Sunday, September 15, 2019


I think Fagara is one of the bigger local releases in Hong Kong this year; it was getting prominent placement on the Hong Kong film times app that is still hanging around on my phone when I checked it for other reasons a month ago, and maybe more. It's got Sammi Cheng, who is a big deal there, although it reminds me that not enough folks have seen her and Andy Lau in Blind Detective here. There's good folks involved, with director Heiward Mak an up-and-comer who has worked on a number of varied projects, from co-writing Men Suddenly in Black 2 when just out of college, to working with Pang Ho-Cheung on Love in a Puff, to last year's crazy action movie The Golden Job, to this, produced by Ann Hui. That's a bit of everything with everyone.

It's a good movie, and one built to play well throughout the Chinas, even if that means having the Hong Kong-based characters speaking Mandarin. I am mildly curious about a thing or two that could have had it skirting China's censorship issues, most notably that middle daughter Branch seems like she might be gay - she's in a career where that's not unusual, her obsessed fan is female, and her family half-talks about finding a partner but also lets it go. It seems to be part of Megan Lai's performance even if they can't say it.

Hua jiao zhi wei (Fagara)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 September 2019 in AMC Boston Common #5 (first-run, DCP)

Fagara is the sort of small family drama whose story has been told more than a few times - who hasn't discovered their father had a secret life after he passed away - but is just better enough at it on most counts that it actually winds up fairly impressive. It's so well put together that director Heiward Mak Hei-Yan can dispense with much of what other movies would use to prop it up.

In this case, the daughter is Acacia Ha (Sammi Cheng Sau-Man), who is not quite estranged from her father Ha Leung (Kenny Bee) but doesn't cross Hong Kong's harbor very often to see him, either, at least not until one of the employees at his restaurant calls urgently from the hospital; by the time she gets there, he's passed on. When going through the contacts on his phone, she discovers that two of them also call him "Dad" - Branch Au Yeung (Megan Lai Ya-Yan), a professional billiards player in Taiwan, and Cherry Ha (Li Xiaofeng), a fashion blogger in Chongqing. She gives them the news and invites them to the funeral, and though wary, they soon bond over their father's famous fagara hot pot. Unfortunately, that hot pot is a secret recipe, and the restaurant has a year to go on a lease Acacia can't afford to break.

Mak does a neat thing in one of the early scenes, when Acacia is working as a travel agent and has to book a trip that a businessman is taking with his secretary; a sequence of disapproving acquiescence that establishes this sort of adultery as normalized. It makes it a little easier to come out of the hurt and shock of Acacia finding out she has two half-sisters without needing to spend much time judging or explaining their father. It's there, in the way people ask questions at the funeral, but mostly it plays as an important factor in who the women are now. It's worth noting that what might be romantic subplots in other films are held a bit at arm's length, the audience not quite sure what to make of Acacia's two potential suitors or Cherry's seemingly complete disinterest in having one; if Leung and the women he abandoned did damage them, it's not something that will be cathartically remedied after his death.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, September 13, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 13 September 2019 - 19 September 2019

Does the Toronto International Film Festival run another weekend, or did it end on Thursday? In the former, a couple of its bigger entries are hitting theaters even before it's finished.

  • The one people seem to be excited about is Hustlers, with Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez as part of a team of strippers with a scheme to rip off the Wall Street types who come to their clubs. It's been described as both a thriller and an operatic drama, which sounds ambitious. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The reviews aren't quite so good for The Goldfinch, featuring Oakes Fegley and later Ansel Elgort as a boy taken in by a wealthy family after his mother is killed in a terrorist attack. Word is Nicole Kidman and the cinematography by Roger Deakins are good, but that the film is bloated at two and a half hours. That's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    Boston Common also opens Fantasia Festival selection Freaks, which I suggest seeing knowing as little going in as possible. Official Secrets picks up screens at the Capitol, West Newton, Fenway, and Revere after having opened at the Coolidge, Kendall Square, and Boston Common last week.

    This week's "Dream Big, Princess" selection at AMC Boston Common and Assembly Row is the classic animated Beauty and the Beast. Anniversary screenings this week include El Norte and Fenway & Assembly Row on Sunday and Star Trek: The Motion Picture on Sunday & Wednesday at Fenway, the Seaport (Sunday only), South Bay, Revere, and the SuperLux. Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row and Revere play Game Changers on Monday, with the documentary featuring Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Jackie Chan, and other athletes being confronted with the idea that everything they've learned about protein and muscle-building may be incorrect. Rob Zombie's 3 From Hell has a (fittingly) three-day run from Monday to Wednesday at Fenway, South Bay, and Revere. There are also two Japanese imports that played Fantasia hitting theaters this week: The pretty-decent live-action Tokyo Ghoul S plays Boston Common, Fenway, the Kendall, and Revere on Monday and Wednesday, while the downright fantastic animated Promare plays Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Tuesday and Thursday.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre,Somerville, and Kendall Square open Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, a documentary about the phenomenally popular, category defying singer.

    Friday is the 13th, which means Jason Vorhees comes to town, although the town in questioni is Medfield, where the Coolidge has a double feature of the original Friday the 13th and the 2009 remake at the Rocky Woods reservation. Back in Brookline, the Coolidge's midnights are David Lynch classics on 35mm, with Eraserhead on Friday and Blue Velvet on Saturday. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Cleo from 5 to 7, with an optional seminar for those who would like to dig in deeper. Tuesday's "Cine Almodovar" presentation is a 35mm print of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, with Legally Blonde the "Rewind!" show on Thursday. On Wednesday, they have a special Anniversary Celebration, marking 30 years since the theater was rescued from demolition, re-emerging as a non-profit boutique cinema.
  • Kendall Square brings out Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins, a documentary on the famed Texas newspaper columnist whose wit was only matched by her dedication to taking on corruption. They also have A Faithful Man, in which director Louis Garrel sets up a situation where both a former girlfriend played by Laetitia Casta and the beautiful kid sister of the man she left him for (Lily-Rose Depp) decide to re-enter his character's life after that friend dies. Not self-indulgent at all.
  • The Brattle Theatre plays Ray & Liz from Friday to Monday, with photographer Richard Billingham making the jump to the big screen to tell a story about life in working-class Birmingham during the 1980s. Those days also feature a 35mm print of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street at 9:30pm.

    There's also a Sunday-morning showing of a local crowd-sourced documentary, Motherload with discussion afterward (RSVP required). One Tuesday, they have a one-night-only screening of One Cut of the Dead, which is the ideal way to see it because when you're backed in a crowd like that, you can't bolt or turn it off during the very rough first third that you need for the absolutely brilliant finale to work. Wednesday is National Art House Cinema Day, which the Brattle celebrates with screenings of My Twentieth Century and Putney Swope, while writer Tom Sturges visits on Thursday to talk about his father Preston, the book he has written about the man, and introduce one of his greatest films, Sullivan's Travels, on 35mm.
  • It must be some sort of big Indian holiday season, because Apple Fresh Pond has another big batch of new movies this week. This week, that includes Bollywood romantic comedy Dream Girl, starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Nushrat Bharucha; legal thriller Section 375; Gang Leader, in which Nani plays a man helping five women in a revenge plot; and Pailwaan, with Sudeep as a fighter who becomes a folk hero and political figure on top of being an athlete. The first two are in Hindi; the language for the latter two aren't clear. Chhichhoreand Mission Mangal are still playing, too.

    Boston Common picks up Fagara the same time it hits Hong Kong; it's the new one from rising-star director Heiward Mak and features Sammi Cheng as a Hong Kong woman who discovers that her father had two other daughters, one in Taiwan and one in the Mainland, all under various sorts of family pressure, who must work together to pay off their father's debt. Ann Hui produces and Andy Lau has a cameo. Nezha is still going strong at Boston Common, also opening at the Seaport and Revere.
  • The Harvard Film Archive begins a series honoring The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959 this weekend. Friday and Sunday offer a 35mm double feature of the new restoration of Detour (restored on Friday and an archival print on Sunday) & Five Came Back, with 16mm print of Donovan's Brain playing later on Friday. Saturday's early twin bill is Crime Wave (16mm) & Plunder Road (35mm), with Peter Lorre in Island of Doomed Men (on 35mm) later. They also welcome Sofia Bohdanowicz, perhaps not quite in time for Sunday afternoon's screening of Maison du Bonheur, but she will be there to introduce short film "Veslemøy’s Song" (on 16mm) and feature MS Slavic 7 on Monday.
  • It's mostly "Festival Buzz" at The Museum of Fine Arts this week, with A Long Day's Journey into Night (2D Friday), The Beach Bum (Friday/Sunday), The Souvenir (Sunday), The Farewell (Wednesday), and The Nightingale (Wednesday). They will also show Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace on Saturday, preceded by a discussion with Dr. Emmett Price III of Gordon Conwell Theological School and Boston Globe columnist Renee Graham.
  • There is an India International Film Festival of Boston this weekend, with Friday's fancy opening night at the JFK library featuring Chef Vikas Khanna on hand to introduce the adaptation of his novel The Last Color, two free screenings at the Cambridge Public Library on Saturday, and a number of other shows at the Wheelock Family Theater at Boston University on Saturday and Sunday
  • School is back in session, which mean Bright Lights is back in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room. That's two free movies a week (if you show up early enough) and discussion afterward. This fall's series opens with Booksmart on Tuesday and Wild Nights with Emily on Thursday, both followed by faculty guests.
  • The Somerville Theatre has been running in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood via DCP for the past week or so, but will be breaking the film back out again on the big screen this weekend. On Wednesday, The Boston Underground Film Festival hosts their monthly screening, with "A September to Dismember" offering literal mayhem - and if I read the schedule right, they're not necessarily in the Micro-Cinema this month (although it might be wise to buy tickets early just in case).
  • The Boston Film Festival is still a thing, and has moved on to the Seaport for its entire length this year. Opening night on Thursday actually looks kind of good, with Columbine High School documentary American Tragedy at 7pm (with plentiful guests) and what's apparently the U.S. premiere of Taika Waititi's Jojo Rabbit at 9pm (with no guests). The festival runs until Sunday the 22nd.
  • Cinema Salem has documentary Fiddlin' in their small room this week, and also has a preview screening of Jirga on Thursday, with post-film discussion of the film about an Australian soldier submitting himself to village justice in Afghanistan led by veteran Tom Laaser and educator Mitch Manning.

    The Luna Theater has The Farewell on Friday and Saturday evenings, Honeyland and The Nightingale Saturday afternoon, Brazil three times on Sunday, and documentary Island of the Hungry Ghosts on Tuesday evening. There are also the usual weekly free shows, with Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday's "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday.
  • There's a chill in the air, but Joe's Free Films shows three outdoor films Friday night, including Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Rocky, and Le Brio.

I'll check out Fagara and Hustlers, hit Fenway Park for both baseball and a concert, and hopefully fit in some B-movies and/or Promare.

Thursday, September 12, 2019


I have a couple of Russian co-workers, and I should probably ask them how popular and well-remembered Revan "Rezo" Gabriadze and his films still are. Probably not well-known as a filmmaker - or maybe writers get remembered more in Russia - so I'd probably ask about Kin-Dza-Dza! and hope I'm not annoying them. I've never really heard of the guy, just coming across this film as one of the Russian flicks that occasionally gets booked at Fenway (very occasionally - something like one show three times a year), seeing "animated autobiographical documentary", and figuring, sure, why not? Given that it didn't really seem to be part of any sort of series with branding on it, I actually wasn't sure whether or not it would have English subtitles, crossing my fingers.

It did, thankfully, as did the animated short that helped pad the 62-minute running time out a little. I suspect I would have gotten the gist without it, but that would have been a truly unusual night at the movies.

It's kind of notable how not-quite-incestuous this program was: Both short and feature were produced by Timur Bekmambetov, I believe the "Zhanna Bekmambetova" who directed this short is his daughter, and the feature is directed by Rezo's son Levan - who also directed the Bekmambetov-produced Unfriended. Makes it easy to get everyone to agree to play together, I guess.

"Chik-Chirk" ("Tweet-tweet")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2019 in Regal Fenway #6 (special engagement, DCP)

I saw and enjoyed this back when it played as one of the runners-up during this year's Oscar, and though it was only seven months ago, I could swear at certain points that this was some sort of extended cut. I didn't remember there being as much about the future husband the first time through, and I'm still not sure what the bird represents.

Still a very pretty movie, at the very least, and with a lot of charming, well-animated moments. Well worth twelve minutes and nice to see again.

What I wrote back in February


* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 September 2019 in Regal Fenway #6 (special engagement, DCP)

I'm not sure I've ever before seen a biographical documentary where at the end, I wasn't entirely sure what the subject was famous for. But that's where Rezo leaves me, as Revan Gabriadze spends almost no time discussing his life's work, nor the personal life that happened alongside it. The film, directed by his son Levan, has him telling stories of the father's youth and a philosophical moment or two as he returns home an old man, apparently presuming that anyone watching this film knows the rest or will look it up. It's an odd but not unpleasant sensation.

Revaz was born in what is now the country of Georgia, at the time part of the Soviet Union, in 1936; his uncle was a pilot who died during the war. He grew up in the city of Kutaisi, something of a mommy's boy, teased and bullied by everyone in town from kids to pallbearers, his best friend a rat in the library with whom he shared books (as Revaz devoured the contents, "Ippoli" chewed the leather covers). An illness led to him spending the summer in the country with his grandparents, next door to a camp full of German POWs. One was assigned to help around their plot of land, becoming a source of friction between the grandparents. By the end of two summers, he's grown more confident, enough to take chances on himself as a writer and artist, eventually making movies in Moscow and opening a marionette theater.

Animation and cartooning are not mentioned during the film; maybe they don't need to be. Gabriadze the elder is credited as the art director, so the animation is presumably based upon Rezo's own drawings. Those images are simple and appealing, brought to life in what appears to be classic cel-based style with fluid movement, though it sometimes skips showy, complex motions (for instance, when Rezo's grandmother washes her hair, the audience doesn't see any water). Every character is full of personality that emerges right away, and crude jokes share space with sometimes foreboding atmospheres. His flights of fantasy as a young boy are bounded, built around the portraits of authority figures judging him, intimidating in a way that a creative child can either miss or twist to his own amusement. Kutaisi itself is crowded and overwhelming when he is there as a child, though a bit less so when he revisits as an adult.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Monday, September 09, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 2 September 2019 - 8 September 2019

You may see a lot of empty white space on these pages; I see the weekend that I finally reached the bottom of the stack of comics that's been growing since I went to London for vacation.

This Week in Tickets

(And, good gravy, is DC a disaster right now. It seems like they always are, but "Year of the Villain" is currently in the "re-reading the same beats in every series" stage, seemingly every idea Brian Bendis has for Superman is wrong-headed, the whole thing with Bane and Flashpoint Batman in Batman is awful. Who looked at these pitches and said "this will be fun and worth $4/issue"?)

It was, at least, a good week for baseball, or at least the two games I had tickets to. Wednesday was the result of me ordering in a kind of dumb manner - I didn't reallize that the ticket I got in a four-pack was also the Peanuts bobblehead game, so I bought a separate ticket for that, and then couldn't unload my original. A bummer, but I had a really nice seat for a game in which Mookie Betts hit the first two pitches he saw over the Monster (which also got me to the line-free King's Hawaiian barbecue concession stand during the game and out at the end with little fuss). Friday had me nervous - bullpen game against the seemingly-unstoppable-no-matter-who-gets-hurt Yankees - but they wound up winning 6-1.

But I digress from the entry on my movie blog that lists the movies I've seen in a given week. Those were seen on Sunday's excursion to Brookline, where I spent most of the day at the Coolidge. It started with Balloon, a German film that played Canadian theaters while I was in Montreal for Fantasia but which I didn't have time for. I'd sort of pegged it as a family movie at the time - it was rated G in Quebec - but it's not exactly that. There was apparently an earlier version (Night Crossing) made by Disney, but it wasn't well-remembered, and the makers of this one had to spend years negotiating with that company to get the rights to the story back (I'm guessing what the prominent thanks to Roland Emmerich in the credits refer to). After that, there was still a lot of convincing necessary, especially since the director was from Bavaria rather than the former East German and more known for comedy than thrillers. The film doesn't quite get to how, after reunification, some of the escapees were able to get their old house back and move back in, but that's neat.

(Aside: Thomas Krestschmann has played so many Nazis in international films despite being a tremendously charismatic guy that it's almost funny that he goes home and gets cast as Stasi.)

It wasn't a long wait after that for Official Secrets, which is pretty decent but not something I particularly regret missing at IFFBoston, even if there were some guests. It feels a bit like the filmmakers finding a story that makes a number of important points and seems dramatic enough but which only makes for a pretty-good movie rather than the great one you figure they'd gone for.

Hopefully a busier week for here and my Letterboxd page coming up, if only because there's a werid no-baseball Friday.

Ballon (Balloon)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 September 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Geothe-Institut German Film, DCP)

When I first saw the description of Balloon, I pegged it as a light family adventure, likely because the idea of fleeing a repressive society in a homemade hot-air balloon sounds fanciful, and the film didn't have enough red-flag content for the local ratings board to give it anything but the least restrictive rating. Of course, evading the Stasi while attempting to escape East Germany was no small matter, and that makes this movie a serious, no-nonsense thriller even if it doesn't have any harsh language or graphic violence. It's something of a throwback in that way, but that works for it.

It opens in 1979 on the day of the "Youth Dedication Ceremony" in the city of Possneck. Frank Strelzyk (Jonas Holdenrieder) is one of the graduating eighth-graders being honored as father Peter (Friedrich Mücke) mocks the presiding official to wife Doris (Karoline Schuch), despite the fact that they'll be giving neighbors Erik & Beate Baumann (Ronald Kukulies & Elisabeth Wasserscheid) a ride home, and Erik is a sort of mid-level bureaucrat with the Stasi. They don't intend to face the consequences, though, as the Strelzyks and their friends Günter & Petra Wetzel (David Kross & Alicia von Rittberg) have been working years on a hot-air balloon that will take them south, over the border to Bavaria, and the wind is right, even if the Wetzels have cold feet. The Strelzyks almost make it, but "almost" is a dangerous situation - it leaves enough clues behind for Lt. Col Seidel (Thomas Kretschmann) to pick up the scent, meaning they have to try again, except with weeks rather than months and the Stasi looking for them specifically.

Director and co-writer Michael Bully Herbig gets to that point, where the real meat of the film begins, fairly quickly, dispensing with a lot of what might be treated as important establishment of motivation. You don't really need to be told why anybody might want to flee East Germany, let alone why it's important for this specific group, so Herbig throws that in as details at the point where characters might actually mention it. Similarly, since this story involves the families doing a lot of things twice, it makes a lot of sense to just skip over the first time as much as possible rather than later feel like the filmmakers are spinning wheels or diminishing something's importance by doing a montage or not showing it later. It's a smart approach to this specific story and also just good storytelling in general - there's never a sense of anything important being left out or a filmmaker obviously trying to shape a story.

Full review at eFIlmCritic

Official Secrets

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 September 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Gavin Hood hasn't dedicated his entire directorial career to making films about the crimes and compromises behind the twenty-first century's Middle Eastern wars, but at three and counting, he's probably done more dramatic features on the subject than all but a few. If they ever become history people look back on rather than things that are still going on, those films will at the very least be an interesting set of commentary on the times as a group, even if some (like Official Secrets) are better as commentary than thrilling narrative.

The Official Secrets Act is the United Kingdom's primary law meant to protect national security, and in February 2004, Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) went on trial for the events of nearly a year earlier, when as a translator of signals intelligence, she was forwarded a memo asking that any information that could be used to leverage United Nations delegates into supporting action in Iraq on rather flimsy pretexts. She gave a copy to a friend in the anti-war movement, via whom it eventually made its way to reporter Martin Bright (Matt Smith) of the Observer, a paper that had until that point been editorializing in favor of the war. Bright, Peter Beaumont (Matthew Goode), and Washington correspondent Ed Vulliamy (Rhys Ifans) must be careful running the information down - it's hard to prove the sender even exists - and when the story breaks and Katharine is discovered, her Kurdish husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) becomes a target and lawyer Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) is hamstrung in what he can do to defend her.

There are times when Official Secrets seems almost too reserved and British for its own good, avoiding direct confrontation, short-circuiting a suspenseful stretch by having Katharine spontaneously confess, and making a lot of effort to repeat the details of what seems a convoluted legal strategy. But that's sort of the point; the film is about how institutions can smother people attempting to do right and how those in power arrange those institutions to make it more difficult. One of the most telling lines is almost tossed off, referencing how the law Katharine Gun has run afoul of was specifically amended when someone had successfully opposed corruption before. It's about crimes whose effects are devastating but diffuse, almost impossible to witness and report by design.

Full review at eFIlmCritic

Red Sox 6, Twins 2
Red Sox 6, Yankees 1
Official Secrets

Saturday, September 07, 2019

These Weeks in Tickets: 19 August 2019 - 1 September 2019

The end of summer comes to the movies with a whimper every year, but I kind of don't mind this year. I was kind of movied-out and the profile of these last two weeks shows it.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

Both weeks started out with film noir double features at the Brattle. On the 19th, front half The Woman in the Window was clearly the better of the two - even if it's not the best work they could do together, it's still Fritz Land and Edward G. Robinson. I kind of wonder who today's Robinson would be - not leading-man handsome, perhaps at his best as a villain, but able to slip into an everyman lead when given the chance. The back half, The Mask of Dimitrios, wasn't quite so strong; it's got Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet but is no Casablanca or Maltese Falcon.

On Thursday, I did my first bit of Fantasia catch-up with Ready or Not, which I gather was a security-lockdown nuthouse at the festival. It's one of those that is fun enough to watch at the time, with a candy coating that goes down really well, but which kind of reveals itself as not having a whole lot to it as you write and talk about it. Not a bad night out at the theater, but definitely not worth putting on the shelf.

I figured to see more over the weekend, but I kind of got sucked into marathoning the last eight or nine episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, which is still probably not going to please a lot of Trek traditionalists, but which I found myself digging more and more. It's done the same job of quietly building up the background characters into supporting cast that the original series did as opposed to having nine people who needed something to do every week, and it's got what seems like a crazy budget for this show, which means we get a look at what Vulcan looks like as an advanced culture whose planet has many different types of climates because they had more than twenty bucks to spend, with a probe that becomes a crazy tentacle monster in the same episode. In the big two-part finale, they've got one of the franchise's best space battles, noteworthy in part because they seemed to be extrapolating from now, with drones and UAVs and the like rather than just sub-inspired warfare.

It's got some issues - too much of Michelle Yeoh jobbing to get people over, and moments in those finale when they on the one hand have characters saying "yes, I will join you in next year's new status quo" and the long awaited "...and this is why we must never speak of Spock's sister, her ship, or its weird and super-useful spore drive ever again" in awful close proximity. But, heck, it's pretty great modern Trek, and the Picard teaser looks like fun.

So, anyway, the only movie I saw that weekend was 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, which was pretty bad, though that was to be expected in that the first one was also pretty bad and had a better cast than this. Oh well.

The next week, we started again with more noir-ish stuff, and once again the front half - The Uninvited was the stronger movie. Not great, but a solid-as-heck variation on spooky-house movies that can't much be scolded for coloring in the lines. The second half, Curse of the Cat People, was at least fairly short, but boring as heck.

After that, I plugged away at getting Killjoys and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. off my DVR, at least until it was time for NeZha on Thursday. That one was a monster hit in China, which means the circumstances had to be just right to get it the sort of theatrical run it's getting in the USA, where I'm one of the only guys in a high-capacity theater's audience who needs the subtitles. I've got no idea how American kids would go for it, but I was able to talk myself into it being pretty good.

Then on Friday, I was back in the same building for Killerman, which I was pleasantly surprised to see booked here because I skipped it at Fantasia and things don't always line up that conveniently. I wanted to write it up sooner, but my brother got married over the weekend, which means I was in Maine and kind of too drained to write even when I got some moments to myself after my great big terrific family was done for the day.

We'll see how my Letterboxd page (and moviegoing in general) rebounds now that all of that is finished up.

The Woman in the Window

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2019 in The Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

The pairing of Edward G. Robinson and director Fritz Lang feels like it should result in a film noir classic but instead produces a film that's a little bit too self-aware. Every moment where Robinson's Professor Richard Wanley puts his foot in the wrong place becomes a winking joke rather than a moment to twist the screws a little more. It's definitely making Wanley nervous, sure, but it's a goof for the audience, and neither Lang nor screenwriter Nunnally Johnson (working from a novel by J.H. Wallis) seems to realize that by showing more of the perspective of Joan Bennett's Alice Reed - the other person on-hand when her paramour was accidentally shot - they could heighten the tension that way.

Instead, you kind of have to wait for Dan Duryea to show up as the dead man's bodyguard, who may not have done his job very well but is cunning enough to figure out what's going on and put the squeeze on. The whole movie shifts once he shows up - what was an expression of foolish shame before becomes genuinely dangerous - and Duryea is such a thoroughly enjoyable sleaze that he feels like exactly what the film full of good-intentioned but short-sighted people was missing. Robinson and Bennett were enjoyable, with his bookish charm playing nicely against her sexy confidence, but they get twisted up once Duryea's around.

Like the previous week's Ministry of Fear, Lang's movie ends on a joke that undercuts the mood of it even more than it tends to backtrack events, and it's kind of curious. Was Lang trying to please American producers, or too lacking in clout to point out that this sort of thing can make a movie fizzle? The movie had its issues before its epilogue, and was going to have a clear moral anyway, but I don't see why one would rob its climax of the power it has.

The Mask of Dimitrios

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

There haven't been many actors like Peter Lorre, guys who have such a distinctive, exaggerated style that it seems like they would only be useful for comic relief, but who can sneak edge or pathos into that role. He doesn't really do that here, but it's kind of a ball to watch him ooze around the screen as a Norwegian mystery writer, kind of lazily amoral but claiming to be fascinated by the assassin who turned up dead while he was at a party. There are large chunks of the movie that don't really need him at all, but any other way of relating Dimitrios's story doesn't have Peter Lorre in it, so you put up with it.

The obvious twist seems to be that Lorre's Cornelius Leyden is actually Dimitrios, but at a certain point it becomes clear that this would take too much work and I'm not sure how often filmmakers were willing to lie that completely to the audience, so instead we get a lurking Sydney Greenstreet who eventually steps forward, apparently wanting something from Leyden although, honestly, he probably could just do this himself. Greenstreet is, as usual, just a delightful rock to build a movie around, lending gravitas to even the silliest scenes and imbue the ending with far more weight and tragedy than it deserves. The work by Zachary Scott as Dimitrios is neat, too - there's a baseline, but also a bit of an adjustment to whoever is telling the story at a given time.

For all that the filmmakers tell a story about Leyden searching Europe for information about Dimitrios, there's something about the scale that never quite adds up. Dimitrios never seems brilliant enough to make the jump from pickpocket to international fugitive, not quite so interesting that you could try to build Citizen Kane around him. Maybe there's something just off about Lorre's performance or the script he's given, so that the audience mostly told he's fascinated by this figure but not convincingly enough that we are too.

Ready or Not

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

Ready or Not is such a tremendously polished version of a decent idea that it can take a little effort to realize that, really, there's not much here. It's not completely hollow - for example, I believe the demon-worshippers of this movie about five times as much as, say, the cult in Hereditary, especially when they seem absolutely miserable about the deal that their ancestor made, and that's a huge deal. It makes the whole thing real in a way that this sort of thing often doesn't, even if it's otherwise a wiseass horror-comedy. It's the sort of nice detail that makes one impressed at the detail work, but making the villains sympathetic undercuts the way it talks big about how the rich are a scourge, testing one's worthiness to join them/sacrificing others for their wealth, or how people are seduced by this lifestyle

It's good enough to skate on other things, like how it mostly lets the audience assume that Grace is a Good Person rather than showing much indication that she's more than fun - Samara Weaving is a firecracker who is always game for this sort of role, but one may get more sense of who she is and what she's going through from how her wedding dress gets soiled and shredded over the course of the film. It's also worth noting that, for a film built around a chase and meant to thrill, it doesn't have any memorable action at all; even the impressively bloody finale seems to happen without anyone actually doing anything..

It still earns a lot of credit for what it does well, though, from the members of the family that kind of hate the pact they're in to some decent pitch-black comedy and a neat score by Brien Tyler. It's good enough to make good on some of its ambitions, but the filmmakers don't always nail the fundamentals of a good B movie and it becomes fairly hollow once one makes it to the subway and starts thinking about it.

The Uninvited (1944)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, 35mm)

The Uninvited is a bit of a by-the-numbers ghost story, but one that has a fairly charming cast, including Alan Napier as a silver-fox doctor to bring the best out of Ruth Hussey playing what could be a boring spinster sister. They never quite steal the film from Ray Milland (as her brother) and Gail Russell (as the daughter of the man who sold them the haunted house), but they make a fun group. Their chemistry lets the movie start playful but introduce real malice as things go on, with a final resolution that must have seemed somewhat scandalous during the years of the Hays Code.

Even in 1944, it must have fallen into a fairly familiar pattern, but it's got a few impressively creepy moments that counter how so much seems to come out of spoken exposition, and uses its big empty spaces well. It does exactly what you'd expect a 75-year-old ghost story to do, but does it with some casual assurance.

Curse of the Cat People

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Noirversary, digital)

70 minutes can be an awful long movie when you're waiting for something resembling anything to happen, and that's how it is with Curse of the Cat People. It's apparently very personal for producer Val Lewton, and getting the ship righted after production problems was Robert Wise's first job as a credited director, so it's got an interesting place in film history. But it's also a bunch of stories that don't connect very well, having the germs of interesting ideas but not giving the characters much interesting to do.

There's also something to be said for how one's most frequent company during this movie is not anybody from the original film, but Ann Carter, a child actress who had the right sweet but ethereal air didn't quite have the natural charisma or the right direction to make a character out of it. She's got a great far-away look in her eyes and sounds like a very polite little girl, but it doesn't add up to a personality for her Amy Reed; she never feels even naturally weird. Perhaps that can be put down to changing standards - a kid like Amy would have been seen as more peculiar in 1944 than today - but everyone seems oddly muted, with the parents seemingly outsourcing care of their daughter to the help despite often working from home but the film not being about how this girl lacks an anchor in reality.

The Woman in the Window & The Mask of Dimitrios
Ready or Not
47 Meters Down: Uncaged

The Uninvited & Curse of the Cat People

Friday, September 06, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 6 September 2019 - 12 September 2019

Really just one movie opening this weekend. That's… It.

  • It Chapter Two to be precise, with the cast of the first returning plus Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, and more as the adult versions of the kids from the pretty-decent first. It's all over the place: Somerville, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (in Imax), Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Revere (including MX4D & XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    AMC Theaters return to what seems like an annual thing with their "Dream Big Princess" shows of four Disney animated films, each for a week apiece. First up is The Little Mermaid, playing a couple shows a day at Boston Commonand Assembly Row. Why they can do this but theaters will soon not be able to book the Fox catalog they've purchased, I dunno.

    Iris: A Space Opera by Justice plays Revere on Tuesday, looking like one of the more elaborate concert films you'll see. Fenway plays Russian animated autobiographical documentary Rezo on Tuesday evening, with Georgian animator Rezo Gabriadze's son Leo directing from his father's script. Another documentary, You Are Here: A Come From Away Story, plays Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Wednesday, telling the story of the people on the 38 airliners that landed in Gardner, Newfoundland after being diverted following the 9/11 attacks and the town that welcomed them. Another 2001-based documentary, Blink of an Eye, focuses on that year's Daytona 500, where top racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. was killed; it plays Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row. Revere has the first of a couple special screenings of The Breakfast Club on Thursday. There is also a special "fan event" week-early preview screening of the Downton Abbey movie on Thursday, at the Coolidge, the Somerville, West Newton, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, Assembly Row, Revere, and the SuperLux.
  • The opening which spans The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, and Boston Common this week is Official Secrets, an IFFBoston centerpiece selection starring Keira Knightley as an intelligence officer who leaks documents showing that the rush to war with Iraq is happening under false pretenses; Ralph Fiennes and Matt Smith also star in the movie by Gavin Hood, who has made a couple other films about related events (Rendition and Eye in the Sky).

    Midnights at the Coolidge this weekend feature John Waters "classics", with Pink Flamingos on Friday and Polyester on Saturday, both on 35mm film. Sunday morning's Goethe-Institut German film is Balloon, in which two East German families plot to escape to the west via homemade hot-air balloon - it's one I was tempted by when it played Canada this summer, although I was too busy to get to it. Monday's Science on Screen show has Harvard professor Avi Loeb talking about interstellar travel and SETI before Denis Villeneuve's Arrival. Tuesday features both Open Screen and a Stage & Screen presentation of Shakespeare in Love with guests from the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.
  • Kendall Square opens up two others, with Vita & Virginia is the one-week "calendar" booking, featuring Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki as authors Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, whose affair inspired the novel Orlando. They also get festival favorite Honeyland, a Macedonian film about a lonely beekeeper whose new neighbors want to make honey but often ignore her traditional knowledge. They also have a special presentation of the "New York Cat Film Festival" on Tuesday.
  • The major Bollywood film opening at Apple Fresh Pond this week is Chhichhore, which follows a group of college friends into middle age. In more limited showtimes, Tamil crime films Magamuni and Sivappu Manjal Pachai and Malayalam action-comedy Brother's Day also open (the latter through Sunday). Malayalam martial-arts comedy Ittymaani: Made in China plays matinees on Saturday and Sunday, while Sunday also features what looks to be film festival of sorts, with Marathi romance Sir, Marathi odd-couple road movie Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence, and Nepali romance A Mero Hajur 3. Tamil thriller Enai Noki Paayum Thota opens Wednesday. Saaho and Mission Mangal hang around with reduced showtimes.

    Chinese hit Nezha is no longer playing in Imax 3D at Boston Common, but continues in 2D and also opens at Fenway. Mexico's Tad@s Caen continues in Revere.
  • The Brattle Theatre continues their run of Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes throughout the week, with separate-but-related "Accompaniment" screenings of Inside Man (35mm Friday with a soundtrack by Terence Blanchard), Blow-Up (35mm Saturday with a score by Herbie Hancock), and Miles Ahead (Sunday with Don Cheadle as Miles Davis).

    Monday also features their first DocYard presentation of the year, with Midnight Traveler following Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili as he flees the Taliban. Fazili will not be present, but producer/writer/editor Emelie Mahdavian will Skype in to answer questions. There's also a free, but first-come-first-serve, preview screening of The Goldfinch on Tuesday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has a flashy new website to go with their fall schedule, with this week featuring the films of Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty, with Hyenas playing Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, with Touki Bouki, the film to which it is considered a "spiritual sequel", on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday afternoon also features a $5 matinee of two 45-minute featurettes, "Le Franc", and "The Girl Who Sold the Sun", part of what would have been a "Tales of Little People" trilogy if not for Mambéty's death.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts continues their runs of A Bigger Splash (Friday/Sunday/Wednesday) and Leaving Home, Coming Home: A Portrait of Robert Frank (Sunday/Wednesday), but also has some repertory programs this week: The monthly "On the Fringe: Adventures in Cult Cinema" show is Paris Is Burning, playing Friday night. They also start a "Festival Buzz" series, with The Souvenir (Saturday/Sunday), Her Smell (Saturday), and The Farewell (Wednesday). There's also an outdoor "Sunset Cinema" screening of Us on Thursday, complete with paper-doll making.
  • I swear the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival was not on the schedule at The Regent Theatre this time last week, but it started Thursday, and will be there through Sunday, booked incredibly tight to get as many films as they can in. Somehow I screwed up and listed documentary Shattered: The Story of Kevin Stevens for last week, when it has its U.S. premiere relatively early in the evening on Tuesday 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.
  • Cinema Salem opens oddball romantic comedy Ode To Joy in their small room, with Martin Freeman as a cataplexic librarian who cannot feel too many emotional highs and lows less he pass out, but how do you reconcile that with a lady played by Monica Baccarin enters your life and seems to like you? They also get otherwise-VOD-exclusive Satanic Panic, which I had a blast with at Fantasia.

    The Luna Theater has The Farewell on Friday and Saturday evenings, Honeyland Saturday afternoon, and Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am on Saturday and Tuesday evenings. Sunday's feature is They Live, and they reconfigure their free shows again with Saturday Morning Cartoons displacing "Magic Mystery Movie Club" (which is now only on Sundays), and Weirdo Wednesday (I think) starting a bit later at 7:35pm.

    The AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall splits a screen between Strange But True, in which a woman tells her five-years-dead boyfriend's family that she is pregnant with his child, and Next Level, about kids in a summer performing arts program.
  • Joe's Free Films has most outdoor series ending this year, but one at the Charleston Naval Yard is just starting with There's Something About Mary on Friday night, while Glory plays on the Boston Common Parade Ground on Monday, with remarks from Byron Rushing; Emerson College will show it again on Wednesday evening, still for free, but inside the Bright Screening Room, with more guests and Q&A.

I suppose I'll see It, but I'm also curious about Official Secrets, Balloon, Rezo, Vita & Virginia, and Honeyland, so things could get busy.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.03: Pizza: A Love Story and Not for Resale

Both Thursday and Friday wound up being loosely-themed double features for me, though Nancy and the rest of the Festival team don't necessarily plan it that way (I did have to get on the T between Them That Follow and The Death of Dick Long for my "Danger Down South" pairing on Thursday). These two are in the same room, though, and might draw locals and fans the way the music docs historically have.

First up we have Pizza: A Love Story director Gorman Bechard and producer Dean Falcone, who both hail from New Haven and have strong opinions on pizza in ways that only people from New Haven can have. They've tended to work on music documentaries together - you can tell from the rolodex of people they're able to call on to be talking heads, winking as they hint that they plan stops on their tours in New Haven for the express purpose of having good pizza afterward. Bechard and Falcone were animated, from how they are a bit wary of Netflix as independent filmmakers ("Netflix tells you how to finish") to anybody in the audience who implied that they liked inferior toppings on their pizza.

They probably did not approve of my going to Dragon Pizza, but would probably prefer that to Oath or whatever the other options are in Davis Square. Around that time, Pepe's opened a location at the Burlington Mall, but we haven't gone there for work yet.

Next was cinematographer Thomas Chalifour-Drahman and director Kevin J. James of Not for Resale. One of the video game shops they focused on is in Salem, so it's owner and some of its loyal patrons were on hand, and from some of the questions, college kids who shop at other featured spots when they're home on break. It's also worth noting that when they were talking about Pokemon Go, they location people were poking around was Davis Square, which isn't quite like seeing The Third Man in Vienna, but is still fun.

Just a generally fun talk, which goes along with how the film itself is upbeat and sees a great deal of potential in how digital distribution has changed gaming but wants to talk about how it's maybe not all great.

Pizza: A Love Story

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Gorman Bechard's film about the famous "apizza" restaurants of New Haven, Connecticut could have taken the path of following how pizza came to America, took its first steps of evolution into its most ubiquitous forms in that city, and then spread from there, but instead it stays hyper-local and specialized. It's the kind of movie that, from a commercial perspective, initially seems like it won't travel at all and is kind of an act of madness. Those movies are kinds of great, though, a drill-down that maybe doesn't increase general knowledge but feels like half specific insight and half gleefully useless (but delightful) trivia.

That trivia starts coming early with the very words New Havenites use for this dish: Pizza is "apizza", pronounced "a-beatz", a plain pie does not necessarily include cheese - that is labeled "mozz" on the menu and pronounced "moots". It came to America via the Italian immigrants who came to find a job at Sargent Hardware and, having found one, wrote to their family and friends, initially a sort of sideline for bakeries just making simple bread. In 1925, Frank la Pepe opened what is today Pepe's, though it was a small concern until 1935, with Sally's and Tony's opening in 1938, with the latter rebranding itself as "Modern Apizza" in 1944. The original locations still have the original ovens from that time, monsters that take hours to get up to 600-700 degrees Fahrenheit, giving the crust a distinctive char. Locals will tell you that the continuous use of those ovens for eighty-odd years imbues rich smoky flavor that even the most well-intentioned imitators will never match.

Naturally, the film is not entirely about pizza; one can watch it and see Bechard laying out the history of his city, a cycle of immigration, assimilation, and gentrification that extends well beyond New Haven. It's not the deepest possible dive into the topics by a long shot, but tying it into the story of the city's pizza likely gets it a bit more attention even within the city. Bechard never loses his focus, but he does well to establish that the Italian-American neighborhoods where these apizza shops opened and remain despite their no longer necessarily being Italian-American neighborhoods have their own arc that's tied in with the restaurants themselves, and that one shouldn't necessarily ignore that as the price of getting to eat delicious pizza.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Not for Resale

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

There's been a lot of recent talk online about the potential death of physical media for movies as I begin to flesh the capsule I wrote the night I watched this out, but that's not much of a coincidence; that talk started the moment Netflix announced the "Watch Instantly" option and hasn't slowed down since. Not for Resale covers how that same dynamic is at play in the world of games, from the point of view of the proprietors of video game shops, but it's worth a look even for those of us whose most recent game system purchase is a Sega Dreamcast; this medium is different from others in many ways, but in others it's just a few steps ahead.

It starts by introducing Neil Crockett, who has owned and operated GameZone in Salem, Massachusetts for over 25 years, long enough to see his business go from retail-priced new releases to buying and selling used copies to stocking "retro" games from the days when he first opened for the collectors' market. Other people operating such stores across the country are similar, although some are younger, not necessarily having been alive to play the Atari 2600s in the back when they were new. Despite the video game industry growing to massive size, this sort of retail long been a business for people aiming to make a little money off their hobby rather than a lot, and times are getting tighter - new games often don't get physical releases at all, and as older gamers leave the hobby, there aren't as many new collectors looking to buy what they're selling off.

There's a recipe for despair in that, and I suspect that director Kevin J. James probably wound up talking to some people whose shops closed by the time post-production was done, and who could have provided some bitter interview footage. He doesn't show much of that, to the point where one of the things that struck me early on about Not for Resale, compared to other documentaries about industries in transition, is how positive many of its video game retailers were about the shift to digital marketplaces; they're too much in love with the medium to look past that potential. It's an attitude that manifests in the film, which is able to look at its subjects in whole without framing them as quixotic.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Monday, September 02, 2019

Fantasia 2019.51: Killerman

No, Fantasia has not actually been going on for seven weeks plus, but if it did, I suspect there are folks in Montreal who would be down for it. It would probably be too much for me to stretch my vacation time going up there, though. Still, when a Fantasia movie gets its release, and the poster even has the Fantasia logo toward the center, it's hard not to feel that if we keep Fantasia in our hearts, it can be Fantasia every day.

I didn't catch this one there, as it turned out; at the last minute I decided to stick with friends who were seeing 8, especially since that one was looking like it would be hard to catch for its second show. Turned out to be a good decision, as I liked 8 a lot and it turned out that this one got a theatrical release. That caught me by surprise - it's got a tiny distributor and I was afraid it would be bumped by NeZha - but I actually was able to guess that it was the new one from the Cash Only people by the trailer even before the title came up, and made sure I carved out a little time to see it before heading north for a big old family thing this weekend.

It's probably got just six and a half days - you know this will be one of the things that has its Thursday cut short for the early shows of It 2, especially when there were just a couple people in the theater with me opening night - and I can't say it's a great movie, but it's an honestly grimy bit of crime that doesn't necessarily crack the lineup at Boston Common at all most weeks.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2019 in AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run, DCP)

Killerman opens with a nifty quote about money laundering (that the illegal drug business generates a hundred billion in revenues, and the difficulty of pushing 26 million pounds of cash through a teller's window), and a fun sequence of a money launderer transforming a banker's box full of c-notes into cashier's checks difficult to trace back to a criminal enterprise, before starting to do other things, then goes in another direction again for the finale. It's not a bait-and-switch, exactly, but maybe filmmaker Malik Bader could have spent more time with half of his intriguing set-ups and saved the others for another movie.

The money launderer we follow during that time is the aptly named Moe Diamond (Liam Hemsworth), a jeweler in New York's Bowery who knows the sorts of people who can make large cash transactions look legitimate while also being buddies with Bobby (Emory Cohen), also known as "Skunk", a small-timer who has helped him land a big job: His uncle needs $2 million a day cleaned for ten days, part of a plan to buy a building in Manhattan and go legit, to the point of having a Congressman renting space from him. Perico (Zlatko Buric) sees something off right away, which leaves Moe and Bobby with cash on hand, which Bobby suggests they use in a drug deal that offers a huge profit overnight. Trouble is, it's a trap, with corrupt cops Duffo (Nickola Shreli) and Martinez (Bader) showing up to shake them down. They're prepared enough to escape the scene, but a crash leaves Moe badly concussed - and that's the optimistic diagnosis - unable to remember his own name. Not a great condition to be in when surviving the next day means outwitting and outrunning everyone who feels they have something that does not belong to them.

As a plot device, amnesia has got to be one of the sharpest double-edged swords that a writer can draw. It's real and so cannot be completely dismissed, but uncommon enough that it almost cannot help but feel too convenient whenever it shows up in a story; the real-world randomness of brain injuries isn't quite compatible with how actions in films are assumed to have meaning. The problem here is not so much that Bader gives Moe a recovery that tracks too well with what the story needs - to the extent that anything like that happens, it's well-camouflaged - but that he cuts interesting avenues off too often. He spends the first act teaching the audience about money-laundering but then has Moe cut off from those skills and contacts, and aside from the occasional pained look, there's not much of the movie's center that would seemingly change if he had his memory. That Moe is potentially suggestible and less assertive than usual doesn't come up much until late, nor is there much time spent on just where the skills and ruthlessness he does display are coming from.

Full review on EFilmCritic