Monday, November 18, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.194: The Kingmaker

One of the things that's a bit of a bummer about the Fall Focus compared to the spring festival is the relative paucity of guests; it's scheduled as if they might need a fair amount of time between shows, but there's seldom anyone on the stage filling that time. Who knows, with four different movies a day, they may need the time to delete on DCP, ingest the next, and make sure the keys work before letting the audience in; I don't know the capacity of the Brattle's projection system.



… so it's fun even when folks like director Lauren Greenfield are teleconferencing in from another festival in California. She's an IFFBoston regular, even having the closing night film a few years ago with The Queen of Versailles, so it's not exactly surprising that they could work something out.

The film speaks for itself in many ways, although it's interesting to hear her talk about how it evolved. Documentaries can have a long turnaround time for a lot of reasons, and this one evolved from initially being inspired by Coulalait, with perhaps more talk to the members of the staff that tries to make do with insufficient resources (human and otherwise), to following Bongbong Marcos's run at the Vice Presidency. It's likely not as complete a shift as it could be - she likely wasn't going to make a film about how things are great completely counter to how Coulalait has degraded - but it supplied a couple great threads to tie together.

One thing that struck me about the films was that, in today's world, with so many viewing options tailored to their potential audience's tastes and beliefs available and raw information readily available via the same internet connection, documentary filmmakers often can't just present facts and events, and even doing so from a particular perspective may not be enough. I don't necessarily know that Greenfield was at any point consciously making a movie that made people question just how they consume information, but it certainly made me think, a bit, about how I wasn't more aware that the Marcos family had walked back into power in multiple levels of the Philippine government and were connected to the latest mess there. Hopefully, it gets me thinking more about how that story I've heard about probably didn't wrap up neatly when it left my eyeline and is probably lurking somewhere behind the thing that seems vaguely connected.

The Kingmaker

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

Americans often hear bits and pieces of news from other countries, when something particularly noteworthy happens or when it's connected to something closer to home. The ouster of Ferdinand Marcos was a big deal, in part because it included astonishing details like his First Lady Imelda's impossibly large collection of shoes, and the current president's glee at murdering drug dealers is alarming enough to get notice, especially since he has a fan in Donald Trump. Both of those things are part of a bigger narrative, and Lauren Greenfield does an impressive job of getting at it in The Kingmaker.

It starts with Imelda Marcos, still fairly striking in her eighties, able to joke about how she's so identified with her collection of shoes that friends teasingly send her artwork or decorations with high heels on them, showing off her philanthropy, leading the filmmakers into the crypt where, as filming began in 2014, her late husband's body was kept because the current administration would absolutely not allow him to be interred in the heroes' cemetery. She's happy to talk about her life from how she started out as a girl from the country who came to Manila for a beauty pageant and soon caught politicians' eyes, but especially her son, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., who is currently serving in the senate and is eyeing a run for Vice President.

Naturally, Greenfield doesn't entirely take her word on this, but she's willing to let Imelda talk, and smart enough to realize that someone who has been in politics for most of her life and is trying to build a dynasty is likely not going to be tripped up by a gotcha question or two. Instead, she lets Imelda present the face she wants while also finding others who will present another side in an earnest, even-keeled way, from one of the candidates running against Bongbong to Andy Bautista, who went from the Presidential Commission on Good Government to overseeing the election and has, as one may expect, strong opinions about the Marcos legacy. Eventually, she spends some time on the saga of the isle of Coulalait (a large part of the original inspiration for this project), populated with African animals as a vanity project and gift to Imelda at the height of Marcos's power - at the expense of the indiginous people living there - but since neglected to the detriment of both human and beast.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, November 15, 2019

Doctor Sleep

I kind of expected this to be in the big room at the Somerville Theatre, but instead it was on screen #2 - maybe not quite their smallest there now, but still usually one for niche movies and things that have been around for a little bit. That's not a terribly auspicious start for a new Stephen King movie in New England, enough that I wonder a bit if it got swapped with Parasite after a disappointing opening night. Bummer if it did, because I wanted to see it on the big screen, but, on the other hand, good for Bong Joon-Ho!

It's the sort of film and audience reaction that makes me wonder how popular something actually is. We kind of take it as a given that The Shining is beloved and a masterpiece (the fact that King doesn't like it kind of only gives it more cred as a film), but to what extent is that actually true outside of film buffs? And, of that, how many like it in a way that has them open to a sequel that emphasizes the chilly aesthetic choices as much as the visceral fear? As much as I like Flanagan, he's not Kubrick, and the film shines best when it focuses on his warmth and sympathy as opposed to Kubrick's more harsh attitude.

Also: Those were some weird New England accents. I don't know many people from New Hampshire specifically, but this seemed pretty off.

Doctor Sleep

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 November 2019 in Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Coming to Doctor Sleep as more of a fan of screenwriter/director Mike Flanagan than either Stephen King or The Shining makes for an odd experience, as he clearly is a fan making what sometimes feels like the biggest fan film he can. It's a good one, and a fairly decent fantasy in general, but when it's finished, the audience will likely remember its respectful recreation the most out of everything else that's done well here.

It opens with the familiar events with the Torrance family at the Overlook Hotel in 1980, but it turns out that Dan Torrence isn't the only one with what his mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) called a "shine". The ghosts from the Overlook chase him even into adulthood, but they may not be the most dangerous thing out there - a nomad calling herself Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her band have been preying on kids with a shine for a long time, bottling and drinking their essence to extend life and increase powers. She has taken on a new apprentice in Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lloyd), and while Dan (Ewan McGregor) mostly just wants to keep his head down, his new home in New Hampshire puts him near Abra Stone, whose powers may be stronger than Dan's. At 15, Abra (Kyliegh Curran) is not inclined to hide, starting to investigate when she feels the ripples of Rose's group preying on another kid, which naturally puts a target on Abra.

Doctor Sleep is the sort of sequel that looks to expand the universe of its progenitor by introducing new elements, which can be a somewhat dicey proposition in a case like this - speaking as someone who has only seen the films, I don't necessarily think of The Shining as one that necessarily compels because of its unique ideas about how ghosts and psychic powers work as opposed to them being a material reflection of what's going on in his head. This film leans on such things much more, with Rose implying that there are classes of shiners, the lot talking about tricks, implying secret histories, leading to a climax that is built on Dan hatching a plan using these things that were mostly metaphorical as practical tools. It's a sort of mathematical approach to the material that is fun in its own way but doesn't provoke the same sort of emotional reaction.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 15 November 2019 - 21 November 2019

Remember, the Red Line is messed up this weekend, from Kendall to Broadway, so allow yourself some extra time.

  • The biggest thing coming out this weekend (by one measure) is Ford v Ferrari, featuring Matt Damon and Christian Bale as an engineer and driver trying to help Ford break Ferrari's stranglehold on the world of Formula One racing. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax), Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax), the Embassy, Revere (including MX4D), and the SuperLux.

    There's also a new Charlie's Angels, starring Kristen Stewart and with Elizabeth Banks writing and directing. It plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (Dolby Cinema), and Revere (including XPlus). If you're more interested in wily seniors than pretty young spies, there's The Good Liar with Ian McKellen as a con artist targeting Helen Mirren, who as you may expect is smarter than his usual mark. It can be found at Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, and Revere.

    Boston Common also gets the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, which played special one-offs a few weeks back and seems to have everyone Kevin Smith has ever worked with in a small part.

    This month's Studio Ghibli selection is Princess Mononoke, playing Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere in English on Sunday and Wednesday and Japanese on Monday (no shows in Revere on Wednesday). The week's concert movies are Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere on Sunday; Lionel Richie at Glastonbury at Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Tuesday; and Depeche Mode: Spirits in the Forest at Kendall Square and Revere on Thursday.
  • Netflix's big awards contender, The Irishman, opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square (with tickets already on sale for the Somerville starting on the 22nd). It's a big one, 3.5 hours long, with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci joining director Martin Scorcese for an epic tale of a hitman who, among other things, supposedly killed Jimmy Hoffa. Those two also get The Report, starring Adam Driver as a congressional staffer charged with investigating illegal detention and torture at the CIA.

    Midnights at the Coolidge this weekend are 35mm prints of series-starters from the 1990s - Final Destination on Friday night and Candyman on Saturday. There's a Science on Screen Jr. screening of Babe with Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary's Tia Pinney giving a talk on animal behavior on Saturday, and a 35mm "Stage & Screen" show of Lost in La Mancha Monday night.
  • On top of those, Kendall Square also picks up Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer, which chronicles the paper's evolution from lurid tabloid to popular gossip rag to "catch-and-kill" operation.
  • Better Days continues at Boston Common and the Seaport, with Boston Common also picking up Chinese romance Somewhere Winter. Boston Common also picks up the week's sort-of-Indian film, with The Warrior Queen of Jhansi an English-language take on the same story as Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, with Devika Bhise in the title role, while Apple Fresh Pond pares their Indian films down to Bala.
  • It's a wild week at The Brattle Theatre, with the latest edition of The International Pancake Film Festival Friday night, this one with sci-fi silliness. Pancakes will be served, although there will hopefully not be similar culinary accompaniment later in the night when they play Soylent Green. There's a special 35mm show of Bullitt Saturday afternoon and a "Make My Day" double feature of Sudden Impact (35mm) & RoboCop Sunday evening, with Jewish Film Festival shows in between.

    Monday's DocYard show is "Leona's Sister Gerri", with director Jane Gillooly on-hand to discuss her short-ish doc about the subject of an infamous photograph. Tuesday is Trash Night, and then they run Blade Runner on Wednesday and Thursday, as the film takes place on 20 November 2019. There's also a special GlobeDocs "Legal Lens" show on Thursday evening, click here to RSVP.
  • Boston Jewish Film wraps their annual festival this weekend with shows at the MFA, the Brattle, the Aquarium, and West Newton, as well as closing night film The Rabbi Goes West at the Somerville, with directors Amy Gellar & Gerald Perry and subject Rabbi Chaim Bruk on-hand.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has something different every night, starting with the back half of "Four Films by François Ozon" on Friday, with separate admission presentations on Under the Sand and Frantz (DCP). They have a matinee of Boy and the World on Saturday afternoon, with that evening given over to Alex Ross Perry, with is first film Impolex showing at 7pm while he pulls Jerry Lewis's The Family Jewels from the archive at 8:30pm. Sunday is B-Movies, with The House of Fear at 5pm and a double-feature of Daughter of Shanghai with Anna May Wong & Phantom of Chinatown (16mm) at 7pm. On Monday they have Atlantique (DCP), the new film from one of their prior Radcliffe-FSC Fellows, Mati Diop. All are on 35mm unless noted.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts splits their weekend between the Jewish Film Festival and The Boston Turkish Festival's Documentary & Short FIlm Competition, with single shows of Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound and Mr. Klein on Wednesday.
  • The Somerville Theatre is one of the hosts of the Boston Comedy Festival this weekend, so they've got an extra screen at some points. They have the bulk of the Boston International Kids' Film Festival on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, although Friday Night's kick-off is at The Capitol Theatre. There's also the monthly The Boston Underground Film Festival Dispatch from the Underground, this month presenting The Best of the Weird Local Film Festival on Wednesday night - probably in the Micro, because Warren Miller's Timeless has a screen on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • ArtsEmerson and the Boston Asian-American Film Festival have a special presentation of Chinatown Rising in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room on Saturday afternoon, with Bright Lights settling back into the space for Her Smell on Tuesday and the nifty Knives and Skin on Thursday, the latter with director Jennifer Reeder as well as the usual faculty discussion, both free. Emerson's Films From the Margin club shows Amores Perros in Walker 202 on Wednesday; I'm not sure how open-to-the-public that is.
  • The Regent Theatre has the 38th annual Asbury Shorts Film Concert on Thursday evening.
  • I believe "Hidden Pacific" is a new addition to the rotation at the New England Aquarium this week.
  • The Luna Theater shows New York Dog Film Festival on Friday and Tuesday evenings and the New York Cat Film Festival all day Saturday, with Edward Scissorhands on Sunday as well as the free surprise shows of Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday. Cinema Salem goes a second week without special programming, and I wonder if it has anything to do with this story about the theater being for sale - the owner is getting too busy to operate it and is soliciting potential new operators for as little as $125K.


Busy week ahead, with most of the new releases and the Pancake Film Festival on the docket.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Chinese Crime: My Dear Liar & Better Days

I've said it before, but I'm kind of tired of writing about how "crime does not pay" makes for lousy movies, not so much because that end is bad in and of itself, but because you can often see how the writers have to twist in order to satisfy those demands. At best, you get something like The Wild Goose Lake, where the filmmakers figure out a way to draw suspense from something other than whether or not the wrongdoers will be captured or killed; at worst, you get epilogues which have that justice administered out of nowhere. More often, you get something like My Dear Liar where the whole last act of the movie has odd pressures on it, and it never feels quite natural.

I wonder if other folks were a bit thrown by some of the camgirl stuff, like the virtual yachts, which I'd only heard of from People's Republic of Desire, a documentary I saw at Fantasia last year.

Reserving seats on my phone, it appears there were excursions planned to My Dear Liar on Sunday, as there were a couple "Almost Full" signs, but it was just me and maybe a couple other people Saturday morning. On the other hand, not only did Boston Common keep putting on more shows, but it also opened at the Seaport, which was a bit of an easier ticket to get at short notice. No idea whether they'll be starting to pick these movies up as well, but there was a fair crowd there for one of their first times booking these - I think they got Ne Zha, also a Well Go release, a few weeks back, and it makes sense that they might pick up the things that were already hits.

Sadly, it looks like those two movies coming out last week and another this weekend means that Chasing Dream isn't hitting North America alongside its Chinese release, which is a bummer, because that's new Johnnie To movie, and we've had the last few of those. No dice, but I am glad Derek Tsang's latest was able to get out of censorship limbo.

Shou yi ren (My Dear Liar)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

My Dear Liar involves a fairly dumb master plan and I don't think the people making this movie thought it through much better than its scheming characters did. It's the sort of film that makes murder just something that happens during insurance fraud and never lets itself enjoy the pleasures of a good con, always far too well aware that what these characters are doing is deceptive and/or illegal, so much so that it can't separate the thrill of a small-time grift with the horror of a large one. And if that's the case, why bother?

As it opens, longtime friends Zhong Zenjiang (Zhang Zixian) and Wu Hai ("Da Peng" Dong Chengpeng) are both feeling a monetary squeeze and resorting to scams, although the scales are different: Zhong and his boss have been embezzling money from their real estate firm and feel investigators closing in, while perpetually-broke "Da Hai" is hustling as a designated-driver-for-hire at night after managing an internet café to pay for his son Yoyo's asthma medicine. He'd love to move into one of the apartments Zhong's firm is developing in a nice, pollution-free area, and Zhong says he'll transfer one if Da Hai carries out his plan - marry camgirl Yue Miaomiao (Ada Liu Yan), take out a large insurance policy, and then collect when she accidentally drowns. This plan, of course, leaves out a lot of details about how to get Miaomiao into position, even before considering that Miaomiao may be a little more than her "Foxy Fairy" character.

I expected more of a comedy based on the previous films from the people involved, true, but even considering that this is a more serious movie than that, it feels lacking. It starts with Zhong able to consider murder as part of an insurance scam and Da Hai more than a bit uncomfortable with the idea, but never does much with just how mismatched they are. There are numerous scenes highlighting the toxicity of this friendship, but there's not enough of Zhong overall or the two of them outside this scheme to see why Da Hai would do this for him. Maybe it's something cultural that I as an outsider wouldn't understand, but even in that case, it seems like it could use some detail - there's a chance to twist the knife hard on how decent air quality is being sold as a luxury good, or how the money Zhong is spending on this scheme contrasts with how broke Da Hai is.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Shao nian de ni (Better Days)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 November 2019 in Showplace Icon the Seaport #5 (first-run, DCP laser)

You can tell when a film and filmmaker are just better than their peers, as was the case with Derek Tsang's previous film SoulMate, the best in a wave of seemingly dozens of Chinese movies about people looking back on their high school years. That's a description that could technically apply to Better Days, especially with the bookends made to satisfy the censors, although it's a far harsher film than those, but effectively so: Tsang brings something visceral to his story of bullying and revenge where all too many might be satisfied to make it easier for the squeamish to grapple with.

It's 60 days until "gaokao", the two-day college admissions test that can determine the direction of a young person's life, and Chen Nian (Zhou Dongyu) is under as much stress as any of her peers at an Anquiao City cram school, if not more - her mother Zhou Lei (Wu Yue) is deep in debt and often away trying to sell knock-off cosmetics in a larger city and she is relentlessly bullied, primarily by a trio of girls led by Wei Lai (Zhou Ye). She's understandably turned inward but she's a good kid - when a classmate in similar position commits suicide, she's the one that steps forward to cover the body and talks to Detective Zheng Yi (Yin Fang), and when she sees a boy beaten up on her way home, she pulls out her phone to call the police. They're on her before anyone can come, but Xiao Bei (Jackson Yee YangQianXi) is grateful, and starts looking out for her.

And the bulk of it is pretty darn great, with Zhou Dongyu and Jackson Yee great at essaying these kids who had been failed by adults finding something in each other without making it nicer than it should be. Tsang and the stars very deliberately don't make their romance something beautiful amidst the ugliness of their lives, but instead something that often just barely peeks out of their wariness. They capture how this extreme vulnerability can lead to hardening and closing off, with Zhou especially spending much of her time in the sort of tense posture that lets the audience feel how much she's holding back because she recognizes that letting something out will only create more trouble, but still communicating a lot without using many words.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, November 09, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.193: The Wild Goose Lake & The Truth

The Fall Focus seemed a bit more like a preview series this year, with most of the films having releases coming up pretty soon - some would begin their rollouts the very next weekend - but the ones I wound up seeing were those whose theatrical release is either somewhat far off or in question. That's part prioritization and part not really having a lot to do in Harvard Square between movies, or having things to do that would take a little longer - for example, between these two, I headed out to the Best Buy in the Cambridgeside Galleria to use a $5 reward certificate that was expiring that day, getting myself a 4K copy of The Great Wall for cheap enough that I won't feel I've spent too much on two copies if it shows up on the list of 3D Blu-rays that are on sale in Hong Kong next month, then heading back into Davis for The Lighthouse (which I'm torn between trying again and really not wanting to), and then back to the Brattle for the nightcap.

The Wild Goose Lake, I gather, is coming out in China in early December with a North American release planned for spring, and I kind of wonder whether this might be a case where it should just get two releases - one day-and-date for the expats and folks like me who just don't wait and one for the arthouse crowd. It's got the same sort of vibe as Ash Is Purest White and Long Day's Journey Into Night, to name a couple of movies that had a more traditional foreign-film release pattern and didn't have a whole lot of Asian folks in the audience when I saw them. Are these just films that were never going to be of mainstream interest even to folks who speak the language, built for export, or is it just a case of the two audiences being siloed and unaware or what is playing for the others? Someday, someone should try this strategy.

The Truth will probably get some local play, as there are dedicated fans of the director and the cast and together they might just add up to opening at the Kendall rather than three days at the Brattle. As I mention in the review, I wonder to what extent filmmakers whose appeal often lies outside their home territories are doing this for commercial reasons or if it's just being cinephiles who love movies from around the world and want to do something in that mode. Either way, I'm looking forward to Werner Herzog's Japanese film.

Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui (The Wild Goose Lake)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

I may regularly gripe about how crime does not (and can not) pay in Chinese movies, but there are restrictions on what stories you can tell everywhere, and Diao Yi'nan is one of a number of filmmakers who are finding a way to tell a good story within those bounds. Sometimes you can build a nifty yarn out of who will ultimately benefit from the criminals' inevitable capture and how making justice pay can appeal to the criminal in us all.

The film opens on career criminal Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) waiting in the rain for wife Yang Shujun (Regina Wan Qian), only to be greeted by Liu Ai'ai (Kwei Lun-Mei) instead. Two days ago, he was in the middle of a scuffle as territory for the motorcycle-theft racket was handed out, and while his old friend Huahua (Qi Dao) tried to mediate, rival Cat's Eye (Huang Jue) saw a chance to get revenge, and in the aftermath, not only are the local police hunting Zenong down, but a 300,000 yuan reward (roughly $40,000) makes him a tempting target for everyone in an area where that sort of money can be life-changing.

Diao opens the film with a clever little dance as Zenong and Ai'ai creep around what little cover offered near a train station, telling the audience that they need to avoid prying eyes without getting into why yet. The introduction of Ai'ai is especially delicious, hiding her face behind a fogged-up bubble umbrella while still hinting at a femme fatal as she walks, a downward pan to her handbag hinting at secrets. It's a canny use of the tools of the genre that primes the audience and lets Zenong ease the audience into a flashback without it seeming hokey even as we're soon greeted by him hanging back in a crowded room, a doomed moment of cool confidence.

Full review on EFilmCritic

La vérité '19 (The Truth)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

I don't really think that Hirokazu Kore-eda has made a French-language movie because his particular arthouse niche was getting kind of tight, but it's darkly amusing to imagine international film financiers imagining that the combination of his understated Japanese family dramas and French films where Catherine Deneuve makes a movie about being Catherine Deneuve might get screens and audiences that neither alone might find. Heck, there's a third element in play that might draw a different audience! Fortunately, even when the film feels like it is assembled out of different pieces, the craftsmanship that puts them together is as fine as one might hope, creating a work that should satisfy audiences no matter what drew them to it.

It revolves around Fabienne Dangeville (Deneuve) and her family; the famous actress has just published her memoirs in advance of starting work on a new movie where she plays the 73-year-old daughter of a twentysomething woman whose job in outer space keeps her unaging. The actress playing the role (Manon Clavel), naturally, is the daughter of an old friend and rival who was sometimes more of a mother to Fabienne's daughter than she was. Lumir (Juliette Binoche), now a screenwriter in America, has arrived with husband Hank (Ethan Hawke) and daughter Charlotte (Clémentine Grenier) to be part of the book launch, noting many inaccuracies while Luc (Alain Libolt), the assistant who has been by her side for decades, quits upon noting that he is not mentioned at all, putting Lumir in charge of wrangling her mother.

Films like this, set within the world of cinema, art, and fame, can often be insular, built on experiences and metaphors that are meaningful for the closest and most dedicated audience but which often have others trying to figure out some sort of meta-narrative or left behind by not recognizing a meaningful reference. The Truth it does kind of feel hollow for a while, with every bit of Fabienne being insufferable coming across as an anecdote that those in the know will recognize rather than something that actually adds up to a person, although that is in a way her character: Fabienne is a performer before all else, and while many things can give a person tunnel-vision, dedication to this particular art can erase the self, leaving Deneuve playing an often amusing, though nearly as often horrible, woman with limited conception of how she affects others.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, November 08, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 8 November 2019 - 14 November 2019

A lot to see this weekend, and the rain and MBTA have kept me from getting a head start on it. Well, probably more traffic that their buses got stuck in than the MBTA itself, but, still, not pleased!

  • Let's start off with the stuff from China, which finally sends Better Days our way after yanking it from release - apparently the story about a bullied girl involved in a murder mystery and dangerous romance during her college exams freaked their censor board out, and I'm not sure how much it's been cut since, but it was a big hit when it dropped with three days notice a couple weeks ago. It's from the director of the pretty great SoulMate with star Zhou Dongyu also coming from that film. Those looking for a funnier Chinese movie can check out My Fair Liar, with Da Peng as a single father who gets involved in a scam that involves him marrying a camgirl (Liu Yan). Both are at Boston Common, with Better Days also at the Seaport.

    Over at Apple Fresh Pond, they open Bollywood comedy Bala, which apparently spins a movie out of a man dealing with going bald in his twenties. They also continue Housefull 4 and Kaithi (through Monday), with Girgit having an encore show on Sunday, but the herd has thinned out enough for them to have room to (likely) four-wall Love Is Blind, in which a woman with a selective perception condition cannot see her mother despite living in the same house.
  • It's busy at the multiplexes, too, with the biggest release Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan's adaptation of Stephen King's sequel to The Shining which takes a lot of visual cues from the movie despite King not liking that film much, but it's great seeing Flanagan doing this sort of major project. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Revere (including XPlus), and the Superlux.

    Down the hall(s), many places will have Midway, Roland Emmerich's recreation of a key battle in World War II, which looks spiffy enough, like most Emmerich movies. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport (including Icon-X), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Revere (including XPlus), and the Superlux. There's also Last Christmas, a romantic comedy starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, built around the songs of George Michael and written by Emma Thompson (who also pops up in a supporting role, as does Michelle Yeoh). That plays the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux. For the kids, there's Playing with Fire, with John Cena as a smoke-jumper who winds up saddled with three kids at his fire station until their parents can be found. That's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There are also 45th anniversary shows of The Godfather Part II at Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (note that it and the first will be at the Brattle on 35mm in December). Anime fans can catch KonoSuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World on Tuesday and Thursday at Fenway, South Bay (Tuesday only), Assembly Row, and Revere (Tuesday only). For music, John Fogerty: 50 Year Trip Live at Red Rocks plays Revere on on Monday; Everybody's Everything, a documentary on musician Lil Peep plays Boston Common and The Regent Theatre on Tuesday (with the Regent having an extra show on Wednesday with the first sold out); and Shakira in Concert: El Dorado World Tour plays Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere on Thursday. South Bay and Revere have a program of six remastered Twilight Zone episodes on Thursday, while Revere also shows The Matrix that night (including MX4D shows). There are also "Girls' Night Out" shows of the new Charlie's Angels at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, Assembly Row, and Revere on Wednesday.
  • Kendall Square gets Synonyms, about an Israeli man who moves to France to escape a country that seems to have no place for him, and Frankie, directed by Ira Sachs and following a family on an eventful day while on vacation in Portugal, with Isabelle Huppert, Brendan Gleeson, and Marisa Tomei.
  • The Brattle Theatre spends much of their schedule on "Make My Day: The Cinematic Imagination of the Reagan Era", with Risky Business late Friday (oddly, the only thing on the schedule); a matinee double feature of E.T. & Gremlins Saturday afternoon, both on 35mm; a twin bill of The Terminator & The Running Man on Sunday; a "Cinema in Context" show of WarGames, in 35mm and with an introduction by J. Hoberman, whose book gives the series its title, on Tuesday; and a pairing of Ishtar & Walker, the latter in 35mm, on Wednesday.
  • The rest of the Brattle's schedule is dedicated to Boston Jewish Film's annual festival, which also has shows at the Coolidge, the Bright Screening Room, the MFA, the JCC Reimer-Goldstein Theater, the Capitol, West Newton, NewBridge on the Charles, Patriot Place in Foxboro, the Somerville, .

    The Capitol Theatre also plays host to Arlington International Film Festival, which runs through Sunday and as usual is packed incredibly tight, with barely a break between programs.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre mostly continues their current line-up, but with fun extras along with the repertory programs. The midnight shows on Friday and Saturday are a restoration of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead with a new score and sound mix, with Saturday night's show being a special "Haus of Oni" presentation with a special horror-drag preshow - although, let me tell you, if that new 4K disc I bought just a year ago is already obsolete… A more conventional Big Screen Classic, Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, plays Monday evening with an optional seminar presentation; Thursday's 35mm Rewind! presentation of Welcome to the Dollhouse has an afterparty at Osaka down the street.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has more B-Movies this weekend with Peter Lorre in The Face Behind the Mask up first Friday night before a Richard Fleischer double feature of Armored Car Robbery and Narrow Margin later that evening. Would-be franchise starter Dr. Broadway plays Saturday night. There's also a Western double feature of Thunderhoof & Ride Lonesome (DCP) on Sunday before the evening show of Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore. All but one are on 35mm and the run something like 63 to 77 minutes, so there's no wasted time.

    The HFA's also in on the "Make My Day" series it shares with the Brattle, with The King of Comedy on Saturday night and J. Hoberman introducing Being There on Monday, both on 35mm film.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has more shows of What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire? (Friday/Sunday) and Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Wednesday), as well as the first of their mini-run Mr. Klein, which is sort of adjacent to the Boston Jewish Film festival to which they also dedicate a lot of screen time.. There's also the final show in their quick "New Cinema from Brazil" program, Marighella, with Seu Jorge in the title role, on Saturday.
  • With the holidays coming up, The Museum of Science adds the stripped-down version of The Polar Express to their 4D shows.
  • Bright Lights partners with Wicked Queer for Trans Awareness Week on Tuesday, with Adam playing Tuesday with screenwriter Ariel Schrag on hand, and then with the Roxbury International Film Festival and Boston Women's Film Festival for Warrior Women on Thursday with director Elizabeth Castle afterward, both free and in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room. Emerson's Films From the Margin club shows Cleo 5 to 7 in Walker 202 on Wednesday; I'm not sure how open-to-the-public that is.
  • The ICA has short film program "A Wall Is a Wall" on Sunday afternoon, free with museum admission (it plays in conjunction with an exhibition), although tickets need to be reserved.
  • The Luna Theater has a run of indie comedy Greener Grass this week, with evening shows on Friday/Saturday/Monday/Tuesday. They also have the kind of neat Irish-American surfing documentary The Crest on Saturday afternoon, Official Secrets on Saturday evenings and Monday afternoon, a full day of Mars Attacks on Sunday, and their first show of the New York Dog Film Festival on Monday. As usual, the Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday shows are surprises but free. Oddly, Cinema Salem doesn't seem to have anything on their little screen this week; maybe it's getting an upgrade.

B movies Friday night, Chinese movies Saturday, the multiplexes other days (Doctor Sleep, Last Christman, and Midway all interest for various reasons), and some stuff I should really have seen already as well

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate

I've got a bad habit of not buying tickets for the IFFBoston Fall Focus in advance (because who knows what's going on a week from now, right?), so by the time I was checking things at work on Friday, Marriage Story was already sold out, but like a lot of those movies, it'll be out in regular theaters soon so catching it isn't quite urgent. So, what the heck, let's see the new Terminator.

It's bad, of course, and is bad in the same way the previous sequels have been: It's the same movie, more or less, with a powerful sensation of running in place. I joke often about how other franchises reboot and this one restores from the backup they made after T2, but they can; I don't really miss any of the directions various people have taken some then as they're thrown out. And I'm fairly sure I won't miss this when the next group to get their hands on the Caralco library decides to keep going because these sequel rights are the most valuable part of that acquisition. Nobody seems to regret any of the retcons other than The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and I haven't heard that much lamenting its consignment to alternate timeline status this time around. The fans must have gotten it out of their systems with Genisys.

Terminator: Dark Fate

* * (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #2 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

This Terminator is such a nullity and retread that I can't even bother to type a joke I've been making to friends about just what sort of retread it is again, like it would make me just as lazy. Dark Fate somehow manages to be a paradox of pointlessness - a sequel that draws what life it can from its predecessors but which has nothing new to offer, even as it explicitly notes that it's just doing the same thing with different names.

So now "Skynet" is "Legion" and they've sent a Terminator "Rev-9" (Gabriel Luna) back to kill Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), who works in an automobile plant in Mexico and seems as innocuous as Sarah Connor was thirty-five years ago. The rebels send back Grace (Mackenzie Davis), whose cyborg augmentations allow her to put up much more of a fight than most humans would against a killer robot - though they probably still would have been dead in fifteen minutes if Connor (Linda Hamilton) didn't show up. She's been hunting Terminators full time since one that had apparently been around for years found and killed her son in 1998, after "Judgment Day" was supposed to have happened. She's been receiving text messages about where time-traveling killing machines will materialize for years, but coordinates tattooed on Grace's body will finally lead her to the person sending them.

It would take depressingly little editing to tweak that description to describe four other Terminator movies or the TV show, and while it's not inherently bad to follow a formula, this series has spent the past twenty years having no idea how to handle the way it has lived past the date of its future doomsday and just doing the same thing anyway. A more ambitious movie could do something with that, making a point of how the point is not a single savior but rather the steady work of pushing the apocalypse back, or playing with how The Terminator was the product of Cold War fears of Mutually Assured Destruction, so maybe by now we're talking about troll-bot server farms hastening environmental disaster, but this is not that movie. The filmmakers do the minimum to upgrade to the twenty-first century, and why bother when the first couple movies are out there?

Full review on EFilmCritic

Friday, November 01, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 1 November 2019 - 7 November 2019

You know, I could have sworn I saw previews for Terminator: Dark Fate in 3D earlier this year, but (checks Hong Kong showtime app) it's not even being shown that way internationally. Go figure.

  • But before going there, stop at The Brattle Theatre for the Independent Film Festival Boston Fall Focus, which offers a preview of some of the fall's most anticipated movies midway between the 2019 and 2020 editions, some of which may not hit theaters because they're produced by streaming services. The lineup features Marriage Story on Friday; The Wild Goose Lake, Waves, The Truth, and Honey Boy on Saturday; and The Two Popes, Clemency, The Kingmaker, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire on Sunday.

    After that, they have a DocYard presentation Combat Obscura on Monday, with filmmaker Miles Lagoze editing the footage he took as a military cameraman into a short feature. On Tuesday, they start their leg of the "Make My Day: The Cinematic Imagination of the Reagan Era" series with a double feature of True Stories & Videodrome, both on 35mm, with Desperately Seeking Susan also playing on film Wednesday evening.
  • So, back to the multiplexes, where Terminator: Dark Fate is at least the third time the franchise has been restored from backup wiping out everything else after Terminator 2, with Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzeneggar returning to face off against a new set of killer robots from the future trying to protect their own timeline. It's at Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common, Fenway (including RPX), the Seaport (Icon-X), South Bay (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax & Dolby Cinema), the Embassy, Revere (including MX4D & XPlus), and the SuperLux.

    Speaking of blasts from the past, Edward Norton's Motherless Brooklyn features Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin, which would have been a heck of a cast ten years or so ago, as well as Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Willem Dafoe. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    There's also Arctic Dogs, with Jeremy Renner doing the voice of an anthropomorphic sled dog in one of those animated comedies from comes from a lesser animation studio and sort of looks it. It plays Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Revere.

    Boston Common has The Rocky Horror Picture show twice this weekend, on Friday and Sunday. Christmas Jars plays one night at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Monday, while The Divine Plan is at Fenway and Revere on Wednesday. For something rather less faith-baiting, there's Slayer: The Repentless Killogy, with a short film preceding concert footage from the band on Wednesday at Boston Common, Fenway, and Revere. Lynyrd Skynyrd: The Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour plays Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Thursday.
  • The other big release this week is Harriet, featuring Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman, who was probably more badass than most people recognize. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Capitol, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The Coolidge has a Skype call with Bong Joon-Ho after the 7pm Friday show of Parasite. They also have two digital restorations of Godzilla movies at midnight this weekend, with Destroy All Monsters on Friday and Godzilla vs. Hedorah on Saturday. Sunday includes a special "Panorama" presentation of "Veteran Children: When Parents Go to War", a half-hour short with a post-film discussion. The Science on Screen show on Monday is Big Night, with BU chemistry professor Scott Schaus talking about how our sense of taste works before the 35mm show. It's Open Screen on Tuesday.
  • Kendall Square opens Gift, a documentary on creativity, with a Lewis Hyde, the author of the book which inspired the film, paying a visit before the 7:15pm show on Friday. They also have a one-night presentation of A Night with Janis Joplin on Tuesday night.
  • Apple Fresh Pond has more Diwali openings, including Hindi comedies Meeku Maathrame Chepta, about a man who claims to not drink getting into trouble when video leaks right before his wedding, and Ujda Chaman, about a balding man who has been told he has a deadline to fall in love by a fortune teller. There's also a single show of Tulu-language comedy Girgit on Sunday. Housefull 4, Bigil, and Kaithi continue with the latter getting Telugu shows added to the Tamil-language ones..
  • If you go to the website of The Harvard Film Archive, you'll see that the program descriptions for their B-Movies series is starting to get weird. Not so much for Friday's first double feature of Weird Woman (16mm) & Captive Wild Woman (35mm), but they really don't seem to believe they're actually showing Sh! The Octopus (16mm) and The Devil Bat later that night (and to be fair, Sh! is 54 minutes of awful around one genuinely amazing bit of special effects); they are naturally much more enthusiastic about Ida Lupino's Outrage, showing on 35mm Sunday afternoon. Alex Ross Perry will be on hand to introduce two on Saturday - David Lynch's The Elephant Man is a favorite and Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst is him getting the chance to see something the archive has a print of for the first time - both on 35mm. He also presents his most recent two films, with Golden Exits playing on 35mm Sunday evening and Her Smell Monday night.
  • A calendar flip means The Museum of Fine Arts shuffles things up, in part by starting a run of Leonardo: The Works, an "Exhibition on Screen" presentation which presents some of Da Vinci's works in Ultra-HD (though I don't know if the Remis auditorium has a 4K projector) on Friday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They also start runs of Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Friday/Sunday/Wednesday) and What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire? (Sunday/Wednesday). The monthly "On the Fringe: Adventures in Cult Cinema" show on Friday is Hedwig and the Angry Inch, format not yet announced. Saturday has two shows from a short program of "New Cinema from Brazil", with Bacurau and Araby playing that afternoon.
  • Boston Jewish Film's annual festival kicks off on Wednesday with Safe Space at the Coolidge including a Q&A with director Daniel Schechter and star Justin Long. It expands to multiple locations on Thursday, with the FreshFlix shorts competition at Arts at the Armory, Good Morning Son at the Coolidge, Dolce Fine Giornata at the MFA, and both My Polish Honeymoon with director Élise Otzenberger and an encore of Safe Space at the Brattle.

    Over at The Capitol Theatre, the Arlington International Film Festival kicks off with documentary Path of the Daff on Thursday (preceded by Oscar-nominated short "Lifeboat")
  • The Museum of Science has an Anime Boston Weekend Saturday and Sunday, which in addition to cosplay and other activities includes screenings of two recent releases in the Cahners Theater - Mirai on Saturday and Okko's Inn on Sunday, both with subtitles at 10am and English dubs at 2:30pm.
  • This week's Bright Lights screenings are Time for Ilhan with director Norah Shaprio present on Tuesday and IFFBoston alum We Are the Radical Monarchs with director Linda Goldstein Knowlton on Thursday. Those are always open; I'm not sure whether that's usually the case for Emerson's Films From the Margin club, which will be showing Paris, Texas in Walker 202 on Wednesday.
  • Though The ICA has sold out timed tickets for their Yayoi Kusama exhibit through November, they will be showing Kusama: Infinity on Sunday for those who buy tickets for the museum in advance.
  • Cinema Salem takes a break from horror to be what I think is the only place in the area showing Netflix's Dolemite Is My Name on the big screen. The same is true for The Luna Theater in Lowell, which after leaning on spooky stuff plays Official Secrets on Friday and Saturday evenings, taxidermy documentary Stuffed on Saturday afternoon and Tuesday evening, and Pee-Wee's Big Adventure all day Sunday, as well as the surprise Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday shows. And if you head out to the Liberty Tree Mall or Methuen, the AMCs there are showing Inside Game, which stars Eric Mabius as an NBA referee who was caught betting on games he worked.


I'm hitting some of IFFBoston 2019½, although I'm also likely to wager that most of it will be coming out elsewhere soon (if not the very next weekend) and catch Terminator, Harriet, and the stuff I'm behind on.