Thursday, June 27, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 28 June 2019 - 2 July 2019

Yep, I can see why Marvel decided to try and goose their movie's totals now rather than wait for the traditional pre-Labor Day slot. There ain't much else.

  • Indeed, I think the only major opening this Friday is Yesterday, which teams writer Richard Curtis and director Danny Boyle, with Himesh Patel as the only person on Earth who remembers the Beatles after a global blackout, and as a struggling musician, this is too good an opportunity to miss! It's at the Somerville, the Coolidge, Fresh Pond, West Newton, the Lexington Venue, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Otherwise, it's kind of holdovers, with Annabelle Comes Home, having opened Wednesday and playing Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax & Dolby CInema), Revere, and the SuperLux (note that it's mostly getting the premium screens at 10pm or later, because Toy Story 4). Marvel is also re-releasing Avengers: Endgame with bonus footage during/after the credits, although it never actually went away in some places. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, ad Revere.

    The Ghibli-Fest movie for July is Whisper of the Heart, dubbed on Monday and subtitled on Tuesday at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common also have Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, a documentary by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders on the seminal novelist. There's also a 30th anniversary re-release of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing at Boston Common and the Coolidge, with the latter having a 35mm print, although both have somewhat limited screening times (The Somerville Theatre also shows it once, on Sunday afternoon).

    The Coolidge also has a new restoration of Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper upstairs at midnight on Friday and Saturday. The main screen features Patrick Swayze in Road House at midnight Friday, and then Swayze again in Point Break on Saturday, although that's just the start of their Keanu-Thon, which starts with that movie and ends with Speed with four surprises in between by the time you leave the theater at noon Sunday, all on 35mm film.
  • Kendall Square welcomes director Aviva Kemper to the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon shows of The Spy Behind Home Plate, a documentary on baseball player and secret agent Moe Berg that hopefully works out better than the similarly-named The Catcher Was a Spy.

    Their other new non-fiction film is The Proposal, which looks to be Jill Magid turning the camera on herself as she negotiates to make the archive of famed architect Luis Barragan available. They also open Being Frank, which stars Jim Gaffigan as a man with two families and Logan Miller as the son trying to decide whether to reveal this or use it to his advantage. There's also one of those "Deconstructing the Beatles" things, this one focused on Side 1 of Abbey Road, on Monday evening.
  • West Newton will play Ophelia twice daily, with Daisy Ridley playing the title character in a version of Hamlet told from her point of view. Naomi Watts plays Gertrude and Clive Owen plays Claudius.
  • The Brattle Theatre kicks off Just When You Thought It was Safe to Go On Vacation Again with a Jurassic Park on Friday, and then continues the disastrous road trips with a twin bill of Get Out & Us on Saturday, a pairing of L'Avventura & Purple Noon on Sunday; What About Bob? & With a Friend Like Harry on Monday, Always Shine & Spring Breakers on Tuesday, One Crazy Summer & The Return of the Living Dead on Wednesday, and, of course, the traditional Jaws on the Fourth of July. 35mm for most of it, except the newer stuff on Saturday and Tuesday
  • Apple Fresh Pond has Hindi true-crime story Article 15, and three in Telugu: comedy Brochevarevarura, action-comedy Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, and thriller Kalki (at least I think it's Telugu - that's the picture on their website even if the cast list is from a Malayalam film of the same name coming out in August). Hindi drama Kabir Singh is also hanging around through Monday or Tuesday.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts and The Roxbury International Film Festival wrap that series up with two days of shows on Friday and Saturday, ending with Don't Be Nice.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more of The Complete Howard Hawks, with Ball of Fire (Friday 7pm on 35mm), Twentieth Century (Friday 9:30pm on DCP), Scarface (Saturday 9:30pm on DCP), and two versions of The Big Sleep - the theatrical version at 7pm on Saturday and Hawks's original cut (before they added more Bogie & Bacall banter) at the same time on Sunday, both on 35mm. They also continue their moon-landing series with a Saturday matinee of Hidden Figures, and their monthly Cinema of Resistance presentation is The War at Home on Monday evening.
  • The Regent Theatre has volume 6 of the International Ocean Film Tour on Friday night and a special 50th anniversary screening of Easy Rider on Saturday. They also have "Return to Earth" on Tuesday, a short feature of biking adventure.
  • Aeronaut Brewery has their quarterly silent film club this Sunday, with Jeff Rapsis accompanying Harold Lloyd's classic Safety Last!.
  • Cinema Salem keeps Amazing Grace and adds The Biggest Little Farm, as well as a Sunday morning screening of The Champions that serves as a fundraiser for Northeast Animal Shelter. The Luna Theater acclaimed Cambodian animated drama Funan on Friday and Saturday nights, Echo in the Canyon Saturday afternoon and Tuesday evening, Okko's Inn dubbed on Saturday afternoon, The Lost Boys on Sunday, and short documentary "Flying Fur" on Monday, on top of the free "Magical Mystery Movie Club" on Saturday & Sunday, as always unannounced ahead of time. The AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall has Killers Anonymous, which stars Tommy Flanagan but managed to snag Gary Oldman, Jessica Alba, and MyAnna Buring for smaller roles.
  • Once again, Joe's Free Films only shows outdoor movies on Friday night, with Casablanca at the Boston Harbor Hotel and Zootopia in Medford.

I'm still on vacation, and while seeing Yesterday in London sounds kind of tempting, I probably won't see anything before getting home on Monday, and they we'll see if I'm too wiped from the time-zone change to catch the late Do the Right Thing.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 21 June 2019 - 27 June 2019

The studios get cute with the likely biggest hit, and I try to flee temptation.

  • The cuteness has to do with the fact that the big deluxe-screen release this week is Toy Story 4, which kind of looks like a mash-up of the previous movies in the series - toys who can move when you're not looking on the road trying to get home, a new friend who doesn't identify as a toy, , confronting being left behind and outgrown. Not that this has failed for Pixar yet, and you can see how well they handle it this time at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), West Newton (2D only), the Belmont Studio (2D only), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX 2D), the Seaport (including 2D/3D Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    The folks getting cute are the ones releasing the remake of Child's Play - this time with the doll having malfunctioning AI rather than possession and happening despite the fact that the original is still getting sequels and spin-offs - on the same day. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. And for even more, the latest Conjuring spin-off, Annabelle Comes Home, opens Wednesday at Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), and Revere.

    Also coming out is the new action piece from Luc Besson, Anna, at Boston Common, Assembly Row, South Bay, and Revere. There will be 25th Anniversary screenings on Sunday and Tuesday of Forrest Gump at Fenway, the Seaport, and South Bay, and Revere (Tuesday only). Boston Common will also have a screening of Milk on Monday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square both open Echo in the Canyon, a documentary about the bands that emerged from Los Angeles's Laurel Canyon in the mid-1960s, and both are going to be having director Andrew Slater and producer/musician Jakob Dylan on hand for Q&A and post-film performance. They'll be at the Coolidge for the Saturday 7pm and Sunday 5pm shows, and at Kendall Square for the Saturday 8:30pm and Sunday 2pm shows, getting across the river in a hurry.

    For midnights, the Coolidge has Penelope Spheeris's Suburbia on 35mm and The Room on Friday night and a 35mm print of Liquid Sky on Saturday. Sunday includes a Goethe-Institut screening of Gunderman (this music doc from German) and a special preview screening of Maiden with subject Tracy Edwards (Boston Common will have a preview with pre-recorded Q&A on Monday). Monday's Big Screen Classic is Titanic on 35mm.
  • Not enough music documentaries for you? Kendall Square also has The Quiet One, a close-up look at Bill Wyman, a founding member of the Rolling Stones who never opted to be as flamboyant as his band-mates. They also have a sort of hybrid in Framing John Delorean, which integrates traditional documentary filmmaking with reenactments featuring Alec Baldwin, Morena Baccarin, and Josh Charles.
  • The Brattle Theatre opens documentary The Eyes of Orson Welles, with filmmaker Mark Cousins sifting through Welles's archives to get a better idea of what made him tick. They pair it with separate-admission programs of some of Welles's greatest: a 35mm print of Citizen Kane on Saturday, a double feature of The Lady from Shanghai & Touch of Evil on Sunday, Chimes at Midnight on Wednesday, and a 35mm print of F for Fake on Thursday. They also have a free Elements of Cinema screening of Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland on Tuesday evening.
  • Apple Fresh Pond open Hindi drama Kabir Singh and Malayalam action-comedy Unda (through Sunday), as well as The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir, an international co-production from the director of Starbuck (and its remake Delivery Man) that starts in India but leads to a globetrotting adventure.
  • The thing only playing in West Newton this week is Hampstead, which features Diane Keaton and Brendan Gleeson as an unlikely couple fighting developers, and appears to have taken two years to cross the Atlantic from the UK (it's also available to stream). They also have the finale of Belmont World Film's annual World Refugee Month series on Monday, the US premiere of French documentary To the Four Winds.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts is home base for The Roxbury International Film Festival this week, with screenings Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday, many films featuring Q&A and panel discussions afterward. They decamp for Hibernian Hall on Monday and a special Dinner and a Movie (actually a double feature) show at Haley House Bakery Cafe on Tuesday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive wraps up "Extreme Cinema: The Action Documentaries of Kazuo Hara" with Hara producer Sachiko Kobayashi on hand in person this weekend. They likely won't be in Cambridge in time for A Dedicated Life on Friday, but will present his latest Sennan Asbestos Disaster on Saturday and a 16mm print of Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 on Sunday. They also present a couple of 35mm prints from The Complete Howard Hawks, with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Sunday afternoon and His Girl Friday Monday evening.
  • The Slaughterhouse Movie Club returns to The Somerville Theatre on Friday, with John Waters's Crybaby the latest 35mm print to get a burlesque-show introduction. They also kick off their summer "Play It Cool" series, this year featuring movies about movies, on Wednesday, when original novelist Gary K. Wolf will stop by to introduce Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on 35mm. "Jack Attack!" has settled into Thursday evenings, with this week's Nicholson film a 35mm print of The Witches of Eastwick. The last Thursday of the month being "Throwback Thursday", their sister cinema The Capitol will show The Birdcage.
  • Boston Jewish Film presents Etgar Keret: Based on a True Story at Boston University's Tsai Performance Center on Tuesday, with a pre-recorded Q&A with director Stephanie Kaas.
  • The Regent Theatre is the latest place for Nureyev to show up, with the documentary about the famous Russian dancer playing Wednesday evening. They also have the local premiere of Parallel Love: The story of a Band Called Luxury on Thursday.
  • Cinema Salem has Amazing Grace in the little room this week, and an 11:30pm show of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday (Boston Common has of late moved their Saturday Rocky Horror shows earlier, to 9:30pm). The Luna Theater has The Who's Quadropenia on Friday and Saturday nights, Okko's Inn dubbed on Saturday and subtitled on Tuesday, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché on Saturday, Rock 'n' Roll High School as the main show on Sunday, and surprise free movies of "Magical Mystery Movie Club" on Saturday & Sunday and Weirdo Wednesdays. The AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall has Ladies in Black, a comedy set in a circa 1959 Australian department store featuring Angourie Rice and Julia Ormand.
  • The only outdoor screenings on Joe's Free Films this week are on Friday night, with City Slickers at the Boston Harbor Hotel and Ralph Breaks the Internet at the Hatch Shell.

With any luck, I will see none of that, as I am headed out on vacation and if I'm at the movies, it probably means it's rainy or something (or maybe there's something playing London that I'm not likely to see back home).

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 10 June 2019 - 16 June 2019

Weather both nice and bad kept the moviegoing to a minimum this week..

This Week in Tickets

But first, two ballgames which did not go great - on Monday, the Red Sox coughed it up in the 9th, leading to extra innings and eventually losing it in the 11th. Unlike the last time, it was a crisp enough game that they got through eleven in the amount of time it often takes for nine. Tuesday, on the other hand, was kind of a sloggish butt-kicking, with Red Sox started Darwinzon Hernandez looking like a heart-attack style closer at the wrong end of the game.

Guys, you need to tighten the AL East up. I'm going to see the games in London next weekend and don't want the Brits laughing at us.

Lots of work trying to get ahead for that trip, which means I didn't get to the movies until Saturday, when I caught Men in Black: International in 3D, and, well, that wasn't much of a movie. Didn't stink, but didn't excite, either.

I planned for another movie after that, but they were showing the Red Sox game on the Common, so I planted myself with that, satisfying the twin impulses to try to be out in the nice weather and to just watch the game that are so often in conflict during these months, and it ended at a tricky time to see something else (well, at least that I hadn't seen). Then Sunday it was dreary, and a trip to the grocery store dissuaded me from going back out.

So, light week, and because I'll be away from the laptop for a while, updates will be on my Letterboxd page until further notice.

Men in Black: International

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2019 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

It's fine. Like a lot of series built on whimsy, Men in Black is probably never going to match the sense of discovery and delight of the first installment, although the long stretches between movies have kept it from delving too much into mythology and backstory, because you can't expect people to easily pick back up where they left off. That's a plus. Still, without a genuinely creative story, it's slick and fun but not new and surprising.

The casting also just isn't the bit of genius it was back in 1997, where Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones complemented each other perfectly. You're never going to go wrong putting Tessa Thompson in a movie, but she and Chris Hemsworth don't click like they did in Thor Ragnarock (where, to be fair, they were mostly individually great rather than displaying terrific chemistry), and the material just didn't seem to be there for Hemsworth to do enthusiastically dumb like when he's at his comedic best. His Agent H has to be taken a little bit seriously, and he doesn't quite make that work. For all that Thompson is reliably entertaining, she's let down a bit by a script that gives M a good backstory but isn't really sure what makes her tick. There's a story to be found in her reaching the end of her obsession, but the writers never quite figure out what it is.


Then there is the matter of the villain, which is in some ways not the fault of the movie itself as much as how people interact with them these days. You kind of know that Liam Neeson's head of the London branch is going to be up to no good as soon as you see the poster - he's too good and too big a star to just be the boss (granted, so is Emma Thompson, but they're not sticking her front and center), and the attempt to redirect toward Rafe Spall just never has enough effort put into it to make the audience do more than shrug and wait for what's obviously going on. Neither is bad, but neither is interesting enough to make the outline of a story they've got work.

The film has fun bouncing around Europe and the effects guys design some nifty new aliens, but never really makes for much of a story, while F. Gary Gray just doesn't seem to have the light touch with the material Barry Sonnenfeld did. It still looks slick and has a couple decent moments, but it's nevertheless kind of a placeholder this summer, a thing to see if you like to see a new big fantasy every weekend.

Rangers 4, Red Sox 3
Rangers 9, Red Sox 5
Men in Black: International

Friday, June 14, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 3 June 2019 - 9 June 2019

Nothing better than living in Noir City for the weekend.

Well, sort of. An actual noir city would be a dangerous place where you can't trust anyone and life is cheap, but the Brattle when they're showing noirs all weekend is pretty nice.

This Week in Tickets

The week started well with me finally catching up to Booksmart, which is absolutely as funny as advertised. By the way, did you know MoviePass is still a thing? I've probably gone a couple months without using it, but the $11 ticket covered membership this month. After that, work and weird start times kept me at home and watching baseball and catching up on a year's worth of Elementary (sneakily the best part of the twenty-first century Sherlock Holmes revival), and when I got out to the theater on Thursday, it was to catch Dark Phoenix, which… Wasn't very good. At all. But, I've seen all the other X-Movies on the big screen, and if this is the last (depending on whether or not New Mutants ever sees the light of day), I might as well complete the set, and I would be busy for the next few days.

Why? Because it was crime time at the Brattle, with Noir Alley host Eddie Mueller and his Film Noir Foundation crew there for the second annual Noir City weekend, this one devoted to film noir of the 1950s and cleverly programmed so that, after an initial 1948 movie, the next would be from 1952 and then we would advance a year after that before arriving in 1960 late Sunday night. The lineup contained more that I'd seen before than last year, but most were well worth checking in on again, with the full ten-film slate (organized into double features) consisting of Trapped, Turning Point, City That Never Sleeps, Pushover, Kiss Me Deadly, A Kiss Before Dying, The Burglar, Murder By Contract, Odds Against Tomorrow, and Blast of Silence. Looks like I screwed up my scrapbooking up there, but it happens.

Much of it was on film, and the presentation accidentally gave a demonstration of something interesting: Apparently, the Brattle had just replaced one part of one of the two projectors in their setup, and as they switched from one to the other, the look of the film would change just enough to require a couple seconds of acclimatization. Ned commented that they would probably have to replace the reflector on the other projector to get them to match.

That would be enough crime for most, but am I going to miss a cops & robbers import from Hong Kong? Of course not, even if Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch wasn't very good. Had to get out of the apartment early for that, because the MBTA has not been reliable lately.

Hopefully, a ton to go up on my Letterboxd page with the big movie weekend coming up..

Dark Phoenix

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 June 2019 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

This likely isn't the worst of the X-Men movies, if only because Apocalypse was bad enough to completely flee one's memory, while this at least has the pretty decent shuttle rescue sequence. One good scene is better than nothing.

Otherwise, though, it's pretty rough. The story it loosely adapts is grandiose and epic in a way this film can't manage, and writer/director Simon Kinberg never really comes up with a more human-scale point of entry that doesn't feel half-baked. Neither Sophie Turner nor an utterly wasted Jessica Chastain makes either woman aiming to control this Phoenix Force the least bit interesting, and there's not a single returning cast member that seems to have anything more to give these characters. Kinberg just really doesn't seem to get action at all, from the motivation to the staging to the cutting of it.

The movie is kind of interesting as an example of the strain put on superhero universes, though: On the one hand, it's an amusing introduction to how 30+ years of continuity will always be forced into a 10-year window no matter how absurd it is; on the other, it's an example of creators retelling an important story after a reboot. It never works, whether in comics or any other medium.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

Trapped is a fair enough "crime does not pay" flick that certainly has its moments even as it kind of plods its way through a basic plot about cops and counterfeiters using each other to track down a set of excellent twenties, back when getting passed a counterfeit of that denomination could really mess your business up. Richard Fleischer can shoot the heck out of a crook being cornered like a rat in a trolley yard, for instance, despite the fact that Lloyd Bridges was allegedly ill, meaning the film had to be rejiggered to make its schedule. Bridges himself is a great hard-bitten crook, so well-suited to the role of a working-class villain that it's a shame he's less well know for those.

It's bland, though. Once the story runs out of switch-ups, the lack of a really great central caper shows, characters plodding on toward an underwhelming finale. Striking leading lady Barbara Payton doesn't have much to do, which is a shame; she had a mess of a career and life, but the camera loved her, and she made a better moll than most.

The Turning Point

N/A (out of four)
Seen 7 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, DCP)

Apparently I was just not up for this as the back end of a double feature, nodding off several times. It's a nice-enough looking movie, but very dry and possessed of the sort of idealism that feels awfully grim without offering up much in the way of hope.

City That Never Sleeps

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, DCP)

Here's a neat little noir that has a bunch of little betrayals add up to a big mess - cops cheating on their wives, girlfriends having someone on the side, a small-time crook looking to get something over the big boss. It all happens over the course of a night, with things having been a certain way for a while and not coming to a boil so much as moving forward. It's small potatoes but involving.

That smallness is what makes it work; the film is built out of what seems like what would be another movie's minor characters, and zooms in nicely. Meanwhile, it has a nifty conceit with narration by the city itself, a hint of the supernatural, and a somewhat unexpectedly hard edge to its last act as an actor reduced to playing a mechanical man finds his survival dependent on whether or not he's even recognized as human. It's harsh for a movie where the city itself seems to be looking out for some of its citizens, but life's hardly fair in Noir City.

(Less cool: A bit of a "bow to your husband's male fragility, ladies" resolution is implied, and this guy doesn't seem worth it in the slightest.)


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

Pushover has as good a last act as a movie has ever had, the whole thing a finely-tuned machine that never seems too perfectly set up but whose mechanics are so flawless that they're a delight to watch even though one likely has no sympathy by the time they're playing out. By then, it's completed its corruption of Fred MacMurray's cop and successfully sidelined what seemed like the main plot, and it's just a matter of watching Richard Quine push pieces around the board all but perfectly.

Plus, there's the absolute delight of a knows-she's-perfect Kim Novak in her first role seeming to relish playing this temptress. She may be up to no good, but it's delicious watching her dispense with an obnoxious guy at a bar or blow off the cops.

What I wrote back in 2006

Kiss Me Deadly

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, DCP)

The absurd ham-handedness of this is part of what makes it a classic, more so than if it had been played slick or grimier. It's the logical endpoint of a small-time private eye getting in over his head, in this case so far over that what will likely destroy him and everyone he knows is practically abstract It's messy and violent and crass, and that's just the perfect sort of cynicism for this movie to have.

It's also tremendously entertaining; Ralph Meeker makes Mike Hammer a crude blunt object of a P.I., and he's weirdly charming even as he properly registers as despicable at times. Maybe it's that Velda likes him; Maxine Cooper is a stealth MVP as Hammer's secretary and partner in crime, making her self-aware but also something of a romantic, and her knowledge that no good will come from her love for Hammer is heartbreaking even when the rest of the movie is looking to make the audience snicker.

A Kiss Before Dying

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

I'm not sure this truly qualifies as noir even without considering it's widescreen and color; its universe doesn't seem lacking in morality, but rather to have one horrible exception in Robert Wagner's Bud Corliss. It's very much what Eddie Mueller called a "murder drama" at last year's Noir City Boston, and a pure sort that hasn't evolved into noir yet. In a way, it's almost inverted, with the cruelly cynical first half giving way to a back end that never seems to have the same sort of fatalism, in part because Virginia Leith's Ellen Kingship is just a more capable heroine than the sister played by Joanne Woodward.

It's a fun little thriller, though, with a cast willing to play big but not broad, with Jeffrey Hunter a fine addition to the list of people who would have made good Clark Kents if they'd been making big-budget superhero movies at the time. It's a bit goofy in its final scene, but manages to be 85-odd minutes of pulpy fun before that, using its split story and short run-time to make sure it never bogs down.

The Burglar

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

It's only been a few years since I last saw this one, and I didn't quite love it as much this time, but it's solid as heck crime and kind of fun for how its leads are playing not so much against type as a little off from where you'd expect: Dan Duryea is in the lead, and Jayne Mansfield hasn't slotted into the flirty comedies she'd become known for. Still sexy as heck, but messed up and tending toward the dramatic. It's easy to see why studios would move her to lighter fare, but she makes the whole thing feel torn up and tragic.

What I wrote back in 2015

Murder by Contract

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

A stylish indie thriller that anticipates the talky hitman movies that would flood the multiplexes thirty-five years later, Murder by Contract feels like it should loom larger in film history than it does; you can almost watch it constructing an archetype even as it builds hitman Claude's character from its origins. Unfortunately, it's kind of dull; Claude isn't really injected into a particularly interesting story and spends much of the movie killing time rather than people, and there's not a real payoff for what's going on.

It's a bummer, because there's fun stuff to be found here, with the odd couple backing Claude up a great pair to play against his sociopathy. There's also a late thread about the targeted witness going stir-crazy, but it never feels truly important, much like the rest of the film.

Odds Against Tomorrow

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

As part of a generation that mostly knows Harry Belafonte from "The Banana Boat Song", it always takes me aback just how cool he is, especially in his prime. Belafonte is an effortlessly charming actor who can give his nightclub singer an edge without making him completely unsympathetic. On top of that, he's the producer and driving force behind the film getting made in the first place.

(And, yes, that's "is", not "was"; he's kind of great when he pops up in BlacKkKlansman)

And it's just generally a terrific little noir, able to manage both its slow burn and explosive finale very well indeed. It's a simple heist but in some ways that simplicity is almost charming, because only some of the folks involved really have the stomach for hurting people. It's what makes the harsher moments so painful, because it puts the ugliness of another character's racism in sharper relief.

Blast of Silence

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2019 in the BrattleTheatre (Noir City, 35mm)

There's something about Blast of Silence that seems a lot more genuinely misanthropic than most movies of its genre but still oddly enjoyable. The second-person narration is a constant hammering at how subhuman its antihero feels, there's a specific unappealing sort of grime, and no pleasure taken in the work of a gun for hire. It's mean and pathetic and you can see how miserable people are exploited.

It's also lean and self-aware in its darkness, though, which gives the audience something to work with, and that the audience knows that any sort of hope being offered is almost certainly forlorn doesn't make it less genuine. The movie also winds up benefiting from the director stepping in to star after Peter Falk dropped out; his uncertainty and seeming inexperience plays as genuine asocial behavior rather than something constructed (and sixty years on, it's kind of hard to imagine Falk not being Falk in the role).

Dark Phoenix
Chasing The Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch
Trapped & The Turning Point
City That Never Sleeps & Pushover
Kiss Me Deadly & A Kiss Before Dying
Odds Against Tomorrow & Blast of Silence
The Burglar & Murder by Contract

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 7 June 2019 - 13 June 2019

It's a weird stage of the summer, when everything at the Coolidge is also playing at more mainstream theaters, and it's not necessarily awards stuff. But maybe, if folks start looking back when voting this year...

  • First up is Late Night, with Mindy Kaling as a woman hired to join an all-male writer's room for a talk show, with Emma Thompson as the host. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Another surprisingly-wide opening is The Dead Don't Die, with Jim Jarmusch putting together an all-star cast led by frequent collaborator Bill Murray in an arch, self-referential comedy about a zombie outbreak. That plays the Coolidge, the Somerville, Kendall Square, Boston Common, South Bay, Revere.

    The Coolidge continues a month of popular midnights without a theme but "this is obviously a midnight movie" with House on 35mm Friday night and A Field in England on Saturday. There's a live concert on Wednesday, and a 35mm "Rewind!" show of A League of Their Own on Thursday.
  • There's a fair amount of turnover at Kendall Square, which opens up two screens for The Last Black Man in San Francisco, a Sundance award-winner with Jimmie Fails as a man settling into the house his grandfather built decades ago, though the city has changed and is in many ways squeezing its people out. There's also American Woman, with Sienna Miller as a woman whose life is turned upside-down when her teenage daughter - a new mother herself - disappears. Both also play at Boston Common.

    The Kendall also picks up Quebecois caper The Fall of the American Empire, in which an under-employed delivery driver finds himself in the middle of a robbery with a chance to abscond with some bags of money, though it's never that simple. Friday night's show of Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation will be hosted by producer Susan Bellows and two folks from the concert, though it plays all week.

    There's also a GlobeDocs presentation of Lovesick on Wednesday, with director Ann Kim, co-director Priya Desai, and The Boston Globe's Meredith Goldstein on hand for a discussion after the film.
  • Sequels to franchises that have been sitting around a while are the main attractions at the multiplexes, with Men In Black: International getting most of the deluxe screens and the 3D upconversion. It introduces a new set of partners in Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, and probably makes less impressive use of Emma Thompson than Late Night. That's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), Boston Common (including Imax 2D), Fenway (including RPX 2D), the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax 2D), Assembly Row (including Imax 2D & Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only). There's also Shaft, with Jessie T. Usher joining Richard Roundtree and Samuel L. Jackson as the third generation of John Shaft, this one a less-cool millenial in what appears to be a more comedically-oriented take on the series (which now has three films with the same title in the same continuity). That can be seen at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Assembly Row and Fenway have 30th Anniversary screenings of Field of Dreams on Sunday and Tuesday (with Revere only on Tuesday). Fenway and South Bay screen documentary Emanuel, about the 2015 Charleston church shooting, on Monday and Wednesday. Revere shows Magic Mike Tuesday evening.
  • The Brattle Theatre shows the new restoration of Sergei Bondarchuk's epic adaptation of War and Peace, a 422-minute monster of a movie that is broken into four parts screening from Friday to Monday. The Saturday, Sunday, and Monday schedules are viewable as a marathon, or you could catch it every night at 8pm. After that, it's probably a big shift to Trash Night on Tuesday, with Wednesday and Thursday still listed as "TBA".
  • Rainbow's Sunset opens at Boston Common, hailing from the Philippines and telling the story of a senior who comes out as gay to his family so that he can be with his ailing lover.

    Apple Fresh Pond still has Bharat hanging around, along with Malayalam true-life thriller Virus (through Sunday) and Hindi thriller movie Game Over (through Wednesday). Nepali caper Jatrai Jatra plays Sunday, while Indian-American dark comedy Remember Amnesia plays Monday.
  • West Newton appears to be the only place opening Papi Chulo, with Matt Bomer as a man striking up a friendship with the migrant worker (Alejandro Patiño) hired to help him work on his house while suspended from his job. That theater also hosts the second week of Belmont World Film's annual World Refugee Month series on Monday, with Swiss/German documentary Eldorado playing Monday along with Oscar-nominated short "Lifeboat" and a speaker from the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center.
  • Because The Museum of Fine Arts doesn't play movies a couple days a week, it makes sense that Arab Film Week stretches over ten days, wrapping up this weekend with Yomeddine (Friday), The Blessed (Saturday), Akasha (Sunday), and Dear Son (Sunday). They have more screenings of the "Van Gogh in Japan" Exhibition-on-Screen (Friday/Saturday) and Before Stonewall (Saturday), before stretching The Roxbury International Film Festival out a bit in the other direction. The festival co-presents a screening of Boyz n the Hood in tribute to the late John Singleton on Saturday, with actor Morris Chestnut in conversation with festival director Lisa Simmons beforehand. There's a free outdoor screening of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse on Wednesday, and then the official opening night on Thursday, with Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am in the afternoon and Una Great Movie in the evening.
  • Summer means it's time for The Harvard Film Archive to do a deep dive, which this year means The Complete Howard Hawks, including Only Angels Have Wings (Friday/Sunday), Tiger Shark (Friday), Bringing Up Baby (Saturday/Sunday), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Saturday) on 35mm this weekend. Monday's "Extreme Cinema: The Action Documentaries of Kazuo Hara" show is also the month's "Cinema of Resistance" feature, a 16mm print of Sayonara CP.
  • The Regent Theatre has a premiere of Ed Asner: On Stage and Off on Tuesday, with Q&A afterward, presumably with Asner, who will be performing "God Help Us! A Political Comedy for Our Times" at the theater on Thursday.
  • The Somerville Theatre has 48 Hour Film Project screenings on Tuesday, the latest of The Boston Underground Film Festival's "Dispatches from the Underground" - Robert Putka's We Used to Know Each Other - on Wednesday, and Jack Attack! Entry Prizzi's Honor on Thursday.
  • Cinema Salem has fashion-designer doc Halston in their small theater this week. The Luna Theater has Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, a nifty documentary about film's first woman director, on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday, Rafiki and a dubbed screening of Okko's Inn on Saturday, and Jaws for most of Sunday, along with the surprise free movies of "Magical Mystery Movie Club" on Saturday & Sunday,and Weirdo Wednesdays. The AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall has 5B, a documentary about SF General Hospital's AIDS ward during the early days of the academic (co-directed by Paul Haggis), and indie thriller Vault
  • Outdoor screenings have started to show up on Joe's Free Films, with Ferris Bueller at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Friday, The Lego Movie 2 in Mission Hill (Friday) and Jamaica Plain (Saturday), a Pride screening of Love, Simon in Assembly Row on Saturday, the Coolidge hauling a 35mm projector to the Greenway for American Graffiti on Tuesday, and an as-yet-undetermined movie in Cambridge's Raymond Park on Thursday.

I will probably go for Late Night, Men in Black, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and Shaft, trying to cram as much else as I can in there before heading out for vacation next weekend.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch

I understand why AMC booked this out of the two Asian gangster movies Well Go had opening this week - they're next to Chinatown, not a Korean neighborhood, and Ma Dong-seok has not quite broken through here yet. Still, that one seems to have people excited while this seems to be a bit of a letdown. Of course, it probably didn't help that I had to squeeze it in between ten films noirs at the Brattle, and most any sort of crime is going to seem like a bit of a disappointment compared to that.

One thing that kind of made me laugh about it was that it had some of the most wire-intensive explosive devices you'll ever see in a movie, the sort that make me wonder how often bombs are actually built like that. All those things apparently meant to confuse the bomb squad seem like they would make the thing more likely to go off accidentally or not at all, rather than on actual cue. It's especially goofy in this case because there's an early scene where Sky bypasses all the nonsense.

Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2019 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

Chasing The Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch (aka "Master of Ransom") has a number in its title but that's more about branding than anything else: Directors Wong Jing and Kwan Chi-yiu did a period crime story a couple years ago that did fairly well, so this otherwise unconnected movie gets "Chasing the Dragon" in its name. Sadly, it isn't nearly so good as its predecessor in any particular area, and all that adds up to a crime film disposable enough that it's barely even worth the effort to look up whether it, too, was based upon actual cops and robbers.

This time, the year is 1996, and law enforcement has grown lax as the British prepare to hand Hong Kong back to China. This has created an environment where Logan "Big Spender" Long (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) can thrive, committing headline-grabbing abductions and ransoming the victims for millions of Hong Kong dollars. He tends to keep his captives in line with explosives, and unfortunately, that member of the gang has just blown himself up. This creates an opportunity for Inspector Li Qiang (Simon Yam Tat-Wah) to send an old colleague undercover; Sky He (Louis Koo Tin-Lok) has experience in both the bomb squad and undercover work. They identify Logan's kid brother Farrell (Sherman Ye Xiangming) as the best person to target, not realizing that one member of the gang, "Doc" (Gordon Lam Ka Tung) has encountered Sky before - but opts to keep quiet for reasons of his own.

For all that this movie is loud and kind of enjoyably convoluted, there's not really a whole lot of good, interesting crime going on. There are six or seven people on this crew but they're not treated as specialists who will each have a role to play in the big caper, but just bodies to keep the odds stacked against Sky. The actual kidnapping passes in a blur, and one of the more potentially interesting bits of tradecraft does not amount to much - so much of what both Sky and Logan need to do is handled off-screen, defusing any suspense that there might have briefly been. The film only generates tension once the ransom is being delivered and Sky is trying to silently do two or three different things so as not to tip his hand.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Sunday, June 09, 2019

This Weeks in Tickets: 27 May 2019 - 2 June 2019

Difficult conditions at Fenway this week.

This Week in Tickets

On Tuesday, for instance, it was chilly and rainy and windy. I got there late enough to miss the start but early enough for a long rain delay. The game seemed to be going well enough, though, and then in the eighth inning the Red Sox pitchers absolutely forgot how to throw strikes and it just got miserable. No respect for how some of us weren't dressed properly or that the MBTA stops running sometime around 12:30am!

Although, I suppose, Fenway was worse off in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where Godzilla, King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra converge on the park and then stomp around for a while. Did this at the furniture store, because giant monsters destroying your city should be seen in as close to actual size as possible. Shame no place had it in Imax 3D, though; there's some shots that look like they might be cool in third divisions.

The next afternoon was spent in the Somerville Theatre's main room. First up was Zaza, a rare DCP presentation in "Silents, Please" because the one print that exists in the Library of Congress is nitrate, and they not only don't let it out, but David doesn't sound eager to risk a fire in his booth, either. After that, a brief stop at Redbones and then back for Rocketman, which is pretty darn good, and I say that as a fan.

.. and that brings me up to what's on my Letterboxd page after a delay because my old computer finally gave up.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 June 2019 in Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, Imax laser 4K)

Think my apartment is still standing? I mean, it does take me an hour to get to Fenway on the T, so Somerville may be okay.

"Dumb" is kinds of a relative term in giant monster movies, and this one moves fast enough to get past that most of the time, although the result is that it feels really thin, and you can see the filmmakers hitting their targets. You need something human-scale, so there's a dysfunctional family in the middle of the action that we never really quite grow to like, while on the other end characters are killed off because the template calls for a noble sacrifice at this point, or they could only get a certain actress for a few days. The writers seem to have learned what radiation does from the same teacher as Stan Lee (radiation = energy = life!). The Monarch Group (which I remember more from Kong than the 2014 film) is way too pervasive and vaguely defined.

The action isn't bad, though, especially when the effects guys figure out how to get the giant monsters to feel like guys in suits, which is something that a lot of other CGI-intensive movies sometimes seem to actively avoid, which is a shame, because it feels right, if only because there's sixty-odd years of history there (shame they likely didn't make a miniature fenway to crush). The classic Godzilla music kicks in at just the right time - right at the tail end of a sequence that is one of the times you can feel the movie going "hey, why the hell not?" rather than trying to make this all serious or consciously funny.

It fills an IMAX screen pretty well, and I might watch it one moe time on the big screen to see how well the stereo guys did (there's some stuff that looks like it would be fun this way). It's missing the bits that would make it a great giant monster movie, but not the ones that make it a good one.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 June 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, DCP)

Would I have noticed that the song in this movie (which an accompanist can't really ignore, as its name and sheet music are displayed on-screen) was adapted into one of Elvis's greatest hits if I hadn't been told? No, but it probably would have eaten at me.

It's a fun footnote to a romantic melodrama that probably seemed familiar a hundred years ago, with an entertainer falling for a rich patron only to run afoul of rivals and discover secrets. It deserves the bit of eye-rolling it gets at the end when someone gets an extremely unfair ending so others can get a nice one tacked on, a scene that ties things up too conspicuously neatly. You've seen this movie a lot and it seems too early to subvert. Gloria Swanson is having a ball, though, playing big and at her best when she gets to do some physical comedy. It's not a funny movie all around, but she and the filmmakers know how to make some of the sillier bits work.

Cleveland 7, Red Sox 5 Godzilla: King of the Monsters Zaza Rocketman

This Week in Tickets: 20 May 2019 - 26 May 2019

Double features and a double-dip.

This Week in Tickets

I'm not entirely sure about the Somerville's plans to move the 70mm/widescreen fest to May; the prints were nice but they didn't have a whole lot of room to get creative. Maybe with a full year to prep the next one, they'll be in better shape. Nevertheless, Tuesday was a pretty great evening at the movies, with a 70mm blowup of The Remains of the Day that projectionist David Kornfeld figured hadn't run very often and was therefore all but pristine, followed by Dunkirk, which is just inspiringly gorgeous on the big screen. I know digital has a lot of advantages - I see a lot of movies that wouldn't be made or distributed in North America tools - but, honestly, it's tough to come up with a really good argument for doing big studio films on anything but large-format celluloid. It just looks too good.

Not that Friday afternoon's Aladdin looked bad; it just isn't nearly as sharp (heck, I remember how eye-melting an Imax blowup of the original was. It's enjoyable enough, though, and I can't say too much against it what with "A Friend Like Me" playing on repeat in my head five days later.

Got lazy over the holiday weekend - warm sunny days apparently make me sleepy - but headed out to the Brattle on Sunday for The Learning Tree and Crooklyn as part of their weekend double features. Really liked the first, knd of got worn down by the second.

Updating my Letterboxd page continues apace.

The Remains of the Day

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 70mm)

I only really remembered a couple of moments from when I saw this during its original release (at, if I recall correctly, Worcester's now-defunct Webster Square cinema), but they were good moments, and the film as a whole holds up around them. At the time, I was a college student who didn't necessarily get how it was an indictment of the entire aristocratic way of life as opposed to a tragic romance set against an interesting backdrop. Instead, it's much richer - Anthony Hopkins's Stevens isn't just repressed; he almost considers himself and the rest of the staff not quite human compared to those he serves, and it perhaps makes him a little in sync with his employer's views, which tend toward Germany rather than the Jews as Britain frantically tries to avoid becoming involved in World War II. It's a point of view that is hard to shake - even as Stevens enjoys being seen as upper-class and allows himself to acknowledge his fondness for Sarah Kenton, there's always the sense that he's more comfortable seeing the new owner of the Manor in familiar terms, rather than a sea change. The old guard almost had to screw up so badly that they would be rejected and die off.

It is kind of fascinating to watch as an artifact of its time, especially for the cast - Emma Thompson is, as always, terrific, but also anticipating the utter master she'd become in her later scenes. It's oddly difficulty to see the Anthony Hopkins of that era and not see Hannibal Lecter now; he's almost too lean. There's young Hugh Grant, even younger Lena Headey, and Christopher Reeve. It's a time capsule containing another now.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 70mm)

I've seen this theatrically at least twice since buying the 4K disc, and while I don't necessarily see this as becoming a thing like 2001, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Jaws where there's really no point because a local theater will be playing it on film soon enough, I'm starting to wonder if I may continue to get lucky on that count. It is still a terrific front-row watch, and I'm almost at the point where I can figure out the whole chronology and how the characters from the mole wind up on the boat.

That I can't entirely get there doesn't really matter, because it's not a puzzle to be solved but an attempt to communicate a thrilling but terrifying experience, and even on a third viewing, it never fails to be that. It's really quite masterfully put together, moving forward almost relentlessly, and just absolutely jaw-dropping to see and hear.

First viewing
Second viewing

The Learning Tree

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 May 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (reunion week, 35mm)

Tornadoes are a fact of life in Kansas, but in the movies they're linked forever to The Wizard of Oz, so that's where my brain went when one touched down in the opening minutes of this film - except that poor black folks in the 1920s didn't get whisked away to a colorful wonderland; they were just lucky to escape death. It's a comparison heightened by an opening song that doesn't really sound like "Over the Rainbow" but which is maybe not quite so far off as it may seem, either. Filmmaker Gordon Parks doesn't actually shoot that, but as a photographer he probably had a closer eye on cinematographer Burnett Guffey's work than some, so that opening where montage showing the seemingly idyllic landscape is his to an impressive extent (as he also wrote the music), and it brings the audience into Parks's beautiful but dangerous world completely but without a lot of fuss.

(How does he get that shot of the tornado in the late 1960s? Is it impressive optical work shooting smoke in a tank, stock footage, or putting the cast and crew into a bit of danger? It's even more impressive because the lighting seems right, which seems awful tough to do in the wide outdoor shots Parks is using early!)

Parks's film is semi-autobiographical, and sometimes you can feel the survivorship bias; on-screen avatar Newt Winger (Kyle Johnson) doesn't exactly coast through the story but does seem to have the best possible situation a black teenager can have in this time and place: Two parents, academically gifted enough for college, able to find the white guy who is not racist above the one who is. Parks seems aware of that, though, quietly contrasting how Marcus (Alex Clarke) doesn't have that, and where this leads him is made understandable even when not excused. That Newt is lucky is not storytelling weakness but a large part of the point, and though it sometimes makes the movie a bit too smooth, it's tough to know whether tweaking it so that he was a little more active would upset the film's delicate ability to smuggle a clear-eyed look at this time and place under the sort of nostalgic veneer that makes it more palatable.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 May 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (reunion week, 35mm)

Crooklyn is aggressive. It's not so much that Spike Lee is trying to make a point and is going to hammer at it until the audience has taken it in without chance of misinterpretation, which he has done on occasion, but that he seems to be depicting the sort of family and neighborhood where there's so much competition for attention that everybody is yelling and getting in everyone else's face all the time. It's like riding a crowded bus with a loud family yelling their conversation despite the fact that you are in the middle, and on top of that, someone has decided that headphones are for other people (who, to be fair, probably don't have such good taste in music). It's exhausting.

But that's probably a really fair portrayal of what it's like to grow up the only girl with four brothers, probably all born within five or six years, packed tight in the middle of a city where nobody else can afford room to spread out, and Lee is good enough to capture both how this lack of any sort of respite is a lot for the kids' mother (Alfre Woodard), who has to stand in the middle of it and try to steer it, especially since her husband (Delroy Lindo) is content to stand aside and do his own thing, even as he's also telling the story from the point of view of a kid who is a big sugar-fueled part of it. He actually gets an hour to an hour and a half out of just watching all this happen without worrying much about a plot or any goal other than enjoying the day or getting to the next.

He overextends himself a bit when Troy spends a few weeks with a cousin in Virginia - as much as it's kind of dead-on about being a kid dropped into someone else's drama and missing home while still being able to have fun and make new friends (and, in retrospect, having her parents hide something from her), its purpose doesn't quite click right away and Lee's choice to shoot it with a scope lens so that it's distorted when projected is a little much in a movie that's already a little much (it was the first movie where I remember theaters posting "it's supposed to be like that!" signs).

Like its double-feature-mate, Crooklyn is semi-autobiographical, and it's no surprise that this is the sort of environment that shaped Spike Lee, or that he's not about to dilute it when reminiscing about it. As overwhelming as that is, that's probably the way it should be.

The Remains of the Day
Dunkirk Aladdin '19 The Learning Tree & Crooklyn

Boston Underground Film Festival 2019.04: Bucket of Truth, Nightshifter, Knife+Heart, and A Hole in the Ground

You know what the best part of being behind on your blogging is? Trying to write up 14 short films with an average length of 7-ish minutes a month and a half later. You can either zip through it or make yourself absolutely crazy!

Obviously, I went for making myself crazy.

So, left to right, I believe we've got Adam Murphy, an animator on "A Chest of Drawers"; Joe Donovan (music), JB Sapienza (Producer) and Jim McDonough (writer/director) from "I Owe You One Banana and Two Black Eyes"; Alex & Peter, part of the team that made the bumper that played before every feature; Brian Petillo, who directed "Shake It Off"; someone whom my notes only say "Glen - ed", probably from "The Odd Sea" with its director Porcelain Dalya; Brett McCabe, who gave us "The Cuckoldress"; Stuart Roelke, director of "Fauxmote"; "In Love" filmmaker Candice Nachman; and finally "Falcon & Hawke", respectively writer/director Dane Benton and Paul Wilson. That's a lot, and I apologize for anyone whom I short-changed with my crappy notes!

It was a solid night of horror after that - even the stuff I didn't love was pretty solid, and how do you not smile a bit at how, after playing one of director Yann Gonzalez's music videos before his movie, there's a title card announcing Knife+Heart, "aka the queer slasher fim you came to see". I'm not sure what the reason for A Hole in the Ground being a secret screening was unless it's some weird contractual thing, like DirectTV doesn't want any of the movies that are part of their deal with A24 advertised as playing in theaters in any way.

"I Owe You One Banana and Two Black Eyes"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

First up, a short that makes me wonder if maybe I hadn't skpped the wrong block and was going to see the music videos. Probably not, because the song itself is pretty goofy, which describes the film, in which a couple of bunny puppets are lip-syncing while racing to outrun various predators, with the whole thing eventually becoming a crazy, over-the-top car chase. It's the sort of animation where you can't quite see the strings but never entertain the possibility that there might not be any there.

It's fairly funny, especially if you like a certain flavor of finger-raising bloody cartoon violence. Jim McDonough and his team aren't bad at escalating the insanity from a pretty nutty start at all, and do a fine job of hitting peak over-the-top right when the music says they should.

"In Love"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

A whole two minutes long, but two minutes that offer a specific sort of pure delight of filmmaking, as director Candice Nachman shoots on Super-8 and does her effects and jumps and "cutting" in-camera, just like a bunch of filmmakers did when they started and all they had was the camera and there was no cutting/scanning/post-production you could do. It's kind of like getting a poem someone wrote out with a fountain pen, ink drops, occasional bad penmanship, and all.

Given those restrictions, it's kind of straight-ahead in its literalization of the whole "giving you my heart" thing, but effective for it. It's not necessarily better or more sincere than the similar scene Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron played with in Alita: Battle Angel, but the sheer earnestness of it can't help but add a certain amount of charm.

"Fuzzite Fighters"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

Kids fighting monsters is almost always a good time, especially when done with the sort of sincerity Jenna Tooley and her young cast bring to "Fuzzite Fighters". As much as it spends a bit of time taking a step back and having a giggle at the little kids swinging hockey sticks at monsters only they can see through their dorky goggles, protected by cardboard armor. It walks in the general direction of being cutesy in regard to those kids and their crazy imaginations (and the mean ones who won't just let them have their fun), but never quite crosses that line where it's about making the audience feel good that they like watching kids imagine.

The delight comes in large part from Tooley et al taking the kids' mission seriously, even as they menace Emma and James with monsters that looks more like sports mascots than aliens. The action is crisply shot and cut to excite, and even if that's a joke, it's one that has to be done well to work. The kids feel genuine, especially the young actress playing Emma, who does a nice job of playing the kid who chooses adventure when given the chance.

"The Odd Sea"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

There are some good gags in "The Odd Sea", enough that I'd kind of like to see director Porcelain Dalya do this sort of behind-the-scenes comedy about a documentary crew without the whole bit where the filmmakers' subject is Odysseus re-imagined as a contemporary painter, because that's almost always just a little too cutesy, with each dropped reference to The Odyssey more a reminder of how it doesn't fit than a play on how it unexpectedly does. Moving an epic fantasy about a journey into a static, mundane setting in this case makes it harder for Dalya to use what's fun about either in any way that feels natural. It careens between frantic and stretched as a result.

It's a fun group she's put together, and there are a few great moments where she's able to do a thing and wink at it simultaneously, such as coming up with a more varied group of siren body types than is typical. Big laughs and big whiffs is probably better than just getting by without a reaction, even if I wish the proportions were a little different.

"B's Hole"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

For a couple of years, BUFF programmed a whole program of shorts about ignorant young twerps, and this would have fit right in. It's maybe a little more sympathetic in some respects - director Peter Levine and his cast play the speakeasy-seeking hipsters as earnest in their desire for cool new experiences even if they haven't done anything close to the proper research, while the guy who takes advantage of their naivete eventually finds little joy in it. There's probably a lesson here about how trying to get a laugh out of samming these guys can turn sour when they don't realize that they're supposed to be suffering, although it's one that the short seems to stumble on rather than assert.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

The description of the short on BUFF's website - "a zombie finds a flower that brings her to the threshold of consciousness—only to be dispatched by a heartless survivor" - is awful close to the whole film, as is sometimes the case when you're looking at something five minutes long that asks the viewer to take a moment and let what's happening wash over them. There's not a whole lot of room for twisting.

Kik Udomprasert and company manage some nice craft, though, from the way the purple flower stands out from the background to quality make-up and gore. In a movie without much if anything in the way of words, it can be tricky to manage the difference between disaffection and contentment, but that's a problem that the film never has. It's simple, but nevertheless kind of satisfying.

"El Amo de Cuchillo"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

Rodrigo González's short is one of the longer ones in the package, and one can't help but feel that length; the point is kind of that it stretches out so that it can wrap up shockingly quickly; it either ends with "that's it?" or the viewer amused at how impressively the film turned the tables on them.

In this case, it never quite seems to fit together; there's a whole bunch of flashbacks and history that seems like it's meant to be just heightened enough that the audience recognizes the parody but there doesn't seem to be quite enough tension between this chef at home in his well-appointed kitchen practicing his knife work and his job at a family pizza kitchen. The film kind of meanders when it could be building, never quite random but never quite having all of the comedic/dramatic purpose it really needs to make the finale work.

"Happy Ending"

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

There are a few shorts in this block playing off movie tropes, with this one actually building its jokes off "if this was a movie…" It's kind of an easy sort of gag repeated a few times, but Fernando González Gómez has a couple of game actors to play it, even if the whole thing does come off as just a bit more self-aware than laugh-out-loud funny at times.

"Shake It Off"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

If not quite the best short in the comedy block, "Shake It Off" is probably the most cheerily peculiar and well-placed, dipping into a well of weirdness that makes the audience squirm a bit but doesn't judge all that much; it recognizes and embraces the fetish at the center without scolding either the girl who likes to watch guys pee or the guys who are kind of uncomfortable but are trying not to be because it's basically harmless, right?

Director Brian Petillo and his cast do a nice job of keeping it fun, especially the actress playing Megan, who has to come off as casual but not entirely disconnected or oblivious. Her understated sense of fun paris well with how co-star gets tied up in knots. The whole thing gets extended just long enough to be uncomfortable but not torture, and there's just enough table-turning on who is getting a kick out of looking at who to add a pinch of satire without ever really getting close to lecture.

"Falcon & Hawke: Space Race, Episode 4"

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

There's apparently more of this, which is kind of terrifying, because this twelve minutes is already overstuffed with weak point-and-laugh parody that feels desperate to extend itself every minute or so because there actually isn't that much material to be mined from the last crazy, over-the-top thing that they just did. Or at least, that's not the way they're going to go. They're just going to mash-up goofy Eighties cop shows with cheap Eighties space opera and try to get laughs out of how deliberately tacky the result is, even if intentional camp pretty much never works.

It's the sort of short film that can wreck a package - once this is starting to feel drawn out and just unwilling to wrap things up, it's a short jump to feeling like the whole block is past the point of pain. This is the loud bore who corners you and makes you want to leave the party even if you haven't had a chance to see your old friend yet.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

"Fauxmote" is a cute sort of one-joke movie where the filmmakers never quite manage to build a story around that joke but tell it well enough that they can get away with doing it ten or twelve times in seven minutes. There's really no part of this guy wearing a big, clunky, difficult-to-operate thing that displays emoticons on his head that actually makes sense, but director Stuart Roelke manages some terrific timing and finds a tough-to-achieve balance of characters accepting it like it's a thing that people might do and recognizing it as pretty stupid.

The Fauxmote itself helps in that it's not quite a brilliantly designed prop but it's one that kind of works, like it's been crowdfunded and doesn't quite have to be a seamless part of a consistent world, but it's not too far out there. A little bit more slick or fourth-wall-breakingly amateurish, and the whole thing might not work.

"The Cuckoldress"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

Got nothing; sometimes they just flee your brain.

"A Chest of Drawers"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

I recall this particular "got nothing" as a bit more ambitious, but still kind of wobbly.

"Chowboys: An American Folktale"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival: Bucket of Truth, digital)

Supposedly this is the last official Astron-6 project, although its members will probably work together again in some configuration later. If so, they go out in fitting style, with a bloody but very funny movie that shows more filmmaking chops than the work of a great many people who appear to take the work much more seriously.

That's impressive, because this one is screwy for them, with a group of cowboys sitting around the campfire, trading stories, talking about how they got into this situation, and casually revealing that things are a lot more dire and absurd than initially seems to be the case. The script is all over the place, but unlike a lot of movies that pull randomly-connected things together like that (I'm talking to you, four shorts ago!), this team builds the insanity up just enough that the audience is always ready to take that sharp left turn with the movie rather than skid off the road. The movie plays kind of like a stream-of-consciousness thing, but that was probably the first draft; it's been refined to work since then.

I think a big part of what makes this and most of their better projects work is that they respect the genres their playing with ad have figured out what makes them work (to the extent that I'd often rather see them try playing something straight). Here, for instance, they recognize that campfire scenes are often funny already, so if you're going to spoof or twist them, there's got to be some give-and-take: The more ridiculous topics of conversation may require the acting to be a little more deadpan, or shooting style built around shooting the outdoors on a soundstage may call for a little extra detail.

Anyway, I hope these guys are able to do even more entertaining genre projects now than they could before. They do the sort of thing that tends to attract amateurs who think they know a lot more than they do, but they do it like pros.

Morto Não Fala (Nightshifter)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

I suppose that once a person finds out that they can converse with corpses, their career is pretty much set - it would be a heck of a waste to be able to do that and work anywhere but the city morgue. From there, it's a matter of whether you think you're on an American TV show or not - if you are, the obvious next step is to start solving murders; otherwise, you may wind up on the sort of path Stênio does here, which is more nastily entertaining than the procedural approach.

There's enough crime in Sao Paolo that Stênio (Daniel de Oliveira) will find himself conversing with people who died in pretty gnarly fashion, and not only is it taking its toll, but the job doesn't even pay enough for a beer at the local cafe after work. It's making things strained with wife Odete (Fabiula Nascimento), and when he finds out that she is having an affair with Jaime (Marco Ricca), the cafe's owner, it's enough for him to finally make some use of his ability, using what he learned from a dead gangster to convincing his boss that Jaime got the man killed, counting on them to exact his revenge. It seems like a slick plan, but it turns out that telling the dead's secrets marks a sman, and soon gangsters who realize that the tale doesn't quite add up may be the least of Stênio's problems.

Stênio brings a lot of what's coming upon himself - he is not some stupid teenager messing around with things he's got no reason to expect are actually dangerous - and the filmmakers do a nifty job of offering no excuses while still giving the audience reason to care beyond just how the blowback from his actions may hit the decent people around him, whether his kids or Jaime's daughter Lara (Bianca Comparato). Everyone in this movie is stressed or frustrated in some way, and when Stênio crosses that line to make Jaime a target, the audience recoils, but can recognize the desire to lash out at that point. Stênio is not exactly a good person who has a moment of weakness - his bickering with Odete is petty on both sides and he's as selfish as anyone else - but he hasn't exactly been looking for an excuse. He's just too close to the darkness.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"Les Vacances Continuent"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Sometimes music videos like this look a little amateurish and homemade and it's not entirely a bad thing even if you do snicker a bit; and it's kind of about expectations - the viewer processes it as a stream of consciousness inspired by the song, and lets it have bits that need to be filled in or which don't add up, even if there's also clearly enough planning for flashbacks and the like, even if you strongly suspect that a song whose title translates to "Vacation Continues" doesn't really have much to do with a woman getting murderous revenge.

So, sure, this one was kind of silly in spots even as it's also just insanely bloody. The tune is catchy enough even if your French is as terrible as mine, and the sheer enthusiasm of it plays, especially when it allows the video to do the quick reversals necessary in order to cram everything into three and a half minutes.

Un couteau dans le coeur (Knife+Heart)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Knife+Heart is a slasher set against a backdrop of gay porn in 1979 Paris and it's just as lurid as it sounds, which means it is not for everyone. It is top-notch as those go, clever and sometimes surprisingly emotional considering that it's also often well over the border of camp. There isn't much like it, and most of what is doesn't pull it off nearly so well.

Anne Parèze (Vanessa Paradis) is kind of a mess; she produces cheap adult films with all-male casts and has screwed up enough of that girlfriend Loïs McKenna (Kate Moran) has left her, although she's still editing those movies. Director Archibald Langevin (Nicolas Maury) is not the only one to notice that new actor Nans (Khaled Alouach) looks an awful lot like another guy, Fouad, who did few films with them a few years ago. He might not be in the business very long, or on this Earth - there's a serial killer on the loose, and the police are not exactly prioritizing the case. That means Anne winds up playing amateur sleuth on top of everything else, which includes making her new movie transparently based upon the case.

Vanessa Paradis seems like a bit of an odd choice for the central character of this movie, even once you consider that many of the characters are inspired by real people; she's a glamorous former model and singer whose character is in a grimy, low-rent business. She imbues Anne with a sense of ease and experience but not necessarily responsibility, someone who has found her niche in part because it lets her occasionally be immature without much penalty in the right proportion with any den-mother instincts she might feel. It's a natural fit with Kate Moran's Loïs, who never comes off as quite so at ease with this world - sure, nobody has anything against her being gay, and Anne is smart and exciting, but even before the murders, the excesses that came from being around Anne were not exactly what she wanted out of life. She does the editing because someone has to and she's the only one with the temperment for this methodical part of filmmaking.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Hole in the Ground

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 March 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Underground Film Festival, DCP)

Consume enough fantasy and horror, or get enough of a feel for various sorts of mythology, and you will start to recognize various things to the point where you maybe want a little more, even if a story is a decent example of what it is. The Hole in the Ground is like that: It's a perfectly fine little movie drawn from Irish folklore, and as soon as the specific bit of mythology is clear, the viewer will say "ah, it's about those", let it play out, and then maybe recall it when someone asks for movies about changelings but not come back to it that often otherwise.

It opens with Sarah O'Neill (Seána Kerslake) and her son Chris (James Quinn Markey) moving into an old house in need of some work on the outskirts of a small Irish village, the sort that comes complete with a weird old lady (Kati Outinert) who wanders out into the middle of the street saying foreboding things, and has ever since some sort of childhood trauma. Chris is sullen, not understanding why they're making this move and why his father isn't coming with them, though people who notice certain types of scars and bandages on Sarah will get it. While walking in the woods, they discover a huge sinkhole, and though Sarah says to stay away, kids do get curious in the middle of the night, sometimes having a curious change of behavior afterward.

Director and co-writer Lee Cronin tends to keep the film closely centered on Sarah and Chris, and that's by no means a bad way to go. They're a well-cast pair that can certainly carry the weight of a small film like this, with James Quinn Markey doing quite all right as both the disappointed version of Chris and the one that seems somewhat off; it's not necessarily meant to be a subtle difference, but it is one that doesn't immediately make Sarah look like a fool when she doesn't pick up on it. Seána Kerslake is impressive as well; there's the tiniest hint of her trying to make herself feel enthused about working on the house herself as the film starts, and nice alarm and self-doubt as she starts to wonder about Chris. She's seldom flashy, but she's convincing in a lot of little ways, so she and the filmmakers are able to fill a fair amount of who Sarah is in without a lot of obvious effort.

Full review on EFilmCritic