Friday, December 07, 2018

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 7 December 2018 - 13 December 2018

I know Thanksgiving seemed to come relatively early this year, but studios more or less doing nothing for two weeks after seems like rather a missed opportunity. Hopefully it inspires folks around here to check out a couple of fun things from this summer's Fantasia Festival.

  • Better to see Anna and the Apocalypse now anyway - it is a Scottish teenage zombie Christmas musical, after all! Charming as heck, but apparently only playing Boston Common. They also bring back The Wife, which everyone seemed to look at as "Glenn Close going for an Oscar" back in August. They're also the only ones listing Once Upon a Deadpool - a PG-13 cut of the very R-rated Deadpool 2 - as opening Wednesday.

    The biggest opening, in fact, seems to be a 25th Anniversary re-release of Schindler's List, which plays West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (Dolby Cinema), and Revere. A Star Is Born never actually left, but it gets the Imax screens at Jordan's Furniture, Boston Common, Assembly Row and South Bay for the week, with Jordan's also playing The Polar Express in Imax 3D after school. A Star Is Born also opens at the Belmont Studio Cinema.

    There are also an unusual amount of preview screenings - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse plays Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row (Imax), and Revere on Friday evening & Saturday afternoon; Bumblebee Saturday night at Boston Common, Fenway (RPX), Assembly Row, and Revere (XPlus); and Second Act at Boston Common on Tuesday. Fenway continues Regal's holiday classics series with A Christmas Story at noon on Saturday, or some inspirational-looking thing called Buttons that has pulled in a pretty nice cast; Boston Common & Fenway also have the last (English-dubbed) screenings of Mirai Saturday afternoon. More holiday specials include a TCM presentation of White Christmas at Fenway & Assembly Row on Sunday and Wednesday, a Jim Henson double-feature of "Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas" & "The Bells of Fraggle Rock" at Fenway on Monday, and Love Actually at Revere on Thursday. Fenway also has Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki on Thursday, so titled because it doesn't seem so long ago there was another documentary about his retirement (which didn't stick).
  • The Brattle Theatre's first Fantasia alum is Five Fingers for Marseilles, a pretty nifty modern Western from South Africa, although it only plays 9pm shows from Friday to Sunday, although they will also be showing documentary People's Republic of Desire with filmmaker Hao Wu there on Tuesday evening. Most of the schedule goes to Bathtubs Over Broadway, a documentary in which a late-night comedy writer discovers "industrial musicals" - trade show presentations produced and performed by legitimate Broadway talent - and the cult fans that trade recordings. There's also a DocYard screening of Island of the Hungry Ghosts with director Gabrielle Brady skyping in to talk about her film following a counselor on the island where Australia keeps asylum-seekers. They also have the second part of this year's Grrl Haus Cinema shows, with part three in Dorchester Friday the 14th.
  • Kendall Square is the Landmark Cinema opening a Netflix film this week, and it's one of the year's best movies in Roma, Alfonso Cuarón's gorgeous B&W story of an indigenous maid and the family for whom she works in the 1970s. It's very much a big-screen movie and who knows how many future opportunities anybody will have to see it on one. They also have Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes, about the man who shaped conservative media for the past several decades.
  • Apple Fresh Pond keeps 2.0 going, but also gets Kedarnath, a Hindu-Muslim love story. The Caleidoscope Indian Film Festival also plays through the weekend, with Evening Shadows at the Pao Arts Center on Friday, two films at Rhode Island College on Saturday, and The Song of Scorpions and C/O Kancharapalem back at Fresh Pond on Sunday.
  • A couple films that had played elsewhere expand to The Coolidge Corner Theatre this weekend in Shoplifters (also at Kendall Square) and Maria by Callas (also at Kendall Square and West Newton). They also have a special screening of Eternity's Gate (also playing the Capitol, Kendall Square, West Newton, Boston Common) on Sunday, with MFA curator Katie Hanson discussing the work of Van Gogh and his contemporaries.

    Midnights during the Christmas season will be featuring dangerous presents, with a 35mm print of Child's Play on Friday and the weekly screening of Gremlins on Saturday. There's a Goethe-Institut screening of Back for Good, in which a reality TV star returns home to bond with her epileptic sister, on Sunday. The Big-Screen Classic on Monday is a 35mm print of The Shop Around the Corner, with an add-on seminar before and after. There's Open Screen on Tuesday, a 35mm print of Wall Street as part of their Michael Douglas tribute, and a Rewind! presentation of Elf on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive concludes their Jiří Trnka, Puppet Master series with a set of short films on Friday evening, with the Early West German Cinema program having an encore of The Birth of Light at 9pm that night. Saturday afternoon's $5 family matinee is Meet Me In St. Louis, and then that night they begin a series Rediscovering Jacques Becker Antoine and Antoinette (Saturday 7pm), Édouard and Caroline (Saturday 9pm), The Trump Card (35mm Sunday 4:30pm), and Rendezvous in July (35mm Sunday 7pm). They wrap their weekend with Street Scene on Monday, tying in with an exhibition at the Houghton Library, with a tour beforehand.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts spends some time with Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy, with Varda's Lions Love (...and Lies) (Friday/Saturday/Thursday), Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7 (Friday/Wednesday), Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Saturday/Sunday), Demy's The Young Girls of Rochefort (Wednesday), and Varda's Happiness (Thursday). There's also a Jump Cut preview of their "Color Tells a Story" series on Sunday with Black Narcissus, preceded by "A Trip to the Moon" on 35mm with live accompaniment.
  • Border pops back up at Cinema Salem for a week in the small room.
A fair amount of time off this weekend and I guess I can catch up on The Favourite and maybe some of the other stuff I'm behind on.

Monday, December 03, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 26 November 2018 - 2 December 2018

The theme for this week: Use the chance to see something in theaters wisely.

This Week in Tickets

What that means is that when The Great Buddha+ shows up on the Harvard Film Archive's schedule after you've been seeing the distributor tweet it up for a year (though somehow never registering that it's on Amazon to rent), you go for it. Maybe you don't love it, but it's still big-screen worthy.

Similarly, when you see that the new animated film by Mamoru Hosoda is only scheduled for a day here and there, you book tickets for Mirai a week in advance and then tell other people reading your blog about it. Hosoda is a pretty reliable guy, and he's made another pretty darn good animated film about youth and family, and I'm a bit surprised the distributors aren't giving him a bigger push beyond anime fans here. Much like Mary and the Witch's Flower at the start of the year, this feels like something that could have done okay alternating dubbed and subtitled shows at Kendall Square (as some GKids productions have), or even cracked the regular lineup at Boston Common (as happened with The Boy and the Beast, Your Name, and A Silent Voice.

That was Thursday; Friday was the first night of Prospect at the Brattle. That sci-fi western turned out a whole lot better than I'd expected, although it turned out my expectations were low, as I'd seen and like the original short film version four years ago but not connected it with the new trailer.

Saturday I got up relatively early for 2.0, anticipating a big crowd for the Enthiran sequel, and wanting to see it in Tamil, the language it was filmed in, and 3D, which I just like though it turns out that it was captured that way. It wasn't the complete "what the heck is going on up on screen and why is the audience going so nuts for it?" experience of the first, but, honestly, what can compare to going to Enthiran and not knowing that Rajinikanth is a whole thing? Sadly, there wasn't quite the same dedicated fanbase for Me Dong-seok aka Don Lee when I saw Unstoppable that evening, with just a handful of us in the theater. Too bad, because it's a good, if modest, dumb action movie.

There were plans for Sunday, but it rained, and after coming back from the grocery store, I wasn't really in a mood to turn around and go back out. So I decided to shrink the pile from my last delivery of movies a bit and watch the UltraHD Blu-ray of Helios. Not a particularly great thriller, but serviceable, and the 4K transfer looked fantastic, like "why isn't everything released on this because now regular HD is ruined for the next few days" great. I don't actually use the 4K abilities of the player and TV that often, since I mostly watch new stuff and most of the high-res discs I get are stuff I've seen in the theater. I do kind of wonder why more people aren't releasing these - Hong Kong seems to lag a couple months behind the Blu-ray release (frustrating!), and the guys who make specialty discs are relatively slow to embrace it, aside from Lionsgate figuring that there might be another fifty bucks to squeeze out of those of us who keep buying the Evil Dead movies. Still, after having seen some of the limits of 2K projection with Mirai a few days before, it was cool to see just how good something can look.

Not sure what will go my Letterboxd page today, but keep watching it for blog previews.

Helios

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 December 2018 in Jay's Living Room (recent acquisitions, Hong Kong 4K Blu-ray)

Helios is a slick, well-staged thriller that ultimately winds up being completely inconsequential. Sure, some characters don't make it to the end and Hong Kong doesn't get obliterated, but there are at best momentary thrills. It shows us a shadowy world of arms dealers and capable agents, but there's no larger tension, just people playing a fast-paced game of chess, and where you can pick the double agent out not because he actually makes sense but because (he does not!) but because he keeps showing up despite having nothing to do.

Maybe it plays differently in Hong Kong, where this sort of nuclear thriller can be especially high-stakes because something as powerful and portable as the DC-8 that serves as the film's Macguffin could basically erase what they consider to be their entire country on the one hand while on the other they are feeling the pinch as China uses them for their own purposes. It's interesting and maybe telling that much of the movie and especially the finale seems to show the HK-based police seeing their South Korean counterparts as friends and allies but look at the representative from Beijing with suspicion (kudos to Wang Xueqi, who makes Song An professional, sincere, and just a smidge arrogant in how he's always considering the bigger picture).

Still, for all that this movie is a bunch of very serious people in suits (and slightly more colorful villains) striding purposefully, it can work pretty well in the moment. It is that sort of urgent, cut to feel like it's laser-focused with no wasted moments and shot with a steely color palette, making fine use of drone cams to get into the canyons of Hong Kong's streets, giving a great view of the action. And, as in the filmmakers' Cold War movies, the action is top notch, with a fight scene between Nick Cheung Ka-fai and Janice Man Wing-san a particularly terrific example (also, the ladies don't ever fight each other).

I've read somewhere that there's a sequel in development, and maybe that will give it more resolution - although given that the filmmakers have done Cold War 2 and are supposedly working on Cold War 3 before Helios 2, I wonder if that's a little white lie they told their Chinese investors to be able to leave things more open-ended than usual. Without something like that, it's kind of like the recent Jack Ryan series - well-made, never actually boring, but also not leaving you with hair standing on end when it's done.


The Great Buddha+
Mirai
Prospect
2.0
Unstoppable
Helios

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Unstoppable

There was only a handful of us in the theater for this movie on a Saturday night with no major studio movies opening for the weekend, which is a darn shame - it's basic B-movie action that's just the right amount aware of how ridiculous it is, the sort of thing that is made to be advertised with something like "(STAR'S NAME) is (FILM'S TITLE)!", and why not do that with Don Lee/Ma Dong-seok? I lent a co-worker Train to Busan a couple weeks ago and like just everyone else who sees it, he came out loving the big guy.

Honestly, if nobody at Universal is talking to him about a role in the next Fast & Furious movie, they're asleep at the wheel over there - who says no to him as the charismatic adversary who fights Vin Diesel to a standstill?

Seongnan hwangso (Unstoppable)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2018 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

Ma Dong-seok is being billed as "Don Lee" for the American release of Unstoppable, which isn't inaccurate - his given name is actually Lee Dong-seok - but it does make one wonder if he's looking to take some roles outside of South Korea while his profile is high from Train to Busan, Along with the Gods, and Champion. Hollywood would certainly be lucky to have him if so; this B-movie likely wouldn't be half as much fun without this particular big guy in the lead.

He plays Kang Dong-chul, who runs a small service delivering fish at the Incheon market with buddy Choon-sik (Park Ji-hwan), always running short on money because he gets drawn to bad investments, the latest being king crabs, frustrating his wife Ji-soo (Song Ji-hyo), though never for long. She's the one who gets in an argument when they're rear-ended by gangster Ki-tae (Kim Sung-oh) and is kidnapped a few days later, but things don't go down as usual then: Ki-tae gives Dong-chul enough money that the police look at him strange when he goes to report the crime. Fortunately, Choon-sik knows "Bear" Gomsajang (Kim Min-jae), a private eye familiar with the underworld, and on top of that… Well, Dong-chul and Choon-sik weren't always fishmongers, with Dong-chul an infamous brawler before he met Ji-soo.

Folks who aren't familiar with Ma Dong-seok should probably just go watch Train to Busan right now, but he's basically like if a burly 1980s action hero like Sylvester Stallone was also effortlessly charming - not quite a Korean Dwayne Johnson (who tends to be more self-aware where his charisma is concerned), but a guy who can be soft-spoken and kind of intimidated by his wife but also just an absolute force when someone tries to come at him physically. He shines as an everyman and a big teddy bear in the opening scenes and a guy frantically worried about his wife later, but sells the fights pretty well, with Dong-chul not enjoying them but kind of rolling his eyes that these guys are trying to knock him around, something that also works when he's playing the straight man to Bear and Choon-sik stumbling into trouble.

Full review at EFC.

2.0

The transformation that the 10-plex at Fresh Pond has undergone since I saw Enthiran there eight years ago is pretty impressive; it's basically just the walls that are left, the the island-style concession stand gone in favor of a self-serve area in the corner, ticket touchscreens in the middle of the lobby, seats replaced twice, and, oh yeah, the first one played on film. I wasn't noting that then, but a few months later at the sci-fi festival, it was one of the 35mm prints and projectionist David Kornfeld put the whole thing on one platter and the three-hour runtime was a bit much for some of the folks there, especially when the word "Intermission" came up and the movie just kept going.

The website's kind of a work in progress, though - there's actually no page that just lists showtimes - you have to go to a movie's page and then look at the sidebar - and I've occasionally had it hang when switching between days. On the other hand, the service fee is just one dollar and it does not ask you to create an account and remember another password or have your credit card information permanently saved on another server. That was pretty helpful when I wanted to make sure I got a decent set at the Tamil 3D screening without a whole lot of rigmarole.

They were also quick to respond when I came down and said the projection was messed up - it was all green and pink like I've never seen before. Is that an alternate 3D process, maybe an anaglyph on, and projectors can just switch between that on the fly? It makes sense, software and data-wise, but I've never seen theaters dealing with it.

Anyway, it meant I got to see Superstar Rajni's special animated "vanity card" twice, and someday I've got to ask the Indian folks at work what his deal is in detail, because I can't think of any American stars who lean into their own egos that much without being hated. But, nope, folks were hooting and screaming when he showed up, and maybe some of it's ironic, but what if it's not?

The movie itself isn't quite the hoot that the first one was, and not just because the first time was my first encounter with the cult of Rajinikanth. Even more than with most Indian movies I've seen, It almost feels like Shankar had two movies he wanted to make, with the evil cell phone movie getting mashed up with the Enthiran sequel, and I wouldn't necessarily be opposed to someone pulling the mobile phone stuff out and remaking that. There's a good horror movie that doesn't need robots at all there, even if robots do usually make everything better.

2.0

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2018 in Apple Cinemas Cambridge/Fresh Pond #3 (first-run, Tamil, ReadD 3D DCP)

The long-awaited sequel to Shankar's Enthiran is in some ways a lot more conventional than its predecessor; with no musical numbers and no romantic comedy subplots, it's less likely to cause the sort of severe whiplash suffered by people who had never seen this sort of masala film but were looking for a big sci-fi action movie. It's still pretty bizarre for folks who don't know what they're getting into, and a lot of fun, if not the insane, jaw-dropping roller coaster its predecessor was.

Life in Chennai has mostly returned to normal since the android Chitti went on his rampage, and his creator Dr. Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) has recently built a new robot, Nila (Amy Jackson), who is sexy, sardonic, and a bit more bound by Asimov's Three Laws than Chitti was, making Vaseegaran's girlfriend Sana jealous when she regularly phones him. One of those calls gets interrupted by his phone flying away, which is happening all over Chennai, a mystery that stumps everyone from scientists to the government to the executives at the mobile networks, though the audience can probably draw a quick line to Pakshi Rajan (Akshay Kumar), the ornithologist who hung himself from a mobile phone tower at the start of the movie. When the phones stop just flying away but instead start returning to murder people, Vaseegaran says that the best way to fight them would be to reactivate Chitti, although some - notably Dhinendra Bohra (Sudhanshu Pandey), son of the AI researcher who opposed Vaseegaran last time - are prone to disagree.

Enthiran threw a lot of genres into its blender, but it wasn't really a horror movie, and I don't know whether it's thus logical or surprising that the first half of 2.0 turns out to be a good one, in a sort of 1950s way where there's a serious scientist investigating the paranormal - serious in attitude; the pseudoscience he spouts is kind of ridiculous - and a general public kind of perplexed by the strange things happening but not really alarmed. It's got a lot of little things that work - the everyday object weaponized against its users, some striking and eerie visuals, gross kills that are shot in a way that mostly allows one to imagine the worst, and a cell-phone-man monster design that should look silly but is actually genuinely creepy. It builds to the big and genuinely weird, with some big CGI effects that are simultaneously twisted and whimsical and climaxing on a big action scene that is kind of delightful not just for its scale but for how it makes Rajinikanth seeming stiff and less than fluid work in-character as Chitti wreaks havoc.

Full review at EFC.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Prospect

First things first: If Gunpowder & Sky doesn't use the fantastic poster art for the Blu-ray release, instead going with some bland photoshopped thing, I don't buy the movie. I realize this is harsh, but I suspect it's unlikely - the introductory bit before the main titles was kind of charmingly eccentric; I kind of hope that Dust/Gunpowder & Sky makes that a thing and other distributors copy it; it's a fun little bit that connects you with the people involved more than the "thanks for coming here, to the theater, and not pirating this movie" intros you see in the multiplexes on occasion.

I will admit - I was not necessarily hugely enthused about seeing this from the previews. "Space Western" kind of makes me twitch by now (just make a Western if that's what you really want to do!), and my sense from watching the preview was that it was the sort of thing that plays the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival and which I wind up hating myself for hating because my admiration for people who make movies with few resources doesn't often translate to me liking the final product. I'd seen a lot like this before.

Of course, as it turns out, I'd actually seen the original short version of this film before, too - midway through Fantasia 2014. And I liked that one, for many of the same reasons I like the new version. The filmmakers may have recast, but they nevertheless recaptured a lot of what made it work the first time around. I don't know if I can rightly say there was a specific sense of familiarity as I watched it that could necessarily be separated from "I've seen a lot of movies like this", but a lot of connections did kind of hit me once I went to look up whether I had actually seen the first one at some festival.

Anyway, here's hoping that G&S includes the short on the movie's physical release. It just hit me that a scene where Cee talks about re-writing a book she read over and over from memory, and occasionally inserting new scenes because she had an idea about what had happened in between, is probably talking about the process of remaking and expanding a short into a feature. Clever. Now I'm even more tempted to spend fifteen minutes seeing how much comes directly from the original and how much was rearranged.

Original "Prospect" on Vimeo, for those curious.

Prospect

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

A lot of independent science fiction films like Prospect hit the genre film festival circuit - mostly as shorts, but sometimes as features - and truth be told, many aren't very good despite the clear love for the genre and impressive effort put into creating a world with what they can find and build. What makes this one stand out is the same as what made the short version pop four years ago - not just being a notch better at creating a dingy analog future, but finding an impressive cast and building some tension there.

It opens on a spaceship making the last scheduled trip around the moon Bakhroma Green; Damon (Jay Duplass) and his daughter Cee (Sophie Thatcher) will be dropped in a pod with the hopes of finding enough aurelac crystals over the next few days that when they rejoin the ship on its return voyage, they'll be able to set themselves up comfortably for the first time in Cee's life - quite possible, if Damon's claim to know where the legendary "Queen's Lair" is. It's a dangerous satellite, with poisonous dust in the air and the crystals themselves formed in burning organic pods. That's before the eloquent but stranded Ezra (Pedro Pascal) gets the drop on them, and the alliance forged at the point of a gun is just as unstable as you might expect.

It's a fool's errand more often than not to try and guess how filmmakers created a shot, but sometimes the way filmmakers use effects is worth pondering. There's a moment early in the movie, when the audience has thus far only strayed as far from the cramped pod as a nearby passageway, when the camera pans up from that dingy, practical, analog environment to show a ship that may not be CGI but has a different sort of detail, and which in addition to moving away seems to be spinning enough to simulate gravity. It's a quietly fancy shot that cements how much Damon and Cee are grasping, helping later scenes which might choke on sci-fi details land. There's a similar feel on the moon, where some modest effects work reminds a viewer that it's an alien world but letting the feel that it could swallow people whole come from the location they chose.

Full review at EFC.