Friday, December 31, 2021

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 31 December 2021 - 6 January 2022

We know how this goes - Hollywood keeps the Christmas launches going for the first week of the new year, but sometimes folks from abroad fill the empty space.
  • The fifth entry in director David Lam's franchise about Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption, G Storm opens on New Year's Eve with Louis Koo reprising his role as William Luk, this time facing a terrorist attack on his own agency with connections to human trafficking in Thailand. It plays Boston Common and Fenway.

    For those looking for Indian cinema, Apple Fresh Pond opens Arjuna Phalguna, a thriller/caper about five friends trying to get the money to prevent one from losing his home to the banks. '83 continues at Boston Common and Fresh Pond with Fresh Pond also keeping Shyam Singha Roy and Pushpa Part 1.

    The big opening from India comes Thursday, when Telegu action epic RRR - Rise Roar Revolt, from the director of the Bahubali movies, hits Fresh Pond, Fenway, and Boston Common, getting the Imax Xenon screen at the latter for at least one night. Fenway and Fresh Pond will also have it in Hindi, and Fresh Pond in Tamil.
  • The Brattle Theatre finishes and starts the year in traditional fashion: The Thin Man & After the Thin Man play as a 35mm double feature on Friday, while Saturday features a somewhat abbreviated Marx Brothers marathon, with two showtimes for a double feature of Duck Soup & A Night at the Opera, the latter on 35mm.

    After that, they kick off the new calendar with a series of "Refreshed, Renewed, Restored" features, with North by Northwest on Sunday and Monday, Possession Sunday through Tuesday, The Apartment on Wednesday, and The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love on Thursday, and another week on tap after that!
  • Sunday's Masked Matinee at The Coolidge Corner Theatre is The Tragedy of MacBeth.
  • The West Newton Cinema sticks with Sing 2, Licorice Pizza on Friday, Spider-Man, West Side Story, and Encanto. The Lexington Venue is back to just being open Thursday through Sunday but is also back to two screens, with Licorice Pizza downstairs and Sing 2 upstairs.
  • Cinema Salem The Matrix Resurrections, Spider-Man and Nightmare Alley playing Friday to Monday (with open-caption showsMonday afternoon). The original Wilder/Bogart/Hepburn Sabrina plays Sunday morning and Thursday evening.

    The Luna Theater offers Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road and The Souvenir: Part II, and C'mon C'mon on Friday and Saturday, The Shining on Sunday (the first of three classic Steven King adaptations), and a Weirdo Wednesday show on the 5th.
  • The Museum of Science will start playing The Matrix Resurrections on the Omni screen starting on Friday the 7th (once on Friday, twice on Saturday), and if Dune is any indication, seats will sell out early. Note that starting on the 15th, proof of vaccination will be required to enter the museum. They're also switching up what's in the 4-D room, with "Planet Earth: Ice Worlds", "Splash and Bubbles", and "Shark" experiences.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
I'm definitely in for G Storm, and since I got nailed with a terribly-timed positive test last week, I'm still looking to catch up on The King's Man, Licorice Pizza, MacBeth, The Tender Bar, and maybe Red Rocket and and '83, plus the good stuff at the Brattle.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 22 December 2021 - 30 December 2021

Extra-long holiday week approaching, with studios shoveling an unreasonable amount of movies into theaters over the next nine days despite likely being caught surprised by just how much demand there was for the Spider-movie.
  • Some long-awaited and long-delayed films open at the multiplexes this week, perhaps most notably The Matrix Resurrections on Wednesday, in which Lana Wachowski and much of the original cast return to the thing they are arguably best known for, despite the main characters seeming quite dead when last we saw them. Previews have been very coy, and word is that it's a genuinely weird movie. It plays The Somerville Theatre, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon), Fenway, South Bay (including Imax Xenon), Assembly Row (including Imax Xenon), Arsenal Yards, the Embassy, Chestnut Hill, and on HBO Max.

    Also opening Wednesday is the long-delayed The King's Man, Matthew Vaughn's third go at this material, this time set 100 years earlier against the backdrop of World War I, with Ralph Fiennes as the reserved recruiter, Djimon Hounsou and Gemma Arterton as fellow agents, Rhys Ifans as Rasputin, and Harris Dickinson as the new recruit. It's at The Capitol Theatre, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and the Embassy.

    Sing 2 is there for kids; it sure looks like you can guess everything it's going to do from the trailers, but maybe predictability isn't always bad. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including RealD 3D), Fenway (including RealD 3D), South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    Christmas Eve (Friday) brings A Journal for Jordan, with Michael B. Jordan as an almost-certainly-doomed soldier writing a diary for his newborn son to later read and Denzel Washington in the director's chair. It plays Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, and the Embassy. That day also brings American Underdog, with Zachary Levi as arena-football-turned-NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, playing Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and the Embassy.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre finishes their last "Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson" retrospective with Phantom Thread, on 70mm film this Wednesday, with Vertigo in that format Thursday night.

    On Friday opens Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, Licorice Pizza, which I guess was L.A. slang for vinyl records back in the day, projecting every show for at least the next week from 70mm film. It stars Cooper Hoffman, son of Anderson's frequent star Phillip, and Alana Haim as two young people (though one notably younger) falling in love in the 1970s. It also plays the Somerville (on 35mm), West Newton, the Lexington Venue, Boston Common, Kendall Square, Assembly Row, and Chestnut Hill.

    Friday also brings out Sean Baker's Red Rocket, which stars Simon Rex as a former adult movie actor returning to his hometown and getting into the same mess. The 6:45pm show on Sunday has a virtual Q&A with Baker and co-star Brittney Rodriguez, and if that interests you, get tickets early, because that particular showtime is in the 40-ish-seat Screening Room (at least for now). The film is also at the Somerville (starting on Christmas), Boston Common, and Kendall Square.

    On Saturday (Christmas), they get Joel Coen's take on The Tragedy of MacBeth, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDorman as Lord and Lady MacBeth and looking Kurosawa-as-heck. There's a masked matinee at the Coolidge Sunday morning, and the film also plays Kendall Square and Boston Common.
  • Landmark Theatre Kendall Square opens The Tender Bar on Wednesday for a week or two before it disappears into the Amazon algorithm. George Clooney directs a script by William Monahan with Ben Affleck as the uncle of a latchkey kid who winds up hanging around Uncle Charlie's bar.
  • Bollywood film '83 opens at Boston Common and Apple Fresh Pond on Thursday the 23rd, with Kabir Khan directing Ranveer Singh as cricketer Kapil Dev, part of the team that won the World Cup in 1983, with Deepika Padukone as wife Romi. The shows are in Hindi. Fresh Pond also gets Telugu-language horror movie Shyam Singha Roy on Thursday, with Nani playing the title character who is apparently haunted by his past lives.

    Also continuing at Fresh Pond are Pushpa: The Rise Part 1 and Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (through Thursday the 23rd).
  • The Brattle Theatre finishes "Let's Hear It for 1984!" with Old Enough (Wednesday via DCP), Repo Man (Thursday), and Streets of Fire (Thursday), the latter two on 35mm. The Weird Wednesday show on the 22nd is French oddity Dial Code Santa Claus, with The Visitor (35mm) on the 29th.

    On Christmas, they are finally able to bring the recent "World of Wong Kar-Wai restorations to the big screen, with featurette "The Hand" playing Saturday and Sunday, In the Mood for Love Saturday and Sunday on 35mm film, Chungking Express Sunday and Monday, As Tears Go By Monday, Fallen Angels Tuesday, Days of Being Wild Wednesday, and Happy Together on Thursday.
  • The Regent Theatre has their annual Sing-Along The Sound of Music for Christmas break, with shows Sunday through Wednesday
  • The West Newton Cinema adds Sing 2 on Wednesday and Licorice Pizza on Friday, continuing Spider-Man, Nightmare Alley, West Side Story, Encanto (through Saturday), and The French Dispatch (Tuesday and Saturday). The Lexington Venue is open all week starting on the 23rd, with House of Gucci that day and Licorice Pizza from the 24th to 30th.
  • Cinema Salem has It's a Wonderful Life on Thursday , with The Matrix Resurrections, Spider-Man and Nightmare Alley playing Friday to Monday (with open-caption shows Monday afternoon).

    The Luna Theater Weirdo Wednesdays on the 22nd and 29th, Home Alone on Friday, Snowpiercer on Sunday, Spencer on Monday afternoon, double features of The Souvenir and The Souvenir: Part II Monday and Tuesday (with the latter showing daily until New Year's), matinees of Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road on Wednesday and Thursday, and C'mon C'mon on Thursday.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
That's a lot, eh? Somewhere around heading up to see my family on Christmas Eve, there should hopefully be time for The Matrix, The King's Man, Licorice Pizza, MacBeth, The Tender Bar, and maybe Red Rocket and some Wong Kar-Wai.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 December 2021 - 21 December 2021

Based on the crowd at the new Spider-movie and what I've been reading about advance ticket sales, this could have the sort of opening we haven't seen since 2019, which is a heck of a tug-of-war between "theaters are probably safer than we think" and "we're not sure how contagious Omicron is".
  • As mentioned, the latest Marvel movie is Spider-Man: No Way Home, picking up from the end of Far From Home and having Spidey and Doctor Strange nearly break the multiverse trying to recreate his secret identity, bringing in a lot of guest stars. Fanservice-y as heck, but I get the feeling audiences might need that to get into theaters. Anyway, it's in a lot of them, playing the Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/RealD 3D/Dolby Cinema), Fenway (including RealD 3D), Kendall Square, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/RealD 3D/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Xenon/RealD 3D/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), the Embassy, and Chestnut Hill.

    There's another terrific cast in Nightmare Alley, Guillermo del Toro's remake of the 1947 noir about a con artist who uses the techniques he learned as a sideshow mentalist to con the Manhattan elite. It's got Bradley Cooper, Toni Colette, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchet, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, and more, and plays the Coolidge, the Capitol, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay, Assembly Row, and the Embassy.

    More big movies open later next week for the holidays, with American Underdog, based on Kurt Warner going from arena football to the NFL getting previews at Boston Common and Assembly Row Friday and Saturday.
  • Landmark Theatre Kendall Square continues the Netflix premieres by picking up Maggie Gyllenhaal's first film as a director, The Lost Daughter, featuring Olivia Colman as a woman on vacation at a seaside resort pulled into her own past by encounters with other guests (Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris).
  • Nightmare Alley is the main new release at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, but they do holiday counterprogramming with Black Christmas '74 at midnight Friday and Silent Night, Deadly Night at the same time Saturday, plus Die Hard Monday evening. There's also a more conventional kids' show of The Muppet Christmas Carol Saturday and Sunday mornings. They've got an encore 70mm screening of Inherent Vice Saturday afternoon (and Phantom Thread on Wednesday), and figure they might as well use the projector to show Vertigo Tuesday and Thursday nights while Boston Light and Sound has it set up for the big film.
  • I was just pondering the other day that Chinese films had shifted from treasure-hunting to military adventure of late, but Schemes in Antiques is solidly in the former category, with Derek Kwok Chi-Kin directing an adventure about a team of experts trying to crack the mysteries around a Buddha head being returned from Japan. It's at Boston Common (albeit only at 2:15 and 9:30).

    Apple Fresh Pond opens Pushpa: The Rise Part 1, an action/adventure starring Allu Arjun as a truck driver who gets caught up in red sandalwood smuggling. Based on writer/director Sukumar's previous filmography, I think it's Telugu-language. Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui continues at Fresh Pond and Boston Common.

    Fresh Pond also has morning matinees of Mr. Birthday, a kids' movie about a mysterious group that helps kids having lousy birthdays. It's the sort of thing Eric Roberts does these days.
  • The Capitol Theatre has a single screening of documentary 2020: The Dumpster Fire in their main auditorium Friday night.
  • It's the weekend before Christmas, which means The Brattle Theatre has It's a Wonderful Life on 35mm film through Monday, with some shows already sold out. They also project 35mm film for most of the "Let's Hear It for 1984!" [late] shows, which feature Gremlins (Friday), Night of the Comet (Saturday), Purple Rain (Sunday/Monday via DCP), David Lynch's Dune (Tuesday), Old Enough (Wednesday via DCP), Repo Man (Thursday), and Streets of Fire (Thursday). The Weird Wednesday show is French oddity Dial Code Santa Claus
  • The West Newton Cinema adds Spider-Man and Nightmare Alley to West Side Story, Encanto, House of Gucci, Belfast, and The French Dispatch. The Lexington Venue splits a screen between Julia and House of Gucci.
  • Cinema Salem has Belfast , Dune, Spider-Man and Nightmare Alley through Monday (with open-caption shows for all but Belfast Monday afternoon). Friday's Night Light Screening is Xanadu, and there's a Sunday matinee of The Polar Express.

    The Luna Theater has C'mon C'mon on Friday, It's a Wonderful Life all day Saturday & Sunday (the first show on Saturday is a Masked Matinee), and a secret Weirdo Wednesdays show.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
Down for Nightmare Alley, Schemes in Antiques, and maybe The Lost Daughter; looks like some other things have already turned over too fast for me to catch up.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 10 December 2021 - 16 December 2021

New Steven Spielberg movie this week! Seems like studios are trying to cram a lot into the year's last few weeks after some skip weeks, but isn't that always the way?
  • The new Spielberg is a remake of West Side Story, with a fine young cast, Rita Moreno along for the ride, a new script that is perhaps hable to look at the period with the benefit of hindsight. It's at Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Fenway, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Kendall Square, Assembly Row (including Imax Xenon & Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    There's also National Champions, which follows Stephan James as a college quarterback leading a strike to call attention to how "amateur" athletes are exploited. J.K. Simmons is the coach, and the cast also includes Kristin Chenoweth, Timothy Olyphant, and more. It's at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row.

    The Green Knight has a theatrical return engagement at Boston Common, while The Matrix plays Arsenal Yards (Friday and Monday) and South Bay (in Imax Xenon), and The Polar Express is at Fresh Pond.

    Boston Common has a "Thrills & Chills" Surprise Screening on Friday. Monsta X: The Dreaming has an encore at Boston Common and Fenway Saturday afternoon. There's another preview of A Journal for Jordan at Boston Common and Assembly Row on Sunday. Fenway, South Bay, and Arsenal Yards have a 40th Anniversary show of On Golden Pond Sunday and Wednesday. There's an "Imax fan event" show of Elf hosted by Gwen Stefani on Monday at Assembly Row, a presentation of the movie edition of Macross Plus at Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Tuesday. Nightmare Alley on Wednesday has previews at the Coolidge, Boston Common, the Kendall, Assembly Row.
  • The Coolidge Corner Theatre gets in on the "streaming movie Oscar run" game with Don't Look Up, written and directed by Adam McKay and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio as astronomers trying to convince the world that there's a comet ready to hit planet, with an all-star cast. The Sunday afternoon show at the Coolidge is a masked matinee, and it also plays the Embassy in Waltham.

    The Coolidge also picks up Benedetta, with 9:15pm shows as well as Friday/Saturday midnights. Other midnights include holiday horror movies, with the digital restoration of Gremlins on Friday and Better Watch Out (and Rocky Horror) on Saturday. They get the 70mm projectors warmed up with an (already-sold-out) preview of Licorice Pizza on Saturday evening, Lawrence of Arabia Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening, and Inherent Vice on Wednesday. There's a Science on Screen presentation of Black Narcissus with Northeastern neuroscience professor Rebeca Shansky talking about sex difference and brain function. There's a Rewind! show of Home Alone on Thursday with an after-party at Parlour.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square and the Embassy and Boston Common are also doing the pre-stream thing with Being the Ricardos, Aaron Sorkin's film about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem, who seem like okay matches visually but aren't necessarily known for being the right sort of funny.
  • Bollywood romance Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui opens at Apple Fresh Pond and Boston Common, starring Ayushamann Khurrana and Vaani Kapoor as a bodybuilder and physical trainer who fall for each other, only to have something from their past arise. Fresh Pond also opens Telegu flick Lakshya, which appears to be about a legendary archer; Tamil thriller Jail and musical drama Gamanam, which has five languages listed (Telugu/Tamil/Malayalam/Kannada/Hindi); it is not clear whether it is available in five versions or uses all at some point.

    Nepali film Life in LA, Marathi film Zimma, and Tamil comedy Anti Indian play Saturday at Fresh Pond, with Bangledeshi action/adventure Mission Extreme on Sunday. Tadap continues at Boston Common while Fresh Pond holds on to Maanadu and Akhanda. Chinese comedic mystery Be Somebody continues at Fenway.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a new restoration of Joan Micklin Silver's Hester Street, with Carol Kane Oscar-nominted as an immigrant from Eastern Europe at the turn of the Twentieth Century, from Friday to Monday.

    They also have "Let's Hear it for 1984!", with mostly 35mm prints: A Nightmare on Elm Street on Friday and Saturday, Beverly Hills Cop on Saturday and Sunday, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension on Sunday, Stranger than Paradise on Wednesday, and Paris, Texas on DCP Thursday. The Velvet Vampire is the Weird Wednesday entry. The Brattlite brings back Detention (or maybe it never left).

    The DocYard closes their fall season at the Brattle on Monday with Faya Dayi, Jessica Beshir's look at her home town of Harar, Ethiopia and the psychotropic drug khat which is cultivated there.
  • The West Newton Cinema adds West Side Story to the line-up of Encanto, House of Gucci, Belfast, and The French Dispatch. The Lexington Venue splits a screen between Julia and House of Gucci.
  • Bright Lights has what is hopefully its last "At Home" session this week with IFFBoston selection The Gig Is Up available (to a limited number)for twenty-four hours starting at 7pm Wednesday, followed by a Zoom webinar including subject Annette Rivero at 7pm Thursday. The site has them returning to the Bright Screening Room for the Spring term; hopefully we'll be back in The Harvard Film Archive after nearly two years then as well!
  • Cinema Salem has Belfast , Dune, and Encanto through Monday (with open-caption shows Monday afternoon). Krampus is the late-ish show on Friday with a matinee of the Ron Howard/Jim Carrey How the Grinch Stole Christmas on Sunday. There's a "Cinema Sounds" presentation of The Matrix with an introduction by classical music expert Richard Guérin highlighting Don Davis's score.

    The Luna Theater has Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road on Friday, the original Black Christmas three times Saturday (including a Masket Matinee), Spencer on Saturday, White Christmas all day Sunday, and a secret Weirdo Wednesdays show.
  • The good folks at Subway Cinema are holding Old School Kung Fu Fest: Joseph Kuo Edition at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City this weekend, which is likely going to be a blast (they're good folks and it's a cool place), but if you can't get to New York for the five films playing there, you can stream Shaolin Kung Fu, Shaolin Kids, The Old Master, and World of the Drunken Master for $6/pop via their webpage. Short notice, I know, but you've got a little more time for Hong-Kong-a-Thon Part III: Hong Kong Never Dies! come January.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
Oh, gads, I've got so much to check out before Spider-Man and Nightmare Alley wipe screens clean-ish: West Side Story in Imax, Belfast, King Richard, The Power of the Dog, Encounter, maybe Be Somebody... I've been very lazy!

Friday, December 03, 2021

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 3 December 2021 - 9 December 2021

There's usually not a lot the week after Thanksgiving, but it's seldom so quiet that the giant screens are pulling something else back or doing gimmick programming.

(And I conk out while writing this the night before, but that's mostly on time zones)
  • They've broken ground for the expansion at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, but the place is still open for business, this week welcoming Paolo Sorrentino's The Hand of God, a story set in his hometown of Naples in the 1980s, with the title referring to the tumult a family goes through and the time Diego Maradona was able to cheat in front of the whole world and get away with it because the refs missed it. The shows on screen #1 are in 35mm, although that's mostly matinees through the weekend (including Sunday's masked matinee), Tuesday evening, and the late show on Thursday. It's also at the Kendall.

    The midnights at the Coolidge this weekend feature two sequels from James Cameron: Terminator 2: Judgment Day on Friday and Aliens on Saturday. They also have Wood and Water via the Goethe-Institut on Sunday, featuring a woman trying to reunite with her son in Hong Kong, amid the pro-democracy movement. The week's Paul Thomas Anderson film is There Will Be Blood, showing in 35mm on Wednesday.
  • The latest from Paul Verhoeven opens at Landmark Theatres Kendall Square and the Embassy, starring Virgini Efira as a nun in the 1600s having what would be a scandalous affair with a novice on its own, except that she is also having religious visions. It is, by all accounts, one of his wildest and sexiest, going for sharp rather than solemn.

    Wolf looks to be an odd one, with George MacKay as a young man who thinks he's a wolf, Lily-Rose Depp thinking she's a jungle cat and Paddy Considine as the "Zookeeper" who operates a cruel facility tha apparently caters to people with this specific mental illness. It's at Kendall Square Boston Common. Kendall Square is also on before-streaming duty this week, with Encounter starring Riz Ahmed as a armine attempting to save his sons from something not of this world.
  • Dune returns to screens this weekend, or at least gets more showtimes on larger screens, playing The Capitol Theatre, Boston Common, Kendall Square, South Bay (Imax), Assembly Row (including Imax), and the Embassy. South Bay picks up The Matrix in Imax on Tuesday and Wednesday.

    True to the Game 3 opens at Boston Common and South Bay, and I kind of love that there are series like this one, starring Erica Peeples and Columbus Short, which chug along doing well enough for more installments even if the mainstream ignores them. It apparently picks up right where #2 left off with a race against time.

    Anime feature Sword Art Online: Progressive - Aria of a Starless Night gets a big screen release, playing a fairly full slate Boston Common (including Imax) and single shows daily at South Bay and Assembly Row, although the latter two pre-empt it Sunday and Monday. On the other end of the anime spectrum (and apparently taking the other film's slot), My Neighbor Totoro closes out this year's Ghibli fest with shows Sunday (dubbed), Monday (subtitled), and Thursday (dubbed) at Boston Common, Fenway, and Assembly Row.

    There's a preview for A Journal for Jordan at Boston Common on Saturday. South Bay has mountain-sports doc La Liste: Everything or Nothing on Tuesday. Boston Common, Kendall Square and Fenway have Gorillaz: Song Machine Live from Kong on Wednesday evening with K-pop concert doc Monsta X: The Dreaming and Boston Common and Fenway on Thursday. Documentary To What Remains, covering the search for still-missing planes and pilots from World War II, also plays Wednesday at Boston Common.
  • The big Bollywood release this week is Tadap, a remake of Telegu film RX 100< in which a man believes his girlfriend still loves him even though she married another, leading to what I'm guessing are increasingly violent confrontations. It's at Boston Common. Apple Fresh Pond continues Tamil-language thriller Maanadu, Telugu-language action drama Akhanda, and Malayalam adventure Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea.

    In a bit of a swerve, Chinese comedic mystery Be Somebody opens at Fenway rather than the Common; it offers the crew of a true-crime movie discovering that they are shooting on the actual locations of the murder - and that the killer is among them. The Battle at Lake Changjin is still hanging around Boston Common for fans of Chinese military action.
  • If it seems like The Brattle Theatre continues "A Few of Our Favorite Films" with Timecrimes (Friday), Shaolin Soccer (dubbed 2pm/subbed 9:15pm Saturday), Blackboards (35mm Saturday), The Gleaners and I (Sunday/Monday), Mutual Appreciation (Monday), Daddy Longlegs (Monday/Tuesday), Chop Shop (Tuesday), and Memories of Murder (Wednesday).

    There's also a Grrl Haus Cinema show on Sunday, and author Todd Melby will introduce/discuss Fargo on Thursday. The DocYard's presentation of Prism moves virtual screening room The Brattlite after last week's in-person show.
  • The West Newton Cinema continues to show Asia (no screening Saturday), Encanto, House of Gucci, King Richard, Belfast, and The French Dispatch. There's also a special filmed presentation of Russian stage production Boris on Sunday.

    The Lexington Venue is open Friday to Sunday with Belfast and House of Gucci sharing a screen.
  • The Harvard Film Archive has their last "Devour the Land" virtual presentation, a pairing of shorts "Forward Looking Statements" and "Waste No. 4 New York, New York" available through Monday.
  • Bright Lights at Home has Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché this week, with the a limited number of streams available for twenty-four hours starting at 7pm Wednesday, followed by a Zoom webinar featuring filmmakers Celeste Bell and Paul Sng at 7pm Thursday.
  • Cinema Salem has Batman Returns (through Sunday), Ghostbusters: Afterlife, The Power of the Dog, Encanto (with a Spanish showing on Sunday), The French Dispatch (with open-caption shows Monday afternoon). Gremlins plays Thursday night.

    The Luna Theater has Spencer Saturday (including a masked matinee) and Thursday, Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road on Saturday, Home Alone all day Sunday, and Weirdo Wednesdays is still weekly, despite what it looked like on the site last week.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
By the time I'm acclimated to this time zone to the point where I won't zonk out during a movie, I'll be heading home, and then will likely just drop sometime around 6pm Thursday night after flights that aren't conducive to sleep.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Encanto (and "Far from the Tree")

I don't normally take a movie in on Thanksgiving evening, but it was a pretty weird day, which i started by heading to South Station to catch a bus to Portland and my family in the suburbs, and, folks, this was the bus terminal at 9:30am on Thanksgiving morning:
I have been in that place at that hour before, and that level of nobody there is downright eerie. Folks offered the possible explanation that maybe people working from home were more likely to travel the night before or the like, but as a person who works from home, I'm not sure I buy that. Folks (who aren't me, apparently) just really still aren't traveling It had a knock-on effect on the rest of the day; after dinner at my mom's with one brother, we didn't opt to head out to see another brother at his in-laws or onto our fathers, where dinner would be late enough that I'd likely miss the last bus of the day back to Boston. So I got on the one before it, hit town a little before 8pm, and thus had jsut enough time to slip into the theater for this.

As I say in the review, I like it quiet a bit, even if it's got long chunks early on where it doesn't quite seem like the filmmakers have decided what it's going to be. It's not a bad trick to pull a number of things together without really feeling like they've all been driving to the same place. I'm really looking forward to hearing what my nieces think of this one, since it's obviously more for them than me.

It could also potentially go on the "watch an unusual number of times in theaters because the 3D in particular is amazing" list with Hugo - I think I hit that three times while it as in theaters and happily scooped up a disc when I had a machine that could play them - although it probably won't, as I'm out of town for the next week and my brain will probably think it's midnight when I figure I may as well hit a theater on vacation becaue what else am I don't after dark and 3D releases don't last much more than a week or two any more. I'll probably still see it again, though, just because I wasn't exactly on its wavelength to start. I'm kind of wondering if I'll enjoy it more start ro finish on a second go.

"Far from the Tree"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2021 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

As with many animated shorts that Disney plays before their features, "Far from the Tree" is an enjoyable little work where you can feel the animators looking to stretch their artistic muscles as much as tell a joke or tug on some heartstrings. Here, that means trying out a style that aims to feel hand-drawn but which is also aggressively three-dimensional (for those that see it that way. That's no small feat technically or in terms of composition, I suspect, and the group does it admirably.

As an animated short in the world where this style is common or at least established, it's pretty cute - the fishers hunting for oysters, clams, and such are creatures one doesn't see very often, with the animators doing well to capture how this sort of animal is kind of sleekly furry without a whole lot of trying to render individual hairs, with the adult giving off the vibe that you'd feel some muscle under the coat if you tried to pet it (thought it would probably bite your hand) while its kid gives off adorable baby-animal vibes while nevertheless clearly being the same species They're canny about how they use the environment and hunting grounds, too - even before one sees a wolf, theres a sense of this sharp divide between the woods where they live and the wide-open beach where they hunt, and a sense of the safety (such as it is) that a few spots on the border offer.

The story the filmmakers tell is well-trod but fine despite that, Most folks watching will have a fair idea of the next beat at least a few seconds before it comes, and it's got a jump forward at a spot where it could maybe use a moment or two to play out why it's going to be about breaking or continuing a cycle. It works well enough, especially if playing with style and tech is the main goal, but isn't really built to grab someone and make them take that stuff for granted.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2021 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

It's been some time since Disney's last traditionally-animated feature, and while Encanto wouldn't necessarily be better that way - the filmmakers would have made a lot of different choices - there's a looseness to the film that occasionally feels at odds with CGI precision. It feels like the result of doodling, riffing, and batting ideas across a room, and as a result the ways in which it shines can almost sneak up on a viewer: All these bits of story that don't quite fit together wind up forming a pattern that may just get to its viewers more than they expected.

It opens with Mirabel Madrigal (voice of Stephanie Beatriz) telling the story of her family, refugees who settled in a secluded valley led by her abuela Alma (voice of Maria Cecilia Botero), whose late husband left her a magical candle that not only caused their house to grow to accommodate her triplets and come to life, but also blessed them and the family's next generation with extraordinary abilities for the benefit of their community when they came of age - Mirabel's mother's cooking heals, her cousin can hear every noise in the valley, sisters Luisa (voice of Jessica Darrow) and Isabela (voice of Diane Guerrero) have incredible strength and the ability to grow flowers, and pre-teen Antonio (voice of Ravi Cabot-Coyers) has just discovered he can talk to animals. Mirabel, on the other hand, did not receive that sort of blessing, but she is nevertheless the one who seems most keenly aware that the family's magic appears to be fading.

There are a couple of ways that the filmmakers could go with this. It's possible that Mirabel has simply not discovered her power (which will almost certainly be useful in this particular situation) yet, either because she's a late bloomer or it's not obvious, or she may genuinely be ordinary on that count. It's a tricky if mostly-successful balancing act before the filmmakers opt to commit to a specific direction, especially as she's given most of the earlier songs and it seems possible that she's got something tied to creativity or the arts. There's not much going on to suggest the story's going to head in that direction, though, and much of what does go on implies a theme of how it's more important to be good than gifted. Even when they do pick a lane, there are enough characters, subplots, and circling around the main story to potentially frustrate. There are moments when it threatens to become a sort of anti-Princess movie where kids learn that concentrating a bunch of inherited power and wealth in one family is always going to cause problems, no matter how well-intentioned they are, but that theme might be a little heady for kids, so it's probably for the best that the film eventually settles on familial expectations and sibling rivalry.

Even if there are fault lines, though, it's a nice group to hang around with. Stephanie Beatriz and the film's animators have a tricky task in terms of putting Mirabel at the center of the story despite the fact that she really cannot be bigger than the family members whose most significant personality traits bleed out past their bodies, but there's energy to Beatriz's delivery and sweep to her movements that makes her vibrant and able to draw people in. It's an obvious contrast to how, between Maria Cecilia Botero's stern delivery and how Abuela Alma is so visually solid (with little unnecessary movement), it's easy to forget she doesn't have powers herself. There's nifty work in how Antonio goes from terribly nervous about his impending ceremony to excited about his gift, as well as how they plant an image and then back it up a bit when introducing the missing Uncle Bruno, with both the animation and John Leguizamo's voice work favoring nervous restraint over twitchy eccentricity.

On top of solid character animation, the film is just generally gorgeous, full of color and whimsical design. The animators fill the screen with fun detail but generally stop short of doing too much and overpowering the audience. Even during the more adventuresome sequences the animators seem to be having fun cartooning, and those adventurous moments pop a little bit extra if one gets a chance to see it in 3D; the stereo crew does impressive work with the house's busy and sometimes impossible structures. I also suspect that the company's software developers made a major leap in rendering fabric at some point during this film's production, because costumes like Mirabel's loose dresses move in ways they seldom have before.

The songs are sometimes a bit of an odd bunch; Lin-Manuel Miranda handles that end of the film and they're not quite so traditional as what he did for Moana, with the catch-enough melodies supporting chewy vocabulary words for the kids and raps that must have left some performers gasping for breath. That rapid-fire delivery makes for some terrific numbers, though, most notably Luisa's song where the visuals rush to keep up with what she's singing in a way that would do Robin Williams's Genie in Aladdin proud in its barrage of visual gags and shifting settings, something the songs in Disney's lighter cel-style features managed in a way that the CGI ones have seldom come close to equalling.

There are points early on when the sheer amount of different things the filmmakers are up to threaten to sink it - it's the sort of animated film where one can feel the three directors and three others with story credits - but it pulls together in impressive fashion, to the point where it could very well work better the second time around, On top of that, it feels like it's busy and wears its heart on its sleeve in a way that might immediately click with kids even if I needed some time to acclimate.

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The Battle at Lake Changjin

It's an odd feeling to sit in a Boston theater for a Chinese movie and hear folks in the audience applaud as the subtitled text talks about "our" army defeating the Imperialist Americans. Sure, I knew what I was getting into when I got a ticket for this movie, but on a certain level I figure that if someone is watching this movie in Boston Common a week before Thanksgiving rather than a time and place closer to its National Day opening in the People's Republic of China, they more or less chose to be here rather than there, or at least their parents did. Maybe there are a lot of disillusioned ABCs out there, or maybe it's just a lot of Chinese students that figure Boston schools look good on the résumé, even back home.

Obviously, I was going to see it - after all, I would have been at the theater for anything Tsui Hark, Dante Lam, or Chen Kaige did individually! There's also the sheer curiosity factor in terms of how this will probably be the 2021 box office champ for the planet, even if one looks somewhat askance at some of the ticket sales. There were, I gather, a lot of suggested office team-building excursions and general "you've got to see this movie - no, we mean you've got to see this movie!" contributing to the total. Obviously, 99% or more of that is going to be in from Mainland China, because I don't know that this travels much beyond expatriates.

It's kind of amusing that it wound up getting released the weekend before Thanksgiving, not just because it would be a five-day week for something bookers and distributors figured had limited appeal, but because there's mockery of American GIs whining while gorging themselves at Thanksgiving while Chinese soldiers are starving and freezing not far away. Intentional, or just an amusing coincidence.

Anyway, it might still be playing at Boston Common this weekend, if down to one show a day. There's a half-decent Tsui Hark movie in there, I think, and the video-game-villain MacArthur is just a weird sight. It's not exactly the Korean folks behind Operation Chromartie hiring Liam Neeson!

Zhang Jin Hu (The Battle at Lake Changjin)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 November 2021 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

A few years back, someone wrote the amusing line that China was making a lot of "Call of Duty movies", referring to the popular series of military-action games even if it also clearly applies to the films' themes. Both fit; Dante Lam, in particular, has become known for these blockbuster productions that are clearly propaganda but also so capably made with fairly universal themes that one can enjoy them somewhat as an American fan of the genre even knowing that the faceless enemy forces would be the heroes in a Hollywood production. The Battle at Lake Changjin is the biggest and most jingoistic yet to make it to American shores, with Lam joined by fellow A-list directors Chen Kaige and Tsui Hark, an all-star cast, a massive budget and three-hour running time, along with very little approaching nuance.

As it begins, officer Wu Qianli (Wu Jing) is returning home on leave from the 7th Company of the 9th Corps of the People's Volunteer Army with the ashes of brother Baili. Most of his action has been in the Sino-Japanese war and the later battles with nationalist forces, but now those wars are all but over and he looks forward to retiring and helping to build a real house on the land that his family of boat-dwellers has been allocated when discharged the next year. Intense discussions are already underway in Beijing, though, as leader Mao Zedong and the generals of the PVA see America's entry to the Korean War as a threat. Generals Ping He (Han Dongjun) and Song Shilun (Zhang Hanyu) are put in charge of the Chinese response, and Qianli is called back to action. To his chagrin, his younger brother Wanli (Jackson Yee) enlists and tags along, so Qianli places Wanli in the charge of Lei Jusheng (Hu Jun), the artilleryman who trained him, as they march toward the Chosin Reservoir (or, as the Chinese call it, "Lake Changjin") and a confrontation with the ruthless, better-equipped American army.

If forced to guess who was in charge of which parts of the movie (keeping in mind that there's no subtitled on-screen indication and that three lesser-known co-directors are listed alongside the big names), I'd peg Chen Kaige as being in charge of the first leg. He's done his fair share of action movies, but they tended to be of the "respected director does a prestige wuxia" variety that sprang up in the wake of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The opening segment is full of broad motivating elements, most notably the pastoral beauty of QIanli chatting with the boatman as they drift down the river, amber-green light cast upon the landscape, his village technically poor but full of tradition.and Chinese pride. It's contrasted with scenes of the US Navy off the coast of Incheon launching devastating, indiscriminate missile strikes. There's no particular flaw in the visual effects work, but the "Call of Duty movie" line feels apt here; it feels like a cut-scene, precise and mechanical and not-quite-real even if there's no obvious flaws. The scenes showing Douglas MacArthur often seem to be in their own uncanny valley, with actor James Filbird shot from odd angles and his face seemingly airbrushed to make him seem like a wax figure reciting lines from the historical record. There's more emotion to the scenes where Mao and his advisors discuss what must be done, though there's still a timidity and toeing of the line there, like scenes where there would normally be palace intrigue and uncertainty have been replaced with calm solemnity.

I similarly can't be sure that the middle act belongs to Tsui Hark, but it seems like it might be his; even when doing blockbusters targeting the less-freewheeling Mainland, the Hong Kong legend seemingly can't help but have fun making movies, and a moment when the projectiles from two rocket launchers collide head-on is his kind of absurdity even as it happens in the middle of a tightly-staged action sequence. This section of the movie is full of familiar tropes but it works the best, with notes of gallows humor to sharpen the patriotic material and take the edge off the despairing, All of these filmmakers know how to frame a shot and set a pace, and that's most plainly visible here from an American attack on the train carrying Qianli's company to a supply run that turns into a massive battle. It may be familiar but it's crisp, and this stretch gets the best out of star Wu Jing: He can still hold his own in the action, but the gruff commander who can't favor his kid brother too much suits him; he's developing a screen persona that's more than just his pure screen-fighting prowess in these movies.

If this had just been The Road to Lake Changjin and the movie ended with Battle due in a month or two akin to some of the two-part Chinese epics from a few years ago (such as John Woo's Red Cliff), the film might have been in pretty good shape, but there's still something like an hour of movie to go at this point, and that's not a great time to have peaked. There's less time for character-building beyond Wanli having grown the nerve to stab an American in the face when he didn't have it in him before, with this the sort of movie where this only means he's gained something as opposed to losing some of his humanity as well. It's also the sort where American soldiers saying they want to go home as they're served Thanksgiving dinner is contrasted with dedicated Chinese ones trying to eat potatoes frozen to the consistency of rocks and the heavy-handedness brings some of the film's biggest laughter. The climactic engagement is less filled with over-the-top action than the ones in the middle section - there's likely less room to invent things here - but if this is Dante Lam's section, then that sequence is a fine demonstration of just how good he's gotten at directing action at multiple scales and marshalling effects to aid it.

There has been a lot of movie by that time, though, and even if one is down with the film's politics, it's been an inconsistent three hours. Even if each act has some personality, the film as a whole never feels like more than the very expensive propaganda piece that it is. It's likely some sort of miracle that The Battle at Lake Changjin holds together as well as it does, but not quite enough of one for the movie to be a genuine epic in terms of much more than length.

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

New-ish releases: Eternals and Ghostbusters: Afterlife

WIth a bunch of festival reviews backed up and piles of discs in my living room, I was kind of tempted to just let the people whose sites are built around reviewing this sort of movie have them (or even just mainstream films in general), but for Eternals particularly, there seemed to be a lot of talk not of the film's relative merits but about what it means for Marvel, or whether it was good or bad by the standards of a Marvel movie (or good or bad at being a Marvel movie), etc. That's kind of horse-race stuff, though, as bad in movies as it's been in sports and politics.

That's especially true because I think Eternals is at its most interesting when you can most completely divorce it from the rest of Marvel and see it as its own epic fantasy. As much as Chloe Zhao does an impressive job of quietly embedding "why didn't these guys help fight Thanos" into the film and using it as a catalyst, it's housekeeping rather than something which bolsters its own story. To talk about Marvel in general when Eternals is rich on its own is a bit of a waste.

And Eternals is rich!


There's been a fair amount of talk about how Eternals probably won't play the lucrative Chinese market in large part because it's got a pair of gay characters that can't easily be cut around or dubbed into "roommates", or because Zhao is on the government's shit list because of some relatively innocuous comments she made in an interview years ago. True as that is, it kind of glosses over the basic fact that this Chinese woman used a bunch of a multinational corporation's money to make a movie which at its core is about people coming to grips with the idea that not only are their leaders lying to them, but that they've been formed and conditioned to be what those leaders find useful to the extent of not even exposing themselves to fight Thanos.

And as I get into in the review, it's not just about China. The last act is built around something that I feel like everybody struggles with, the idea of not knowing what to do when your religion or state and its leaders, the people and institutions one uses to define and guide morality, are in conflict with what one's own ethics say. In the movie, Sersi casts her lot in with doing right by humanity, Ikaris maintains faith in his gods, Sprite follows Ikaris more out of personal affinity than faith, and Kingo bugs out, refusing to involve himself in the fight. I've seen people complain that Kumail Nanjiani disappears from the movie at this point, but I feel like it's one of the most true if frustrating moments of the film - it's not long after Kingo has made a joke about the Eternals being capable of cowardice after Phastos is startled by a loud noise, but it's a cowardly act that is pervasive in human society, trying to think of oneself as above the fray or not taking sides. It's the cause of great turmoil in the world, and when Eternals gets down to wrestling with it, it achieves more of the mythic nature that superhero stories often try to claim despite mainly copying symbols. It's the really good Jack Kirby stuff.

(And while we're in spoiler space, let me just say that I hope that our heroes are able to use the equipment at the Forge of Worlds to print off another Gilgamesh loaded with the original's memories before it's destroyed and taken off the table as a plot device. Maybe another Ajak, too, but let's find a way to bring Don Lee back!)


Ghostbusters: Afterlife, meanwhile, isn't nearly as deep in its themes, but I kind of feel like it's being dismissed as nostalgia and an overcorrection for how Paul Feig's Ghostbusters reboot activated some of the worst portions of modern fandom. It is that, but it's easy to leave it at that, and that doesn't tell the whole story. After all, it's bad nostalgia, deploying its familiar material as punchline rather than setup, seldom finding a way to twist it into something new that speaks to its Gen-Z heroes (and the audience of the same age). It undercuts the process of telling an exciting or funny story.

The thing is, there's something fascinating about how it engages with its audience(s). On the one hand, Jason Reitman and company often don't seem to realize that there's no need to bring back the mythology of the first movie, because as near as I can tell, nobody really gave a damn about Gozer and Zuul and Gatekeepers and Keymasters. That was weird Dan Aykroyd stuff before most people realized how weird Dan Aykroyd could be, goofy enough to keep the movie going and just a solid-enough pastiche of Weird Tales material to give the climax some stakes while still focusing on the comedy, not anything that really meant much to the audience.

Or did it? A few months ago, there was some back-and-forth about some film site or other claiming Ghostbusters wasn't primarily a comedy but a supernatural adventure with a lot of jokes, folks my age being aghast at that stupid take, and back and forth. My sympathies are solidly with the "of course Ghostbusters is a comedy" crew, but I wondered about the age of those saying otherwise and how they experienced it. You don't have to be much younger than me to mostly know Bill Murray as a sad-sack character actor whose characters are even sadder because he's dryly funny and there's the cultural residue of comedy on him rather than a comic actor who matured. And while the film and director Reitman were notable for the way they combined fantasy action and comedy at the time, the way they did it seeped into Hollywood. There isn't much distance between Ghostbusters and Guardians of the Galaxy, or between that and the rest of Marvel, and someone growing up on those films and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spawn on TV. are naturally going to see it through that lens.

I started thinking of that after encountering a group of Ghostbusters cosplayers at the Fluff Festival one year, because as much as I'd seen Ghostbusters comics and heard the theme played by marching bands on a regular basis when I lived right in Davis Square, that was the first time it really occurred to me that this franchise had that kind of fans, not just folks who laughed at the jokes and moved on. I still don't really get it as a fantasy franchise, but it is out there, and they're having fun, so whatever.

Heck, it feels like the post-credit scene is all about that:


It's kind of a weird scene, featuring Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson, not really related to what happened on screen or setting up the next film much at all, although it does touch on a few references to what the OG Ghostbusters have been up to. It's probably not expensive, but it must have taken some effort to film, because there's not another scene in this spacious Manhattan office. What's intriguing, though, is that as Winston Zeddmore is talking about how he has thrived since his time with the Ghostbusters, you start to wonder to what extent this is Ernie Hudson talking about how that movie was a watershed moment for him, a working actor who didn't have the sort of recognition Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, Moranis, Weaver, etc. did but was trusted to be part of that ensemble, and how it gave him both the line on his resumé and confidence to become the trusted character actor he became.

And then, once that's done, it also feels like it's a little bit about fandom in general and Ghostbusters fandom in particular, a tight and supportive community where you meet friends and other folks on the same wavelength. Maybe you don't even produce bad fanfic that is nevertheless appreciated, but there's something to not being just a lonely weirdo.


Does it make Afterlife a good movie? No, not really; it basically uses a lot of Sony's money and the fact that the cast and crew are all consummate pros to smooth out the fact that there's just not much to the whole thing. But I at least understand and kind of respect where the impulse to make this movie is coming from a little more.

Anyway - here's to trying to at least talk about what's interesting or what just doesn't work with even big movies versus what it might mean for other movies down the road and the massive companies that own the properties!


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 November 2021 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon)
Seen 10 November 2021 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Jack Kirby's comic book series The Eternals was published by Marvel Comics but only retrofitted into the shared universe later, and not always well (one gets the idea later writers would have more use for the grand mythology than the individual characters), and one often gets the sense that the movie adaptation would be better off outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well. Though not perfect, Chloe Zhao's film is grand fantasy with its own big ideas, and is at its best when one doesn't have to worry about it fitting into another framework as this month's apocalypse.

Seven thousand years ago, it tells us, the Celestial Arishem deposited ten heroes from the planet Olympia in Sumeria to protect the emerging human civilization from the Deviants, monsters from deep space driven to consume intelligent life. Through their guidance, the city of Babylon would grow into humanity's first great civilization and they would travel the world hunting down the Deviants, their names becoming part of mythology, until the creatures were defeated and leader Ajak (Salma Hayek) told them to explore the world they had saved. Or so they thought - the Deviants have re-emerged, seemingly targeting the Eternals themselves, starting in London where Sersi (Gemma Chan), with the power of transmutation, and eternal child Sprite (Lia McHugh) are only able to fight one off with the return of flying powerhouse Ikaris (Richard Madden). This calls for getting the band back together - warriors Thena (Angelina Jolie), Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-Seok aka Don Lee), and Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani); telepath Druig (Barry Keoghan); engineer Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry); and fleet-footed Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) - but the evolved Deviants are not the only surprise awaiting them.

Ten is a large number for either the major figures of a pantheon or a superhero team, especially when you're starting from scratch rather than pulling previously introduced characters together, and it takes Zhao and her co-writers time to introduce everyone and let the audience soak in the scale of their mission, to the point where it's fair to wonder if they've bitten off more than they can chew: The detours into the past are crowded and go on kind of long for what they tell the audience but seldom give those viewers a feel for how they and humanity are interacting and changing each other over that time. Zhao uses action well, in that there's seldom a fight that doesn't change the direction of the story, but it still sometimes feels like those scenes are there to break up a lot of talking.

Even if Chloe Zhao's jump from intimate, near-documentary films to millennia-spanning epic isn't always smooth, one can still spot the woman who made The Rider and Nomadland in this movie, especially when layers get peeled away and the characters start asking themselves who and what they are when they're not protecting humans from Deviants. As the film barrels toward its finale, one can see its demigods having crises of faith and she plays it out honestly and smartly there, with room for many permutations of some hope for the humans they represent as she drives it home. There's plenty going on, but the film's last act resolves into characters asking the question of what to do when one's religion and its leaders seemingly conflict with what one thinks is right, and if that's not exactly what Jack Kirby had in mind when he created these characters, it's the sort of grand idea kept larger than life but made into an easily-swallowed adventure story that made him the king of comics.

It's also gorgeous, even if its location-shot golden-hour vistas and unified costume design aren't exactly classic Kirby. In some ways, the world has caught up with him - the big square spaceship that has no business just hanging in midair has become its own sort of cliché now - but the filmmakers create nifty combinations of earthy or ancient mythology and the science-fictional spin that Kirby put on the ideas. The latter in particular pop in 3D and giant screens, and Ramin Djawadi's score does something similar in how it pulls together a number of influences to at least get close to being epic iiib a global manner.

The large cast is also used quite well, although its definitely a case where the simpler characters around the edges get more chance to make a splash than the folks in the middle. Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, and Lia McHugh are easy to like as the folks whose connections drive the plot, but they seldom make it feel big enough that a breakup 500 years ago is the sort of fantasy melodrama that could change the course of human history. Meanwhile, Salma Hayek's empathetic leader, Bryan Tyree Henry's frustrated builder, and Angelina Jolie's traumatized warrior have clear automatics, and personal favorite Don Lee is given the chance to both demonstrate great punching-monsters and being-generally-charming skills.

Eternals is stylish and self-contained enough that one can't help but wonder what it could have been if Zhao had the chance and inclination to go full-Kirby on it. On the other hand, the stuff in the end-credit buttons sure looks like it could be a whole lot of fun when these characters intersect with the greater Marvel Universe.

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Ghostbusters: Afterlife

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 November 2021 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, Dolby Cinema DCP)

There's a line, somewhere around 1978 or so, where folks on one side experienced the original Ghostbusters as a great, kind of crude big-budget comedy with a disappointing sequel in the same vein (maybe the first adult-skewing comedy their parents let them watch); on the other side, people who watched The Real Ghostbusters on Saturday mornings, had toys, games, comics, all sorts of stuff that goes with a light adventure franchise, even though most would circle back around to the original movie. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a movie very much for the latter audience, and that's fine - they buy more movie tickets, after all - but once the filmmakers went that route, they could have made a much better movie.

This movie opens with a man encountering some sort of spirit in the American heartland, chased from a mine to his farmhouse, apparently passing from the encounter. From there the scene moves to New York, where single mother Callie (Carrie Coon) is telling her landlord that she'll be able to pay her back rent when she settles the estate, but it's apparently too late for that. So it's into the car and off to Oklahoma with son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), only to find it's a dirt farm. As they settle in, with Trevor crushing on Lucky (Celeste O'Connor), a waitress at the local diner, and probably-somewhere-on-the-spectrum Phoebe making friends with fellow nerd "Podcast" (Logan Kim) and science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) at summer school, the town is being shaken by earthquakes and both kids are finding odd junk around the farm. Gary recognizes Ghostbusters tech from when that was a thing back in the 1980s, but who ya gonna call given that the Ghostbusters haven't been a thing since before the kids were born?

It's not necessarily a bad hook for restarting Ghostbusters as a going concern after the recent remake wound up being a dead end for reasons that had relatively little to do with its actual quality, although in using it, filmmaker Jason Reitman (son of original writer/director Ivan) and co-writer Gil Kenan necessarily play things rather more straight than the original movies did. They're not looking to spoof the convention of how the initial film has been all but forgotten despite it being a juicy target that this film is uniquely positioned to skewer, possibly because doing so would undermine the franchise potential by calling attention to the wrong bits of absurdity in the premise. There are jokes, but it's the comedy of a Marvel movie, where the gags smooth the way to the next bit of plot, rather than vice versa. The bits with Phoebe thrown by the fact that Podcast is the weird one and Trevor being a tongue-tied goober around Lucky are cute, and there's some enjoyable CGI mayhem from a bunch of marshmallow-sized Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men, but the gags are secondary to the coming-of-age and coping-with-loss storylines Reitman and Kenan are going for.

The trouble with that is, real life has kind of boxed the filmmakers in - even if they avoid saying things like "the Spengler farm" for much of the runtime, Harold Ramis is the death they have to write around, and doing so means extrapolating a whole arc for his character that doesn't quite seem to fit the existing timeline (was he a divorced father before the first movie?) and requires a lot of backfill by way of not-entirely-convincing exposition because flashbacks are out of the question. One could hand-wave that away, but the movie leans harder and more precipitously on callbacks to the original movie as it goes on, crowding out the new ensemble - Kenan & Reitman really have no idea what to do with Lucky despite Celeste O'Connor having the charisma that makes it obvious why Trevor falls for her immediately - and completely missing the chance to build something new. The villains in Ghostbusters weren't entirely unimportant, but none of their details were nearly as important as them being the sort of weird fantasy Dan Aykroyd was into. There could have been something here - ancient gods attempting to return contrasted with kids chafing at a dying town frozen in time - but the filmmakers are just doing "let's see them again".

What's kind of surprising - but maybe not - is that despite making something that is more primarily an adventure story, Jason Reitman doesn't use those characters and images nearly as well as his father did. Ivan Reitman had to work around miniatures and stop-motion, but there was grandeur and horror mixed with absurdity in the way he staged his film's climax that having some of the same things in a medium shot just doesn't deliver, even with some new digital enhancements. Maybe it's a natural result of the son shooting with the knowledge that 99% of the audience will be seeing this on a small screen after a three-week theatrical run and building for that while the father was aiming at months in theaters with home viewing a compromised side hustle; maybe it's in how even "run-down" Summerville, OK is presented as an idealized setting compared to scrappy 1980s New York. Either way, Afterlife doesn't have the juice as a supernatural adventure, even if director of photography Eric Steelberg does get to shoot some beautiful Alberta scenery and Reitman's team does stage a few neat action bits, most notably the kids' first joyride in the Ecto-1.

Those kids are a likable enough group that it would be fun to see what they can do with filmmakers more interested in building around them. Mckenna Grace does pretty well with making Phoebe expressive and understood despite her being described as not being obviously so, and she's a fun pair with Logan Kim, though what either of these two is doing in summer school is left as an exercise for the viewer. Finn Wolfhard and Celeste O'Connor make their half-sketched characters more fun to watch than they might; hopefully they'll have more to do in a potential sequel. Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd are cute together and when playing off Grace.

Like I said at the top, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is going to hit differently depending on what someone associates the very idea of "Ghostbusters" with. Fair enough. Still, if you're going to make it more adventure than comedy, and introduce a group of young characters with potential exploits of their own, that would seem to call for a lot more creativity and forward-looking than this movie manages.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 November 2021 - 2 December 2021

Short week last week, long week because of the holiday, and then back to normal-ish after that. Remember to watch for odd hours on Thanksgiving!
  • The big family movie for the weekend is Disney's Encanto, which has seemingly flown below the radar more than most of their animated features, following a family whose magical house gives them superpowers, with the one seemingly powerless daughter charged with solving the mystery of why the magic is fading. It's at The Capitol Theatre, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema/RealD 3D), Fenway (including RealD 3D), South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    Ridley Scott's second movie with Adam Driver in as many months (because the pandemic did nutty things to schedules) is House of Gucci, with Driver as the heir apparent, Lady Gaga as his scheming wife, and an impressive cast including Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, and Jared Leto rounding the family out. It plays the Somerville, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common (including Dolby Cinema), Fenway, Kendall Square, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, the Embassy, and Chestnut Hill.

    Sony just doesn't waste time rebooting potentially valuable properties if it can help it, with new Ghostbusters last week, all sorts of Spider-movies since booting Sam Raimi, and now Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, which will apparently be more faithful to the games than the series Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich made, but will the new crew be as good at cranking out enjoyable junk? It screens at Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row. Thriller For the Love of Money, about a single mother returning to crime, plays Boston Common.

    There are early-access screenings of Sing 2 at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Saturday (funny story: I honestly thought I'd wandered into one the other week because the latest trailer looks to start with an extended look at the climactic scene). Boston Common also has a screening of Julia with a Q&A on Saturday evening (it does not otherwise appear to be on their schedule, though it opens at the Capitol on Thanksgiving). Lindsey Sterling: Home for the Holidays, which seems like a TV special that wandered into theaters because network TV doesn't do this sort of thing any more, plays Boston Common and Assembly Row on Sunday and Monday. Fenway, South Bay, and Arsenal Yards have 60th Anniversary screenings of the original West Side Story on Sunday and Wednesday.
  • Also opening is C'mon C'mon, which features Joaquin Phoenix as a man suddenly left in charge of his nephew and maybe not entirely ready for it (but may not entirely unready, either). The previews have it in gorgeous-looking black-and-white, and there's apparently a great supporting role for Gaby Hoffman in there as well. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre (including a Sunday Masked Matinee), Kendall Square, and Boston Common.

    The Coolidge finishes the November midnight program with two by Kathryn Bigelow: 35mm prints of Near Dark on Friday and Blue Steel on Saturday, the latter neo-noir for Noirvember. The more traditional Noirvember programming wraps up with a digital restoration of The Killers on Tuesday. December starts next Wednesday, and the Coolidge kicks off a series of Paul Thomas Anderson on film with a 35mm screenings of Punch Drunk-Love, leading up to Licorice Pizza on 70mm at the end of the year. There's also a special screening of documentary Artificial Gamer, following developers attempting to create an AI that can play MMRPG Dota 2, with director Chad Herschberger, producer Jennifer 8. Lee, and some of the film's subjects.
  • Chinese action/adventure Railway Heroes, relating a daring mission during World War II, opens at Boston Common on Thanksgiving. Another bit of Chinese propaganda, The Battle at Lake Changjin, hangs on for limited shows.

    Apple Fresh Pond opens Tamil-language film Maanadu on Wednesday, which looks like some sort of Christopher Nolan-ish mindbender from the posters. Antim: The Final Truth, has a name like a sequel but is apparently a Hindi-language remake of a Mirathi action movie starring Salman Khan as a crusading Sikh cop; it's at Fresh Pond and Boston Common from Thanksgiving. Satyameva Jayate 2 (also Hindi-language), is a sequel, with John Abraham returning as another crusading cop; it's also at Fresh Pond Boston Common beginning Thanksgiving. Anubhavinchu Raja is a Telugu comedy about an heir trying to prove himself that also opens at Fresh Pond on Thanksgiving; Telugu-language action Akhanda (which is apparently some sort of meta-story from the description) opens at Fresh Pond next Wednesday, 1 December, and Malayalam adventure Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea either opens or has a one-day booking on Thursday 2 November. Bunty Aur Babli 2 continues.
  • If it seems like The Brattle Theatre wraps their 75th Anniversary Noirvember with some all-time classics: The Postman Always Rings Twice on Wednesday and The Big Sleep and The Blue Dahlia on Thursday, all three on 35mm film. They also run film for the 50th anniversary screenings of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, with matinees Friday to Sunday and an evening show on Tuesday.

    The main feature for the week is Luzzu, a Maltese film that played the virtual IFFBoston this spring and follows an independent fisherman trying to continue to use his heirloom boat but being squeezed by large corporations on one side and EU bureaucracy on the other (on top of never getting out of his own way). It's pretty good.

    There's more repertory screenings around that, too, with Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song having late shows Friday to Sunday both for its 50th anniversary and as a tribute to the late Melvin Van Peebles. There's also a The DocYard presentation of Prism, a three-segment documentary on how camera film and lenses have often been optimized for white skin tones and thus problematic when used to shoot Black people, on Monday (it will play virtually starting the 3rd). The December calendar begins next Wednesday with the first "Weird Wednesdays" shows celebrating the work of the American Genre Film Archive, in this case Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and a 35mm print of Burial Ground. Thursday then begins "A Few of Our Favorite Films", mostly things the Brattle Film Foundation has programmed over the past 20 years, starting with Russian Ark and the original (superior) release of Donnie Darko. Meanwhile, Detention keeps on going in The Brattlite, their virtual screening room.
  • The Embassy, Waltham's location of Landmark Theatres, is your local spot for pre-Netflix releases, this week offering The Unforgivable, with Sandra Bullock as an ex-con looking for her younger sister. Note that while The Embassy is open Wednesday this week because of the holiday, they are still closed Monday through Wednesday next week.
  • The West Newton Cinema is closed on Thanksgiving but opens Asia on Friday; it's an Israeli film whose title character and her daughter Vika barely speak, until the latter has sudden health issues. It joins Encanto, House of Gucci, King Richard, Belfast, and The French Dispatch. The Lexington Venue is open Wednesday, Friday to Sunday, and next Thursday (but not Thanksgiving) with Belfast and House of Gucci sharing a screen. They also have a coupon code on their website for anyone taking in the virtual offerings of DOC NYC through the 28th.
  • The Somerville Theatre has a late (ish) show of Rad at 9:30pm Saturday to, uh, "celebrate" the 35th anniversary of Hal Needham's cult BMX-racing favorite. Note that starting next weekend, there will be frequent pre-emptions and screen-shuffles as "The Slutcracker" makes its inevitable return to the main theater's stage.
  • Bright Lights at Home takes Thanksgiving week off but returns with No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics, with a limited number of streams available for twenty-four hours starting at 7pm Wednesday, with a Zoom webinar featuring director Vivian Kleiman and comic artists Rupert Kinnard and Jennifer Camper at 7pm Friday.
  • Last call for Dune at The Museum of Science, assuming you've already got tickets. I'm mildly surprised they either aren't also playing The Matrix Resurrections or just haven't put a listing on the site yet (I mean, it seems like a good idea, if they're going to do this, right?).
  • Cinema Salem has Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Spencer, Encanto, and The French Dispatch (with all but the latter having open-caption shows Monday afternoon). The Friday Night Light screening is Chopping Mall, with Noirvember officially ending with Double Indemnity Sunday morning (but extending into December with an encore on Thursday the 2nd).

    The Luna Theater seems to be having a "Weirdo Wednesday" the day before Thanksgiving but not the week after, apparently going to a monthly rather than weekly schedule. They have Elf for matinees on Friday and all day Sunday. "A24 Month" concludes with The Souvenir and The Lighthouse on Friday, followed by Minari, Zola, and Lamb on Saturday.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
Checking out Encanto in 3D, heading up to Maine for some turkey and pie, and then opting not to lose some use-it-or-lose-it vacation time starting on Wednesday, with stuff I've been neglecting in between.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 19 November 2021 - 23 November 2021

It's the short week before Thanksgiving, so you've got your franchise family adventure, your award contenders, and probably 2021's top-grossing film worldwide, which likely plays for just five days at weird times.
  • The weekend's big, long-delayed opening is Ghostbusters: Afterlife, in which the events of the first couple movies have apparently become just a weird thing that happened thirty-five years ago that's mostly been forgotten, at least until Egon's grandkids apparently discover where he buried the containment unit, which is about to burst. It's kind of weird that the sequel to one of the biggest comedies ever didn't really have any jokes in the trailer, but Ghostbusters is kind of an ancestor of today's adventure-with-jokes movies. It's at The Capitol Theatre, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema plus a Friday night "fan event"), Fenway, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), the Embassy, Chestnut Hill, and CinemaSalem.

    Also opening is King Richard, featuring Will Smith and Aunjaune Ellis as Rihard & Brandy Williams, parents of Venus and Serena, with Richard particularly important in training them to become the players they are. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, the Embassy, Chestnut Hill, and on HBOmax.

    Boston Common gets a few one-offs: India Sweets and Spices is a comedy in which Sophia Ali plays a college student who discovers that there's more to her parents than she knows; The First Wave a documentary on the New York City health-care workers pushed to the limit when Covid hit; and The Youngest Evangelist, about a kid in the 1980s who feels the call to preach. They also have "Clint Eastwood Legacy" screenings of Gran Torino and Dirty Harry (Saturday-Tuesday). And, of course, the Saturday night Rocky Horror Picture Show.

    Gintama: The Very Final, the last film in the anime adaptions of the popular manga, plays Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards on Sunday (dubbed in the afternoon, subbed in the evening) and Monday (subbed)
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square, the Embassy, and Boston Common get Julia, a documentary on famed Cantabridgian Julia Child from the directors of RBG.
  • The year's likely worldwide box office champion is The Battle at Lake Changjin, a Chinese National Day blockbuster that stars Wu Jing, Jackson Yee, Duan Yihong, and more, with a murderer's row of credited directors in Dante Lam, Tsui Hark, and Chen Kaige (plus three less-credited co-directors), which I'm sure was a completely organic arrangement. I'm guessing that this three-hour Korean War epic is complete anti-American propaganda and a mess, with that box office in large part driven by the officials saying "you've gotta see this - no, seriously, we mean you have to see it".

    Apple Fresh Pond opens Hindi-language romantic caper comedy Bunty Aur Babli 2, with Rani Mukerji and Saif Ali Khan as thieves coming out of retirement to catch copycats, as well as Tamil-language comedy Sabhaapathy and Kannada-language thriller Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana. They also keepKurup and Sooryavanshi (as does Boston Common).

    My Hero Academia: World Heroes Mission continues at South Bay (subbed/dubbed).
  • Jane Campion's latest opened Wednesday; The Power of the Dog features Benedict Cumberbatch as a rancher making life miserable for his brother (Jesse Plemons) and his new family (Kirsten Dunst & Kodi Smit-McPhee). The Coolidge Corner Theatre and Kendall Square will have it for two weeks total before it hits Netflix.

    The Coolidge has two by Alex Proyas at midnight this weekend, with The Crow on Friday and a 35mm print of Dark City as part of Noirvember; The Room also plays Friday at midnight. There's a Sunday Masked Matinee of Spencer, a "Stage & Screen" show of 10 Things I Hate About You, and a 35mm Noirvember show of Kiss Me Deadly on Tuesday.
  • If it seems like The Brattle Theatre has been unusually quiet during Noirvember, they don't mess around, closing the month out with a couple weeks of classics celebrating their 75th Anniversaries. They include Gilda (Friday), Notorious (Saturday on 35mm), Green for Danger (Sunday on 35mm), The Stranger (Sunday), The Locket (Monday on 35mm), Black Angel (Monday on 35mm), So Dark the Night (Tuesday on 35mm), and The Verdict (Tuesday on 35mm).

    They also have a new restoration of Arrebato, a cult horror classic from Spain playing the late show Friday to Sunday on newly restored 35mm prints. Detention continues in The Brattlite, their virtual screening room.
  • The Boston International Kids Film Festival is a mostly-virtual event this year, with many shorts and a few features available to stream from Friday evening through Sunday (and probably Monday in most cases), some with live Q&As at various times. There are also two in-person shows at The Regent Theatre: Opening night feature Yung Punx: A Punk Parable at 7pm Friday and a package of FC Academy and Student-Made films at 1pm Saturday.
  • The Boston Jewish Film continues its virtual program through Sunday, with a final live conversation that afternoon featuring Persian Lessons director Avner Shavit.
  • The West Newton Cinema has King Richard, Belfast, Eternals, The French Dispatch, and No Time to Die. The Lexington Venue has Spencer and The French Dispatch Friday through Sunday, still apparently down to one screen - although they once again have a coupon code on their website for anyone taking in the virtual offerings of DOC NYC through the 28th.
  • The Museum of Science returns "Rocky Mountain Express" to its Omni screen rotation, with the Friday/Saturday night screenings of Dune apparently all sold out. With Christmas approaching, short films based on The Polar Express and Thomas the Tank Engine are added to the 4-D theater's mix.
  • Cinema Salem has Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Spencer, Eternals, and The French Dispatch (all but Spencer have open-caption shows Monday afternoon), a Night Light screening of Possession on Friday, and a Cinema Sounds screening of To Kill a Mockingbird on Sunday with Richard Guerin delivering an introduction highlighting composer Elmer Bernstein.

    The Luna Theater continues "A24 Month", with Midsommar on Friday, plus a masked matinee of The Farewell, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, First Cow, and Saint Maud on Saturday. Spike Lee Sunday is Crooklyn. There's a surprise free-to-members show on "Weirdo Wednesday".
  • This weekend's virtual "Devour the Land" show from The Harvard Film Archive is The Airstrip, available from Friday to Monday. Heinz Emigholz film evidently examines modernist architecture and its militaristic roots.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, The Embassy, West Newton, the Capitol, The Venue, and many of the multiplexes.
Up for Ghostbusters 3, Lake Changjin, King Richard, Power of the Dog, and maybe some film noir and catching up with Belfast and The French Dispatch .