Thursday, August 30, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 31 August 2018 - 6 September 2018

Labor Day is a weird holiday weekend, in that a lot of people have time to go to the movies, something opening this weekend doesn't have this wide-open period of time to rack ticket sales up. Imax has been taking to doing special events for this weekend, and it looks like other folks have followed suit.

  • This year, the places with Imax-branded screens - Jordan's Furniture, Boston Common, and Assembly Row - got started early, with the Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary series kicking off Thursday afternoon. For five days from then until Monday, they'll be showing Marvel's output in order four a day, from Iron Man to Ant-Man and the Wasp. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (afternoon) feature some of the bigger hits. It's a good week to abuse one's A-List membership, but also one where the three/week allowed can be expended quickly.

    AMC will also be starting a month-long Harry Potter series this weekend, with two every weekend for the next four weeks. Boston Common is only place on the T where you can catch it, with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on Sunday afternoon.

    Regal Fenway doesn't have an actual Imax-branded screen, but their RPX screen will be marathoning Lord of the Rings from Friday to Thursday, at a very affordable $5 per film. They also marathon the Conjuring movies in story order (so Annabelle: Creation/Annabelle/The Conjuring/The Conjuring 2) on Saturday ahead of Thursday's opening of The Nun.
  • Operation Finale, with Oscar Isaac as the Nazi hunter who tracked down Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), opened at some places Wednesday and as of this weekend is playing all over, including at the Capitol, Kendall Square, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    There's also the pretty-good Fantasia selection Searching, which stars John Cho as a father whose daughter has gone missing and Debra Messing as the detective assigned to the case, notable in part for being presented via the screens the father uses over the course of the story. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    There's also some stuff that looks like it's kind of getting dumped. Kin has a kid finding some sort of alien or top-secret government gun and creating opportunity and trouble for his ex-con brother. Surprisingly good supporting cast, at least. That plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay (including Imax), Revere. The Little Stranger plays the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere; it stars Domhnall Gleeson as a doctor called back to the manor where he grew up (as the child as a servant) to investigate strange goings-on with the children.

    Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Sunday have the second of two days of 25th Anniversary screenings of Rudy on Sunday. Revere plays animated Fantasia selection Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms on Wednesday; the next night, Boston Common, Fenway, and Assembly Row show Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue, which is a masterpiece.
  • It's not quite Oscar season yet, but you're starting to get the stuff that might not be all-around contenders, but look the part at least in a spot or two. That's the word on The Wife, at least, which stars Glenn Close as the self-effacing spouse of a beloved novelist (Jonathan Pryce); folks love Close but seem indifferent to the rest. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, West Newton, and Kendall Square. There's also Juliet, Naked, which features Rose Byrne as a woman who becomes friends-at-least with the American musician (Ethan Hawke) her boyfriend idolizes. It's at the Coolidge, West Newton (it's actually been there for a week), Kendall Square, Boston Common and the Seaport.

    The Coolidge midnights focus on revenge flicks this weekend, with Friday featuring the restored Ms. 45 while Get My Gun plays Saturday. On Monday, they mark the official end of Jaws season with the summer's last 35mm screening (including a seminar for those who choose). Tuesday has a special screening of 93Queen, a documentary about a group of Hasidic women who formed the first all-female volunteer ambulance corps in New York City. Wednesday features a 35mm print of Smiles of a Summer Night, part of the local cinemas' "Bergman 100" celebration.
  • Kendall Square is at least the first place in the area to get The Bookshop, which looks like it should open wider, being as it is a charming period English movie with Emily Mortimer as the new arrival in town who opens a bookstore, Patricia Clarkson as the stodgy neighbor opposed, and Bill Nighy as the wounded man who is quietly pleased at this change in his hometown. It could be more interesting than that - Isabel Coixet has an unconventional history at points - but boy, does it look like standard boutique-house fare.

    They also pick up A Midsummer Night's Dream, which features Rachael Leigh Cook among others in a modern-day version of Shakespeare's play, which sometimes works, but that trailer… Yikes.
  • I'm not sure whether there's any logic behind the Mexican movie getting released on Labor Day weekend or whether it just worked once so Lion's Gate decided to do it every year, but this year the movie in question is Ya Veremos, with Mauricio Ochmann & Fernanda Castillo as separated parents whose son tries to pull them back together with a wish list of things to do as a family before he has risky eye surgery. It's at Boston Common and Revere.

    Boston Common also has two from Hong Kong this weekend: Big Brother (Fantasia's closing night movie) features Boston's Own Donnie Yen (™ this blog) as a former soldier turned Liberal Studies teacher at his old school. It's goofy in its sincerity, but has a couple of impressive fights, with Yen making both halves work. There's also L Storm, the third in a series featuring Louis Koo as the leader of an anti-corruption squad that operates separately from the regular police.

    Apple Fresh Pond still has screenings of Gold, Geetha Govindam, Kolamavu Kokila, and Lakshmi. They also have Tamil thriller Imaikkaa Nodigal Telugu film Narthanasala. Bollywood comedy Yamla Pagla Deewana Phir Se opens at Fenway.
  • The Brattle Theatre starts their summer calendar with a new restoration of Persona, which also kicks off the fall "Ingmar Bergman 100" program with one of his most influential films. It runs through Tuesday, but cedes the last show of the day to The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, a surreal, delightful fantasy from Masaaki Yuasa, one of my favorites from last year's Fantasia.

    On Wednesday, they start their Tribute to Robby Müller, a cinematographer whose career spanned art-house to indie to Hollywood. That night's show is Dead Man, while Thursday offers a 35mm double feature of Barfly and 24 Hour Party People.
  • The Harvard Film Archive was dark through most of August, but there's still room for a "Cinema of Resistance" presentation on Friday, in this case Ermanno Oimi's The Tree of Wooden Clogs. Labor Day weekend is also when they have their annual marathon, and this year The Big Fight is a mostly-35mm, mostly-chronological trip through the history of boxing films: Chaplin's "The Champion" and King Vidor's The Champ from the silent era (accompanied by Bertrand Laurence), Robert Wise's The Set-Up, Walter Hill's Hard Times (digital, with Bronson & Coburn), Champion with Kirk Douglas, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and Raging Bull to finish it off
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes their run of Ava and the "Heroic!" series with a screening of Princess Mononoke (subtitled) on Friday. Saturday marks the start of a new month and a new calendar, with documentary I, Claude Monet (Saturday/Wednesday/Thursday), a fiftieth-anniversary run of The Chronicles of Anna Magdalena Bach (Saturday/Wednesday/Thursday), Radu Judes Scarred Hearts (Sunday), and a Jump Cut presentation of Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf (Sunday).
  • The Regent Theatre plays both programs of the New York Cat Film Festival on Thursday: "Nobody Owns a Cat" at 7:30pm and "Little Works of Art" at 9pm.
  • Outdoor screenings dry up this weekend, with Joe's Free Films showing little aside from Out of Africa at the Harbor Hotel on Friday, and some stragglers on Tuesday, including the absolute final Jaws at Remnant Brewing in Somerville.

Mostly catching up, but also going for L Storm, Operation Finale, and probably Juliet, Naked. And, hey, Jaws. You can't go the summer without Jaws.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Fantasia 2018 Catchup 00: Summer of '84, Our House, Arizona, and What Keeps You Alive

Two days left to finish and I've already fallen behind stuff that's hitting theaters (if not around here) and streaming. Fortunately, they're all pretty good and someone else has already reviewed the one I didn't love for eFilmCritic so I can hold off on that one until it hits Boston.

I must say, I'm mildly surprised that the review for Summer of '84 got retweeted by both the lead actor and writer, when a fair chunk of my review was "I kind of hate this kid, he's the sort of self-serving little brat that grows up to write movies where he's the hero and pretty girls fall for him for no reason." I've got to tell you, I am not entirely sure whether they were just retreating any vaguely positive reference to their movie or if the movie is a lot more self-aware than I initially gave it credit for.

Stuff has always turned around fast after genre festivals - it is not doing a distributor any good sitting on their virtual shelves - but this seems like a bit more than usual, and with Fresh Pond not doing nearly as much in the way of lesser movies on screens #8-10 these days, there's not much opportunity to see them on a big screen. Fortunately, What Keeps You Alive will be hitting Brookline next week, playing the Coolidge's "After Midnite" series on the 7th & 8th of September. Hopefully, it will get some earlier shows as well, because I say only half in jest that I find the eight hours on a bus each way to Montreal much easier than trying to get back to Somerville from the Coolidge at 1:45am.

Summer of '84

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Give the Roadkill Superstar team their due: This is the second time in a row where I've gone into one of their video-store-inspired movies skeptical but had them win me over. The initially clumsy nostalgia and self-seriousness builds to a genuinely suspenseful back half, making the movie a bit better than the stylish but empty throwback it could have been.

It opens rough, with foreboding narration by Davey Armstrong (Graham Verchere) about how there's a heart of darkness in suburbia. Soon, though, he's delivering newspapers to his Oregon neighborhood in the morning, hanging out with his the other neighborhood kids - Dale "Woody Woodworth" (Caleb Emery), his portly best friend, abrasive Tommy "Eats" Eaton (Judah Lewis), and slightly-nerdier-than-the-rest Curtis Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) - during the day, and playing hide-and-seek with the younger kids at night. Davey's bedroom is well-placed, directly across the street from that of Nikki Kaszuba (Tiera Skovbye), so the boys spend a fair amount of time there. It's not entirely idyllic, though - the TV station where Davey's father (Jason Gray-Stanford) works is starting to use the phrase "serial killer" when talking about the number of kids who have gone missing from neighboring towns, and Davey has got the idea that it might be his neighbor, Wayne Mackey (Rich Sommer). The thing is, Mr. Mackey is also a policeman, so Davey's going to have to convince his friends to investigate themselves.

Kids like Davey grow up to write movies - he likes to borrow his father's camcorder, among his other hobbies - and that very much seems to be what happened here. Maybe not, but there certainly seems to be a bit of wish-fulfillment in not just how Davey seems to be the leader of this group despite being, by all evidence, kind of a nut (even if he didn't suspect Mr. Mackey specifically, what sort of weirdo gets excited about there being a serial killer in town?), but how the cute girl across the way basically decides to drop herself into his life despite his being, as mentioned, a nut, and one who clearly spends a fair amount of time at his window with binoculars. The film strains a bit at how Davey can drag his friends into his weird obsession, but tends to land on just this side of credible. Graham Verchere is, necessary morbidity aside, able to make Davey earnest as heck, so completely convinced of his theory that the other guys might follow along so far as it looks like they might just get grounded rather than face real danger, and he's able to manage that half of the character while also finding the sweet spot where Davey is excited about Nikki's attention but not coming off as either any sort of saint or nice guy with a purpose.

Full review at EFC.

Our House

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Earlier on in this festival, I reviewed a horror remake and discovered that I had inadvertently come close enough to recreating what I had written about the original movie that I would probably get flagged as plagiarizing myself by the automated services that check for such things. I initially avoided going back to see what I wrote about Phasma Ex Machina (aka "Ghost from the Machine") out of curiosity, to see if this happens every time I see a remake where I vaguely remember watching the original, but it turns out that this one is enough its own thing to recommend on its own.

The story is still roughly the same - grad student Ethan (Thomas Mann) and his girlfriend Hannah (Nicola Peltz) leave a family dinner early because a window opens up where they can test their wireless electricity project at the lab, which means that Ethan is not home when his parents (John Ralston & Marcia Bennett) are killed in a traffic accident. Three months later, his life is different - he's working in the local hardware store and more concerned about getting younger siblings Matt (Percy Hynes White) and Becca (Kate Moyer) to school in the morning than the science project gathering dust in his basement, at least until a part ordered before the tragedy arrives, and the electromagnetic field he creates potentially serving as a medium for more than just electricity.

Time flies; the film this remakes is only eight years old and parts of the script seem kind of quaint; I do believe that there is a point where one of Ethan's colleagues is recording their revolutionary wireless electricity invention with a phone that charges wirelessly. Obviously not the same thing, but it shows how fast and loose things get around the plot device - it absolutely had to be tested that night to set up later feelings of guilt, something that uses enough power to black out the city but can be run out of residential basement, especially if they turn out the lights. The film has more than a few moments where you scratch your head, wondering if these guys have ever seen a movie about machines that amplify the spiritual world and a few others that basically say "you know how this goes" as they skip into familiar territory.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2018 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Arizona starts out in a smart, timely spot, taking advantage of the vast number of hollowed-out, prefabricated, unfinished developments in the Southwest to create both a memorable sense of desperation and an isolated setting, but somewhere along the way the black comedy of people unwilling to take responsibility for increasingly horrible actions and a twisted American dream becomes a standard direct-to-video thriller. Eventually, a guy chasing a woman and his daughter with a gun is just that, no matter how clever it started out.

But, back up, and meet Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt), who is trying to sell those places despite their many shortcomings because she's six months behind on the mortgage for her own, sold to her by her boss Gary Bartha, and it's not easy to be confident about it when you might run across someone who has given in to despair during a showing. Sonny (Danny McBride), on the other hand, is less the type for despair than rage, and when his argument with Gary ends in disaster, his panic leads to him kidnapping Cassie, not taking into account that her daughter Morgan (Lolli Sorenson) will soon be home from school, or that his ex-wife might drop by, or…

The film initially presents itself as a black comedy, and a good one, something the mortgage crisis seems to bring out in people. It's the sort of thing that lets them put righteous indignation and self-destructive foolishness in the same person, and in Danny McBride, they find something close to an ideal vessel. He's got a warm, jovial presence that can shift to unhinged at the drop of a hat, and he can milk perfectly-executed moments of dumb, entitled white male privilege just enough to make sure that the audience gets the point without seeming to hit them over the head with it, even after the film has shifted to be more a chase than a comedy. Rosemarie DeWitt plays her part as a well-intentioned mirror, especially toward the beginning, more completely sympathetic but still desperate enough for the audience to believe she might completely throw in with Sonny, though she handles her earlier shift from comic to thriller well.

Full review at EFC.

What Keeps You Alive

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 August 2018 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

I haven't perused the listings for the local LGBTQ festival as closely as I have others in recent years, but I don't recall many entries that seemed as unrepentantly pulpy as What Keeps You Alive. It doesn't exactly have main characters who just happen to be gay, but it's also not a niche film, or an introduction, or really outside of the mainstream in any way. It's just a darn good thriller that shows that everyone should watch their backs when they go out to the pretty country with the spotty cell phone reception.

That's where Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and wife Julie (Brittany Allen) are headed, to a really beautiful lake house that has been in Jackie's family for years. It's not entirely idyllic - the boathouse seems to have collapsed over the winter, for a start - but Julie is impressed, looking forward to a nice, relaxing weekend. She's excited to meet Sarah (Martha MacIsaac), a close friend from Jackie's childhood, and her husband Daniel (Joey Klein), although it's a little odd that Sarah called Jackie "Megan".

Writer/director Colin Minihan lets that stew for a while, letting the audience file it back in their heads as something where they are expecting another bit of related information so that when the two connect, there's that thrilling "oh, shit!" moment before things go to hell. Instead, he jumps straight to the violence, kicking things into high gear early and not leaving a whole lot to be explained. Details will be filled in, sure, but for now, it's about running, hiding, recovering from what may be the year's second-nastiest fall after the one in Revenge, and trying to out-think an exceptionally crafty opponent. It's not a completely streamlined thriller, but it doesn't waste time on building sympathy for its villain or trying to build a metaphor. It is what it is, and it's good enough at being that to not feel like it's just going through the motions.

Full review at EFC.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 20 August 2018 - 26 August 2018

Late summer is for baseball, ignoring the major releases, and procrastinatnig on catching up on the stuff that's worth it.

This Week in Tickets

I generally try and space my baseball games out, but sometimes they schedule the game with the Snoopy bobblehead giveaway the day before the one in my season ticket package, and what can you do then? You go to both, confident that you'll see at least one victory given how the Red Sox have rolled this year, and it suddenly becomes clear that the Indians are not just a decent team in a lousy division, but pretty good. It at least looked like they'd get back in it on Monday, but it didn't happen.

Errands to run much of the rest of the week, but I got out to Kendall Square to see Support the Girls on Friday, which meant that both going to something else during IFFBoston and hanging on to MoviePass weren't bad choices - as much as AMC's A-List started out looking like "MoviePass but limited to AMC", things have changed enough that MoviePass now seems like "A-List for Landmark". Not particularly enthused about the Chinese movie that had been advertised for months, I hit Go Brother! instead,and that was a mixed bag.

Anyway, short week, so no smaller reviews to put here. Follow my Letterboxd for more short stuff.

Indians 5, Red Sox 4
Indians 6, Red Sox 3
Support the Girls
Go Brother!

Go Brother!

Part of the fun of my preferred "just in front of the moat" seats is that I'll often sit down, fiddle with my phone until the previews start, and not realize until the end of the movie that the theater actually filled in pretty well behind me, as it did here. I'm curious who and what the big draw was - I was most impressed by Zhang Zifeng but I could easily see Peng Yuchang being the sort of teen idol that pulls the young crowd in. It doesn't seem like this got the advertising that Oolong Courtyard did, but, as usual, that's from the perspective of a white guy who only finds out about most of these movies when they drop right in front of my face; for all I know, Magnum has been pushing this hard in places young Chinese-Americans would see it.

Also, half a cup of respect to them for occasionally bringing back the attached teaser - which, in the digital age, seems to mean having it actually being part of the movie's DCP files rather than a seperate file to put in the playlist. Having one made From Vegas to Macau III playing Boston seem like a bigger deal than it should have a couple years ago, and although the one on this was mostly Chinese text that I couldn't quickly pick the English out of, it looks like a new "Mr. & Mrs. ______" movie with Chapman To is coming out next month, except that I can't find anything about one and it's just been two weeks since Wong Jing's last movie. I'm curious, though, much the same way I am excited by the teasers for counterfeiting thriller Project Gutenberg. The trailer for that one doesn't give you much plot but does end with Chow Yun-fat in sunglasses lighting a cigar with a $100 bill, and I am down for that.

More than I was for this movie, although I kind of feel weird about my main complaint. It is a movie about teenagers, mostly girls, and maybe I shouldn't feel disrespected on their behalf. It feels like Shimiao should be a lot more upset about being lied to and kept in the dark, especially since this took the form of being treated badly, rather than just being grateful for her family's protective instincts. It's the sort of thing you see a lot in the sort of manga this is based off and other Chinese movies, so maybe it's just something where west and east are out of sync.

Kuai ba wo ge dai zou (Go Brother!)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2018 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

The line between someone being well-intentioned and protective in a sweet way and being the same in a creepy way is not always clear, especially in movies like this one, which work by making something weird into something emotional. The makers of Go Brother! are just capable enough to make one see their characters' good intentions, but not quite able to either confront or paper over how lousy their actions can be.

There's not a jury in the world that would convict Shimiao ("Wendy" Zhang Zifeng) if she murdered her brother Shifen (Peng Yuchang) - he steals her allowance, reads her diary, resets her alarm, and then, once she's running late for school, texts her to bring the backpack he forgot at home. For all that, she still covers for him when he gets in trouble at school, but when he (and their parents) once more lets him down, this time on her birthday, she wishes that she were an only child. The next morning, things are weird - Shifen is still around, but now he's the brother to Shimiao's celebrity-obsessed best friend Miaomiao (Zhao Jinmai), pulling all the same crap on her. And while she initially doesn't miss that, how she looks at things can change when she sees them from a new perspective.

Part of that is how it throws the problems in her parents' marriage, and how Shifen is aiding his parents in hiding that from Shimiao (and later Miaomiao), into sharp focus, and the attitudes in play around that rankle. She's seventeen by the time the movie really gets going, not twelve, and Shifen can't be much more than a year older than her unless high school lasts a fair amount longer in China than it does in North America. And while it's entirely possible that Shifen being trusted more than his sister(s) with this knowledge despite his acting like an immature twit is simply a reflection of the culture, one certainly not limited to China, it's one that the filmmakers seem to buy into even when they're acknowledging that there's a point where it becomes wildly impractical. They're generally clumsy talking about divorce and blended families - enough to make me wonder if this is relatively uncharted waters in that country - but the way that the filmmakers seem determined to cast Shifen as the misunderstood hero of the tale is not ideal.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Independent Film Festival Boston 2018.122: Support the Girls

How long has construction been going on in the general area of Landmark's Kendall Square Cinema? Long enough that it has taken on a life of its own, expanding to the point where it has engulfed the main entrance, forcing them to cut a new one into the side of the building:

Despite the fact that you've got to walk through the parking garage to get there, I kind of like it. The widescreen layout puts you in a cinematic frame of mind before entering, there is room for movie posters outside the doors, and it sort of corrects some of the other parts of the place that seem jury-rigged, like how the kiosks are on the far end of the lobby, previously requiring you to squeeze past the long lines that you're trying to bypass. With more people bypassing that part of the theater now - especially here, in a spot where MoviePass still works - it makes sense to build them in such a way that it's possible to actually relieve congestion by doing so.

I was a bit surprise to wind up in screen #9 - sure, I tend to wind up there a lot, but I was kind of under the impression that Support the Girls was not quite so much a niche release - folks know Regina Hall, after all, and maybe there are still some folks in Boston that consider director Andrew Bujalski our guy rather than someone who buggered off to the manufactured cool of Austin. I wasn't the only person thinking that way; the person at the end of my row was shocked that there was such a small crowd for opening night. I wonder how much of the local audience for this caught it back when it played IFFBoston in April and kind of lost track of it by the time it actually reached theaters.

Heck, I wasn't exactly truly enthused about seeing it - Bujalski and others dug themselves a hole with me when they were doing mumblecore, and I've yet to warm to his stuff - but Hall was a draw and Haley Lu Richardson's name raised an eyebrow, too. She was, if you'll recall, pretty fantastic in last year's Columbus, and her role here is almost the exact opposite of that one. It looks like she's got some actual leading roles coming out next year, and I'm really curious to see how well she rises to that challenge.

Support the Girls

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 August 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

It feels a bit like the movies as a whole skipped a step with Support the Girls, that the natural order of things would be to have a zany comedy or three about behind-the-scenes hijinks at this sort of Hooters-knockoff "breastaurant" before the one that actually takes them kind of seriously comes out. Taking this route is probably more honest, and it certainly gives the cast some chances to do good work, even if it only occasionally has the movie hitting the comic heights that filmmaker Andrew Bujalski initially seems to be going for.

The bar & grill at the center of the film is a place called "Double Whammies", and general manager Lisa (Regina Hall) is the one who keeps it going on a day-to-day basis. Today that means interviewing a new group of young, busty girls; trying to raise money for an employee who drove her car into a boyfriend who was asking for it; calling the cops because a burglar apparently got stuck in the vent overnight; and trying to get the cable fixed because a sports bar without functioning TVs isn't much of a draw. For all of this, she inspires tremendous loyalty from the employees, especially the upbeat Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and the more cynical Danyelle (Shayna McHayle), but is often seen by restaurant owner Cubby (James Le Gros) as something of a nuisance - and with national chain "Mancave" moving in nearby, he's thinking that it may no longer be worth indulging her insubordination and generosity.

Another manager shows up at the end of the day to take the night shift, and although it's not as if Bujalski has held back from showing that Whammies is kind of inherently tacky - compare the kitchen scenes to other restaurant-set movies, for instance, or note the lack of bustle and energy in the front - it's clear that things change as soon as things aren't running through Lisa. What's impressive about this is that it seems to be some sort of alchemy at times; Lisa is not presented as a genius, or unflappable, or even necessarily the nicest person in the film (it is hard to out-nice Maci). How much of that comes from Bujalski's script and how much comes from Regina Hall is impossible to untangle after the fact, but it's fantastic to watch Hall perform - it's not just that Lisa has a backbone despite being sweet and kind, with the requisite understated Texas twang, but that she seems to actively dislike not being nice. It hurts her to give up on people or engage in any sort of deception even when it's something to which everybody involved has tacitly agreed. Hall gives a frequently funny performance, often by playing a scene where she could look like a fool with confidence, but it's through how Lisa reacts to things - whether Hall shows her as befuddled, amused, or saddened - that the audience gets a feel for how funny something should be, and allows itself to react accordingly.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 August 2018 - 30 August 2018

Just two weekends left in summer vacation, so no point in releasing anything with the chance of really having legs, I guess. So, might as well catch up with other stuff, right?

  • It seems like The Henson Company has been trying to make The Happyland Murders - a crude-as-heck puppet movie about serial killers taking out the cast of a thinly-veiled Sesame Street clone - for a long time, but it's finally coming out now, and you can't help but notice that Melissa McCarthy is not going around being interviewed to promote it, which is usually not a great sign. See if it's as much a mess as that indicates at the Somerville Theatre, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Actually kid-friendly (or at least, that's the idea) is A.X.L., which has a couple of teens discover a big ol' robot dog, with the military group that developed it wanting it back and probably don't want it bonding with someone who will use it for things other than war. It is at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    This is about when Imax screens need a bit of filler, so if you didn't see 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm earlier this summer (and can't wait until the Somerville brings their print out for their annual festival), you can catch it at Boston Common or Jordan's Furniture. Revere opens refugee drama Beautifully Broken, and there's also a Wednesday opening for Operation Finale, with Oscar Isaac as the Nazi hunter who tracked down Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), at Boston Common, the Seaport, and Assembly Row

    This week's TCM classic is South Pacific, playing Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Sunday and Monday; those same places also have a 25th Anniversary screening of Rudy. Fenway and Revere have Robert Townsend's documentary about Making "The Five Heartbeats"
  • Kendall Square gets two IFFBoston alumni this weekend: Support the Girls is the latest from Andrew Bujalski, featuring Regina Hall as the manager of a sports bar best known for the scantily-clad waitresses than its food and drink; We the Animals follows a disintegrating Puerto Rican family in upstate New York whose youngest son is starting to notice his brothers taking on some of their father's worst characteristics. There's also a one-night presentation of This Is Congo on Wednesday, with Jeanne Kasongo L. Ngondo of the Shalupe Foundation there to discuss it afterward.

    There's also Papillon, which apparently credits both the original book and 1973 film as source material, this time with Charlie Hunnam in the title role and Rami Malek as the counterfeiter with whom he plans to escape In addition to the Kendall, it plays the Embassy, Boston Common, and the Seaport.
  • The Island hangs around for a third week at Boston Common. They also get Oolong Courtyard about a month or so after it was originally expected to open; I've read that this slapstick comedy about two small-time crooks who enter a secluded martial-arts school in the hopes of finding something hidden there is connected to another movie, but I can't find where. They also get Go, Brother!, a teen comedy about a girl who wishes her annoying brother as gone, only to find things different when that wish finds him suddenly part of another family.

    Apple Fresh Pond and Fenway continue matinees of Gold, with Fresh Pond also holding Geetha Govindam and Kolamavu Kokila over. Tamil dance film Lakshmi and Telugu romance Neevevaro each get one show a day.
  • The Brattle Theatre wraps up their summer vertical calendar, starting with a weekend double feature of Blade Runner (the "Final Cut") and Blade Runner 2049. The Rita Hayworth series ends with three single features: Separate Tables (35mm) and The Money Trap (16mm) on Monday and The Lady from Shanghai on Tuesday (replacing the canceled Road to Salina). Tuesday also has a free Elements of Cinema screening of The Player, and then they wrap up their part of "Heroic!: Women Who Inspire" with a double feature of Persepolis (35mm) & A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on Wednesday and one of Arrival & Alien on Thursday.
  • "Heroic!" also continues at The Museum of Fine Arts with Strange Days (35mm Friday), Mad Max: Fury Road (Friday/Saturday), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Saturday/Sunday), Princess Mononoke (subtitled on Sunday), as well as Ava (Thursday). They also screen a ballet adaptation of Casanova on Saturday and Thursday as part of their "Casanova's Europe" program.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up fashion doc McQueen to mostly play the Goldscreen, and then start to wind their summer programming up. Pumpkinhead (Friday) and the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Saturday), both in 35mm, wrap up the "Organic Panic" midnights, with Friday also including a screening of The Room with a live shadowcast. There's also a 35mm Big Screen Classics presentation of The Godfather: Part II on Monday, and a special screening of Palestinian film Wajib on Tuesday.
  • The Somerville Theatre holds Summer of '84 over for a third week of midnights (it also plays Cinema Salem at 9:30pm those days), also offering up late-night 35mm prints of Showgirls (Friday) and Purple Rain (Saturday) to finish the series, the latter featuring giveaways from High Energy Vintage. Their sister cinema in Arlington, The Capitol, has a Throwback Thursday screening of Breakfast at Tiffany's on the 30th.
  • The Regent Theatre hosts the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival on Saturday and Sunday, with eight blocks of of films (some including a feature, some not).
  • The Museum of Science's "Summer Thursdays" series had movies on the fourth week of each month, and for the fifth they go for a double feature, with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek: First Contact. Mildly surprised they didn't do all three second Star Trek movies and include Into Darkness, but that one's the weak link of the trio.
  • Because I let my membership lapse a few years back, I don't know what's playing for Members' Weekend at the The Harvard Film Archive, but if you're a member, you've probably already received an email about what rare 35mm prints they're pulling out to screen!
  • It's Films at the Gate weekend, with free outdoor movies on the Rose Kennedy Greenway at 8pm all weekend, preceded by martial-arts demonstrations and WGBH Stories from the Stage entries. Friday has a couple other GBH presentations, "Forever, Chinatown" & "Random Acts of Legacy"; Saturday features Chasing the Dragon with an introduction from Klyster Yen, father of star Donnie Yen (and probably a demonstration from his mom's martial arts school); and things wrap up on Sunday with Xu Haofeng's The Final Master.

    Joe's Free Films has a list of other free movies, with Thor: Ragnarok getting a couple of outdoor screenings.

I honestly don't know what I'll be seeing this weekend - probably Support the Girls, but nothing else is looking like a must-see. I'm honestly just kind of glad I won't see a trailer for Oolong Courtyard again. I guess it'd be a shame to skip Films at the Gate, if only to hear from Donnie's dad.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 13 August 2018 - 19 August 2018

One of the awesome nieces had a birthday this week, which is the best way to have one's moviegoing time limited, what with the shopping, traveling, and exchanging presents for a slice of cake.

This Week in Tickets

The week was actually hot enough that I kind of found myself staying in once I'd made it back to the apartment after work, because am I going to walk back to Davis and into that very warm T station in this heat? No. I actually stayed a couple extra hours after work so that I could see Her Sister from Paris at 8pm in Arlington with Jeff Rapsis on the organ. It was, no surprise, a lot of fun, the sort of less slapstick-based silent comedy that doesn't necessarily play very often. It's delightfully different, a comedy almost entirely built around people's facial expressions rather than line delivery or pratfalls.

Didn't quite stay late on Friday, but went to Henry Bear's Park and the Museum of Science gift shop to find birthday presents and, folks, do not try and wrangle a Pinbox 3000 box from the MOS to Boylston station and then through the theater. It is unwieldy and the little handle they taped on didn't even last until I'd left the sidewalk in front of the MOS. Still, it wasn't particularly crowded for The Spy Gone North, so I wasn't putting anyone out. The long Korean spy movie can be a tough sell, but it's pretty decent. Good enough to remember the parts that work rather than the rest.

The other Asian movie at Boston Common for the weekend was only playing matinees, and it was the third of the series, so I dutifully crammed for that on Saturday, tracking down Tokyo Raiders & Seoul Raiders on the streaming services around heading up to Maine to see my nieces, one of whom was turning eight. It made for kind of a long day - long enough that I conked out during the second movie and had to restart again Sunday morning, before heading out to Boston Common for Europe Raiders. The serie weakens as it goes on, which is a shame, because they always put together some great casts and enjoyably odd images.

Not so much on my Letterboxd since, but more coming..

Her Sister from Paris

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2018 in Capitol Theatre #1 (Throwback Thursday, digital)

Not all silent comedies were built on slapstick, but movies like this one still went for big, unmistakable gags, benefiting from playing in huge movie houses where even if someone wasn't in close-up, there's still the equivalent of a good, close look at what's playing across their faces. They don't get that so much any more - the screen is smaller in the Arlington Capitol's third house, and the DVD projected can't match an old nitrate print - but it still works despite that.

Take Constance Talmadge in this - her early scenes as a wife losing self-confidence don't really hint at what a delight she'll be as that same woman impersonates her twin sister to force her husband into an uncomfortable position. It's a joy to watch her change nervousness into delightful mischief, conveying the delight and dismay at her husband's flirtation, on top of her second role as the more worldly, composed "La Terry", who still shares her sister's sense of humor, though it manifests differently. It's a fun contrast to how Ronald Colman shows that husband going from skeevy to panicked as the film goes on, a comic performance that makes his Joseph Weyringer a hissable villain and just maybe worth Helen's affection.

It's with noting how well the filmmakers handle the twin thing with 1925 technology, because the fact that it is darn near invisible highlights how well they do everything else. They disguise the seam between Talmadges with simple but striking set design, and the way they cut around her acting with a body double shows just how crisply edited this is in general. It's fast-paced but not frantic, and while the instant delight every woman Helen meets shows in her plan is entertaining men-are-dogs material, the bond between the sisters reinforces how there's less distance between that which one considers plain and unattainable than one might think.

Her Sister from Paris
The Spy Gone North
Tokyo/Seoul Raiders
Europe Raiders

Monday, August 20, 2018

Tokyo, Seoul, and Europe Raiders

I kind of put much more effort into seeing Europe Raiders than this not-very-good movie deserves, Yes, sure, you absolutely see the Hong Kong movie when it plays - which has actually been more often of late, as the mainland ones due for release have either been pulled or pushed a lot, creating absolute mayhem with China Lion's release slate - but it was not exactly easy, since it was playing matinees only during the weekend, and the shuffled times for the week aren't great either (last show of the day at 6:10pm). And though it didn't look like there was a whole lot of continuity between films - Tony Leung Chiu-wai is the only person in the cast who carries over - but, hey, it's probably worth knowing the series so that I don't ignorantly say that the problem with #3 is something that's baked into the series from the start. It is, sure, but give it some context!

So, Tokyo Raiders is on Amazon Prime Video, for free if you've got Amazon Prime (aside: whatever branding consultant decided to call every video you can stream from Amazon "Prime Video" as oopposed to just the ones that stream for free with Amazon Prime needs a whack upside the head). I'm kind of zonked after The Spy Went North Friday night, so I watch it Saturday morning, and I'm surprised just how much I like it. But then, they don't have Seoul Raiders. Apparently the only place that does in the US is Google Play Video, and in Standard Definition at that. My Roku does a decent job of upconverting it to either HD or 4K, but that's still kind of rough for a movie that's got Shu Qi in it to look at.

(Kind of rough to watch, too, as I fell asleep watching it Saturday night and had to try again Sunday morning!)

As kind of expected, there was just me and one other person in the theater for a show at noon on Sunday, so I don't know how this would have played to an actual crowd - maybe better, because there's a lot of stuff in it that seemed like it was just on the wrong side of fun, but maybe an environment where other people are laughing gives it a nudge.

I was amused as heck that someone involved must have either been a pretty serious Trekkie or went looking for synthetic languages and decided to backfill. There's a Christmas dinner with a bunch of people wearing Spock ears and not-quite-infringing knockoffs of TOS uniforms, and Kris Wu's character both swears in Klingon and uses it to communicate with Lin so that people around them can't understand them. It's funny because two years ago, there were stories about Paramount hiring a company to make sure that people in China knew what the heck Star Trek was before they released Beyond there. Obviously, Hong Kong is not China in general, but it's still kind of impressive that you will see both this kind of Trek nerdery and Journey to the West references that they would have had to explain the heck out of had this been made for an American audience, but both kind of just left there like the audience is expected to get them.

I'm tempted to add "Klingon" as one of the movie's languages on IMDB, although I'm not sure whether that's silliness or accuracy. And though it's not really a very good movie, I appreciate the weirdness of having a Chinese movie about people working for the American CIA set in Italy quite possibly having more lines in Klingon than English or Italian.

Dong Jing Gong Lue (Tokyo Raiders)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 August 2018 in Jay's Living Room (catch-up, Amazon Prime HD)

Tony Leung Chiu-wai always seems like "the other one" to me - Tony Leung Ka-fai seems to have had the more distinguished career, and "Little Tony" always seems to pale in comparison to the other action guys who emerged at about the same time (Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yeun Biao). Heck, in this very movie, he seems to be constantly upstaged by second-billed Ekin Cheng, enough to make me wonder whether this became his series by virtue of his being able to return for Seoul Raiders a few years later.

Despite Leung being kind of forgettable in it, Tokyo Raiders is a really fun movie. It starts off with a bouncy score and a goofy opening gambit (presumably so that it isn't twenty minutes before Leung's character is introduced) before dropping an entertaining odd couple in above their heads and then just having everybody get deeper and deeper in, with tons of secrets revealed that make just enough sense to not feel completely random. It's good-looking - director Jingle Ma made his bones as a cinematographer - but in this very specific way, grainy and with lots of grey-ish costumes for the guys and perky charm for the ladies, almost like the filmmakers are intentionally saying that they cut corners to shoot in Japan (though it seldom gets the expected beauty shots) and put together a decent cast and have them do some fun action. It's not quite a winky, self-aware B-movie, but the sort of Hong Kong action flick that prioritizes certain things and gets by elsewhere.

Plus, man, the rest of that cast! Ekin Cheng has some action chops and the right attitude for the screwball plot. Kelly Chen, gorgeous, charming, and able to take all the betrayal the film throws at her character and build someone the audience likes and cheers on more than they feel sorry for her. Cecilia Cheung, a "special guest" who makes the most of a throwaway pretty-girl sidekick. And Hiroshi Abe, who maybe wasn't yet much of a star in Japan, but who certainly feels like a great get as the brutish but charismatic local villain in retrospect.

I've got to admit, I initially wasn't really looking forward to this one; it felt like unnecessary homework for a sequel that wasn't really anticipated enough to get any evening showings here. But, it turns out, this thing's a lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to completing the series over the next couple of days.

Han Cheng Gong Lue (Seoul Raiders)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18/19 August 2018 in Jay's Living Room (catch-up, Google Play SD)

Once again, Tony Leung is overshadowed by his co-stars in this sequel to Tokyo Raiders, only this time, he is placed closer to the center, with little room for Richie Jen and Shu Qi to take over the way Ekin Cheng and Kelly Chen did in the first. Most of the action winds up focusing on Lam and his all-girl squad of assistants (who, unfortunately, are never really individual enough to make for a fun squad), chasing around Seoul to find missing counterfeiting plates, eventually killing enough time in light enough fashion that the big reveals of who is actually working together don't feel entirely like cheats.

It feels little cheaper and less ambitious than the first, and a little more prone to being on the wrong side of the self-parody line, too. Fortunately, it seems like they're saving up for the big finale with a chase through Seoul that involves a Cessna that just came out of nowhere. That bit is enjoyably destructive and crazy, with fighting in and on top of the airplane as it plows through city streets. It reminds you right away that, wow, Hong Kong filmmakers used to do some insane things without much apparent CGI enhancement, and at least must have sent people out of the theater happy.

Ou Zhou Gong Lue (Europe Raiders)

* * (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

Released 18 years ago, Tokyo Raiders wasn't a great movie, which goes double for 2005 sequel Seoul Raiders, but they're fair examples of early-aughts Hong Kong movies - relatively-low budget, scripts that aren't great, a bit of brain-drain going on as some of the big names were heading to Hollywood or China, but nevertheless kind of fun because you could still put together a heck of a cast and nobody in the world did action better. Europe Raiders, meanwhile, is a fair look at what movies have in many cases become almost two decades later - some of the same people are involved, but the result feels more processed, with less to be impressed by.

It opens in 2006, on Christmas Eve, when private eye/bounty hunter/CIA agent Lin Zaifeng (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and his team - Steelskin (Lo Mang), Sureblade (Lau Ka Yung), and Megafoot (Yuen Qiu), rather than the adoring young women of the previous films - rescue both master hacker Mercury (George Lam Chi-Cheung) and his two children, though he suspects Mercury wouldn't be caught unless he wanted to be. A decade later those children have grown up, and Sophie (Du Juan) has just stolen the "Hand of God" surveillance system Mercury built for the CIA, and is demanding the release of her brother Rocky (Kris Wu Yifan) from a secret prison. To catch Sophie, the CIA recruits Wang Chaoying (Tiffany Tang Yan), who is not only a top security professional in her own right, but the only one who can contact her ex-boyfriend Lin.

It's kind of odd that the third entry in this series is the first in which Tony Leung Chiu-wai's Lin is firmly placed at the center of the story despite Leung being first-billed in all three, and it still doesn't really allow him to make a strong impression or even feel that important: Though Lin talks about Hand of God being something Mercury regrets like they were close friends, there's nothing in the movie to support that, and his relationship with Wang is very much carried by Tiffany Tang's side of the story. It's bizarre what a relative void Leung is in these movies, considering what great work he's turned in elsewhere. He's far from a negative - he brings a light, playful charm to the part, can still hold his own in a martial-arts scene, and has good chemistry with Tang - but there are a couple times when it looks like the plan here is to relaunch the series with Tang as the star, and it's not just her snappy outfits (compared to Lin's gray suits) that make that an appealing idea. Tang gets to play the prickly, sarcastic agent with something to prove and has a blast selling it, to the point where she probably should have been the star of this movie in a more indisputable manner.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Spy Gone North

That first paragraph of the review below is absolutely true - every time I see that there's something out of the ordinary playing locally, I'll look up who's involved, see what else they've done to see just how must-see the new thing is and adjust priorities accordingly. In this case, I saw Nameless Gangster, remembered seeing that, and perked up, only to be surprised that I apparently hadn't loved the movie when I saw it. I wonder if I just absorbed its generally-good reputation, or if it's just got a great name.

I do like this one, though, even if I was kind of worn out by the end; as with a lot of South Korean movies, you could probably lose twenty minutes, and it didn't help that I had just done some birthday shopping for one of the awesome nieces that had me dragging a too-large item from the Museum of Science gift shop in sweaty weather beforehand after getting a bit turned-around on the way. Weird, though, getting out of what feels like an early-evening show that's only kind of long to find things already shutting down.

If nothing else, though, it was a kind of interesting take on North Korea from a South Korean perspective that doesn't make that nation either terrifying or ridiculous. One thing that struck me were the fairly small monetary stakes bandied about when trying to get leverage on the country and even Kim in particular, and it gets to the heart of North Korea's horrific absurdity in a way that doesn't necessarily rely on leaving the unstable Kim dynasty front and center - it's a desperately poor country that that continues as it is seemingly out of pure defiance, racking up a horrific body count on the way, and too many people on both sides of the people (whether their own leadership or that of the South) profit too much from that situation.

Which is more than a lot of other kind of messy movies manage. It's kind of a shame that the Asian movies playing Boston Common got nailed by some really weird times this week (in part, admittedly, because of Crazy Rich Asians. This stuff may be imperfect, but it's at least interesting.

Gongjak (The Spy Gone North)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2018 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

A funny thing happened on the way to The Spy Gone North; I looked over my previous reviews of director Yoon Jong-bin's films and realized that, despite the good reputations attached to their names, I'd thought they were just okay at the time rather than particularly great movies, and it soon seemed that this one was settling into the same space - interesting material, clear and methodical telling, not-quite-dry results. It takes an interesting turn toward the end, though, in the same way that something begun with one intention can often take on a life of its own.

It starts in the early 1990s, when the Cold War was coming to an end in most of the world but intensifying on the Korean peninsula as the North is getting closer to refining plutonium at its Yongbyon reactor. The National Intelligence Service recruits Park Suk-young (Hwang Jung-min) to make contact with a nuclear physicist working on the project, but that only gets them limited information, so he's soon got a much more ambitious mission: Travel to Beijing representing an import/export front company to try and do some business with Ri Myung-un (Lee Sing-min) of the North's External Economic Commission, and from there try to work his way into the Pyongyang elite, finding a way to get close enough to Yongbyon for operatives to smuggle something out..

Those that enjoy the un-Bond-like nuts and bolts of spy work will find plenty of it here, as Suk-young diligently ruins his own life to establish a cover and then spends months working to make contact with Myung-un rather than having some useful and eccentric supporting character instantly backfill it. The actual work of surveillance and counter-surveillance is presented in detailed fashion that highlights how workmanlike it can be, and when he does find a path to Pyongyang, it's kind of absurd and involves hijacking someone else's work. It is in many ways, about relentlessly staying the course and finding ways to present oneself as harmless to thoroughly paranoid people. Yoon and co-writer Kwon Sung-whee do well to keep this part of the film moving despite the very incremental progress being made and the way that so many of the figures Suk-young encounters are spy-movie staples, behaving exactly as expected without a lot of surprises in store.

Full review at EFC.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 August 2018 - 23 August 2018

Does anyone know what the heck is happening with MoviePass on a day-to-day basis? I mean, they seem like they've finally hit something sensible and then they go for stupid again. Like, give sensible a week to work, guys!

  • So, I guess this is the week when we can really say Crazy Rich Asians opens, with John Chu's romantic comedy about an Asian-American woman who discovers that her boyfriend is, in fact, part of the wealthiest family in Singapore, and his mother (Michelle Yeoh!) is a force to be reckoned with. Final count for opening weekend includes Fresh Pond, the Capitol, West Newton Cinema, Boston Common (with some screenings subtitled in Chinese), Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Elsewhere, Alpha finally arrives after this adventure about a prehistoric warrior befriending a wolf has been pushed back since at least March (it's apparently now subtitled and not getting as many Imax 3D screenings as expected). That plays Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common (including 3D), Fenway (including 3D), South Bay (Imax 3D only), Assembly Row (Imax 3D only) and Revere (including 3D). Then there's Mile 22, with Peter Berg directing Mark Wahlberg in some action thing that you can't convince me has even had a trailer released. It's at Fresh Pond, the Embassy, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (Dolby Cinema Only), Assembly Row (Dolby Cinema only), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    I ignore a lot of the faith-based movies that come out, but An Interview with God landed David Strathairn in the title role, although it's amazing how quickly he's gone from nondescript pro to "space pirate with a crazy accent" thanks to The Expanse, and I'm sad he's not playing God like that. More importantly, one of my favorite Fantasia films in recent years, Night Is Short, Walk On Girl plays a couple nights at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere (Tuesday only); subtitled on Tuesday, with Fenway playing it dubbed on Wednesday. It's a daffy, surreal kick, although I'm surprised a company called GKIDS is distributing a movie that is in large part about everybody getting really drunk. Documentary Alt-Right: Age of Rage plays Revere on Wednesday, with that spot also showing Jaws on Thursday.
  • I missed Skate Kitchen at Fantasia this year, so it's cool to see that it's already showing up at Kendall Square and Boston Common, telling the story of an all-girl skate crew in New York City. The Kendall also gets IFFBoston alum Never Goin' Back, a stoner comedy about two high-school dropouts in Dallas just trying to take a vacation, for two shows a day, and it made me laugh a lot. They also have documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, telling the story of a handsome gas station attendant who became confidante and lover to stars of both sexes.
  • Boston Common keeps The Island around, but it seems to mean there's not a whole lot of room for their other Asian features: Europe Raiders reunites director Jingle Ma and Tony Leung Chiu-wai for a third entry in this series (the first in 13 years) with Kris Wu along for the ride and some potentially good action with Cung Le and Jeeja Yanin credited as "assassins", though for matinees only. There are also a couple shows a day for The Spy Gone North, a slick-as-heck looking thriller from South Korea directed by Yoon Jong-bin, who did Nameless Gangster and Kundo: Age of the Rampant.

    Hindi sports drama Gold adds Fenway as well as continuing to play at Apple Fresh Pond. The latter also continues Hindi screenings of Vishwaroopam 2 in Hindi, Styameva Jayate in Hindi, Geetha Govindam In Telugu, also opening Tamil crime flick Kolamavu Kokila
  • The Brattle Theatre has 9:30pm shows of BUFF selection Good Manners from Friday to Monday (10pm on Saturday), but otherwise it's all rep stuff: They celebrate Leonard Bernstein's 100th with On the Waterfront on Friday, West Side Story on Saturday, and On the Town (on 35mm) Sunday, before going back to celebrating Rita Hayworth's Centennial with Pal Joey on 35mm Monday. Tuesday is Trash Night, and then "Heroic!" continues with a 35mm double feature of Auntie Mame & His Girl Friday on Wednesday and The Triplets of Belleville (35mm) & A Touch of Zen on Thursday.
  • "Pandas" heads back to IMAX theaters this weekend, entering the rotation at the New England Aquarium and grabbing matinee slots for a week at Jordan's and Boston Common.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre mostly keeps to last week's schedule, aside from finding showtimes for Puzzle in the Goldscreen. They've got a free mystery "Organic Panic" screening at midnight on Friday (I wonder if it's another one of those prints they're not supposed to have but which has been around since the 80s) and a 35mm print of Batman & Robin (because Poison Ivy is the villain) on Saturday. Monday night is the annual The Big Lebowski party, with costumes, bowling, and other goofiness along with a 35mm print. There's also a "Stage & Screen" presentation of Dear White People on Thursday.
  • It's a "Heroic!" weekend at The Museum of Fine Arts with Advanced Style (Friday), Return to Oz (35mm Friday/Saturday), Strange Days (35mm Saturday), Whale Rider (Sunday), Moana (Sunday), and the entry-in-spirit Ava (Sunday).
  • The Somerville Theatre is a 3-plex for a while, but they've still got some special programs going, with this weekend including midnights of both Summer of '84 and both John Wick movies, with the first on Friday and Chapter 2 on Saturday. Wednesday's "Play It Cool" double feature is dedicated to Raymond Chandler & Philip Marlowe, with 35mm prints of Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep and Elliott Gould in The Long Goodbye (which, sadly, doubles as the end of the series).

    Summer of '84 also plays at Cinema Salem on Thursday, with writer/producer Matt Leslie doing Q&A afterward.
  • Jeff Rapsis is at the Aeronaut Brewery on Sunday accompanying 1925's Clash of the Wolves, starring the original Rin Tin Tin.
  • Bright Lights doesn't official return for a month, but they will be showing Repo Man up in the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount with writer/director Alex Cox on-hand!
  • The Regent Theatre has a free double feature of "Between the Folds" and Design & Thinking on Wednesday, presented by UXPA Boston.
  • The Museum of Science is wrapping their "Summer Thursdays" series over the next couple of weeks, with Event Horizon being the last "regular" film entry in the program playing the planetarium on Thursday.
  • Joe's Free Films has particularly diverse slate for outdoor screenings this week, with multiple showings of the recent live-action Beauty and the Beast, but also the Coolidge guys hitting the Greenway with a 35mm projector for a double feature of the newly-restored Revenge of the Creature (though probably not in 3D) & The Incredible Shrinking Man, while Wednesday features Egleston Square breaking out Bird Boy: The Forgotten Children (do they know how messed up that is?) while Medford goes for Star Wars.

There for Crazy Rich Asians and The Spy Went North, probably also Alpha, will probably try and catch Night Is Short, Walk on Girl on the big screen again, and level with me, folks - do I need to watch Tokyo Raiders and Seoul Raiders before Europe Raiders?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 6 August 2018 - 12 August 2018

First full week after Fantasia, so time to start this back up, though there are still two more days from the festival and a few other stragglers. But like I say, you can't just pull out of a three-week Asian/genre festival all at once.

This Week in Tickets

So, I started off with a two-night double feature of Along with the Gods, watching The Two Worlds at home on Monday and then heading out to Boston Common for The Last 49 Days on Tuesday. It was going to be my first use of AMC A-List, but I forgot my passport at home (when you neither drive nor drink, you can sometimes get kind of lackadaisical about having any other sort of current photo ID), so I decided not to chance going without, because who wants the ushers at a theater you go to every week to remember you as "the guy who tries to bend the rules" rather than "the Caucasian guy who sees all the Asian movies and doesn't leave a mess"?

I get why AMC is asking for that - since they allow you to repeat movies, it would be very easy for a few people who only see one movie a week to share a membership - but ushers don't have time for that. Still had my ID anyway on my next two trips to AMCs - on Friday for a packed screening of Huang Bo's The Island and Saturday for a 3D screening of The Meg.

Those two combined would otherwise have cost $30, and I've paid $20 for the month. I suspect that AMC is not actually paying distributors based on the full price on the ticket, but whatever the minimum allowed is (maybe the $7.09 they get for 11am shows), and they've got more reason to just get people in the door so they can sell popcorn, so I figure this will last well past the end of MoviePass - which, to look at what's available on the app right now, is going to basically be A-List for Landmark.

Sunday, I only ventured into Davis Square to catch their Silent Laurel & Hardy Shorts, which Jeff & David mentioned might be their last "Silents, Please" of the year unless they could fit one into November; the place is going to be down to three screens for a while as construction goes on downstairs into October and it will be harder to shift things around. Not sure what they're doing down there, although I'm kind of hoping it's not putting in recliners - that might leave theater #2 with 50 seats and #3 with maybe 100, and that would make things nightmarish at IFFBoston next spring. Maybe they're reconfiguring some other way, putting a kitchen in where the Museum of Bad Art is or something. Or just doing boring but necessary work on the HVAC and stuff.

At any rate, it was, as usual, a fun time. There were little kids beside and behind me, and there's something delightful about little kids discovering the pure, unfettered slapstick of a classic silent. The pace isn't quite like any modern thing but it hits them perfectly. Even the jokes that don't are dated as heck kind of work because they just come off as silly and nonsense.

I've been letting my Letterboxd get behind lately, but I'll try to get back on top of that.

"Call of the Cuckoo"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

So I looked it up, and the title actually can't a reference to H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu", since this actually came out first. It makes me wonder if the names of both reference some other bit of 1920s pop culture that has vanished into obscurity. Or it's just an odd coincidence.

The short often shows up in Laurel & Hardy collections like this one, but they're just part of the Hal Roach ensemble here, bit players in the story of a family that trades their house located across the street from an insane asylum for another sight unseen, only to find that the construction is shoddy at best and downright inexplicable at worst, leading to all sorts of slapstick insanity.

Director Clyde Bruckman oversees this twenty minute short, and it's a bit of a curiosity for that - he's the credited director on The General and a couple of Harold Lloyd's features, contributing gags to many more, but people seldom consider those films his, and maybe that's fair. "Cuckoo" is one gag after the other pulled off with competence and success, but it never quite displays the brilliance his work with those comedy geniuses has, the sympathetic characterization and strange logic that makes the slapstick disaster inevitable rather than arbitrary. It makes for a fair number of good gags that are taped together haphazardly, only occasionally reaching the heights of the delightfully surreal in a few spots (like when Mama Gimplewart starts mopping the pattern off the linoleum floor), or when the flustered couple's son has a withering look or comment.

Still, a good bunch of gags is a good bunch of gags, and the slapstick here is certainly the work of folks who know what they are doing.

"You're Darn Tootin'" (aka "The Music Blasters")

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

A thing about silent two-reelers is that you don't have to explain why these two people who clearly drive each other insane are hanging around together, because there's no time and the intertitles would make the exposition even more forced. Still, you've got to wonder about some of these Laurel & Hardy comedies, like "You're Darn Tootin'", where they're a pair because the actors are a team and it's very difficult to imagine a backstory that explains why Ollie didn't murder Stanley years ago.

That's the common thread for the three acts of this short, each of which features the pair as a whole not exactly being bright but Stanley constantly doing something that blows up in their faces, kind of making one wonder how they showed the basic competence to get to the point where these two players in the community orchestra got to the point where they could drive the conductor mad, and the whole thing is kind of on the same rickety ladder: The slapstick is executed with precision timing and there's a perfect switch between deadpan satisfaction and escalating shock buried in each gag, but there's always some little nagging question of why they're even doing this that "things kind of got out of hand" can only explain half the time.

"The Finishing Touch"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

Here, we see what is almost the platonic idea of a silent Laurel & Hardy short - a job that is straightforward but where they are completely overmatched (finishing up a mostly-completed house, that just needs windows, shingles, doors, and the like installed), well-meaning outside forces that are going to be drawn into the pair's ability to screw things up, plenty of bizarre physical comedy, and an eventual donnybrook. It's exactly what you expect, but directors Clyde Bruckman and Leo McCarey are excellent about making sure the timing is down to the second and all the characters are just the exact right functional caricature to lead the audience from one joke to the next.

Stan Laurel is taking a firmer hand behind these scenes by now, and he's got the pair's chemistry more or less figured out, and while these guys aren't really built to go back and forth, they aren't completely at odds, and the slapstick is a steady climb that's questionable at a few points (did people in the 1920s really fill their mouths with nails to bring them from one place to another?), but escalates to the point of mania by the end.

"Big Business"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

"Big Business" turns out to be a fun switch-up from the other parts of this program because, rather than naturally being cut into a few segments, that each have their own sort of rise and climax, this one looks like it's going to do that, as Stan & Ollie are traveling from door to door, trying to sell Christmas trees in sunny Southern California, encountering different challenges with different people… And then all hell breaks loose when a simple bit of slapstick silliness just keeps escalating, until the guy they're trying to sell a tree to (James Finlayson) completely loses his temper, lashing out against the pair, and they retaliate, and then and then and then…

It's kind of a jaw-dropping level of aggression, blowing well past reasonable and then just piling more and more on top. The slapstick is less pratfalls than vandalism and destruction, thoroughly mean-spirited, but directors James W. Horne & Leo McCarey play the audience like an instrument, making each bit of destruction a bit bigger than the last, speeding up the response, until Stan & Ollie are wrecking the house, the other guy is shredding their car, and what originally started it is almost lost.

If most silents feel like the ancestors of Mickey Mouse cartoons, this one's a Donald Duck.

Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds
Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days
The Island (2018)
The Meg
Laurel and Hardy

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Meg

Strongly tempted to pair this one with The Island for a "Chinese movies about danger in the middle of the ocean" post, but it's really not Chinese enough, despite the setting, a fair chunk of the cast, and the fact that it certainly seems like a fair chunk of the money came from there. It is, at any rate, probably a better attempt at appealing to "the world market" than most movies clearly made with the intent of making a splash on both the American and Chinese box office charts, and it seems to have done all right by that measurement. Tough week to open in China, too, between The Island coming out and that remake of Brewster's Millions presumably going strong.

I'm mildly amused by the slight name change from the original novel Meg, and I kind of wonder if it's a reflection of how we browse different media. In a bookstore or library, Meg is going to not just be in a horror or sci-fi section, but even the spine is going to have a giant shark on it, so you know what to expect. Someone just standing at the box office of the local AMC, though, has no context, and might very well assume that "Meg" is some indie drama about a young woman discovering her own independence. "The Meg" is clearly talking about a thing or an idea that isn't necessarily a common term, so a blind buy at least has you in the general ballpark.

I must also admit, I'm mildly disappointed that there weren't more 3D shows for this one - almost none of the premium screens were 3D and most of the 3D shows there were happened at off-peak-hours. Yeah, it's clearly a conversion job, but underwater stuff makes for good use of depth, and there are a few other nifty uses. Not necessarily worth paying extra for, but worth the upgrade if you've got A-List.

The Meg

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #4 (first-run, RealD DCP)

Folks have been trying to make Steve Alten's novel Meg into a movie since it came out twenty years ago, and you kind of have to wonder what took so long, because it doesn't seem that complicated - there's no piece of it that doesn't come from basically every B-movie about a sea monster ever made, and it's not like you've got to create a whole new monster. Every special effects house probably already has a shark model in their files, after all. That The Meg is kind of an assembly-line monster movie is okay - it's fun to apply the latest technology to these old standards every few years - but what exactly got this stuck in development hell?

It starts, give or take a flashback, with a theory Professor Zhang (Winston Chao) believes that the bottom of the Philippine Trench is actually much deeper than it appears, and that the previously mapped bottom is actually a thermocline layer whose abrupt change in temperature reflects radar and sonar, and he's convinced a tech billionaire (Rainn Wilson) to pay for an underwater research lab. The good news is that he's right; the bad news is that the first submersible sent down gets damaged. Zhang and the station's chief of operations (Cliff Curtis) are able to marine-rescue expert Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) out of retirement - though Zhang's marine biologist daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) attempts to mount a rescue first - but all those vehicles punching through the thermocline has created a hole that the previously-unseen life in that isolated environment can swim through. Like, say, a megalodon, a sixty-foot shark thought to be extinct for two million years with an insatiable appetite and no predators in today's ocean.

Though the giant shark is obviously the main attraction, the filmmakers pull a nifty trick in that the first act, before "The Meg" even shows up, is kind of the most fun. It introduces a nice ensemble of smart, capable people who can bounce off each other without it all seeming snippy or making light of a situation, right down to Statham not actually winking at the camera as Jonas recites the expected way for a situation to play out. More importantly, director Jon Turteltaub and three credited screenwriters have ample opportunity to go the "this stuff was hidden from us for a reason!" route, but they almost never do, and there's real delight found in exploration and adventure: The submersible crew (Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, and Masi Oka) are upbeat, the undersea landscape looks cool (although it could use a few more obviously bizarre species), and there's great fun to be had in both the flashy equipment Morris's money has paid for and the decidedly manual techniques Jonas uses to get past a damaged hatch. There's even a couple good action sequences, and you don't see the megalodon until the climax of the that leg's last one..

Full review at EFC.