Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 27 November 2019 - 5 December 2019

Hey, the ArcLight opened on Causeway Street! Mostly; it's a 10-plex with Fandango only showing 7 screens worth of movies right now, and I don't see the big screen listed. We'll give it a little more of a look when it's ready. But, in the meantime, Thanksgiving means a big long movie weekend!

Which raises the question of what we want to call it - "The ArcLight", "Causeway Street", or "North Station"? I'm going with the first for now, but am leaning toward the second for the future.

  • So get yourself to Knives Out, already! It's a fun murder mystery directed by Rian Johnson with Daniel Craig as the detective, Christopher Plummer as the victim, and Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Toni Colette, Michael Shannon, and more as suspects. It looks great, takes place in the Boston area, and even takes place here! It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, the ArcLight, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux.

    The other wide opening this week is Queen & Slim, with Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith as a couple on their first date who wind up folk heroes on the run after a harassing traffic stop turns deadly. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, the ArcLight, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Dark Waters opens semi-wide, with Todd Haynes's film starring Mark Ruffalo as a corporate attorney who starts digging into a case about pollution in his hometown opening at Kendall Square, Boston Common, and the ArcLight before presumably going wider in December. Boston Common also opens Lauren Greenfield's Imelda Marcos (and family) documentary The Kingmaker on Friday.

    Fenway has one of their occasional Russian movies, with Another Woman playing one show tonight (Wednesday the 27th), starring Anna Mikhalkova as a woman whose husband leaves her who "resorts to supernatural forces" to get him back. Fenway also starts a month of Saturday Christmas matinees with Elf. There are 30th anniversary screenings of When Harry Met Sally… at Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday and Monday, and a 40th anniversary celebration of Mobile Suit Gundam with the new movie Char's Counter Attack at Fenway, South Bay, and Revere on Thursday. Apparently Faustina: Love and Mercy did well enough a month ago to have encores at Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Monday, while Revere has an encore of Everybody's Everything tonight.
  • In addition to Dark Waters on Wednesday, Kendall Square also opens White Snake on Friday, an animated Chinese film that is a pretty nifty take on this fantasy tale that I liked well enough at Fantasia this summer, though I'm kind of surprised to see it get a U.S. release. Most shows are subtitled, but it looks like at least the first show of the afternoon will be dubbed.
  • Apple Fresh Pond opens Tamil action flick Enai Noki Paayum Thota for late shows starting on Thursday (Thanksgiving), while Bala continues to chug along.

    Boston Common opens Chinese dark comedy Two Tigers, starring Ge You as a kidnapped businessman who turns the tables on his captors, on Friday, knocking Better Days down to a show or two per day.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre looks to be keeping its same schedule for the week, but still has some fun repertory stuff. The new, re-gore-ified restoration of Tammy and the T-Rex plays at midnight on Friday, while a 35mm print of Alex Winter's Freaked plays at that time on Saturday. Switching gears, An American Tail plays as a Sunday morning kids show. Monday's "Science on Screen" presentation of Bong Joon-Ho's The Host plays on 35mm, with microbiologist Silvia Caballero introducing it, and while Wednesday-the-4th's special screenings of Fantastic Fungi are not technically part of that series, subject Michael Pollan will be around for a Q&A of the (sold-out) 7pm show while executive producer Stephen Apkon will be there for the 7pm and 9:45pm shows
  • The Brattle Theatre wraps "Hollywood Whodunits" tonight with Clue before "Giving Thanks for Bogie" with a 35mm double feature of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca from Thursday to Sunday. IFFBoston alumnus Greener Grass plays at 9:30pm those days, as well as a full day of screenings on Tuesday.

    There's also a DocYard screening of Irish "Troubles" documentary The Image You Missed on Monday, with director Dónal Foreman there in person. They also have the latest Grrl Haus Cinema program on Wednesday and a free Elements of Cinema show of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover on Thursday, presented on 35mm and with David R. Gammons leading discussion.
  • With fewer students around, The Harvard Film Archive has a somewhat shorter schedule, wrapping "Make My" day up on Saturday with 35mm prints of Back to the Future and Blue Velvet. Sunday is a one-off screening of Wolf-Eckart Bühler's The Shipwrecker, while Monday gets December's "Cinema of Resistance" screening in early with a 16mm print of Yama - Attack to Attack. There's also a special screening of The Black Godfather including Q&A with director Reginald Hudlin, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Nicole Avant at 6pm Tuesday; RSVP for a free seat.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts finishes their November calendar with their last couple of screenings of Mr. Klein on Friday and Saturday, and gets a slight early start on the December one by starting Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project on Friday, with Matt Wolf's documentary on a woman who obsessively recorded TV news 24/7 for over thirty years also playing Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday (the 4th), and Thursday (the 5th). That gives way on Thursday the 5th to the first show in their month-long Coen Brothers series, Blood Simple.
  • The Museum of Science brings back IMAX film "Rocky Mountain Express" to go with their "All Aboard! Trains at Science Park" and "Thomas & Friends" exhibits.
  • The Lexington Venue picks up Harriet for one show a day, and also has a special free screening of short film "Watch Room" on Saturday morning with director and Lexington native on-hand to talk afterward.
  • The Regent Theatre has their annual Sing-Along The Sound of Music show from Thursday to Sunday. Sadly, they do not seem to be doing the same for Anna and the Apocalypse later this month.
  • The ICA has another screening of short film program "A Wall Is a Wall" on Sunday, with tickets free with museum admission and ready to reserve starting Friday.
  • The Luna Theater gets into the Christmas spirit with full days of Elf on Friday and Saturday and White Christmas on Sunday. They take a slight break from that for a screening of Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace on Tuesday, but who knows how holiday-themed Weirdo Wednesday(s), the Saturday Morning Cartoons, and Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club" will be?

Having already seen a few of these, I am down for Queen & Slim, the Bogie, Greener Grass, Two Tigers, and whatever else is already on the way out that I haven't gotten around to.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 18 November 2019 - 24 November 2019

I'm not going to lie, I'm disappointed in myself for how my moviegoing plans didn't match with my achievements this week

This Week in Tickets

This was the first of a couple weeks working from home because my massive employer didn't arrange things so that we'd be able to go straight from one office to another, and it messed up my rhythms in some ways - a lot more screwing around in the morning and then working late to make up for it because it's not like I have to worry about catching a bus. On the other hand, it meant I could actually not cut out early but still make it to a 6pm show of Warrior Queen of Jhansi on Wednesday. Not necessarily a great decision, but sometimes you go to what looks like a bad movie because you're really curious to compare it to another, in this case the Indian Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. Devika Bhise not being quite so accomplished as Kananga Ranaut is just the start of that movie's issues.

It also lets you get to a 6:30pm screening of Frozen II and be mildly surprised it's not crawling with kids. I guess folks really don't like 3D that much here, which is a bit of a shame; the stereo work is nice and while the film isn't as great as the first one, it's got some challenging themes and is pretty darn decent.

I wanted to get to that early because I planned to hit the repertory theaters hard over the weekend, and made a decent start with Friday's double feature of Daughter of Shanghai & Phantom of Chinatown at the Harvard Film Archive, but whiffed on the Hollywood Whodunits at the Brattle. Early errands bit into the first parts of double/triple features, and it was rainy enough that I really didn't feel like walking to the T.

At least, not until a little refreshing pages in Chrome led me to see that the new Arclight on Causeway Street - long-said to be opening in late November but not showing signs of life as the month wound down - actually had showtimes. Obviously, I had to check it out, and while the complex is not quite 100% done, 21 Bridges was actually better than I'd be led to expect, if not all it could be.

I whiled away some of the weekend by watching the two features on the 3-D Film Archives "3-D Nudie Cuties" collection, Adam and Six Eves and The Bellboy and the Playgirls, which, despite the work of a young Francis Ford Coppola on the second, are quite bad indeed. On top of that, I didn't realize that most of the second was a dubbed version of a German film, so I was screwing around with the AV Sync to try to get that to line up.

I wrapped that just in time to get to the local theater for The Irishman, paying, what, two-thirds of the price of a Netflix monthly subscription to see one of their movies. It's pretty good, although mob stuff was never really my thing and I found it kind of hard to separate the actors from the parts in a lot of cases, and I kind of wonder how those two things interact.

Anyway, bookmark my Letterboxd page and if you're a member, consider paying the $19 for Pro. The ability to filter out "Person A liked Person B's review of Movie C" has made it so much easier to pick out the amount I can actually digest.

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

I wasn't a particularly big fan of the year's first film about Rani Lakshmibai, but its faults that needed to be remedied didn't include "British characters who were too unsympathetic". Badly acted, yes, but it's not like this story felt incomplete without Queen Victoria (Jodhi May) very concerned about the excesses of the British East India Tea Company, a sympathetic soldier who was the Rani's childhood friend, and so on. And even with some more recognizable names here, the bad acting is still a problem. I seem to vaguely recall Rupert Everett once being a guy I looked forward to seeing in a movie, but he's impressively awful here, and most of the rest aren't much better.

The performance of Devika Bhise at the center isn't bad - she also worked on the script and produced, with her mother directing - and she is youthful enough to capture that this is a woman who was married at 15 and is as such both in a bit over her head and impressively defiant. She is mostly isolated, though, with this script switching characters for her rani to interact with in and out that it's hard to measure her against them in a meaningful way, and there's just so much of her life packed into the film that large bits have to be covered as part of narration in the first five minutes and others sketched out quickly.

Like that other film, this one falters mostly in trying to assert its queen's greatness rather than demonstrating it, and it's hampered by a budget that doesn't give the filmmakers much room for spectacle or even well-choreographed action at a smaller scale. The film feels small when it needs grandeur, spending a lot of time on details not shown to matter and historical footnotes.

One thing that's interesting about seeing both this and Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is how, between them, they've got an interesting bit of symbolism, with Manikarnika opening with a shot that implies the rani was born from the waters of India while Warrior Queen finishes by having her vanish into them rather than definitively dying on the battlefield. It's an odd symmetry, one which you'd expect to see in the same move rather than spread across two.

Frozen II

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 November 2019 in AMC Assembly Row #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Though there's ultimately only one name on the screenplay, this movie reminds me of how the stories for animated Disney films used to come about from absolutely everyone in the company tossing in an idea or a bit of concept art or storyboarding or what have you, the whole thing being synthesized into something that works exceptionally well. Here, that's not quite the case - the competing themes never quite gelled, resulting in something that's kind of The Fifth Element for kids with a side of war crimes, except that, being a sequel, it's got to toss in a whole bunch of explanations that the first movie did quite well without.

(Also, I find myself darkly amused that, having already killed off Anna and Elsa's parents in the first film, the filmmakers had to go back to kill their grandfather to create a motivating tragedy, although the whole thing becomes something different eventually.)

It's still fairly entertaining - Disney can throw a whole lot of manpower at an animated movie to make it pretty, if nothing else, and this movie is gorgeous, even if the new models for Anna and Else seem a bit odd in how they don't seem to feel quite so mimic the classic animated Disney Princess look quite so much. There may be too many bits of story to this, and some weird inconsistencies in tone, like how the power-ballad spoof is good, but maybe not quite a fit for an otherwise sincere movie. Still, that's a case of how it never really becomes a mess, since even when it gets close to the point where it's too self-aware, it never quite crosses a bad line.

I don't figure my nieces will love it as much as the first, although maybe they'll get that Anna is the hero of these movies (even if Elsa has the superpowers) by the end, and be just as eager to cosplay her as the other.

Daughter of Shanghai

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, 35mm)

A couple of scenes toward the start of this movie show to just what extent it's not messing around, and that sort of pulp cruelty helps it push through moments when it might otherwise get a bit sloppy. Fortunately, at an hour long it doesn't really have time to go off on tangents that lead nowhere or really get mired in the stupider bits of its plot, and director Robert Florey shows a nifty touch toward the end, making the last act an unusual combination of light wisecracks and urgent action that doesn't work nearly so often as people have tried it - even now, when it can often seem like the default.

It's also got a pretty appealing pair of Asian-American leads in Anna May Wong and Philip Ahn, who have a nifty chemistry that doesn't feel particularly romantic despite a tossed-in final scene; their characters are just smart, determined people who respect each other. It's the sort of B movie that benefits from having folks who would on occasion break through to bigger and better things in the cast - Cecil Cunningham is great switching from open-minded friend to ruthless villain, and she's got Buster Crabbe and Anthony Quinn as henchmen - as well as some special effects work that admittedly looks dated but not slapdash.

It's also a bit weird to look at from a modern perspective, with a story built on protecting borders but mostly-immigrant heroes and little attempt to reconcile this; it builds up roles for its Asian-American characters but plays to pretty broad stereotypes for black and Irish people. It's a strange sensation of people almost realizing that their fondness for individuals and generally racist attitudes are in opposition, but maybe not quite getting there.

Phantom of Chinatown

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, 35mm)

A rare - perhaps singular - Asian-detective movie which actually featured an Asian-American star, this isn't nearly as good as the film the HFA paired it with (Daughter of Shanghai), but it makes up for a lot of that by being kind of delightfully self-aware, making jokes about the predictable structures of mystery movies or occasionally undercutting expectations where Asian characters were concerned with glee, though it's never actually breaking the fourth wall and winking at the audience. Keye Luke and Lotus Long are both kind of delightful even if most of the Caucasian cast is not, like their downright thrilled to have leading roles even if their co-stars feel like they're slumming.

Still, there's an awful thin line between being clever about the tropes your subverting and hoping that hanging a lantern on them will convince the audience to let them slide, and Phantom spends a lot of time on the wrong side of it. It's never a terribly compelling or coherent mystery, it still trades in a bunch of tacky stereotypes, and it eventually runs out of charm, with the "I'm just a simple American detective" character especially grating.

Adam and Six Eves

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2019 in Jay's Living Room (3-D nudie cuties features, Blu-ray)

You buy the disc that has the girlie movie where Francis Ford Coppola directed some scenes, you also get this, shot in 3D but not released that way until this new disc. It's gorgeously preserved/restored/presented, quite possibly looking the best it ever has, seeing as those shots composed for 3D to make sure that it feels like a lady's nipple could stab you in the eye must have looked really awkward flat even before you take into consideration that this probably did not play in the theaters with the best projectionists in a given town.

On the other hand, it's more or less a five page fumetti stretched out to an hour of live-action, the whole of it dubbed over with narration from a donkey, which is, admittedly, actually peppered with good one-liners. Complaining about the story for this film is kind of pointless - it exists to give topless girls a reason to walk around and pose, with a few giggles on the soundtrack, although the fact that it's dubbed over people talking makes one wonder if there was an attempt at a plot and it was just too bad for even this sort of thing. Like, even for a bit of pure exploitation, it looks cheap and lazy.

I kind of wonder what happened to some of these girls; IMDB doesn't show them credited for anything else, for the most part, and one especially looks really uncomfortable with the whole thing at times. Does something like this get treated as a funny story or a dirty secret?

The Bellboy and the Playgirls

* (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2019 in Jay's Living Room (3-D nudie cuties features, Blu-ray)

Well, that's not good. That's not good at all. That was so bad that I was spending large swathes of it fiddling with my phone and whatnot, waiting to get to the 3D scenes, when I wasn't fiddling with the settings because I didn't realize that the black-and-white segments were dubbed into English from German.

Give Francis Ford Coppola credit, though - for a thankless job done quickly and cheaply, he does decent work in making it look like the original German footage and the new American stuff actually belongs as part of the same movie. He can compose a shot pretty well in this first feature, and gets decent-enough work out of Playboy model June Wilkinson that it's too bad there wasn't really a good way to actually make her the lead character or just make a farce about her lingerie designer and her goofy models getting into wacky hijinks in the hotel.

The 3-D content was pretty lousy, though - nice depth, but just girls walking in and out of frame and sitting down to talk.

The Irishman

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

It's kind of funny that Martin Scorsese has gotten himself caught up in an apparent beef with superhero-movie fans, because aside from it being kind of canny publicity - it's reminded people that he's got a movie in theaters when a lot of the usual theatrical promotion hasn't been done because Netflix produced this movie - it's also bigger than life and meant to draw in people for their favorites all appearing together in a grander tale than their usual. Sound like anything familiar?

To a certain extent, it's using these iconic figures that makes the film a bit distancing for me; it is hard not to see Robert De Niro or Al Pacino rather than Frank Sheeran or Jimmy Hoffa, often reducing what could be fascinating looks inside these two real-life figures' heads and histories to examples of De Niro being working-class fussy and Pacino being larger and louder than life, things that they are exceptionally good at but also examples of playing the hits. It makes Joe Pesci's playing against type more noteworthy and fascinating - even in de-aged flashbacks, he's allowed to carry his age, look worn down, making Russell Bufalino be thoroughly conquered by his own corruption. He's not quite seductively reasonable, instead feeling like someone with a sort of moral cancer; it won't get you right away, but eventually there's nothing else left.

Scorsese and writer Steven Zallian are still awfully good at telling this sort of story. There's an early scene where Scorsese shows that moving through different time periods effortlessly doesn't mean doing it invisibly, letting the characters tell the audience that there's going to be some nostalgia and sentimentality to the next segment so that we can interact with it more certainty and understanding of what all these characters are feeling both as they experience and recall events. The lengthy film doesn't feel drawn out until the end, when it's supposed to, when you realize that the reward for surviving in and around the mob for this long is to be isolated because either your close friends in that life are dead or their deaths have taught you that their loyalty is conditional and the inherent violence is eventually going to drive everyone else away. It drags a bit, but not enough for it to reflect the experience of watching the movie as opposed to what the movie is trying to show.

That's pretty good. Not quite masterpiece-level, and I wonder what it would have been like with other people. I also wonder how many people will take this 210-minute movie as it comes, letting the weight of it settle so that last portion works, rather than breaking it up or pausing it for a bathroom break and thus resetting the clock, since it will be mostly be seen in living rooms rather than theaters.

The Warrior Queen of Jhansi
Frozen II
Daughter of Shanghai & Phantom of Chinatown
21 Bridges
Adam and Six Eves
The Bellboy and the Playgirls
The Irishman

Sunday, November 24, 2019

21 Bridges

I was going to make this a "new movie, new theater" review, but that would kind of be unfair because the ArcLight on Causeway Street doesn't really look finished yet - there's no permanent sign outside, the escalators aren't running yet, and there are a lot of spots where there are employers hanging around to make sure you go to the part of the building where they are showing movies rather than the part that's an unfinished construction site. As of right now, ArcLight Boston doesn't show up on their app and showtimes only started to appear on Fandango and the company's website yesterday, and still don't have showtimes listed after Monday (unless you want to reserve Star Wars tickets). It kind of feels overstaffed right now, as only a few people know it's open, to the point where the projectionist welcomed me to my private screening last night, and as a result there are a lot of people asking you if you enjoyed the movie on the way out or need help finding anything. Kind of weird, considering the rest of the place is built for you to both order tickets and snacks from kiosks.

I now find myself wondering if you even can pay cash anywhere but at the bar. Something to consider next time I try it out.

Coincidentally, I was writing about Bullitt yesterday, and while this isn't quite the same level of movie that is, I do wonder if director Brian Kirk has a bit of Peter Yates in him. This movie isn't often flashy but it's assured, often nailing down the action in a clear but unpretentious way the way Yates did. I don't know if Kirk has that sort of future, but he's made the sort of solid crime/action movie that I'd like to see more of even if I'd also like to see it done a bit better.

21 Bridges

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 November 2019 in Arclight Boston #8 (first-run, DCP)

There's a sharper version of 21 Bridges to be made which targets the way police culture becomes toxic as opposed to mostly letting it kick around in the background, but I suspect that's a hard thing to believably isolate, and would bring in things the filmmakers weren't totally ready to deal with. As it is, it becomes a bigger version of a story we've heard a few times before, told with some style even if it misses an opportunity or two.

In the middle of the night, Micahel Trujillo (Stephan James) and Ray Stevens (Taylor Kitsch) rob a wine shop that they expect to have 30kg of cocaine in the basement; instead there's 300, more than they are ready to transport, and the manager of the shop has called the cops. Eight are shot in the ensuing firefight, and NYPD brings in Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) to direct the manhunt, teamed with narcotics detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller), likely not in spite of his reputation for being willing to use lethal force, but because of it. It's quickly established that the pair are in Manhattan, so Andre urges the city to close off the island until daybreak. The NYPD intends to be utterly relentless in running the ones who took out so many of their own down to ground, but Trujillo and Stevens are ex-military, with Michael smart enough to be a match for Andre.

The film opens with a scene of Andre as a child, attending the funeral of his policeman father, and it's built to be unnerving, built out of wide shots of a church while the preacher speaks not of forgiveness and sacrifice but of anger and glee that he was able to take two of his attackers with him. When the film cuts to Andre's latest Internal Affairs meeting, it becomes clear that he's spent his whole life steeped in that culture, enough that his making the proper noises about not shooting first or indiscriminately surprises and upsets the other officers. It's a point of view that might be made clearer if the film offered more than fleeting glances at a perspective outside of the police or their quarry, questioning the way that the police seem to respond much more enthusiastically to an attack on themselves than the people they're meant to protect. That idea is what gives the film a great deal of its tension in the early going but becomes a little less prominent toward the end, as the plot needs Andre to close in and writers Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan don't really have the room to examine how corruption and entitlement are separate but entangled issues.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Saturday, November 23, 2019

These Weeks in Tickets: 28 October 2019 - 17 November 2019

A couple busy weeks and I fall behind like crazy. But they're fun, crazy weeks.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

Halloween week was a fun one because I got to bounce around a bunch of different venues for unusual shows. Monday (the 28th), for instance, Emerson's Films from the Margin club teamed up with the 3-D Film Archive folks to show The Mask, which is not a good movie, but the 3D sequences are pretty amazing. The talk about how they preserve and restore these movies was just as interesting, notably how many of these films probably look better in their current 3D Blu-ray/DCP incarnations than they did on their initial release. I'm happily buying all those discs that I can, because the window when they'll be available is closing quickly.

The next night brought a trip to the Regent Theatre in Arlington for Farming, which got four-walled there because, apparently, the place that usually does such things is full up for Diwali. It's not the greatest movie - it probably wouldn't be getting a day-and-date release on VOD if it were - but it's got one of the best performances I've seen from Kate Beckinsale, which is something. Then on Thursday, it was back to Arlington but a different spot on Mass Avenue for a Halloween show of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the first time I've seen it in polarized 3D, as even the times it played the Coolidge in the middle of a 3D festival, Universal would send anaglyph prints.

I didn't get tickets for the first night of IFFBoston's Fall Focus opening night ahead of time, which freed me up to check out Terminator: Dark Fate opening night, which… well, wasn't great (though on the plus side, the movie I missed opens in 35mm this week, so it's not a big loss). I did hit the Brattle for the Fall Focus presentations of The Wild Goose Lake & The Truth, really liking the first one and eventually growing fonder of the second. There were longish breaks and a movie I figured I would see in its regular release in between, so I went to Best Buy to use an expiring coupon and then to the Somerville Theatre for The Lighthouse in between. Sunday, it was back to the Brattle for the IFFBoston presentation of The Kingmaker, which was apparently shrewd, because Lauren Greenfield dialed in for a Q&A and it looks like her movie isn't getting any theatrical play here otherwise.

I stayed in the next few nights, but the two 3D movies from the previous week had reminded me to get a replacement Blu-ray from Universal for my Creature box set (they'd originally encoded the two sequels at 720p rather than 1080p), so I watched Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us off those. Not a great series, all told, but I'd be kind of curious how the themes that emerged were deliberate or just sort of natural with the story they chose to tell.

Friday night, I headed in to the Harvard Film Archive to catch some movies from their B-movie program, a single feature of The Face Behind the Mask a seven and then a pairing of Armored Car Robbery & The Narrow Margin. Solid stuff, especially the last one, whose remake is a favorite.

Saturday I did a sort of odd split-doubleheader for Chinese movies, seeing My Dear Liar at Boston Common and then heading into the Seaport to see Better Days because that one is a big hit in China and the Boston Common shows got swarmed and sold out early. It's the better movie, so the one other person in the first screening versus sold-out shows is about what you'd expect.

After that, it was another B-movie at the Archive with the not-great Dr. Broadway. After that sort of triple-header, it only makes sense to head home and sleep in late the next day, and then Doctor Sleep the next day. Didn't do great, even in New England which you'd think would be Stephen King country.

A lot of the next week was spent late at work trying to make up for all the time we were spending packing up the office and basically swiping things because otherwise they'd just be sent to a warehouse never to emerge again. Still, it meant heading into Harvard Square for this year's edition of the International Pancake Film Festival was a special treat. There were some new levels added to the video game, a lot of folks who had made their odd little movies on hand with friends, and while none of them will necessarily make my list of favorite short films for the year, everyone was having fun and it's kind of amazing how much more polished the 2019 films are than the ones from the first ones I went to. We've got crazy filmmaking technology in our pockets these days.

It was back to the Brattle the next afternoon for Bullitt on 35mm, an odd one-off inclusion on the schedule which was revealed as a birthday party that filled half the theater. I last saw it on HD-DVD (and, yes, I can still play the disc), but the print looked great and the movie is awful good. After that, I headed to Boston Common for the back half of a "driving fast" double feature, with Ford v Ferrari, which may not be a great movie but which is aggressively decent, and that's not a bad thing.

That's a lot, with plenty more coming next weekend. Watch my Letterboxd page and follow me there if you want

The Mask

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 October 2019 in the Paramount Theater Bright Screening Room (Films from the Margin, anaglyph DCP)

The Mask is three amazingly mounted 3D scenes surrounded by one very weak hour of B-movie crud, but it's a case where this may accidentally be the best thing for it. If the bits in the real world were witty and clever and competent rather than quite incredibly stupid, would the alternate-world horrors that come when someone puts on the mask have seemed like they might be seductive? So often you have these visions of Hell that obsess people but don't seem like they should. Instead, they're intense and fascinating in contrast to the nice-enough mundane world and, as such, something a viewer hopes the filmmakers will do more of, which they can transfer to the characters..

Not that this was likely the result of any sort of plan - no, it seems like everyone involved did their best and they just had much more affinity for abstract madness than traditional crime-movie procedures. And those 3D sequences are pretty great, shot with care and fantastic composition, bringing in mime Rudi Linschoten to serve as the avatar for the doctor being driven mad. He knows how to work with space better than actors who just recite their lines well enough, and the filmmakers give him a stage to do so. Because the actual story is outside, in the real world, they only have to hint at various nightmares rather than pull it all into a coherent mythology, so those scenes are built to let imaginations run wild.

The other half of the movie which should probably at least be trying to get all the details right, but can't escape the story's basic thinness or the blandly basic characters the cast is saddled with. Everybody just does exactly what the story needs without it ever seeming like it comes from them, and it's boring as heck. The most fun it gets is when the booming voice in Doctor Barnes's head implores him to "put on the mask!", which is kind of clever in how it breaks the fourth wall.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2019 in Capitol Theatre #1 (Throwback Thursdays, RealD 3D DCP)

It's kind of amazing the difference good presentation can make; I've only ever seen this one in red-blue 3D with prints that probably had been through the projector a few times, and the Capitol showing it in polarized fashion helps make things pop a little more, show just how crisp the photography is and how well depth is used. It's a nifty-looking movie, even if the Creature's dead eyes sometimes can't help but remind you that it's a suit. Being a great suit makes up for it somewhat.

It's also a film that gets more comfortable and enjoyable the more times you see it - its shortcomings seem earnest rather than hacky, and the filmmakers are, at their best, able to balance the humans' horror at their potential murder with the scorched-earth techniques that they are using the capture/kill the creature. The dumping of chemicals into the lagoon is a thing that a lot of 1950s horror/sci-fi would do pretty much without second thoughts, and truth be told, that seems to be the case here - but it's not quite so gung-ho as similar scenes are in other movies, and having a little sympathy for the "villain" is often what makes these old Universal Monster films stick with a person.

eFilmCritic review from 2015

The Lighthouse

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2019 in Somerville Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

The Lighthouse is beautifully photographed. It's got a pair excellent performances from Robert Pattinson and Willen Dafoe. And for those for whom "two people in isolation drive each other insane" is more than enough story, it probably won't wear out its welcome. I think I passed the point where that was still interesting with about twenty or thirty minutes to go, though. It's absolutely the sort of thing where I reach a point of "I get it" and each new piece just becomes more, and the escalation only serves to make things more confusing rather than revealing.

I'll probably give it another chance when it shows up on a Brattle schedule or something; it's well-enough put together and regarded that I'm curious what I missed by seeing it when I was feeling a little worn out and from close enough that I had to look up and miss things when I rested my neck for a half-second. I suspect that I was under the expectation that it would eventually become something more like Cold Skin, rather than something as determinedly abstract as this film.

Revenge Of The Creature

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 November 2019 in Jay's Living Room (Creature features, 3D Blu-ray)

The sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon feels kind of lazy despite the nicely tweaked suit and the still-impressive underwater photography and 3D work. The water-park setting is dull, the new characters mostly feel generic, and the direction mostly makes the Creature look slow and unwieldy. There is clearly some cost-cutting going on although they haven't completely cheaped out yet - it surprises me a bit that this was the high point of pretty & charming Lori Nelson's career, for instance, and the work that the 3-D Film Archive has done for this Blu-ray shows that Universal was still putting some effort into the series. The inspiration and balanced outlook of the first is diminished, though.

I'm not sure whether to applaud or snicker at the pure predatory horniness the filmmakers get out of the Creature despite his expressionless face. It sometimes seems like an accident, as if the filmmakers are trying to keep their monster from being too sympathetic as he struggles against chains and gasps like he's suffocating outside the water and he just comes off as trying to run with an erection. It's not really a bad idea, although with it being 1955, they don't really talk about him being the last of his kind and probably having the urge to reproduce frankly enough to just spell out that it wants to mate with Nelson's young, optimist scientist. It mostly comes off as an example of how you kind of have to make these monsters brutes at some point to counter their tragic nature, and this movie doesn't quite find the point at which there's a good balance.

The Creature Walks Among Us

* * (out of four)
Seen 5 November 2019 in Jay's Living Room (Creature features, Blu-ray)

The third Creature movie is another step down from the first; aside from no longer being in 3D, it looks cheaper, substituting obvious rear-projection for location shooting or even elaborate sets, and the film is awful dull, with a bunch of male characters who run together and a monster who is incapacitated for most of the movie. It's a bad movie even before you get to how the one notable woman in the movie changes personality wholesale from scene to scene, which is a damn shame, because she often seems the most potential as both a heroine who can save herself an a tragic parallel for the Creature. You can almost see the seeds for The Shape of Water planted here more clearly than they are in the earlier, better films.

And yet... It's interesting. Underneath that mess of inconsistent characterization for Leigh Snowden's Marcia and the disappointing change in the creature outfit, there's something about the parallel between the two, the idea of being made into something else, that you can see the filmmakers playing with but not quite making work. If you look at the whole series just right, you can see a sort of cynical progression through the trilogy: The Creature goes from being an indigenous person driven to extinction, to a curiosity for his destroyers to gawk at, to being subsumed by the conquerors. It's not a perfect match, perhaps, but there's something there, and while the series peters out as good horror even as its adding depth, at least it wound itself down early enough to avoid diluting itself too much.

The Face Behind the Mask

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, 35mm)

You wouldn't necessarily know this was a B-movie if not for its short length and attempts to avoid showing its disfigured main character's face because the budget just isn't there - although their canny use of make-up and black-and-white photography makes it look like Janos Szabo is wearing a mask even if his face is too expressive for that to be the case. It's got a great performance by Peter Lorre in the center and absolutely no fat on it, a story pared down to its essentials and cranked out with competent professionalism.

Impressively, though the story revolves around crime and criminals, it never needs to show the audience a heist, somehow convincing the viewer just well enough that these guys can manage what the film says they can without doing that tricky stuff. It's just enough to let the background shift so that the audience can watch Lorre cycle through optimism, despair, and cool rage, tracing a path of tragedy that never seems too much or exaggerated, no matter how much the film piles on. It's one of Lorre's best roles, and one of the most believable portraits of a man driven to become a master criminal that doesn't make it seem like he's completely turning on a dime.

Armored Car Robbery

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, 35mm)

For a short, relatively simple crime flick, this is a surprising snooze . It spends its opening introducing us to the robbers but doesn't give us the quality of heist we're expecting, nor does it do much with a potentially fun, backstabbing triangle. Instead, we get a manhunt executed nicely enough on film - everybody involved is a pro - but which never rises above being the sort of B movie that just pads out a program. It disappears from one's mind nearly as soon as it's over, especially in this case, when it's followed up by a superior film.

The Narrow Margin

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, 35mm)

This movie, on the other hand, is a tight-as-hell, occasionally mean little thriller that (along with its remake) is probably responsible for my belief that setting one of these movies on a train makes it something like 20% better. It's 70 minutes that don't really ever let up and probably does a better job of balancing a hero's idealism with cynicism than almost any other noir. Charles McGraw's detective is gruff and unimpressed with most of the people he encounters, but he genuinely feels incorruptible. He's paired against two actresses in Marie Windsor and Jacqueline White who both give clear and effective performances.

Mostly, though, it's great to watch director Richard Fleisher crank through the story without any waste, always getting something out of his red herrings and comic relief. The revelations never slow the movie down for long enough to feel like the filmmakers are showing how clever they are, and the violence is both too quick and brutal to be cool and allowed to linger in the characters' psyches. It's never just a plot machine even if it's cut so close to the bone that it doesn't seem to have room for more.

Also, if you've seen the remake first as I have (and it's a nifty little movie itself), the changes it makes allow each movie to serve as misdirection for the other without either feeling inferior or wrong. That's a nifty trick, even if it's more a property of another movie than this one.

Dr. Broadway

* * (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2019 in the Harvard Film Archive (The B-Film: Low-Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935-1959, 35mm)

Ten years later, this is probably the pilot for a not-well-remembered TV series rather than something released in theaters, although Paramount probably would have liked to crank out a couple "Dr. Broadway and the..." movies every year in the 1940s. Alas, this movie is a silly thing, full of bits that imply other important things going on but which never connect to anything else, a sadly affirmative answer to the question of whether it's possible for a movie to be too snappy, as the title character is always too ready with an answer to feel threatened and pulp tropes get treated as so self-evident that the movie never feels less than manufactured.

I do wonder what the leads could do with better material. Macdonald Carey, for instance, seems pleasant enough, a handsome and charming leading man, but too smooth, and you wonder what he could have done if the script had ever had his character stumble or be unsure every once in a while. Jean Phillips gets to be pretty and sassy, but the character she plays is all over the place, going from streetwise and fearless to moon-eyed love interest too easily.

As much as I usually like 68 minute B movies that don't mess around, that doesn't work for everything, and this one stumbles hard trying to fit all it wants to do into too small a package.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (special presentation, 35mm)

The first time I saw this, I'd heard about the famous car chase and was maybe not prepared for such a methodical crime film. I've grown more fond of that sort of movie since, and more familiar with both Steve McQueen's particular sort of cool and Peter Yates's steady hand, and dig it a lot more as a result. It's the sort of procedural that's got room to examine its sleuth through his actions, rather than have him bare all in some confessional monologues.

Part of what impresses, though, is just well aware it is of its own methodical nature. Robert Vaughn's ambitious district attorney and Jacqueline Bisset's girlfriend both react to the title character's even keel in ways that make things interesting even as the movie plugs along, eventually solving the crime in a way that works despite not being a fair play mystery. Yates keeps the same tone to the end and makes that satisfying even if the audience has started to have mixed feelings about how it's all going.

And then there's the big chase (plus a less famous but still great one at the climax), just a clinic in keeping everything lined up and clear even as it takes time to get the camera inside the cars and show that neither Bullitt nor his foes are total robots despite being pros. It takes advantage of San Francisco's insane terrain and makes one feel how banged around the cars get without a whole lot of cosmetic damage. The chase feels like something difficult and unusual even for these guys, a perfect balance to how the rest of the film goes, and that also makes one think just how difficult shooting it must have been without reducing it to a straight technical thing.

It makes me realize just how underappreciated Peter Yates can sometimes be - during his prime, he had a bunch of strong work, but didn't quite have the sort of signature that made people sit up and say just how good he was. He's what they call "Hall of Very Good" in baseball; maybe not the top echelon, but certainly someone whose work is going to be the favorite of more than a few people.

Ford v Ferrari

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax digital)

Ford v Ferrari is movie that does what the trailer promises and does it pretty darn well. There are some things to worry about - you might initially brace yourself at the 2.5 hour running time, for instance, but never actually feel much drag. It's no small thing to get a movie to always feel the right pace in the moment, even when it's got the sort of story that you know before seeing the movie even if you don't know the real-life events. The racing action is crisp and clear, and kudos to director James Mangold for recognizing that cars going 200mph don't need a whole lot of digital flourishes or slow motion.

Still, it sometimes not only feels like Christian Bale is the one truly having fun, but even if he is, he's making everyone else raise their games when they work with him. It's far from the hardest role he's ever had, but he knows just how big to go without making the film a cartoon despite the broad performance being part of the appeal.

On the other hand, Matt Damon should probably never wear a cowboy hat again unless in an actual western, as it only emphasizes that his range, accent-wise, runs basically from Cambridge to Southie. He's perfectly fine otherwise, professionally keeping things moving while Bale chews the scenery and Logan's team keeps the internal politics and gearhead stuff just interesting enough to string a viewer along until he has to compress a 24-hour race into half an hour or so without making it feel entirely like a highlight reel.

The Mask (1961)
The Creature from the Black Lagoon
Terminator: Dark Fate
The Lighthouse
The Wild Goose Lake
The Truth
The Kingmaker

Revenge of the Creature
The Creature Walks Among Us
The Face Behind the Mask
Armored Car Robbery & The Narrow Margin
My Dear Liar
Better Days
Dr. Broadway
Doctor Sleep

The International Pancake Film Festival
Ford v Ferrari

Friday, November 22, 2019

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 November 2019 - 26 November 2019

Shorter post (hopefully), what with Thanksgiving coming up and a couple of things seeming like they'd be big enough to dominate screens for the weekend.

  • After all, there are going to be a lot of little girls looking to hit Frozen II, which is pretty darn okay if not nearly as certain of what it's going for as the first. It's at The Capitol Theatre (2D only), Fresh Pond (including 3D), Studio Cinema Belmont (2D only), Jordan's Furniture (Imax 2D), West Newton, Boston Common (including 3D/Imax 2D), Fenway (including 3D/RPX 2D/RPX 3D), the Seaport (including Icon-X/Icon-X 3D), South Bay (including Imax 2D/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including 3D/Imax 2D/Dolby Cinema), Revere (including 3D/XPlus 2D/XPlus 3D/MX4D), and the SuperLux (2D only). South Bay and Assembly Row have special Dolby Cinema "fan event" shows on Saturday morning.

    The other big-ish opening is A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which features Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, but actually has a story based around a reporter assigned to interview him who has reason to believe nobody is that completely decent. It's at the Somerville Theatre, Fresh Pond, the Lexington Venue, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, the Embassy, Revere, and the SuperLux. And let's give a fond farewell to the trailer for 21 Bridges, which didn't quite get old despite being on roughly 70% of the films I've seen in the past six months. Chadwick Boseman will be attempting to track down cop-killers at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Never Surrender, a documentary about the film Galaxy Quest, plays Fenway and Revere on Tuesday. And while Knives Out technically opens Wednesday, with night-before shows on Tuesday, the are preview shows at Boston Common, Fenway, the Seaport, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • There's a surprising but welcome number of movies actually being released on film this awards season, with The Coolidge Corner Theatre getting a 35mm print of Noah Baumbach's latest, Marriage Story, although it's worth checking showtimes to see where it's running - the print is staying up in screen #2 while other shows will be digital (Kendall Square just has a DCP).

    The Coolidge has The Room and a new restoration of Reefer Madness at midnight on Friday, with a restored Dolemite late on Saturday. Sunday has special shows at each end of the day, with the Goethe-Institut presenting System Crasher early and composer Fabio Frizzi live-scoring The Beyond at 9pm, followed by a full "Frizzi 2 Fulci" set afterward.
  • A couple of films that played the IFFBoston Fall Focus open at Kendall Square and Boston Common this weekend: Waves is the new one by Tracy Edward Shults, about a family dealing with loss, and apparently better than its kind of generic previews because they're holding a lot back. Honey Boy has Shia LaBeouf writing and playing a fictionalized version of his own father in a semi-autobiographical story about his sudden rise to fame which took a lot out of him. Kendall Square also plays Mickey and the Bear, with Camila Morrone as a teenage girl who is stuck trying to hold her family together
  • Better Days continues at Boston Common; Apple Fresh Pond continues Bala and shows Malayalam sci-fi comedy Android Kunjappan Version 5.25 on Saturday afternoon.
  • The Brattle Theatre heps get audience's even more in the mood for Knives Out with a week of Hollywood Whodunits, including Gosford Park (Friday night/Saturday afternoon); a 35mm triple-feature of Meet Nero Wolfe, The Kennel Murder Case, and The Thin Man on Saturday; Clue (Saturday night/Wednesday); an Agatha Christie twin-bill of the 1974 Murder on the Orient Express and Murder She Said (35mm) on Sunday; The Last of Sheila in 35mm on Monday; and two films with Michael Caine in Sleuth (35mm) and Deathtrap on Tuesday. There's also a new edition of the Found Footage Film Festival on Friday night.
  • The Harvard Film Archive wraps their B-Movies series this weekend, with Hamlet-in-high-school flick Strange Illusion (Friday 7pm on 35mm), with the double-feature of Daughter of Shanghai (35mm) & Phantom of Chinatown (16mm) at 9pm; a 16mm pairing of The Falcon and the Co-Eds & Nine Girls at 7pm Saturday, with Kid Glove Killer (35mm) at 9:45pm; the William Castle matinee double feature of When Strangers Mary & The Mark of the Whistler is also on 16mm on Sunday; with the series wrapping with a 35mm pairing of Raw Deal & Woman on the Run Monday. There's also the monthly "Cinema of Resistance" show, Pharos of Chaos, on Sunday night.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts has screenings from The Boston Turkish Festival's Documentary & Short FIlm Competition on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with Mr. Klein also playing Sunday morning.
  • The Irishman expands to The Somerville Theatre, the Lexington Venue, and The West Newton Cinema this weekend, continuing at the Kendall as well.
  • The Regent Theatre is pairing a screening of The Kids Are Alright with a 45-minute set by "American Who" for what they're calling "The Regent WHOFest" on Friday night. They've also get their annual Sing-Along The Sound of Music thing started early with a matinee Sunday afternoon before giving it more time during Thanksgiving break.
  • The Luna Theater has Thanksgiving horror, uh, "classic" Blood Rage playing Friday and Tuesday nights, with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban getting the screen all day Saturday and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles doing so on Sunday. After that, they jump to "Christmas" stuff early, with a UMass Philosophy and Film show of Die Hard Monday night, plus the usual Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday.

I'm not sure how much else I can fit in around the B-movies and whodunits - I might be pushing a lot until Thanksgiving and the four-day weekend.

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.