Friday, September 27, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 September 2019 - 3 October 2019

Someone literally announced a run of a movie I want to see that would align exactly with my going to a Dallas suburb without any sort of useful public transportation this week. That's just mean.

  • Apparently "Oriental DreamWorks" is now called "Pearl Studio", which is less uncomfortable to say, but I'm guessing that being co-produced with a Chinese company means that Abominable can play in China despite the upcoming holiday there. It follows a bunch of kids who have to help a lost Yeti return home. It's at the Capitol (2D only), Fresh Pond (2D only), West Newton (2D only), Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only).

    The last movie in this year's "Dream Big, Princess" series at Boston Common and Assembly Row is The Princess and the Frog; the month's Ghibli flick is The Secret World of Arrietty, playing Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere dubbed on Sunday and subtitled on Monday. There's also a new anime film, Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl, playing Boston Common and Fenway on Wednesday and Thursday, apparently a spinoff of the Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai series. Snoopy, Come Home plays the Regent and Revere on Sunday and the Lexington Venue on Thursday afternoon. Concert documentary Roger Waters: Us + Them plays Boston Common, the Seaport, and Revere on Wednesday.
  • The week's other big opening is Judy, which stars Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland after she's fallen on hard times and needs a comeback. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, West Newton, Boston Common, and Fenway.

    At midnight on Friday, the Coolidge finishes what they started last week with Kill Bill: Volume 2 on 35mm, and also welcomes co-star Greg Sestero for The Room, also around the next night for The Disaster Artist. Saturday's other midnight is the first show of Depraved, Larry Fessenden's pretty terrific modern take on Frankenstein, one of my favorites at Fantasia, and will be hanging for midnights next weekend too. On Monday, they welcome director Jamie Catto for an advance screening of Becoming Nobody, his documentary on Ram Dass. Tuesday's 35mm Cine Almodóvar show is Talk To Me.

    They also host the first couple nights of The GlobeDocs Film Festival, with Gay Chorus Deep South opening the festival on Wednesday and Made in Boise and Human Nature on Thursday. They will also be at the ShowPlace Icon in the Seaport on Thursday with a free sneak preview of Augmented and a 3D screening of Cunningham, apparently already sold out.
  • Kendall Square picks up one of the movies I'd hoped to catch at IFFBoston, Monos, a terrific-looking thriller about a number of child soldiers holding an American doctor (Julianne Nicholson) hostage. They also get documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, and a somewhat less conventional film about a famed artist, with Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles and animated feature about the surrealist filmmaker making a documentary with his friend who won the lottery.
  • The Capitol Theatre in Arlington appears to be the only place in the area opening The Day Shall Come, in which Marchánt Davis plays a street preacher set up by the FBI to attract other kooks, but things wind up going completely off the rails. It's directed by Christopher Morris, who made the similarly political-but-screwy Four Lions.

    The Somerville Theatre has some 35mm shows of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood this weekend, alternating on screen #1 with a new print of Monty Python and the Holy Grail through Sunday. They and the Coolidge will also be breaking out the really big film for Joker starting on Thursday
  • That movie specifically scheduled for me to miss is The Climbers, which tells the story of a Chinese team in 1960 attacking the "second step" of Everest. It's got a heck of a cast - Wu Jing, Jing Boran, Zhang Yi, and Ge Hu as the team, as well as Zhang Ziyi and a small role for Jackie Chan - with Daniel Lee directing and Tsui Hark producing. It opens on the Imax screen at Boston Common on Monday, hanging around there until Joker arrives on Thursday, at which point it moves to a regular screen. Another star-studded National Day movie opens there on Tuesday, with My Country, My People an anthology film built around 7 moments in the history of the People's Republic of China, directed by the likes of Chen Kaige, Nig Hao, Xu Zheng, and more. The also keep The Last Wish and Nezha around (with Nezha also at Lexington), as well as zippy anime adventure Promare.

    It's also a big week for Indian movies, with Apple Fresh Pond opening two Tamil films on Friday, action-comedy Namma Veettu Pillai and thriller Otha Seruppu Size 7. Malayalam romantic comedy Love Action Drama plays Saturday and Sunday. The first really big opening is Syeraa, which tells the story of Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy (Chiranjeevi), who led a rebellion against the East India Tea Company years before the more famous ones; it starts on Tuesday with most of its screenings in Telugu but Hindi and Tamil ones on the schedule as well. Then on Wednesday, they (and Fenway) get Bollywood action movie War, which throws Hrithik Roshan up against Tiger Shroff as spies looking to eliminate each other. They also open English-language indie Obsession, featuring Mekhi Phifer, Elika Portnoy, and Brad Dourif in a potentially-lethal triangle.

    Dominican comedy El Equipito continues at Revere, which also opens Nothing to Lose 2, the second of two biopics Edir Macedo has financed to be made about himself.
  • The Boston Women's Film Festival continues at the Brattle Theatre and Museum of Fine Arts through Sunday; I can personally recommend Knives and Skin, Paradise Hills, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, and Swallow.
  • After that, The Brattle Theatre has a free "Elements of Cinema" screening of The Connection early Monday evening, and a [not entirely] Strictly Brohibited show of Born in Flames later that night. A new screen is being installed Tuesday (goodbye, seams!), and the first movie projected on it is a secret members-only show (from the 90s and in 35mm) that night. They pay tribute to Sid Haig with Spider Baby on Wednesday, and have a special premiere of Jack and Yaya on Thursday.
  • The festival ends September film calendar at The Museum of Fine Arts, with October's kicking off with a three day run of Aga, a story of Northern indiginous parents looking to reunite with their daughter, starting Wednesday. Wednesday and Thursday are also the start of a run of Romanian film I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians.
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes experimental filmmaker Margaret Honda with her film Color Correction (very specifically on 35mm) on Friday night. They start their series of films by this year's McMillan-Stewart Fellow, Dieudo Hamadi, with the Congolese filmmaker's Examen d'état playing Saturday and Atalaku on Sunday. They break out a 35mm print of Murder by Contract later on Saturday as part of their B-Movie series, while Horse Money on Monday is both a Cinema of Resistence show and a sort of preview for when director Pedro Costa visits with his new film a week later.
  • The Regent Theatre plays Rocketman as a sing-along show on Friday Night, and then has a free screening of "Laugh Now: A Perspective on Life, Liberty, and the Holocaust" on Saturday afternoon. Snoopy Comes Home plays Sunday; documentary The Chosen Generation of Bakka plays Wednesday.
  • The Boston Latino International Film Festival continues through Sunday, with screenings mostly in the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount but also at Harvard's Tsai Auditorium, Northeastern University, and Rabb Hall at the Boston Public Library, with the closing awards ceremony at the Arlington Street Church.

    They're out of Bright in plenty of time for Bright Lights, which shows Hail Satan? with Satanic Temple Lucien Greaves in attendance on Tuesday and J.R. "Bob" Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius on Thursday, that one featuring an appearance by Rev. St. Brother Cleveland “Do-Nit” Duncan III, Esq, Jr, aka Brother Cleve (a regular part of BUFF festivities). Free and open to the public.
  • Aeronaut Brewery has their quarterly visit from silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis on Sunday, this time adding music to 1927's The Lost World.
  • On Wednesday, Belmont World Film will welcome director Aaron Kopp to The West Newton Cinema to discuss his film Liyana, which follows a group of orphans in Swaziland who create their own fairy tale.
  • Cinema Salem has this year's Manhattan Short Film Festival in their screening room; it also plays at the Regent on Sunday afternoon and Thursday evening. The Salem Horror Fest starts on Thursday with a screening of Salem-shot Mass Hysteria

    The Luna Theater has the directors of Punk the Capital on hand for a Q&A after Friday night's screening, final shows of The Farewell and The Nightingale Saturday afternoon, shorts from the GLAS Animation Festival on Saturday and Tuesday evenings, Donnie Darko all day Sunday, and a UMass Lowell Philosophy & Film screening of The Wrestler on Monday evening. The Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday's "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday are free surprise screenings.
  • Boston University's annual Tournées Film Festival has kicked off, with free films in the Photonics Building Room #206 - Memoir of War on Friday and Cold Water on Thursday.

There is too much to see before I have to leave! I'm thinking The Day Shall Come, Monos, and maybe Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, kind of nervous that Holy Grail will become an obnoxious quote-along and figuring I should try and see Abominable while it's in 3D. Then the question is, do I bail on after-work socializing to find a theater in the Dallas area playing The Climbers or do I just wait for it to hit regular screens at home?

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.04: We Are Not Princesses, Ms. Purple, When Lambs Become Lions, and In Fabric

Sometimes, when planning a festival, you look at a day and maybe think that you're not sure anything in it really grabs you until you see that Ms. Purple is by the guy who did a movie you loved a couple years back, and then that slot's sorted. Then you see In Fabric and think that while it may get a release, it may just be midnight shows at the Coolidge, so better lock that down. Then it's seeing what fits in between, and the two docs seem like the best bet.

It was a schedule that left me without a whole lot of guests on this particular day, just We Are Not Princesses director Bridgette Auger (note: the one picture I got where she's not half-hidden behind some guy's head) and producer Hal Scardino. One thing that they mentioned was that the events that we saw happened back in 2014; editing, animation, and just getting into festivals takes time, after all.

We Are not Princesses

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #2 (IFFBoston, DCP)

In many cases, one might find oneself not quite dismissing this sort of documentary by saying it works because the filmmakers found good subjects, like a movie just happens when you point a camera at an unusual and charismatic person. It's probably more true that interesting subjects are all around, and the real challenges are getting them comfortable enough to open up, then pulling out the best parts. That, as they say, is the tricky part, especially when those people already have as much reason to try and blend into the scenery as the Syrian refugees in We Are Not Princesses do.

The filmmakers do a fair job of that, aided a bit by finding women in these refugee camps a little more willing to be extroverted than others might - they arguably wouldn't be joining a theater program otherwise - and figuratively looking over their shoulders as they discuss their current situation and how it relates to the production of Antigone they're rehearsing at a center in Beirut. For some, venturing outside the house for any reason but to do the shopping is almost terrifying, while others are more at ease than people might expect.

Though the film has the basic shape of a "let's put on a show!" story, the filmmakers are wise to recognize that the actual rehearsal and performance is not nearly so interesting as the discussions it brings about, so while there is a director and a stage and eventually an audience, that whole side of the process is only glimpsed briefly. Instead, directors Bridgette Auger and Itab Azzam focus on the everyday lives that these women lead, or more often let their conversations steer the film. It lets these women fully emerge as themselves, with only as much of Antigone and the play's other characters as they choose to acknowledge, and gives the filmmakers room to focus on things that have little to do with the play - a mother perhaps adapting better to freedoms she remembers from her you than her supposedly more modern daughter, for example.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Ms. Purple

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Justin Chon made a pretty terrific movie a couple years back whose confrontational title ("Gook") and black-and-white photography may have helped make people reluctant to buy a ticket. This time out, the color is right in the more welcoming title, but in a lot of ways the heart of the film is the same - sibling issues, Korean-American family obligation, assimilation - and the story he crafts from those ideas is still compelling.

It opens with a flashback, a father getting his two children ready for a special occasion, fussing rather a bit more over his daughter than his son. Fifteen years later, daughter Kasie (Tiffany Chu) is 23 and has forgone musical training to spend the last few years looking after their dying father, working for tips as a karaoke hostess with the money stretched thin enough that she can no longer pay the undocumented woman who looks after him while she's away. Calling her brother Carey (Teddy Lee) to help share the load doesn't feel like a great idea, but it's all she's got. Fortunately, his current couch-surfing options are limited, although he's not entirely inclined to let having to watch a bedridden man cramp his style.

Carey wheeling their father around Los Angeles's Koreatown, hospital bed and all, is an undeniably funny image but Chon is careful not to frame it as a clever solution initially - Carey is making a nuisance of himself and inconveniencing everyone around him - although one shouldn't necessarily feel bad about enjoying it: For all that Carey is mostly finding a way to do what he wants, it's worth noting that Kasie is spending all of her time tending to men on separate fronts: Her father, the handsy creeps at the karaoke bar, the brother who eats all the food, a rich kid she dates hoping he'll be around when she needs someone. It's not entirely a movie about how men just expect women to take care of things (and not just because Octavio Pizano's smitten parking valet is there as an exception), but the dynamic is there and worth noting. There's a great moment in flashback that ties it all together, young Kasie instinctively picking up where her departed mother left off.

Full review on EFilmCritic

When Lambs Become Lions

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #2 (IFFBoston, DCP)

More than once during When Lambs Become Lions, I wondered how Jon Kasbe even make this movie. It feels like it shouldn't be possible, requiring the filmmakers to not just embed themselves with criminals and law enforcement simultaneously but for there to be connections and the story to actually connect . How can it be a documentary even if it does have a fair chunk of reenactment footage (which, for all I know, it doesn't)?

It tells the parallel stories of two cousins: Asan, a wilderness ranger in North Kenya, and "X", a poacher working intersecting territory. X is mostly a businessman, with a partner named Lukas who does the actual hunting; by his count, he has felled 16 elephants on his own and more with a team. There are customers waiting for tusks, making X put pressure on Lukas, while Asan is and his colleagues have not been paid for a while, and with a pregnant wife at home, this is the sort of situation where a man might take a little money to let his cousin know where the elephants are.

That's the part of the story that feels most like a fiction film's plot, and it contains the moment when events seem a little bit staged, like Asan and X have lines to get out as they talk to each other. More likely, it's an example of how awkward it can be to add someone new to a relationship - both men have built up a specific rapport with Kasbe and his crew, and now there's this other person added to the mix. In moments like that, you're also not just doing your job and demonstrating things, but potentially changing the direction of the movie - and, let's not forget, potentially committing a crime on-camera. It's likely a weird moment for everyone, so it probably should be strange for the audience as well.

Full review on EFilmCritic

In Fabric

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 April 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston, DCP)

I had not realized that the new Peter Strickland movie was produced by Ben Wheatley's Rook Films, but, wow, is In Fabric ever that movie. It's as eccentric and fetishistic as the rest of Strickland's work, but also as bizarrely funny as the best of the producers' material, and probably more accessible for all that than many of its predecessors. The movie may still be something of an acquired taste, but it's weird more than outright baffling.

It is, after all, a movie about a demonic/possessed/otherwise more than peculiar dress, one initially purchased by middle-aged divorcée Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), looking to dip her toe back into the dating pool. She bought it from a sinister saleswoman (Fatma Mohamed) during Bentley & Soper's Boxing Day sale, and while there is initially little out of the ordinary, strange things start happening soon enough, particularly when Sheila's snotty model girlfriend Gwen (Gwendoline Christie) tries it on, let alone others.

More happens later; In Fabric is a bit of a relay-race horror movie, where the cursed object will be on the move rather than tormenting the same people past the bounds of credulity. I suspect that many will find the good stuff to be in that first leg, and in no small part because Marianne Jean-Baptiste is so terrific to watch in what certainly seems like her biggest role since Secrets & Lies (with a lot of time playing New York-accented detectives in between). When you ask yourself who would be the logical protagonist for a movie about a killer dress, a vain beauty like Gwendoline Christie's model might come to mind, but Jean-Baptiste's Sheila is a lot more interesting to watch; she's got a sensible vibe but could maybe use a confidence boost, just the sort of person who would be most vulnerable but also potentially be able to figure out what's going on. She's a stabilizing influence that keeps the strange at bay and also makes it seem more sinister for intruding upon this working-class mother.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Monday, September 23, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 16 September 2019 - 22 September 2019

Unless I have a weird impulse to get to the ballpark one last time, this is my last trip to Fenway of the year, and at least it's memorable.

This Week in Tickets

Tough to end on a more memorable game than this one, though - picked up a bobblehead, saw the grandson of Carl Yastrzemski make his Fenway Park debut with the Giants, and had the game go on forever. I am reasonably sure that the first game I saw at Fenway as a kid may not have been the actual "Yaz Day" retirement game but was right around there, so it was kind of neat, even if I joked that this was really exciting for old people.

I won't miss expanded September rosters when they're gone next year, though - you're supposed to get weird baseball when a game goes past midnight - people playing out of position, infielders pitching, the reluctant walk out to the bullpen of the next night's starting pitcher. But with all those extra players, relievers in particular, it was not just more baseball, but managers playing matchups in the 13th! There's a point where you think, hey, those two minutes pitching changes add to the game could be the difference between taking the T home and calling a cab! And then it's not, because the game goes on, and eventually reaches the point where you hope it goes on forever so that it gets really weird. It doesn't, though, ending at around 1am, with the Red Sox losing, because it's been that sort of year.

Then I take a Lyft home, looking at my phone all the way back, until I get home and immediately realize it's not in my pocket. I send a message to the company, saying I'll stay up until 3am, if they get the message to the driver quickly. It's not quite quick enough, and as you might imagine, the guy who's dropping you off at 2am is not answering the phone when I get to work. I get the thing back that evening, and a $15 lost-item charge is better than buying a new smartphone, but I'm kind of zonked for the rest of the week and have learned a valuable lesson about that thing going in a pocket with a zipper.


Saturday, I hit the Coolidge for Live from the 36th Chamber, in which Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA and his compatriots gave The 36th Chamber of Shaolin a new, hip-hop soundtrack before the audience's eyes:

That bit before introducing the film is the only time RZA used the piano. Some folks at the Coolidge moved it onto the stage for that minute. It was a bunch of fun, and 36th Chamber is a good movie to do this with - it's a classic that's not so perfect that you can't fiddle with it.

The plan after that was to hit the Fluff Festival, but I was an idiot and got off the Green Line at Hynes rather than Copley, and unfortunately the train to Lechmere, from whence I would catch a bus to Union Square, comes from Heath Street, and I didn't figure it out until too late (trust me, if you're from Boston, you're nodding along and shaking your head at that mistake). It really didn't leave me much time to actually be there, so I went straight to Assembly to see Ad Astra on the Imax-branded screen. It was pretty darn great, and recommended to be seen huge so you can sort of fall into it rather than dissect the rest.

AMC put the "AMC Artisan Films" label on it, which is a stretch, but defensible because it is an odd sort of science fiction film. They're doing the same for Midway, and I gotta ask - if a gigantic World War II movie packed with visual effects directed by Roland Emmerich and released by Lionsgate counts as "Artisan", what doesn't?

Sunday started with more live accompaniment, with the Somerville welcoming Jeff Rapsis to accompany Girl Shy. Unfortunately, the 35mm print didn't arrive and they didn't really have a great DVD player/projector combination, but it's still a very fun movie, especially once you get to the end and the chase really makes Jeff work. Then there was time for a bit of a rest before heading to Fenway and the only screening of Villains I could easily make. Kind of not great, but maybe a few tickets sold means Fenway books a few other indie genre films as the landscape changes over the next few months.

I'd better see enough to update my Letterboxd page over the next few days, as there's a business trip coming up and the new headquarters/hotel is not near a mall and there's team-building crud planned for every night.

Shao Lin san shi liu fang (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP with live accompaniment)

This was a special screening with RZA and accomplices doing a live score, and while the soundtrack was kind of weird at spots - removing the soundtrack took the foley out in a few places, the dubbing didn't always match the subtitles, and the mix was a bit odd - it was a lot of fun. I don't really love this particular movie; it's three things stuck together with the middle one involving a lot of people being dinks, and time doesn't seem to flow the same way inside and outside the temple. Watching how the new music interacts with the action certainly keeps things more fun in the somewhat extended middle. It's fun on its own, if not quite the big deal it seemed like it would be - the hip-hop is great for when things are about to get violent and making some of the montages a bit less goofy, but doesn't quite transform the film otherwise.

What I thought back in '12

Girl Shy

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, digital with live accompaniment)

Not quite the ur-romantic comedy because, despite how much you can flirt with just looks and slapstick reactions, it often feels a little more like someone steamrolling someone else since you can't have the sort of back-and-forth that actual dialogue allows in a silent without the intertitles slowing it to a crawl. It seems even more the case now that I watch it fourteen years after the first time, with Harold seeming like a maniac in this finale that would not only be ruined by cell phones, but might have trouble with regular ones.

Still, you kind of have to love the almost insane simplicity of this movie, which kills a bit of time to make Harold into a highly unlikely romantic hero and then sets up the meet-cute, separation, obstacle, and frantic reunion with almost no pause in between, with that last bit pushed to quite frankly absurd lengths. It demonstrates, a bit, why Lloyd is probably third among the silent comedy greats - he often builds his finales as piling on more to the point where they get exhausting, while Chaplin would have the great emotional moment and Keaton the one shot that just drops one's jaw

It's one of Lloyd's best-loved films, although I must admit to having a bit more of a fondness for the truly weird ones. Still pretty good stuff.

Full review (from 2005) on eFilmCritic

Giants 7, Red Sox 6
Live from the 36th Chamber
Ad Astra
Girl Shy


I look at the times Villains is playing during most of the week - 6:15pm and 9pm shows - and wonder, idly, if the deal Gunpowder & Sky (or whichever imprint's name is on this) cut with Regal could have perhaps used a little more verbiage. I grant that they may be better times for some than me - if your office is in the city proper, rather than out in the suburbs, you can probably get to something playing Fenway at that hour without a lot of trouble, and maybe even eat afterwards because it's short). It caught me trying to grab a better time on the weekend, but I suspect the theater doesn't mind.

I'm not entirely sure how exclusive this deal with Regal is - I've seen things on social media suggesting Villains is "exclusively at Regal through 9/26", but I'm not sure whether that should be parsed as only playing at Regal and then headed off to VOD on 9/27 or as able to open at other theaters after a week. I suspect it's effectively the same - I don't really see this expanding - but if this deal is for more than one movie, and the next one is good enough to potentially break out, I could see it being a big deal.

I wonder, to a certain extent, if we're going to see more of these deals signed by the big chains now that they've got unlimited memberships. In Boston, I think you've got to either live in the Fenway area or like that particular theater to get Regal Unlimited either instead of AMC A-List or in addition to it, and I suspect that's not an entirely unusual arrangement - AMC buying GCC meant offloading some theaters to Regal lest they have a monopoly, so there are a lot of towns with both. So, I suspect they are going to have to compete on exclusives eventually, either to make their own subscription service look like the better deal or to get people to make one-off trips.

Which is good in terms of getting independent genre films like this on any screens at all, I guess. Still, I really hope that this doesn't result in Cinemark or some other chain which has no outposts near me picking up an exclusive on something that looks nifty.


* * (out of four)
Seen 22 September 2019 in Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, DCP)

One hears the plot of Villains and almost involuntarily makes a comment along the lines of how those kids have gotten themselves into some kind of pickle, and that's just about as far as the movie itself gets. It's got a good hook in its pair of endearingly dumb fugitives who stumble on genuinely dangerous people, but the right pieces aren't there for it to be more.

The dumb fugitives are Mickey (Bill Skarsgård) and Jules (Maika Monroe), two kids in their twenties who are looking to start new lives in Florida on money they've robbed from gas stations, but in an unfortunate bit of irony, they didn't fill up their car's tank before robbing the last one, and run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. They figure that maybe they can steal a new car from a nearby house, but it proves trickier than grabbing some cash from a convenience store, even before they find something unexpected in the basement and George (Jeffrey Donovan) and Gloria (Kyra Sedgwick) come back home.

There's a temptation to find parallels between Mickey & Jules and George & Gloria, but filmmakers Dan Berk & Robert Olsen don't exactly build it that way despite a few feints in that direction early. Not that a blessedly short comedic thriller exactly needs to have a lot of metaphor or resonance going on underneath the surface, but it should probably either reveal something when a viewer looks closer or have a more impressively tight game of cast and mouse. This movie often struggles at the basic "have people act murderous or not from scene to scene" level, and often seems like the filmmakers never cleared the things that made sense in the first draft out before the final. Jules's poking around the kitchen hints at an abandoned home, for example, but it doesn't make sense considering everything after that. Eventually things chaotically fall apart in a way that's not even exciting - and which also needs a lot more reaction time afterward - and the filmmakers don't seem to have what it takes to finally do something with the denial and delusion it's hinted at in the end.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ad Astra

Did a stupid thing with the T yesterday afternoon and thus was not able to fit a stop at Somerville's What the Fluff? Festival in before this movie, which is probably a good thing for my teeth and stomach but it's tough to have such a thing in town and not go.

Funny thing, though - even buying tickets the night before, there were still already seats reserved in my favorite area (in front of the moat, center). Kind of weird; I'm usually the only person who wants to be there. Maybe others are becoming hip to the beauty of having the screen fill one's entire field of vision, especially for a grand-scale movie like this?

Maybe, maybe not. At least the guy working concessions saw my Fantasia Festival t-shirt and asked about it, which is always cool.

Ad Astra

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 September 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, Imax-branded digital)

A regular pet peeve of mine with this sort of movie in particular is the urge to reduce something awesome in scale to a dysfunctional relationship between two people, like neither filmmakers nor audiences have the imagination to be affected by more than their personal concerns. Ad Astra is that in spades, but the fact that it's that from the start maybe kind of skeptical about it kind of turns that idea on its head a bit. All of this may be baked into the plot rather than hidden underneath, and that very fact makes certain things dubious and more uncomfortable rather than simple pandering.

The film ponders a future where the exploration and exploitation of space has become a sort of public-private partnership, with astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) working on an antenna in low-earth orbit when some sort of electromagnetic pulse hits, sending him falling to Earth and blacking out large swathes of the planet. The source is some sort of antimatter reaction near Neptune, where a SETI mission captained by Roy's legendary father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) went radio-silent sixteen years ago, already away from Earth for 13 years. It had an antimatter engine, and Space Command hopes that having Roy transmit a message to his father from a relay station on Mars might yield some sort of response. The whole thing is highly classified, of course, with both the former astronaut sent as a partner (Donald Sutherland) and the red planet's chief administrator (Ruth Negga) knowing things about H. Clifford McBride and the Lima project that Roy doesn't.

The scene where the Generals are briefing Roy and seemingly suggesting what in many other films is the last-ditch, emotion-over-cold-logic climax as Plan A comes early enough in the film to play as a clever subversion of that trope, giving writer/director James Gray the whole film to examine this thing that often serves as a shortcut because it seems instinctively right. The audience already knows it's more complicated than that; the audience is privy to Roy's inner monologue and it shows a man well aware that he's hiding a fair amount of turmoil behind a stoicism so well-nurtured that his heart literally never races. It gives the film an intriguingly pessimistic emotional core, one often played with calm devastation, made out of relationships that cannot be fixed and damage that cannot be undone.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, September 20, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 20 September 2019 - 26 September 2019

Here, we have a weekend that offers what looks like a blockbuster, what actually will be, and what once would have been.

  • The thing that's going to pack a bunch of theaters is the theatrical continuation of Downton Abbey, which has had special fan screenings, tie-in events, and all the other things usually associated with big superheroes and fantasies, but the folks who watched it religiously on PBS will almost certainly turn out for this new story in which both upstairs and downstairs must prepare for a visit from the Royal Family. It's at
    The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Somerville, West Newton, the Lexington Venue, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The Coolidge also goes all the way to their other extreme this weekend, welcoming Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA for Live from The 36th Chamber, in which he provides a hip-hop soundtrack to Gordon Liu in Lau Kar Leung's classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, answering questions after the 9pm shows on Friday and Saturday, though not the Saturday matinee. He may or may not be hanging around to introduce the weekend's midnight shows, which feature a 35mm print of Kill Bill Volume 1 (for which he handled the soundtrack) on Friday and his own The Man with the Iron Fists on Saturday.

    There's a different live show on Monday, with the Alloy Orchestra accompanying Joseph von Sternberg's Underworld as part of "Sounds of Silence". Tuesday is Cine Almodovar day, with this week's selection a 35mm print of All About my Mother, and they head out to Cambridge's Mount Auburn Cemetery for a double feature of Wings of Desire and The Royal Tenenbaums.
  • The thing that looks like the big blockbuster is Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut on a mission to save the Solar System from a top-secret project spearheaded by his father (Tommy Lee Jones). It's got all the giant screens and big crazy action, but it's also the latest from James Gray, whose epic stories have not always been mainstream, but are usually interesting. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax), the Embassy, Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    And, maybe 25 years ago, Rambo: Last Blood, would have been a big deal, with this entry featuring Sylvester Stallone's troubled Vietnam veteran seeking vengeance on someone who killed someone else important to him. Paz Vega's in it. Apparently it's awful; I'm guessing if Stallone made more or less the same script with a different name, it would go straight to VOD like most of what Stallone does these days. Find out yourself at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, and Revere (including XPlus).

    With a bunch of screens, subscription programs to make more enticing, and a little more competition opening soon, some of the multiplexes also program some oddball genre movies: Fenway has Villains, in which a couple of small-time crooks played by Bill Skarsgaard & Maika Monroe break into the wrong house and discover that Jeffrey Donovan & Kyra Sedgwick are playing at a different level. Fresh Pond gives a surprisingly full slate to The Wedding Year, which stars Sarah Hyland and Tyler James Williams as a couple trying to keep their relationship going while attending seven weddings in a single year. Boston Common apparently liked what it saw during the premiere screenings of Promare, because they are giving this year's absolutely insane Fantasia closing night film a full week's run.

    That one alternated with Tokyo Ghoul S last week, and Fenway & Boston Common give that movie one last show on Friday night. There are special anniversary screenings of The Shawshank Redemption on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at Fenway and Assembly Row, with Revere also showing it on Wednesday. Fenway, Boston Common, and Assembly Row will be showing the new 4K remaster of The Shining on Thursday (although only Fenway's screening specifies 4K projection). Tangled is the "Dream Big, Princess" show at Boston Common and Assembly Row this week.
  • In addition to Downton, Kendall Square also gets IFFBoston selection Ms. Purple, a story about a young woman working as a karaoke hostess to care for her dying father in L.A.'s Koreatown. It shares a lot with director Justin Chon's Gook but is also 180 degrees away in some ways..
  • The Brattle Theatre has a new restoration of Streetwise from Friday to Sunday; it's a 1984 documentary looking at the homeless and other sidelined populations of Seattle at a time when it was called America's most liveable city. Director Martin Bell didn't entirely move on after finishing that film, and Saturday's and Sunday's matinees can bee seen as a double feature with Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, which follows one of the subjects over the next thirty years.

    In an example of how long independent films can spend in distribution limbo, Tigers Are Not Afraid, a terrific film that played the Brattle during the 2018 Boston Underground Film Festival, returns for its regular engagement with late shows Friday to Sunday and a later-evening show on Tuesday. They also have a DocYard presentation of The Seer and the Unseen on Monday, which follows an Icelandic seer said to communicate directly with the island's elves or "huldufólk", with both director Sara Dosa and subject “Ragga” Jónsdóttir on hand for a Q&A. Another documentary plays Wednesday, with Anthropocene: The Human Epoch looking like a visually stunning documentary of how humankind has transformed the Earth (it also plays Kendall Square that night).
  • Apple Fresh Pond continues to import a bunch of movies from India this week, including Hindi-language romantic comedy The Zoya Factor, starring Sonam Kapoor as a woman who finds herself in a high-profile romance with Nikhil Khoda (Dulquer Salmaan), the captain of India's national cricket team. They also get Tamil action-adventure Kaappaan, which also plays dubbed into Telugu under the title "Bandobast", and Telugu thriller Valmiki. Dream Girl, Gang Leader, and Chhichhore also hang around.

    Over at Boston Common, Tony Leung Ka-Fai's adaptation of the popular Japanese series Midnight Diner comes out, having apparently been in limbo a while but coincidentally got a release date when Leung said some nice things about the Chinese government during the Hong Kong protests. They also get Chinese youth comedy The Last Wish, in which two friends of a teen with muscular dystrophy help him do the "manly" things he can't before the disease takes him; director Tian Yu-sheng also did the Ex Files movies and will be co-directing next years sequel to The Mermaid. Nezha continues to play Boston Common.

    Revere bring El Equipito (whose full title includes a "chapter 1", but that may be part of the joke) in from the Dominican Republic; it teams Dominican stars La Insuperable and writer/director Roberto Angel Salcedo in a stolen-documents caper.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has nothing going Friday, but starts the day on Saturday with a $5 family matinee of Supa Mondo in which a sick Kenyan nine-year-old who loves Jackie Chan flicks is brought to her mother's home village to live out her short life, and whose sister decides to help her be Jackie Chan for a day. After that, they welcome filmmaker Godfrey Reggio for two of his most famous documentaries screening on film - Powaqqatsi on Saturday night and Naqoyqatsi on Sunday, both preceded by short films. They also continue The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, with a Sunday afternoon double feature of Crime Wave (16mm) & Plunder Road (35mm) and a Val Newton-produced pairing of The Leopard Man & The Ghost Ship on Monday, both on 35mm
  • The Museum of Fine Arts wraps their "Festival Buzz" series this weekend, with The Ground Beneath My Feet (Friday/Sunday), The Nightingale (Friday), The Farewell (Saturday), and A Long Day's Journey into Night (2D Sunday). Aretha Franklin: Amazing Grace also plays Saturday..
  • The Boston Film Festival runs at the Seaport through the weekend, with Whaling and The Wild on Friday, shorts packages Saturday & Sunday afternoons, She's In Portland on Saturday night, a free showing of In Their Shoes at the Boston Public Library on Sunday, ending back at the Seaport with The Dog Doc, Once Upon a River, and Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life on Sunday.
  • The Regent Theatre has The New York Cat & Dog Film Festivals this weekend, with the kitties Friday night and Sunday afternoon and the doggos all day Saturday. A couple days later, they bring out adventure-sports film This Is Moto on Tuesday and two shows of ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas on Wednesday. Boston Common also has it onThursday night, though it's not clear whether it's one-night-only for them or a night-before sneak.
  • The Somerville Theatre has one 35mm show of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on Saturday (it's digital the rest of the week), and also busts out the projector for a "Silents, Please" show of Harold Lloyd's Girl Shy on Sunday afternoon, with "Jack Attack!" shows of The Evening Star and Mars Attacks! later in the day and another one of As Good As It Gets on Thursday.
  • ArtsEmerson is the latest place to show Toni Morrison: The PIeces I Am on Friday night in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room. Regular resident Bright Lights takes it back with Ask Dr. Ruth on Tuesday, crossing over with the Latino Film Festival on Thursday, as director Chelsea Hernandez is there to discuss her documentary Building the American Dream. Both of those are free and open to the public.

    The Boston Latino International Film Festival actually kicks off at the MFA with a sold-out screening of The Infiltrators, and also shows Siqueiros: Walls of Passion and Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba at the Tsai Auditorium on the Harvard campus on Thursday night.
  • It's The West Newton Cinema's turn to play host to a free GlobeDocs screening on Monday, with The Promised Band following a group of Israeli and Palestinian friends who use band practice as an excuse to hang out together, despite their questionable talent. Director Jen Heck and subject Viki Auslaender will be on hand, and reservations are required.
  • On Thursday, The Boston Women's Film Festival opens with Sister Aimee at the Brattle and Fast Color at the MFA
  • Cinema Salem has Jirga, about an Australian soldier submitting himself to village justice in Afghanistan, in their screening room. They also show the "Final Cut" of Apocalypse Now on Thursday night

    The Luna Theater a program of shorts from the GLAS Animation Festival on Friday and Saturday evening, The Farewell on Saturday afternoon and Tuesday evening, The Nightingale Saturday afternoon, Labyrinth all day Sunday, and Cambodian rock & roll documentary Don't Think I've Forgotten on Monday evening. As usual, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday's "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday are free surprise screenings.
  • Joe's Free Films still shows The Princess Bride playing outside on Friday night, along with a couple others.

Definitely Ad Astra, maybe Midnight Diner and Girl Shy, and I'm awfully tempted by RZA, seeing Promare on the big screen again, Anthropocene, and who knows how the rest will fit together.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 9 September 2019 - 15 September 2019

Let us observe a brief moment of silence for MoviePass, which sputtered and hung on for far longer than was expected (or dignified). Even with the last year or so when I could almost never find a way to use it despite the regular $10/month charge taken into consideration, I contributed to them losing a lot of money.

This Week in Tickets

It was kind of a weird experience going to the Regal at Fenway on Tuesday some developer has turned the empty space where Best Buy used to be into the "TimeOut Market", despite the fact that there is not, as far as I know, I Boston edition of TimeOut, at least not in print. It's all very upscale with every storefront having the same sort of signage and color scheme and uniform, all of them offering some sort of elevated comfort food with two or three more fancy ingredients than a grilled cheese sandwich really needs. I'm sure it's all good, but it seems so calculated.

Then you go into the theater and they've basically got the box office shut down but not yet converted into self-serve stations the way they are at Boston Common, highlighting how these spaces designed around interaction have been automated. It makes me wonder if the new place by North Station will forgot the conventional box office the same way the Showcase SuperLux in Chestnut Hill does. Once I've got my ticket from one of the machines (because I'm old and like to keep stubs), they don't even rip it anymore, just using a hole punch. Once I got into Rezo, it was business as usual aside from the movie itself being an animated autobiographical documentary of a Georgian screenwriter/puppet theater person I'd never heard of, but he's evidently famous enough in the former Soviet Union to have brought out a fair-sized older Slavic crowd for his neat little movie.

With work keeping me late and the very long It: Chapter 2 throwing off showtimes, I didn't catch much the rest of the week, but did finally start in on Too Old to Die Young, the Amazon limited series written by crime-comics ace Ed Brubaker and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Three episodes in, it's asking for a lot of patience - those three episodes take over four hours to watch and often move slowly - but its undeniably as stylish as anything Refn's done and you can start to see some stories emerging. Apologies to the upstairs neighbors, though - those gunshots are loud and come out of nowhere!

Saturday afternoon it was the pretty-good Fagara from Hong Kong, which had a fairly light crowd and that's a shame because it seems like a better movie than a lot of other Chinese-language dramas of a similar sort that make it to North America. There have been a few like that in recent years, and it's a shame that they never seem to last as long as their Chinese analogs, even when shot in Mandarin.

After that, it was down the Green Line to see Billy Joel at Fenway Park, which didn't seem much different from the last time I saw him a decade or two ago. It's an odd sort of concert, where he openly mentions he's got nothing new for us, not having released a new album in 25 years or so, so that even when he's playing things that weren't hits, they've been part of his live-show rotation for so long that they're basically the same thing to the audience. So it's good, but weirdly similar to the studio versions - "My Life" has kind of evolved into something a little different, and "The River of Dreams" is far enough away from his usual that the percussionist and their equipment can reshape it a bit, but by now the audio guys have figured out how to mix the backup singers into something sounding like young Billy Joel for the notes he can't hit.

Fun? Sure. I think the extra years help on a few songs where he can lean into a thicker Long Island tough-guy accent ("Big Shot" and "Big Man on Mulberry Street"), he got to one of my favorites that may or may not be quite so popular ("Vienna") early, and he included "Uptown Girl" in the encore even though you could see from watching him that he's got roughly 4% of the enthusiasm for it that the audience does. Playing the hits.

Sunday finished with Hustlers on the spiffy Dolby Cinema screen at Assembly Row. That is also pretty decent; not great but good enough for an evening's entertainment, and just content with being that, coming in at under two hours and not connected to anything else. It's the sort of contemporary middle-class movie that Hollywood doesn't make enough of, and while I'd like it to be better, I'm glad it did well.

Looks like more good stuff rolls out this coming week, so hopefully my Letterboxd page will reflect that (and hopefully I'll be able to backfill more festival films before that starts as well).


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 September 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #2 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

Hustlers is a pretty darn decent movie based upon a true story in the "and then this happened" mold, the sort that doesn't necessarily reveal some greater truth or fit together like an intricate puzzle, but has enough of the messy reality that a viewer can identify with its criminal subjects. There's clearly more to the story than this movie gives the audience, but it delivers what's advertised, and is probably especially satisfying for those more interested camaraderie than crime.

It establishes the friendship first as Dorothy (Constance Wu), who has just moved up from stripping as "Destiny" in a roadside Jersey place to a club in Manhattan, makes friends with Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), the star attraction who teaches her how to entertain rather than just strut in her underwear. In 2008, with insane amounts of money flowing through Wall Street and into the clubs as finance bros want to get off the same way they trade, it's highly lucrative, at least until she gets pregnant. When she returns a few years later, after the financial crash and the arrival of a wave of skinny Eastern European girls who will do anything in the champagne room for cheap, not so much. Ramona's new plan is "fishing" - finding guys in bars to bring to the club and maxing out their credit cards once they're passed out. Working in teams with friends Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Keke Palmer), they're soon making what they used to, but Ramona is ambitious, and soon finds ways to drain the marks more efficiently.

You don't have to squint too hard to see the parallels here: The amorality of Wall Street seems to jump to Ramona and company like a virus, and their schemes in many ways start to resemble those of the people they're ripping off, with the ladies selling a diluted product that, once they've started drugging the guys, contains as little getting wasted with attentive naked girls as their derivatives did top-rated securities. That sort of thing. That's not really what the movie is about, though; writer/director Lorene Scafaria spends relatively little time pondering where the enterprise is delicious revenge or a sign of how far the rot extends - Destiny more or less shrugs when it's brought up later in the movie - as opposed to the more uplifting found-family aspects. There are multiple scenes of women getting new apartments or bonding over their parents' abandonment, and the centerpiece is a Christmas party where Ramona is delighted to meet Destiny's grandmother. That material resonates with the audience well enough - it's a big part of why the film can be easy to embrace - but Scafaria tends to stick with those easy parts and elide over the other sides of them that actually make things in the story happen: The film ultimately turns on what happens when a member of that family gets out of control and endangers everyone, but that's something that isn't examined too closely.

Full review at eFIlmCritic

Billy Joel

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