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.

Also on eFilmCritic

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.

Also on eFilmCritic

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 .

Monday, November 15, 2021


How big a star was Anita Mui Yim-Fong in Hong Kong? There are three statues at the end of the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui. One is cartoon piglet McDull, for the kids. One is Bruce Lee. The other is this:
(Aside: Just looking through my photos from my trip to Hong Kong from March 2019, I am reminded that, one, it was an amazing experience, and two, it seems like forever ago between the news out of the SAR and spending so much of the past year and a half stuck in my apartment)

I'm not sure we saw that much of this Anita Mui in the biopic that bears her name which opened worldwide (including AMC Boston Common) this past weekend - aside from actress Louise Wong being a very conventionally pretty model compared to the woman occasionally described as "The Ugly Queen of Pop", this lady is defiant and in your face while the character in the movie is mostly a hard working performer and a good collaborator. I've got no doubt Anita Mui was that, too, but in that case there should have been some contrast between those personae. Instead, she's kind of reduced to a generic, if very successful, pop star, with the fact that she had songs like "Bad Girl" banned from the radio for being too sexy just a thing that happened.

That doesn't make it a bad movie, realy, but it does mean that the review winds up doing a really bad job of talking about the movie you've seen rather than the one you haven't; as you see below, there are a lot of places where I feel like Longmand Leung and company could have dug in and made a story about Anita Mui that brought out what made her special and how she was such a vital and important part of Hong Kong even if most people outside of the colony/region mostly knew her as Jackie Chan's co-star in Rumble in the Bronx. This really isn't the definitive Anita Mui story, even if it's probably the only one that can get made in Hong Kong today. It's a great-looking one that's solidly produced, though - it highlights why she's beloved beyond just being a pop star and its eerily familiar last act (the 2003 SARS epidemic was a major backdrop to the last year of her life) gives it one heck of an entry point for the younger generation to connect with it. It works for what it is.

Something that kind of shocked me was just how little with her in it that I had on my shelves - just Moon Warriors and Drunken Master II; I somehow don't even have Rumble in the Bronx! I'd meant to watch a couple films the night before just to get a feel for her rather than comparing Louise Wong's performance to a dim memory, but the options were pretty thin, even when you included US streaming services. I'll probably try and correct that with my next DDDHouse order, but it's slim pickings there (no The Heroic Trio, for instance). Hopefully Panorama or someone gets a few discs out the door to coincide with this hitting video in a few months, because I am ready for them.

Also, it was a pretty good crowd for a Cantonese-language film, which always seems to do less well than the Mandarin-language ones at Boston Common. Part of that may be that it's only getting one or two shows a day rather than the three or four a new release usually gets in its first week of release, but it was nice to see this with an audience that had some investment. It probably won't get more than a week there - the app doesn't even show screenings on Thursday the 18th - so if you want to catch this one, do it this week (although CMC does seem to get their releases to US streams fairly quickly).


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 November 2021 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run, DCP)

Anita is a perfectly fine musician biography for someone who seemingly should have something a lot grander. Anita Mui was a huge star in Hong Kong - commercially successful at a level few if any have been since and envelope-pushing on top of that - and this movie could almost be about any pop star who died young. It's a glossy, enjoyable movie of that type, and seems to be going over well in its native territory, but outsiders won't necessarily get a sense of what a big deal she was.

After a brief glimpse at Mui preparing for her farewell concert, the film makes a stop in 1969, with 5-year-old Mui Yim-Fong and her big sister Oi-Fong singing at Hong Kong's Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park, before skipping forward to 1982, when the pair are already a veteran nightclub sister act, to the point where Yim-Fong develops calluses on her vocal chords. Oi-Fong (Fish Liew Chi-Yu) encourages Yim-Fong (Louise Wong Lo-Yiu) to join her in applying to a TV talent show whose winner will receive a recording contract, applying with the English names "Ann" and "Anita". Ann is rejected, but Anita eventually wins the deal, soon meeting a number of people who would be close friends and collaborators throughout her life: Label executive So Hau-Leung (Lam Ka-Tung), costumer Eddie Lau Pui-Kei (Louis Koo Tin-Lok), and fellow entertainer Leslie Cheung (Terrance Lau Chun-Him).

Anita Mui seldom had a down period after that, spending the rest of the 1980s firmly atop the Cantopop charts while also doing two or three movies a year, and continuing to release albums even after she stopped doing live concerts in the 1990s. That sort of success creates a bit of a dilemma for director Longmond Leung Lok-Man and co-writer Jack Ng Wai-Lun, especially when one considers that she apparently wasn't a songwriter (and if she is closely associated with any, the film does not give them any screen time). They wind up trying to build a story out of her personal life - her romance with Japanese pop star Godo Yuki (Ayumu Nakajima) is given some time, and an argument with a gangster while in a later relationship with gang-adjacent beau "Ben" (Yo Yang) leads to a self-imposed Thai exile - but they never find the hook that sets Anita apart from anyone else who wins a talent show and exploded to such a degree.

The frustrating thing is, looking at the movie and reading a little bit about her life suggests that there is actually a ton of great material that they chose not to use, for one reason or another: What if they took the comment that she never knew her father and thus the likes of Mr. So and Eddie became father figures, and crossed that with how she's been working since the age of four to support her family - does this help explain the burn-out that led her to leave live performance? You'd think from watching the movie that Ann left show business when she was rejected from the talent competition in 1982, but she had a modest music and film career of her own, and there could be a story there (her life also intersects and parallels that of fellow icon Leslie Cheung's). Heck, she arguably parallels Hong Kong itself, starting out poor and grimy and transmuting that into glamor before being one of the celebrities that stayed during the handover and never made a bid for success in Hollywood or Beijing. Bits of all these things come through, and one suspects that the heavy hands of both China and the entertainment industry inspire dancing around some subjects, but as with many biographies, trying to cover the entirety of even a relatively short life often means that none of the facets that made that life interesting get much time in the forefront

The film is handsomely mounted and fun to wallow in, at least; Longmond Leung teamed with Luk Kim-Ching to make a trio of slick thrillers before taking on this project, and Anita is even more polished. There's a gloss to even the disreputable spaces and a knack for capturing different facets of the city, a shininess makes it a fine nostalgia trip, paralleling Hong Kong's rise and indulging its local audience's fond memories of the time. Leung and his team seldom dawdle over any particular moment but don't particularly seem to rush. The occasional cut to actual footage of Anita's concerts and appearances emphasizes just what an impressive recreation this can be, even if it hints at a rawness and vitality the film can't always match.

That's not a dig at Louise Wong; the relative newcomer playing Anita isn't given a whole lot to do because of how stardom often seems to just happen to her, but when she gets a chance to show that there's something defiant about this woman - there's an annoyed look folks may recognize from Mui's comedic roles - she manages, but that doesn't happen nearly often enough. She and Fish Liew play well off each other as sisters, enough so to pique one's interest in the version of this story that focuses on their relationship; the same goes for Terrance Lau, who captures both the exuberance of young Leslie Cheung and the self-doubt that will eventually eat it alive. Louis Koo has a featured role as Eddie and he's a little more theatrical in his combination of playfulness and gravitas, not above making a meal of the sort of mentor role that's got to be big enough to inspire an all-time great.

As someone only a little familiar with Anita Mui - the sort that has seen her in the likes of Drunken Master II and The Heroic Trio and who has noticed the reverence with which other Hong Kong legends speak of her - I wanted more from this movie, for it to make a case for her greatness and show how she achieved it. Instead, it's a reminder, and a chance for folks who were there to relive it in sharp digital clarity rather than on grainy VHS, and from its apparent popularity in Hong Kong, it manages that fairly well.

Also on eFilmCritic

Friday, November 12, 2021

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 12 November 2021 - 18 November 2021

I used to say that it was astounded that Marvel had built an empire based on Iron Man, of all characters. Now it's reached the point where other studios clear the way after a movie based on The Eternals, whom even lifelong comic fans occasionally have trouble remembering.
  • The big release this week is Belfast, Kenneth Branagh's semi-autobiographical film about growing up in the title city in the late 1960s, when The Troubles were intensifying and the father of Branagh's alter ego is considering a move to the UK for safety and stability. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre (including a Sunday Masked Matinee), The Capitol, Kendall Square, Boston Common, Assembly Row.

    The Coolidge has the director's cut of True Romance at midnight on Friday and a 35mm print of The Last Boy Scout at the same time Saturday as part of their Noirvember festivities. Sunday afternoon, Goethe-Institut presents Copilot, the new film from Anne Zohra Berrached which follows a young woman faced with traditional parents, a lover they would disapprove of, and her own desires. Monday's Big Screen Classic is Clue, Tuesday's Noirvember feature is Laura (on 35mm film).

    Jane Campion's latest opens at the Coolidge and Kendall Square on Wednesday, with The Power of the Dog featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as a rancher making life miserable for his brother (Jesse Plemons) and his new family (Kirsten Dunst & Kodi Smit-McPhee).
  • The Brattle Theatre opens Suzanna Andler, the new film from Benoit Jacquot, featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg as a woman who finds herself at a turning point as she visits a potential vacation home. They also have a new restoration of Possession for the late show, with Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill as a couple whose marriage is disintegrating in fairly impressive fashion. They also show No Ordinary Man on Tuesday and Thursday as part of Transgender Awareness Week, which is also available for 24 hours starting at 7pm as part of Bright Lights at Home, with filmmakers Aisling Chin-Yee & Chase Joynt phoning in Thursday evening. The Brattle also has an Archival Screening Night Roadshow program on Thursday.

    The DocYard selection All About My Sisters comes to The Brattlite virtual screening room, joining Detention.
  • Surely one of the biggest movies in Hong Kong this fall is Anita, with Louise Wong Lo-Yiu playing Anita Mui, a legendary Cantopop singer who may be best known in the USA for two movies where she co-starred with Jackie Chan. She's the equivalent of Madonna there and one of Hong Kong's biggest stars ever (for reference, she and Bruce Lee have the two large statues in the city's walk of fame). Longman Leung Lok-Man directs; he's half of the team that made Helios and the Cold War films and his team apparently did an incredible job of recreating 1990s Hong Kong.

    Apple Fresh Pond has more from India, including Kurup, with Dulquer Salmaan as the title character, one of the nation's most notorious criminals; Telugu action flick Raja Vikramarka; and Telugu comedy Pushpaka Vimanam, plus Bangla-language drama Binisutoy: Without Strings playing Saturday and Sunday. Fresh Pond continues Diwali openings Sooryavanshi (as does Boston Common) and Annaatthe.

    My Hero Academia: World Heroes Mission continues with subtitled and English-dubbed showtimes at Boston Common (dubbed), South Bay (subbed/dubbed), and Assembly Row (dubbed).
  • French thriller Only the Animals makes its way to Landmark Theatres Kendall Square, though for limited shows, despite it being a crime film from Dominik Moll, maybe best known for With a Friend Like Harry. They also have documentary Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road on Wednesday evening.

    Meanwhile, you have to go to Waltham and the Embassy Theater for Tick, Tick… Boom!, playing there (through Monday and on Thursday) before it hits Netflix next week; it's Lin-Manuel Miranda's directorial debut, with Andrew Garfield starring in Jonathan Larson's musical about his time on the way to writing Rent, making me wonder if that guy does anything but write musicals about people in the musical-making business.
  • Clifford the Big Red Dog opened on Wednesday and continues this week. It plays The Capitol Theatre, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, Chestnut Hill, and Paramount+. American Sniper continues its Veterans' Day run at Boston Common, as does TV Movie CS Lewis: The Most Reluctant Convert.

    AMC Boston Common teams with Disney+ for surprise screenings from various imprints Friday through Sunday (no titles are listed, but running times are). The Ghibli fest returns to Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row with Castle in the Sky dubbed on Sunday/Thursday and subtitled on Monday. Another notable animation studio, Laika, has screens on Tuesday with Paranorman playing at Fenway and Assembly Row. Boston Common also has their weekly Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday. Fenway, South Bay, and Arsenal Yards have the anniversary screening of High Society on Sunday.
  • The Boston Jewish Film continues its virtual program, with an animation workshop on Friday, and live Q&As to go with Who Will Remain? (Sunday), The Adventures of Saul Bellow (Sunday), Quarantine Shorts (Tuesday), and Shtetlers (Thursday).
  • The ICA has two more screenings of the Sundance Film Festival Short FIlm Tour program on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
  • The West Newton Cinema has 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.
  • The Museum of Science has Friday/Saturday night screenings of Dune in the Mugar Omni Theater Dome through the end of November, with Thanksgiving weekend the only one still showing tickets available.
  • Cinema Salem has Spencer, Eternals, and The French Dispatch (all of which have open-caption shows Monday afternoon), a Night Light screening of Repo Man on Friday, plus Noirvember screenings of Kiss Me Deadly on Sunday and Thursday.

    The Luna Theater continues "A24 Month", with Heredity on Friday, plus a masked matinee of 20th Century Women, Lady Bird, The Florida Project, and It Comes at Night on Saturday. Spike Lee Sunday is Do the Right Thing. There's a free-to-members shows on "Weirdo Wednesday", and Thursday, when they're showing Zola.
  • More virtual "Devour the Land" show streaming from The Harvard Film Archive this week is Jonathan Perel's Corporate Responsibility (available from Friday to Monday) using long shots of corporate headquarters as a background for how large corporations and the government have been complicit in human rights abuses (apparently they skipped a week 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.
I'm planning to hit Belfast and already have my ticket for Anita, plus I'm sure that this is going to be the time that Possession really clicks for me. I'll probably finally get around to The French Dispatch this week, too.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

The Spine of Night

Yikes, I just noticed that this played one of the festivals where I've got a many-film backlog of reviews to write. Maybe I should get off my butt and get to that. In the meantime…

A Q&A, with Ned and co-director Philip Gelatt, who is apparently fairly local (the film was produced ni Providence) and joined forces with Morgan Galen King, who had previously made an animated short that served as the film's basis. They shot it in a warehouse that didn't even bother with a green screen, since they weren't going to be compositing the images rather than drawing over them. Which means that, no, nobody was naked except for one very enthusiastic extra, and few of the people in the voice cast actually provided the motion - just, I believe, Betty Gabriel, who has gone on to do notable work in Get Out and other projects, though she was a more or less complete unknown when they started working in 2013.

It sounds like a genuine labor of love, at least; Gelatt noted that this sort of rotoscoped animation was pretty much a dead art form, which meant that there was a fairly steep learning curve for the crew, although many would take the skills they developed here and go work for Undone at Amazon. It also sounded like a surreal experience writing to various people's agents to see who would be interested in doing voice work for what I imagine was a relative pittance. Patton Oswalt, Joe Manganiello, and a few others jumped in as genre fans; Lucy Lawless wasn't so much a fan but knows what she's good at and where she can grab an audience, and Richard E. Grant joining up was apparently sort of surreal, as he's a guy that will take a job but doesn't necessarily love some of this stuff. For instance, "I loved Hudson Hawk" might not be the best way to get him to sign on.

Anyway, one more late show at the Brattle tonight, and on various VOD services as well. It's not my thing, really - I'm not big enough on swords and sorcery or gore-as-draw to really go for it absent much else "stuff I'd see at Fantasia" playing theaters, but I kind of get the appeal, and for the folks that go for this, it's pretty impressively put together.

The Spine of Night

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 November 2021 in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, DCP)

The Spine of Night wears its influences proudly, to the extent that one may wonder what it is besides those influences, particularly if bloody fantasy is not particularly one's cup of tea. It's an impressively-mounted example of that particular genre, especially considering how far back its inspirations are, but not for everyone. If one isn't into nudity, bloody violence, and power fantasies for their own sake, they probably won't get a whole lot else out of the movie.

It opens with a naked witch (voice of Lucy Lawless) making her way up a snowy mountain to confront the guardian of a strange Bloom (voice of Richard E. Grant), and while he is used to fighting those who approach, he finds her more sympathetic than most. She has a Bloom of her own, and tells him of how she came to be there - her capture by a mercenary (voice of Joe Manganiello) working for the local lord (voice of Patton Oswalt) and later encounter with scholar Ghal-Sur (voice of Jordan Douglas Smith) and his own use of the Bloom's power.

There is an idea or two in play here - folk knowledge being twisted by scholars who don't have the same sort of respect, power corrupting and eventually doing nothing but perpetuating itself, that sort of thing - but filmmakers Morgan Galen King and Philip Gelatt are somewhat scattershot in terms of introspection and metaphor, more intent on stuff closer to the surface. Their world building is on a grand scale that spans millennia from the battles of gods to the last resistance against an immortal tyrant, although often more comfortable in the muck, down among the people getting crushed beneath the heels of monsters who seem to have ambition but no goals. Like many of the 1980s animated fantasies that inspired it, King and Gelatt (adapting and expanding King's short film "Exordium") split the film into several smaller segments, and though they are fair short stories, they don't often feel as though the segments are built from each other. They're part of a continuity, but mostly just things that happened in a certain order, not a greater arc.

For instance, a pivotal story is framed around an adventurer (voice of Betty Gabriel) seemingly developing doubts about her work as the archive she serves does little to actually apply the knowledge she discovers for any good purpose, and though it's a theme that recurs a bit (the story the Guardian tells the witch has a similar theme of withholding information), but it winds up feeling cast aside, an idea briefly pondered but not explored on the way to the next fight. There's a deliciously nasty against-type vocal performance by Patton Oswalt as a callow prince that winds up rushed on the way to the next, nastier villain. The climax is a fine action sequence that probably would have cost millions of dollars as a traditional live-action/CGI hybrid but which plays out as tough-guy posturing rather than a desperate final strike.

But, if one enjoys that posture - the sheer appeal to the id that the folks who commission pulp novels with nearly-naked warriors hacking through grotesque monsters - The Spine of Night delivers. King and Gelatt shot the action in a Rhode Island warehouse and then spent the next few years animating over it, and while the distinction between the more simply drawn and colored foreground characters and the painted backgrounds is probably wider than it ever was with the digital tools at their disposal, they nevertheless avoid different sorts of uncanny valley issues that have plagued similar rotoscoped animation and their motion-captured descendants: The action is smooth and well-choreographed but feels of a piece with its medium, seldom stiff or feeling too beholden to the merely human level of expression underneath the paint. And if you like blood and guts, the film has plenty, reveling in slashing people up, burning them alive, and planting a garden in the skull of a vanquished god, equally at ease with horrific magic and nasty swordplay, the participants often clad in as little leather is necessary to carry their stuff. It's power applied in the service of horror and release, and the filmmakers don't pretend that they're above that ugliness.

It is, quite honestly, not my thing, although I never exactly checked out of the movie, instead spending more mental energy on what it's all about or how everything fits together than the film can support. There's always been an audience for this sort of bloody sword and sorcery even if most producers are too squeamish to admit it, and The Spine of Night caters to them in fine fashion.

Also on eFilmCritic

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

Sam Raimi's Spider-Movies in 4K

When I did the 4K upgrade, I said I wasn't going to be rebuying many things that I already had on Blu-ray because those still look quite good and both the new TV and player do a good job of upscaling, so how much will new discs really get me? Anyway, I think you can guess how well that went after the first time I picked up a disc of something made on film and saw that, yeah, there's a difference. Amazon puts these movies on sale for $30 for the entire Sam Raimi Spider-Man series in 4K, and I'm all over that.

Anyway, the discs look great; movies were still being shot on film at this point and even if they were being edited and composited off a digital intermediate, Raimi is clearly a guy with strong ideas of how his movies should look, and he's not particularly worried about them having to exist alongside anything else, so there are bold colors and contrasts which absolutely benefit from an UltraHD/HDR presentation. It's a terrific upgrade.

It was also a real pleasure to just watch these movies again for the first time in years, because they're pretty terrific as a set and even the weakest of them feels interesting. A thing that really surprised me is how much my impressions of the first two movies have been a bit reversed from reality; I thought of Spider-Man 2 as the one that Raimi assert his personality and style more, in large part due to the memorable operating room massacre, but it's actually the one that nudges things closer to the mainstream after diving into the first like a guy who might never get a chance to do this again. By the time that the third comes out, it's not quite a movie that could have been made by anyone, but you can sort of see the Marvel Cinematic Universe coming. I enjoy the heck out of those movies, but there's no denying that for all that Marvel will give their filmmakers some room, there are clear boundaries and a sort of gravity that draws them back toward being able to all fit in an Avengers crossover without looking out of place. Sam Raimi and Ang Lee weren't really thinking along those lines, and it's kind of left their movies striking and memorable but also the last gasps before "counting" mattered in films the same way it does in comics.

Anyway, I was just going to log them on Letterboxd and move on, but, well, I went long enough to want these on my space as well.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 24 October 2021 Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-Ray)

Coming back to this for the first time in a while, with two decades of other Marvel stuff since, it's amazing just how much Sam Raimi is in it. There are the same sorts of comic-inspired framings and transitions that he used in Darkman, crazy montage, and cameras that zoom in to make sure that the audience can't miss something important in the scene as he gleefully leans into what you can do with a movie when everyone knows and acknowledges that it's a movie rather than trying to make the audience a generic observer. The action owes a ton to Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness as he leans into how a fight between superheroes is going to have a bunch of slapstick to it. It's an approach that not many others have gone for, opting instead for grim intensity and rocket-powered smashing through walls, but just look at the way these things are staged as characters get thrown around like ragdolls and look bewildered while absorbing punishment that would kill a normal person: They're superhuman but they react in ways we understand without grounding the action too much. It's absurd and entertaining but always right near the line where someone could get hurt in a way that wouldn't be funny at all. All of that makes for a sincere embrace of the pulpy comic book roots. Back then, it seemed like Sam holding back a bit, making the comics more in line with the mainstream films he'd been working on, but compare it to what Marvel's doing now, and it's clear that he's doing much more to drag movies toward what comics do than drag comics to what people expect from film. It's not quite one guy with a vision going for broke, but it's probably closer to that than I thought at the time, so excited to see my favorite director put in charge of a blockbuster meant for everyone.

From the very start of this one, Raimi, writer David Koepp, the cast, Danny Elfman, and everyone else are going big but also filling in all sorts of great details. From the opening shots where the camera seems to be just checking out Peter Parker's Queens neighborhood, it feels specifically like New York, for instance, and the different family dynamics of the Parkers, Watsons, and Osborns all feel true. Some of the turn-of-the-century digital effects aren't perfect, but it's okay because of how Raimi isn't exactly gonig for realism anyway. They mesh with the style and tone so that it all fits.

The amount of dead-solid perfect casting is kind of amazing, too - aside from how Kirsten Dunst and Tobey Maguire are just right as teens/young adults figuring themselves out (something Cliff Robertson's Uncle Ben lays out as a theme beautifully), there's James Franco making Harry Osborn just the right sort of tragic figure and Willem Defoe so perfectly on Raimi's wavelength that it's kind of surprising they haven't done more together. Dunst is probably the unsung hero of this trilogy, even though I've seen people hate her Mary Jane Watson for one reason or another that often boils down to MJ not just being Peter's conscience but valuing herself. The movie is filled with people who have ambitions beyond being Spiday's supporting cast, and it helps make Peter a believable underdog as he's a little intimidated and finally ready to push back.

It's a great little movie. That the folks involved would (for many) top themselves a couple years later is its own sort of amazing.

Spider-Man 2

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 October 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-Ray)

As much as this is considered the best of the series, I may like the first one more, having watched them in the past week. This one is striking more of a balance between the Raimi-ness of the first and something that feels a little more comfortably mainstream. Maybe that's what makes it strike such a chord - the movie lays what it's doing right out there with utter sincerity in a way that feels familiar, yet there's still enough style that you're definitely not just watching TV.

Which isn't to say that there's any single thing in this movie that doesn't work. It's more or less the same great cast with added Alfred Molina, for example, and while Molina has a little trouble making the leap from Otto Octavius being a mentor to him being a madman, he gets past it, and the confusion and difficulty works. This film's the most convincing and matter-of-fact go at playing Spidey as the hard-luck hero on the big screen - one always believes that the things which would make all his gifts snap into place rather than work against each other are just out of reach rather than playing as contrivances, even when they come in the form of cartoony Daily Bugle scenes.

And, of course, the centerpiece action sequences are terrific, especially the nightmarish bit with Ock's arms that seems tailor made for Raimi, not just because of the chainsaw but because those tentacles with cameras on the end are able to actually make the Sam-Ram-a-Cam part of the movie's text. The really surprising thing is that there aren't actually that many of them - the story has the confidence in itself to let the movie breathe between them. The most memorable part of the big hero moment is its aftermath, the big-city "just because we're all crammed together doesn't mean we're gonna get in your business" moment after Peter's lost his mask stopping a train from derailing.

It's a refinement of a bit at the end of the first, polished and presented to the audience rather than tossed off as one of a dozen things going on at once. There's still a lot of Raimi here, but he's playing to the bigger audience in a way that's tremendously effective if not quite his in the way that the first film was.

What I wrote back in '04

Spider-Man 3

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 October 2021 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-Ray)

Arriving just a year before Iron Man, Spider-Man 3 almost feels like a test run for the Marvel Cinematic Universe - the 137-minute runtime isn't quite so compact as Raimi's previous films, Stan Lee shows up to say hi rather than being someone you spot in the crowd, there's more conscious attention to the film as part of an ongoing series, and Sam Raimi's personal signature is less prominent. It's common knowledge that Raimi was given less of a free hand on this movie than before (and it's interesting to watch a scene where J. Jonah Jameson is pitched new slogans for the Bugle and reminded to take his heart medications in the most stressful way possible in that light); watching it after the other two, you've got to wonder why so many people were trying to act like they knew this stuff better than Sam.

There is too much stuffed into this movie, but the thing is, there's so much that's good. After playing Peter as the hard-luck hero in #2, there's something very true in how this movie plays with him not actually handling success and popularity very well - he's not so much a bad person underneath, but staying humble and dealing with attention is a skill that he hasn't developed. Venom was by all accounts imposed on Raimi, but he and brother/co-writer Ivan do their level best to make him a metaphor for all the worst aspects of Peter coming out and scaring him; there's just not room in this story for the whole arc that includes Eddie Brock Jr. (one can mock the Tom Hardy Venom movies for avoiding Spider-Man, but it's a step something this size doesn't have the time for). That's especially true with the time given to Thomas Haden Church's Sandman, but I appreciated parts of his story more this time around - the origin sequence is beautiful, for instance, and while I scoffed at him roaring like a dumb kaiju when I originally saw the film, I get the guy literally trying to keep himself and his humanity together through sheer force of will a bit better now. Church has a lead character's arc crammed into a supporting role that's getting cut back itself.

At the time, I thought Raimi would do another despite the disappointment - there was more to do with the folks played by Dylan Baker, James Cromwell, and Bryce Dallas Howard, darn it! - but now I kind of think that he said his piece here. Spider-Man 3 is a movie about people trying to be their best selves, failing, and then trying again, and on and on, whether they're Peter Parker, Mary Jane Watson, Flint Marko, or Harry Osborn (Brock just doesn't have it in him and becomes a monster for it). Anything else he does with the character is going to seem smaller. It's a shame that the movie is such a mess in so many ways, never able to juggle all of its pieces, feeling like maybe it should have been a limited series in structure, and never quite having enough of the Sam Raimi style to match the over-the-top action with heightened emotional stakes. It's got all the pieces to be a great cap on the trilogy, but seldom puts it together well enough to be truly satisfying.

What I wrote back in '07

Monday, November 08, 2021

Maybe Not Directly Related But...: Cloudy Mountain and The Rescue '21

I don't know to what extent Cloudy Mountain was inspired by the Thai cave rescue of 2018; maybe not at all, but when you see these two a week apart, figure how long a narrative feature with this amount of effects takes to produce, and note that there were Chinese forces helping in Thailand that were only fleetingly mentioned in coverage, and note that Cloudy Mountain does have a former elite soldier trying to lead folks trapped in a cave to safety (among a lot of other stuff).

That character is a railway soldier, not capitalized in the subtitles although it kind of feels that way, especially after seeing a trailer before the movie for another actually named "Railway Soldiers", making me wonder if this is a thing that China is pushing particularly hard right now, certainly another odd "multiple movies about the same thing coming out at once" situation. One sort of odd thing was how Cloudy Mountain had an over-the-credits epilogue about the heroism of railway soldiers and how they pulled China together and their successors are doing the same thing with high-speed rail, including notes about how many of these people died during the construction. On the one hand, did the filmmakers feel like they didn't have quite enough propaganda to pass the censorship board, especially since there was a subplot about management unreasonably expecting this massive engineering done on time no matter what which would absolutely be about greedy businessmen rather than government if the film were made in the West. Even taking that into account, "hundreds of people died" is a weird flex; if communism is all about the workers, doesn't that include worker safety?

That sort of thing makes The Rescue a nice contrast; its filmmakers studiously avoid almost every opportunity for hero worship in order to just tell the story. I suspect that it helps that they've done enough mountaineering documentaries (including ones where co-director Jimmy Chin is a subject) to be realistic about how these folks are wired, and that "daring" and "heroic" aren't the same, to the point where they in some cases are very careful how it's presented. They repeat how the plan to use general anesthetic is desperate several times, to the point where you can feel them hammering on the nail but… Well, I guess we're back to safety here, right? Film especially can fall victim to the human desire to see something have a clever, easily-digested solution, but Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi understand danger well enough to say, no, we're not doing that.

In a way, that focus on safety makes it an interesting contrast with their last picture, Free Solo, where they notably shot the climbing sequence of the title from something like a kilometer away so that their subject wouldn't feel the pressure of the cameras on him. Thinking about how they must have shot the reenactment scenes in The Rescue, it must have been the opposite: Cameras packed into incredibly tight spaces, trying to get good footage of something just a couple feet away, probably a whole bunch of people the audience can't see just off-screen just in case something turned dangerous.

Anyway, both of these have left local theaters but are not yet available on streaming, although if you go looking you can get a Chinese patriotic adventure named "The Rescue" on Prime Video, which, well, isn't the same thing, but is kind of in the same neighborhood. They are both pretty darn good if you enjoy watching people faced with a dangerous crisis and immediately pulling together to work the problem, which is incredibly cathartic after the past year or two.

Feng Bao (Cloudy Mountain)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 October 2021 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

China's National Day generally brings a spate of patriotic behemoths to the box office, star-studded flag-waving blockbusters like this year's The Battle at Lake Changjin and My Country, My Parents. Cloudy Mountain as a movie is kind of the opening act for that - a somewhat lower budget and less star power, maybe not pushing so hard, but trying to be the same sort of crowd-pleaser. It's a solidly and sometimes surprisingly successful sort of minor disaster movie, not likely to make best-of lists but managing to deliver what it promises.

Yudang Mountain is the landmark in question, located in southwestern China near the town of Yunjiang; a 20-year project to build a tunnel for high-speed rail nearing completion. Conscientious director of blasting Hong Yizhou (Zhu Yilong) and scientist Ding Yajun (Chen Shu), also his girlfriend, are still performing a full brace of tests because the terrain is made of unpredictable karst, and what looked like a simple operation can suddenly turn dangerous. He's also making a bit of effort to avoid his demanding father Yunbing (Huang Zhi-Zhong), a former railway soldier, even going off to check some sensors while Yajun picks him up. That's when everything literally starts to come apart, with cave-ins, sinkholes, and rockslides, and project manager Lu Xiaojin (Jiao Junyan) trying to aid rescue workers while assuring her superiors that the tunnel is not in any danger.

Director Jun Li and co-writer Song Sha don't particularly break new ground here, but there's a lot to be said for hitting the ground running and serving up the good stuff. The visual effects in this movie may not be quite top-tier, but they're plenty effective, and they don't spend much time making the audience wait for the action. Jun and his crew shoot energetically with China's many large-screen and 3D theaters in mind, swooping through the air when the action is in the mountains and building boxes with the occasional terrifying drop or chimney while crawling through caves. They follow the typical disaster movie template from initial warning to major event to needing to rescue the trapped while also planning a large-scale mission to prevent something worse, with family issues and bureaucratic interference along the way. The cast appears to be people who Chinese audiences would find familiar faces from television, with Zhu Yilong and Chen Shu an appealing young couple while Huang Zhi-Zhong and Jiao Junyan certainly feel like folks who have played lots of demanding fathers and stern-but-honest middle managers.

It gets a little messy when the disasters aren't front and center, in large part because the filmmakers don't really seem to have an idea of how to come to a climax; lots of moments of transition and resolution happen offscreen, denying the audience moments of satisfaction (whether schmaltzy or stoic) and a clean pivot to the next stage. Along those lines, there's a weird bit where the thinly-sketched folks that the Hongs are trying to rescue just hang back while they go through their family dreams and the audience can't help but notice the implication that they're not as important, and it's not the only time that happens. The actual finale has a hard time juggling the impulses for heroic self-sacrifice and unlikely victories. It often feels like the producers hired folks who are good with the effects and worried less about the rest.

And, of course, the film eventually starts aggressively checking off the "what the film board wants Chinese films to be" boxes; one can't help but notice that the inspiring speech includes "westerners do that, but we do this" when there aren't any non-Chinese people in the movie. And yet, the drive to "reflect socialist values" also winds up being one of the film's strengths: There is something bizarrely soothing about this frenetic movie - just watching people reflexively and competently pull together and help out when faced with an unexpected crisis feels ridiculously good.

Cloudy Mountain is rough in a lot of places, but it's a capable big spectacle that was probably a lot of fun in Imax/3D/D-box, though it doesn't get that sort of release in North America. For two hours of bad stuff happening and good people getting stuff done, though, it's pretty satisfying.

Also at eFilmCritic

The Rescue '21

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 October 2021 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #4 (first-run, digital)

As I mentioned in the recent review of a fictional film, there is very little more satisfying than watching very competent people just get down to doing good with their skills, and that's what The Rescue is in more or less undiluted form. The audience knows the story of how a boy's soccer team was rescued from a cave in Thailand, at least during the film's initial release three years after the event, so the filmmakers just get down to fleshing it out with detail without getting overly technical.

If you're reading this review or seeing the film later, the Tham Luang cave rescue was quite a big deal in mid-2018 - a dozen members of a local soccer team and their coach failed to come home on 23 June, but their bikes were found outside a cave that they often spent time exploring, one which floods every summer but usually not for another month. The government responds quickly, but a local British expatriate who has spent time in the caves quickly recognizes that traversing the now-underwater passages requires the specialized skills of recreational cave divers like Britain's John Volanthen and Richard Stanton (who, coincidentally, has just met a nurse from the area) - although discovering that the team is somehow still alive after a week raises the question of how you get them through over a mile of a dark, twisting underground river: It takes two or three hours to traverse and even the Thai Navy SEALs tended to panic over a much shorter distance.

Even if this hadn't been worldwide news relatively recently, the title of the film probably tips most viewers off as to how it ends, and savvy viewers aren't going to be too far off when they guess what happened to the one retired naval officer who is brought up by name but not part of the interviews. Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin seem well-aware that this film may have audiences coming at it from different places over time, and as such make sure that they pay careful attention to both telling the story and explaining the story, using clear graphics to show the scope of the situation and laying out what is going on as things progress, never presuming what the audience knows or wants to know at a certain point.

As a result, it's an impressively humble movie. The filmmakers are careful to not push awe at the rescuers too much, wither in the form of a build-up or humblebrag, though there's still the same sense that these folks are wired differently, and not always for the better, that the filmmakers bring to their mountaineering docs; it's just somewhat muted to reflect how their own accomplishments and what they might sacrifice for them are not the main issues here. There's attention paid to more mundane logistics, such as the folks who are doing less immediately-dangerous boots-on-the-ground civil engineering to make sure that rain doesn't raise the underground river and flood the caves even more. Perhaps more notably, there's willingness to step back from emotional storylines that aren't crucial to the job at hand. One of the divers has just met a woman who might give him a personal connection to the area? That's nice, and an interesting detail but Chin and Vasarhelyi are not going to get anywhere near making a movie where a dozen Thai kids potentially dying primarily plays as a way for a middle-class English guy to achieve some personal growth. Similarly, while they acknowledge that there is mythology around this place and a monk present tied to that, it's not what the movie is about, even if one might be tempted to make that a thematic centerpiece.

They also don't see reenactment as a chance to dazzle as some might. On-the-scene documentary footage was relatively limited and often more useful for showing how challenging the circumstances were (even with handlamps, you can't see much at all), so they have to recreate for clarity, but try to call attention to themselves as little as possible, either in terms of being flashy or overly faithful to first-person perspective. By the time the credits mention that many scenes are recreated on-site with the original divers, a viewer will think that, yes, they kind of had to be, but it feels both immediate enough and enough like a regular movie that those in the audience will be thinking more about what they're seeing than how they're able to see it.

Whoever eventually makes a feature version of this story probably won't be quite so humble; they'll want personality-clashing drama, views into the rescuers inner lives. It's fine to make that movie; those things are all part of the story. The route these filmmakers take, on the other hand, makes for great, plain-spoken communication, and audiences so often need that much more than conventional dramatics given extra weight by being based on a true story.

Also at eFilmCritic

Friday, November 05, 2021

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 5 November 2021 - 11 November 2021

Happy Diwali to all those who celebrate; happy Another New Marvel day for those who celebrate that.
  • Eternals is the third of six Marvel adaptations coming out in a seven-month window, meaning they're starting to get into the more obscure corners of the universe, with this group a Jack Kirby creation, immortals placed on Earth to protect from an alien threat. It's got a killer cast, with Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Don Lee (aka Ma Dong-Seok), Bryan Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani, and Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao in the director's chair. It's at The Capitol, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax/Dolby Cinema/RealD 3D),Fenway (including RealD 3D), South Bay (including Imax/Dolby Cinema/RealD 3D), Kendall Square, Assembly Row (including Imax/Dolby Cinema/RealD 3D), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), the Embassy, and Chestnut Hill.

    After being delayed a couple months because Paramount was apparently more nervous about the pandemic, Clifford the Big Red Dog opens on Wednesday (plus Tuesday early access shows), with Darby Camp as Emily Elizabeth plus John Cleese, Tony Hale, David Allen Grier and Tovah Feldshuh and others in smaller roles. It plays the Capitol, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Paramount+.

    The week's TCM anniversary screening is High Society, playing Wednesday at Fenway, South Bay, and Arsenal Yards. There's also a special presentation of Rocky IV at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards on Thursday, with Sylvester Stallone's the new cut adding "Rocky vs. Drago" to its name and forty minutes to its runtime. Veteran's Day on Thursday also brings a few days of screenings of American Sniper at Boston Common.
  • It's also about when when Oscar season usually starts, and given that The Crown evidently ran the table at the Emmys, one of the early contenders has to be Spencer, featuring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana as her marriage to Prince Charles is starting to fall apart. It's at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, The Somerville Theatre, Boston Common, Kendall Square, the Embassy. There's also The Souvenir: Part II, which comes pretty soon on the heels of the first film with Honor Swinton Byrne as a film student, playing The Coolidge, Kendall Square, and Boston Common.

    The Coolidge also has some specials: Abel Ferrara has midnight shows for the weekend, with The Driller Killer playing on 35mm film on Friday and King of New York on Saturday, that one also part of Noirvember. There's also Jennifer's Body Saturday night, with a Haus of Oni horror drag show to kick things off. The Monday Science on Screen show is WarGames, with MIT's Srini Devadas talking about cybersecurity and AI beforehand. Noirvember continues Tuesday with In a Lonely Place on film (one of Bogie's darkest and best), while Thursday's 35mm Rewind! show is Napoleon Dynamite, with after-party at Parlour
  • The Brattle Theatre kicks off the November/December calendar with two new releases. El Planeta is an oddball black-and-white entry with writer/director Amalia Ulman and her mother Ale playing an estranged family reuniting after the death of the daughter's father and getting into hijinks in "post-crisis" Spain; it has the main time slots Friday through Monday and afternoon shows Tuesday and Thursday. The late show is The Spine of Night, an old-school bloody animated fantasy in the tradition of Fire & Ice and Heavy Metal; it also gets a 7:15pm show on Tuesday with co-director Philip Gelatt on hand for a post-film Q&A.

    The DocYard's screening is on Wednesday this week, with director Wang Qiong on hand to discuss her epic-sized but intimate documentary All About My Sisters, which tracks the long process of healing for a family broken apart by China's one-child policy, whether it be official or unofficial. It will be in the The Brattlite next weekend, but for now the online room still has Taiwan's Detention.
  • Apparently the Indian film industries are planning a big re-opening for Diwali. Sooryavanshi comes from Bollywood (Hindi-speaking), starring Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn, Ranveer Singh, and Jackie Shroff in an action flick that spins off director Rohit Shetty's Singham and Simmba movies; it's at Apple Fresh Pond and Boston Common: Fresh Pond also opens Annaatthe, the new Tamil-language film starring Superstar Rajinikanth, in which he plays a man who must rescue his sister who has fallen in with bad people in Kolkata; there's also Tamil-language actioner Enemy. In Telugu, they get romance Manchi Rojulu Vachayi

    My Hero Academia: World Heroes Mission continues with subtitled and English-dubbed showtimes at Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay, and Assembly Row. There's also a special presentation of One Piece: Strong World at Fenway, South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards (dubbed on Saturday, subtitled Tuesday).
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square picks up another Netflix release, though barely - Brazilian human trafficking drama 7 Prisoners is only scheduled for one mid-afternoon matinee per day, even during the week. Another Netflix premiere, Red Notice with Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot, pops up at Fresh Pond for what looks like one day on Sunday.

    An even shorter run goes to the 2021-2022 New York Dog Film Festival, slated for one screening at the Kendall Wednesday evening.
  • The Boston Jewish Film starts its virtual program on Sunday, including a dozen or features streaming during the two week event, and even more short films. There are also live-streamed conversations on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, as well as a (sold-out) in-person screening of "Space Torah" at the Museum of Science's Omni theater on Thursday
  • This week's Bright Lights at Home feature is Not Going Quietly, which follows activist Ady Barkan as he finds that his ALS diagnosis refocuses his efforts. It's available for 24 hours starting at 7pm Wednesday (with free "seats" limited to 175), followed by a Thursday-night Q&A with director Nicholas Bruckman and activist Liz Jaff.
  • The Regent Theatre has documentary/concert film Learning to Live Together: The Return of Mad Dogs & Englishmen, which features footage of both the original Joe Cocker tour in 1970 and the Tedeschi Trucks Band-led reunion 50 years later, for two shows on Thursday.
  • The ICA has their first film program in a while with the 2021 edition of the touring program of Sundance Film Festival Short FIlm Tour playing the first of three shows Thursday night.
  • The West Newton Cinema adds The Eternals to their program of The French Dispatch, Dune, and No Time to Die. The Lexington Venue has No Time to Die and The French Dispatch Friday through Sunday, apparently sharing a single screen.
  • The Museum of Science has Friday/Saturday night screenings of Dune in the Mugar Omni Theater Dome through the end of November.
  • Cinema Salem has Last Night in Soho, Eternals, and The French Dispatch (all of which have open-caption shows Monday afternoon), plus Noirvember screenings of Out of the Past on Sunday and Thursday. No Night Light screening this Friday, apparently.

    The Luna Theater is doing "A24 Month" this November, with the studio's The Witch on Friday with Saturday featuring a masked matinee of that film, plus The Lobster, Swiss Army Man, and Moonlight. Spike Lee has Sundays this month, with BlacKkKlansman this week. There's a free-to-members "Weirdo Wednesday", and a free screening of Tenet as part of UMass Lowell's Philosophy and Film series (including post-film discussion) on Thursday.
  • More virtual "Devour the Land" show streaming from The Harvard Film Archive this week with Jonathan Perel's Corporate Responsibility (available from Friday to Monday using long shots of corporate headquarters as a background for how large corporations and the government have been complicit in human rights abuses.
  • Joe's Free Films shows a Saturday-morning screening of documentary Damrell's Fire at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum (did you know we had one of those?) with director Bruce Twickler there for Q&A.
  • 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.
Anyone know a good place to eat near the Museum of Science before a long movie like Dune on Friday? I'll be there, also catching The Eternals and The Spine of Night, likely fitting a few other movies in as well.