Friday, December 06, 2019

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

Weekend after Thanksgiving, so there's not much coming out, so let's catch up and find something unusual.

  • The biggest new release is Playmobil: The Movie, which sounds like a lame knockoff of The Lego Movie, but my nieces love those toys, so who knows. It's got Anya Taylor-Joy (making some interesting detours outside of horror these days) following her little brother into the world of Playmobil. It's at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Revere.

    Dark Waters expands to West Newton, Fenway, the Seaport, Assembly Row, and Revere after opening at Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Causeway Street last week, while Waves adds South Bay, the Embassy and Revere to the Coolidge, Kendall Square, Boston Common, and Causeway Street. Boston Common also picks up No Safe Spaces, a documentary by and for people who confuse the First Amendment with being able to say whatever you want without consequence.

    A few recent favorites are coming back this weekend, too: They Shall Not Grow Old comes back to Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row for 3D shows on Saturday (with more next week). Sneaky, seeing as Warner hasn't released a 3D Blu-ray anywhere. Meanwhile, Apollo 11 has a couple shows a day on Assembly Row's Imax screen. GKids brings back Promare for "redux" shows at Boston Common, Fenway, and South Bay on Sunday (subtitled) and Tuesday (subbed, at least at Fenway).

    Fenway also continues their weekend holiday matinees on Saturday, with Gremlins, while Assembly Row andRevere haVe animated first-Christmas story The Star on Saturday and Sunday. There are also 75th Anniversary shows of Meet Me in St. Louis at Fenway and Assembly Row on Sunday and Wednesday. INXS: Live Baby Live plays Fenway and Revere on Monday. There is one last screening of Faustina: Love and Mercy at Fenway and South Bay on Tuesday. Revere also has GoodFellas on Thursday. There are special preview shows of Uncut Gems at Causeway Street on Sunday (although they look to be sold out), and their "ArcLight Presents" show on Monday is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
  • The Aeronauts, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as pioneering baloonists doing revolutionary 19th-Century weather research, will be on Amazon Prime in a couple of weeks, but its limited theatrical run will be big, with most of the showtimes at The Coolidge Corner Theatre playing in 70mm, with a few on DCP (as well as all the shows at Kendall Square).

    After midnight, the Coolidge also starts a month full of (mostly) holiday genre movies, with a 35mm print of Silent Night, Deadly Night on Friday and the original Suspiria with a Haus of Oni drag preshow on Saturday. Their are special presentation throughout the week as well: Sunday's Goethe-Institut show is The Most Beautiful Couple, Jeff Rapsis will be in town to accompany a Buster Keaton double feature of The Cameraman & Sherlock Jr. for "Sound of Silents", there's Open Screen on Tuesday, a Panomara show of documentary Parkland Rising with director Cheryl Horner McDonough and several of the subjects in person on Wednesday, and another documentary screening on Thursday, with the world premiere of Women of Earth in partnership with Rise Up & Care.
  • Kendall Square also picks up Little Joe, which features Emily Beecham as a plant breeder whose new creation is a perfect flower - beautiful, sweet-smelling, and able to actually make people happy - obviously, it is sinister. And with the Amazon movie on one screen, they have Netflix's The Two Popes on another, with Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce as Popes Benedict and Francis in a dramatization of the day when they passed the torch, something usually only done upon death.
  • The Brattle Theatre opens the final film from Agnès Varda, the self-examining Varda by Agnès, which runs through Thursday and plays as a double feature with Varda's One Sings, the Other Doesn't on Saturday & Sunday afternoon. The late show from Friday to Wednesday is Knives and Skin, a nifty, surreal small-town murder story that I really liked at Fantasia.
  • The weekend's new Chinese movie is The Whistleblower, with Tang Wei investigating a new and apparently dangerous piece of mining technology in this Australian co-production. Two Tigers is also sticking around.

    The new Bollywood epic at Apple Fresh Pond is Panipat, based upon the 1761 battle of the same name. There are also scattered shows of other Indian movies: The Kannada-language Babru is a thriller about a road trip across the United States plays Friday and Saturday, a special digitally remastered show of Bashaa with Superstar Rajinikanth on Saturday, and something called "Mismatch" on Sunday, with Bala still going.

    They also pick up a couple American indies: A Million Little Pieces stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson (whose wife Sam directs) as an aspiring writer with addiction issues, with Billy Bob Thornton, Juliette Lewis, Odessa Young, and Giovanni Ribisi co-starring; while A New Christmas stars Pranshantt Guptha and Grace Wacuka as two strangers in New York who meet during the holiday season.
  • The West Newton Cinema has one late-afternoon show of day of Skin, which is by the people who made the inexplicably-Oscar-winning short of the same name and attacks similar themes but is a different story entirely
  • The Harvard Film Archive starts a short run of Susan Sontag's recently restored (for its 50th anniversary) Duet for Cannibals, with two shows Friday night and one on Monday. On Sunday, they pay tribute to their longtime projectionist Steve Livernash, with a reception in the afternoon and a free 35mm of his favorite film, The Rules of the Game, at 7pm.
  • It's not quite All Coen Brothers All The Time at The Museum of Fine Arts, but they continue their retrospective with Miller's Crossing (Friday/Sunday), Raising Arizona (Friday/Saturday), Blood Simple (Saturday), Barton Fink (Sunday/Wednesday), and Fargo (Thursday). They also start a run of George T. Nierenberg's 1983 documentary on gospel music, Say Amen, Somebody, with shows on Wednesday and Thursday.
  • The ICA screens Kusama: Infinity on Saturday afternoon, free with museum admission (tickets can be reserved ahead of time); note that it is separate from their Yayoi Kusama exhibition.
  • The Boston Underground Film Festival has their monthly Dispatches from the Underground at The Somerville Theatre on Wednesday with "A Very Duke Mitchell XMas", a collection of trailers, found footage, ads, and other oddities from London's Duke Mitchell Film Club. Note that the Somerville is going to be down a screen for much of December, with "The Slutcracker" taking up residence in the big room for shows on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday.
  • BUFF's friends at the Weird Local Film Festival have their 11th program at Warehouse XI in Somerville on Thursday night.
  • The Luna Theater has The Lighthouse on Friday and Saturday evening, Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace on Saturday afternoon, WBCN and the American Revolution at twilight on Saturday and Tuesday evening, and a full day of Gremlins on Sunday, as well as the usual free surprise packages of Saturday Morning Cartoons, Sunday "Magic Mystery Movie Club", and Weirdo Wednesday


I'm seeing The Aeronauts on the big film, Little Joe, and The Whistleblower, and probably (finally) catching up on A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Queen and Slim, and Jojo Rabbit. Very tempted by Apollo 11 and They Shall Not Grow Old, because those are just different on the big screen.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 25 November 2019 - 1 December 2019

Working from home is no fun and I'm glad I'm done with it for a while, barring snow.

This Week in Tickets

It does lead to some interesting scheduling like we saw at the start of the last few weeks, where I headed to the Brattle for the very nifty The Last of Sheila and was then able to convince myself that heading out to Boston Common for Harriet wouldn't keep me out too late because it wasn't like I had to catch the bus the next morning. Similarly, even though I wound up plugging away at stuff until late on Tuesday, it was easy enough to do the 9:45pm night-before screening of Knives Out just in case people were eager to spoil the murder mystery (which it is hard not to do without just writing "it's good, go see it!" in more words).

After that it was Thanksgiving, which meant a trip up to Maine, turkey and pie at various houses, and both enjoying seeing family and being kind of glad to get back to quiet the next day. I started playing around with a non-movie-related project after that, but made it to Last Christmas that evening, since the Icon at the Seaport seemed to be having unusually low member prices all weekend. Not great, but due a bit of grudging respect.

Saturday afternoon was spent at Boston Common for the one show a day that Charlie's Angels has been quickly reduced to, before hanging around a bit for Two Tigers. Not the greatest import from China, but not the worst.

Sunday was spent writing before heading into the teeth of the first snow of the year for three at the Brattle - giving thanks for Bogie in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon in the afternoon - and idly wondering if Thanksgiving-weekend shows of the first indicate that Warner is going to yank it around Valentine's Day next year - before catching Greener Grass for the nightcap.

That gets us pretty current on my Letterboxd page, and here's hoping that the snow being predicted doesn't keep me from adding more in the next few days.

The Last of Sheila

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Hollywood Whodunits, 35mm)

Come for a delightfully nasty James Coburn, stay for "little child molester" being considered a merely embarrassing secret. Hollywood in the 1970s was apparently something else, both in terms of producing this movie and the showbiz-adjacent characters within it!

That mean-spirited nature does make this murder mystery filled with a bit of inside baseball a lot of fun. It's got the meticulous but rickety structure of a flick that's as much puzzle as story, broadly comic bits with a nasty sting, and one mystery story built on top of another. It sets something fun up then abandons it to get everyone in a room, then almost goes on too long before resolving things in enjoyably abrupt fashion, because as much as the audience will have their thoughts on this group twisted up nicely by the time they're through, simple justice would not do. It's a nifty little movie that gets to be more than nifty by the time it's done.

Harriet

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, 3D DCP)

Harriet often feels a bit like the trailers for faith-based movies, so built around the power of prayer and/or visions that they don't actually show their characters doing anything of consequence and making them feel less proactive when they do. Harriet Tubman did astonishing things, but this telling of her story focuses enough on her "spells" and visions that it's like her own biography doesn't give her enough credit.

As it starts, "Minty" (Cynthia Erivo) is owned by the Brodess family, though married to free man John Tubman (Zackary Momoh) and looking to start a family as a free woman. Even taking when and where she lives into account, she's got an argument - provisions had been made in the will of Gideon Brodess's grandfather to free Minty's mother and her family, but slaveowners tend to ignore such agreements. Punished for talking back and threatened with sale to a faraway plantation, Minty escapes, with surprising help from Reverend Green (Vondie Curtis-Hall), who normally pleases the masters by emphasizing the parts of the Bible that stress obedience and good behavior. She evades capture and makes her way to Philadelphia, where William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe) welcome her and encourage her to reject her slave name, but initially try to dissuade her from attempting to rescue her husband and family.

She does, of course, despite her small stature and having just recently learned how to read, and it lays the importance of Tubman's story beyond the basic good of freeing slaves out clearly: You may first do something out of desperation to save yourself, but the true test is being willing to do it again to save others, getting smarter and more ambitious about it, even as your personal connection to those you would help decreases. That Tubman has visions which seem to occasionally steer her right doesn't invalidate her story, but director Kasi Lemmons and her co-writer Gregory Allen Howard could maybe interrogate it a little more. After all, part of her escape is possible because Reverend Green says God's word is one thing but secretly acts contrary to his preaching, and her making the choice to act despite not obviously being suited for it, and building herself into the woman she became, could perhaps get a little more time and the things that worked out a little less.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Knives Out

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 November 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

There are a lot of delightful things about Knives Out starting from the very beginning, but the first moment when Rian Johnson and company reveal what they are really up to here is when audiences should smile big, because sometimes there's genuine delight in being baited and switched on a grander scale than you were expecting. Murder mysteries are fun but they can often stall or require excessive amounts of twists to stretch past the length of a short story; revealing his hand early lets him have a lot of fun for the rest of the movie.

And there is a lot of fun to be had here, as Johnson and Daniel Craig make private detective Benoit Blanc a clever but not invincible sleuth, something he half-confesses to in saying that his method is to figure out where something is going and then wait for the guilty party to arrive. That gives the cast room to play on the one hand and sets up a great game of cat and mouse on the other. Parts of the script are downright joyously silly, from how one character can't lie while another is misheard in a fashion that would be groan-worthy as the only solution to the case but is worth a chuckle with everything else Johnson's got going on.

Knives Out may not be the best movie of the year - the route to its terrific last shot is ultimately kind of a side path that can't quite be as important as Johnson wants with all the crime in the foreground - but it will certainly be among my favorites, and I'm already looking forward to a second go.

Last Christmas

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 November 2019 in ShowPlace Icon the Seaport #10 (first-run, DCP)

At the end of this movie, I was pretty sure Emma Thompson wrote it on a dare to extrapolate an entire screenplay from one line of one song, or maybe just did so to keep in practice, and somehow it was just good enough to make its way through the development and attract some talent after she accidentally forwarded it to her agent. Eventually, you get this decent-enough movie whose resolution has been staring you in the face since the start. And, honestly, I kind of respect the professionalism and craft of that. Both the idea of making a jukebox musical from George Michael's songs and the plot of the movie are silly, but she and director Paul Feig get a watchable movie out of it.

It goes down a lot easier when you've got this cast. Emilia Clarke honestly makes Kate a little too cute from the word go, keeping her from really seeming like the walking disaster she is supposed to be as opposed to just comedically unlucky. She bounces nicely off Henry Golding, who is not quite too charming to sell off being adorably dorky, and then you've got Thompson and Michelle Yeoh in parts that they can do at something like one-quarter effort, and since they're dialed up to 50%, they can steal scenes. It makes for a movie that is really almost impossibly nice to the point where you can almost feel the filmmakers giving an embarrassed grin as they stick another George Michael song in. This was the pitch, we've gotta do it, but are you going to complain about a little more of this talented, upbeat singer or cast?

It will be on video next year, ready for an exhausted family to watch after trimming the tree or doing as much baking as they'd done in the previous four months, and probably just the right thing to watch at that point. It's not made for intensity, but doesn't seem like it would be bad in a relaxed setting at all.

Charlie's Angels '19

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

I try not to think of the calculations that go on in studio executives' heads too much, because it's frightening and tends to put one at a distance from the actual merits of the films themselves, but it gets kind of interest in a movie like this. I suspect that most studios would like to have an action/adventure series along the general lines of this movie, and if you own the name "Charlie's Angels", why not make it part of that franchise? Maybe nobody is really looking for a new Charlie's Angels - fans of the first iteration are around retirement age, the second was sold on its cast, and the third bombed - but does the association help or hurt a relatively unremarkable action/adventure film at the box office?

The "Angels" work for The Townsend Agency, which was once a relatively small Los Angeles concern but has in recent years expanded to a worldwide troubleshooting network of female operatives, thanks to retiring co-founder John Bosley (Patrick Stewart), whose name has become synonymous with the agents' handlers. Their latest case comes from Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott), an engineer in Hamburg alarmed that a clean-energy system which can be weaponized to create lethal electromagnetic pulses is being rushed into production. Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) are assigned to the case, which soon becomes more complicated than just aiding and protecting a whistleblower, even with a new Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) who is the first former Angel in the job.

Along the way, there are supervisors who try to take credit for their employees' work, especially that of the women like Helena, turncoats, a tattooed assassin who is a notch more intense than the other thugs, a fabulous party to infiltrate, and the seemingly inevitable trip to Istanbul, which must have a fabulous tax-incentive-for-spy-movies program. It's fun stuff, especially since the Angels are more likely to be outfitted their whimsical James Bond tech than 007 is these days, but the film can't help but feel like a remix of familiar elements that never gets beyond the surface cool and is sometimes a bit too self-referential for its own good.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Casablanca

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Giving Thanks for Bogie, 35mm)

Casablanca is an odd sort of classic, in that for a certain type of viewer, myself included, it can be easier to remember the silly bits that feel like they should sink it than the ways in which it is genuinely brilliant. It hits its emotional targets so perfectly that those of us who are analytically inclined can't quite describe what's so terrific about it when the letters of transit make no sense and other bits are just as silly.

But it is great, and I think it's the central flashback that does it. In a movie which spends a lot of time explaining its characters' feelings and how they make things happen, this is when you get to see Rick and Ilsa as different from what they are now and make your own connections about how they evolved. It's just a notch better than the rest of a movie that's already witty and big-hearted despite the cynicism everyone is trying to sell, and it makes one more willing to trust the rest.

Full review at EFilmCritic

The Maltese Falcon

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (Giving Thanks for Bogie, 35mm)

The Maltese Falcon gets a little more bottom-heavy for me with each viewing, as all the running around in the first half and easily dismissable material with Gladys George's Iva Archer has a bit less weight each time, weird screwball energy that doesn't quite fit with the rest, and I'm a little bit less convinced that there's any actual chemistry between Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade and Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy each time. Spade is so apparently amoral that pairing him with anyone requires a little more time than the movie's got to give, especially when there are so many characters that are colorful on their own.

Still, the style is still there and the end is among the best even if you choose to read what Sam is telling Brigid as telling her that he's effectively done with her rather than actual affection. It's maybe not the scene that Bogie will best be known for because Casablanca exists, but it's a bracing moment where a hint of idealism breaks through even though it's at times hard to separate from the cynicism around it.

Full review at EFilmCritic


The Last of Sheila
Harriet
Knives Out
Last Christmas
Charlie's Angels '19
Two Tigers
Casablanca & The Maltese Falcon
Greener Grass

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.232: Greener Grass

An online acquaintance tweeted about how disappointed she was that the theater was awful quiet for this to the point where she felt uncomfortable laughing as hard as she did, and I have been there. Not for this movie - I was a couple rows behind Alex and very much one of the folks not laughing very often, instead dealing with the sinking feeling of dread that comes when, two minutes in, the movie has announced that it is going to be very eccentric, I'm not feeling it, and there's another hour and a half to go.

It was kind of a tough situation, though - Sunday late shows aren't often packed houses, and it was snowing just enough that people might be staying in, so even when a joke did land, the laughter wasn't ever going to fill the Brattle, and maybe that made it feel less well-received than it actually was. I don't know if it filled the room at IFFBoston this spring, but I'll bet that was a different experience, as is seeing it at home where your laughter won't feel small.

Anyway, it's got one more night at the Brattle (tonight, 3 December 2019). You may be one of its people, even if I'm not!

Greener Grass

* * (out of four)
Seen 1 December 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (special engagement, DCP)

If you can damn something with faint praise, then you can also praise it with uncertain damnation, and sometimes you must, because what else can you do for a comedy that only sporadically works for you and is so completely absurdist as to resist being pulled apart and examined? Greener Grass is weird and most definitely not to everyone's taste but has just enough bits that really work that I can't help but try to figure out whether it will work for someone who likes that sort of comedy or if it's just bad.

The film takes place in a bright-colored suburb where everybody drives golf carts and all the adults have braces, and though there's a killer on the loose, everyone's pretty sure it's the bagger from the grocery store and that weirdly makes it feel like a tight-knit neighborhood. Jill (Jacelyn DeBoer) and Lisa (Dawn Luebbe) are best friends, with sons Julian (Julian Hilliard) and Bob (Asher Miles Fallica) in the same second-grade class. The boys are playing soccer when Jill gives Lisa her baby, which is more than a bit odd to their husbands Nick (Beck Bennett) and Dennis (Neil Casey) - this is really the sort of thing they should talk about! But they're still all friends, and that's what's important.

It's kind of horrible to be two minutes into a 95-minute movie and realize that it does not seem to be your thing at all. Sure, you can just shut it off at home and this is not the sort of thing that necessarily sells out a theater, so you could probably bail, but there's a good chance that if you spent money on this movie (which hopefully has not been given a deceptively generic and sensible poster or bit of art to identify it), you're not the type to give up easily. Still, it's potentially difficult going from that first moment when Jill just gives Lisa her baby like that's a totally believable thing to do, and there are a lot of times when it's fair to wonder if creators Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe (who produce, write, direct, and star in the film) have put together an hour and a half of private, grotesque jokes into the sort of movie that inspires narratives about the emperor having no clothes, like they've tricked people into assuming that something that screwed-up must be genius.

Full review at EFilmCritic

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Two Tigers

Well, the description for this movie looked a lot more entertaining than the final result wound up being, which was kind of a bummer, because it looks like Chinese imports are going to be in a bit of a dull place until Ip Man 4 at Christmas. The previews for the two likely coming between them are kind of weird - The Whistleblower shows all English-language dialogue even though the graphics are in Chinese, and Feng Xiaogang's Only Cloud Knows looks aggressively art-house in a way that is almost parodically off-putting. Meanwhile, the "Simon Yam and his dog" movie is nowhere to be found anymore.

Also weird: Among the many production company animations at the front of the film was one for "PULIN Production", which starts with a big "PU" above water, with the "LIN" initially shown as a reflection, which is kind of clever, but makes me wonder if anybody making that logo knew what "pee-yew!" means in English. Oddly fitting, I think, for how the movie often just doesn't seem to be entirely thought through.

Liang zhi lao hu (Two Tigers)

* * (out of four)
Seen 30 November 2019 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, DCP)

Here's a fun thing: The Chinese nursery rhyme "Two Tigers" maps pretty much directly onto the traditional French song "Frère Jacques" that I presume many westerners still learn in elementary school, which means that the opening scene of this movie, where generally ominous music becomes and imposing version of the song, is still funny even if you don't know about it until the song becomes part of the story. It would be more impressive if this weren't the high point of the movie, sure, but sometimes you take what you can get.

That opening shot is fun in other ways; it's shot from the perspective of Yu Kai-Xuan (Qiao Shan), who is following another car, and his point of view shows the goofy cartoon ornaments on his dashboard, as well as all the junk piled on his messy passenger seat. Combine it with the music, and the idea that this goofball is about to kidnap wealthy businessman Zhang Cheng-Gong (Ge You) is clearly being presented as absurd, but it's where the movie's going, and this opening does a fairly delightful job of getting the audience there without having to do a bit where Yu is suddenly revealed as kind of a screw-up. It's there from the start, even if the movie does need this bit of competence to get things rolling.

After that, it becomes clear that Yu hasn't thought this through as well as he could - he's got a place to stash Zhang away (an abandoned public swimming pool), but hasn't done enough research to realize that Zhang has no friends or family to whom he should send a ransom demand. Heck, Zhang is insulted when Yu asks him for a mere million yuan ($142,200), and negotiates Yu up to two - although Yu will have to do him three favors in that case. Having already botched things up and shown himself to not really have the stomach for violence, Yu decides to go along with it.

Full review at EFilmCritic