Friday, March 22, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 March 2019 - 28 March 2019

Looking at this week's releases and thinking, hey, thanks for making it fairly easy to do BUFF without worrying about missing much

  • Said Boston Underground Film Festival runs all weekend at the Brattle, with Friday featuring short films from New England and a midnight program on either end, with Richard Bates's Tone-Deaf and Lucas Heyne's Mope in between. Saturday kicks off with Keir-La Janisse's Saturday Morning Cartoon program at the Brattle and a potential detour to a restoration of Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore at the Harvard Film Archive, then it's the Brattle the rest of the way, with music video and comedy programs before The Nightshifter, Knife+Heart, and a secret screening. Sunday is, as usual, packed, with Assassinaut, the animated shorts, Canary, Happy Face, and The Unthinkable before the closing night party.

    There's no rest for The Brattle Theatre after that, as they have the first leg of their "The Good Works of Claire Denis" series, playing Beau Travail on Monday, I Can't Sleep on Tuesday, and a double feature of No Fear, No Die & L'Intrus on Wednesday, all on 35mm. There's also a free Elements of Cinema screening of A Fish Called Wanda on 35mm earlier in the evening on Tuesday, and then on Thursday it's festival time again as Just Friends opens the 2019 Wicked Queer film festival.
  • At the multiplexes, there seems to be little desire to mess with Us, Jordan Peele's doppelganger-fueled follow-up to Get Out starring Lupita N'yongo. That plays at the Somerville, the Coolidge, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture Natick (Imax), Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    The only other wide-ish opening is a 20th anniversary re-release of Cruel Intentions, which is playing multiple shows daily at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere. More limited rep screenings include Sunday & Wednesday shows of To Kill a Mockingbird at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere (Wednesday only); . There are preview screenings of Shazam! at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, and Revere on Saturday, and "Q&A Event" screenings of The Mustang at Assembly Row on Saturday (it's not clear whether someone is there or if it's pre-recorded). English-dubbed screenings of anime Made in Abyss: Journey's Dawn plays at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Monday, while Kendall Square shows the first two episodes of the new Fruits Basket series on Wednesday (dubbed) and Thursday (subtitled). Documentary "event" Diana Ross: Her Life, Love, and Legacy showing Tuesday at Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Revere, and the SuperLux (the latter three also have shows on Thursday).
  • The Aftermath opens The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Kendall, and Boston Common; it's a tony-looking period piece starring Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, and Alexander Skarsgård in a post-WWII love triangle.

    The Coolidge continues their midnight killer machine series with 35mm prints of The Stepford Wives (Friday) and Hardware (Saturday). There's a Goethe-Institut show of acclaimed German high-seas thriller Styx Sunday morning, a Science on Screen presentation of Flirting with Disaster Monday (on 35mm with author Carl Zimmer signing his new book and discussing genetic testing), and a "Sounds of Silents" show of Yasujiro Ozu's proto-noir Dragnet Girl with Nashville ensemble Coupler providing music.
  • A The Embassy Theater in Waltham is once again the place where a Netflix movie gets a token theatrical release, with The Highwayman starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as two former Texas Rangers hunting Bonnie and Clyde.

    Their sister theater at Kendall Square and the multiplex at Boston Common pick up The Hummingbird Project, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Salma Hayek as electronic-trading rivals in a plot to build a trunk line that, by being straight enough to give a nanosecond's advantage, can drastically increase profit. The Kendall also opens Irish multi-story "dramedy" Lost & Found, with filmmaker Liam O Mochain on-hand for Q&As Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, the latter presented by the Irish Film Festival Boston
  • Said Irish Film Festival Boston is not doing a full event this year, but they'll be keeping busy this weekend, with a "Director's Choice" presentation of Float Like a Butterfly with actors Hazel Doupe and Dara Devaney, director Carmel Winters and production designer Toma McCullim on had for a Q&A (preceded by Oscar-nominated short "Late Afternoon") at the Somerville Theatre Friday night. They're also part of the The Somerville Theatre's (very) limited run of Irish prison break thriller Maze. That runs Saturday to Monday, with actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, director Stephen Burke and producer Jane Doolan on hand for a Q&A after the 7:15pm show on Saturday.

    After that, the Somerville picks their Jack Attack! retrospective back up, with 35mm prints of Psych-Out (Wednesday) and The Monkees' Head (Thursday).
  • More than Blue continues at Boston Common, joined by Jia Zhangke's new crime epic, Ash Is Purest White which also plays Kendall Square and one screening at the Belmont Studio on Monday as part of the Belmont World Film series. Furie continues a pretty impressive run for a Vietnamese action film at South Bay, while Mexican/American comed No Manches Frida 2 continues at Boston Common and Revere.

    Kesari, a Bollywood action epic starring Akshay Kumar & Parineeti Chopra and set against the Battle of Saragarhi, has already opened at Apple Fresh Pond and Fenway, with Fresh Pond also keeping Badla and Gully Boy around.
  • The Harvard Film Archive flips the order of last week's screening of Aaron Katz's two "Accidental Detective" movies by Aaron Katz on Friday, with Cold Weather at 7pm and Geminiat 9pm. After Saturday's BUFF screening, they continue their family anime series with a $5 show of Mamoru Hosoda's The Boy and the Beast at 3pm, before finishing that day with Lucrecia Martel's La Ciénaga on 35mm at 7pm and Jean-Luc Godard's The Image Book at 9pm. After that, they begin a sort of prelude to their "The Other New Wave" series with three by post-WWII Japanese auteur Susumu Hani: Bad Boys (35mm) and A Full Life (16mm) on Sunday and Nanami: :The Inferno of First Love (35mm) on Monday. The University also opens VES classroom screenings of Lav Diaz's Batang West Side to the public (part 1 Wednesday, Part 2 Thursday) in advance of the Filipino filmmaker's visit next weekend.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts is home to the 18th Annual Boston Turkish Film Festival this week, with screenings of The Bus (Friday), Plane Tree (Friday/Sunday), Documentary & Short Film award-winners (Sunday), Let the Kid Play (Wednesday), Trust (Wednesday), Debt (Thursday), and Family Matters (Thursday).
  • The Belmont Studio hosts the Global Cinema Film Festival this weekend, mostly featuring an international selection of documentary features, many of which include post-film Q&As, along with a block of narrative shorts.
  • The ICA has a World Music/CRASHArts presentation on Friday night, combining The Animated Films of Karen Aqua with live soundtracks provided by the late animator's husband Ken Field, his alto sax quartet, and a drum section (for real this time).
  • The ReelAbilities film festival kicks off at the Somerville Theatre on Tuesday with Far From the Tree, with shows at the Reimer-Goldstein Theater (Bottom Dollars) and Mass General Hospital (Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw) on Wednesday and a Bright Lights presentation of The Rider at the Paramount on Thursday.

    The week's other Bright Lights show is on Tuesday, with Eating Animals director Christopher Dillon there for Q&A.
  • The Regent Theatre has a couple presentations this week, with punk rock documentary STIV: No Compromise, No Regrets on Wednesday and The Bikes of Wrath on Thursday.
  • The Luna Theater wraps up their Harry Potter series this weekend, with Half-Blood Prince Friday & Saturday, Deathly Hallows Part I Saturday & Sunday, and Part II Sunday afternoon. Dumb and Dumber plays Monday, there's an encore of Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams on Tuesday, and another Weirdo Wednesday show.

I'm living at the Brattle until BUFF ends, with probably just enough time for Ash Is Purest White, Us, and hopefully Dragnet Girl afterward.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

New from China: More than Blue & The Crossing

I see that More than Blue is getting a second week at Boston Common and The Crossing is not, which is too bad; the latter is clearly the better movie. I wonder how much it's down to the first being more easily-digestible and how much is due to other factors - there were previews for Blue before many of the Chinese movies I saw over the past few months but I found out about Crossing when it appeared in listings a couple days before release, and I have no idea how that played out in local Chinese-language media. Mandarin-language movies seem to play better here than (mostly) Cantonese ones, and for all I know Taiwanese movies specifically are more popular here.

That certainly reflected the crowds - the place was packed on Friday night, but just a few of us on Saturday, even though both were 7pm shows. I kind of wish I'd seen them in the opposite order just so that I could give The Crossing the write-up it deserved and hopefully steer a few people there before it closes tonight, but I got caught late at work on Friday and 7pm vs 7:20pm turned out to be important.

I do wonder about a few more things, though:

First, I'm pretty sure that having another Chinese movie named The Crossing out there is going to make the John Woo pair by that name even more impossible to find. I knew I should have pounced when I saw that Taiwan version on YesAsia, but it seemed so expensive...

Second, this is something like the third movie where it sees like pains have been taken to paint Hong Kong (and the Cantonese-speaking characters) as where the villains come from. Maybe not to the extent of Drug War and the A Better Tomorrow remake, but there does seem to be a bit of an arc about Peipei discovering that the place is full of dangers and temptations and embracing her identity as a girl from Shenzhen. Why, once she embraces that, she finds she doesn't even have to leave home for the snow she'd thought she needed to make an expensive trip to Japan to see.

And, finally, having just returned from a vacation in Hong Kong made in large part because I didn't want to see snow, I think these girls are nuts.

Bi bei shang geng bei shang de gu shi (More than Blue '19)

* * (out of four)
Seen 15 March 2019 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

More Than Blue is the sort of love story that requires a viewer to be able to say "yes, this is horrible, but so romantic!", and, folks, I am not good at that. Nope, I'm the guy who is going to spend much of the movie trying to keep myself from yelling "that's not freakin' heartwarming, you ghouls!" despite how generally and earnestly charming this romance can be.

Sung Yuan-yuan, aka "Cream" (Ivy Chen Yi-han) and "K" Chang Che-kai (Jasper Liu Yi-hao) met in high school ten years ago, coming together after Cream's family died in a car accident and K's mother abandoned him, living together in K's house (and both working for the same record label) but never sharing a bed or even a kiss, seemingly content to be best friends. In truth, K has never told Cream that he has leukemia, and as it reaches its terminal stage, he's intent on making sure that she has a happy life after he's gone. When he sees her apparently spark with dentist Yang Yu Hsien (Bryan Chang Shu-hao), things look good, except that he's engaged to photographer Cindy (Annie Chen Ting-ni) - though with all her affairs, breaking them up shouldn't be too hard.

Maybe it worked a little differently in the original Korean version of this film, but director Gavin Lin Hsiao-chien and co-writer Hermes Lu An-hsuan set themselves a tricky-than-necessary situation to navigate. It would be one thing if K's plan was just misguided and Cream was just fooling herself, or trying to, but they come into this other couple's lives in a selfish manner and are never exactly poised to learn from what they're wrecking. It's easy to spend the movie cheering for the supporting cast, especially Bryan Chang Shu-hao as the lovably doofy alternative love interest and Annie Chen as his (ex) fiancee who at least seems straightforward and self-aware. One doesn't necessarily want to see them with each other, but they're funny characters and Wu plays Cindy with such great lack of b.s. that the audience is with her even when it's probably not supposed to be. There's also what seems like a pretty good workplace comedy/show-business spoof going on around the main characters; it's kind of broad and weird, but also fairly funny.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Guo Chun Tian (The Crossing '19)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 March 2019 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

It will be interesting to see where rookie director Xue Bai goes from The Crossing in large part because it exists on several different sorts of lines. The story straddles the line between genre movies and coming-of-age tales without tipping too far in either direction and the setting itself is quite deliberately neither here nor there. It's a sure-handed debut that doesn't try to tell a universal story but handles the spots where it bumps into limitations well.

There are a lot of odd little quirks to Hong Kong having been a "Special Administrative Region" of China since the 1997 handover, such as how while Li Zipei (Yao Huang) and her mother live in Shenzhen, outside the SAR, her having been born in a Hong Kong hospital sixteen years ago entitles her to a Hong Kong ID card and admission to the school system, generally seen as advantageous (it was also frequently used to get around the one child per couple laws, though that doesn't seem to be the case here). Her best friend Jo (Carmen Soup) is a local, and they plan to take a trip to Japan over Christmas break to see snow. That takes more money than "Peipei" can easily raise, even hustling and working a part-time job, but it turns out that Jo's boyfriend Hao ("Sunny" Sun Yang) is in tight with people smuggling iPhones across the internal border - the rollout of new models to the mainland always lags the one to Hong Kong - and a schoolgirl who has made the crossing every year for a decade is likely to just be waved along even if she does have thousands of dollars worth of electronics in her backpack.

The Crossing isn't quite a story about a scholarship student trying to fit in at a private school with the rich kids, but it's certainly got some of that DNA to it. The things that separate Shenzhen from Hong Kong can be a bit subtler than usual, at least for those of us who are not Chinese - a few more English words used here, probably other differences in dialect elsewhere - and it does a nice job of muddying the whole idea of where Peipei belongs. Xue is not necessarily subtle about how she calls out certain signifiers of status, from how her first hustle is making cell phone cases for classmates (not unlike the sort of manufacturing jobs you find in Shenzhen) to the absurdity of owning a shark as a pet, but Peipei is also never quite an outsider. There are reasons why she belongs beyond her parents trying to game the system at birth

Full review on EFilmCritic

Monday, March 18, 2019

Three Husbands

Just spent a week and a weekend in Hong Kong, and I'm kind of as surprised as anyone how little of my vacation was directly movie-related, given that I'm me, Hong Kong cinema was a major inspiration for the trip, and even local films tend to show with English subtitles there, but what can I say? The Film Archive didn't have much going when I was in the neighborhood, I tended to wear myself down by the end of the day, and Captain Marvel pushed a lot off of the city's screens once it opened (two days before it did in the U.S.). There actually wasn't a whole lot of local film playing at times I wanted to see it. I was really hoping the Jackie Chan picture that opened on the Mainland for Chinese New Year would be around, but nope. Instead, I saw Captain Marvel opening day (it was pouring rain anyway), and nearly screwed that up by going to the wrong theater.

But, walking around on my last day there - always the best way to spend the end of a vacation, I pretty much stumbled onto this:

They were playing host to the European Film Festival, but also had a 7:40pm showing of Three Husbands, the new one from Fruit Chan, and, hey, I'd heard of him. Mostly in terms of his contributions to horror anthologies, with this apparently more typical of his general output (although he's also co-directed at least one action movie with Sammo Hung and has a big-looking action-adventure coming out this year). It was being called the third part of his "prostitute trilogy", but let's be honest - is two movies seventeen years ago plus a new one a trilogy, or just a guy going back to something that worked for him before? I mean, have people been asking him when this was going to come for a decade and a half?

Hey, it was a full house, at least, enough that I was seated in the front row, munching down popcorn for what wasn't really a popcorn movie because I was hungry. Not bad for a Sunday night screening of a movie that seemed to be down to one or two shows a day, and not always the same ones (HK scheduling seems a bit more creative than that in Boston). I'm sure that absolutely everyone there had a better handle on the movie and what it was saying than I did, but you know what - it was Hong Kong as hell, and that's not a bad finale for the trip.

(Oh, one more aside - they asked if I was part of their membership program at both the box office and concession stand but, obviously, I don't join those when I'm just going to be in a country for a week. But when I was going upstairs, I saw that Broadway is apparently owned by AMC by some of the signage, and I started to wonder if my Stubs A-List membership would have gotten me anywhere!)

Anyway, good movie, neat theater - it's got both a video store and a film-related bookshop in there, on top of being a fair place to see a movie. And I highly recommend Hong Kong as a vacation, especially if you've been slurping their movies down for years.

Sanfu (Three Husbands)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 March 2019 in Broadway Cinematheque (first-run, DCP)

I'm not in a position to wonder too much about the critical reception Three Husbands has received in its native Hong Kong; even more than most movies from the region, familiarity with its satirical targets, language, and other pieces of context will almost certainly enhance a picture that is already an impressive bit of independent filmmaking. It's the sort of film that's built to be a critical darling, especially with filmmaker Fruit Chan Gor returning to the sort of thing that first made him his name twenty years ago, maybe flattering the art-house audience a bit.

It opens with "Brother Four-Eyes" (Chan Charm-man) at a brothel just across the water in Zuhai, seemingly making time with a girl who claims to also be from Hong Kong (Larine Tang) before the police raid the place. His shtick involves saying he'd marry a girl, and it seems to be sincere, as he actually pursues Ah Mui (Chloe Maayan), who plies her trade on a boat docked off Lantau Island. Voluptuous and seemingly insatiable, she's too good an earner for "Second Brother" (Chan Man-lei) to let go easy. He eventually relents, but life on land (and off her back) is strange for Mui, while the frequency of their lovemaking is among the things that have their neighbors looking askance.

So, what's the metaphor here? Is Mui Hong Kong, passed between men who both exploit and claim to love her, or is that maybe more the way an outsider would read the situation rather than the sort of movie Chan would make for his neighbors a generation after the handover? Even if that's not it, there's still not a moment involving her or the general set-up that doesn't feel like it's about more; Mui is too blank a slate and the events a little too cheeky for it to just be taken at face value. Chan is certainly talking about the base-level urges of love and sex and how they get mixed up with the commercial, although the specific ways that relates to Hong Kong and the Tanka people never quite snapped into focus.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Friday, March 15, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 March 2019 - 21 March 2019

A lot going on over the next week; I've already got a bunch booked up.

  • So let's start close to the end, on Wednesday, when The Boston Underground Film Festival opens at The Brattle Theatre. They're mixing up what they've done in previous years, with a shorts program before the opening night film of documentary Hail Satan? and ending the night on Clickbait from Michael J. Epstein & Sophia Cacciola rather than a repertory film. The festival continues Thursday with Werewolf from Poland, Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records, and Girl on the Third Floor, and into the next weekend.

    Leading up to that, they have a weekend tribute to the late Michel Legrand with double features of Cléo from 5 to 7 & Vivre Sa Vie (35mm) on Friday, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg & The Young Girls of Rochefort on Saturday, and a 35mm print of The Thomas Crown Affair on Saturday, with the Chlotrudis Awards on Sunday afternoon. On Monday the DocYard welcomes filmmaker Irene Lusztig with her documentary Yours In Sisterhood (there's also ASL interpretation). Then Tuesday is Trash Night, presumably a natural lead-in to BUFF.
  • A lot of the stuff at the multiplexes, meanwhile, skews a bit younger, with Wonder Park a 3D-animated film from Nickelodeon which looks cute but is apparently kind of weird. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway (2D only), South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux (2D only). One step up is Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, which I gather is not connected to the last Nancy Drew movie and looks like a straightforward adaptation/modernization of the series that plays Boston Common.

    Advancing to young adults, there's Five Feet Apart, a romance about two teenagers who have cystic fibrosis and as such cannot get within arms' length of each other lest they compound each other's disease, looking to get a boost from a nifty cast including Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse. That's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. Boston Common also opens Giant Little Ones, about two best friends who discover uncomfortable truths in the aftermath of a party.

    The last of the wide openings is Captive State, a thriller taking place ten years after an alien invasion. It plays the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, and Revere.

    Fenway and South Bay have screenings of Gone with the Wind on Sunday and Monday, while Revere goes for something a little classier with Clueless on Sunday. Triple Threat brings together a murderer's row of action guys whose movies usually go straight to video in North America (Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Jeeja Yanin, Tiger Chen), which means they can break through to one show on Tuesday at Fenway, Boston Common, and Assembly Row. The week's anime presentation is Made in Abyss: Journey's Dawn, which plays subtitled on Wednesday at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.
  • Gloria Bell plays The Coolidge Corner Theatre (including an "Off the Couch" screening on Tuesday), the Kendall, and Boston Common, and if this movie featuring Julianne Moore as a middle-aged free spirit who finds unexpected love with John Turturro looks a little familiar, it's because director Sebastián Lelio is remaking his own film Gloria. Another noteworthy director, Christian Petzold, has his latest open at the Coolidge and the Kendall, with Transit moving the original novel's WWII setting to the present day but retaining the story of a man who assumes the identity of another to escape fascism and romances the man's unknowing wife.

    Midnight killer machines at the Coolidge this weekend include a 35mm print of RoboCop on Friday and one of Demon Seed on Saturday. Saturday's midnights also include Starfish, with Virginia Gardner as the last woman on Earth trying to save humanity by collecting mysterious tapes; director A.T. White will be on hand for an introduction. On Sunday, they start the day with a Kids' Show of the original Jumanji and later have a special screening of The World Beneath Your Feet with director Jeremy Workman and subject Matt Green at 2pm; they gave entertaining Q&A at IFFBoston last year. There's a 35mm screening of The Rules of the Game on Monday, with an optional seminar before/after the Big Screen Classic.
  • In addition to Gloria Bell and Transit, Kendall Square opens Woman at War, with Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir as a fifty-ish Icelandic woman who wages a covert fight against the power company she feels is damaging the environment. They also screen documentary Salvador Dali: In Search of Immortality, for one night only on Wednesday.
  • There are Spanish-language films opening at several multiplexes this week: Garabandal: Only God Knows, plays Fenway and tells the tale of four girls who claimed to have had visions of the Virgin Mary in a small Spanish town in 1961; Boston Common and Revere, meanwhile, get No Manches Frida 2, a sequel to the Mexican/American hit that features a new set of hijinks as the screwy high school teachers (some of whom used to be bank robbers) and students from the first hit the beach for a volleyball tournament necessary to save the school

    It takes two Chinese movies to replace The Wandering Earth at Boston Common, with More than Blue from Taiwan featuring Jasper Liu as a cancer-stricken man trying to set the love of his life (Ivy Chen Yi-han) up with a boyfriend and The Crossing featuring Yao Huang as a teenager who commutes from Shenzen to Hong Kong for school and picks up a side hustle smuggling to finance a trip to Japan. Furie (from Vietnam) also continues at South Bay.

    For Indian films, Apple Fresh Pond opens Malayalam comedy Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel, with Dileep as a lawyer thrust into a big case despite his pronounced stammer, on Friday, and Tamil thriller Thadam on Saturday. Badla and Gully Boy also continue, and Bengali drama Bijoya screens on Saturday and Sunday.
  • The Somerville Theatre opens Yardie, the feature directorial debut of Idris Elba, who tells the tale of a Jamaican hood about to go straight and focus on music when he encounters the man who killed his brother ten years earlier.
  • The Harvard Film Archive almost plays as a typical theater this weekend, with two screenings per day of Jean-Luc Godard's The Image Book on Friday and Sunday. Saturday features two "Accidental Detective" movies by Aaron Katz, with Gemini at 7pm and Cold Weather at 9pm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts also shows The Image Book, playing Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. They also have more screenings of of Corneliu Porumboiu's Infinite Football (Saturday/Wednesday) and Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus (Sunday/Wednesday). "Five Women Filmmakers" wraps with screenings of Birds of Passage (Sunday) and Zama (Wednesday), and then Thursday opens the 18th Annual Boston Turkish Film Festival with Nuri Bilge Ceylan's The Pear Tree.
  • Belmont World Film starts their latest series at The Belmont Studio on Sunday with The Heart, starring writer/director Fanni Metelius as a photographer starting a romance with a young, up-and-coming musician. It looks to be a particularly strong series this year, and I'm sorry I didn't mention it last week because tickets for the pre-film smorgasbord are no longer on sale.
  • The free Bright Lights shows in the Paramount's screening room this week are All About Nina on Tuesday, with director Eva Vives and comedic consultant/Emerson grad Jamie Loftus on hand for Q&A, and I Am Not a Witch on Thursday.
  • The Regent Theatre features short films this week, with 10th Annual Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Festival on Wednesday and the local A-Town Teen Video Festival on Thursday.
  • The ICA has a World Music/CRASHArts presentation on Friday night, combining The Animated Films of Karen Aqua with live soundtracks provided by the late animator's husband Ken Field, his alto sax quartet, and a drum section.
  • The Luna Theater shows two more Harry Potter movies this weekend, with Goblet of Fire Friday & Saturday and Order of the Phoenix Saturday & Sunday. Death Becomes Her plays Sunday, Stevie Nicks: In Your Dreams on Tuesday, and a surprise Weirdo Wednesday show.

I'll probably catch at least one of the two Chinese movies, potentially stay up late for Starfish, and watch Triple Threat before settling in at the Brattle for BUFF. Hopefully there's room for Transit, Yardie, and the other stuff I want to catch up on in the meantime.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


I'm mildly curious about why Furie opened at South Bay rather than Boston Common - is it just a case of that being where there was room, is there a fair-sized Vietnamese community in Dorchester, or is there some other factor I'm not particularly aware of? Sees to be working - it's getting another week of shows - so go figure. It's not actually that much harder to get to than other theaters in the Boston area via the T, but it's set up in kind of annoying fashion, with everything about it seeming kind of counter-intuitive to me.

Still, small price to pay to see Veronica Ngo kicking some butt on the big screen; I don't think any of the things I saw her in at Fantasia years ago every got any theatrical release here, and don't seem to be available on video now, which is a shame - The Rebel is pretty terrific, and has a lot more of the vovinam signature move (leap in the air, legs around opponent in scissor formation, bring him down by twisting your body) that dropped my jaw the first time I saw it.

Looking for stuff to put on as a merch link (not that anyone ever clicks them, but it breaks the wall of text up), I see Ngo has directed a film in addition to acting now, and it looks pretty interesting. Maybe when I've got a bit of time...

Hai Phuong (Furie)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 March 2019 in AMC South Bay #5 (first-run, DCP)

Furie has Veronica Ngo Thanh Van and not a whole lot else, and while you can often say that this sort of movie doesn't need a whole lot more than one charismatic star and enough folks to sell the other half of a fight scene to get through 90 minutes, it certainly doesn't hurt. This one has some undeniably impressive martial-arts action and precisely as much story is necessary to justify it, and while one might maybe like a bit more, the film certainly delivers what it promises.

Ngo plays Hai Phuong (which is also the film's name in the original Vietnamese), a single mother working as a debt collector in an out-of-the-way town, and the locals don't exactly hide their disdain for either of those traits, figuring she must have left the city as the result of some scandal. Daughter Mai (Cat Vy) gets bullied for it at school, and it makes for some tension in the small family. Nevertheless, when Mai is snatched off the street, Hai Phuong fights back tenaciously, following the kidnappers back to Saigon and learning that there's an internationally-connected criminal syndicate fronted by Thanh Soi (Hoa Tran) that has been selling kids' organs on the black market for years, and has likely amassed just enough for another shipment to go out tonight.

The story is basic as heck, but the screenplay is kind of clumsy, which isn't the greatest combination but also isn't bad like "convoluted and clumsy" is. There are no red herrings in it at all, not even feints toward some sort of backstory with Mai's unnamed father; indeed, Hai Phuong's past is brought up just enough to explain why she's so skilled at vovinam and can make at least a start of tracking lowlives down once she makes it to Saigon, and any suggestion that there might be any sort of corruption involved in this ring is given a wide berth. There's something downright admirable about not screwing around and just having Hai Phuong run a gauntlet, but the way things play out doesn't get the most out of it; there's downtime and diversions when the film has already made it clear that she's on a deadline. The film could certainly do with being a bit leaner and more relentless.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Monday, March 11, 2019

Hong-Kong-a-Thon 2: Project S, Hot War, Eastern Condors, Beast Cops, Bloody Friday, and Full Contact

There was a brief moment when I looked at the announcement of the second annual Hong-Kong-a-Thon, thought that it took place the same weekend as the Boston Sci-Fi Marathon, and thought "you know what, I could probably do that!" This would probably have been tremendously stupid and I'm darn lucky that it didn't work out that way, even if I hadn't been under the weather the first weekend.

My travel didn't get screwed up as badly this time, at least, and to the extent to which it did it was my fault. Last year, I tried to take the overnight Greyhound to New York, waited around South Station for hours for a bus that didn't come until I finally got onto a bus that only went to the George Washington Bridge and had the subway take forever. This year, I planned to take a 7am Peter Pan bus, dutifully set my alarm for five, woke up, fell back to sleep, and by the time I was awake again, there was no way I was getting to South Station in time. Fortunately, there was one leaving Alewife at 7:30am, and I could just make it if the buses co-operated and I didn't shower. Not ideal, and somewhere along the line I basically ate $30, but I got there, even in time to get a decent seat.

I still don't think I got through any movies without zonking out - I think I got all the fatigue of waking up early even if I did wind up waking up at the usual time - but I had fun. It seemed to be an official Subway Cinema production rather than just Grady Hendrix's thing this year, and they settled on a neat pattern: Crime drama with action, mind-bogglingly insane thing, stone cold classic, dinner break, and repeat with different movies. Even with them being mostly quick films, that's a lot to cram into about twelve hours. But they managed it, with plenty of time for a 3am bus back to Boston.

So, once again, I'm thinking I want to do it again next year but I should probably be smarter about it - take the day before off, get an AirBNB, and just generally be refreshed and alert while I'm there. In the meantime, I started writing this on a plane to Hong Kong and finished on the flight back, though I can't say I got many tourism ideas from these movies!

Chao ji ji hua (Project S, aka Supercop 2, aka Once a Cop)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 February 2019 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

Police Story 3 was known as "Supercop" in the U.S. because the first two hadn't been released here, but this wasn't exactly Police Story 4 because Jackie Chan is only in it for a few minutes, in a rather screwy little cameo. Instead, it spins off Michelle Yeoh's Yang Jian Wa, having her come to Hong Kong to consult on a case without knowing that the boyfriend who went to Hong Kong to make money (Yu Rong-guang) is doing so via crime.

Michelle Yeoh is reliably awesome, of course, doing all sorts of great Stanley Tong-directed action but also seeming like a better actor than most folks who get their start in action right off. She's not exactly playing a complicated role here, perhaps, but she sells it, naturally funny and resigned even when everything around her is kind of ridiculous. She also jumps into action and takes on guys twice her size, of course, and that's terrific too.

Truth be told, this may be better than the movie that spawned it, even though that one is considered a pretty big deal.

Waan ying dak gung (Hot War)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 February 2019 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

Hot War is as genuinely ridiculous as Grady's introduction advertised, a mess of a mind-control story that has a quite frankly absurd "subliminals" plot device and is just tremendously frustrating in every way that it can be, at least as far as getting any sort of conventional connection from the audience - characters are fridged when the movie would be much better off going for banter than revenge, then people go mad, then it gets kind of grim. For a movie that seems like it is completely aware of how absurd it is, Hot War is never as much fun as it could be.

Which isn't to suggest it's incompetent or anything. The cast is capable all around - aside from having to get out large chunks of English-language gobbledegook, Ekin Cheng and Kelly Chan do a nice-enough job of playing the long-time friends/colleagues who actually dig each other without signalling it in every look to make it work, while Terence Yin and Yeung Chang are enjoyable villains (even if they are arguably just muscle). There's fun ideas sprinkled throughout even if the writers don't seem to know enough about anything to make the plot not ridiculous. The action is solid. It doesn't quite add up to a good movie, but it doesn't add up to a drag, either.

(Although I do wonder at how many Hong Kong movies center on people who were orphans together - was this a common thing in the former crown colony, or did one movie do it and inspire a bunch of others?)

Dung fong tuk ying (Eastern Condors)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 February 2019 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

Didn't think I'd be seeing that again so soon, after just stitching together a 35mm-but-English and a DVD-in-Cantonese viewing a month earlier to try and get this 35mm-and-Cantonese experience. It's still kind of filled with too many characters and just more stuff than necessary - the Dirty Dozen aspect never really gets its proper due, for instance, and it often feels like it should be a sequel to some other movie that ended with Sammo Hung's character in prison.

Still, when everyone is on the ground and the mission is not longer being hidden, there's no problem with seeing this again in relatively short order; the action is Sammo at his best both as a choreographer and as a performer, and bringing in Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah as the film goes on certainly keeps things jumping. It is, at the very least, action-packed enough to get one significantly less concerned about any of the set-up that may have been shaky at the start.

What I wrote in January

Ye shou xing jing (Beast Cops)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 February 2019 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

Between the time I watched this movie in New York and the time I finished this review, I spent a week in Hong Kong for the first time, and while that certainly doesn't make me an expert on the place, seeing it up close does give me a little more appreciation for the city it presents: It's crowded, everybody's hustling but also not necessarily in any hurry, and having everything filed away and tidy isn't necessarily that big a deal. There's tradition and turnover, and outsiders are tolerated if not quite welcomed. A lot of that is true everywhere, sure, but seeing the place helps adjust my view of where some of the folks in this movie are coming from.

And, no matter what, Anthony Wong Chau-sang is kind of terrific as mildly corrupt cop Tung, fully aware of his own vices, generally trying to be decent and accommodating but always feeling his pride as well. He carries himself like a man full of pride and mixes that with a sort of meekness when the ways he is weak are exposed, identify with him but also view him from outside. It's an interesting contrast to Michael Wong Man-tak's Michael Cheung, who seems more explicitly like a representative of colonial authorities in retrospect, capable and well-meaning but not really of the place he's been assigned, technically Tung's superior officer even if Tung will have to lead in a practical sense. That he's not as strong an actor as Anthony Wong kind of plays into this; he doesn't feel as complete as Tung yet, even if there are ways Tung is going to eventually learn from him.

The story is kind of less than it could be at times; Roy Cheung Yiu-yeung's Brother Fai is pushed out of the picture fast enough that the void his absence creates - both in how Michael and henchman "Pushy-pin" (Patrick Tam Yiu-man) try to fill it with girlfriend Yo-yo (Kathy Chow Hoi-mei) and in the triad and how Tung loses a bit of his foundation - never feels defined enough to drive the story as much as it does. Maybe there could have been more done with the third member of the cops' squad/living arrangement, especially as a mirror to Pushy-pin, as junior partners who are kind of reckless. Maybe another view will clarify things.

On the other hand, I feel the triad boss's love of having one of those custard tarts in the morning, and just how taking them away at the end signals that, from now on, the cops mean business. That is highly relatable.

Xie xing Friday (Bloody Friday)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 February 2019 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

(Checks, is saddened that there doesn't seem to be an easy way for me to buy this movie)

There are probably a lot of trashy American B-movies that do something like this in the vaguest possible sense, but filmmaker Danny Go Lam-paau does something pretty cool here, finding the very center of the piece of the Venn diagram where "serial killer hunting" and "slasher movie" intersect, which doesn't sound like it should be hard - they don't sound like different genres, but I suspect you won't find that many where there's enough of a bond and balance between the cops and the [potential] victims to feel like both. Bloody Friday does that, and does so well enough that you wonder why more movies don't at least try.

Then again, part of the reason why it works is because Go is not bothering with the utter gritty seriousness of the movies that slot into "serial killer" better than "slasher". The conflict between arrogant cop Cheuk Hung (Simon Yam Tat-wah) and his justifiably angry teammate Ken (Stephen Au Kam-tong) unapologetically melodramatic, and the motorcycle-riding killer of prostitutes is utterly ridiculous. It's the sort of thing that's so outrageous that one wonders just how it got past a pitch meeting and to the point where people wound up actually shooting it. It's often jaw-droppingly silly even as it splatters blood all over the place. It's pulpy as heck without a whole lot of shame, and everybody is pushing their part hard - Simon Yam as the cocky detective, Rachel Lee Lai-chung as the survivor who just doesn't take this seriously enough unless someone is actively trying to kill her at the moment, Stephen Au as the furious cop being driven to go rogue. It's not really good acting, any more than the script is good, but it's committed as heck.

Most importantly, the action is kind of great - it's a ton of crazy motorcycle duels, but Go and action director Lee Chi-git are smashing things all over, it sure looks like stunt performers are laying themselves out (helmets mean there's less need to shoot odd angles), and when there's a scene like Cheuk Hung trying to grab his gun off the floor of an empty warehouse while trying to evade the villain, it's actually pretty clear where everything is. They're dumb in other ways - a lot of these bits appear to take place in warehouses where empty boxes are stacked up like inventory - but they're exciting.

This is a dumb movie, make no mistake. But it's one that knows the reactions it's going for, goes about getting them directly, and pulls off some impressive action on its way.

Xia dao Gao Fei (Full Contact)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 February 2019 in Anthology Film Archives (Hong-Kong-a-Thon, 35mm)

I probably shouldn't give this a grade, because I was really dragging by the end, but, good gravy, when Ringo Lam and his crew kick things into high gear, this movie is downright exhilarating, a ballet-of-bullets that never does anything half-way. That refers to the action choreography, the way Lam and company paint both Thailand and Hong Kong as simultaneously glamorous and disreputable, and getting the most out of his stars: Chow Yun-fat is effortlessly cool, as always, and Simon Yam is the kind of bug-nuts villain that works best against that, his Judge malicious chaos in contrast to Gou Fei's criminal with a code

And that, folks, is how you end a 35mm Hong-Kong-a-thon.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 8 March 2019 - 14 March 2019

Still in Hong Kong, and kind of amazed to what extent the new Marvel movie is just dominating bookings here - I wanted to duck in from the rain a couple of times and it was hard to find anything else. It's gonna be nuts in America, I figure.

  • Can't necessarily blame the rest of Hollywood for giving it a berth - Captain Marvel is the studio doing the superhero thing well and selling us on Brie Larson's Carol Danvers as the last missing piece for Avengers: Endgame. It's got a nifty cast, looks great in 3D, and though I don't know if Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck are really local favorites any more, it's kind of crazy to see people who were IFFBoston staples for a while doing a big superhero movie. Anyway, it's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond, The Lexington Venue (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (2D Imax), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including 2D/3D RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema), the Embassy (2D only), Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    With a few extra screens to fill even with that, Boston Common opens The Kid, which features Ethan Hawke as Pat Garrett, Dane DeHaan as Billy the Kid, and Jake Schur as a boy who witnessed the showdown. Vincent D'Onofrio directs and pops up in the morie, as to a few other interesting names. Meanwhile, Apollo 11 moves from the Imax screens to others, now playing at the Coolidge, the Somerville, Boston Common, Fenway, the Embassy, Revere, and Cinema Salem.

    Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere have Tom Baker's last Doctor Who story, "Logopolis" presumably cleaned up and HD-ified, on Wednesday; those theaters plus Boston Common, South Bay, and Revere also have a "fan event" preview of Five Feet Apart that same night (Haley Lu Richardson darn well better have fans). Fenway also has Russian hit Tobol: The Conquest of Siberia on Wednesday, for one night only. Anime fans (and those who love bizarre punctuation) get Fate/Stay Night [Heaven's Feel] II. Lost Butterfly at Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Thursday. Revere also shows Clueless on Thursday.
  • Kendall Square kind of does some post-Oscars housecleaning to open four new movies. Climax and The Wedding Guest also open at Boston Common, with the former being the new one from Gaspar Noe bout a party including a troupe of dancers that goes way off the rails when LSD gets into the drinks and the latter starring Dev Patel as a man who goes to a wedding in Pakistan to kidnap the bride-to-be - a situation that also gets out of control!

    They get a couple to themselves, too. Birds of Passage, which has been getting a lot of buzz, is a highly-regarded film from Colombia about an indigenous family struggling to control the local drug trade. They also get Mapplethorpe, a biography of the controversial photographer starring Matt Smith, and will have producers Eliza & Nate Dushku on hand for Q&As Friday and Saturday evenings (note that the first is listed as sold out).
  • After a preview last weekend, The Coolidge Corner Theatre opens To Dust in the small rooms, starring Géza Röhrig as a Hasidic widower who becomes obsessed with the mechanics of decomposition and Matthew Broderick as a biologist who winds up as sort of an enabler.

    The killer-machines midnight series starts early this weekend (11:30pm) to give them time to show a couple of long ones. On Friday, that's 2001: A Space Odyssey on 35mm, and on Saturday it's Blade Runner 2049. There's Open Screen on Tuesday, and an early sneak of Gloria Bell on Thursday.
  • In a bit of a swerve, this week's Asian action film opens at South Bay, with Furie starring Veronica Ngo Thanh Van as a former gangster who is going to have to beat the living crap out of the guys who kidnapped her daughter. She hasn't had a lot of parts that went international after the one-two punch of The Rebel and Clash (aside from Rose's sister in The Last Jedi), so it's good to see her back in action. Meanwhile, Boston Common's run of The Wandering Earth seems a heck of a lot more successful than how the movie is doing in Hong Kong.

    The big Bollywood opening this week is Badla, a thriller featuring Amitabh Bachchan as a lawyer and Shah Rukh Khan as his client with a matter of hours to solve a murder before appearing in court; it plays Fenway and Apple Fresh Pond. Both continue Gully Boy while Luka Chuppi also sticks around Fresh Pond. Fresh Pond also has their first VOD special in a while, showing I'm Not Here - which features J.K. Simmons, Sebastian Stan, and Iain Armitage as a man at various stages of his life, with Maika Monroe, Harold Perrineau, and Mandy Moore popping up in his memories - a couple times a day.
  • The Brattle Theatre will be running a double feature of the new and old versions of Suspiria this weekend, with the remake also playing Wednesday. As for the rest of the work-week, they have a DocYard presentation of Of Fathers and Sons on Monday (with director Talal Derki skyping in), a "Cinema in Context" show of Network on 35mm Tuesday, and a special screening of Blade Runner (the final cut) on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive kicks off a New Thai Cinema series this weekend, featuring The Songs of Rice (Friday 7pm), Vanishing Point (Friday 8:45pm), Eternity (Saturday 7pm), and Railway Sleepers (Sunday 4pm). Saturday afternoon features the start of a series of anime matinees, with Wolf Children the first of three by Mamoru Hosoda. They have an encore of Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman on Sunday evening, and then a short film program - "Woman with a Camera: Female Filmmakers from the Bauhaus" - on Monday evening.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their runs of Corneliu Porumboiu's Infinite Football (Friday/Sunday), Jupiter's Moon (Friday/Saturday/Thursday), Jean-Luc Godard's The Image Book (Sunday). "Five Women Filmmakers" has its next two entries with Madeline's Madeline (Saturday) and You Were Never Really Here (Thursday), and while the special showing of Where the Pavement Ends on Sunday is not part of that series, it will feature a post-film discussion with director Jane Gillooly, Khary Saeed Jones, and Aparna Agrawal, moderated by the Roxbury Film Festival's Lisa Simmons.
  • The Regent Theatre has a fair chunk of film this week, with A Hard Day's Night on Friday evening, a matinee of The Wiz Saturday morning, Jesus Christ Superstar Saturday afternoon, and 40th anniversary screenings of Hair Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Only JCSS is listed as a sing-along, but who knows if they'll turn subtitles on, given how much they like such things there. They also team with the Northeast Comic Con for a special screening of the 1953 The War of the Worlds on Thursday, with co-star Ann Robinson on-hand for a Q&A and autographs.
  • Bright Lights returns to the screening room in the Paramount after spring break with Danseur on Tuesday, although the discussion will be with the makers of attached short "Movement in Structure" (director Shaun Clarke and dancer John Lam). Madeline's Madeline plays Thursday, with faculty discussion. Remember, though targeted to Emerson studios, these shows are free for everyone.
  • The Somerville Theatre starts their "Jack Attack!" series on Thursday with The Raven, which should be a lot better considering who is involved (Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Roger Corman adapting Poe), but it's got an early part for Jack Nicholson and plays on 35mm film.
  • The Oscar-Nominated Shorts have their last few shows, with Animation having showtimes all week at the Kendall and one sold-out show at The ICA on Sunday - although there are still tickets for the Live-action shorts at the ICA Sunday.
  • The Luna Theater has Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Friday and Sunday, CatVideoFest 2019 on Saturday and Tuesday, Jimi Hendrix on Monday, and who knows what on Weirdo Wednesday.

Captain Marvel opened in Hong Kong on a rainy Wednesday, so I've already seen that, and I've got no idea right now how jet-lagged I'll be after flying home. Might only catch Furie.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 1 March 2019 - 7 March 2019

Is next week this week yet? I'm somewhere over Asia now and have no idea. Looks like a quiet movie week back home.

  • The biggest release is apparently A Madea Family Funeral, in which Tyler Perry doesn't appear to be killing off his signature character but is supposedly retiring her as she plans a disastrous-looking memorial for a relative. That plays at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere.

    Boston Common, meanwhile, opens documentary Apollo 11 for a one-week engagement on its Imax screen, while they, the Seaport, South Bay, and Assembly Row also bring back A Star Is Born in a special "Encore" version which adds an extra 11 or 12 minutes of footage. Meanwhile, the Imax screens at Jordan's Furniture and South Bay pick up How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. In terms of one-offs, Gone With the Wind has 80th anniversary shows at Fenway and South Bay on Sunday, while Revere has anime Hunter X Hunter: The Last Mission on Tuesday.
  • The other major opening is Greta, which by dint of coming out on a slow week and looking like a basic thriller while being directed by Neil Jordan and starring Isabelle Huppert manages to span the multiplexes and art houses. That includes The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Somerville, Kendall Square, the Embassy, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. The Coolidge also opens A Tuba to Cuba, mostly in the small rooms, which follows the leader of New Orleans famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band as he traces the roots of his music back to the island.

    First Friday of the month means one of the midnight shows is "Martial Art House", in this case a 35mm print of The Super Inframan, downstairs, they start a month of killer robots with Terminator 2: Judgment Day, continuing the theme on Saturday with Chopping Mall. There are two special screenings with guests on Sunday: horticulturist Angela Luckey and Boston Museum of Science's manager of living collections Jackie Peeler introduce a Science on Screen Jr. show of Mary and the Witch's Flower, while producers Alessandro Nivola and Emily Mortimer introduce a preview of To Dust, in which a grieving widower becomes obsessed with the process of decay. There's a Stage & Screen presentation of West Side Story on 35mm Monday night, CatVideoFest on Wednesday, and a special big-screen presentation of Free Solo on Thursday.
  • Kendall Square has CatVideoFest on Monday, and also opens Ruben Brandt, Collector - a Slovenian animated film with English dialogue in which a psychotherapist with nightmares about monsters from famous has a number of art thieves as patients who decide to help him by stealing the paintings..
  • Fenway and Apple Fresh Pond both open Bollywood romance Luka Chuppi while continuing Gully Boy, with Apple also opening Hindi-language thriller Sonchiriya and Telugu thriller 118. Total Dhamaal also continues. Boston Common continues their runs of China's The Wandering Earth and South Korea's Extreme Job.
  • The Brattle Theatre has the new restoration of Detour from Friday to Sunday, and then shuts their doors for the rest of the week to have their restrooms renovated.
  • The Harvard Film Archive will have Park Chan-wook visit for a free discussion Tuesday afternoon (tickets first come, first serve at the door), and will prime the audience by showing his first film, Joint Security Area (Friday 7pm), and his most recent in The Handmaiden, so study up! They also start a Lucretia Martel retrospective with The Headless Woman (Friday 9pm on 35mm) and show The Stormy Night, one of the few surviving silents from the early days of the Chinese film industry in Shanghai (Saturday 7pm, with music by Jeff Rapsis). Then they welcome Laura Huertas Millán to present short programs on Sunday and Monday nights.
  • March brings a new calendar at The Museum of Fine Arts, and it's a varied one. They start runs for four interesting films, with Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu switching to documentary work to follow a former star trying to make the game safer Infinite Football (Friday), Jean-Luc Godard's latest essay The Image Book (Friday), Jupiter's Moon, a supernatural thriller from White God director Kornél Mundruczó (Friday/Thursday), plus Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus (Saturday), which ties in with one of the museum's exhibits. They also celebrate the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz with shows Friday and Sunday, begin a "5 Women Filmmakers" series with Debra Granik's Leave No Trace (Sunday), and run a 35mm print of How to Get Ahead in Advertising on Thursday as part of their monthly "On the Fringe: Adventures in Cult Cinema" series.
  • The Somerville Theatre has their first "Slaughterhouse Movie Club" presentation of the year on Friday, with a burlesque show of "Big Trouble in Little Somerville: The Porkchop Undress" at 8pm and then Big Trouble in Little China at 9. On Sunday, the Alloy Orchestra makes their annual visit as part of the CrashArts program, and this time they're going with a classic, accompanying the restoration of Metropolis on Sunday afternoon.
  • The Oscar-Nominated Shorts continue to show after the awards, with Animation & Live-action sharing a screen at the Kendall, while The ICA has those two on Saturday and the two Documentary programs on Sunday
  • The Luna Theater is going to be showing the Harry Potter movies for the next few weekends, starting this weekend with Sorcerer's Stone playing Friday and Saturday and Chamber of Secrets on Saturday and Sunday. The Witches of Eastwick plays Sunday, Oscar-winning documentary short "Period. End of Sentence." on Monday and Big Sur on Tuesday before Weirdo Wednesday.

Odds are I won't be seeing any of them - I'm on vacation in Hong Kong, so I'll be getting familiar with the places where a lot of favorites are set and shot. Still, I'll almost certainly unwind at a local theater some night or other and hope that there are English subtitles!

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Boston Sci-Fi Film Marathon 2019: Innerspace, Dr. Cyclops, Rollerball '75, Woman in the Moon, "Live", Star Trek VI, Annihilation, Source Code, Sunshine, and Escape from New York

Continuing my plans not to get worked up too much about this event from the festival half, I didn't buy a ticket until a fair chunk of the lineup had been announced (and announced as playing on film), and on top of that, the cold I was nursing for the previous days worked into it. I'd pondered just eating the ticket the night before, and when I walked to the theater, I was basically thinking that if I fell asleep at any point, it didn't matter. If the worst parts of the audience started acting like they were the entertainment, I'd try not to stress.

Mostly, though, people were a lot better this year about not trying to improve genuinely good movies by yelling out "door!" or "Mark!" or whatever other silly thing popped into their heads or served as a ritual. I do wonder how much the programmers took it into account this year (I must admit, I'd run a potential movie through IMDB and just not include it if any character was named "Mark").

Anyway, I think this was the first time I've actually put the atomic fireball handed out at the start into my mouth in a long time (the cinnamon helped my sinuses), felt no shame about sleeping through what needed sleeping through, and then didn't do a darn thing when I got home despite the errands I had intended to run.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, 35mm)

I'm not sure that Innerspace is the most 1980s movie ever made, but it is simultaneously a Joe Dante pulp adventure, a Martin Short comedy, and a Meg Ryan/Dennis Quaid vehicle, all of which were things in the 1980s and into the 1990s but which have rather faded away since, despite never really having had a memorable bomb. It's surprisingly good at all of them, and that's actually kind of a crazy sort of synthesis: Short's band of goofy physical comedy was kind of unmistakable, and it's a bit odd to see it showing up in the middle of this other sort of movie.

Dante and the writers make it work together (it doesn't escape my attention that one is Jeffrey Boam, who would later co-create The Adventures of Brisco County Junior). Even for something with a strange high concept, it's kind of elevated, with genuinely weird villains where it could have gotten away with standard thugs, and deadpan peculiar supporting characters. It's funny in a way that's kid-friendly and eccentric, in some ways a lot more willing to be openly comic-book-y than a lot of the comics that came later.

I also like the way the design and effects teams play with biology without things getting gross or having a rubbery, too-polished look that would come with later CGI technology. ILM does a really neat job on what is billed as "Martin Short's Interiors" even before getting to the funny, surprisingly believable half-sized goofiness in the last act.

Dr. Cyclops

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, 35mm)

I suspect I liked this a little more than the last time I saw it at a genre marathon in the Somerville Theatre. It's utterly earnest and straight-faced, never really trying to be as clever in how it plays with its shrinking technology or character motivations as, say, Innerspace, but it doesn't have to be. As a 77-minute B movie, it doesn't need twists or to do a whole lot more than what it says it will. The cast might be kind of flat at times, but they're effective, and the special effects (mostly scaled-up set decoration and decent matte work) certainly get the job done.

What I thought back in 2013

Rollerball (1975)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, 35mm)

Rollerball was far too ambitious for its own good, although maybe it just seems that way from forty-odd years later. Its strongly felt anti-corporate message feels kind of half-baked when we have actual capitalist dystopias to which it can be compared, and the screenwriters can't really do much with it for all that they talk about this being dangerous and dehumanizing. Points for wanting to have a strong humanist message, but the filmmakers too often make the subtext text but without a lot to say.

It doesn't help that James Caan is James Caan, a mumbler where the dialogue is concerned and just not charismatic enough to seem like this sort of threat to the world order. Caan may be a nice enough guy, but he's always been at his best when there's a layer of slime on him, and his rollerball star doesn't stand out for his general decency or feel like he's the cunning sort of celebrity that can beat the system at its own game. He could still pursue a lost love while being cunning, but what killer instinct he's got is limited to the rink here.

That said, the actual sport of rollerball is presented fairly well here; the movie doesn't have the budget to make it seem like a global obsession of the future (CGI crowds often look fake, but they make a point), but the harsh action and the design that you can see is supposed to preclude long-running superstars makes a kind of cynical sense, and Jewison shoots the film in a way that lets the audience get caught up while occasionally slapping them with how awful it actually is. It sometimes seems like the folks involved have the right idea, but haven't really thought out how sports and capitalism collide in a way that makes the cynicism feel earned, especially from today's perspective.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, digital)

One of the award-winning short films from the festival part of the festivities, "Live" is kind of on-the-nose about the topics it's addressing, the kind, and that they're the sort of things that are specifically of more interest to a young actress than her audience. It's very much got a "write/direct/act in what you know" vibe to it, although filmmaker Taryn O'Neill never winds up so far into inside baseball for it to be a problem.

Mostly, she makes a confident movie that knows of what it speaks in terms of the pressure to maintain a persona and constantly produce content, the more lurid the better. The whole thing is quick and idea-focused - it doesn't particularly have a twist or an arc to play out - but it's by and large a good use of that idea, and a fair calling card for an actress not looking to get caught in the future it imagines.

Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, digital)

Fritz Lang's Frau im Mond is a trailblazer in science fiction, not just for the things it anticipates - it is credited with introducing the countdown to the world, among other things - but because it is perhaps the first time that a major milestone in science and discovery is, as far as the writers and directors are concerned, second fiddle to the individual struggles of the human heart, in this case a girl figuring out which boy she likes better, or at least the one that is willing to sacrifice for her.

Not that this Friede is not worth sacrificing for; Gerda Maurus plays her as whip-smart and always carrying herself with the casual assurance of a woman is confident despite knowing what pressures are on her compared to the guys. She's almost certainly worth more than either Wolf (Willy Fritsch), who would run away from the whole planet out of self-pity, or his friend Hans (Gustav von Wangenheim), who is more than a smidge self-centered, although the three have enjoyable chemistry together. Meanwhile, Fritz Rasp is giving the kind of enjoyably slimy performance where one can hear the sneering superiority despite it being a silent.

In some ways, it's kind of a shame that Rasp's character is kind of unnecessary; he's the lingering remnant of how at least the restored version of this film certainly does take its time getting started, with a ton of conspiracy material that ultimately doesn't matter - although, I suppose, this sort of shadowy cabal is another sort of science-fiction trope that the movie anticipates. When Fritz Lang does get to the big set pieces, though, it's impressive as heck, anticipating more of the realities of space travel than one might expect and inventing a lot of the language of event-movie cinema. Frau im Mond is more exciting and modern than one would expect from a 90-year-old movie, even one which could certainly be expected to age badly.

It certainly doesn't hurt that this presentation was accompanied by organist Jeff Rapsis, who always adds something to a silent film but who was clearly working from a place of special excitement here, never flagging despite this movie being nearly three hours long without an intermission. It was an energetic score that kept things moving during the long opening and kicked it up a notch or two when things got igger.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, 70mm)

Nicholas Meyer's Star Trek VI came out at the height of the franchise being willing to pat itself on the back for being the cerebral science-fiction franchise, and truth be told it could probably use a lot less trying to show how smart it is by quoting classics, and a lot more by way of avoiding the dumb plotting that often has heroes and villains alike looking like fools. He's a strong enough director to get away with it, especially the first time through - he has a knack for mixing the familiar and the exotic to best effect, stages nifty action and shoots around a tight budget without drawing attention to the fact, and juggles the large cast well. He and that cast know what all of these characters mean to the audience, and do a fine job playing on that.

And even with the pretentiousness and flaws more evident than when I first saw this in the theater (and when I cringed seeing the dumb material added for home video), it's probably the sharpest of the films in the series and the one that most directly serves as the heir to the show that had Vietnam War stories in the middle of its big sci-fi adventures. For all that it was timely in 1991 for how it was clearly using the collapse of the Klingon Empire as a metaphor for the end of the Cold War, it doesn't feel handcuffed by the metaphor - it still feels current and I suspect it always will for as long as there will be people who have trouble with history moving on past the conflict that defined their lives.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17-18 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, DCP)

The middle of the night is a pretty good time to see Annihilation - not only is your brain starting to accept strangeness even as it registers shock, but the parts of the marathon audience that might be tempted to be a pain in the ass are starting to sleep a bit. I don't know if it's quite so thoroughly unsettling the second time around - the bear mess me up the way it did when I first saw it - but it's still pretty darn brain-melting when you get to the end. Alex Garland is looking to make the audience feel the absolutely unmoored nature these characters feel as they confront the unknowable, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a movie do that better.

Maybe 2001, but that's a different sort of unknowable.

What I thought the first time

The Andromeda Strain

N/A (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, 35mm)

Remember what I said about not being ashamed of when I nodded off because I was fighting a pretty strong cold and didn't have anything to prove? This is where it starts coming into play. I don't know when I'll ever get another chance to see this methodical thriller on 35mm film, which is a darn shame; I liked the businesslike-but-intense start and remember once being genuinely freaked out when I caught a bit of it on TV and saw someone not bleeding from a cut, and wanted to see what it all added up to.

Another time.

Destination Moon

N/A (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, digital)

Same here - I was tired and full of snot, I'd gotten about as far as caffeine was going to take me, and it was something like three in the morning. Older-movie pacing and the clipped delivery of serious mid-twentieth-century men wasn't going to do it.

Not helping the impression was that this was a situation where there were two of a few things in this marathon, and a second "first trip to the moon that features drawing matchsticks to see who stays behind" was one more than I needed, especially since this wasn't as good a movie as Frau im Mond. But, they wanted to program something to go with the Chesley Bonestell documentary, and this fit that the best.

Source Code

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, 35mm)

Speaking of doubling up, the festival had a print of Duncan Jones's Moon earlier in the week, and I kind of wish I'd made time for it; Source Code is a reminder that he's closer to the top tier of science fiction/fantasy filmmakers than you might recall. He's able to dig into a strange situation and make the audience feel at home as well as anybody, even if it's meant to be unnerving, on the way to a pretty darn good thriller.

Also: Michelle Monaghan needs to be in more things. Maybe she is and they're just winding up on streaming services, but it kind of boggles my mind that she never became a big star after Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. There's a certain amount of missed-star potential to Jake Gyllenhaal as well, but this movie kind of shows him as maybe being too naturally eccentric to really be a leading man.

What I thought back in '11


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, DCP)

This may have been my first time seeing this since its theatrical release, which is weird, because I loved it more the first time through than I had loved another movie for a while, and given how I got a similar vibe off Annihilation last year, it might have been due for a revisit.

On a second viewing, yeah, I absolutely find the slasher ending a bit messy, especially when compared to how arty Boyle makes the execution at spots. Much like Annihilation, I think that's at least part of the point - coming this close to the sun, all too well aware of their mission's impossible stakes, the filmmakers are trying to show the audience that all sorts of madness are not just likely but inevitable here, but a guy just going nuts and killing people seems almost prosaic next to the overwhelming power of the sun.

Still, heck of a cast, memorable sights, and a genuine feeling of desperation to the all-life-on-Earth stakes. That last bit doesn't come across as well as it could sometimes - it's just too big and the monomania Chris Evans's Mace displays of monomania are usually reserved for smaller things, so it's almost surprising that they actually work at an appropriate scale.

My 2007 review at EFilmCritic

Escape From New York

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (SF/44, DCP)

I must admit, there's a level on which I like this movie's sequel more than the original; Escape from L.A. is up front about its satirical intent, and if this one is playing the same sort of game, it's bone-dry parody that can easily be mistaken for the real thing. Escape From New York feels serious despite playing on thin stereotypes, not quite getting the vibe where the lawless prison of Manhattan is vibrant and free compared to the outside. Heck, Snake Plissken is a stereotype himself, a bad-ass action caricature that we'd snicker at a filmmaker trying to present as a worthy protagonist otherwise. Even when you can see them playing it broad, it doesn't feel like jokes.

On the other hand, this group is just so darn good; John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Nick Castle, and Kurt Russell have made plenty of great movies in various combinations, and they've got a good cast with them. This film may not completely deserve its reputation as a classic - or maybe it's just more a relic of its time than it initially appeared to be - but it's still a solid B movie: A clever idea that combines capable execution with moments when it at least touches what it's capable of.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Between this and Alita: Battle Angel, it's been a week for seeing movies with punctuation in the title and being kind of sad that nobody is making 3D/4K Blu-ray packages anymore, because they are both gorgeous and clearly made with that third dimension in mind. I don't know to what extent Jeff Katzenberg is still pushing 3D at Dreamworks now that at least the animation studio is part of Comcast/Universal, but this has always been the franchise there that really gets the most out of it.

One thing that I wonder, watching this, is the extent to which the series's audience has grown with it or been refreshed with each new release. Five years ago, I found it kind of odd that the characters had aged in real time between the first and second movies, while now I find it equally interesting that they haven't. How has someone who was eight or nine when the first of these movies came out in 2010 had their relationship with them change, and to what extent are kids streaming the originals before the new one comes out.

Another thing I'm glad I've had called to my attention about this series lately is just how good John Powell's score is. It hasn't exactly burned itself into my head the way the big Williams ones have, but it really enhances the films in the moment. It certainly winds up a big part of why this series has proven itself a bit above a lot of the other animated films coming out of Hollywood, even if the two sequels have been more "very good" than the top-tier work the first one was.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 February 2019 in AMC Boston Common #16 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Give DreamWorks credit for knowing when they're done with something, even when the temptation to keep a successful series going must be strong, as when the Madagascar series stumbled upon its end and didn't fight it. They probably could have stretched How to Train Your Dragon out a while longer, but there's not a whole lot more to say, to the point where they kind of have trouble building a new story. Fortunately, the series still has just enough of what makes it work to glide in for a satisfying landing.

As the film opens, it's been about a year since the events of the last movie, with Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel) the new chief of the Vikings on the isle of Berk, not just living in harmony with their dragons but rescuing others held in captivity. It's becoming difficult - not only are they running out of room, but they're making enemies of those less inclined to see dragons as friends. The latest is Grimmel (voice of F. Murray Abraham), a hunter with a special obsession for killing Night Furies like Hiccup's dragon Toothless. Hiccup suggests they find the legendary homeland and relocate there, and in the meantime, Toothless has become infatuated with a newly-appeared female Night Fury, not aware the Grimmel is using her as bait.

The Hidden World can feel kind of familiar at times - another dragon hunter, another fleet aiming to use dragons as weapons for conquest, Hiccup once again looking to the horizon and uncertain about his ability to lead despite the strong support of girlfriend Astrid (voice of America Ferrera). There are more supporting characters running around the island than writer/director Dean DeBlois has a place for, including a couple that were pointedly added to the cast last time around. Credit is due DeBlois for choosing to plug ahead doggedly, not rolling anything from the previous movies back or having anybody act out of character, but a lot of the story is a bit perfunctory, including the climactic final battle. It's what he needs to get to the moments he wants to put on screen without betraying the relationship the audience has built with these characters over the past decade, but not a lot more.

Full review at EFilmCritic