Friday, November 15, 2019

Doctor Sleep

I kind of expected this to be in the big room at the Somerville Theatre, but instead it was on screen #2 - maybe not quite their smallest there now, but still usually one for niche movies and things that have been around for a little bit. That's not a terribly auspicious start for a new Stephen King movie in New England, enough that I wonder a bit if it got swapped with Parasite after a disappointing opening night. Bummer if it did, because I wanted to see it on the big screen, but, on the other hand, good for Bong Joon-Ho!

It's the sort of film and audience reaction that makes me wonder how popular something actually is. We kind of take it as a given that The Shining is beloved and a masterpiece (the fact that King doesn't like it kind of only gives it more cred as a film), but to what extent is that actually true outside of film buffs? And, of that, how many like it in a way that has them open to a sequel that emphasizes the chilly aesthetic choices as much as the visceral fear? As much as I like Flanagan, he's not Kubrick, and the film shines best when it focuses on his warmth and sympathy as opposed to Kubrick's more harsh attitude.

Also: Those were some weird New England accents. I don't know many people from New Hampshire specifically, but this seemed pretty off.

Doctor Sleep

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 November 2019 in Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Coming to Doctor Sleep as more of a fan of screenwriter/director Mike Flanagan than either Stephen King or The Shining makes for an odd experience, as he clearly is a fan making what sometimes feels like the biggest fan film he can. It's a good one, and a fairly decent fantasy in general, but when it's finished, the audience will likely remember its respectful recreation the most out of everything else that's done well here.

It opens with the familiar events with the Torrance family at the Overlook Hotel in 1980, but it turns out that Dan Torrence isn't the only one with what his mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) called a "shine". The ghosts from the Overlook chase him even into adulthood, but they may not be the most dangerous thing out there - a nomad calling herself Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her band have been preying on kids with a shine for a long time, bottling and drinking their essence to extend life and increase powers. She has taken on a new apprentice in Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lloyd), and while Dan (Ewan McGregor) mostly just wants to keep his head down, his new home in New Hampshire puts him near Abra Stone, whose powers may be stronger than Dan's. At 15, Abra (Kyliegh Curran) is not inclined to hide, starting to investigate when she feels the ripples of Rose's group preying on another kid, which naturally puts a target on Abra.

Doctor Sleep is the sort of sequel that looks to expand the universe of its progenitor by introducing new elements, which can be a somewhat dicey proposition in a case like this - speaking as someone who has only seen the films, I don't necessarily think of The Shining as one that necessarily compels because of its unique ideas about how ghosts and psychic powers work as opposed to them being a material reflection of what's going on in his head. This film leans on such things much more, with Rose implying that there are classes of shiners, the lot talking about tricks, implying secret histories, leading to a climax that is built on Dan hatching a plan using these things that were mostly metaphorical as practical tools. It's a sort of mathematical approach to the material that is fun in its own way but doesn't provoke the same sort of emotional reaction.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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

Remember, the Red Line is messed up this weekend, from Kendall to Broadway, so allow yourself some extra time.

  • The biggest thing coming out this weekend (by one measure) is Ford v Ferrari, featuring Matt Damon and Christian Bale as an engineer and driver trying to help Ford break Ferrari's stranglehold on the world of Formula One racing. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax), the Embassy, Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    There's also a new Charlie's Angels, starring Kristen Stewart and with Elizabeth Banks writing and directing. It plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (Dolby Cinema), and Revere (including XPlus). If you're more interested in wily seniors than pretty young spies, there's The Good Liar with Ian McKellen as a con artist targeting Helen Mirren, who as you may expect is smarter than his usual mark. It can be found at Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, and Revere.

    Boston Common also gets the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, which played special one-offs a few weeks back and seems to have everyone Kevin Smith has ever worked with in a small part.

    This month's Studio Ghibli selection is Princess Mononoke, playing Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere in English on Sunday and Wednesday and Japanese on Monday (no shows in Revere on Wednesday). The week's concert movies are Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere on Sunday; Lionel Richie at Glastonbury at Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Tuesday; and Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest at Kendall Square and Revere on Thursday.
  • Netflix's big awards contender, The Irishman, opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square (with tickets already on sale for the Somerville starting on the 22nd). It's a big one, 3.5 hours long, with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci joining director Martin Scorcese for an epic tale of a hitman who, among other things, supposedly killed Jimmy Hoffa. Those two also get The Report, starring Adam Driver as a congressional staffer charged with investigating illegal detention and torture at the CIA.

    Midnights at the Coolidge this weekend are 35mm prints of series-starters from the 1990s - Final Destination on Friday night and Candyman on Saturday. There's a Science on Screen Jr. screening of Babe with Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary's Tia Pinney giving a talk on animal behavior on Saturday, and a 35mm "Stage & Screen" show of Lost in La Mancha Monday night.
  • On top of those, Kendall Square also picks up Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer, which chronicles the paper's evolution from lurid tabloid to popular gossip rag to "catch-and-kill" operation.
  • Better Days continues at Boston Common and the Seaport, with Boston Common also picking up Chinese romance Somewhere Winter. Boston Common also picks up the week's sort-of-Indian film, with The Warrior Queen of Jhansi an English-language take on the same story as Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, with Devika Bhise in the title role, while Apple Fresh Pond pares their Indian films down to Bala.
  • It's a wild week at The Brattle Theatre, with the latest edition of The International Pancake Film Festival Friday night, this one with sci-fi silliness. Pancakes will be served, although there will hopefully not be similar culinary accompaniment later in the night when they play Soylent Green. There's a special 35mm show of Bullitt Saturday afternoon and a "Make My Day" double feature of Sudden Impact (35mm) & RoboCop Sunday evening, with Jewish Film Festival shows in between.

    Monday's DocYard show is "Leona's Sister Gerri", with director Jane Gillooly on-hand to discuss her short-ish doc about the subject of an infamous photograph. Tuesday is Trash Night, and then they run Blade Runner on Wednesday and Thursday, as the film takes place on 20 November 2019. There's also a special GlobeDocs "Legal Lens" show on Thursday evening, click here to RSVP.
  • Boston Jewish Film wraps their annual festival this weekend with shows at the MFA, the Brattle, the Aquarium, and West Newton, as well as closing night film The Rabbi Goes West at the Somerville, with directors Amy Gellar & Gerald Perry and subject Rabbi Chaim Bruk on-hand.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has something different every night, starting with the back half of "Four Films by François Ozon" on Friday, with separate admission presentations on Under the Sand and Frantz (DCP). They have a matinee of Boy and the World on Saturday afternoon, with that evening given over to Alex Ross Perry, with is first film Impolex showing at 7pm while he pulls Jerry Lewis's The Family Jewels from the archive at 8:30pm. Sunday is B-Movies, with The House of Fear at 5pm and a double-feature of Daughter of Shanghai with Anna May Wong & Phantom of Chinatown (16mm) at 7pm. On Monday they have Atlantique (DCP), the new film from one of their prior Radcliffe-FSC Fellows, Mati Diop. All are on 35mm unless noted.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts splits their weekend between the Jewish Film Festival and The Boston Turkish Festival's Documentary & Short FIlm Competition, with single shows of Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound and Mr. Klein on Wednesday.
  • The Somerville Theatre is one of the hosts of the Boston Comedy Festival this weekend, so they've got an extra screen at some points. They have the bulk of the Boston International Kids' Film Festival on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, although Friday Night's kick-off is at The Capitol Theatre. There's also the monthly The Boston Underground Film Festival Dispatch from the Underground, this month presenting The Best of the Weird Local Film Festival on Wednesday night - probably in the Micro, because Warren Miller's Timeless has a screen on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • ArtsEmerson and the Boston Asian-American Film Festival have a special presentation of Chinatown Rising in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room on Saturday afternoon, with Bright Lights settling back into the space for Her Smell on Tuesday and the nifty Knives and Skin on Thursday, the latter with director Jennifer Reeder as well as the usual faculty discussion, both free. Emerson's Films From the Margin club shows Amores Perros in Walker 202 on Wednesday; I'm not sure how open-to-the-public that is.
  • The Regent Theatre has the 38th annual Asbury Shorts Film Concert on Thursday evening.
  • I believe "Hidden Pacific" is a new addition to the rotation at the New England Aquarium this week.
  • The Luna Theater shows New York Dog Film Festival on Friday and Tuesday evenings and the New York Cat Film Festival all day Saturday, with Edward Scissorhands on Sunday as well as the free surprise shows of Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday. Cinema Salem goes a second week without special programming, and I wonder if it has anything to do with this story about the theater being for sale - the owner is getting too busy to operate it and is soliciting potential new operators for as little as $125K.


Busy week ahead, with most of the new releases and the Pancake Film Festival on the docket.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Chinese Crime: My Dear Liar & Better Days

I've said it before, but I'm kind of tired of writing about how "crime does not pay" makes for lousy movies, not so much because that end is bad in and of itself, but because you can often see how the writers have to twist in order to satisfy those demands. At best, you get something like The Wild Goose Lake, where the filmmakers figure out a way to draw suspense from something other than whether or not the wrongdoers will be captured or killed; at worst, you get epilogues which have that justice administered out of nowhere. More often, you get something like My Dear Liar where the whole last act of the movie has odd pressures on it, and it never feels quite natural.

I wonder if other folks were a bit thrown by some of the camgirl stuff, like the virtual yachts, which I'd only heard of from People's Republic of Desire, a documentary I saw at Fantasia last year.

Reserving seats on my phone, it appears there were excursions planned to My Dear Liar on Sunday, as there were a couple "Almost Full" signs, but it was just me and maybe a couple other people Saturday morning. On the other hand, not only did Boston Common keep putting on more shows, but it also opened at the Seaport, which was a bit of an easier ticket to get at short notice. No idea whether they'll be starting to pick these movies up as well, but there was a fair crowd there for one of their first times booking these - I think they got Ne Zha, also a Well Go release, a few weeks back, and it makes sense that they might pick up the things that were already hits.

Sadly, it looks like those two movies coming out last week and another this weekend means that Chasing Dream isn't hitting North America alongside its Chinese release, which is a bummer, because that's new Johnnie To movie, and we've had the last few of those. No dice, but I am glad Derek Tsang's latest was able to get out of censorship limbo.

Shou yi ren (My Dear Liar)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

My Dear Liar involves a fairly dumb master plan and I don't think the people making this movie thought it through much better than its scheming characters did. It's the sort of film that makes murder just something that happens during insurance fraud and never lets itself enjoy the pleasures of a good con, always far too well aware that what these characters are doing is deceptive and/or illegal, so much so that it can't separate the thrill of a small-time grift with the horror of a large one. And if that's the case, why bother?

As it opens, longtime friends Zhong Zenjiang (Zhang Zixian) and Wu Hai ("Da Peng" Dong Chengpeng) are both feeling a monetary squeeze and resorting to scams, although the scales are different: Zhong and his boss have been embezzling money from their real estate firm and feel investigators closing in, while perpetually-broke "Da Hai" is hustling as a designated-driver-for-hire at night after managing an internet café to pay for his son Yoyo's asthma medicine. He'd love to move into one of the apartments Zhong's firm is developing in a nice, pollution-free area, and Zhong says he'll transfer one if Da Hai carries out his plan - marry camgirl Yue Miaomiao (Ada Liu Yan), take out a large insurance policy, and then collect when she accidentally drowns. This plan, of course, leaves out a lot of details about how to get Miaomiao into position, even before considering that Miaomiao may be a little more than her "Foxy Fairy" character.

I expected more of a comedy based on the previous films from the people involved, true, but even considering that this is a more serious movie than that, it feels lacking. It starts with Zhong able to consider murder as part of an insurance scam and Da Hai more than a bit uncomfortable with the idea, but never does much with just how mismatched they are. There are numerous scenes highlighting the toxicity of this friendship, but there's not enough of Zhong overall or the two of them outside this scheme to see why Da Hai would do this for him. Maybe it's something cultural that I as an outsider wouldn't understand, but even in that case, it seems like it could use some detail - there's a chance to twist the knife hard on how decent air quality is being sold as a luxury good, or how the money Zhong is spending on this scheme contrasts with how broke Da Hai is.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Shao nian de ni (Better Days)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 November 2019 in Showplace Icon the Seaport #5 (first-run, DCP laser)

You can tell when a film and filmmaker are just better than their peers, as was the case with Derek Tsang's previous film SoulMate, the best in a wave of seemingly dozens of Chinese movies about people looking back on their high school years. That's a description that could technically apply to Better Days, especially with the bookends made to satisfy the censors, although it's a far harsher film than those, but effectively so: Tsang brings something visceral to his story of bullying and revenge where all too many might be satisfied to make it easier for the squeamish to grapple with.

It's 60 days until "gaokao", the two-day college admissions test that can determine the direction of a young person's life, and Chen Nian (Zhou Dongyu) is under as much stress as any of her peers at an Anquiao City cram school, if not more - her mother Zhou Lei (Wu Yue) is deep in debt and often away trying to sell knock-off cosmetics in a larger city and she is relentlessly bullied, primarily by a trio of girls led by Wei Lai (Zhou Ye). She's understandably turned inward but she's a good kid - when a classmate in similar position commits suicide, she's the one that steps forward to cover the body and talks to Detective Zheng Yi (Yin Fang), and when she sees a boy beaten up on her way home, she pulls out her phone to call the police. They're on her before anyone can come, but Xiao Bei (Jackson Yee YangQianXi) is grateful, and starts looking out for her.

And the bulk of it is pretty darn great, with Zhou Dongyu and Jackson Yee great at essaying these kids who had been failed by adults finding something in each other without making it nicer than it should be. Tsang and the stars very deliberately don't make their romance something beautiful amidst the ugliness of their lives, but instead something that often just barely peeks out of their wariness. They capture how this extreme vulnerability can lead to hardening and closing off, with Zhou especially spending much of her time in the sort of tense posture that lets the audience feel how much she's holding back because she recognizes that letting something out will only create more trouble, but still communicating a lot without using many words.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, November 09, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.193: The Wild Goose Lake & The Truth

The Fall Focus seemed a bit more like a preview series this year, with most of the films having releases coming up pretty soon - some would begin their rollouts the very next weekend - but the ones I wound up seeing were those whose theatrical release is either somewhat far off or in question. That's part prioritization and part not really having a lot to do in Harvard Square between movies, or having things to do that would take a little longer - for example, between these two, I headed out to the Best Buy in the Cambridgeside Galleria to use a $5 reward certificate that was expiring that day, getting myself a 4K copy of The Great Wall for cheap enough that I won't feel I've spent too much on two copies if it shows up on the list of 3D Blu-rays that are on sale in Hong Kong next month, then heading back into Davis for The Lighthouse (which I'm torn between trying again and really not wanting to), and then back to the Brattle for the nightcap.

The Wild Goose Lake, I gather, is coming out in China in early December with a North American release planned for spring, and I kind of wonder whether this might be a case where it should just get two releases - one day-and-date for the expats and folks like me who just don't wait and one for the arthouse crowd. It's got the same sort of vibe as Ash Is Purest White and Long Day's Journey Into Night, to name a couple of movies that had a more traditional foreign-film release pattern and didn't have a whole lot of Asian folks in the audience when I saw them. Are these just films that were never going to be of mainstream interest even to folks who speak the language, built for export, or is it just a case of the two audiences being siloed and unaware or what is playing for the others? Someday, someone should try this strategy.

The Truth will probably get some local play, as there are dedicated fans of the director and the cast and together they might just add up to opening at the Kendall rather than three days at the Brattle. As I mention in the review, I wonder to what extent filmmakers whose appeal often lies outside their home territories are doing this for commercial reasons or if it's just being cinephiles who love movies from around the world and want to do something in that mode. Either way, I'm looking forward to Werner Herzog's Japanese film.

Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui (The Wild Goose Lake)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

I may regularly gripe about how crime does not (and can not) pay in Chinese movies, but there are restrictions on what stories you can tell everywhere, and Diao Yi'nan is one of a number of filmmakers who are finding a way to tell a good story within those bounds. Sometimes you can build a nifty yarn out of who will ultimately benefit from the criminals' inevitable capture and how making justice pay can appeal to the criminal in us all.

The film opens on career criminal Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) waiting in the rain for wife Yang Shujun (Regina Wan Qian), only to be greeted by Liu Ai'ai (Kwei Lun-Mei) instead. Two days ago, he was in the middle of a scuffle as territory for the motorcycle-theft racket was handed out, and while his old friend Huahua (Qi Dao) tried to mediate, rival Cat's Eye (Huang Jue) saw a chance to get revenge, and in the aftermath, not only are the local police hunting Zenong down, but a 300,000 yuan reward (roughly $40,000) makes him a tempting target for everyone in an area where that sort of money can be life-changing.

Diao opens the film with a clever little dance as Zenong and Ai'ai creep around what little cover offered near a train station, telling the audience that they need to avoid prying eyes without getting into why yet. The introduction of Ai'ai is especially delicious, hiding her face behind a fogged-up bubble umbrella while still hinting at a femme fatal as she walks, a downward pan to her handbag hinting at secrets. It's a canny use of the tools of the genre that primes the audience and lets Zenong ease the audience into a flashback without it seeming hokey even as we're soon greeted by him hanging back in a crowded room, a doomed moment of cool confidence.

Full review on EFilmCritic

La vérité '19 (The Truth)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

I don't really think that Hirokazu Kore-eda has made a French-language movie because his particular arthouse niche was getting kind of tight, but it's darkly amusing to imagine international film financiers imagining that the combination of his understated Japanese family dramas and French films where Catherine Deneuve makes a movie about being Catherine Deneuve might get screens and audiences that neither alone might find. Heck, there's a third element in play that might draw a different audience! Fortunately, even when the film feels like it is assembled out of different pieces, the craftsmanship that puts them together is as fine as one might hope, creating a work that should satisfy audiences no matter what drew them to it.

It revolves around Fabienne Dangeville (Deneuve) and her family; the famous actress has just published her memoirs in advance of starting work on a new movie where she plays the 73-year-old daughter of a twentysomething woman whose job in outer space keeps her unaging. The actress playing the role (Manon Clavel), naturally, is the daughter of an old friend and rival who was sometimes more of a mother to Fabienne's daughter than she was. Lumir (Juliette Binoche), now a screenwriter in America, has arrived with husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) to be part of the book launch, noting many inaccuracies while Luc (Alain Libolt), the assistant who has been by her side for decades, quits upon noting that he is not mentioned at all, putting Lumir in charge of wrangling her mother.

Films like this, set within the world of cinema, art, and fame, can often be insular, built on experiences and metaphors that are meaningful for the closest and most dedicated audience but which often have others trying to figure out some sort of meta-narrative or left behind by not recognizing a meaningful reference. The Truth it does kind of feel hollow for a while, with every bit of Fabienne being insufferable coming across as an anecdote that those in the know will recognize rather than something that actually adds up to a person, although that is in a way her character: Fabienne is a performer before all else, and while many things can give a person tunnel-vision, dedication to this particular art can erase the self, leaving Deneuve playing an often amusing, though nearly as often horrible, woman with limited conception of how she affects others.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, November 08, 2019

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

A lot to see this weekend, and the rain and MBTA have kept me from getting a head start on it. Well, probably more traffic that their buses got stuck in than the MBTA itself, but, still, not pleased!

  • Let's start off with the stuff from China, which finally sends Better Days our way after yanking it from release - apparently the story about a bullied girl involved in a murder mystery and dangerous romance during her college exams freaked their censor board out, and I'm not sure how much it's been cut since, but it was a big hit when it dropped with three days notice a couple weeks ago. It's from the director of the pretty great SoulMate with star Zhou Dongyu also coming from that film. Those looking for a funnier Chinese movie can check out My Fair Liar, with Da Peng as a single father who gets involved in a scam that involves him marrying a camgirl (Liu Yan). Both are at Boston Common, with Better Days also at the Seaport.

    Over at Apple Fresh Pond, they open Bollywood comedy Bala, which apparently spins a movie out of a man dealing with going bald in his twenties. They also continue Housefull 4 and Kaithi (through Monday), with Girgit having an encore show on Sunday, but the herd has thinned out enough for them to have room to (likely) four-wall Love Is Blind, in which a woman with a selective perception condition cannot see her mother despite living in the same house.
  • It's busy at the multiplexes, too, with the biggest release Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan's adaptation of Stephen King's sequel to The Shining which takes a lot of visual cues from the movie despite King not liking that film much, but it's great seeing Flanagan doing this sort of major project. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus), and the Superlux.

    Down the hall(s), many places will have Midway, Roland Emmerich's recreation of a key battle in World War II, which looks spiffy enough, like most Emmerich movies. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Revere (including XPlus), and the Superlux. There's also Last Christmas, a romantic comedy starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, built around the songs of George Michael and written by Emma Thompson (who also pops up in a supporting role, as does Michelle Yeoh). That plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux. For the kids, there's Playing with Fire, with John Cena as a smoke-jumper who winds up saddled with three kids at his fire station until their parents can be found. That's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There are also 45th anniversary shows of The Godfather Part II at Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (note that it and the first will be at the Brattle on 35mm in December). Anime fans can catch KonoSuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World on Tuesday and Thursday at Fenway, South Bay (Tuesday only), Assembly Row, and Revere (Tuesday only). For music, John Fogerty: 50 Year Trip Live at Red Rocks plays Revere on on Monday; Everybody's Everything, a documentary on musician Lil Peep plays Boston Common and The Regent Theatre on Tuesday (with the Regent having an extra show on Wednesday with the first sold out); and Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour plays Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere on Thursday. South Bay and Revere have a program of six remastered Twilight Zone episodes on Thursday, while Revere also shows The Matrix that night (including MX4D shows). There are also "Girls' Night Out" shows of the new Charlie's Angels at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, Assembly Row, and Revere on Wednesday.
  • Kendall Square gets Synonyms, about an Israeli man who moves to France to escape a country that seems to have no place for him, and Frankie, directed by Ira Sachs and following a family on an eventful day while on vacation in Portugal, with Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson, and Marisa Tomei.
  • The Brattle Theatre spends much of their schedule on "Make My Day: The Cinematic Imagination of the Reagan Era", with Risky Business late Friday (oddly, the only thing on the schedule); a matinee double feature of E.T. & Gremlins Saturday afternoon, both on 35mm; a twin bill of The Terminator & The Running Man on Sunday; a "Cinema in Context" show of WarGames, in 35mm and with an introduction by J. Hoberman, whose book gives the series its title, on Tuesday; and a pairing of Ishtar & Walker, the latter in 35mm, on Wednesday.
  • The rest of the Brattle's schedule is dedicated to Boston Jewish Film's annual festival, which also has shows at the Coolidge, the Bright Screening Room, the MFA, the JCC Reimer-Goldstein Theater, the Capitol, West Newton, NewBridge on the Charles, Patriot Place in Foxboro, the Somerville, .

    The Capitol Theatre also plays host to Arlington International Film Festival, which runs through Sunday and as usual is packed incredibly tight, with barely a break between programs.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre mostly continues their current line-up, but with fun extras along with the repertory programs. The midnight shows on Friday and Saturday are a restoration of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead with a new score and sound mix, with Saturday night's show being a special "Haus of Oni" presentation with a special horror-drag preshow - although, let me tell you, if that new 4K disc I bought just a year ago is already obsolete… A more conventional Big Screen Classic, Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, plays Monday evening with an optional seminar presentation; Thursday's 35mm Rewind! presentation of Welcome to the Dollhouse has an afterparty at Osaka down the street.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more B-Movies this weekend with Peter Lorre in The Face Behind the Mask up first Friday night before a Richard Fleischer double feature of Armored Car Robbery and Narrow Margin later that evening. Would-be franchise starter Dr. Broadway plays Saturday night. There's also a Western double feature of Thunderhoof & Ride Lonesome (DCP) on Sunday before the evening show of Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore. All but one are on 35mm and the run something like 63 to 77 minutes, so there's no wasted time.

    The HFA's also in on the "Make My Day" series it shares with the Brattle, with The King of Comedy on Saturday night and J. Hoberman introducing Being There on Monday, both on 35mm film.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more shows of What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire? (Friday/Sunday) and Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Wednesday), as well as the first of their mini-run Mr. Klein, which is sort of adjacent to the Boston Jewish Film festival to which they also dedicate a lot of screen time.. There's also the final show in their quick "New Cinema from Brazil" program, Marighella, with Seu Jorge in the title role, on Saturday.
  • With the holidays coming up, The Museum of Science adds the stripped-down version of The Polar Express to their 4D shows.
  • Bright Lights partners with Wicked Queer for Trans Awareness Week on Tuesday, with Adam playing Tuesday with screenwriter Ariel Schrag on hand, and then with the Roxbury International Film Festival and Boston Women's Film Festival for Warrior Women on Thursday with director Elizabeth Castle afterward, both free and in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room. Emerson's Films From the Margin club shows Cleo 5 to 7 in Walker 202 on Wednesday; I'm not sure how open-to-the-public that is.
  • The ICA has short film program "A Wall Is a Wall" on Sunday afternoon, free with museum admission (it plays in conjunction with an exhibition), although tickets need to be reserved.
  • The Luna Theater has a run of indie comedy Greener Grass this week, with evening shows on Friday/Saturday/Monday/Tuesday. They also have the kind of neat Irish-American surfing documentary The Crest on Saturday afternoon, Official Secrets on Saturday evenings and Monday afternoon, a full day of Mars Attacks on Sunday, and their first show of the New York Dog Film Festival on Monday. As usual, the Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday shows are surprises but free. Oddly, Cinema Salem doesn't seem to have anything on their little screen this week; maybe it's getting an upgrade.

B movies Friday night, Chinese movies Saturday, the multiplexes other days (Doctor Sleep, Last Christman, and Midway all interest for various reasons), and some stuff I should really have seen already as well

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate

I've got a bad habit of not buying tickets for the IFFBoston Fall Focus in advance (because who knows what's going on a week from now, right?), so by the time I was checking things at work on Friday, Marriage Story was already sold out, but like a lot of those movies, it'll be out in regular theaters soon so catching it isn't quite urgent. So, what the heck, let's see the new Terminator.

It's bad, of course, and is bad in the same way the previous sequels have been: It's the same movie, more or less, with a powerful sensation of running in place. I joke often about how other franchises reboot and this one restores from the backup they made after T2, but they can; I don't really miss any of the directions various people have taken some then as they're thrown out. And I'm fairly sure I won't miss this when the next group to get their hands on the Caralco library decides to keep going because these sequel rights are the most valuable part of that acquisition. Nobody seems to regret any of the retcons other than The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and I haven't heard that much lamenting its consignment to alternate timeline status this time around. The fans must have gotten it out of their systems with Genisys.

Terminator: Dark Fate

* * (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #2 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

This Terminator is such a nullity and retread that I can't even bother to type a joke I've been making to friends about just what sort of retread it is again, like it would make me just as lazy. Dark Fate somehow manages to be a paradox of pointlessness - a sequel that draws what life it can from its predecessors but which has nothing new to offer, even as it explicitly notes that it's just doing the same thing with different names.

So now "Skynet" is "Legion" and they've sent a Terminator "Rev-9" (Gabriel Luna) back to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who works in an automobile plant in Mexico and seems as innocuous as Sarah Connor was thirty-five years ago. The rebels send back Grace (Mackenzie Davis), whose cyborg augmentations allow her to put up much more of a fight than most humans would against a killer robot - though they probably still would have been dead in fifteen minutes if Connor (Linda Hamilton) didn't show up. She's been hunting Terminators full time since one that had apparently been around for years found and killed her son in 1998, after "Judgment Day" was supposed to have happened. She's been receiving text messages about where time-traveling killing machines will materialize for years, but coordinates tattooed on Grace's body will finally lead her to the person sending them.

It would take depressingly little editing to tweak that description to describe four other Terminator movies or the TV show, and while it's not inherently bad to follow a formula, this series has spent the past twenty years having no idea how to handle the way it has lived past the date of its future doomsday and just doing the same thing anyway. A more ambitious movie could do something with that, making a point of how the point is not a single savior but rather the steady work of pushing the apocalypse back, or playing with how The Terminator was the product of Cold War fears of Mutually Assured Destruction, so maybe by now we're talking about troll-bot server farms hastening environmental disaster, but this is not that movie. The filmmakers do the minimum to upgrade to the twenty-first century, and why bother when the first couple movies are out there?

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, November 01, 2019

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

You know, I could have sworn I saw previews for Terminator: Dark Fate in 3D earlier this year, but (checks Hong Kong showtime app) it's not even being shown that way internationally. Go figure.

  • But before going there, stop at The Brattle Theatre for the Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus, which offers a preview of some of the fall's most anticipated movies midway between the 2019 and 2020 editions, some of which may not hit theaters because they're produced by streaming services. The lineup features Marriage Story on Friday; The Wild Goose Lake, Waves, The Truth, and Honey Boy on Saturday; and The Two Popes, Clemency, The Kingmaker, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire on Sunday.

    After that, they have a DocYard presentation Combat Obscura on Monday, with filmmaker Miles Lagoze editing the footage he took as a military cameraman into a short feature. On Tuesday, they start their leg of the "Make My Day: The Cinematic Imagination of the Reagan Era" series with a double feature of True Stories & Videodrome, both on 35mm, with Desperately Seeking Susan also playing on film Wednesday evening.
  • So, back to the multiplexes, where Terminator: Dark Fate is at least the third time the franchise has been restored from backup wiping out everything else after Terminator 2, with Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzeneggar returning to face off against a new set of killer robots from the future trying to protect their own timeline. It's at Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Revere (including MX4D & XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    Speaking of blasts from the past, Edward Norton's Motherless Brooklyn features Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin, which would have been a heck of a cast ten years or so ago, as well as Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Willem Dafoe. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There's also Arctic Dogs, with Jeremy Renner doing the voice of an anthropomorphic sled dog in one of those animated comedies from comes from a lesser animation studio and sort of looks it. It plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere.

    Boston Common has The Rocky Horror Picture show twice this weekend, on Friday and Sunday. Christmas Jars plays one night at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Monday, while The Divine Plan is at Fenway and Revere on Wednesday. For something rather less faith-baiting, there's Slayer: The Repentless Killogy, with a short film preceding concert footage from the band on Wednesday at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere. Lynyrd Skynyrd: The Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour plays Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Thursday.
  • The other big release this week is Harriet, featuring Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, who was probably more badass than most people recognize. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Capitol, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The Coolidge has a Skype call with Bong Joon-Ho after the 7pm Friday show of Parasite. They also have two digital restorations of Godzilla movies at midnight this weekend, with Destroy All Monsters on Friday and Godzilla vs. Hedorah on Saturday. Sunday includes a special "Panorama" presentation of "Veteran Children: When Parents Go to War", a half-hour short with a post-film discussion. The Science on Screen show on Monday is Big Night, with BU chemistry professor Scott Schaus talking about how our sense of taste works before the 35mm show. It's Open Screen on Tuesday.
  • Kendall Square opens Gift, a documentary on creativity, with a Lewis Hyde, the author of the book which inspired the film, paying a visit before the 7:15pm show on Friday. They also have a one-night presentation of A Night with Janis Joplin on Tuesday night.
  • Apple Fresh Pond has more Diwali openings, including Hindi comedies Meeku Maathrame Chepta, about a man who claims to not drink getting into trouble when video leaks right before his wedding, and Ujda Chaman, about a balding man who has been told he has a deadline to fall in love by a fortune teller. There's also a single show of Tulu-language comedy Girgit on Sunday. Housefull 4, Bigil, and Kaithi continue with the latter getting Telugu shows added to the Tamil-language ones..
  • If you go to the website of The Harvard Film Archive, you'll see that the program descriptions for their B-Movies series is starting to get weird. Not so much for Friday's first double feature of Weird Woman (16mm) & Captive Wild Woman (35mm), but they really don't seem to believe they're actually showing Sh! The Octopus (16mm) and The Devil Bat later that night (and to be fair, Sh! is 54 minutes of awful around one genuinely amazing bit of special effects); they are naturally much more enthusiastic about Ida Lupino's Outrage, showing on 35mm Sunday afternoon. Alex Ross Perry will be on hand to introduce two on Saturday - David Lynch's The Elephant Man is a favorite and Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst is him getting the chance to see something the archive has a print of for the first time - both on 35mm. He also presents his most recent two films, with Golden Exits playing on 35mm Sunday evening and Her Smell Monday night.
  • A calendar flip means The Museum of Fine Arts shuffles things up, in part by starting a run of Leonardo: The Works, an "Exhibition on Screen" presentation which presents some of Da Vinci's works in Ultra-HD (though I don't know if the Remis auditorium has a 4K projector) on Friday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They also start runs of Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Friday/Sunday/Wednesday) and What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire? (Sunday/Wednesday). The monthly "On the Fringe: Adventures in Cult Cinema" show on Friday is Hedwig and the Angry Inch, format not yet announced. Saturday has two shows from a short program of "New Cinema from Brazil", with Bacurau and Araby playing that afternoon.
  • Boston Jewish Film's annual festival kicks off on Wednesday with Safe Space at the Coolidge including a Q&A with director Daniel Schechter and star Justin Long. It expands to multiple locations on Thursday, with the FreshFlix shorts competition at Arts at the Armory, Good Morning Son at the Coolidge, Dolce Fine Giornata at the MFA, and both My Polish Honeymoon with director Élise Otzenberger and an encore of Safe Space at the Brattle.

    Over at The Capitol Theatre, the Arlington International Film Festival kicks off with documentary Path of the Daff on Thursday (preceded by Oscar-nominated short "Lifeboat")
  • The Museum of Science has an Anime Boston Weekend Saturday and Sunday, which in addition to cosplay and other activities includes screenings of two recent releases in the Cahners Theater - Mirai on Saturday and Okko's Inn on Sunday, both with subtitles at 10am and English dubs at 2:30pm.
  • This week's Bright Lights screenings are Time for Ilhan with director Norah Shaprio present on Tuesday and IFFBoston alum We Are the Radical Monarchs with director Linda Goldstein Knowlton on Thursday. Those are always open; I'm not sure whether that's usually the case for Emerson's Films From the Margin club, which will be showing Paris, Texas in Walker 202 on Wednesday.
  • Though The ICA has sold out timed tickets for their Yayoi Kusama exhibit through November, they will be showing Kusama: Infinity on Sunday for those who buy tickets for the museum in advance.
  • Cinema Salem takes a break from horror to be what I think is the only place in the area showing Netflix's Dolemite Is My Name on the big screen. The same is true for The Luna Theater in Lowell, which after leaning on spooky stuff plays Official Secrets on Friday and Saturday evenings, taxidermy documentary Stuffed on Saturday afternoon and Tuesday evening, and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure all day Sunday, as well as the surprise Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday shows. And if you head out to the Liberty Tree Mall or Methuen, the AMCs there are showing Inside Game, which stars Eric Mabius as an NBA referee who was caught betting on games he worked.


I'm hitting some of IFFBoston 2019½, although I'm also likely to wager that most of it will be coming out elsewhere soon (if not the very next weekend) and catch Terminator, Harriet, and the stuff I'm behind on.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Farming

Sometime I'm going to have to go back and see just how often a movie being obviously four-walled at the Regent coincides with Indian holidays having Fresh Pond full up with imports and not able to give movies with this profile - festival appearances, small but not microscopic distributor, a few recognizable names - their two shows a day. It's Diwali, so Momentum has to go with the Regent as a backup, and there may have been three of us in a theater designed to hold much more than three. You can feel the contractual obligation in the release - I suspect the studio is subsidizing two employees, and neither one is even opening the concession stand

It's not a terrible movie, though. The basic topic is good enough that a similar short was Oscar-nominated this year, and it's the sort of passion project that gets noteworthy people to sign on and can make the folks involved raise their game. I don't know that I'd be terribly interested in seeing Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje direct another movie and I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't want to - he may really just have wanted to make this one - but he does enough here to make the possibility interesting. And I can't say I didn't get what brought me into the theater - Kate Beckinsale and Gugu Mbatha-Raw give strong performances; indeed, I'm not sure I've ever seen Beckinsale better.

Anyway, it's got one more day at the Regent and it's available on VOD (click below! I'm so close to a payout!), and it's something different. I certainly don't regret catching this one despite the low-ish star rating.

Farming

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 October 2019 in the Regent Theatre (first-run, digital)

Farming is clearly a labor of love for filmmaker Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje - he's previous made it as a short and his name is all over the end credits - and you can see that he's got the ambition and drive to make a great film on a subject that is very important to him. Unfortunately, the story he uses to explore the broader subject may be a bit too much for an actor directing his first feature - between the sheer amount of what's going on and the main character who has difficulty communicating, the film never quite gets across everything that Akinnouye-Agabje wants to say.

The title comes from the practice where immigrants to the United Kingdom would place their children with white, working-class foster parents while they worked and studied (presumably in close quarters inhospitable to children). Enitan Bada was placed with Ingrid Carpenter (Kate Beckinsale) in 1967, when he was just six weeks old. By 1975, Enitan had half a dozen "siblings", and if he was a withdrawn, unusual child in the Carpenter household, he was utterly unprepared to return to Nigeria with his parents. He is sent back to Tilbury, and eight years later Enitan (Damson Idris) has so internalized the racism to which he's been subjected that he starts running with a group of skinheads, though leader Levi (John Dagleish) treats him more like a pet than a compatriot.

That "Eni" would wind up running with skinheads certainly seems like a great, powerful hook for the film - a similar story was Oscar-nominated in the Best Documentary Short category earlier this year - and Akinnouye-Agbaje plays that part of the film as raw as he can. He never lets the skinheads seem like people who ironically understand what it's like to be marginalized and ostracized in the same way that Eni does; they're monsters through and through, sometimes presented like zombies in the menacing way they surround their victims or how broken faces don't much faze them. Levi isn't charismatic in a way that is likely to attract the audience, but brutal enough to cow Eni, whom he regards the same way as his pet snake. John Dagleish captures that ridiculous and threatening sneer, and Damson Idris does a fine job of both showing Enitan imitating it and showing incoherent devastation as he is continually and inevitably rejected.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 21 October 2019 - 27 October 2019

Hurrah for finally seeing things which everybody almost certainly would assume I've seen already!

This Week in Tickets

That probably doesn't include Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which had more 3D screenings at Boston Common than I would have expected from how they've moved away from the format around here; hopefully that's a sign of things to come. The movie itself isn't exactly great, but like the first, it's kind of interesting in that the filmmakers seem to be pursuing darker, more mature themes than the original Sleeping Beauty and the general trend in these photocopies of Disney's animated classics. I think this particular movie needs to horrify children more, but I suppose that's a tough argument to make with the folks at the entertainment megacorporation that are putting you in charge of a budget in the $150M range as you're showing them various cuts.

A week of working and watching the World Series later - I find myself rooting for the Nationals despite kind of resenting them for no longer being the Expos, even if I don't have a leg to stand on there because the moves which put the Expos on the path to becoming the Nats also gave us the current Red Sox ownership and most of the people I know in Montreal would probably be all "is that some sort of sportsball thing?" if I brought it up, because the Astros had a demonstration of why they're one of the less-cool ownership groups in baseball a few days before - and I'm feeling lazy on the weekend. Plan A was to catch the movie being four-walled at the Regent, but I trusted Google Maps's "bus delayed" info too much, so I detoured to Boston Common to see Black and Blue, a pretty decent dirty-cop movie with a cast I like. It kind of amused me that it was showing all the way New Orleans was a mess while my brother and his wife were flying back home to Chicago from having a fine time as tourists there.

After getting kind of damp doing the grocery shopping the next morning, I hid out at home a little more than I'd planned before heading out to the Somerville Theatre for one of their Halloween Hullabaloo double features. I had never actually seen A Nightmare on Elm Street, because I wasn't really watching many R-rated movies as a teenager and didn't really get into horror until that genre was plugging a lot of holes at Fantasia and the late, lamented-mainly-by-me Boston Fantastic Film Festival, and found myself liking it quite a bit for what it is. The back half skipped most of the rest of the sequels to go straight to Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which I remember coming out while I was working at the Showcase Cinema in downtown Worcester (and, you know, going to college). I don't recall it being a particularly big deal there, although I was kind of intrigued by reviews saying Wes Craven had made the first postmodern horror movie. Like the best of Craven's work, it's interestingly ambitious, and if nothing else, it's neat to see how everybody was maturing in the ten years since the original.

Hopefully the next week's updates to my Letterboxd page will be evenly split between IFFBoston Fall Focus stuff and the movies I'm trying to cram in before/around it, but it's entirely possible I spend another week getting held up at work and not wanting to hang around for later shows..

Black and Blue

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 October 2019 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, DCP)

Writer Peter Dowling and Deon Taylor seem to have a heck of a strong inspiration for their movie in the opening minutes as they zero in on how completely broken the trust between the police and the communities that they are supposed to protect is, especially among African-Americans. It's a topic that often feels too big and weighty for the action movie that they were looking to make, especially when the film is in the home stretch and people must very earnestly explain their values, even as the whole thing has been diluted by introducing gangsters and not exactly having the room to play with how this situation lets them run wild and also fill a void.

It's not that ambitious, but it's not bad at all within the bounds it sets for itself. The opening act does a very impressive job of setting things up, both in terms of establishing its setting (the neglected, less-touristy parts of New Orleans) and both pushing things into place for its rookie police officer to capture her colleagues executing a drug dealer the do business with and starting up the chase. There are wobbly moments, but they're the kind that mostly work in-story, playing on the villains' arrogance and how the good guys are kind of stumbling through new territory. Everybody gets a bit too clever later, so it's not quite as convincing, but it's still executed fairly well.

There's a nice cast, too, even if everybody does seem about five years too old given that Alicia West is supposed to be a rookie and others are supposed to be her contemporaries, even if she has been in Afghanistan for two tours. Nevertheless, Naomie Harris is very strong at the center of the movie; she gives the sense of someone who has grabbed onto her idealism hard without necessarily kidding herself to do so. Tyrese Gibson is interestingly against type opposite her, free of the bluster he often brings to a role and feeling a bit shrunken and beaten as a result. Frank Grillo and Mike Colter are familiar villain types, but they're pros - Grillo seems born to play this sort of scuzz with just enough badass sheen, while Colter seems to go from intimidating to slick with a part, and here he's the big, intimidating banger who's more fearless than clever. He's a stock character where you can see the entire story.

And a movie like Black and Blue needs those if it doesn't have bigger ambitions. It's only going to be an action movie, and maybe not a great one, but it's got the chops to sell what it's got.

A Nightmare On Elm Street

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Halloween Hullabaloo, 35mm)

People talk about Wes Craven cribbing from art-house cinema for Last House on the Left, but you can see him doing something similar during the first act of A Nightmare on Elm Street - there's an ugly nightmare feel to the opening, but that doesn't mean it's not also a dream, and it's got an ethereal vibe to it, just giving the audience Amanda Wyss's Tina and asking them to catch up, kind of leveraging the fact that he doesn't have a huge budget to make things feel a little out of joint, rather than truly phantasmagorical at first.

I wonder if Craven had that relatively tight budget in mind when making sure that everything he could do on the page held together or if he's just a solid filmmaker. There's a really solid coming-of-age film underneath the horror as Nancy learns to rely on herself and figure out how to solve problems, and it's buttressed by a lot of things - most of the kids come from broken homes, and it's not out of the question that the initial murder of Fred Krueger had a large part in breaking them, although Craven doesn't completely connect those dots, just leaving enough hints that this has all come full circle that the movie holds together so well that the whys and hows of Freddy being able to come at these kids through dreams doesn't matter, and neither does the fact that a lot of acting is kind of iffy at best, albeit in a "believably unpolished kid" way. It's the sort of thing that likely makes Craven underappreciated outside of horror circles - he knows what he's got to work with and can squeeze the absolute most out of it.

And in some cases, he's got pretty good material. The nightmares, for instance, are pretty darn fantastic, even when the effects work is rubbery or fake, and it's easy to see how Robert Englund's Freddy became an icon even if he did have to become meme-able to really take off - there's some genuine rage in there, and even when the movie gets to the point where Nancy is able to kind of beat the crap out of him because bullies aren't so much when their victim stands up, he doesn't entirely become neutered. Craven is even able to work in some genuinely good jokes, too; the bit with the coffee mugs and coffee maker is broad and goofy, but it's got a little sting to it. Even as you laugh, you feel Nancy's desperation, which is something that a lot of Craven's successors can't quite do - they're always shifting gears from one thing to another, while he's tying it all together.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Halloween Hullabaloo, 35mm)

I'm not sure that there was anything quite like Wes Craven's New Nightmare when it came out; the idea wasn't necessarily new, but how often does something that had been a genuine phenomenon like the Elm Street series get used for this sort of meta-movie, rather than a stand-in? I can't imagine fans of the series, as much as they'd want more, were really looking for a fourth-wall-breaking take on the material that seems to think little of the intervening five movies (of which he was only involved in one). It almost feels like taunting.

It's not that deep, but there's an interesting idea or two in there. It is, at its heart, a defense of the horror story, positing that these stories trap evil, but hints that this trapping becomes less effective when those stories are diluted - say, by making Freddy a wisecracking monster whose horrific origins are downplayed, mugging for the audience at a talk show, connecting these ideas to primal monsters under the covers and eventually sending its scream queen to hell to rescue her son and confront the devil on his own turf. There are lots of other threads that don't necessarily come together - he's not quite so adroit at making every bit of the film buttress the other as he was with Elm Street - but every once in a while, Craven does something really clever, like having the audience go "hey, wait a second" the first time someone who really should know better calls actress Heather Lagenkamp by her character's name before making that line good and blurry.

Seeing it right after the first highlights how, in some ways, everybody has raised their game - Lagenkamp is solid, Craven gets things a little tighter in spots, and he's got a little more to work with. It's fun to see him remix memorable scenes from the first film, although the 1994-vintage CGI isn't always quite so impressive as the practical effects from 1984. It's maybe not quite the revelation it might have been twenty-five years ago (which had Craven's Scream movies among others), and not quite so brilliant as the one which introduced Freddy, but it's still good, smart horror.


Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Black and Blue
A Nightmare On Elm Street

Monday, October 28, 2019

Fantasia 2019.19: Depraved, The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale, and Day and Night

Was Lary Fessenden in town the previous night to host Depraved the previous night? I don't recall, although I was a bit sad that I didn't get to see something in the museum.

Not a whole lot of exciting stories from this day - no guests at my screenings, which were spread out just enough to allow a little time for depanneur and food runs but not to really go far and have a sit-down meal. A pretty relaxing day, all told, and one bookended by a couple of my favorite movies of the festival: Depraved, as Larry Fessenden's take on Frankenstein, was pretty much aiming for me personally anyway, while Day and Night was a quality crime drama that never put a foot wrong. The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale between them wasn't quite a favorite, but it's enjoyably goofy at points, and any movie that at some point gets me to say it reminds me of Tremors is generally doing all right.

Not sure how long Day 20 will take; it's a long Tuesday and I don't have a lot pre-written, but it's smoother sailing afterward.

Depraved

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève(Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Depraved is "Larry Fessenden's Frankenstein" and he knows it, announcing his intentions from the start, when artsy colors and a do-it-yourself laboratory are punctuated by a bolt of lightning. That may not necessarily appeal to a large audience - as both producer and director of fright flicks, Fessenden has always leaned toward New York art-house stuff rather than buying blood by the barrel or Jason Blum's canny commercial instincts - but it makes even his take on one of the genre's foundational tales feel like something new.

The very start of the film introduces Alex (Owen Campbell) and Lucy (Choe Levine), a young couple barely scraping by in New York who fall into a stupid fight when she connects the way he looks after his grandmother to maybe being a good dad someday. He takes a walk to blow off some steam, only to get mugged. His life flashes before his eyes and there's a flash in the sky, and soon a stitched-together giant (Alex Beaux) is coming to in a laboratory. Former army medic Henry (David Call) then begins to see to educating "Adam" on walking, talking, and playing ping-pong in the small world that is this loft, but they won't be alone forever: Henry's girlfriend Liz (Ana Kayne) still has a key and drops by unexpectedly, and the pharma-company heir funding this work, Polidori (Joshua Leonard), thinks Henry is moving too slowly. Both men have also been a little lax about storing hints as to where Adam's various pieces - including the brain - have come from.

Fessenden grounds this story thoroughly in the present day, which allows him to play to his own strengths while also staying as faithful to the text as humanly possible. One of the clever things he does is recognize that none of these characters can help being aware of Mary Shelley's creation, to the point where Polidori makes a comment that his scientist being named Henry is "like in the movie"; even if they existed in a world without that book and the many movies, there is no way that what they were doing would be a new idea in 2019. Something that filled that niche by now, and that awareness shades the movie a bit differently - Mary Shelley could write about a scientist becoming obsessed and carried away, but in the twenty-first century, these people know what they're doing crosses lines from the start, and the compromises as such have a different character.

Full review at EFilmCritic

"Cured"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

I have questions about every single silly detail about this short and its premise but I'm pretty sure that having them answered would just ruin everything.

Well, maybe not ruin, but "Cured" is fun in large part due to its randomness, with the elements not necessarily fitting together or holding up beyond its fifteen minutes. Writer/director Gabriel Villanueva Lamas plays with how a short can be anything from the start, letting the bouncy opening of Marcos (Phillip Garcia) salsa-dancing down the street with his machete and cooler and his wife Alma (Gemma Marin) dancing as she cooks the meat inside make the movie feel like it's going to be a musical of sorts, and the sudden change to something else as they stop dancing is a neat signal that this isn't entirely a fun fantasy.

It's still pretty funny, though - Garcia and Martin do the traditional horror thing where he's a gruff survivor trying just to look out for his own while she wants to help everybody, and they do it well enough that it works as intended despite the silly nature of this movie's plague. Villanueva Lamas and his cast manage a bunch of nifty tricks with tone, bridging the gap between things being ridiculous but also kind of awful, and allowing the finale to leave the audience in the same sort of "well, hell, I'm not sure what to do with this" place that the characters are. It's in some ways a frustrating way to end the movie - it highlights how things don't entirely hold together and doesn't offer a way out - but that's the sort of world it's creating, where life is strange and even funny but also unfair, with no easy answers to how to handle a situation like this.

Gimyohan Gajok (The Odd Family: Zombie On Sale)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Zombie movies are especially prone to running together as you see enough of them; like the undead creatures themselves, they've mostly got the same symptoms and eventually wind up breaking through as they arrive in a horde. I've probably seen dozens in the past couple decades just at genre festivals like this, and many of the ones that stick out come from South Korea. That's not necessarily surprising; lots of good genre film comes out of the Korean Peninsula, and the emphasis on black comedy is just the thing to send these movies in weird directions. The Odd Family may not be in the category of Train to Busan or The Neighbor Zombie, but it's at least different enough to remember.

The pharma company that created the zombie virus seems to have done a pretty good job of covering it up as things start, but one barrel containing a victim/vector (Jung Ga-ram) falls out near the town of Poongsan and starts wandering around. He crosses paths with one family in particular, the one that lives above the gas station but mostly runs tow truck scams because they can't afford to pay their suppliers. That mostly falls on older brother Joon-Gul (Jung Jae-Young), who runs the place with pregnant wife Nam-Joo (Uhm Ji-Won); brother Min-Gul (Kim Nam-Gill) is returning from the city where he has failed to make anything of himself, while kid sister Hae-Gul (Lee Soo-Kyung) is burying another rabbit because she has the absolute worst luck with pets. The siblings' widower father, Man-Deok (Park In-Hwan) lives in a trailer out back and dreams of visiting Hawaii. He's the one that gets bit, but contrary to what usually happens, he seems to become energized and healthy. Once the family figures out how that happened, the see a way to make enough money to open the station back up, since all of Man-Deok's friends notice the spring in his step.

Writer/director Lee Min-Jae often seems to be trying to do too much and not really going all-in on any of it for much of the movie; every character has an angle and things going on but not necessarily much room to do anything. It's the sort of horror-comedy that would maybe be much better served by narrowing down the one thing it wants to lampoon and concentrating on that, but it's got to be tough to throw any of your zombie comedy ideas out when you'll probably only ever get to make one. Lee spends most of the movie on eccentric gags that play into the family members' mercenary impulses, mostly pretty good, and seldom wearing out their welcome

Full review at EFilmCritic

Day and Night (Dei ando naito)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Day and Night opens like a mystery, its hero coming home to find a mess that he can't untangle and which nobody will talk about, but it's more practical than that, more interested in the truth of the present than that of the past. It's hardly the first movie to take this tack, but it's rare that one does such a fine job of letting a person sink into his dark side, convincing himself that he may still get out.

Koji Akashi (Shinnosuke Abe) is the man returning home for his father's funeral; mechanic Kazuyuki Aakashi (Hiroyuki Watanabe) committed suicide afer the town turned on him for reporting a defect in the cars made by Kotomochi Motors, the area's largest employer, and now it looks like the family will have to sell the garage just to give the employees back pay (Koji is, if anything, a cook, not a mechanic). The only person who seems to be particularly sorry for the family's loss is Kenichi Kitamura (Masanobu Ando), who runs the Windmill Orphanage and says Akashi senior was always good to them, building robot sculptures and helping out around the place. He offers Koji a job, and it's not long before Koji learns what keeps the place solvent: Kitamura runs a car-theft ring, and if Koji is going to be part of one venture, he is going to be part of the other.

The film doesn't quite start with comfortable absolutes, although there's a certain comfort in the dynamic between the honorable whistleblower and the self-interested corporation, even if the town doesn't see it that way, in part because the company led a fairly successful smear on Akashi. Soon, though, the filmmakers have gone in on how the good and bad are often found in the same person as Kitamura introduces himself and does not take long to show both sides, presenting Koji, something of a blank slate, with something of a dilemma: His father played by the rules and was hounded to suicide while Kitamura can at least present himself as a convincing Robin Hood. Would Nana (Kaya Kiyohara), the orphaned girl that Koji soon finds himself identifying with, be cared for without this place kept afloat by crime?

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, October 25, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 25 October 2019 - 31 October 2019

A lot of talk lately about Disney making it much harder for theaters to rent Fox classics, with the exception being The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it feels like all the Boston-area theaters are booking it for Halloween anyway, just in case they don't get another chance, though there's also a lot of cool rep stuff that doesn't sound like audience-participation hell.

  • The only horror movie getting a wide release this pre-Halloween weekend is Countdown, in which an app can somehow tell people when they're going to die, but when people find out they've got days… Well, you know. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Down the hall, many will be showing The Current War, being billed as "The Director's Cut", which is strange because it was never released before, and I wonder how many people really remember what the Weinstein-related deal was a couple years ago to need this reassurance? It's a neat idea for a movie, though, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicolas Hoult as Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla in the early days of electricity. That's at the Arlington Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. There's also Black and Blue, with Naomie Harris as a cop who discovers that much of her unit is corrupt and must escape with the body cam evidence. It plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Two different artists have films taken from their new albums coming out, with Bruce Springsteen's Western Stars playing Boston Common, Fenway, and Assembly Row (including some Dolby Cinema shows) while Kanye West's Jesus Is King plays in Imax at Jordan's Imax, South Bay, and Assembly Row. Note that it's 37 minutes long, while Jordan's charges short-film prices, AMC is charging the same as a feature. If K-Pop is more your speed, BTS World Tour "Love Yourself: Speak Yourself" [The Final] plays Monday at Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere, while the Metallica/SF Symphony plays Boston Common and Revere on Wednesday for those who want the metal.

    The Dolby Cinema screens at South Bay and Assembly Row will be running The Wizard of Oz, although not necessarily for every show of the day. This month's Ghibli show is Spirited Away at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Sunday (dubbed), Monday (Subtitled), and Wednesday (dubbed). One Piece: Stampede plays Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere on Saturday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. There's a special Fandango preview of Doctor Sleep at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere on Wednesday, and Revere has two last midnight shows of Habitual on Friday and Saturday.
  • The Lighthouse expands to more theaters this week, adding The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Somerville, the Seaport, the Embassy, and Revere to Boston Common. Parasite adds the Somerville, Fenway, and the Embassy to the Coolidge, Kendall, and Boston Common.

    The Coolidge has a 35mm print of Bram Stoker's Dracula at midnight on Friday and their annual midnight-to-noon Halloween Horror Marathon, this year featuring haunted houses, starting late Saturday. It's all 35mm and the first two films are The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist, with the other five surprises. Other Halloween-week specials include a kids' show of E.T. on Saturday morning (they do go trick-or-treating), a Big Screen Classic showing of the digitally restored The Shining on Monday (already listed as sold out), a "Panorama" presentation of Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer with post-film discussion on Wednesday, and two 35mm "Cinema Jukebox" shows of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween night (tickets almost gone for the 7pm show, but another at 10pm).
  • Jojo Rabbit gets a three screens at Kendall Square, with Taika Waititi's satire about a kid in Nazi Germany who has Hitler as an imaginary friend while his mother hides a Jewish girl in their attic also playing Boston Common and Fenway. They also get the new film by François Ozon, By the Grace of God, about three adult survivors of abusive clergy banding together to expose their molester and how the Church keeps such people hidden, and also give a screen to The King, which features Timothée Chalamet as Henry V
  • Apple Fresh Pond opened Tamil movies Bigil and Kaithi on Thursday, but Diwali means there are lots more to open. Housefull 4 is the latest in a Bollywood series starring Akshay Kumar that aren't sequels but all focus on multiple romances; in this one, he's one of three brothers engaged to three sisters, only they're reincarnations of royalty from 600 years ago and realize that they are matched up with the wrong partners. Sounding less confusing are Made In China, which is also in Hindi and features Rajkummar Rao as a Gujarti businessman who relocates to China for a new start, and Saand Ki Aankh, starring Bhumi Pednekar and Taapsee Pannu as a pair of senior women with excellent sharpshooting skills.
  • The West Newton Cinema is the only place picking up Cyrano, My Love, with Thomas Solivérès as playwright Edmond Rostand, trying to write Cyrano de Bergerac on deadline.
  • The Regent Theatre actually has something akin to a regular run this week, with Farming playing twice a day from Friday to Thursday (though Friday's shows are in the "Underground" screen. The feature directorial debut of actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (adapting his own short), it stars Damson Idris as a Nigerian boy "farmed out" to a British family, where he becomes the leader of a gang of skinheads. Akinnuoye-Agbaje also appears, with Kate Beckinsale as the foster mother and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a teacher who sees more in him. There's also an encore of the ASN Roadshow program, with 22 oddities discovered by motion picture archivists around the world.
  • The Brattle Theatre will be playing Memory: The Origins of "Alien" once a day from Friday to Tuesday, though times may vary; it zooms in on the famous chestburster scene the way that director Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene dissected Psycho and its similarly memorable centerpiece.

    They fit an interesting group of things around it: A Saturday Morning Cartoon Cereal & Cartoon Party with all Halloween episodes on Saturday (naturally); a 35mm print of Lifeboat on Saturday and Sunday; The Rage: Carrie 2 hosted by the Strictly Brohibited crew on Monday; and a free Elements of Cinema show of The Tingler on 35mm on Tuesday. Wednesday is a special screening of documentary Strange Negotiations with director Brandon Vedder calling in for a post-screening discussion of his film about musician David Bazan. They have a Halloween double feature on Thursday, but it's the 2018 sequel and a 35mm print of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the one where the studio tried to just make it an anthology series without necessarily including Michael Myers.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more of "Uncomfortably Yours: The Films of Alex Ross Perry" with 35mm prints of his films Queen of Earth (Friday 7pm) and Listen Up Philip (Sunday 7pm), as well as Perry presenting Brian De Palma's Body Double at 9pm Friday. The weekend matinee on Saturday is Poltergeist on 35mm film, and I wonder if they're taking that print on the 66 bus to get it to the Coolidge that night. The rest of Saturday is B-Movies, with a 35mm print of Thunderhoof paired with Ride Lonesome for a double feature at 7pm and the Archive's copy of Plan 9 From Outer Space at 10pm. "The Transcendent Cinema of David Brooks" has an encore of short feature "The Wind Is Driving Him Toward The Open Sea" & short "Redcap or Peanut Butter on My Roof" on 16mm at 5pm Sunday and a program of 16mm short films on Monday. Their Halloween program on Thursday is a 35mm print of Aliens, also kicking off a "Make My Day: The Cinematic Imagination of the Reagan Era" series which they will share with the Brattle throughout November.
  • The Somerville Theatre continues their "All Killer, No Filler" Halloween Hullabaloo through Wednesday, with triple features on Friday (Fade to Black, Cutting Glass, and 35mm Psycho) and Saturday (35mm Firestarter, The Dead Zone, and 35mm Carrie); the pairing of A Nightmare on Elm Street and 35mm Wes Craven's New Nightmare on Sunday; Adam Green's Frozen on Monday, Tod Browning's Freaks on 35mm with short subjects on Tuesday; and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Wednesday. Halloween night itself they have the Teseracte Players with Rocky Horror. They also have an extended version of Once Upon at Time in Hollywood, though only matinees. Their sister cinema, The Capitol Theatre, will be showing The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D on Thursday, the first time I can recall it playing polarized around here (everywhere else always seems to get it in anaglyph).
  • The Bright Screening Room sees a lot of use this week, starting out as the home base for The Boston Asian-American Film Festival, with shows from Friday through Sunday, many with guests and discussion. Then on Monday, Emerson's "Films from the Margin" club has a free screening of 1961 thriller The Mask, with Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz of the 3-D Film Archive on hand to discuss its restoration (though I don't know if the room is set up for polarized 3D or anaglyph). After that, this week's Bright Lights screenings are Fast Color on Tuesday and Us on Thursday, both with faculty discussion but free and open to the public.
  • It's the end of the month, so The Museum of Fine Arts is finishing up series. Boston Palestine Film Festival diverts to the Brattle to show Screwdrive on Friday evening before returning to the MFA with a short block and documentary The Apollo of Gaza on Saturday, wrapping up with documentary Four Colors and animated feature The Tower on Sunday. They also finish their "Exquisite Corpse: The Spirit of Hyman Bloom" program with Eraserhead and the Midsommar director's cut on Thursday.
  • In addition to their regular Imax and 4D shows, The Museum of Science will be doing an "immersive" screening of The Blair Witch Project in the Planetarium on Wednesday night.
  • Cinema Salem continues to do plenty for Halloween, with their original short documentaries "The History of Halloween" and "The True 1692" playing in 3D, splitting the small screen with indie horror Artik and Candy Corn. The Salem Horror Fest has a bunch of Steven King screenings there - the It miniseries on Friday' Cujo, Carrie, and Christine on Saturday (with Misery at the Salem Visitor Center); as well as The Dead Zone and the 1989 Pet Sematary on Sunday.
  • The Luna Theater also has the Teseracte Players standing between you and The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Friday, John Carpenter's original Halloween all day Saturday and Tuesday night, The Exorcist all day Sunday, and a special UMass Lowell "Philosophy and Film" presentation of Alex Proyas's Dark City on Monday. Oh, and the free Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday's "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday.


I will probably hit Parasite, The Lighthouse, Elm Street, The Mask, and want to get to Farming, Fast Color, and some of the spooky stuff, but that's kind of a lot!