Friday, May 31, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 31 May 2019 - 6 June 2019

It's not like there's not enough coming out to fill the weekend, but no screen for the new De Palma, which is basically going straight to VOD, which is a sign of the times, I guess, especially when the movie is evidently not very good. But, it's not like I'll necessarily have time to get to it this weekend anyway.

  • The biggest release this week (in multiple ways) is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which brings in pretty much all the kaiju from the original Toho series and has them go nuts, with Big G being released from ice to hopefully deter them. Sounds an awful lot like Final Wars without the Ryuhei Kitamura insanity but with a big-studio effects budget (although, sadly for those of us that like such things, none of the giant screens have 3D showtimes). It can be found at the Somerville (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D), the Embassy (2D only), Revere (including MX4D & XPlus), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    Also opening wide and on some premium screens is Rocketman, based on the life and music of Elton John, with Taron Egerton as the former Reg Dwight, the guy who did the reshoots for Bohemian Rhapsody directing, and the songs blending into flights of fantasy. That plays the Somerville, the Coolidge, Fresh Pond, West Newton Cinema, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    Meanwhile, Ma isn't looking to be a blockbuster but will probably make twice its small budget back and hang around for a while with Octavia Spencer as a woman who buys beer for some teenagers and then gets a little too involved. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Saving Private Ryan plays Sunday afternoon and Wednesday evening at Fenway, the Seaport, and South Bay, with Revere also joining in on Wednesday. There's also a special premiere presentation of Pavarotti at Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Tuesday; The Dead Don't Die previews at Boston Common on Wednesday.
  • Kendall Square brings in a few things this week. The Tomorrow Man, featuring John Lithgow and Blythe Danner as a pair of seniors who have decidedly opposite views on the world - he, as the title suggests, obsessed with a dystopian future, her unable to let go. They also have French thriller My Son, and Halston, yet another documentary about a fashion designer, this time Roy Halston Frowick.
  • Apple Fresh Pond has Tamil and Telugu shows of NGK, a biography of politician Nandha Gopalan Kumaran, and also opens Bharat with Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, and Disha Patani in a film that covers the past sixty years of Indian history.

    Boston Common gets Mayday Life, a 3D concert film that covers a two-year tour of Chinese band Mayday, which looks from its posters and cast of guest stars has scripted bits as well.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a pair of tributes this week. First up, the Boston Society of Film Critics honors Debra Granik, whose filmography has been excellent enough that you can't help but wish there was more of it (though it leaves plenty of room during the weekend for her to picks some favorites). Granik's Down to the Bone plays Friday; Nashville, Granik's Winter's Bone, and a 35mm print of Cockfighter play Saturday; The Other Side of Hope (35mm), Heroes for Sale (35mm), Granik's Stray Dog, and her Leave No Trace wrap things up on Sunday.

    After that, the work week is for Jim Jarmusch, with three 35mm double features: Stranger Than Paradise & Down by Law on Monday, Night on Earth & Only Lovers Left Alive on Tuesday, and Broken Flowers & The Limits of Control on Wednesday. That series wraps up with a free preview of his new one, The Dead Don't Die, on Thursday night with co-star Chloë Sevigny in person for a Q&A.
  • Aside from opening Rocketman, The Coolidge Corner Theatre wraps up their Satanic Panic midnights with a 16mm print of All the Colors of the Dark on Friday and a 35mm print of Mario Bava's Black Sabbath on Saturday. They also show Skip Shea's Trinity, which played BUFF last year and was probably cathartic to make but kind of rough for an audience. They also have a Sounds of Silents presentation of The Passion of Joan of Arc with the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes its May calendar with the final screenings of Babylon and 3 Faces on Friday. The June schedule includes irregular screenings of a documentary about General Franco's victims, The Silence of Others (Saturday/Sunday); Before Stonewall (Sunday); the "Van Gogh in Japan" Exhibition-on-Screen (Wednesday/Thursday); and IFFBoston alum Eat Up (Wednesday/Thursday), with Wednesday's show followed by a panel including director Fiona Turner, subject Jill Shah, and others involved in making school lunch programs better and more accessible. Wicked Queer presents a special screening of The Garden Left Behind on Saturday.
  • Just one "Jack Attack" show at The Somerville Theatre has a special opening night show of Godzilla with a burlesque mini-show before the film on Friday, and there's also a more traditional film/live performance hybrid on Sunday afternoon when "Silents, Please" features Jeff Rapsis accompanying Zaza. Jack Attack! Continues on Wednesday with a 35mm print of The Border
  • The Regent Theatre shows Satan & Adam, a documentary about an unlikely pair of blues musicians - a young Jewish harmonica player and an older Mississippi bluesman - who met in Harlem in 1986, with the film shot off and on over the entire period since.
  • Cinema Salem has Meeting Gorbachev in their miniature theater. The Luna Theater has Amazing Grace on Friday and Saturday, The Biggest Little Farm on Saturday, The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Teseracte Players on Saturday night and just the film all day Sunday, and Rafiki on Tuesday. They've also made their early Saturday/Sunday kids' shows free surprise screenings, much like Weirdo Wednesdays .

I am looking at Godzilla, Rocketman, The Son, and probably catching up on things I should have seen already (Booksmart, Long Shot, and maybe Brightburn).

Sunday, May 26, 2019

This Those Weeks in Tickets: 4 February 2019 - 24 February 2019

February was a month of long days at the movies when I wasn't feeling lousy, whether they be actual marathons or just multiple movie days.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

The week started on Chinese New Year with The Wandering Earth, whose opening that day was kind of a surprise, because it was scheduled for Friday, but there was a spot when Crazy Alien didn't open, and they even snagged the Imax 3D screen for a few days, and that is the way to see it, as it settled in for a crazy-long run there. It would actually delay other things opening at Boston Common that weekend, which gave me a slot to catch Arctic with co-writer Ryan Morrison on hand, so that was kind of a win.

Then came a busy Saturday, doing a sort of double-double feature: First up, two new animated movies: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, which is clever as heck even if it can't quite be as inventive as the first one, and then a trip back up the Red Line to catch Tito and the Birds at the Brattle, which is ambitious in a different direction, but still pretty nifty. After that, it was back up to the Somerville Theatre for a couple from a couple from sci-fi festival, Axcellerator & Ikarie XB-1, the first with plenty of guests and the second something I hope appears on disc before too long, because it was nifty but not as thrilling as one might hope for on movie #4 of the day. Of course, I was back the next day for a 35mm print of the original King Kong.

After that, I headed across the river for a double feature's worth of Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts, which probably could have been put together into one presentation because it wasn't all things just under the time maximum length to be considered a short film as is usually the case.

Wandering Earth screenings started to thin out a bit come Monday, so that there would be a 10pm show of the thing that was going to open Friday, but, of course, that conflicted with another Chinese movie at the sci-fi festival, so I headed down there for Last Sunrise. That meant it was Tuesday before I finally got to see Integrity, and… Well, you could see why that was the movie that got pushed off. It's not great, even with Lau Ching-wan.

The festival didn't have much and it was a pretty busy week for new releases, so I was happy to check out Happy Death Day 2U on Thursday, finding it a fun sequel to a surprisingly good original, and I'd be glad to see it continue even if it wound up nowhere near where it started. I wasn't nearly so enamored of Friday's classier Everybody Knows, which is impressively crafted and pretty good at the straightforward art-house drama it's looking todo.

I was going to spend most of the day at the sci-fi festival on Saturday, but after Chesney Bonestell: A Brush with the Future, I was feeling pretty lousy,,so I just headed home to rest up for the Marathon, and while I can't say I got all the way through without a nap, but it was a bunch of fun seeing Innerspace, Dr. Cyclops, Rollerball '75, Woman in the Moon, Star Trek VI, Annihilation, Source Code, Sunshine, and Escape from New York on the big screen.

After that, it was pretty easy to lay off movies for a few days, but you've got to see the rest of the Oscar-nominated shorts before the awards, so that meant it was time for a Thursday night double feature - first the Animated Shorts, then the Live-Action Shorts, both of which were kind of same-y though in different ways. And opposite, with the animated ones kind of charmingly sentimental and the live-action is nastily dark.

The next night was Korean Film Extreme Job, a whole lot funnier than the Chinese movie with the same plot from last year, although maybe it's just a coincidence, as I've read about an American remake being developed that references this but not Lobster Cop.

Saturday was spent in New York for the second annual Hong-Kong-a-thon, which went from being a Grady Hendrix solo production last year to a Subway Cinema event, and it looks like that's the future for SC, as they're no longer the guys behind the New York Asian Film Festival. At any rate, it was a fun as heck event, with 35mm screenings of Project S, Hot War, Eastern Condors, Beast Cops, Bloody Friday, and Full Contact, and I was so zonked after that that I am more grateful than usual for the steady march of Ringo Lam discs from Hong Kong so I can properly see that last one.

It had me so exhausted that I didn't add anything my Letterboxd page on Sunday, but there would be more to come, including on an actual trip to Hong Kong rather than just seeing HK movies in New York!

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2019 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Maybe not quite so brilliant as the first one, in part because once you're behind the curtain is hard not to go down the road of being too self-aware, but that's almost a distraction. All that going on lets how the "invaders" are more delightfully creative than the supposed majority of the post-apocalyptic scenario slip in, simmer underneath the sibling rivalry material, and then re-emerge as both some of the movie's best jokes and the heartfelt point of thewhole thing.

I wonder, a bit, how kids will take its more literal commentary on its own tricks, but they're often smarter than you expect, and this movie takes full advantage.

Tito e os Pássaros (Tito and the Birds)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (special engagement, DCP)

I don't know that I was able to really give this one the shot it deserved, but there's clearly a great deal to like about it, from the beautiful background art to the great soundtrack to how they make fantastic imagery with the action at the end. It is, I suspect, one that plays a bit better for those who know the culture better. That's maybe a better explanation for how certain elements seemed off-putting that saying that the filmmakers seem a little bit unsure how to handle the horror elements in a family-friendly film much of the time. It doesn't quite seem to fit,and maybe blending those tones in a somewhat less messy fashion could have made it a much more thrilling sort of adventure.

Happy Death Day 2U

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2019 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

I suspect that Christopher Landon wrote this movie by taking all the bits he cut from the first because the how of it just didn't matter and gluing them together before tossing the minimum amount to make it a horror movie sequel in. Maybe he's commenting on how horror sequels are just remakes with twists, but that may be giving the parts with a knife-wielding guy in a baby mask way too much credit. That section of the movie is incredibly perfunctory.

It's a lot of fun anyway. Jessica Rothe is still kind of terrific as multiple-murder victim Tree, with room to grow even after starting out a better person despite retaining a sharp sense of humor. A fake-out before putting the ball back in her court has the nice side effect of expanding the supporting cast (or giving people who had tiny roles in the first a chance to steal scenes), and the shift to mostly comedy lets everyone play to their strengths. Given that Landon reworked someone else's script for the first one (by some accounts, almost completely), maybe this is the first time that he's truly making the film he wanted to after having seen something in that original script.

And by the end, it's done something horror series almost never do in becoming downright warm and upbeat. It's kind of got to make the plot nonsense to do it, but there's something amazingly gratifying about how it doubles down on the first's message of how adversity is a chance to become a better version of oneself. I kind of hope that the mid-credits scene indicates a third movie might eventually leave the original scale and genre behind and just find ways for these kids to have weird sci-fi adventures - let Tree and company run roughshod on history, space, clones, monsters, and whatever else Landon can come up with.

The Wandering Earth Arctic The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Tito and the Birds Axcellerator Ikarie XB-1 King Kong Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts

Last Sunrise Integrity Happy Death Day 2U Everybody Knows Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future Sci-Fi Marathon

Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts Extreme Job Hong-Kong-a-Thon 2 Hong-Kong-a-Thon 2

These Weeks in Tickets: 5 May 2019 - 19 May 2019

A weird couple weeks, where a lot of moviegoing got concentrated.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

Doubly stubless: The Red Sox crushed the Mariners on 10 May, and there wasn't even a good place to mark it down on the page.

No stub for Friday night's game both because the team didn't give me physical tickets this year and because I decided to head into New York the next day to catch some movies and those tickets were kind of sizable. I actually pondered taking a late bus after the game, but that didn't seem like a great idea. The good night's sleep was probably a good plan, though that Mostly Manhattan Movie Marathon was kind of tight, with the subway eating up pretty much all my time between Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché,Long Day's Journey Into Night, Fugue, All Is True, and Pokémon Detective Pikachu, before the inevitable reminder that Greyhound is what you do when absolutely nothing else is practical (if you've got a week's notice, it's literally cheaper to fly than take the train from Boston to New York).

I wasn't completely zonked on Sunday, but there was some caffeine necessary for the other film I wanted to see that weekend, Zhang Yimou's Shadow, which is pretty darn terrific. It was a near thing to see that before receiving my 4K disc from Hong Kong (it turns out one will be released in North America, but that's hard to predict with smaller distributors), but there wasn't any doubt; it's a heck of a big-screen movie.

Speaking of such things....

The next Tuesday's movie was Star Wars at Symphony Hall with the Keith Lockhart conducting the Pops to provide the score, and that is a fun night out. It turned out to be a tight squeeze despite the way the ticketing site made the orchestra section look, but, hey, it's a movie, and should be. It is, of course, a great movie, and more so this way, even without looking up during the moments when there was no John Williams to play and seeing who in the orchestra was looking down and who was watching the movie.

Next up: John Wick 3, which is what it says on the tin - two hours of the sort of violence John Woo and Chow Yun-fat used to make. It may be a little more heavy on the mythology and self-aware than I'd like, but it delivers the goods.

Friday was about staying in and not getting caught in the rain, but it made for a nifty double feature on Saturday: The nifty Swedish science fiction epic Aniara at the Kendall and then a 70mm print of The Dark Crystal at the Somerville. Both are apocalyptic in their ways, and well worth seeing on the big screen if you get the opportunity.

Then on Sunday came an encore screening of Avengers: Endgame, both because I didn't see it under ideal conditions the first time and because, hey, it's pretty darn great. It's amazing that Marvel stuck the landing on this.

More my Letterboxd page since, although the downright crazy moviegoing has kind of slowed down..

Star Wars

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 14 May 2019 in Symphony Hall (Special Edition, digital with live orchestral accompaniment)

This movie is pretty darn good, folks. That's not surprising - global media empires generally can't start from nothing - but it can sometimes get lost in all the sequels and later incarnations and tie-ins and people who have very strong opinions. This event, which so far as I know is just the original, albeit in Special Edition form, and just watching that, unattached to the rest, is an unusual experience these days.

(Although if the Pops wanted to do this every few weeks until The Rise of Skywalker comes out, I'd be good with that too.)

Seeing it like this highlights just how well George Lucas tapped straight into a lot of things early on - youthful rebellion, older generations that in some cases meant the best but always had their own agenda, the thrill of adventure and the massive technological monsters lying in wait. The mysticism of The Force which is so often seized upon actually feels a little hokey, and thinking about Lucas's career (and the saga) in retrospect, it's kind of hard to know whether this is a sign of cynicism or just him not fully able to articulate something. It also illustrates just how much the film and the franchise owes to Sir Alec Guinness's work - he may famously have had no love for what became his most famous role, but he got Obi-Wan, giving glimpses of the warrior in exile who knew how to weaponize his worldliness and Luke's inexperience. That Lucas could build out this mythology is in no small part due to Guinness hinting at complexity.

Twenty-odd years on, the Special Edition updates have aged faster than the practical work from 1977, enough to push me from not really minding them to hoping Disney gives us 4K versions of the original cuts at the first opportunity. On the other hand, one of the interesting things about this presentation was how they suggest that maybe films should not always be entirely frozen in amber - especially in the second half, Maestro Lockhart's arrangements occasionally seemed just different enough from those of John Williams to notice, and it helped make an old favorite a bit more new and thrilling.

Star Wars evolves, even when you're getting back to basics.

The Dark Crystal

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 70mm)

My fondness for this one fluctuates as I see it; it is, on the one hand, a bold and remarkable achievement, a pure fantasy that somehow got financed and into theaters despite being utterly unlike anything audiences have seen before except maybe the works of Jan Svankmajer, and that's not exactly mainstream itself. On the other, there is a Muppet-y chaos underneath the grandiosity, the sense of humor maybe undercutting Jim Henson's ideas for an epic story. It doesn't quite work when it can't blow the viewer's mind, although it's still admirable.

Digging through the blog, I'm mildly amused to note that the first time I blogged seeing it, in 2005, I mention a sequel that the Henson family is working on, and that project is just emerging now, a limited-series prequel that will be on Netflix at the end of August. I find myself wondering if the lore is really sturdy enough to support that sort of expansion - or if it can be done without dragging the tone away from Henson's anarchy.

Avengers: Endgame

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 April 2019 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)
Seen 19 May 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, Imax digital)

A second time through, this time in IMAX rather than 3D, confirms that this is maybe not perfect or hefty, but it is tremendously satisfying. The filmmakers have two jobs here - the biggest superhero action movie ever made and a satisfying conclusion to teen years of build-up - and somehow they pull both off and make each half complement the other.

I love the way they built this thing, using a time-travel plot so that everything is a reminder of (and revisit to) all of the ways that the audience has enjoyed the previous movies. It mixes up the pure fun and the grace notes so that the movie never feels empty or cloying, and serves up little surprises that make the audience smile stupidly. All of what the audience has seen before matters, but it's not just homework, and the combined retconning/demolition is awfully clever (and in many cases, the sort of thing you can only do when you know you won't have to deal with the fallout). It's also weirdly reassuring that a bunch of people who didn't have to come back did. They apparently like this stuff too, and weren't just collecting a paycheck.

The execution is good; the action isn't exactly what we got in John Wick 3 a few days ago (little is), but as "enough special effects to fill an IMAX screen" goes, it's solid even from the second row, and the cast all has these guys down pat to the point where the ones that aren't returning will be genuinely missed. But like their characters, they've given a lot over the past decade, and now, as with any big comic book event, it's time to see what the new faces and new arrangements can bring.

Be Natural Long Day's Journey Into Night Fugue All Is True Detective Pikachu Shadow

Star Wars John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum Aniara The Dark Crystal Avengers: Endgame

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


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.


* * * (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.