Friday, August 30, 2019


It's been a weird summer at the Chinese box office, as the new certification board has proven much more strict and capricious, with release dates yanked at the last moment and all sorts of other chaos. Still, $630M in ticket sales doesn't happen just because other options disappeared, especially when you consider that one of the things yanked was an animated film whose producers felt couldn't compete with ten others out there. This thing is a legitimate hit, although that means it might do $100K in the United States, mostly from audiences like the one last night where I was probably the only person who needed subtitles in a fairly packed house.

But that's the audience Well Go seemed to be settling for; the announcement that they had acquired and would release the film came just a week or two ago, not enough time to launch a marketing campaign to English-speaking families if they wanted to get it on Imax screens during the window when theaters will consider something a bit unusual, if only because it beats cheap "greatest hits" shows.

I'm a little more curious than usual to see what actual kids and parents make of this movie for them, and from the other side I'd like to know whether ADHD and autism spectrum diagnoses are given enough credence in China for the metaphor I see for that to be more than me just looking too hard. While I've got no doubt that most of its box office comes from it being a funny fantasy adventure with production values not far enough from the A-list American movies to feel like a huge step down, there may be a dozen of those every year now in China, but this one speaks to audiences in a different way without making a big show of it.

Nezha zhi motong jiangshi (NeZha)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax-branded 3D)

If I were a ten-year-old Chinese kid, there's a good chance I'd be absolutely nuts for this movie, as seems to have happened back in its native land, where it was the biggest home-grown movie of the summer. It's got a lot of the ingredients to transcend many cultural barriers - big action, monsters, and wacky comedy - and is within shouting distance of top-tier animation, something imports from China haven't always achieved. It's busy and frantic, but kids often go for that.

Will they go for the convoluted backstory that starts this movie if they don't find it until after its theatrical run? That tells the story of a group of Immortals dealing with a Chaos Crystal which has absorbed the power of the sun and moon and even a demon. It is captured and separated into a "Spirit Crystal" and a "Demon Pill", with rotund wizard Taiyi Zhenren (voice of Zhang Jiaming) told to let the Spirit Crystal incarnate in the child of Chentang Pass Chamberlain Li Jing (voice of Chen Hao) and Lady Yin Furen (voice of Lü Qi). His envious peer Sheng Gongbao (voice of Yang Wei) switches the Spirit Crystal and Demon Pill at the last minute, bringing the Crystal to the Dragon King to infuse into an egg while Li and Yin find themselves with an immensely powerful son possessed not of noble spirit but a tendency toward destructive mischief - and a Heavenly curse will cause a lightning bolt will strike and destroy the Demon Pill in three years.

That's a ton of stuff happening before Nezha (voice of Lü Yanting) is even born, and it's probably best not to concern oneself too much with the whole deal where Nezha and Ao Bing (voice of Han Mo), the dragon's human-looking son, mature to tween-dom more or less instantaneously (I wouldn't be shocked if the eventual English dub increased it to ten years despite three being part of the legend), with Sheng and the dragons mostly preparing Ao Bing for his part in their master plan off screen while Taiyi and Nezha's parents both beg the immortals for a reprieve and try to teach the boy magic and demon-hunting for discipline and so that the town will see him as useful rather than evil. The great strength of this main section is the approach writer/director "Jiaozi" Yang Yu takes with Nezha and his parents - there's never any reluctance to love or tendency toward a "switched-at-birth" angle, just a kid whose body chemistry makes self-control extremely difficult and parents who don't have the right knowledge to deal with it. It's easy to sympathize with both Nezha and his family simultaneously, in large part due to strong melding of character design and voice work: For all that Nezha's face distorts and Lü Yanting's voice work gets broad, he never seems quite malevolent, while Lü Qi and Lady Yin's animators always get across her need to do something to help the situation at every moment, while Chen Hao injects hints of paternal worry into a father who is often outwardly stoic.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 30 August 2019 - 5 September 2019

Apparently Labor Day weekend is a terrible time to open hits, but a great one to open weird stuff.

  • Or foreign films, as the biggest hit of the summer in China makes its way to the US, with Nezha playing in Imax 3D at Boston Common through Wednesday, before returning in regular 2D soon after. It's a fun animated fantasy adventure that looks pretty terrific, full of action and broad comedy.

    Over at Apple Fresh Pond and Revere, they open Telugu-language globetrotting action/adventure Saaho, starring Prabhas in his first major role since the Baahubali movies, which you may have seen clips of on social media. Fresh Pond will also be playing it in Hindi and Telugu, with Mission Mangal and Batla House still playing in Hindi.

    Over at Revere, Tad@s Caen comes from Mexico, with Omar Chaparro and Martha Higareda as a pair who each have a knack for seduction and therefore find each other their most interesting targets.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common get Brittany Runs a Marathon, starring Jillian Bell as a woman who needs to get healthy and winds up joining her neighbor in training for the New York City Marathon. The Coolidge also has their last 35mm screenings of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood at 2:30pm and 6pm through Sunday.

    The Coolidge uses film for their animals-attack midnights, with Anaconda (plus The Room) on Friday and Deep Blue Sea on Saturday. This continues into Monday, when they have the annual Labor Day 35mm Big Screen Classic screening of Jaws. A fall "Cinema Almodóvar" program starts on Tuesday with Law of Desire on 35mm, while "Summer of '69" wraps with Sweet Charity, also on film.
  • Kendall Square and West Newton open BJFF favorite Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, which covers the origin story of Fiddler on the Roof. Kendall Square also picks up This Is Not Berlin, a coming-of-age story set against the rock & roll clubs of Mexico City in 1986.

    They and their sister cinema in Waltham, the Embassy, also open Aquarela, a documentary power of water in all its forms. Looks amazing from the trailers, although it's kind of a shame that neither place is likely equipped for high-frame-rate projection.
  • That leaves Don't Let Go as the sole new release, with David Oyelowo as a cop who is tracking the killers of his beloved niece and her parents when said niece somehow manages to call him across time. That's at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Boston Common and Revere also get Bennet's War, featuring Michael Roark as an injured vet who trains to be a motocross racer. Boston Common also gets Fantasia Festival selection Killerman, with Liam Hemsworth as an amnesiac money launderer in the new film from the makers of Cash Only.

    Rather than put out something new, two movies get re-released with added footage: Spider-Man: Far From Home gets 4 new minutes (basically one scene) and plays at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (in Imax 2D), Assembly Row (in Imax 2D), and Revere; Midsommar adds 24 minutes of gore and extended scenes and mostly plays late shows at Somerville, the Coolidge, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere.

    Meanwhile, the places with deluxe screens need to fill them with something, so aside from Nezha at Boston Common, the Dolby Cinema screens at South Bay and Assembly Row get The Matrix, while the Fenway moves Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (back) to the RPX screen for a couple shows a day while also bringing in Pulp Fiction and both parts of Kill Bill, with tickets for the classic Tarantinos at $6 a pop - at least through Tuesday, with the first part of It assuming the slot (and low price) on Wednesday, before the sequel opens next weekend.

    Fenway and Assembly Row have a TCM presentation of Lawrence of Arabia on Sunday, with Revere joining them in showing it on Wednesday. Boston Common has three screens showing K-12: A Film by Melanie Martinez on Thursday, which is apparently a horror fantasy built around her new concept album (available the next day).
  • The Brattle Theatre has a special engagement of Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita running on 35mm from Friday to Monday. On Wednesday, they open documentary Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, which runs through the next Thursday, while the Tuesday in between has the first "Blue Note Accompaniment" that goes with this series - a 35mm print of Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, with a score by Blue Note artist Herbie Hancock.
  • The Harvard Film Archive finally reaches the end of The Complete Howard Hawks on Friday, with Monkey Business at 7pm and His Girl Friday on 35mm at 9pm. Saturday night is when the traditional Labor Day Weekend overnighter happens, with $12 getting you in for a night of danger on the high seas in Dark Waters, featuring The African Queen, Purple Noon, Alone on the Pacific, Knife in the Water, Fitzcarraldo, and The Poseidon Adventure, all but the last on 35mm.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes the August schedule with final screenings of Walking on Water (Friday) and An Elephant Sitting Still (Saturday). "A Splinter in Your Mind: Films from '99" wraps on Friday with a 35mm print of Fight Club, while the last "Space Exploration on Film" show is Moon on Saturday.

    Sunday, the Calendar flips, and they start the September schedule, which opens with two artist documentaries. Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank was filmed by Gerald Fox in 2004, but the subject (a Swiss-American filmmaker and photographer) long considered it too personal, only recently giving his blessing to it for actual release. It plays Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday, as does A Bigger Splash, a 1974 film about famed artist David Hockney.
  • Documentary Shattered: The Story of Kevin Stevens has its U.S. premiere relatively early in the evening on Tuesday at The Regent Theatre, with its hockey-player subject on hand to introduce the film about his recovering from a horrific 1993 injury. VIP tickets get you into a reception afterward, and all proceeds go to benefit the "Power Forward" drug prevention program.
  • The Luna Theater shows the Midsommar director's cut on Friday and Saturday, probably earlier in the evening than most. Mike Wallace Is Here has two shows, late Saturday afternoon and Tuesday Evening. The Sunday feature is Phantasm, while the holiday on Monday means that not only do they extend the "Magic Mystery Movie Club" to three days this weekend, but they also have a full day of screening Plan 9 From Outer Space. And, of course, Weirdo Wednesday.

    In addition to Ne Zha, The Matrix, and many of the other bigger openings, the AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall gives half screens to thrillers Angel of Mine (starring Noomi Rapace, Luke Evans, and Yvonne Strahovski, who all seem like they could do a bit better) and The Fanatic (with John Travolta and Devon Sawa, who probably do belong in a movie by Fred Durst).
  • Outdoor films tail off like crazy with the unofficial end of summer, with Joe's Free Films just listing Captain America: The First Avenger at the Harbor Hotel on Friday, the new Dumbo at the Prudential Center on Saturday, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse at Tufts on Sunday.

Already seen Nezha and will likely try and check out Killerman, Saaho, and The Matrix around traveling to Maine for a brother's wedding this weekend.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.05: One Child Nation, The Pollinators, Cold Case Hammarskjöld, and For the BIrds

Sunday at IFFBoston wasn't quite planned as a documentary day but wound up that way once the overlapping showtimes, need to get back and forth on the subway (though I think this was the first year in a long time when the MBTA didn't have the Red Line shut down north of Harvard for the festival's weekend), and Sunday schedule which has the last shows of the day during the 8pm hour rather than after 9pm, etc., finished asserting themselves. I basically started wanting to see One Child Nation - that Amazon had already purchased it and it would run for a while in August and September seemed unlikely for what seemed like a niche film - it was easier to stick around the Brattle for The Pollinators. That had a long-enough Q&A to make Cold Case Hammarskjöld the best option after returning to Davis, and then a quick turnaround to get into For the Birds seemed more interesting to me than Gutterbug.

First guests of the day were for Pollinators, including editor/producer Michael Reuter, producer Sally Roy, and director Peter Nelson, with the Q&A being hosted by Barbara Moran of WBUR. Nelson is at least kind of local, as were many of the subjects, so there were a lot of people in the audience that knew either him or beekeeping (or both), which can stretch this sort of thing out but, fortunately, didn't let it devolve into minutiae. One of the interesting things that came up in the Q&A was how it can be easy to misrepresent the nature and extent of someone's expertise. David Hackenberg, for instance, absolutely looks the part of an old farmer who has certain practical knowledge but which can be either misguided or the common sense everyone needs to hear, but he's apparently also a skilled researcher who is often at the center of discovering what is actually going on when the bee community is facing a crisis. You can see the respect for him in the film, but not the totality of his influence

Last movie of the day was For the Birds, with the fest's Joe Arino (l) hosting a Q&A with director Richard Miron and producer Jeffrey Starr. I have apparently reached the age when someone like Miron looks about twelve to me, but it seems like he didn't quite stumble into a good movie but certainly was able to recognize one when it presented itself, as he was volunteering at the farm animal sanctuary featured in the film when all of this started. It was kind of a touchy matter getting the buy-in of everyone involved, and there was some stuff around the edges which was kind of surprising (sanctuary employee Sheila Hyslop returned home to the UK and died soon after her part of the film was over; the stress of this experience being part of the former though likely not the latter).

I did find myself scratching my head a bit when then talked about the story the film tells, because the story of Kathy getting free of her compulsions doesn't really happen on-screen, but seemingly between the last full chapter and the epilogue. The film mostly shows her static intransigence, with the growth and change they talked about less shown than alluded to. Which is fine; though we're often taught that stories are about change, stubbornness is real too, and sometimes what a person gets from a movie is more important than what its makers feel they've put out there.

One Child Nation (aka Born in China)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston, DCP)

China's "One Child Per Family" policy was launched in 1979, made an official part of their constitution in 1987, and officially ended in 2015, and the rest of the world often took it for granted, looking at the country's ten-figure population and figuring that yes, this is draconian, but something needed to change. As filmmaker Wang Nanfu points out, this message took hold with even more force in China itself, except that ignoring the implications of it there was an active (but seemingly necessary) choice. This film's close-up view leaves some questions unasked and unanswered, but also makes it impossible to simply view it as an abstraction.

Wang grew up in China, in Diangxi Province's Wang village, and her family was unusual in that she had a younger brother. Her family wasn't breaking the law in this - there was a process by which one could petition for the right to have a second child - but growing up at the height of the country's propaganda push for the policy, it was a black mark on her family. She would later go to college in the United States and marry there, returning home to visit after the birth of her first child, and finding the idea of the government involving itself so closely in her family newly chilling, she starts asking questions.

The thing about China's one child per family policy that has fascinated me in recent years is how it leads to a society not just without siblings, but without aunts, uncles, and cousins, and I always wondered to what extent if eliminating extended family as a support system outside the state was the goal. This is not a particular focus for this film's makers; the actual why of it is not particularly important, and only a little more time is spent on why the practice was ended. Nor should it be, considering the more immediate and personal interests that the filmmakers have. That focus guides the film, sometimes constraining it, but also constantly emphasizing the human reaction as opposed to just the theoretical. Wang and co-director Lynn Zhang Jialing seldom take a broad view, but focus closely on individual stories, often to the point of discomfort.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Pollinators

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston, DCP)

Mention bees and farming to most people, and certain images leap to mind, along with the specific ways that human beings have messed up the natural order of things. These ideas are not necessarily wrong, but they are incomplete, sometimes in surprising ways. The Pollinators comes from deep enough inside this industry that one must sometimes account for a skewed perspective, but it presents a picture of modern agriculture from a point of view few think about, and does so in a way that is properly alarming but not necessarily alarmist.

Director Peter Nelson, a beekeeper himself, spends most of the film with others doing the same work, starting with old hand David Hackenberg of Hackenberg Apiaries. His company's business is not primarily honey or mead or wax candles, but the bees themselves: Though it is common knowledge that bees are vital for pollination, there simply aren't enough wild bees to go around; colony collapse disorder is not the issue that it was from 2005 to 2008, but between pesticide use and the way American industrial agriculture often tends to vast fields of one type of crop, native pollinators are stretched thin and in some cases threatened. The solution is folks like Hackenberg putting hives on pallets, and pallets onto trucks, and going where they're needed. It's possible because pollination seasons for different crops are staggered, but supply isn't far from demand and California's almond crop requires almost every bee-for-hire in America

One wonders, watching this, just how many systems like mobile apiaries their food supply relies on, and just what sort of state they're in. That these businesses are already stretched thin enough that things like a breed of mite which attacks queen bees or the adoption of new pesticides can create a genuine crisis gives the film a bit of urgency and something like a story, but in a lot of ways it serves to illustrate the way that this business seems genuinely odd to outsiders, with these living, autonomous things treated as equipment. It's an odd feeling to go from close-up photography of bees seemingly behaving like they're in the wild to a clearing full of dead ones because a neighboring farmer sprayed their crops without warning. Queens are replaced and rotated like engine parts.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

In Cold Case Hammarskjöld, satirical documentarian Mads Brügger does a convincing imitation of a dog who has finally caught the tail he's been chasing and realizes he's got no idea of what comes next. It doesn't quite become a repudiation of Brügger's life's work, and that of the thriving industry that uses comedy to help people process what is often an insane world, but it runs hard into the limits of that approach. I half-suspect that the film still has the form it does both because reshaping it would have felt less honest and because hitting those limits wound up fascinating him.

The film offers a refresher on Dag Hammarskjöld - or primer, if your education was like mine and gave him just a cursory mention - that he was elected Secretary General of the United Nations in 1953, and more activist in the role than many anticipated, until he did in a plane crash on the way to attempt mediation in the Congo in 1961. Many suspected foul play than and for decades later, but nothing was proven. Swedish private detective and aid worker Göran Björkdahl has what he believes is new evidence, and teams with Brügger to document the investigation. They are particularly focused on Jan Van Risseghem, a Belgian pilot and alleged soldier of fortune who cuts the figure of a James Bond villain in the one photograph they have, and may have been the one to shoot the plane down.

That image is so striking that Brügger appropriates the trademark white suit and the like to narrate the film, renting hotel rooms and having a pair of African women serve as secretaries transcribing it. Why two? As he himself mentions, it's an idea he had early on, maybe something that could be worked into the film as a commentary about details not lining up, or him disposing of lackeys as he grows more drawn into the character and obsessed. After all, as he admits, this investigation isn't going to go anywhere, but it may serve as a good jumping-off point for a movie about seeing conspiracies in every corner or how our knowledge of even recent history is incomplete or white dilettantes in Africa. And there is still a lot of that plan visible: Those interstitials in the hotel rooms are still in the movie and as off-kilter as one would hope, and there's a sort of archness to the scenes of Brügger and Björkdahl conducting their initial investigation. The earnest Björkdahl recedes a bit in order to play up Brügger not treating it as a joke but knowing that he's making something of a meta-movie.

Full review on EFilmCritic

For the Birds

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #4 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Sometimes the filmmakers won't let a documentary be over until it's all the way over, and that's the case with For the Birds, whose epilogue isn't exactly long but is very much something else after the main thread is tied up. It goes on and can't help but feel like it's drifting too far from the movie you came to see. Of course, the main body of the film can be drawn out and uncomfortable itself, but it's not like you'd want a story of hoarding and self-destructive behavior to go down easy.

It starts innocently enough, with VHS footage of upstate New York resident Kathy Murphy befriending a duck she names Innes Peep. Fast forward a few years to 2020, though, and there are dozens of ducks, turkeys, and chickens in and around the small house she shares with husband Gary, and it's obviously a bad situation. The place is impossible to keep clean, many of the birds are growing sickly, Kathy almost never goes out, and though it may not be the main reason their daughter is estranged, it's not helping. A call to the local Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary brings employee Sheila Hyslop to visit, and she convinces Kathy to let her bring some of the birds away with her, though Kathy is not necessarily aware that they won't be coming back (even if one of her beloved turkeys wasn't so sick it didn't survive very long).

Hoarding is not necessarily an activity one associates with living things, so it's interesting to see Hyslop both casually identify Kathy's behavior as such and also be alarmed by the extent of it. What's a bit surprising is that there is never much indication as to whether any of the birds return some of Kathy's affection or seem out of sorts when rescued and placed in a new environment. It could cause a bit of a disconnect, as the movie on the one hand points out that the animal abuse is what makes this a bit worse than garden-variety hoarding but leaves that abuse a bit abstract, but never quite does. Instead, it highlights just how carelessly one-sided this situation is, and gives a fair window into the neediness that seems to be driving her. There are comments dropped that sometimes offer the beginnings of an explanation, but filmmaker Richard Miron is more interested in looking at the facts of her situation rather than trying to figure it out.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Monday, August 26, 2019

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

The thing about staying for the end credits of is that sometimes you see something that makes you curious but you really don't know enough to see if it means anything. Like, say, when they get to the Dominican Republic part of the shoot and there's a credit for a "Sasha Double" but nobody else in the cast. I'm not sure what, exactly, was shot in the D.R. - for all I know, it was the above-ground material - but if that was where the bulk of the underwater action was shot, it makes a lot of sense, because I don't know that we ever get a look at Sasha's face during long stretches of that, and if the filmmakers are shooting around one of the two lead actresses being absent, that's a hard thing to get around. She certainly feels less present.

It's also kind of weird that something this small and VOD-ish seems to have shot in at least two countries, maybe three or four. Apparently that's less of a hit on the budget than all the travel and ensuing disruption.

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

If you're looking for a movie where a girl and her father have to swim away from something with way too many teeth for comfort, you've probably already missed this summer's decent entry in that genre, Crawl. This movie - which sure as heck feels like a direct-to-video sequel that somehow retained the original creative team and wound up in theaters during a slow week - just serves as a reminder that the basic competence that made that movie a lot of fun isn't as easy as you'd think.

This time the sisters are step-siblings - although Sasha (Corinne Foxx) has had better luck making friends at the Yucatan private school whose entire student body seems to be the children of American expatriates than Mia (Sophie Nélisse). Their parents (Nia Long & John Corbett) are trying to get them to spend more time with each other, so maybe it's not altogether a bad thing when they ditch a planned outing to hang out with Sasha's friends ALexa (Brianne Tju) and Nicole (Sistine Stallone) at a "secret" swimming hole near the entrance to the flooded underground city Mia's father Grant is mapping. He and his crew are on the other side, so it can't hurt to quickly explore the first chamber. Unless, that is, the shark's tooth Grant found has not, in fact, been there for centuries.

The first 47 Meters Down was not particularly good, but that one at least made a little effort to give the relationship between the trapped sisters some weight. This one just posits its stepsisters as a little bit less affectionate than indifferent and never really gives them a moment to bond or show friction or anything even before the sharks show up. You don't exactly need more than plain old survival on the line to make it tense, and in some ways it's kind of a relief that the filmmakers aren't pushing the idea that a bunch of people being eaten by sharks is emotionally offset by these girls learning to get along, but it would be nice if there were more to these girls than "the popular but not actively mean one", "the awkward one", "the one who seems to know what she's doing", and "the one who leaps before looking". They fill slots well enough, and none of the young actresses are bad, but none have the personal details that make them characters rather than generic chum.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Sunday, August 25, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 12 August 2019 - 18 August 2019

The next time someone talks about superhero movie fatigue, remind them that the Brattle was able to program a whole series of films noirs celebrating their 75th anniversary this summer, and I don't know how many people were talking about "murder drama fatigue" in 1944.

This Week in Tickets

Granted, there was a war on and people didn't recognize "film noir" as a genre yet, so there were probably other things to talk about. Still, it's been making for a fun way to revisit some nifty movies, with Tuesday's pair being Robert Siodmak's nifty Phantom Lady and Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear. Both of them, in addition to being solid little mysteries, are compact 90-minute movies.

The weekend started with Friday's Red Sox game, which was, thankfully, the sort of game you should be expecting them to have against the Orioles - the Red Sox score a lot of, the Orioles don't, and the whole thing never gets bogged down but still lasts long enough that you don't feel ripped off. This has not happened often enough this year.

Saturday was a cross-river double feature of Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy & The Nightingale. I liked the former a bit and the latter a lot, enough that I'm kind of surprised that it's really passed through the Boston area quickly, going from two screens to one small one and then gone at the Kendall and starting in the screening room and quickly reduced to sharing the Goldscreen at the Coolidge. It feels like it should be a hit, but isn't. I wonder if everybody (including myself) talking about how it's so violent and intense scared people off.

Sunday was another day split between two theaters, with a "Silents, Please" screening of The Woman Disputed at the Somerville and then Olivia at the Brattle. Both were interesting but not really my thing. Combine all that with the noir playing the next Monday night, though, and that's seven Academy-ratio movies in seven days, which is especially funny since the TV I've been watching is 2.35:1.

Falling behind on my Letterboxd page. Sorry about that.

Phantom Lady

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

I find that Phantom Lady makes a terrific second impression, in that while it seems kind of all over the place and silly the first time around, it's very easy to discount those weird bits or find them charming later, and every viewing after that will have a viewer anticipating the good moments and letting the rest pass by.

The bulk of those good moments come from Elsa Raines as one of film's pluckiest amateur sleuths, a secretary obviously in love with the boss who has been framed for murder but not mooning over him, and able to both amusingly and believably capture how this is a thrill for her but also terrifying when she knows that she's in the middle of danger. She's a fun alternative to the usual clipped professionals or dour pessimists that lead this sort of thriller, with Franchot Tone gleefully diving into the sort of insane villain that has (happily) been kind of discredited by now.

It rolls, though. A lot of mysteries just seem artificial the second time through, badly-paced when you know what's going to happen, but this one is just more comfortable. It's the sort of thing where I'm torn between buying a disc or hoping it comes around on 35mm on a regular basis.

eFilmCritic review from 2015

Ministry of Fear

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

One of the fun things about how I've been keeping this blog is that, even if I haven't actually found time to write up Ministry of Fear before, I can search the "Next Week in Tickets" entries and see that this shows up in Boston fairly often - indeed, this screening was behind schedule, as I have records of it playing 2012 (twice), 2014, and 2016. There are a lot of reasons to revisit it, and maybe the print is more available than some other things.

It plays as an odd little mystery that's got a bit of everything, from the Blitz to supernatural quackery to a dark secret that's not quite so dark as all that. I'm curious how some of it played when it showed up back in 1944; I tend to associate the bit with the medium with earlier periods of history, and the awkward bits of spycraft toward the start seem maybe a bit more surreal than they should - would someone who hasn't been in a mental hospital for a couple of years accept any of it? It's especially strange because the more realistic outlandishness of the air raids and hiding him away as a fugitive aren't quite the right contrast.

You've still got Fritz Lang behind the camera, though, and even if the script is said to lose a lot of the feel of Graham Greene's novel, you can't easily squander that amount of sheer talent. Lang has always done spy stuff well, and captures the sinister nature of what it's like to find oneself in the middle of this very well. I'm kind of curious about the odd lack of xenophobia shown in the movie - I don't know Lang's personal experience as a refugee at the time, but it's kind of curious that nobody seems to suspect the siblings with Austrian accents as being anything but what they say.

The Woman Disputed

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 August 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Thinking back on The Woman Disputed the better part of a week later, what it's trying to do is a little clearer - keep putting Norma Talmadge's Mary Ann Wagner into situations where people are able to think the best or the worst of her, such that even the man who loves her and stood up for her before is reluctant to believe her - and it's not entirely the film's fault that, 91 years on, its often less-than-feminist attitudes are just as eyebrow-raising as the decision to frame the Austrians as victims of Russian invaders in World War I (to be fair, WWI was a mess).

Even taking the whole product-of-its-time thing into account, though, the pacing is weird. It takes a while to get started, spins its wheels for a while, and then pushes the thing that feels like it should be the main engine of the film - will Mary Ann betray her fiancé to protect refugees and maybe help a spy get vital information out of the city? - is pushed toward the end with almost no time to deal with the fallout. It really exacerbates how even the people who say they love Mary Ann treat her terribly, and the end where Paul basically needs a man to publicly tell him that Mary Ann is a hero seems kind of egregious even for 1928.

The good news is that it's pretty easy to project Talmadge as recognizing that this is garbage along with the shame meant to be closer to the fore; she's got a scrappy charm that offsets the melodramatic woe nicely.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 August 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (special engagement, DCP)

The kind of distracting thing about Olivia is that star Marie-Claire Olivia looks right on the border of "too old to play a teenager", although given that it's a mid-century French film, it might just be filmmakers fetishizing and sexualizing innocence. That it's the rare film from that time and place directed by a woman doesn't really change that much, because it's queer as heck.

Indeed, Olivia (character and namesake actress) seems kind of peripheral to the really interesting story of two older women who are clearly each other's true loves but who had a rift develop sometime in the past that they've never been able to close. Mademoiselle Julie probably did, once upon a time, look at the young women in her charge a little too closely, especially the ones like Olivia who clearly like girls; another member of the staff has used this as a wedge to ingratiate herself with Mademoiselle Cara. It's the slow-motion fallout of an inciting event that itself doesn't matter. The students' devotion to one or the other of the pair feels like it could be a good way to represent this schism, but director Jacqueline Audry and the writers (adaptation of Colette Audry, dialogue by Pierre Laroche) don't make much of it.

It's still charming and often upbeat, enough to understand why the narration is sentimental despite a rather melancholy end. And given how unique a film it is for its time and place, a little imperfection or not connecting to people like me who are not its main audience is not something to worry about too much.

Phantom Lady & Ministry of Fear
Red Sox 9, Orioles 1
Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy
The Nightingale
The Woman Disputed

Friday, August 23, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 23 August 2019 - 29 August 2019

Summer is winding right down, isn't it?

  • Ready or Not opened up on Wednesday, and it's a fair amount of fun, good in the details of its family who has a ritual of sacrificing new people who enter the family even if it could use one or two really good action sequences. It's playing the Somerville, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, the Kendall, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    The biggest release is Angel Has Fallen, the third film featuring Geard Butler as a rule-breaking Secret Service agent, this time framed for the attempted assassination of the president, with Nick Nolte as the black-sheep father whom he turns to while on the run. That's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (in Icon-X), South Bay (in Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Revere (including XPlus & MX4D), and the SuperLux. There's also a small release for Overcomer, a bit of generic-looking faith-based stuff, with it playing South Bay and Revere.

    The month's Ghibli Fest selection is My Neighbor Totoro, a charming film by Hayao Miyazaki playing Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere in English Sunday & Wednesday and subtitled on Monday. Over at Boston Common, they'll be giving a screen to DreamWorks Animation, rotating Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Trolls, Madagascar, The Croods, and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World over the course of the next week. Revere has the "Final Cut" of Apocalypse Now on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • A surprisingly wide opening for The Peanut Butter Falcon, with Shia LaBeouf as a guy who helps a young man with Down's Syndrome realize his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Looking at the co-stars, I had no idea Jake "The Snake" Roberts was still alive even before getting to the rest of a fun group (John Hawkes, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Bernthal, Bruce Dern). It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, and Revere.

    The Coolidge has a spiffy new website, which lays their regular and repertory programming out clearly. The latter includes the duelling volcano movies from 1997 at midnight, with Volcano on Friday and Dante's Peak on Saturday, both on 35mm. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Blazing Saddles, also on 35mm, as is Thursday's "Rewind!" show of The Goonies
  • Kendall Square also gets IFFBoston alum Love, Antosha, a documentary on the sadly truncated life of Anton Yelchin.
  • Apple Fresh Pond picks up Telugu-language film Kousalya Krishnamurthy, a remake of Bollywood's Kanaa, in which the title character is a woman who dreams of becoming a professional cricketer. Mission Mangal, Batla House, and Evaru continue there, while Boston Common keeps around Hong Kong actioner Line Walker 2 (which is not, it turns out, technically a sequel to Line Walker).
  • The Brattle Theatre spends the weekend paying tribute to Doris Day, with a 35mm print of The Man Who Knew Too Much on Friday, a double feature of Calamity Jane & Young Man with a Horn (35mm) on Saturday, and a 35mm twin-bill of Midnight Lace & Pillow Talk on Sunday. They also have late shows of Luz, for those who couldn't get to the midnight shows at the Coolidge a couple weeks ago.

    With summer wrapping up, so do the vertical columns on their calendar. Noirversary wraps up with a supernaturally-tinged pair on Monday (The Uninvited & The Curse of the Cat People) and To Have and Have Not on Tuesday (potentially all three are 35mm, although Curse isn't confirmed). They're closed on Wednesday, but Reel Music wraps on Thursday with a double feature of Babylon & The Harder They Come.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has a new restoration of Old Boyfriends on 35mm, Joan Tewkesbury's 1979 film featuring Talia Shire as a woman trying to figure herself out by sifting through her exes, with shows Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 7pm, plus a 4:30pm matinee on Sunday. The Complete Howard Hawks continues in between, with Red Line 7000 (16mm) at 9pm Friday, and Today We Live (35mm) at the same time Saturday. On Monday, there's the monthly "Cinema of "Resistance" presentation, and it's jumbo-sized, a 35mm bring of Francesco Rosi's Christ Stopped at Eboli, a 220-minute epic originally made for Italian TV.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts resumes its run of Walking on Water, a documentary following artist Christo as he attempts to realize a project initiated by his late wife and partner, with shows on Friday, Sunday, and Thursday. "Space Exploration on Film" continues with 2001: A Space Odyssey (Friday) and Moon (Sunday), while "A Splinter in Your Mind: Films from '99" includes 35mm prints of Magnolia (Saturday), Fight Club (Saturday), and The Matrix (Thursday).
  • The Slaughterhouse Movie Club returns to The Somerville Theatre with a "Big Bada Boom" burlesque before The Fifth Element on Friday, which should be something. On Saturday, they have a special presentation of Pick It Up! Ska in the '90s at 7:30pm, with a 35mm midnight special of Cabin Boy later. The "Play It Cool" show on Wednesday is a 35mm print of M*A*S*H, with film also being used for the Thursday Jack Attack presentation, The Crossing Guard. Up the street a little ways, their friends at The Capitol have a Throwback Thursday show of Rocky on the 29th.
  • The Regent Theatre has music documentary Murder in the Front Row on Thursday, billed as "The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story".
  • Cinema Salem looks to be the place to go for a couple of IFFBoston selections: Cold Case Hammarskjöld, Max Brugger's documentary that starts from the title and ends up somewhere else entirely, plays in the screening room, while Wild Rose appears to be on a larger screen. The Luna Theater has more shows of Midsommar on Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday evenings, Mike Wallace Is Here on Saturday afternoon, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on Sunday, as well as free surprises from the "Magical Mystery Movie Club" on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Weirdo Wednesday. The AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall has Burn, with Josh Hutcherson as the guy robbing a gas station and Suki Waterhouse as the employee who finds a connection with him.
  • Joe's Free Films reminds us that it is Films at the Gate weekend on the Greenway, an outdoor film festival for nearby Chinatown which this year features Tyrus (a documentary about a Chinese-American artist who contributed to movies from Bambi to The Wild Bunch) on Friday, Little Big Soldier (one of the best things Jackie Chan has done in the last ten years or so) on Saturday, and Donnie Yen in Big Brother (with martial arts demonstrations by mother Bow Sim Mark's school and an introduction from father Klysler Yen) on Sunday. Elsewhere, Tim Burton's Dumbo remake seems to be the most popular outdoor movie this week.

Kind of curious about The Peanut Butter Falcon, Mission Mangal, and the noir this week.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.116: The Nightingale plus Line Walker 2

The Nightingale isn't quite the platonic ideal of the movie I skip at IFFBoston despite trying to find reasons not to, but it's close: Already has distribution lined up, the cast and crew aren't traveling from Australia to Boston from for a Q&A, and just long enough that it's going to block two slots with movies I potentially can't see elsewhere. So I wait and see it playing smaller screens than the Brattle when it does show up.

And I might have waited a day or two longer, except the timing actually worked out really well to just roll right into there after Line Walker 2, which isn't perfect but has a Shaw Brothers logo as one of roughly a dozen vanity cards before the picture started, and that always feels good. It's far away from the cool one with the tinny horns and probably only appears because this series started out as a show on Sir Run Run Shaw's TVB network, but, still, it feels good to see.

Not that the movie had a lot to do with that show, other than both co-starring Francis Ng and being about long-term undercover cops; it's become yet another Hong Kong series which is more thematically connected than sequential. Not that I quite realized this until I got home and started looking things like my previous review up, to the point where I wondered how much I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been trying to figure out how things fit.

(More amusing: For all that Hong Kong films are not shy about crediting the action director separately or bringing in specialists for certain kinds of action, I'm not sure what to make of the credit for "Rubik's Cube Director". Was someone standing out of camera range and telling or showing Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, and the young actors what to do? It actually makes a lot of sense, and I hope this person put it on his or her résumé!)

Anyway, that's the thing Well Go was able to book in Boston this weekend, though they couldn't find a screen for Fantasia closer The Divine Fury (EFilmCritic review here); this, I guess, says something about how the area has a Chinatown but not a Koreatown, with there likely being a lot more students and other expatriates here from China rather than Korea. It's interesting to note that the studio's trailer for Takashi Miike's First Love played in front of The Nightingale at the Kendall rather than in front of their own release at Boston Common, which I guess makes a certain amount of sense - the Kendall has played Miike before and I guess this particular movie is a step closer to the art-house stuff that plays there versus the Funimation stuff that hits Boston Common and Fenway. Weird that it seems to be more or less bypassing Fantasia, although maybe it's still in post and will just be ready in time for Toronto/Austin/wide-ish release. Weird having nothing by either Miike or Sion Sono at the festival this year, though.

After that, it was time for The Nightingale, and it lived up to expectations and then some. Funny thing about those expectations was that, when I go back and look at my review for The Babadook, it doesn't quite seem properly enthusiastic, and I wonder if that' just a case of the environment having an effect. I saw it at Fantastic Fest, which was not a great experience for me between movies, and though I thought I'd done pretty well in not letting that taint my opinions of the actual the films, maybe not. Or maybe it just grows in one's estimation as one has time to think about it.

There was an intriguing credit at the end of this one, which goes past the usual nice Australian practice of acknowledging the traditional residents of the land and explains that the Aboriginal dialogue in the film is in Palawa Kani, a twentieth/twenty-first century invention, because there are not nearly enough records of the various Aboriginal records spoken in Tasmania at the time to know how they would have spoken, and this generic reconstruction is as close as they can come. The film may be less Billy's story than Clare's, but it's a sharp reminder of the immense cultural violence that colonization has done to native peoples.

(And now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be off checking submissions at eFilmCritic because there have got to be better people than yet another middle-aged white guy to talk about that, the way rape is used in the film, and how Clare's continued lactation is a smart way to address her loss that the men who have often written these rape-revenge films would never have thought of.)

Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

This only covers what's been released in North America, but Line Walker 2 is Louis Koo's third movie in as many months to be numbered like the second in the series without actually being a sequel, which is an impressively productive year but also very confusing, considering that the first Line Walker movie was explicitly a continuation of a TV series. Truth be told, I didn't realize this one wasn't connected until I got home and re-read my review from 2016, and now I'm wondering if maybe I wouldn't have enjoyed it more if I'd been treating it as its own crazy thing rather than trying to reconcile it with the previous story.

(Don't tell me a character played by one of the returning actors died last time; who remembers every detail of every movie they saw three years ago and has time to rewatch it even if it were on a service they subscribe to?)

This one starts by flashing back thirty-odd years to an orphanage in the Philippines, where two friends are inseparable until someone gets wind of just how brilliant they are. In the present, a financial CEO gets in his car and drives it into a crowd. The police are tipped off by Yiu Ho Yee (Jiang Pei Yao), a freelance reporter and hacker who has uncovered evidence of a global conspiracy - which has placed moles in the HKPD long ago. She was brought in by Central Intelligence Bureau's Ching To (Nick Cheung Ka-Fai), with Yip Chi Fan (Francis Ng Chun-Yu) spearheading the investigation, but Security Wing head Cheng Chun Yin (Louis Koo in-Lok) soon takes over, as it falls under his jurisdiction. She has more data with her colleague Bill (Liu Yuning) in Myanmar, but a joint operation between Cheng, Ching, and local SWAT goes south, leaving one missing, one wounded, and reverberations felt all the way in Madrid, where mysterious Mr. Tung (Huang Zhizhong) is masterminding the cabal's response.

You kind of have to respect this sort of movie's deep commitment, even if it's commitment to being dumb but energetic. There is not quite a new twist every ten minutes, but it can sometimes seem that way, especially when since they never quite seem done with the implications of the last one by the time they get to the next. The film is built around paranoia and puppet masters, and long term conspiracies playing out, but there's never quite time to marinate in this and have the characters look at each other sideways like they can't be trusted. You can sometimes justify this later by showing that characters knew things before it was obvious, but that just explains things retroactively (and often incompletely); the earlier scenes don't become more exciting retroactively. Eventually, it's kind of like the Rubik's Cubes the characters play with - you can twist them into a lot of arrangements but most are just gibberish, and the solution doesn't really mean anything.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Nightingale

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 August 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

The nine-screen multiplex where I saw The Nightingale had a sign warning potential customers about the violence by the box office, and I spent a few moments wondering why it was the sole film to get this treatment recently. It's not a bad thing for the theater to have done that - it's a harsh film that could certainly dredge up traumatic experiences - it's curiosity at the application. Writer/director Jennifer Kent appears to have crossed a line that others tend to shy away from, but I don't know that I'd have it otherwise.

What's now called Tasmania was "Van Diemen's Land" in 1820, and Clare Carrol (Aisling Franciosi) is one of a number who arrived as convicts. By rights, she and her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) should be free, but she's got a pretty enough face and voice that Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) hasn't put the paperwork in, and Irish convicts don't have any recourse, no matter what their "sponsors" do. Aidan thinks they should leave anyway, but the timing is terrible, as Hawkins has just been told he will not be recommended for a promotion and opts to go to the city to demand it, stopping at the Carrol shed to vent his frustration with violence that will leave Clare hell-bent on revenge, offering everything she has to Aboriginal guide Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) if he'll help her overtake Hawkins on the trail.

Many might start a movie like this by depicting some sort of idyll or peaceful equilibrium, but Kent is having none of that; for all that Clare and Aidan clearly love each other and their infant daughter, there's hate and intolerance at every level of society, with even the other young servants often begrudging any accommodation made for the baby or acting like Clare is putting on airs when she's made to perform for the garrison like it's her idea. She pointedly has Hawkins's sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman) belittle the men under his command as "girls" and doesn't back off the contempt Clare has for Billy even if she'll need his expertise. There are people up the ladder who clearly find this distasteful, but are loath to do much about it and challenge the order that has them where they are.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, August 17, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.02: Them That Follow & The Death of Dick Long

So very late. Mostly because I've been busy with fun things, sure, and because I was trying to catch up with the previous festival, but also because the plan of doing quick write-ups on Letterboxd while waiting in line apparently didn't happen with these two, which just had star ratings. You'd think I'd have had time on the T ride I had to take after each one, but maybe the app was buggy. So this gets posted the day after Them That Follow closes in/around Boston.

A shame, because I liked the movie, and it was fun having one of the two directors (Daniel Savage, on the left) there for interrogation. One of the main topics of discussion was, of course, the cast; IIRC, Alice Elgort, probably the least-known of the main cast, was actually who they started with and built around, which surprised me a bit.

One thing that kind of amused me and once again reminded me that it's good for us to get out of our silos sometimes is the number of people who only recognized Olivia Colman in that cast and came for her. Blew my mind, it did, because these people clearly need to watch Justified to get good and familiar with Walton Goggins, who was admittedly the reason I came. Start with Season 2, which also features co-star Kaitlyn Dever and Margo Martindale, if you must. It also seems like more likely to pull people into this sort of movie than The Crown, but, again, silos.

Speaking of Dever, she's amassed an awfully impressive "holy cow, that's the same person?" career growing up, between Justified, Short Term 10, Them That Follow, and Booksmart. I've loved all of those and I think I maybe recognized her as being the same person in Justified and Them That Follow because the context was a bit closer. She's great and hopefully will soon be written off that Tim Allen thing as being away at college so that she can do more good stuff.

Two stops down, BUFF & IFFBoston teamed for The Death of Dick Long, which I think was the first movie to surprise me by having a studio logo in front of it at the festival. I generally try and choose what I see at festivals by what seems least likely to show up on the same screens again later, and this seems like a prime candidate for that, but apparently A24 is putting it out in September. I wonder if that's the inevitable future of second-tier festivals like IFFBoston - Amazon/Netflix/A24 are slurping up so much at Sundance and SXSW that these festivals become preview screenings with guests and local showcases. Which are both good things to have, and it's probably better that things get bought quickly rather than linger in uncertainty.

Anyway, here's writer Billy Chew, director Daniel Scheinert, and critic Jason Gorber, who wanted to lead the Q&A as a fan of the film. There was a lot of talk about The Thing That Happens but I don't recall it being much more than an attempt to push the envelope. Scheinert also assured us that "Daniels" wasn't broken up, but just doing separate projects.

Next up.... Probably day #5, as two movies from that have opened recently.

Them That Follow

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Movies like Them That Follow often have a hard time finding the right balance of respect and alarm in regard to the fringes of society where their characters exist, and in this case filmmakers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage maybe veer too far toward the respectful. They've got too fine a cast to not make a good movie, but the naturally soapy elements get a bit blunted by not wanting to be insensitive and exploitative where its snake-handling community is concerned.

Lemuel (Walton Goggins) is the preacher for that community, seemingly sincere in his beliefs but also experienced enough with how the outside world reacts to them to lay low. He's got a daughter, Mara (Alice Englert), who has been expected to marry his deacon Garret (Lewis Pullman) for some time, though she's really got eyes for Augie (Thomas Mann); his parents Hope (Olivia Colman) and Zeke (Jim Gaffigan) are part of Lemuel's flock, but he doesn't attend. It's a situation that is only likely to become more tense as Lemuel takes in Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever), an impressionable young teen whose parents have abandoned her; a parishioner is bitten during services; and Mara misses a period.

There's not a whole lot of clutter to this film, which is likely part of the point. Though law enforcement is mentioned and some shuffling goes on to avoid Lemuel being charged with any injuries or deaths that occur at his services, they're not seen directly very often; Dilly's junkie mother is most noted for her absence and the mess she leaves behind. Maybe it's just summer, but there's no sign that Dilly is attending school, and though Augie clearly has things going on outside of this community, that side is similarly seldom glimpsed. It's an arrangement that can often diminish how cult-like this group seems, which should lead to a bigger impact when the more extreme facets of their faith become important, but more often just makes it feel like this story could take place in any community built around faith. The broad strokes apply to so many cases that this one could use being more specific at times.

Full review on EFilmCritic

The Death of Dick Long

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2019 in the Brattle Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Just enough time passed between my seeing The Death of Dick Long and getting around to fleshing my notes out into a full review that it took me a while moment to remember exactly what about it made it stand out among "dumb person crime" movies, and I'm not entirely sure whether that speaks well of it or not. One the one hand, it's an entertaining dark comedy even without the twist, but on the other, I've got to wonder what it says that the filmmakers couldn't get that image lodged in my brain. Of course, maybe it says something about me.

It opens with Zeke Olsen (Michael Abbot Jr.), Earl Wyeth (Andre Hyland), and Dick Long (Daniel Scheinert) wrapping up a garage session - their band Pink Freud doesn't play many gigs, but that's not exactly the point of getting together to jam - before one says "let's get weird" and they proceed to get messed up on something stronger than beer. We don't see how the night ends, but the next morning begins with Dick dead, Earl ready to cut and run, and Zeke having no idea how to get all the blood out of his car's back seat before driving daughter Cynthia (Poppy Cunningham) to school. It gets worse - Cynthia's teacher (Jess Weixler) is Dick's wife, and the body that is soon brought to the attention of Sheriff Spenser (Janelle Cochrane) is in rather alarming condition.

A big part of what makes this sort of movie fun - and makes the good ones work - is how they split naturally in two, with one half of the film covering how a couple of guys who aren't that bright and aren't exactly criminals by nature try to dig their way out of the mess they find themselves in while the other covers how the small-town cops try to reluctantly dig their way into it, and how a film handles that second part can make or break it - if this is dull in comparison to the hijinks, or makes the very idea of right and wrong look too foolish, or too fully turns the audience against the hapless guys they're chasing, it can be a real mess. That Janelle Cochrane and especially Sarah Baker are so good as the local constabulary thus becomes one of the best parts of the film. It's easy to map Cochrane's Sheriff Spenser as the equivalent of Frances McDormand's character in Fargo, although she's a little less casually good at her job and a little more jaded at her own position even if what's happened to this difficult-to-identify body still has her rattled. As much as she often seems like the only reasonable adult in this town, there's a bit of a weight to how people don't respect the authority of women in their fifties even if they radiate experience. She's also quite wary of "Duds" Dudley's enthusiasm, and it's understandable, but Dudley and Baker's take on her are a great complement - she's enthusiastic but not exactly a natural crime-solver, and the way she's often a half-step behind Spenser but also less intimidated by what they're getting into makes her a fun comedic foil. It also makes her very sympathetic; the viewer occasionally laughs at her but also identifies with how she's learning, and how in some ways she's not far off from the dopey guys in the other half even if her trajectory is different.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, August 16, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 16 August 2019 - 22 August 2019

Mid-August, kids already back in school, studios getting the not-great stuff out.

  • A couple of these are getting surprisingly good reviews, though. Good Boys, for instance, has been getting great reviews, although the previews for this movie where 12-year-olds get into decidedly R-rated misadventures have been dreadful. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. So is Blinded by the Light, the new one from director Gurinder Chadna, about a teenager in 1987 Britain who becomes a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. It's at Somerville, the Lexington Venue, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema and a repeat of the "Springsteen Fan Event" on Tuesday afternoon), the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    There's also Where'd You Go, Bernadette, the new film from Richard Linklater, starring Cate Blanchett as a suburban mom who needs some adventure in her life, at the Somerville, Kendall Square, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux. 47 Meters Down: Uncaged comes from the same team as the first and is disappointingly not called "48 Meters Down", featuring four teenagers providing the sharks multiple targets. It plays Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere.

    Angry Birds 2 opened on Wednesday, and continues this week at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere. Next Wednesday's opening is Ready or Not, a Fantasia selection featuring Samara Weaving as a new bride whose in-laws intend to kill her on their wedding night as part of some ritual, unless she can win a game of hide-and-seek. It will open at Boston Common, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and probably others.

    The Lexington Venue has 50th Anniversary screenings of A Boy Named Charlie Brown on Saturday & Sunday mornings, while Revere shows it Wednesday afternoon and the Regent in Arlington has it Wednesday afternoon and evening. Satoshi Kon's Millennium Actress plays Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, and Revere on Tuesday. Boston Common and Revere have Fantasia alum Kingdom, a fun Japanese take on China's warring kingdom period, from Tuesday through Thursday Fenway also has concert film Rush: Cinema Strangiato on Wednesday, and Revere has Taxi Driver on Thursday. Bring the Soul: The Movie continues at Revere through Sunday and Boston Common through Wednesday
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre picks up the The Nightingale, although on the smaller screens, which also hold over Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am.

    The midnights at the Coolidge this weekend come from Paul Verhoeven, with Showgirls on Friday and Starship Troopers on Saturday, both on 35mm. They've got a special screening of Sonic Youth: 30 Years of Daydream Nature on Sunday afternoon, followed by a panel discussion with Steve Shelley, writer Byron Coley, and Sonic Youth archivist Aaron Mullan. Monday's Big Screen Classic is the annual The Big Lebowski party. There's also a Tuesday screening of Dateline-Saigon with a post-screening discussion, as well as a (free/RSVP required) GlobeDocs screening of Behind the Bullet with director Heidi Yewman. Thursday's "Summer of '69" show is Medium Cool.
  • Kendall Square and West Newton open After the Wedding, with Michelle Williams as a woman running an orphanage who finds herself in increasingly difficult situations after meeting her benefactor (Julianne Moore). The two places also open Tel Aviv on Fire, a comedy that takes place behind the scenes of a Palestinian soap opera.

    The Kendall also opens IFFBoston selection One Child Nation (aka Born in China), in which director Wang Nanfu looks back at China's One Child policy as she has her first child and remembers how her family was ostracized because of her younger brother.
  • Apple Fresh Pond does a big refresh of their movies for Indian Independence Day, with Hindi-language Mission Mangal featuring Akshay Kumar in a film about the Indian Space Research Organization launching the Mars Orbiter Mission on a strict budget. Batla House is also in Hindi, an action movie based on a real-life 2008 raid. Ranarangam is a bit of "mobster who thought he was out but gets pulled back in" in the Telugu language. Also in Telugu is Evaru, with Adivi Sesh as an internal affairs officer investigating the murder of a high-ranking cop who had been killed by his alleged rape victim.

    Line Walker 2 opens at Boston Common, though it's maybe not a great time for a movie about undercover Hong Kong cops, although it looks less like a continuation of the TV series as the first was and more Francis Ng, Louis Koo, and Nick Cheung are fighting Taiwanese hackers. They also have night-time screenings of Chinese firefighting movie The Bravest.
  • The Brattle Theatre gives most of the weekend to a new restoration of Olivia, a 1951 film directed by Jacqueline Audry, one of the few female filmmakers working at that time. It follows a new girl at a 19th-century boarding school with two manipulative headmistresses. It plays Friday through Sunday, although the last show of the day at 9:30 is reserved for Booksmart, Olivia Wilde's hilarious comedy about two high-achieving girls trying to fit all the fun they missed into the night before graduation.

    Noirversary falls on Monday this week with the pairing of The Woman in the Window & The Mask of Dimitrios, both on 35mm, while Tuesday is Trash Night. Wednesday's Recent Rave is Joanna Hogg's The Souvenir; and Reel Music on Thursday is a two single showings, a special presentation of the "Buy Me Boston Video Loft" and Penelope Spheeris's Suburbia.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has a full slate of The Complete Howard Hawks this week, with seven prints: Rio Lobo (Friday 7pm), The Road to Glory (Friday 9:30pm), A Song Is Born (Saturday 7pm on 16mm), O. Henry's Full House (Saturday 9pm), Come and Get It (Sunday 4:30pm), Barbary Coast (Sunday 7pm), and The Crowd Roars (Monday 7pm).
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues two repertory series this weekend. "Space Exploration on Film" features Apollo 11 (Friday/Sunday) and the Tarkovsky Solaris (Saturday); "A Splinter in Your Mind: Films from '99" includes Magnolia (Friday), Boys Don't Cry (Saturday), and Election (Sunday), with the 1999 films all on 35mm.
  • Saturday's Midnight Special at The Somerville Theatre is The Song Remains the Same, and they're also starting to let other things share screen #1 with Once Upon a Time In Hollywood during regular hours. Sunday, for instance, features the return of "Silents, Please", with Jeff Rapsis accompanying The Woman Disputed, which stars Norma Talmadge in an adaptation of a Guy de Maupassant story about an adventuress who becomes a general's mistress to free hostages. "Play It Cool" returns on Wednesday with California Split, while Jack Attack continues on Thursday with Wolf. All of those repertory programs are on 35mm film. That's not likely the case with Wednesday's The Boston Underground Film Festival "Dispatches from the Underground", although that's still listed as TBA and so may not still be on this month.
  • The Regent Theatre has live performances much of the weekend, but Tuesday's presentation of Jiro Dreams of Sushi is free with RSVP and includes a small popcorn and soda. A Boy Named Charlie Brown plays Wednesday.
  • Cinema Salem has nifty Swedish science fiction film Aniara in the screening room this weekend, as well as screenings of Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am. The Luna Theater has Midsommar on Friday and Saturday evenings, Psycho Beach Party on Saturday afternoon, and Rosemary's Baby on Sunday, along with the free mystery boxes of the "Magical Mystery Movie Club" on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Weirdo Wednesday.
  • Joe's Free Films shows the outdoor films as very Marvel-oriented this week, with multiple chances to see Captain Marvel and Into the Spider-Verse along with at least one Black Panther, in addition to other mostly-family-friendly options.

I didn't catch The Nightingale last week, so I'll likely do that, Line Walker 2, Ready or Not, the noir, the silent, and maybe whatever one of the new releases is playing when I happen to be getting out of work.

Monday, August 12, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 5 August 2019 - 11 August 2019

Back from Montreal, and London not long before that, and Hong Kong a little while earlier, and I'll often say the MBTA isn't that bad, but, yikes, while those places aren't perfect, there's a certain basic level of reliability to their public transportation that I kind of miss

This Week in Tickets

Anyway, I'm leaving a gap here for Fantasia, and after getting my rest after the trip back, it was back to work and back to the movies on Monday, when I opted to catch Crawl because I'd heard good things online - which were pretty deserved; it knows what it's doing and does it well. And then, when I get home, there's a package with a new camera waiting, which is an ironic thing to get the day after arriving home from vacation.

The next night, I had a ticket to the Red Sox, and my encounters with the T went "the 350 bus is 20 minutes late", "the 350 bus breaks down and we wait by the side of the road for 20 minutes", "ten minute wait for the Red Line at Alewife", "two Green Line trains leave as I arrive at Park Street", and somehow I managed to avoid any more delays on the way to Kenmore (where it fortunately takes just a minute or two to buy some 35mm film for the camera). Once there, the game is not good; the Red Sox lose to the Royals 6-2, and I missed the first couple innings. What the heck happened to this team after last year, right?

Wednesday was for picking up a month's worth of comics (what the hell is DC doing these days? Who actually enjoys this "Year of the Villain" garbage enough for it to be in every damn book?), Thursday had me leaving work at a weird time, and then Friday's ride home just kind of wore me out and threw me off: I got to Alewife, and then actually got stuck in the tunnel between Alewife and Davis, eventually going back and moving to another train. I've gotta say, I kind of figured being on the train that held the whole Red Line up would be more exciting.

I briefly toyed with the idea of heading out to the Liberty Tree Mall to catch Nekrotronic, but guess I'll just settle for VOD after it took a few minutes longer than I'd allotted to get a haircut and I got cold feet at the times listed for transfers on Google, which could leave me all the way out in Salem and having to turn back. Instead, I caught Chinese firefighting adventure The Bravest early and then headed home, watched some baseball, and then caught Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in 35mm at the Somerville, a reminder that film looks great and giving it up for the same of easier workflow was a mistake.

Sunday was laundry day, capped with Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Show on Assembly Row's Imax-branded screen. Not bad, but a little try-hard, and it's kind of crazy how weirdly big the spin-off from what started as a pretty modest series (and isn't nearly this grandiose) wound up being.

Sadly, my my Letterboxd page has fallen behind because I couldn't keep up in Montreal, but I'll do my best to keep it current while backfilling the festival stuff.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

This movie does what it's supposed to do with no fuss and does it less than 90 minutes, which is something more horror movies should aspire to. It is a killer-animal movie that knows its job and spends just enough time building everything up to make everything that plays out extremely satisfying. It is the sort of thing you go into knowing it's a large alligator movie, where you spend the first act scoping out the terrain of the house and thinking about just what sort of trouble a corner will be when the reptiles finally appear, and still go "holy shit, gator!" when one shows up.

Around there, it's smart about knowing just how cranked up to be. Kaya Scodelario's Haley and Barry Pepper's father aren't stoic - they react to huge alligators in their basement during a Category Five hurricane with a believable amount of alarm - but they feel like people who can survive and won't exhaust the audience in doing so. The filmmakers are also pretty slick at getting the most of their effects - the CGI gators mesh very well with the practical ones (he says, assuming there are practical gators), and there's just enough gore the get the audience to react without getting to the point where it's taken for granted. They do a nice job of getting the light and sky to feel right, too.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Quentin Tarantino has always been more than a bit heavy-handed, but something about this movie makes me wonder if, for all the ways in which he is a terrible human being, Harvey Weinstein had a knack for reeling him in just enough. There are a lot of scenes that run just a bit too long here, and cameos that feel just a little too cute in part because people watching the movie know who his rep stable is. Maybe he could use a producer who knows how to say "this is great, but..."

Of course, the movie is great in a lot of ways - Tarantino's pure love of Hollywood and the movies comes through in how Margot Robbie's Sharon Tate seems to be radiating pure joy most of the time on-screen, even as a bit about not being recognized at the box office of a theater showing a movie she's in hints at how fleeting fame can be, for instance. He gives the audience a couple of men who have made complete messes of their lives and lets the audience wonder just how worthy of second chances they are even while acknowledging that they can't just stop living and working. I don't know that Leonardo DiCaprio is quite playing against type here, but he vanishes inside the tough-guy actor who is in truth a mess of insecurities in a way that he has seldom done before. It's a performance that's almost too funny and bombastic to feel good, but it nevertheless plays as authentic.

And it's gorgeous, between how Tarantino clearly shoots this to be seen on film first and foremost, framing shots wide enough that even 2K high definition is going to lose significant detail and making great use of twilight, and how the crew puts 1969 Los Angeles together, both via visual effects and in terms of design, with the occasional wink toward how filmmakers make the past feel contemporary without being anachronistic. It's fun to see Zoe Bell graduate to full stunt coordinator here; this isn't an action movie, but her and Quentin being on the same wavelength helps out a lot when the time for action comes. There's a great sequence in the middle that does a fantastic job of making the Manson Family the stuff of horror movies but also showing how people can dismiss it and the like until it's too late.

I'll still probably be happy to catch it again on 35mm while my local place is still running it that way, even if it's not quite up there with my favorite Tarantino flicks.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, Imax digital)

There are credits for 3D conversion on this movie, nestled among an honestly absurd number of mid/post-credit scenes, but we don't get 3D in America, which is kind of a shame: This big dumb movie that just doesn't know when to scale back and never has any heft despite always cranking up the scale could not only use a bit of fake 3D, it probably deserves it.

(Yes, I checked the Hong Kong movie times app that is still on my phone to see if they got it in 3D - they did - and did you know there is a sequel to Minuscule and a new movie starring Simon Yam and Weathering with You playing there?)

Anyway, for as much fun as the Dwayne Johnson/Jason Statham team-ups were in the previous F&F movies, a whole movie is a lot of two puffed-up headcases bickering, especially since the intended counterweight is Vanessa Kirby just wanting no part of their stupidity. They're all trying too hard to be cool but never get tested in a way that makes them overcome it. Meanwhile, Idris Elba is given a potentially great true believer of an antagonist but the script makes him muscle rather than mastermind - apparently they're saving the alpha villain for a sequel - and the two cameos that could have actually served as fun complements to the very serious stars are trying too hard to be scene-stealers.

David Leitch is still pretty good at action even when he doesn't have people as happy to get down and dirty as Keanu Reeves or Charlize Theron (that Statham is less tied up in being an unstoppable force than Johnson tends to make him more fun to watch), but he's got a solid sense of how things move and tug at each other, from Elba's motorcycle that seems like an extension of the cyborg assassin and seemingly wants to be with him to the finale which, while shown plenty in the trailer, is still a genuinely terrific set-piece, even if it seems as deliberate in the world of the film as it does as part of a film.

It's fun, even if its old-school James Bond villains seem as far removed from the later Fast & Furious movies as they themselves are from the first movie's plot that involved stealing a few VCRs. It's a big, dumb movie, but probably wouldn't have worked smaller and smarter.

Red Sox 2, Royals 6
The Bravest
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Hobbs & Shaw