audience not gasping or exhaling in relief, but shrugging, figuring it will maybe have some sort of ending in 2021. As much as Marvel-style serialization has become what a lot of studios are eyeing, it's still pretty important to get people coming out as excited for what they've just seen than for what they may see later, if not more so.


Searching
The Catcher Was a Spy
Lobster Cop
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Monday, June 25, 2018

Independent film Festival Boston 2018.55: Searching

Festival planning: When one festival announces an early preview of a movie that you know will be playing another one later - say, when IFFBoston has a very early screening of Searching and you've already received an email about it playing Fantasia - go for it. This will make things easier later.

Anyway, no actual guests, but a recorded pre-show thing about how director Aneesh Chaganty has always made films outside the typical third-person linear style, ending on a request to share thoughts on social media with a couple of hashtags, which is impressively confident. I still half-expect eFilmCritic will soon get an email saying to hold the review until an embargo date, though.

If the director or a producer or someone had been present, I would have tried to find a way to ask whether the actual title is Searching|, because I certainly never saw it on-screen without the cursor.

Searching

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 June 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Preview Series, DCP)

I'm not sure I've seen a "stuff on a screen" thriller which commits to the medium at exactly the level Searching does before, though that may just be the inevitable result of something no longer being a formal challenge but rather just another tool a filmmaker can use if he thinks it will get results. This still kind of feels like a gimmick movie, but it's one where the the story only feels minimally twisted to fit the form.

Writer/director Aneesh Chaganty breaks the usual "real-time" directive that movies being told through what appears on a character's computer screen use, opening with a montage of the Kim family's old Windows machine, as parents David (John Cho) and Pamela (Sara Sohn) raise their daughter Margot, with frequent breaks to show email about Pamela's cancer diagnosis, remission, and inevitable decline. That machine gets put away, and soon we're watching David video-call the teenage Margot (Michelle La), reminding her she forgot to take out the trash. It's the sort of conversation that parents inevitably regret when their kids don't come home one night, as is the case here. Also kind of inevitable - when the detective leading the investigation, Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), asks David to find out everything he can from Margot's friends and online presence, he finds a lot of things that don't add up.

Many movies told through screens are static things - consider Unfriended from a couple years back, which was shot inventively but rigidly adhered to showing every pixel of its protagonist's screen from corner to corner. Here, Chaganty and his crew stick to familiar, real interfaces but allow the virtual camera to float, zoom, and move over them fully cognizant that this is a movie and not just an experiment. Most get too locked into real time or a static image, and that has its uses such as misdirecting the audience to one window while something important happens in another, but this one goes another direction, feeling more like a movie than a puzzle even as it plays with different sorts of screens and video sources. They will zoom in on the pane showing outgoing video if what's important is the expression on David's face, even if it takes up about 5% of the laptop's screen.

Full review on EFC

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Secret Agent Saturday: The Catcher Was a Spy and Lobster Cop

You would think that a movie about a Red Sox player who later went on missions for the OSS during World War II, one that was apparently shot in Fenway Park (with some CGI to knock about 80 years off the place), and one that played into the idea that its hero (played by Paul Rudd with an impressive supporting cast) was bisexual would find a few scenes in Boston during Pride Month, but no. If you want to see The Catcher Was a Spy in this area, you're heading out to West Newton. Good thing Moe Berg was also Jewish, or it might not have played there!

I kid, a bit; that the proprietors of the West Newton Cinema are willing to zero in on a specific audience and cater to it is actually something I genuinely admire about the place. I've talked before about how this neighborhood 6-plex is a genuine independent theater, so I won't repeat too much now. There's a bad side to that - I would hate to visit the old place in a wheelchair, for instance, and I suspect they're the sort of theater that keeps costs down by trying to stretch protector bulbs (I've read reviews claiming Catcher has gorgeous cinematography, but I found it hard to see). But it's no-nonsense and kind of homey in the way a lot of theaters aren't, the kind of place you'd hope to end up if you do actually have to go looking for a movie, even if that's because the movie really isn't that good.

That said, I do think the movie is good enough and of enough interest to a local audience that I'm surprised Some Cinemas in Fresh Pond didn't book it; they'll run less commercial indies that don't have the likes of Rudd in the cast for two shows a day, even if it's also playing VOD. I half-suspect that's on the distributor - IFC and Magnolia don't seem to have the sort of relationship with places like Fresh Pond that newer labels like The Orchard do, or they try to shoot too high (if they can't get a full screen at Kendall Square, they maybe don't settle).

Anyway, I don't really mind doing the Red Line-70A-57-553 thing to get there. The 70A used to be my bus to work, and seeing the gentrification/ development going on there is kinds of weird, but it's not my neighborhood to complain about. And it does apparently mean another movie theater in the general area, and I can't complain much about that.

Following that was a trip back downtown (553-57-B Line) to catch another movie at a theater catering to its local audience - the Boston Common theater is right outside Chinatown - for another movie about folks going undercover. Fresh new lot of previews for Chinese movies - L.O.R.D. 2, Detective Dee 3, Oolong Courtyard, and The Leaker from Hong Kong - and I'm kind of glad I don't have to head out of town for those.

The Catcher Was a Spy

* * (out of four)
Seen 23 June 2018 in West Newton Cinema #4 (first-run, DCP)

Morris "Moe" Berg, this film tells us, was an enigma, and he had reason to be during his life; he was Jewish in a time when one didn't loudly declare it, a "lifelong bachelor" who zealously guarded his privacy, and an academic achiever who spent his youth as a professional baseball player before undertaking missions for the OSS during World War II. It's a shame that the filmmakers aren't more interested in cracking that shell in order to see what's underneath.

Screenwriter Robert Rodat takes a fair amount of liberties with the story, starting by moving a 1934 all-star tour of Japan to 1936, when he was a backup catcher for the Boston Red Sox. While there, Berg (Paul Rudd) meets a Japanese historian (Hiroyuki Sanada) who opines that their countries will inevitably go to war and then surreptitiously makes his way to the roof of one of Tokyo's tallest buildings to get footage of the city's layout, including the naval yards. After Pearl Harbor, he contacts a friend from Princeton who works in the State Department. There's a place for smart, physically capable who speak nearly a dozen languages like Berg in the Office of Strategic Services, and though he's initially placed on a desk, he's given a mission to accompany Dutch physicist Samuel Goudsmit (Paul Giamatti) to Rome to learn what progress Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong) has made as the head of Germany's nuclear program - a mission that will take him to Zurich, where Heisenberg frequently visits colleague Paul Scherrer (Tom Wilkinson), tasked with assassinating Heisenberg if necessary.

You could cut about half of that out and still have a story that sounds too good to be true, but the trick is to tell it well. The basics of Berg's story are enough to capture the imagination, but the filmmakers seem a bit too willing to just let the audience fill in the details rather than stitch it together into a particular story. The through-line they do find is speculative, positing that his skill and passion for secrecy comes from being a closeted bisexual man in that era. It's entirely possible - Berg's ability to keep a secret might just have been good enough to leave no trace even when it might have made him a queer icon in the present - but it's a direction that can only have a limited payoff. The way they loudly tap-dance around his sexuality is right out of the era's playbook - shouted slurs rebutted by a heterosexual sex scene, assertions of open-mindedness only backed up by hints - so it's a kind of half-hearted commitment to the theme.

Full review on EFC

Long Xia Xing Jing (Lobster Cop)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 June 2018 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

Lobster Cop may not necessarily be the best "undercover cops find they enjoy their cover story" comedy ever made, but a fairly decent one. It's got a brisk pace, a grimy messiness that seems to fit with its plot than the usual upscale setting, and gags that are just familiar enough to work without overplaying but not lazy. It's not groundbreaking, but it's a capable comedy that gets the job done.

It starts with a drug bust that can best be described as going so-so, which is par for the course with Squad 8 - motormouth leader Du Yufei (Wang Qianyuan), scruffy Hua Jie (Yuan Shanshan), rookie Chen Li (Zhou You), and veteran Neng Shu (Liu Hua). It leads them up the chain to gangsters Song Hui (Zhou Yunpeng) and Dong Zi (Cao Xing), although Du would much rather be watching the ones all the way up. They stumble onto a run-down crayfish restaurant that offers them a perfect surveillance point for Song's "logistics company", and wind up buying it. The plan is to keep it closed, but it turns out that Neng is a natural chef, and they're soon packed to the walls, with one loyal customer (Zhang Jincheng) especially fond of Neng and his cooking.

There are times when it seems like writer/director Li Xinyun (sometimes credited on other films as "Sabrina Li" or "Li Xiaofeng") was substantially more ruthless in the editing room than most Chinese directors who see their films cross the Pacific; Lobster Cop is 94 minutes including credits whose outtakes hint at subplots that have only the very smallest portions still remaining in the film. That's not necessarily a bad thing overall - I wonder if Li's own experience as an actress put it in her head that that Hua Jie plays more interesting with less material if what's cut is just a perfunctory thread pairing her off with one of the male characters - but it does leave what feel a bit like odd stubs on the movie at times. Fortunately, most of the plot-advancing bits also have a good joke or two in them, and though many of them are just worth a chuckle, relatively few fall completely flat. Li gets good mileage out of both the "family-owned restaurant" and the "logistics company" pushing at each other while trying to hide their true nature, as well as Du's seething envy of Squad 1. Mileage will vary on some - given that the best surveillance point is in the bathroom, there's a fair amount of literal toilet humor and basic horror at the grunginess of the place, and Uncle Nine's apparent crush on Neng often crosses the line from "you're mistaken" to gay panic material.

Full review on EFC

Friday, June 22, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.07: Disobedience and Damsel

Another day, another jump out of order to accommodate the fact that these movies are coming out faster than my lazy brain can review them. Disobedience hit theaters practically as soon as the festival ended, so it got a review on EFC right away and then this file got pushed aside until I needed to write up Damsel, so it's currently just hanging around at West Newton. Damsel, on the other hand, is just opening in New York and L.A. this weekend.

No guests for either, which is a bit of a shame - David Zellner hosted a fun Q&A for Kumiko the Treasure Hunter at Fantasia a few years back (probably did one just as good at IFFBoston then, too), and while I don't know that their film needs to be discussed in great detail, I suspect I'd really enjoy him and his brother taking "what was directing Robert Forster in that scene like?", "what made you think of casting Robert Pattinson as this goober, since he's usually broody or intense?", and maybe "what's up with always making sure you've got a super-cute animal in the middle of your movies that go to dark places?" and just going on for a while.

And as much as I often express a little frustration at winding up in films that have distribution at the festival, I'm glad it happened with Damsel. As much as I liked Kumiko enough to want to see its makers' next movie, I could see it getting lost for me. And though it's clunky and flawed, I do find myself recommending it - there's enough genuine strangeness to it to mostly make up for how it could have been easier to watch if it had been more conventional.

Disobedience

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 May 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

I wonder, a bit, how Disobedience plays for people who find religion to be of value in their lives. Does that perspective lend the characters' struggles extra nuance, with shadings that the non-religious cannot see, or does it make the film seem harsher and more dismissive? That's something its makers may be perfectly fine with - though earnest and precise in their storytelling, they are not exactly subtle - although it sometimes creates the feeling that something is missing from an otherwise excellent film.

Rav Krushka (Anton Lesser) has just died in the middle of a sermon in a London synagogue, and his daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz) - a photographer working in New York under the name "Ronnie Curtis" might never have known if someone hadn't sent word to a local shul; she left the community years ago and has been persona non grata there ever since, to the point where the paper reported that the elder Kushka died childless. She still opts to return to observe shabbat, cautiously welcomed by Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), her father's prize student who, in Ronit's absence, married her best friend Esti (Rachel McAdams). Though "best friend" understates things; the mutual attraction of these two women was the scandal that led to Ronit's self-exile.

I've long suspected that if you dropped Rachel McAdams into an earlier Hollywood era, she'd be a far bigger star than she is now and maybe more respected as well; her hits as a lead have tended to skew more toward female audience than the films which get the most coverage, and she's seldom been given the best part in an ensemble cast. She's terrific in this and maybe won't get her due because the film isn't obviously built around her character so much as it is Rachel Weisz's Ronit, but McAdams's Esti is always the one worth watching. McAdams sells the tongue-tied surprise at Ronit's return as well as the long-simmering resentment over her departure, and brings out an entertainingly barbed tongue without the stretches where she seems to fit into her conservative community seeming entirely false. Esti's the one with decisions to make right now, and McAdams makes that clear without a lot of obvious hand-wringing.

Full review on EFC

Damsel

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

The Zellner Brothers' Damsel has the odd habit of trading one memorable performance and situation for another rather than letting them build into something bigger, filling in the gaps with admittedly entertaining deadpan oddity. It makes for a movie that feels like the filmmakers came up with a bunch of Old West gags and laid them end to end, managing a constant sort of arch tone and not quite wearing it out.

It starts on that route right after the title, having a frustrated preacher (Robert Forster) sits next to another man, waiting for a stage, goes on a rant about the misery of the frontier and the lack of an audience for God's word, casting aside his vestments and walking into the dust and out of the movie. It's a neat little scene that could be yanked out without damaging the rest of the film much, if at all, but it's Robert Forster performing a sort of alchemy that turns the character's exasperation and ignorance into dark humor. The film may not need this particular moment or character, but it's worth having Forster do this scene somewhere, and this movie seems as good a choice as any.

After that, the movie proper starts, with Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) arriving in a small town to rescue his beloved Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) from Anton Cornell (Gabe Casdorph), the bandit who stole her from him. He's brought a fantastic gift and retained the town's preacher, Parson Henry (David Zellner) to come with him so that they can be married just as soon as the rescue is complete. Being a timid man, Henry is none too pleased to discover that there are outlaws, including Anto's brother Rufus (Nathan Zellner), between them and their goal, and when they arrive at their destination, things naturally spin further out of control.

Full review on EFC

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 June 2018 - 28 June 2018

You like dinosaurs, right? Everyone likes dinosaurs! Which is good, because that's basically what the big studios have to offer you after you've seen the new movies by the makers of Resolution & Spring!

  • That would be The Endless, which plays 9:30pm shows at The Brattle Theatre on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, arriving here just in time for its video release, but it's worth seeing with an audience, especially of people that have seen the filmmakers' previous films. The non-late shows, meanwhile, are a new restoration of King of Hearts, the cult French film about a soldier in World War I who finds that the town he was sent to save is now populated by the denizens of the local mental hospital. There's also a free "Elements of Cinema" screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Wednesday, and I must admit, I'm kind of tempted to make my first time seeing it the rare intersection of "in a theater" and "not filled with schmucks who think they're the entertainment"... if I could trust that the latter part was the case (there's also a midnight show at CinemaSalem with Teseracte Players doing the shadow cast thing this Saturday, and the regular presentation at Boston Common with Full Body Cast).
  • Once you've seen The Endless, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the big 3D premium-screen opening, and who knows with that one? Jurassic World had a ton of issues, but people liked it, and I wouldn't be surprised if the second film in the new trilogy follows the same pattern, especially with new and pretty good director J.A. Bayona joining returning cast members Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, B.D. Wong, and Jeff Goldblum. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D/3D), the Embassy (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax 2D and Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax 3D), Revere (including Xplus and MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    There's also TCM screenings of West Side Story on Sunday & Wednesday at Fenway and Revere. RBG expands to the Seaport.
  • The new releases at Kendall Square are all documentaries. Eating Animals, narrated by Natalie Portman, is the big release, a look at the practice of factory farming and its alternatives. There's also a one-week booking of Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, which tells the story of Vivienne Westwood, who is apparently a big deal in the punk fashion world. There's also a presentation of The Most Unknown, about scientists trying to push the frontiers, which will not only have director Ian Cheney on hand, but a producer and an MIT scientist as well.
  • The West Newton Cinema is the only place around playing The Catcher Was a Spy, starring Paul Rudd as Moe Berg, a less-than-stellar baseball player on a touring team of all-stars in Japan before the outbreak of World War II and helped gather intelligence. They also have one 5:30pm show a day of The Peacemaker, an IFFBoston selection, with filmmaker James Demo on hand Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
  • The Chinese-language opening this week is Lobster Cops, a comedy written and directed by Li Xinyun, with Wang Qianyuan as a cop who opens a restaurant as part of a sting but turns out to actually have some good seafood recipes.

    In Indian films, Apple Fresh Pond continues Race 3 and Sammohanam, also picking up Tik Tik Tik, which looks a whole lot like a Tamil-language remake of Armageddon.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre has the second week of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey on 70mm, with very special guest Keir Duella there to introduce the film Saturday afternoon and lead a Q&A that evening. They also fit The Gospel According to André into the Goldscreen.

    The Martial Arts Midnights this weekend are The Matrix (Friday) and Shogun Assassin on Saturday, both on 35mm (as is The Room on Friday night). The Big Screen Classic on Monday is a 35mm print of Wild at Heart, which is a seminar screening where you can add on a lecture before and a Q&A afterward.
  • The Somerville Theatre picks up Mr. Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor, and offers less wholesome fare at midnight: Streets of Fire on Friday and The Garbage Pail Kids movie on Saturday, , both in 35mm; there's also a free screening of Suited, a documentary on a Brooklyn tailor shop that specializes in attire for the queer community. Their sister cinema, The Capitol in Arlington, has a (digital) Throwback Thursday showing of Top Gun.
  • Roxbury International Film Festival takes up residence at The Museum of Fine Arts, with screenings Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday; there's also a special "Black Film Now" discussion at the Haley House Bakery Cafe on Monday and screenings of Back N Black and Coming to America at HIbernian Hall on Tuesday.
  • The Luchino Visconti films at The Harvard Film Archive this weekend are The Damned on Friday, a 35mm print of The Wanton Countess (an abridged version of Senso with English dialogue by Tennessee Williams) on Saturday, and the new digital restoration of Rocco and His Brothers on Sunday.
  • The Regent Theatre celebrates Pride with To A More Perfect Union: U.S. vs Windsor from Friday to Thursday; note that the Saturday & Sunday shows are matinees and the Friday & Tuesday shows are in the "Regent Underground" space. The Tuesday screening is bumped from the big room by "The International Ocean Film Tour Volume 5", a collection of six short documentaries.
  • I apologize for missing most of Belmont World Film's "Justice for All" series at The Studio Cinema; the third and final film in the series is A Season in France, in which a widower who has escaped a wore-torn African country settles in France, though he has to stay ahead of immigration officials.
  • The Museum of Science will be shuffling their Imax presentations soon, but start their "Summer Thursdays" series of sci-fi films in the Planetarium with Stargate on the 28th. Those are the fourth Thursday of the month, with different events on the first (theater), second (drag shows), and third (live music).
  • Joe's Free Films has relatively few outdoor screenings this week, with It Happened One Night at the Harbor Hotel on Friday and Despicable Me 3 at the Esplanade around the same time.


Yeah, I'll see the dinosaurs, Lobster Cop, and The Endless, and, yes, I am seriously considering dragging my butt too Newton for The Catcher Was a Spy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.05: Nothing Is Truer Than Truth, We The Animals, The Third Murder, and Beast

It would have been a pretty easy day to just plop down at one venue, arriving at the Brattle by 1pm and getting back on the Red Line at ten-thirty or so, but I'm not going to lie: I had no interest in seeing the third movie about the Grey Gardens sisters. Haven't seen that, haven't seen the one made from its deleted footage, not going to see this one built out of a documentary that never came together but inspired the later one. I will own that gap in my canonical film knowledge.

So what did I catch?



Well, Nothing Is Truer than Truth, which had a bunch of . Left to right, we have Shakespeare/Oxford Theory expert Alex McNeil, editor Zimo "Mike" Huang (I think I heard them call him Mike), post-production supervisor Brianna Costa (please correct; my notes stink), producer Vicki Oleskey, director Cheryl Eagan-Donovan, and Erin Trahan, leading the Q&A.

Not exactly the movie I was expecting; not knowing much about alternative-authorship theories where Shakespeare is concerned, I somehow read the synopsis and thought it would be something that was a little bit more background on the conventional than "Shakespeare wasn't Shakespeare". Overall, a pretty likable group, but like the science doc the previous day, it was a crowd of people who were already pretty familiar with the material, so it was a very friendly Q&A.

The rest of the day was stuff that had distribution and no guests, so it was show up, watch, move on. It was fun to connect with a bunch of folks I don't see very often at The Third Murder, although kind of ironic, given what I wound up writing about it - it's a decent movie that will get a bit of a release because Hirokazu Kore-eda has become a sort of a brand name in the art-house world, so it shows up here despite the Japanese movie industry's utter indifference in exporting anything. These friends are Kore-eda fans and have been for some time, so that's the film in the festival that they make for while sort of shrugging shoulders as I talk about how Yoshihiro Nakamura films only showing up at genre festivals if the folks attending are lucky.

Ah, well. Hopefully my choice to see Beast rather than Hot Summer Nights won't backfire on me, since the first had a quick release and the second may or may not come and go while I'm at Fantasia, especially since that's the one I really wanted to see more (although Jessie Buckley is pretty great in Beast).

Nothing Is Truer than Truth

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Filmmaker Cheryl Eagan-Donovan presents an interesting argument for Edward de Vere as the true author of the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare in Nothing Is Truer than Truth, enough that the viewer cannot necessarily dismiss it completely out of hand. The trouble is, an interesting case is not enough, especially on this subject: When the simplest explanation is as plain as "the plays of William Shakespeare were written by William Shakespeare", the case against must be compelling or overwhelming, and that is not the case here.

De Vere is an intriguing subject even without that hypothesis. The 17th Earl of Oxford - that he was the true author of the works is thus called "The Oxfordian Theory" - he grew up an only child, was a popular courtier, and traveled extensively in Europe, spending a particular amount of time in Venice. He had a good literary reputation but a tumultuous personal life, even beyond being a gambler and a spendthrift who would fritter away his entire inheritance.

His European travels are the primary evidence offered as to his authorship; not only were many of Shakespeare's plays set in Venice and the other principalities through which de Vere traveled, but Eagan-Donovan notes that there was someone very much akin to Shylock of The Merchant of Venice in said city at the time, as well as spotting architectural details that would seem more likely to show up in the work of someone who had seen them first-hand than someone who had not. It's fun historical tourism and good background whether you're able to buy into the Oxfordian Theory or not. The interviews supporting it are decent, if rough - Mark Rylance kind of looks like the ambushed him on the way to pick up his paycheck at the theater, while Derek Jacobi is charming and, if not convincing, seemingly convinced. Many of the less-famous people are harder reads, not quite having the gravitas to elevate the material above being a fringe theory - especially toward the end, when they are parsing epitaphs on gravestones for clues as to who is really buried in which tomb, sounding like very erudite conspiracy nuts.

Full review on EFC

We the Animals

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in Somerville Theatre #4 (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Though coming-of-age stories often seek to tap into some sort of universal sort of experience, the best ones are often the most specific, and We the Animals is very specific indeed. It's an intriguing, well-observed story of growing up different in just about every way, heightening how very alone a kid can find himself feeling.

It's easy for a Puerto Rican family to feel a little isolated in Utica, New York; their small house is on the outskirts, and as summer vacation is starting, they aren't mixing much with their non-Latino neighbors. Inside that little house, Manny (Isaiah Kristian), Joel (Josiah Gabriel), and Jonah (Evan Rosado) share a bed, though Joel will often retreat underneath when the other two are asleep, drawing constantly even though he doesn't have blank paper to work with. Joel's the baby, with his mother (Sheila Vand) telling him not to grow up. It's a common refrain, but Manny and Joel are becoming more like their father (Raúl Castillo) every day, and as Ma's "dentist emergency" after upsetting Paps on a family outing to a nearby swimming hole suggests, that's not always a positive.

The filmmakers spend just enough of the movie showing the brothers as a single unit to get the audience to think of them that way for a bit; Jonah may be the source of the narration and have his own hobby separate from the others, but the three always in such close proximity, often shirtless in the heat so that logos or designs don't become things a viewer can hook character on. This doesn't last all that long, but it does give one a sense of Jonah beginning to break away, and how attitudes can be passed on through osmosis: Jonah seldom articulates his differences, and Paps never instructs Manny and Joel. Director Jeremiah Zagar and co-writer Daniel Kitrosser this sort of machismo as an illness that seems to jump from father to son, with Jonah's mother trying to inculate him with the imperfect means at her disposal, hoping he's got a tolerance.

Full review on EFC

Sandome no satsujin (The Third Murder)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

It's kind of amusing that this sort of movie - a crime thriller that's more complicated than the plot of an hour-long TV show, but not necessarily by that much - is often treated as less impressive or difficult than the less plot-driven movies that filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda usually makes, because he stumbles here. This doesn't mean that the emperor has no clothes and genre work actually more difficult than closely-observed, subtle family drama, just that it's a different skill set, and a guy who is good at the sort of movies that regularly impress critics is not necessarily going to elevate other material when he gives it a try.

The case seems open and shut enough: Suspect Misumi (Koji Yakusho) has confessed to the murder and burning the body. The trouble is, the details of his story keep changing, and former judge Daisuke Settsu (Kotaro Yoshida), who had signed up to handle the plea agreement when it looked simple, wants his partner Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) to take a closer look. As he does, Shigemori starts to realize that the crime has connections to a case his father (Isao Hashizume) tried as a judge in Hokkaido decades ago.

There are more details, of course, with the victim not being particularly much missed and something suspicious about his wife and daughter. It's not that intricate, though, especially to seasoned mystery fans. Kore-eda often seems to fall behind his relatively simple mystery plot, having Shigemori and his assistants spend time pondering and staring right past things the audience sees relatively clearly. The effect is oftne to draw out a story that is never that complicated so that it feels large enough to be presented with an ambiguity that isn't anything that his audience hasn't seen before.

Full review on EFC

Beast

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 April 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Independent Film Festival Boston, DCP)

Beast is the sort of movie that figures it can let a serial killer running loose in the community sort of simmer in the background, confident that the psychological drama it's got running up front is more interesting. That's true enough for a while, as the audience gets to know its young woman with an overbearing family and her own dark side, but eventually it's got to start pulling things together, and it's all too clear that neither the crime wave nor boyfriend Pascal is nearly as interesting as Moll is.

That would be Moll Henderson (Jessie Buckley), a nice-enough young woman who helps look after her ailing father between shifts as a tour-bus guide, but who nevertheless walks out of her own birthday party to go dancing. You can't really blame her; it is the sort of party that her domineering mother Hilary (Geraldine James) throws as a social event and that favored sister Polly (Shannon Tarbet) kind of hijacks with her own announcement anyway. Moll meets one guy in the club but likes him less by the time the sun comes up and he's starting to get insistent, but their paths fortunately cross with Pascal Renouf (Johnny Flynn), out poaching and not averse to using his rifle to scare a guy off. Pascal seems nice enough too, if a bit rougher on the edges, but the cop (Trystan Gravelle) investigating the rape and murder of a number of teenage girls has a thing for Moll, and maybe that's why he's looking at Pascal's criminal record and whereabouts the night of that party (when another girl disappeared) fairly closely.

One may initially read Moll as a teenager, and I wonder if that's deliberate on the part of writer/director Michael Pearce. That first impression of her as limited or immature may have holes punched in it early, but first impressions can be hard to shake, so that even later on, as the audience realizes that there is likely more to Moll than first let on, what she's actually capable of can still surprise a bit, even if Pearce has been giving the audience a window into her darker thoughts and the occasional sharp, defiant line. Moll matures by following through on impulsiveness.

Full review on EFC

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 11 June 2018 - 17 June 2018

Yes, I enjoy both 35mm prints and 3D movies. They're both a lot of fun.

This Week in Tickets

I wasn't going to do the early show of The Incredibles (and its attached short, "Bao"); I got down to Boston Common for another movie and MoviePass started acting really weird, highlighting every movie in a slot when I selected one and then not reserving any tickets. Didn't look like customer service would fix it in time, so I walked to South Station, got on the Silver Line, and headed for the Icon.

I feel like I should walk back my ambivalence about that place back a little; I've been down there more than I expected, mostly for 3D movies and the main "Icon-X" screen, and if you don't go Friday or Saturday and sign up for their free card/app, the price isn't bad. Still, I expect the prices are that low because I've never seen it crowded, and someone who works in the Seaport mentioned there's never anyone around if he goes there for a movie after work. Will the prices go up if people start showing? Dunno. I'm tempted to see something there opening night to see if it ever gets busy sometime, but I wonder if this premium-ish theater being so quiet has the ArcLight folks nervous about the plex they've got planned for Causeway.

Having somehow never seen Matinee, I went to that at the Somerville at midnight on Friday, and insert your joke about me being too old for that here; it left me wiped for pretty much all of Saturday. Then again, maybe the joke about how weird a time midnight is to show a film called "Matinee" is better.

I was able to get up bright and early on Sunday, though, to catch the cheap (and lonely) screening of Race 3 (not very good) with time to get some shopping done before Ocean's 8 (pretty fun).

Next up, some of the things I've been putting off. Roughs on my Letterboxd account.

"Bao"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2018 in Showplace Icon at the Seaport #10 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

This year's Pixar short that is almost a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination because it's the one that the most people will see is, as per usual, clever and visually impressive, but I suspect that it will raise a lot of eyebrows about three quarters of the way through as viewers watch it and think something along the lines of that not really fitting in with what the short seemed to be going for up until that point. Writer/director Domee Shi has made a short that packs a lot of feeling into a few minutes, visualizing the sort of love you can put into food, how it can be a substitute for what's missing otherwise, with plenty of visual comedy as it goes awry.

And then something happens which works a lot better if you're assuming that the fifty-ish lady making the bao is an empty-nester but not so much if (like me) you thought she'd never had kids, and even if you had... Well, I don't know. It's kind of tricky, and I don't think anything after that is really quite so effective as what led up to it. There's still plenty to love - the animation style is beautiful, especially as it leans into the bulk of the cast of characters being ethnically Chinese in a way that could look like bad caricature but never does.

(Funny projection aside: Incredibles 2 is a scope movie, but was being shown on a 1.85:1-ish screen, and "Bao" is a 1.85-ish movie, but since it's "attached" to Incredibles 2, it's centered within the scope picture. Since Icon doesn't mask its screens, "Bao" winds up showing with black space all around it, which is not ideal!)

Incredibles 2

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2018 in Showplace Icon at the Seaport #10 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Man, it's good to see Brad Bird back doing animation, where he can do basically anything. One understands his forays into live action - nobody goes to film school with the dream of sitting in an office, managing a bunch of guys working on computers in cubicles - but to watch him set huge action pieces up with a dozen characters, each with different powers, doing their thing is to see a master at work; despite the strides Marvel has made, the only time this sort of big comic book action has really reached its potential outside of animation is the climax of The Avengers, and Bird manages that three or four times here.

It props up a pretty darn straightforward story, in that there's not really a turn that you don't see coming (everything from the Mr. Mom gags to the identity of the villain is awful familiar), but sometimes a well-told story is more about execution than surprise; though I still don't love the character design, the retro-styled world these folks live in is gorgeous, the action is great, and the three-D pops like in few other movies. The returning voice cast is just as good, and Michael Giacchino's score is still fantastic, if more bombastic than sly this time around.

It's a long time since the first movie, but also just a minute, which is kind of the way superhero stories work, struggling to be both timeless and of the moment. For Bird, that means continuing to wrestle with the very idea of these larger-than-life characters; both these movies and his live-action Tomorrowland seem to show a man enthralled by the idea of an elite but also distrustful even as he has a hard time taking the approach of someone outside of it.

Matinee

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15-16 June 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Midnight Specials, 35mm)

Somehow, despite liking Joe Dante and the way he thinks a lot, I haven't seen a lot of his work, and not this specifically. At first, it felt like a pretty good decision; the first act especially plays as nostalgic mush, complete with some of the more obvious needle-drops you can expect.

But it grows on me, in large part because Dante and his writers are tremendously fond of their characters. John Goodman's take on Nick Castle-like film producer Lawrence Woolsey is warm in all the spots where it might have been cynical; it's a smaller, more charming performance than you'd think from the poster. And at the center are Simon Fenton and Lisa Jakub as the two teenagers who fall for each other. Neither really "wins", as often seems to be the goal; they respect what the other is passionate about, and maybe learn a bit more general empathy, but Dante and the cast make it compelling without being antagonistic. But even the sillier characters (notably, Robert Picardo's panicky theater manager) are given a certain level of respect.

It gets pretty darn funny as the actual matinee starts, with a careful combination of intended silliness and chaos, and just enough peril to make things a bit more intense. (Also: I wonder how many of the people who complain about kids and teens in movie theaters now were like the kids shown being monsters in this one at the time!) It may be someone else's nostalgia, but it's earnest and inclusive without trying to label that era any kind of golden age.

Ocean's 8

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 June 2018 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

Not necessarily the most inventive heist movie ever made, but very fun. It's got a cast full of people who know the ins and outs of their roles almost by instinct, sure hands who make a caper based on sleight of hand as much fun as one based on big effects pieces, and takes just enough time to tell the story and get out but still have moments to play.

Sandra Bullock slides right into the lead role like she's been waiting for it all her life, and I'm sure that I'm not the only person that thinks Cate Blanchett is playing a partner in more than crime in a role whose sharpness plays well off Bullock being smooth - kind of the opposite of the dynamic George Clooney & Brad Pitt had in the previous three movies. The ensemble is great from top to bottom - good enough that I was kind of delighted to be reminded that Sarah Paulson was in the movie when it got to her - but it's especially delicious to watch the likes of Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham-Carter in parts that aren't quite winking self-parody, but aren't quite not. The Ocean's movies have always has a sense of the genre conventions they're playing with, and this one perhaps embraces them with less fuss than the rest, right down to how they are not quite teasing a possible cameo all the way to the last moment, by which point it doesn't really matter because director Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch have managed to use that hook to get the audience more interested in what's actually in front of them.


Incredibles 2 & Bao
Matinee
Race 3
Ocean's 8

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
Believer
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