Saturday, May 25, 2019

Aladdin '19

I may be a bit attached to the animated Aladdin - I would record the animated series on CBS Saturday mornings and as part of the Disney Afternoon even though the reason I wasn't watching it live was because I was at college, feeling kind of testy when certain characters created for it weren't part of the other direct-to-video sequels - and quite skeptical of this whole deal where Disney remakes their animated movies as live action, so one might expect me to breathe fire at this particular one, not leave my paying job a little bit early so that I could catch an Imax 3D screening, even if I have found myself oddly curious based on seeing actual hints of Guy Ritchie's hand in the trailers.

And it's not bad. I found myself more appreciating what it represents than loving it as a movie. Like I say in the review, that it's a big adventure movie that stars a cast mostly of middle-eastern descent in 2019 is kind of big, and I don't know that any other movie makes that happen right now. Everyone deserves to have something like this, and if Aladdin being a hit paves the road for more, that's a darn good thing.

I'm still awfully skeptical about the "live-action adaptation" part, though, and the reason why was perfectly demonstrated by the two trailers that played in 3D before the movie: The Frozen II teaser (yes, nieces, there's footage of Frozen II out there!) is kind of terrific, a pretty darn great bit of "superhero tests her powers" that is imaginative, visually seamless, and dramatic; the preview for The Lion King is kind of a horror show, a promise of two hours in the uncanny valley with recreations of familiar shots that look awfully expensive but not nearly as bold as what the original animators did.

So, there it is. I don't hate new-Aladdin, and I'm hopefully not too blinded by fandom and nostalgia to miss the good things it adds. I'll probably re-watch the animated one several times before I even consider revisiting this, is all.

Aladdin (2019)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 May 2019 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax digital 3D)

A remake of Aladdin? Sure, why not. It's been a generation, and even if the point of these movies is for Disney to continue to exploit their catalog in an era where re-releases and home video don't bring in close to what they used to, sometimes it becomes interesting. It's not so much the case here; like most of these live-action cover versions, I'll probably never watch this again while the original is also on my shelf, but it's not exactly a waste of time even if it's not the only family-friendly option at the local theater.

As expected, it tracks the original movie fairly closely - Agrabah's Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) has opted to get a glimpse of life outside the castle, but is only rescued from disaster by the timely intervention of "street rat" Aladdin (Mena Massoud). Smitten, he sneaks into the castle to see her, but is captured by vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who needs a "diamond in the rough" to retrieve a magic lamp from a Cave of Wonders. The lamp contains a genie (Will Smith) who offers three wishes, the first of which has him returning to the castle as "Prince Ali" - nothing less has a future with a princess, after all - but Jafar's ambition on the one side and Jasmine's high standards on the other may make it hard for Aladdin to make good his promise to free the genie from servitude with his third wish.

It's all very familiar (the makers of the 1992 film lifted a fair amount from 1940's The Thief of Bagdad at that), but there are bits of this version we shouldn't dismiss. Naomi Scott, for instance, is a fine Jasmine, and by giving her a couple new songs and tweaking her characterization a little the film had allowed her to be more ambitious and consequential. She's got a great sidekick in Nasim Pedrad's Dalia - Pedard makes lines and scenes that could seem stilted enjoyably eccentric (few others come off so well). It's also pretty far from nothing that this is a big mainstream family adventure movie that has a cast of primarily middle-eastern descent. The original version wasn't - it stumbled in enough places that Disney would edit it after release and pay closer attention to such things in future animated pictures - and that deserves to be noted.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, May 24, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 May 2019 - 30 May 2019

This week's big release is one of the most pointless blockbusters, but what else are you going to see on the long weekend?

  • For whatever reason, Disney has made a big 3D live-action version of Aladdin with Will Smith as the Genie and Guy Ritchie directing, and a half hour added to what was a pretty much perfect animated film. It's got a whole bunch of screens at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D/3D), the Studio Cinema Belmont (2D only), West Newton (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 2D/3D), Fenway (including 2D/3D RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax 2D/3D & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D/3D & Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the Superlux (3D only).

    One alternative is Brightburn, in which a baby from another planet lands in America and, when his powers manifest, apparently uses them to murder everyone who ever slighted him, because "evil Superboy" isn't completely played out at all. That's at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (late shows in Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (late shows in Dolby Cinema), and Revere. Another is Booksmart, Olivia Wilde's first feature as a director, with Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein as high-achieving teens realizing they should have had more fun in high school on the eve of graduation. That's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, and Revere.

    There's a Fandango preview of The Secret Lives of Pets 2 at Boston Common, Fenway (3D), the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux on Saturday afternoon. Fenway also has a preview of Late Night on Wednesday. Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll plays the Kendall on Tuesday and Boston Common on Wednesday.
  • Souvenir plays at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common, with Honor Swinton Byrne falling for a less-than-impressive fellow, and Tilda Swinton as her mother.

    The Satanic Panic midnights at the Coolidge are John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness on Friday and Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions on Saturday, both on 35mm. There's also a special screening of Faces Places on Thursday to celebrate Agnès Varda's birthday.
  • All Is True, with Kenneth Branagh as William Shakespeare, plays Kendall Square, West Newton Cinema, and Boston Common; I didn't love it, but maybe I was just fried on my fourth movie of the day. The Kendall also has Werner Herzog's new documentary, Meeting Gorbachev.
  • Apple Fresh Pond picks up Hindi-language thriller India's Most Wanted, and Telugu romance Sita, also holding over De De Pyaar De.
  • It's Reunion Week at The Brattle Theatre, celebrating stuff that has been around for multiples of 25 years. It's getting very close to the point where they can have something hitting the century mark, but I don't think that's happened yet. The roster is Go Fish and A Very Curious Girl on Friday, Meet Me in St. Louis in 35mm on Saturday and Sunday, with a double feature of Arsenic and Old Lace (on 35mm) & Four Wedding and a Funeral on Saturday and one of The Learning Tree & Crooklyn (both on 35mm) Sunday, a pairing of On Her Majesty's Secret Service & the original The Italian Job on Monday, The Color of Pomegranates on Tuesday, and a 35mm print of Gaslight on Wednesday.

    Boston Jewish Film has a special screening of featurette "The Good Nazi" on Thursday, followed by a conversation with Samuel Bak and Dr. Michael Good afterward.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more screenings of Babylon (Friday/Wednesday/Thursday) and 3 Faces (Sunday/Thursday). They also continue New Wave Now: Georgia's Independent Voice with The Confession (Friday), Khibula (Saturday), Our Blood Is Wine (Saturday), and The Chair (Sunday). There's also another "On the Fringe: Adventures in Cult Cinema/Gender-Bending Fashion on Film" screening on Thursday, with Price's Purple Rain.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has a short holiday weekend, wrapping Rumanian Cinema Now with two encores: Sieranevada on Friday evening and Scarred Hearts on Saturday night. They also have a family show on Saturday afternoon, Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro.
  • The Boston Underground Film Festival curates a program of dark sci-fi shorts that play The ICA on Monday as part of Free Museum Day.
  • Just one "Jack Attack" show at The Somerville Theatre this weekend, with Reds playing on 35mm Wednesday. Thursday has the last night of "Reel FIlms, Fake Bands", a double feature of Singles and Ladies & Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains on 35mm film. Their sister cinema in Arlington, The Capitol, has Being John Malkovich for Throwback Thursday.
  • Cinema Salem has Rafiki in their small room; it's pretty nifty. The Luna Theater has Amazing Grace on Friday, Saturday, and Monday evenings; morning shows of Fantastic Mr. Fox Saturday, Sunday, and Monday; Hail Satan? on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday; Loving Vincent: The Impossible Dream on Saturday and Monday; and three screenings of Clue on Sunday (no idea whether that's all three endings). Plus, of course, Weirdo Wednesday. The AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall also has Filipino film Between Maybes and The Poison Rose, which stars John Travolta, Morgan Freeman, Brendan Fraser, and Famke Janssen but also has three credited directors, which can't be a good sign.


Yeah, I'll see Aladdin and Brightburn, and probably before Booksmart. Some of the Brattle's anniversary screenings are on tap, too. And, heck, there was a brief moment where I considered heading out to Danvers when the IMDB entry for The Poison Rose had it looking like it was Fraser & Janssen with Travolta & Freeman supporting rather than the other way around.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Manhattan(*) Movie Marathon: Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Fugue, All Is True, and Pokémon Detective Pikachu

I considered heading to New York a week or two earlier to see Bolden, among a couple other films, but between really needing some actual sleep after IFFBoston and discovering that that one, at least, would play somewhere you could (eventually) reach via the T, I decided to give it a pass. Still, that was only part of the plan; another, Long Day's Journey Into Night seemed to be getting to the end of its NYC run with no sign of reaching Boston - and, trust me, I was refreshing Kino Lorber's page a couple times a day to see if there was a booking.

So I decided to guarantee it would play near me the only way I knew how - by making more expensive, time-consuming plans to see it elsewhere. Unfortunately, the Metrograph in Brooklyn wasn't playing it that weekend - they had a guest, so the screen it played on during the week would be a little mini-retrospective the days I could come - which left the newly-renamed Film at Lincoln Center, and from there, I kind of built outward.

It wound up being a tight day, foolishly so. I took the Go Bus from Alewife, which meant that my Saturday started out not far from where I head out for work, only forty-five minutes earlier. It got me to New York City with plenty of time to take the subway to the IFC Center for Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, where I made a crucial mistake by not visiting the concession stand. I did not necessarily need to eat during this movie, but once the pretty spiffy documentary on one of the pioneers of cinema (and not just because she was the first woman to direct movies) was over, it was right into the subway, uptown to Lincoln Center, and then no time to grab a snack before Long Day's Journey Into Night.

It's scheduled to play the Kendall in June - and, in fact was briefly scheduled for Boston Common on the 17th, but apparently the distributor figured this was a better fit. Hopefully, Landmark remembers that they've got 3D capabilities (which I can't remember them using more recently than The Great Gatsby), because that's a big part of what makes the final scene even more amazing. Lincoln Center, interestingly, uses Dolby's 3D system, which I think is active shutter, meaning they can do it with a HFR projector but no reflective screen, if that's what they have. I didn't notice an exceptional upgrade, but it looked nice.

After that, I put the (*) in the post's title by heading out to Astoria's Museum of the Moving Image, which is a lot of fun - I went there a year and a half ago for the Jim Henson exhibition, which is pretty terrific. The screening of Fugue was after hours, part of their "European Panorama" series, and got my attention because it was the new film from Agnieszka Smoczynska, whose The Lure was a big hit at Fantasia three years ago. It was one I liked without it becoming a particular favorite, although it's worth noting that a lot of folks, especially the women in attendance, loved it. I'm trying to take a little more note when I spot that dynamic, and I wouldn't be shocked if this one plays out similarly - I bet the freedom of no longer remembering your family or having to be polite hits harder for women and mothers who have more expectations put on them. It didn't always work for me, but it was interesting.

From there, I couldn't quite make it back to Manhattan for the not-in-Boston movie I'd initially slotted in fourth (maybe JT LeRoy will show up), so I opted to go here



That's kind of awesomely old-school - what single-screen theaters are left these days usually switch up what's playing on a daily basis, so that sort of marquee is a rarity; there probably aren't many places other than New York where it's really possible to have a set-up like this. Pity it wasn't for a better movie, although I might give All Is True another shot when it opens in Boston this weekend; I was already kind of dragging and hungry (still no time to hit a concession stand or street cart).

Indeed, after that, the sensible thing would have been to find a diner still open at 11:30pm, which shouldn't have been hard in The City That Never Sleeps. But, hey, I was there to see movies, so I went to the big AMC off Broadway, selected a ticket that by itself was more than I pay for Stubs A-List a month, and sat down for Detective Pikachu. Which, sure, I could absolutely have seen back home, but the "AMC Prime" projection was pretty darn terrific, maybe the clearest 3D picture I've seen that wasn't projected at a high frame rate. Super-plush seats with crazy rumble, although thankfully not as intense during the film itself as during the pre-show.

After that, it was a short walk back to the Port Authority to catch the 2:45am back to Boston, and when I got there at about 2:15, the 12:30am had not left. Nobody knew what was going on, there were announcements that the building was going to close at 2:45 that we all ignored, and by the time I was heading home, it was 3:30am. Yet another reminder that you don't use Greyhound unless there are no other reasonable options. I didn't get a whole lot of sleep on the bus, but I wasn't kept up, so there was that. And I was able to get some peanuts from the vending machine, which filled me up without a lot of sugar to keep me up.

Not a bad day of seeing movies all-told, although, boy, do I hope that we're able to get a little bit more variety on-screen when the place by North Station opens. It's kind of crazy that we don't get some of these in the easily-accessible parts of Metro Boston, and I wonder what I miss by not doing this ridiculous sort of movie trip more often.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 May 2019 in IFC Center #5 (first-run, DCP)

There's a montage in this movie where a bunch of filmmakers confess that they hadn't heard of Alice Guy-Blaché before (with one notable exception because of course Ava DuVernay knows who has been overlooked), and I must admit that I'd only heard her name a few times before, as one of a number of examples in a different documentary about how women's contribution to cinema was historically underrepresented. And while Be Natural would be useful even if it was just about drilling down into something known generally, it's also an intriguing look at early cinema and how we've been unable to shake issues from a century ago.

Alice Guy was a central part of the movies' formative years from the very start; born in 1873, she was the secretary to Leon Gaumont and was with him when he attended an industry presentation by the Lumiere Brothers months before the public screening in December 1895 considered the birth of cinema, and would start producing and directing movies for the Gaumont company soon after, when the were by and large 5-minute "attractions". She would meet future husband John Blaché-Bolton in 1906, and they would come to America a few years later, where they soon form the Solax studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Their marriage would start to fall apart at around the time when the industry was moving to Hollywood, and as the movies grew respectable enough to be considered man's work, her contributions would be erased.

The early days of the movies were frantic as everybody was trying to figure out what technology to use, how to get the results in front of an audience, and whether or not these moving pictures would be the sort of cash cow that transformed one's company or a flash in the pan, with the films themselves often super-compact to start and then sped up, and Pamela B. Green's film embraces that frenetic nature. The documentary starts out as energetic and fast-paced as the early films Alice Guy directed, packing tons of information about the start of cinema and her life & career into a compact package, whooshing across maps and renderings of Paris and Fort Lee and sticking in markers to note important places and events, practically having the people interviewed finish each other's sentences. It's exhilarating, and at times almost exhausting, like the filmmakers are afraid they won't get it all in and still have time for the rest of her life.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Di qiu zui hou de ye wan (Long Day's Journey into Night

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 May 2019 in Film at Lincoln Center's Howard Gilman Theater (first-run, Dolby 3D DCP)

It's a tough competition to be seen for movies outside the mainstream these days, but Long Day's Journey into Night has certainly racked up ways to pique one's curiosity by the time it reached America: For some, just being the new film by the maker of Kaili Blues was going to be enough, although the good reviews on the festival circuit and the fact that it included a 59-minute tracking shot in non-post-converted 3D didn't hurt. Then, on New Year's Eve, it had the biggest-ever opening of an art-house movie in China - and on New Year's Day, one of the harshest popular backlashes! Even if you get beyond all that, you've got a film that is unlikely to be forgotten, generally for the best of reasons.

It follows Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue), a grizzled middle-aged man more than a bit haunted by a woman he knew when he was younger - as he tells his current lover, he'll dream about her just when he feels like he's about to forget. He's called back home to Kaili when his father dies, inheriting a beat-up van while his father's second wife gets the restaurant Being there makes him think of this Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei) again, remembering how he met her and fell in love despite never knowing her real name ("Wan Qiwen" is some half-forgotten celebrity), finding a trail of clues that might just lead him back to her.

I can certainly see why the audiences in China that were sold a romantic New Year's Eve were furious at this movie, even sympathize a little. I like melancholy a little more than average, but this was kind of a lot, and I knew what I was in for. Someone who doesn't may grow frustrated with how director Bi Gan will occasionally let the viewer feel a bit unmoored in time as Luo gets lost in nostalgia, not doing a whole lot to flesh out the crime-story bones of the past while making his progress in the present halting and pushed forward to the extent that it is by some fairly casual detective work. He creates a powerful mood, always hinting at a gap in Luo's life that he doesn't quite understand and creating a sense of mystery without frustrating: Luo starts by finding a well-nested clue - a broken clock hides a picture whose face has been removed with a name and telephone number on the other side - and from there it's the sort of noirish quest that feeds the audience a bunch of little stories that both hint at more and add up to a larger one. Qiwen is often just out of reach, but it does feel like Luo and the audience are making progress.

And while they do, it's an absolutely gorgeous movie, though, with the first hour or so offering up striking image after striking image to keep one staring as Bi nudges the movie forward on its two parallel timelines. Qiwen's green dresses pull the eye to her, an island of elegance in the middle of what can be fairly rough settings and Bi uses broken mirrors and distortion to remind the audience of just how his hero is searching through himself as well as the rest of the world. There's a wonderfully staged murder that feels both exciting and sordid. It could probably end satisfyingly after about an hour and a half, but...

Full review on EFilmCritic

Fuga (Fugue)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 May 2019 in the Museum of the Moving Image Celeste and Armand Bartos Screening Room (European Panorama, DCP)

It looks like the makers of Fugue are going for horror at first, both from the creepy animated titles and the initial tendency to spring hostility on the audience when most will expect something else. It'd be an exciting, against-expectations gambit if director Agnieszka Smoczynska hadn't previously made The Lure (a horror-tinged period mermaid musical that was genre-confounding in a different way), but still has exciting potential. It ends up going in a different direction, and while the sincerity it embraces is laudable, it proves to be a somewhat harder path to walk.

Two years ago, a woman staggered into a Warsaw train station via the tracks and immediately demonstrated that something within her had come undone, and wasn't repaired by the time she recently got in a fight with a police officer. Doctor Michal Nowakowski (Piotr Skiba) finds the amnesiac "Alicja" (Gabriela Muskala) is still in a fugue state, and suggests she appear on a television news broadcast to see if anyone recognizes her. Her father in Wroclaw (Zbigniew Walerys) does immediately, saying her name is Kinga Stowik, and soon she's heading home. It's not a happy reunion - husband Krzysztof (Lukasz Simlat) is still angry at her for seemingly abandoning him and their son Daniel (Iwo Rajski) at the worst possible time - and Daniel starts to act out with more than Krzystof's angry words. Alicja, for her part, feels no connection and doesn't intend to stay longer than necessary to get a usable set of identity papers.

Star Gabriela Muskala also wrote the screenplay, and there seems to be a bit of a split between what was more fun to create and what was more rewarding in both roles. In her early scenes she plays Kinga/Alicja as seemingly possessed, sneering at any attempts to help her and flashing a toothy smile as situations erupt into chaos. She's at least outwardly sinister and disruptive in situations when most would likely be frightened or confused, or maybe relieved, and there's a dark delight to the way she looks at people who think they're entitled to something from her and tells them to go to hell. That Lukasz Simlat gets to similarly break the mold as Krzysztof, purely angry at his apparently-dead wife resurfacing, is similarly unsentimental, priming the audience for fireworks.

Full review on EFilmCritic

All Is True

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 May 2019 in the Paris Theatre (first-run, DCP)

It is unlikely that any actor or director working today is as broadly associated with the works of William Shakespeare as Kenneth Branagh, and as a result it is both natural and kind of weird for him to make a movie where he plays the Bard himself - there are horror stories about obsessed fans that start this way! For better or worse, the most off-putting thing about All Is True is that, for someone who has consistently found ways to defy the popular idea that Shakespeare's plays are stodgy and archaic, it's almost shocking how dull this movie is. Neither he nor anybody else involved manages to find an angle that brings this story to life.

He and writer Ben Elton set the film in 1613, soon after the Globe Theatre has burned down and Shakespeare has returned to Stratford-on-Avon, with no intent to write another word in his retirement. Though the town has benefitted from his success, he's not entirely welcomed home with open arms: Wife Anne (Judi Dench) thinks of him as a guest, as he has spent most of their marriage in London; daughter Susannah (Lydia Wilson) is married to John Hall (Hadley Fraser), a smug Puritan who won't mind inheriting from Will even as he disdains the theater; and daughter Judith (Kathryn Wilder) resents that her father immediately begins creating a memorial garden for her twin brother Hamnet, who was the sole focus of Will's attention even before he died when they were children twenty years ago.

Judith has a persistent suitor despite her low self-esteem and Susannah may be contemplating an affair, but relatively little comes of most of the things simmering in the background. Part of it is that both the particulars and general shape of 400-year-old family drama is likely to feel pretty irrelevant, but part of it is that Ben Elton's script feels like he is desperately grabbing historical details to try and create a story and never able to shape it into something satisfactory. He'll gesture at Shakespeare's puritan son and the ironies of his position but never find anything to happen where that's concerned, or see the evidence that Judith had inherited much of her father's talent only to be stymied by society having no place for female writers. A sequence in the latter half, as Shakespeare seeks to learn the true circumstance of his son's death, serves as a sort of reminder of how the data and official paperwork that survives as a historical record gives the shape of a story but not the whole thing.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 May 2019 in AMC Empire #17 (first-run, AMC Prime RealD 3D DCP)

I bet that if I had ever played a Pokémon game in my life, I would love this. The filmmakers appear to have decided that there is no more need to explain Pokémon than there would be football, so it never pauses for very long, instead existing in a world where it can just casually roll into the next crazy thing. It does a lot better by that technique than many films trying to play to fans but not puzzle the rest of the world; I can see the fun, even if the references often fly past me.

That's the big hurdle, and the film is pretty darn okay once it gets past that. It looks great, has some amiable leads who are all doing the harder-than-it-appears job of splitting the difference between faithfully representing types from a kids' adventure cartoon and three-dimensional live-action people. It sputters a little bit toward the end, as what seem like big, consequential ideas aren't given much space to actually mean anything amid all the colorful action and the need to wrap things up, but it's been enough silly fun up to that point to get away with that.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Aniara

I was kind of ready to hate Anaria from the previews and the design - sure, I wasn't going to miss any international science fiction film that hit the area, but the whole aesthetic of "make being in space look like not being in space" always rubs me the wrong way, especially when it's got a cool bit of space elevator special effects preceding it. There's value in connecting your science fiction to the real world in this sort of way, but it often seems like a limited imagination - your allegory isn't that clever if you have to stick so close to what you're representing.

The thing grew on me, though - it had room for wonder, and it didn't hurt that its central character was at her heart kind even if she was also a realist. There is a great deal of cruelty and despair to this movie, but the filmmakers never position that as a mark of sophistication or having a better handle on the world. It is thoroughly on the side of those who want to make things better or at least more bearable. I think this allows the filmmakers to get their messages across effectively even if they're often slow-walking them. It's a consistent, approachable point of view.

It doesn't look like it will get much theatrical play - I'm mildly surprised the Kendall showed it at all, considering it was on VOD day-and-date - and that's kind of a shame; it looks pretty good, although it's the sort of looking pretty good that's probably just as suited to a nice TV as the big screen. It certainly deserves it more than its obvious double feature partner in the Brattle's next "Recent Raves" series, High Life, but doesn't have the same sort of names attached. But, despite their seeming to have much in common, I wound up liking this one a lot more - it's art-house sci-fi, but doesn't ever seem to look down at its genre elements.

Aniara

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

The opening credits describe Aniara as based on a "space epos" and a line or two at the end seem to call back to the old Viking Sagas, although it is very pointedly not a tale of thrilling adventure. It doesn't quite revel in mundanity or despair, but instead plugs away with a combination of practicality and despair, eventually finding a balance between the two that is much better than one might expect.

It opens with MR (Amelie Jonsson) taking the orbital elevator to the Aniara, a ship which makes regular runs between Earth and Mars, although the implication seems to be that this outbound trip sees more people than those coming back to Earth. She's staff, operating the "Mima Hall", a sort of energy field which allows visitors to experience being somewhere else. She's bunking with the ship's astronomer (Anneli Martini) and has her eyes on pilot Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro). It's supposed to be a three-week trip, but an encounter with some tiny pieces of space junk forces the ship to divert and eject their fuel. Captain Chefone (Arvin Kananian) announces that they will use the gravity of a celestial body to redirect their course to Mars, arriving in no more than two years - although you don't have to be an astronomer to know that the solar system is vast and empty, and getting close enough to an asteroid massive enough to change their course is not likely.

Directors Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja do interesting things starting with the titles, starting with a tiny pixel grabbing the audience's attention to prepare the audience for the scale involved, followed by presenting many of the opening credits in a closing-style scroll over a series of disastrous stock footage. It signals an ending, that Earth is being fled rather than the ship simply being the twenty-second century equivalent of a steam liner, and that shapes the rest of the movie without a whole lot of talk: The audience never thinks much about rescue, for example, although that might be the focus of another take on similar material, and there's just enough of a combination of high gloss in the effects and setting but passengers with burns to make it clear that this is a somewhat gilded period.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, May 18, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

I am generally opposed to cliffhangers - I like endings and self-contained stories, occasionally joking that serialization is what lazy writers do to tell one story with the resources that their more productive brethren tell ten. That said, John Wick: Chapter 2 had a genuinely great one, good enough to remember just where it left off a couple years later despite the fact that there are a lot of unfinished storylines bouncing around in my head. For instance, I saw the trailer for It: Chapter 2 before this, and I've just got not memory of where that left off.

Aside from that, I found myself wondering a bit how much the John Wick films being what they are springs from Keanu doing The Matrix. He never did really elaborate action before those - well, maybe Point Break was more intense martial arts than things like Chain Reaction and Johnny Mnemonic; I haven't seen it - but he kind of gave himself to Yuen Woo-Ping and made himself into a guy who could sell that stuff.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 May 2019 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax)

If you've enjoyed the first two John Wick movies, you'll almost certainly enjoy the third - this series still brings the stylish, astonishingly-staged violence better than most anybody else has since the last time John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat got together. It's definitely starting to get a little stretched, though, like the makers are a bit too aware of the franchise's status as an unlikely hit and developing a tendency to wink at themselves. Parabellum still plays its world of assassins just seriously enough to work as both intriguing and an excuse to enjoy the mayhem, but it's right on the edge of implosion, and may not be able to pull it off much longer.

The new entry picks up right where the last left off, with former assassin Wick (Keanu Reeves) on the run with a $14 million price on his head after killing someone in the lobby of The Continental Hotel in New York City, designated neutral ground by the international organization that oversees these freelancers, The High Table. He makes his way to Casablanca to find the head of the organization and plead his case, starting by calling in a favor with the manager of the local Continental location, Sofia (Halle Berry). Helping John could probably get her the same sort of scrutiny as his friends in New York - hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane) gave him a head start and a former mentor (Anjelica Huston) smuggled him out and as such have an Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) and her enforcer Zero (Mark Dacascos) looking for bloody penance - but she owes him a favor and, besides, she's also a dog person.

The filmmakers know why the audience is there and get right at it; the first act stacks one terrific melee on top of another as Wick races through New York, taking no chances that the audience might feel like they squandered the cliffhanger where the last movie finished. The audience knows what director and former stunt performer Chad Stahelski brings to a movie by now, keeping shots going as long as possible with just enough of a pause after a sudden killing shot for the audience to roar. He knows how to use space, where to put the camera and where to cut to make it not feel like a cheat, and has an excellent stunt & fight team lead by Jonathan Eusebio to build these scenes. Things slow down a bit after the opener, but there are two major bits of bloodletting to come, one featuring Halle Berry looking just as committed to doing this stuff well as Keanu and the other giving the viewer a chance or two to wonder why Mark Dacascos didn't become a bigger deal after Brotherhood of the Wolf. The climax is as elaborate and beautifully staged as ever, if not quite so surprisingly stunning as the first couple of films. We know it's possible now.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, May 17, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 May 2019 - 23 May 2019

Huh, things got changed up at one theater last minute, which makes me feel a little less ridiculous about last week's trip to catch something in New York.

  • Big movie this week is John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, which is more of the high-quality action and clever world-building of the first couple. It's starting to get a bit stretched, but still does the action stuff very well indeed. That can be found at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    Another sequel to a movie built around dogs dying is far more family-friendly, with A Dog's Journey following its reincarnating pooch to a new owner, the granddaughter of the guy in the first film. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. There's also The Sun Is Also a Star, a romance with Yara Shahidi as a teenager who may just have met the right guy on the day she's about to be deported despite not knowing anyplace but New York. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There are a couple of early-access screenings this weekend, with Olivia Wilde's Booksmart at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, Assembly Row, and Revere on Friday night and Fandango presenting Rocketman at Boston Common, Fenway, Assembly Row, and Revere on Saturday. There are 30th anniversary screenings of Steel Magnolias at Fenway & Assembly Row on Sunday and Tuesday, with Revere joining them on Wednesday. This month's Ghibli film is Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere, dubbed on Monday and subtitled on Tuesday. Boston Common and Kendall Square have Asbury Park: Riot, Redemption, Rock & Roll on Wednesday, and there's also a screening of WWII documentary The Cold Blue at Fenway, the Seaport, and South Bay on Thursday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common all get IFFBoston alum Photograph, in which a street photographer and a stranger pose as an engaged couple to mollify the former's grandmother. They both also get The Biggest Little Farm, a documentary which follows a well-meaning couple trying to rebuild a smallish farm into a sustainable enterprise.

    Aside from Friday's screening of The Room, the Coolidge's Satanic Panic midnights include 1986's Trick or Treat and Friday and Evilspeak on Saturday, both on 35mm. Sunday's monthly Goethe-Institut film, The Tobacconist, is also part of the National Center for Jewish Film festival, while Monday's screening of Stormy Weather will be hosted by writer (and star Lena Horne's granddaughter) Jenny Lumet.
  • Kendall Square shares Trial by Fire with Boston Common; it stars Laura Dern as a woman trying to help free a death-row inmate (Jack O'Connell) she believes to be wrongfully convicted. The Kendall has a one-week booking of Aniara, a Swedish science fiction film in which people retreat from reality when their transport to Mars goes off course.
  • Apple Fresh Pond gets a couple more Indian movies, with Bollywood comedy De De Pyaar De featuring Ajay Devgn as a 50-year-old man scandalizing the community by getting into a relationship with a woman half his age, as well as Tamil drama Mr. Local and Malayalam comedy ABCD: American-Born Confused Desi. They also hold over Hindi comedy Student of the Year 2 and Telugu action drama Maharshi and Malayalam film Uyare on Sunday evening.
  • West Newton Cinema picks up A Tuba to Cuba for a limited run, featuring a member of New Orleans's Preservation Hall Jazz Band learning about his roots, musical and otherwise. Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel is around another week, with director Daniel A. Miller on hand for Q&As and giveaways on Saturday and Sunday.

    They will also be hostingBelmont World Film's annual "Czech That Film" series, this year featuring Jan Hrebejk's "Garden Store Trilogy", with Hrebejk on hand for screenings of Family Friend & Deserter on Sunday and Suitor on Monday.
  • The Brattle Theatre plays the new restoration of Boston-based drama Between the Lines from Friday to Monday. Sunday also features a special "Afternoon with Salvador Dali and the Marx Brothers" show, with author Josh Frank showing off his graphic novel about their group's never-realized collaboration, including a screening of Animal Crackers. It's Trash Night on Tuesday, and then the Reunion Week shows start, with Pulp Fiction playing Wednesday and Thursday, paired with Murder, My Sweet the first day and The Wild Bunch the second, all three on 35mm
  • The Somerville Theatre has moved their 70mm & Widescreen Festival up to May this year, and as such are mostly playing the 70mm hits: West Side Story on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, The Dark Crystal Saturday evening, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World on Sunday afternoon, the 1967 Casino Royale (on 35mm) Sunday evening, Poltergeist on Monday, Remains of the Day & Dunkirk on Tuesday, and their print of 2001: A Space Odyssey on Wednesday. There's a "Reel Films, Fake Bands" double feature of A Mighty Wind (on 35mm) & The Commitments on Thursday, as well.
  • Aside from that show at the Coolidge Sunday morning, The National Center For Jewish Film's 2019 Festival wraps by spending the whole weekend at The Museum of Fine Arts, though many of its shows will be in the smaller Alfond room. The MFA also resumes "She Makes a Universe" with Ferrante Fever (Friday) and starts a couple of runs: 3 Faces plays Wednesday and has banned-but-prolific filmmaker Jafar Panahi inserting himself into an apparent suicide, while the re-release of Babylon plays Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday also sees the start of "New Wave Now: Georgia's Independent Voice", with Honorary Consul Jarred Guthrie introducing My Happy Family
  • The Harvard Film Archive continues Rumanian Cinema Now with Alice T. (Friday 7pm), One Floor Below (Friday 9pm), The Treasure (Saturday 7pm), Touch Me Not (Saturday 9pm), Infinite Football (Sunday 5pm), Pororoca (Sunday 7pm), and "I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians" (Monday 7pm).
  • ArtsEmerson and the Boston Asian American Film Festival support Cambodian play See You Yesterday with a special Asian-Pacific Heritage Month screening series: Surviving Bokator on Friday and Building Towards the Golden Spike on Saturday are the two features, with Saturday also featuring two shorts programs (one documentary, one narrative)


  • Cinema Salem keeps Hail Satan? around for another week, while The Luna Theater in Lowell also holds some things over: Her Smell on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday, as well as Polaroid documentary Instant Dreams and Claire Denis's High Life on Saturday; there are also matinees of the 1973 Charlotte's Web on Saturday and Sunday with Cry-Baby the week's Jon Waters flick on Sunday. Weirdo Wednesday goes without saying.
I saw John Wick 3 last night, which should leave plenty of time for 70mm films at the Somerville, Aniara, and maybe a couple others.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.19: Shadow

Yes, I'm doing the "number posts like IFFBoston was still going on when one of its selections hits theaters" bit before I've even started full reviews of its movies. I'm slow this year, and this is one I passed on there because it would have overlapped two slots for movies that might not get the theatrical release that this was all-but-guaranteed to get.

Although not quite - Well Go has had it sitting on a shelf since its National Day release in China, one of a couple where they figured that getting it in front of a broad audience rather than the immigrants, students, and expats would pay off - and then they pushed it another week when they picked up Savage and figured that a lot of markets, Boston included, couldn't handle quite that much Chinese cinema, especially with Avengers still devouring screens.

The funny thing is, all that delay meant that pre-orders for the 4K disc at DDD House (my go-to source for Hong Kong Blu-rays, which are Region A, almost always include English subtitles, and often include stuff not available in North America at all even beyond Chinese movies) had to be in before its US theatrical release, which seems crazy to me. There was an outside chance that I'd be able to tweet out a photo of my ticket and the disc that arrived while I was seeing the movie, although that didn't happen. What did happen was that pre-orders went up for an American 4K release of this movie, as of this writing available for pre-order on Amazon for something like half of what I paid (especially if you figure Prime shipping versus international).

Kind of outsmarted myself there, but the important part is that it's on the big screen right now and looks amazing, so you should see it, but if you can't, it will look as amazing as it can at home.

Ying (Shadow)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 May 2019 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

Zhang Yimou's Shadow is probably the most visually striking wuxia film since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, so striking that when it gets off to a bit of a halting start, one might be tempted to consider that an acceptable trade-off for just being able to look at the thing for a couple hours. That it would quickly becomes more was not guaranteed, but it does, offering up palace intrigue an spurts of action that make it one of the best films that the genre has produced in recent years.

It opens in a time of tension between the Wei and Yang kingdoms; though technically allied, Yang occupies Jing City, traditionally Wei territory. The Wei king (Ryan Zheng Kai) accepts this, not wishing to endanger the peace, but his Commander (Deng Chao) has just foolishly proposed to duel with Yang (Hu Jun), which could lead to war. It seems like an absurd mistake for this seasoned and respected general to make, but there is a secret few outside "Madam" (Sun Li), the Commander's wife, know: The Commander has a double, trained since childhood to stand in for him, but since he was wounded in his last battle this shadow (Deng) has been posing as the Commander full time. The king attempts to counter this situation by arranging a marriage between Yang's son Ping (Leo Wu Lei) and his sister (Guan Xiaotong), but despite all the wheels turning within wheels, a showdown between master swordsman Yang and the Commander's less-accomplished doppelganger.

Zhang and co-writer Li Wei sometimes waver a bit in how to communicate this - some bits of the backstory are dropped as text in the beginning, and some is initially left for the audience to figure out before someone spells it out just to make sure - but the imagery is built to make sure that what's going on-screen has one's attention. Costumes, props, and settings are all blacks, whites, grays, and silvers, and considering the pallor of many character, there are times when one might initially think that the whole film was shot in black-and-white. The flesh tones betray that it wasn't, and that's jarring for a second, but there's apparent purpose to it - you can tell which characters are creatures of the palace and which spend time in the outside world by their pallor or lack thereof. When other colors start showing up in the palette, it's to clear purpose - red blood to boldface the violence, and a bit of gold to dazzle and distract, as much a signal to the audience that there is subterfuge going on as something to genuinely draw the eye.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, May 10, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 10 May 2019 - 16 May 2019

A fair amount coming out this week, with studios probably thinking people were going to be done with Avengers.

  • Despite that assumption, the 3D family movie with "see it Imax" trailers isn't getting that screen, by and large. Still, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu is also based on a huge popular thing, and Ryan Reynolds seems to be having fun voicing the title character. One can catch it at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby CInema matinees), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema matinees), Revere, and the SuperLux (2D only).

    For those a bit older, there's The Hustle, a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, because that's something MGM hasn't cannibalized yet. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Another group of women - including Diane Keaton, Jacki Weaver, Rhea Perlman, and Pam Grier - start a cheerleading team as seniors in Poms, playing at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There's also a wider-than-usual release for Tolkein, which stars Nicholas Hoult as J.R.R. Tolkien in the years before he wrote his famous fantasy novels, equally fascinated by mythology and language. It's at the Somerville, West Newton, the Lexington Venue, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere.

    Revere has the two Joel Schumacher-directed Batmovies as part of the 80th anniversary series, with Batman Forever on Sunday afternoon and Batman & Robin on Tuesday evening. Somewhat surprisingly, Kickstarted documentary What We Leave Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space 9 gets a night in theaters, playing Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, and Revere on Monday night. Those places will also play big-screen anime tie-in Saga of Tanya the Evil: The Movie on Thursday. There's also a free GlobeDocs preview screening of Ron Howard's Pavarotti documentary at 7pm Wednesday, at the Seaport.
  • Less than a week after a documentary on Rudolph Nureyev played at The Coolidge Corner Theatre and West Newton, those two places (and the Kendall) open The White Crow, a dramatization of Nureyev's defection from the Soviet Union directed by Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes plays Alexander Pushkin, while dancer Oleg Ivenko plays Nureyev. The Coolidge also picks up Wild Nights with Emily in the small rooms, part of a "Spotlight on Women" program.

    The Coolidge's 35mm Midnight Satanic Panic screenings for this weekend are House of the Devil on Friday night and The 'burbs on Saturday. The first has an introduction and post-film Q&A from actor Tom Noonan, who is also on hand for a Saturday night screening of Synecdoche, New York. There's a Mother's Day screening of Woman at War on Sunday afternoon, followed by a panel discussion led by Mothers Out Front. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on 35mm, with Emerson College professor Yu-jin Chang doing a seminar before or after. There's Open Screen on Tuesday and a "Wide Lens" screening of Support the Girls on Wednesday.
  • Zhang Yimou's Shadow, which opened in China way back on Chinese Memorial Day in September, finally hits local theaters this weekend, and as befits a martial-arts action movie directed by a renowned filmmaker, it's opens both at Boston Common and Kendall Square, while Savage sticks around the Common.

    Bollywood comedy Student of the Year 2, which appears to have the same basic premise as its predecessor but a mostly new cast, including Tiger Shroff, opens at Apple Fresh Pond, with Telugu action drama Maharshi continuing from Wednesday, with Malayalam film Uyare playing Saturday afternoon. They also have stand-up show David Cross: Oh, Come On twice a day.
  • Kendall Square also has Working Woman on top of all that, an Israeli film with Liron Ben-Shlush as a woman who fears retribution should she push back against the sexual harassment at work because she is her family's main breadwinner.
  • The Brattle Theatre brings back one of the movies that played IFFBoston's Fall Focus back for a week, with colorful Kenyan romance Rafiki playing all week, with a "Cinema in Context" screening on Monday with MIT African Studies assistant professor Amah Edoh. They also have their annual Mother's Day screening of Psycho Sunday afternoon.
  • West Newton Cinema brings back Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel, with director Daniel A. Miller there to answer questions after Friday's shows. They also open The Samuel Project, with Ryan Ochoa as a teenager connecting with his grandfather for the first time, and the actor playing said grandfather, Hal Linden, skyping in for a Q&A after the 6pm show on Saturday.
  • The Somerville Theatre continues Jack Attack! with a 35mm double feature of The Fortune & One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on Friday, The Missouri Breaks on 35mm & The Last Tycoon Saturday, and Goin' South & The Shining (both on 35mm) Sunday. They have 48 Hour Film Project screenings on Monday & Tuesday, a live comedy show with Bobcat Goldthwait and Dana Could on Wednesday, and a "Reel Film, Fake Band" pairing of High Fidelity on 35mm and Frank on Thursday.
  • After a Friday matinee of A Fortunate Man, The National Center For Jewish Film's 2019 Festival spends the week at the The Museum of Fine Arts, with screenings Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more of their Rumanian Cinema Now with Touch Me Not (Friday 7pm), Infinite Football (Friday 9:30pm), Sieranevada (Saturday 7pm), Cinema of Resistence selection The Dead Nation (Sunday 5pm), One Floor Below (Sunday 7pm), and Dogs (Monday 7pm)..
  • The Boston Pops is going to be performing John Williams's score to Star Wars for four shows Friday, Saturday (including a matinee with half-price tickets for kids), and Tuesday, with the movie projected while they play. Probably the Special Edition, but, hey, it's Star Wars!
  • ArtsEmerson features the Cambodian play See You Yesterday over the coming days, with a behind-the-scenes documentary on Tuesday
  • Cinema Salem gets documentary Hail Satan? about their neighbors in the Satanic Temple, and it's kind of surprising it took that long. The Luna Theater has a bunch of stuff this week, with High Life on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday; Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face on Saturday and Sunday; Polaroid documentary Instant Dreams and Her Smell on Saturday; John Waters's Serial Mom on Sunday; and Weirdo Wednesday. And if you want to go all the way to Methuen, that multiplex has Student of the Year 2 and Dominican comedy Casi Fiel.

On top of Shadow, I will probably see both Detective Pikachu and The Hustle, maybe even Student of the Year 2, and maybe try to fit either the DS9 doc or Crouching Tiger in on Monday before Star Wars on Tuesday. On top of that, Friday's plan is to criss-cross New York City to ideally catch Be Natural, Long Day's Journey Into NIght, Fugue, and JT Leroy, because it doesn't look like anybody is bringing them to me.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Boston Underground Film Festival 2019.03: Tone-Deaf and Mope

I kind of get why BUFF has the local horror block Friday afternoon - it's a classic thing that will bring people with a vested interest out during a less-than-prime slot but maybe won't fill the theater as much during the evening - but I still wish I could get to it. Maybe I wouldn't write them up as positively as I'd like here, but I love the huge chunks Fantasia is able to devote to French-Canadian things and would love quality stuff that is unapologetically New England-centric.

Richard Bates, Jr. didn't make it to Boston this year, though he has in the past. Maybe he'll get to Montreal. It looks like his film already has a release date scheduled, not always the case for movies that play here.



We did get a visit from Mope director Lucas Heyne (left, with BUFF's Kevin Monahan). His movie is kind of out there, the sort that seems more so when you realize that it was based upon a true story. How he dealt with that was the most interesting part of the Q&A: One thing that didn't make it into the movie much at all is the background his main character came from, a fairly restrictive religious upbringing that probably had him having a very skewed outlook on porn and sex generally, so he wound up in a situation where one parent would not speak to him at all, while the other was, perhaps, a little too eager to be involved, excited to visit a film set and festivals even though the film is about his son doing something awful.

Tone-Deaf

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Richard Bates Jr. makes a valiant effort to frame Tone-Deaf in a way where its black comedy is about something bigger than just the funny murder, although I'm not sure that it's that deep: There's more there than "get a load of those Boomers/Millennials and their messed-up priorities!", but maybe not that much. It is, at least, pretty consistently funny, with an especially entertaining turn from a guy who seldom seems to get a role this good.

It starts with Olive (Amanda Crew) having her life blow up - fired at work, kicking the cheating boyfriend out - and while she probably won't miss that particular job or guy, it still kind of sucks. She takes the advice of hippie mom Crystal (Kim Delaney) to get out of town for a weekend, renting a nice-looking house online. She's not sure exactly what she's supposed to do now that she's gotten away from the city on her own, but it's a bit uncomfortable that Harvey (Robert Patrick), the place's owner, seems to be around a bit more than is ideal - he's old-fashioned, recently lost his wife, and maybe starting to have memory issues. It's probably time for him to start crossing items off his bucket list. Unfortunately for Olive, the top item is killing someone.

Robert Patrick has had a weird career, bursting onto the scene playing a robot so enveloped by visual effects that it is easy to overlook just how much his specific cool intensity made Terminator 2 work and arguably stepping into a no-win situation replacing David Duchovny on The X-Files for his highest-profile leading role, filling the spaces around that with various cops, soldiers, and other authority figures, advancing in rank as he has aged and getting more of a chance to break out some dry humor as the grizzled vet. He has, as a result, grown into being able to play guys like Harvey as just the right sort of familiar that he can get away with being somewhat abrasive. It's more than just leveraging what's become a effective persona, though; he's able to grab a few of the movie's funniest moments, play as an effective horror-movie villain, and also convey the more existential horror of feeling your mind start to slip away. It's an impressively rounded character and performance for this sort of genre film - maybe not the best thing Patrick has ever done, but not as far off as one might think.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Mope

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Apparently,"mope" is porn-industry slang for someone who hangs around, eager to be a part of what's going on but not having what it takes to actually break in. I must admit, I could do without knowing this, though that's admittedly the same general reaction I have to grotty little movies about this business that mostly leave me wanting a shower afterward. Mope tells a worthy story that people tend to shy away from, but it certainly does spend a lot of time wallowing in the muck, even by the sordid standards of movies about porn.

The biggest mope in this movie (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) goes by the name Steve Driver; he's relocated from the east coast to make his dreams of being an adult film star come true, despite being skinny, not particularly well-endowed, and possessed of some pretty nasty body odor. A bit of performance anxiety at a sort of open audition introduces him to a kindred spirit in "Tom Dong" (Kelly Sry), who also does tech support and builds websites to stay in that orbit. They convince a bottom-tier producer (Brian Huskey) to give them a chance, but it's immediately clear that Steve's ambitions are unrealistic (to say the least) and his psyche fragile, and his disruptive behavior leaves Tom torn between what is likely his only friend and having an actual place in the world he's obsessed with.

Many films might start out in a less-extreme place, or jump back to it after an attention-getting flash-forward, but director Lucas Heyne and his co-writers are in some ways more interested in a finer distinction that could get lost if they weren't looking so closely at the line between Tom's consuming fandom and Steve's obsession. It can be a fine line and particularly blurred if the comparison is a healthy interest in one's hobby, but watching the space between Steven and Tom form is instructive and often compelling. It's not exactly applicable to any sort of enthusiasm - Heyne and company recognize that there are some very specific issues with exploitation in this industry - but there's a special horror in observing that Tom can pull back and compromise, but Steve's mental illness won't let him.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Monday, May 06, 2019

Bolden

Almost nine years ago, I attended a screening that likely won't be topped any time soon in terms of sheer coolness, seeing a silent comedy about the early days of jazz in the Apollo Theater with a live score performed by Wynton Marsalis and Cecile Licad. I dug the movie and was kind of fascinated by how director Dan Prtizker had a companion piece, Bolden!, shot with much the same cast and crew at around the same time, planned for 2011.

It didn't come. Just never showed up on the schedule. Every once in a while, something would remind me of it, and eventually when I checked IMDB, I saw that Gary Carr had replaced Anthony Mackie in the title role, the latter having wound up in Captain America and other bigger things which apparently didn't leave him a lot of time for another almost complete re-shoot of this movie. And then it fell off the radar again. You can do that when you're one of the richest people in America, as Pritzker is (his father, among other businesses, founded the Hyatt chain of hotels), tinkering until you get it right. I'd pretty much written the movie off until I saw a discarded invitation to a pre-release screening at Boston Common, and then saw a bunch of ads for it.

It, of course, did not actually open in Boston. It looked like the closest it was going to play was New York, and I was putting together plans to go there for the weekend even though I was kind of zonked from IFFBoston and a trip to NYC is not something you plan just a couple days ahead. Fortunately, I found out it was paying here:



The Liberty Tree Mall is not convenient - I had to take the 88 bus to Lechmere, the Green Line to North Station, the Newburyport Commuter Rail to Lynn, and then the 435. It took 2.5 hours one way, with the movie running like 108 minutes. But, they've apparently got a couple of small screens that they call "AMC Extra" that play stuff which there is apparently no room for downtown, and I kind of scratch my head over that sometimes, like Boston is still under-screened despite the places that have opened in recent years, because there's just no room to squeeze something like Bolden in the way there is when you've got 20 screens to fill in Danvers and Methuen. Maybe when/if the ArcLight opens, that will change some (and The Hub seems mostly ready from what I saw at North Station), but who knows.

It's also kind of a boring mall, as you find when you go to a Sunday matinee and discover that the next bus back to Lynn won't arrive for a half hour. Not even a Newbury Comics to kill time in, and it's surrounded by other big box retail/casual dining chains, with another mall like a mile away. I'm not entirely sure whether I outgrew malls or they got worse, but it wound up just chewing up an afternoon.

Admittedly, I was amused to see this:



Apparently AMC just replaced some of the signage inside the theater a year or so ago, so it's not that crazy to see this one still up, but it looks like it hasn't been changed since the place opened twenty years ago, like it's never been used to actually promote the movies inside. Quite visible from the bus stop, where I got a bit of writing done while waiting for the 435 back to Lynn, from where I'd take the 422 to Wonderland, the Blue Line to State, and then a brief walk to Downtown Crossing to take the Red Line back home. I suspect going to NYC might have been easier, if longer and more expensive.

At any rate - this was no trip to the Apollo for something really cool, but how many sequels can live up to the original?

Bolden

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 May 2019 in AMC Liberty Tree Mall #15 (first-run, DCP)

We don't know much about Buddy Bolden; it's generally accepted that he played a crucial part in the development of jazz, arguably inventing it, but spent the latter half of his relatively short life in a mental institution. One photograph survives, and none of the actual music. It's thin material for a biography, and that filmmaker Dan Pritzker makes acknowledging a core part of the film this is both the great strength of Bolden and what often makes it frustrating: The audience comes in wanting to know his story, but much of what follows involves being told that it can't.

It's introduced by a 1931 radio broadcast featuring the return of Louis Armstrong (Reno Wilson) to New Orleans; the nurse on night duty at the institution is listening (it is exceedingly rare to hear a fellow African-American on the radio), and the sound makes its way through the air vents to Bolden's room. It stirs memories in Bolden (Gary Carr), from meeting his wife Nora (Yaya DaCosta), stunts to get attention for his new sound encouraged by his manager Bartley (Erik LaRay Harvey), and clashes with Judge Perry (Ian McShane), at least partly due to Buddy's fondness for the same dance-hall girl (Kearia Schroeder), which as much as the drugs and the breakdown led to him winding up remanded to that place.

Or at least, that's the legend - which also includes one recording on a wax cylinder that has never surfaced over the course of a century - and the odds are that there's just not going to be a lot of new records about a black man who lived at the turn of the twentieth century turning up. Pritzker deals with this by using Bolden's mental health issues to not necessarily make him an unreliable narrator but to leap over gaps and connect one incident to another in a way that reflects the spottiness and unreliability of the historical record without ever feeling tentative or too self-aware. It feels like the best anyone could piece a narrative together under these circumstances without breaking the fourth wall and apologizing, and once the trick is clear, it becomes a part of fabric of the film, as Bolden both resists and is puzzled by the idea of recording a performance (the live experience was both part of the art and how they made their money at the time) while black people were often considered disposable.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Two from the Chinas: Always Miss You & Savage '19

I wonder, just a bit, if these two movies might be holding up better ones playing Boston. Well Go seems to have pushed its release of Shadow back a week upon acquiring distribution rights for Savage, and I can't necessarily blame them for that: Chinese imports tend to have a bit of a half-life, both because of how quickly pirated content makes its way across the Pacific these days and for how, with China pushing out so much content these days, expatriates' and Chinese-Americans' attention may move on if it doesn't get here within a week or two. So why not push the movie that came out in China last September back a week? Even those of us who may have import discs by then aren't going to be put off by that.

There's probably no similar one-to-one between Always Miss You and Long Day's Journey Into Night, despite both being romances, but I do wonder how much the fact that two Mandarin-language films came out this week combined with Avengers: Endgame last week cut into their willingness to put a Chinese movie that probably needs a 3D screen on the schedule, especially one that got poisonous word-of-mouth from audiences who felt its advertising was deceptive at the very least.

So, these were not the Chinese movies I was looking to see this weekend, and I can't really say it worked out for the best; these were not great movies and they're the type where I can see what's wrong with them clearly enough that I wonder why the professionals making it couldn't.

Xia yi ren: Ze ren (Always Miss You)

* * (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2019 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

"Missing a person" probably doesn't have the same double meaning in Mandarin as it does in English, which may mean that whoever came up with the English-language title for this Taiwanese film may have made the most clever contribution. It's a movie that looks like a romantic comedy but seldom actually delivers on that promise, pairing a game cast and a potentially fun situation but neglecting the spark that would let it really take off.

When she was a kid, Lin Xin-tian (Amber Kuo Caijie) spent a lot of time in her grandfather's temple delivering fortunes, at least until her father left her mother, and the folks at her current job in publishing still hang on her words of wisdom. Boyfriend David (Li Ronghao) is nice enough, but when the guy she's had a crush on since high school joins her employer, that seems like destiny - except, of course, that as with every other time it's looked like she and Huang Ke-qun (Ethan Li Dongxue) might get together, something comes up, in this case, her getting laid off the next day. Friend Guo Xiao-meng (Xie Yilin) has built a hookup app that matches her with handsome and funny executive Wu Chuan (Ryan Zheng Kai), so maybe the God of Love hasn't cursed her after all.

This sounds like it should be zany or melodramatic, depending which direction filmmaker Chen Hung-i wants to go, but it winds up being neither, in large part because Xin-tian doesn't really do anything, and the way in which she lets the story bounce her around is often kind of jarring - the moment in which she actually seems to take some small amount of control of her romantic life and breaks up with David undercuts it by showing her as kind of zoned out at the start, running through two versions of their entire relationship, and having this whole other joke going on at the same time, like Chen wants to distract the audience from anything that could make her read as selfish, seemingly unaware that having her spend much of the rest of the movie asking others to solve her problems could be seen as much less sympathetic, while a new boyfriend and job appearing in tandem feels more than a bit off, though maybe this particular sort of workplace relationship doesn't ring the same sort of alarm bells in Taiwan.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Xue bao (Savage '19)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2019 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Cui Siwei's Savage opens with a clever heist but keeps cutting away from it to something that promises to be less exciting, which seems to be sort of the opposite of how the tease at the start of a movie should work. There's still what amounts to a decent thriller to come, but it's a scramble that takes advantage of its setting, not the cutting sort of noir it could be.

That crime involves mastermind Damao (Liao Fan), partner Zhou (Wang Taili), and Damao's punk brother Ermao (Huang Jue) robbing a truck containing bars of gold from a nearby mine under the guise of illegal loggers. That - and poachers like Guo San (Liu Hua) are more the sort of problems that the local cops are used to facing, though Han Xiaosong (Li Guangjie) and Wang Kanghao (Chang Chen) are, at that moment, more concerned with who is going to be promoted to the city and who Doctor Sun Yan (Ni Ni) finds more appealing - at least, until they come across Damao's gang while on patrol. A year later, the case remains unsolved, with the rumors that Guo San has found a bar of gold and used it to purchase a new rifle an obsessed Kanghao's best lead. Following it up will lead him and new partner Zhang Lu (Zhang Yicong) in the right direction, but the clock is ticking on Damao using the frozen river to transport the gold even if the fiercest blizzard in years wasn't due to arrive in mere hours.

It's kind of a bore talking about the rules that the Chinese film industry must operate under every time even a moderately complex crime movie from that country opens, but one can't help but wonder what sort of movie Cui could have made if the likes of Damao and Guo San were allowed to be full-on antiheroes. There are glimpses of it in Damao's opening narration, where he talks about his family coming from a long line of loggers abandoned when the government made it illegal; the symbolism of him using those skills to attack a transport taking the region's riches away would be richer if the film could lean into it. There's such potential in the clash between the locals desperately trying to survive or escape their homes and the likes of city people like Kanghao and Sun Yan who can leave when their assignment is complete, satisfied in a job well done, that it's a shame it can't be played closer to the foreground. Instead, the film sort of stops at Damao being worried about his no-account brother and Kanghao's obsession threatening his relationship with Sun Yan.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, May 03, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 3 May 2019 - 9 May 2019

Boy, you think all of the movies coming out this week are hoping for overflow or worried about just having their shows cancelled while theaters put Endgame on more screens to meet demand?

  • Of course, after a couple times seeing Avengers 4, you might want to change pace with something like Long Shot, with Charlize Theron playing a cabinet secretary running for President and Seth Rogen the one-time classmate and reporter brought in to punch of her speeches only to discover surprising chemistry. It's an actual romantic comedy, when the genre seemed almost extinct, playing at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. Or maybe The Intruder, a thriller with Meagan Good and Michael Ealy as a couple who just bought a house only to find that the previous owner isn't ready to give it up. That's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Or, for the kids, there's Uglydolls, which looks cute but heavy-handed, but it's probably for six-year-olds, so maybe that's as it should be. That is at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Fenway, Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Then again, you may want more superheros, and while we're apparently not getting Fast Color, there's something called El Chicano opening at Boston Common and Revere, with Raul Castillo playing a cop who becomes a masked avenger. Doesn't sound like much, but Joe Carnahan co-writes and director Ben Hernandez Bray came up doing stunts, so maybe there's some good action. Boston Common is also finding a couple showtimes a day for heburgh, a documentary on a priest who found himself at the center of a number of turning points in 20th Century America.

    This week's TCM anniversary movie is True Grit, playing Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday and adding Revere to the pair on Wednesday. The week's bizarrely-punctuated anime for folks who are already fans is Code Geass: Lelouch of the Re;surrection, playing subtitled at Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Revere on Sunday and dubbed at those spots and Assembly Row on Tuesday and Wednesday. Revere will also be doing an "80 Years of Batman" series, with the first Tim Burton/Michael Keaton movies Saturday afternoon and the second Monday evening (as well as the completely-unrelated Ted on Thursday). There are also a couple of special previews, with Tolkein playing Wednesday with footage of Stephen Colbert leading a post-film Q&A (at Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere; while The Hustle does a "Girls' Night Out" show at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Wednesday.
  • IFFBoston alumni are making it to theaters very quickly, with The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and West Newton Cinema opening Ask Dr. Ruth, a documentary on the life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who is still going strong at 90 years old.

    First weekend of the month means a "Martial Art House" show at the Coolidge at midnight on Friday, this time a 35mm print of Crippled Avengers, making me kind of wonder if they're still working with with Garo on this series. Regular midnights for May will involve "Satanic Panic", with a 35mm print of The Black Cat on Friday and another of The Devil's Rain on Saturday. They've got a special screening of Nureyev on Sunday (it's also still playing daily at West Newton), and a "Science on Screen" show of First Man on Monday with astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman introducing it.

    They will also host the first two days of The Nation Center For Jewish Film's 2019 Festival, with Chewdaism and a restored 35mm print of Mortal Storm on Tuesday and Abe and It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story on Wednesday; they move to the MFA's Remis Auditorium on Thursday for The Tobacconist and Leona on Thursday. That program runs through the 19th.
  • Kendall Square didn't even wait for the festival to finish before opening documentary centerpiece Knock Down the House on Wednesday; it follows a group of the new freshman in the House of Representatives through their elections, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They also have Dogman, the new one from Matteo Garrone, about a dog groomer who gets involved in a life of crime.
  • The Somerville Theatre and Cinema Salem also pick up one from the festival, with Her Smell starring Elizabeth Moss as a punk rocker whose career and addiction issues are crashing hard. The Somerville also has a bunch of their own events as well, starting with a 35mm print of Jurassic Park on Friday as part of the Slaughterhouse Movie Club, which means you can arrive an hour early and get a live dinosaur-themed burlesque show as well! It's also a Jack Attack! weekend, pairing Chinatown (on 35mm) with The Last Detail on Saturday and with a The Passenger (also on 35mm) Sunday. The year's first "Silents, Please!" show on Sunday has Jeff Rapsis accompanying Charlie Chaplin in The Kid. Jack's back with Tommy on Wednesday, and then there's a "Reel Film, Fake Band" show of This Is Spinal Tap on Thursday.
  • Two Chinese films at Boston Common this weekend, with Savage featuring a cop and a gang of thieves throwing down in a mountaintop police station during a blizzard, while Always Miss You starring Amber Kuo as a woman who thinks she's finally found the right guy, right up until her high school crush comes back to town.

    Apple Fresh Pond has a pair of comedies for fans of Indian cinema this Saturday, with Marathi film Wedding Cha Shinema and Malayalam-language Oru Yamandan Premakadha. Telugu action drama Maharshi opens on Wednesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre hosts events for the Women in Comedy Festival on through the weekend, including short films Saturday afternoon and Clueless on Sunday. They're also playing 50 minutes of cartoons on 35mm as part of Sunday's Harvard Square Mayfair, with four shows from noon to 3pm. They celebrate some more recent animation with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse on Tuesday and Wednesday, then close the week by hosting The Technoskeptic's screening and panel discussion of The Mosquito Coast on Thursday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts spends most of their week of screenings on "She Makes a Universe: Literary Luminaries", with documentaries Toni Morrison: The Foreigner's Home (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday), Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin (Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Wednesday), and Ferrante Fever (Saturday/Wednesday).
  • Sky Hopinka visits The Harvard Film Archive on Sunday evening with a program of her short films. After that, they start a Rumanian Cinema Now program with Cristian Mungiu's Graduation on Monday and Radu Jude's Scarred Hearts on Tuesday.
  • The Luna Theater has Polaroid documentary Instant Dreams on Friday and Tuesday, and locally-produced Days to Live on Saturday and Monday. The Sound of Music plays Saturday & Sunday, with the original Hairspray playing Sunday afternoon and evening - the first of three weeks of Jon Waters flicks - once again meaning Weirdo Wednesday has to bring its A-game.


I kind of want to see Endgame again, but there's two good-looking Chinese films, Long Shot, and some fun rep stuff. And yet, I am tempted to head out to New York for Subway Cinema's Old School Kung Fu Fest and to catch a couple films that just don't look like they're heading here.