Friday, March 31, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 31 March 2023 - 6 April 2023

So, there's a little motion around the area's theaters - Alamo has started advertising the place in the Seaport online, and The West Newton Theatre Foundation has announced a capital campaign to buy and renovate the building by August 2024 - which, on the one hand, it kind of needs, although I hope it continues to feel like its decades old afterward. Anyway, it's a cool place, kind of hard for me to get to unless something is only playing there, in which case I'll give up a whole Saturday, but it's a pretty decent cause.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens at The Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (Including Imax Laser/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill; it features Michelle Rodriguez and Chris Pine as the leaders of a party trying to prevent a magical apocalypse, with Hugh Grant along as a roguish villain.

    Spinning Gold, a movie about the 1970s heyday of Casablanca Records (the label that discovered bands from KISS to Donna Summer to the Isley Brothers), plays West Newton, Boston Common, and South Bay.

    Biblical drama His Only Son plays Fresh Pond and Boston Common. The Journey with Andrea Bocelli, a combination of documentary and performance, plays Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row starting Sunday.

    On Wednesday, two big ones open ahead of Easter - Air, Ben Affleck's movie about Nike's decision to sign Michael Jordan, starring Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Chris Tucker, Viola Davis, Affleck, and more. It's at the Somerville, the Coolidge, Fresh Pond, Boston Common (with a preview Saturday), Kendall Square, South Bay (Saturday preview), Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill (Saturday preview). Also opening on Wednesday is The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the first big kids' movie since Christmas, plays at the Capitol (including RealD 3D), Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Kendall Square, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Laser/Dolby Cinema/RealD 3D), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    Romantic comedy One True Loves has a sneak preview on Wednesday at Boston Common.
  • Sundance prize-winner A Thousand and One opens at The Coolidge Corner Theatre (including a Masked Matinee on Sunday); Kendall Square, Boston Common, South bay, Assembly Row; it follows a mother who kidnaps her daughter from foster care and attempts to restart her life in New York City.

    The Coolidge also picks up BUFF selection Enys Men - a nifty, creepy thing set on an abandoned island off the coast of Cornwall in 1973 - although just for 10pm-ish shows Friday to Thursday and midnights Friday and Saturday. Repertory midnights are a 35mm print of Drop Dead Gorgeous on Friday and But I'm a Cheerleader (and The Room) on Saturday. Sunday features a Panorama presentation of The Right to Read, with post-film discussion. Monday's Big Screen Classic is a 35mm print of The Red Shoes, and they begin an April Anim-Mania series with Your Name on Tuesday and a 35mm print of Cowboy Bebop: The Movie on Wednesday. There's also a Cinema Jukebox presentation of High Fidelity, also on 35mm film.
  • Apple Fresh Pond has Bholaa, an Ajay Devgn-starring action flick where a recent parolee gets into even bigger trouble while trying to return home (also at Boston Common); Viduthalai Part 1, the start of a Tamil-language series about a cop investigating a separatist movement; and Gurudev Hoysala, a Kannada-language film about a cop investigating a missing officer, the latter two through Sunday. Tamil crime flick Pahtu Thala (playing through Tuesday) and Telugu action/adventure Dasara (also at Boston Common) opened Wednesday; a Maraath-language take on Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, Phulrani, and Malayalam-language zombie movie Experiment 5 play Saturday, with Malayalam-language historical drama 1921: Puzha Muthal Puzha Vare playing Sunday. Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar is held over at Boston Common.

    German (but likely dubbed) kid flick The School of Magical Animals continues at Fresh Pond.

    Zhang Yimou's Full River Red and anime hit Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba - To the Swordsmith Village continue at Boston Common, but with very little showtimes and likely getting wiped out by the new releases after Tuesday.
  • The Brattle Theatre has a special "Almost April Fools" double feature on Friday with Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, but, honestly, they've played worse.

    After that, they're home base for Wicked Queer through next Sunday. The festival actually kicks off on Friday with opening night film Big Boys at The ICA, with ArtsEmerson's Bright Screening Room also in use Saturday & Sunday - plus a Bright Lights show of All the Beauty and Bloodshed on Thursday, free screenings at Boston University on Monday and Tuesday, and shows starting at The Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday.
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes the latest recipient of the McMillan-Stewart Fellowship, Rwandan filmmaker Kivu Ruhorahoza, to present his latest feature Fathers Day on Friday and his first, Grey Matter, on Monday. In between, there are three from Mauritanian filmmaker Med Hondo: Soleil O, which has an introduction by Aboubakar Sanogo, on Saturday evening, short "Ballade aux sources" with an introduction by Annabelle Aventurin on Sunday afternoon, and the recently-restored Sarraounia with an introduction from Mahen Bonetti on Sunday evening.
  • Belmont World Film is at Fresh Pond on Monday with Luxembourg, Luxembourg, which follows two Ukrainian twins as they travel to visit their dying father in the European principality, with locally-based Ukranian director Tatyana Bronstein speaking afterward. The next film in the series, The Worst Ones, will be available to stream starting Tuesday evening before playing at Fresh Pond next Monday.
  • The Retro Replay show at Landmark Theatres Kendall Square this Tuesday is The Thin Man.
  • The Museum of Science.and the Woods Hole Film Festival have a special screening of Exposure on Thursday; the documentary follows a group of women traveling to the North Pole despite how treacherous the polar ice cap has become due to climate change.
  • The Somerville Theatre has a live show on Saturday, so screens get shuffled and there's no midnight this week.
  • The Lexington Venue is open through Sunday with The Quiet Girl, Emily, and Return to Seoul.

    The West Newton Cinema adds Dungeons & Dragons and Spinning Gold to John Wick 4, A Good Person, Women Talking, A Man Called Otto (Friday/Saturday/Tuesday), Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans (through Tuesday), Puss in Boots (Saturday/Sunday), The Whale (Sunday), and Tár (Sunday). No shows Monday this week, and Super Mario Bros. arrives Wednesday.

    The Luna Theater has Pi on Friday and Saturday, Everything Everywhere All at Once on Saturday, The Lost Boys on Sunday, and a Umass Lowell Philosophy & Film presentation of No Country for Old Men on Thursday.

    Cinema Salem is open through Monday with Dungeons & Dragons - including a special co-presentation with the The Castle, a local gaming shop, John Wick 4, No Bears (Friday/Sunday/Monday), Close, and Malum, a horror movie set in a police station about to be abandoned; Linoleum, a comedy about a children's TV host building a rocket in his garage, plays Saturday to Monday. Saturday and Sunday feature an April Fools' Marx Brothers double feature of Horse Feathers & Duck Soup, with Rocky Horror playing late Saturday.

    If you can make it out to the Liberty Tree Mall but not Salem, Malum is also playing there.
Looks like a pretty short window for D&D on the fancy screens, and it looks like I'll need to rush to catch Return to Seoul before next week's stuff wipes it out Still haven't gotten to Shazam, either, and might go for the 35mm Cowboy Bebop. Plus, hey, first Red Sox game of the year!

Friday, March 24, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 24 March 2023 - 30 March 2023

Spend your weekend underground, then watch Keanu Reeves cut a swath through the underworld!
  • Which is to say, The Boston Underground Film Festival continues through the weekend at the Brattle Theatre. Friday features New England horror shorts, Mister Organ, Enys Men, and the midnight shorts; Saturday features Moon Garden, the music video and comedy short programs, Piaffe, Sick of Myself, and Diviinity; while Sunday wraps with existential and comedy shorts, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster, and Rebel. No Saturday morning cartoon or restoration this year, but still plenty to see.

    After that, The Brattle Theatre has A Burt Bacharach Tribute with What's New Pussycat? on Monday, After the Fox and the 1967 Casino Royale on Wednesday, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Thursday, all but the latter on 35mm film. In between, Tuesday offers two free screenings: An "Elements of Cinema" presentation of Tootsie on 35mm film at 6pm, and a preview of Air - among other things, the first time Ben Affleck has directed Matt Damon, if you want to get all Cambridge about it. You can just drop into the first; the second requires an RSVP but will be oversold, so show up early (there are also early access shows at Boston Common and Assembly Row on Wednesday).
  • The biggest release this week is John Wick: Chapter 4, the new epic-sized (final?) entry in Keanu Reeves' saga of a former assassin trying to extricate himself from that underground world for good, with action stars Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Marko Zaror, and Scott Adkins among those along for the ride this time. It's at the Somerville, Jordan's Furniture, Fresh Pond, West Newton, Boston Common (Including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Kendall Square, South Bay (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Laser/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    Also opening is A Good Person, director Zach Braff's new film starring Florence Pugh as a spiraling young woman who winds up at an AA meeting with the father of her former fiancé (Morgan Freeman). It's at the Somerville, West Newton, Boston Common, Kendall Square, Assembly Row.

    Boston Common gets The Lost King, the new film from Stephen Frears that features Sally Hawkins as the amateur historian who helped find the long-missing remains of Richard III, with Steve Coogan co-writing and co-starring.

    There are sneak preview shows of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves at Boston Common, Assembly Row, and South Bay on Sunday, plus "Early Access Fan Events" at Boston Common (Dolby Cinema), South Bay (Dolby Cinema), and Assembly Row (Imax Laser) on Wednesday; How to Blow Up a Pipeline at Boston Common Monday, A Thousand and One on Tuesday and Wednesday previews at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row; Enys Men on Wednesday at Boston Common and Assembly Row. All of These Voices, a music doc about One Direction singer Louis Tomlinson starting a solo career, plays Boston Common and Arsenal Yards on Saturday. Boxing love-triangle flick Perfect Addiction plays Assembly Row on Monday and Wednesday. Documentary In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis plays Kendall Square on Monday.
  • Apple Fresh Pond picks up Bheed, a Hindi-language drama about people trying to reach home while India had locked down for three weeks at the onset of the pandemic, and Telugu drama Ranga Marthanda, while. Telugu action-comedy Das Ka Dhamki opened Wednesday. Bangala drama Dostojee (Two Friends) plays Saturday. Tamil crime flick Pahtu Thala and Telugu action/adventure Dasara open Wednesday. Until then,Hindi drama Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway and Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar are held over at Fresh Pond though Tuesday, the latter also at Boston Common.

    Fresh Pond also opens German kids' film The School of Magical Animals for matinees. Ithink it may be an English dub, although there's really nothing to indicate either way.

    Zhang Yimou's Full River Red continues at Boston Common, but to see Where the Wind Blows (released in America as "Theory of Ambitions"), a Hong Kong crime starring Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Aaron Kwok Fu-Shing, you have to head out to the Liberty Tree Mall

    Anime hit Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba - To the Swordsmith Village is still at Boston Common through Sunday. This year's Ghibli-fest starts with My Neighbor Totoro at Boston Common Sunday through Wednesday (some dubbed, some subtitled)
  • Aside from A Good Person, The Coolidge Corner Theatre also picks up "James Baldwin Abroad", a program of three short films which capture Baldwin in Istanbul, Paris, and London. Wednesday night features a special "Panorama" presentation with Baldwin's biographer and personal secretary David Leeming, among others.

    Midnights this week are Eurocomic adaptations, with Barbarella on Friday and Heavy Metal on Saturday, both on 35mm film. A 49-minute program of short films from the New York International Children's Film Festival plays Sunday morning. Tuesday's Science on Screen show is Picture a Scientist with post-film discussion, and Thursday's Big Screen Classic is Paris, Texas.
  • The Midnight Special at The Somerville Theatre this week is a new 4K restoration of Times Square, best known for a double-LP soundtrack and a supporting part, though the real stars are Trini Alvarado and Robin Johnson as punk girls in love (although that's apparently less clear in the existing cut).

    Their sister cinema in Arlington, The Capitol, picks up Return to Seoul.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts hosts the Boston Turkish Film Festival this weekend, with thriller Kerr on Friday, documentary double feature Patrida & Maffy's Jazz on Saturday, and another thriller, Burning Days, on Sunday.

    Boston Jewish Film streams three films from Sunday to Wednesday as part Israel Film Festival this week: Concerned Citizen, Matchmaker, and The Narrow Bridge.
  • The Harvard Film Archive welcomes Argentine filmmaker Andrés Di Tella for a weekend visit; he will be hosting his films Photographs and Under Construction (or, The Place I Was Born No Longer Exists) in separate shows on Friday and Diaries, a never-the-same in-person presentation, on Monday. Three of Alice Diop's documentaries play in between, with feature We on Saturday and the pairing of short "Towards Tenderness" and feature Danton's Death on Sunday, as does a pair of Chilean short films, "Unfinished Diary" and "Fragments from an Unfinished Diary", on Sunday afternoon.
  • ArtsEmerson has two non-Bright LIghts programs in the Paramount's Bright Screening Room this weekend: Local documentary Girl Talk, about young women at Newton South in the often male-dominated activity of high-school debate, plays on Friday evening. Saturday afternoon, they team with The Boston Asian-American Film Festival for "Rising Against Asian Hate: One Day in March". Both are listed as "pick your price" shows with post-film discussion.

    Bright Lights presents Framing Agnes on Thursday, a unique combination of documentary and re-enactment around sex reassignment surgery at UCLA in the mid-Twentieth Century, with director Chase Joynt on hand for a discussion afterward. Admission is free and open to the public.
  • Belmont World Film begins their annual International Film Program on Monday with A Man, with Charles Shirō Inouye, Professor of Japanese literature and Chair of the International Literary and Cultural Studies program at Tufts University, leading discussion. The first four weeks (including this one) will be at Fresh Pond, moving to Arsenal Yards later and with some films also playing online (not including this one).
  • Tuesday's Retro Replay at Landmark Theatres Kendall Square is Doctor Zhivago; be aware that it's at 4pm because it's long.
  • The Regent Theatre has "musical thriller documentary" What the Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat, and Tears, which covers the rapid rise and fall of the band from headlining Woodstock to an Eastern European tour in 1970, from Tuesday to Thursday. Tuesday's show features band member Fred Lipsius in person, performing live before the film and doing a Q&A afterward.
  • Joe's Free Films doesn't have outdoor screenings yet, but does show that Northeastern University students are putting on a North by Northeastern Film Festival on campus featuring student films and an alumni feature, while German film Toubab at the Goethe-Institut on Wednesday (with English subtitles).
  • The Lexington Venue is open through Sunday with The Quiet Girl and Return to Seoul.

    The West Newton Cinema adds A Good Person and John Wick 4 to Shazam 2, Inside, Four Winters (Friday/Saturday), Women Talking, A Man Called Otto (Friday/Saturday/Wednesday), Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans (no show Thursday), Puss in Boots (Saturday/Sunday), and Tár (Tuesday/Thursday). No shows Monday this week.

    The Luna Theater has Everything Everywhere All at Once on Friday and Saturday evenings, Little Shop of Horrors on Saturday, William Castle's Strait-Jacket on Sunday, and a Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem is open through Monday with Scream VI and John Wick: Chapter 4.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, West Newton, the Capitol and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
Living at the Brattle for BUFF until Sunday, then hopefully catching John Wick, Shazam, and Return to Seoul afterward. I'm trying to figure out how to head out to Where the Wind Blows, but directions for getting back home seem to involve "take the 3am bus to the airport…", so I'm going to cross my fingers and futilely hope for a second weekend on that one.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Happy (Belated) St. Patrick's Day: The Quiet Girl and Unwelcome

I've mentioned that there isn't an Irish Film Festival around Saint Patrick's Day this year, although the group isn't defunct - they recently refreshed their website a bit and hosted the director of The Quiet Girl for a preview show at the Coolidge a few days before it opened officially. They only had a mini-festival in 2019, then when the pandemic hit, there was a pop-up drive-in November 2020, a virtual thing in 2021, and nothing in 2022. I hope they weren't just completely flattened by the pandemic and are able to regroup for something later this year or next.

At any rate, I'm going to guess that both The Quiet Girl and Unwelcome both got a mid-March release so that they'd be around if you felt like doing something Irish on Saint Patrick's Day, although the latter had its run end the night before. IFC has kind of Vasily been getting things into theaters for a week with late shows just before hitting VOD. I'm amused that AMC will open one of those four days before it is available to stream but won't play anything by Netflix (aside from the Glass Onion truce). There must be some awfully bad blood there.

Anyway, this is certainly more my speed than getting drunk or watching a parade when it's barely above freezing!

An Cailín Ciúine (The Quiet Girl)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 17 Match 2023 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run; laser DCP)

Catherine Clinch is a heck of a young actress to find when you're casting a movie named "The Quiet Girl"; she's got a terrifically expressive face and certainly seems to know how to hold herself to add the right feeling to a scene. Get the wrong little girl and the movie is forgotten, but with the right one it is sublime.

Clinch plays Cáit, the fourth of five daughters with another baby on the way, straining an already-poor family with a father (Michael Patric) that's something of a no-account. At eight or nine, she's still wetting the bed and behind other girls her age in school, which leads her to being shy and ostracized. It feels like she's being exiled when she's sent to stay with her mother's cousin Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley) and her husband Seán (Andrew Benett) for the summer, but perhaps she'll start to blossom with a bit more individual attention. Still, while Eibhlin says there are no secrets in their house, that doesn't mean she's volunteering everything.

Writer/director Colm Bairéad (adapting a story by Claire Keegan) doesn't give any particular reason why Cáit seems to find some things harder than her sisters and classmates or otherwise make her a puzzle to be solved. Some kids (and people of all ages, really) just don't have things come as easily, and there's not a lot of room in the world to give them the extra help they need. This must often baffle parents of large families, but Bairéad doesn't dwell on it, quietly letting Cáit blossom into a likably ordinary girl, capturing how this can be a victory without making Cáit look like a hidden prodigy or handicapped. It's a tricky balance.

A big part of that is the chemistry between the central trio. Carrie Crowley's Eibhlin is patient without being indulgent, not quite hiding how much she wants this, at one point collapsing as quietly as she possibly can to try and prevent Cáit from seeing her; Andrew Bennet has Seán soften quickly. They've got an easy familiarity that speaks to a long marriage, and the dynamic where she's more obviously warm but he's probably the bigger softie rings true. Clinch is quiet, as the title says, but Bairéad doesn't have her overdo that, trusting her to be nervous or deep in thought, and she's able to get words out with the sort of nervous uncertainty that feels true to life. Other family members and neighbors are scattered around them, with Michael Patric especially noteworthy as Cáit's da, walking the line between how the audience sees him as a reprobate but just warm enough to see how Cáit would want his attention.

It all takes place sometime in the second half of the Twentieth Century, with Bairéad being general with period but quite keen at how he represents class: Cáit is initially seen in an open field and a school where the uniforms flatten who has money and who doesn't, and her home is initially seen as maybe uncomfortably cozy, at least until she gets to the Cinnsealachs', where the big, clean house is almost overwhelming. He hides just how beat up the family car is. The film does a good job of keeping things low-key despite being in plain sight until it needs to be important.

Like its title character, The Quiet Girl is quiet and fragile-seeming as a film but surprisingly solid when you give it a chance. It's exactly what it aims to be.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 Match 2023 in AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run; DCP)

I expected a bit more from Unwelcome; director and co-writer Jon Wright made a genuinely terrific Irish monster movie in Grabbers, and this seemed like it should be in roughly the same wheelhouse. Instead, it makes me wonder if he's better off as a director-for-hire - previous Robot Overlords also had trouble tapping into the vein that would make its high concept work.

This one introduces the audience to couple Maya (Hannah John-Kamen) and Jamie (Douglas Booth) in a rough London neighborhood, where they suffer a home invasion on the night they find out Maya is pregnant with their first child. When she's nearly to term, Jamie's grandmother passes, leaving him a house in a small Irish town. There are, of course, downsides: For one, a giant hole in the roof in the master bedroom, with sketchy "Daddy" Whelan (Colm Meaney) and his clan the only contractors available on short notice; for another, family friend Maeve (Niamh Cusack) says that Gramma has been leaving food for the fair folk for decades. She offers to take on that job, but Maya and Jamie are obviously wary of someone having access to their property. But be warned - the "redcaps" are not the Disneyfied pixies of Darby O'Gill and the Little People, but something far more sinister.

Give the filmmakers this - when your movie needs a dirtbag who can't believe he's being attacked by fookin' leprechauns, you really can't do better than Colm Meaney, a beloved character actor who hits just the exact level of how much the working-class Daddy should be weird or a jackass or cruel in a given scene. Hannah John-Kamen brings action chops while still playing nervous, and she has the right sort of chemistry with Douglas Booth, feeling like they've built a good relationship but are nevertheless wobbly due to events.

The filmmakers could do a whole lot better in other areas, though. The movie leans as hard into "this horror movie is really about trauma" as possible without detouring into A24-ville, but really doesn't give the characters a chance to do anything with it, or with how Maya & Jamie get targeted as outsiders in both urban London and rural Ireland. It feels like there are four or five things the filmmakers wanted to do and none really settled into the bones of the movie, leading to a finale that is a mess of different tones capped off by pure 'where did that come from?" The nastiness builds up but the whole thing gets unbalanced, with Maya and Jaime often separated and getting little chance to take control of the movie as the redcaps and Whelan clan form the other sides of a violent triangle.

On the other hand, when it gets into goofy 1980s territory - which happens the second a "redcap" just wanders into the house with a shopping bag and the filmmakers seemingly want you to believe that it's a short guy in a rubber mask as much as a goblin - it's gloriously and violently loopy in ways that a more reasonable horror movie just can't manage. It seems like the weirdest combination of leprechaun-sized people in latex, stunt performers composited in at half height, and CGI enhancement, and I honestly don't think I'd have enjoyed a movie that made it look more real at all.

It doesn't really work, but at its best it doesn't really work in the way that a certain pedigree of B movies seemingly don't work.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 17 March 2023 - 23 March 2023

Hey, the Boston Underground Film Festival starts this week! Surprisingly, the Boston Irish Film Festival doesn't, as they were grabbing the same weekend for some time, then committed to staying out of each other's way, then, well, 2020.
  • Boston Underground Film Festival opens at the Brattle Theatre on Wednesday, with The Unheard kicking things off filmmakers in attendance, followed by Nightsiren. Stand By for Failure: A Documentary About Negativeland, Spaghetti Junction, and Smoking Causes Coughing play Thursday, and the festival continues through next Sunday.

    Before the festival, The Brattle Theatre has Pacification, Albert Serra's thriller about a French diplomat in Tahiti, from Friday to Tuesday. They also join RP Fest for "Some Problems of Domestication: Short Films by Alison Folland" on Sunday afternoon, with Folland and Jennifer Montgomery on-hand for a Q&A afterward.
  • The latest entry in DC's superhero movie universe (which may or may not be reset at some point soon) is Shazam! Fury of the Gods, with Zachary Levy returning as the superhero alter-ego of teen Billy Batson, this time facing off against a pair of demigods (Helen Mirren & Lucy Liu) who feel Billy's foster family has usurped their powers. It's at The Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), West Newton, Boston Common (including Imax/Dolby Cinema), Kendall Square, South Bay (including Imax/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    This month's senior comedy is Moving On, with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as old friends who resolve to murder a man who wronged them (Malcolm McDowell) decades ago. It's at Boston Common.

    In the wake of their Oscar wins, Everything Everywhere All at Once returns to Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row (it's been at Kendall Square and West Newton), while The Whale is back at Boston Common.

    Music documentary Louis Tomlinson: All of Those Voices plays Boston Common and Arsenal Yards on Wednesday; Godzilla: Tokyo SOS plays Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row on Wednesday. There's an "investor connect" preview of Dungeons & Dragons at Boston Common on Wednesday.
  • Inside opens at Landmark Theatres Kendall Square, the Capitol, West Newton, and Boston Common, with Willem Dafoe as an art thief who finds himself trapped in a penthouse when he triggers its security system but does not appear to alert anyone to his presence.

    Tuesday's Retro Replay at the Kendall is Touch of Evil.
  • The latest from Zhang Yimou - he does seem to crank them out quickly these days - is Full River Red, arriving at Boston Common a couple months after its Lunar New Year opening in China. It's a dark comedy about a bureaucrat trying to displace a corrupt minister in the middle of a diplomatic mission.

    Apple Fresh Pond opens Hindi dramas Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway and Zwigato, Telugu drama Phalana Abbayi Phalana Ammayi, Tamil thriller Kannai Nambathey, and crime epic Kabzaa on Friday. Telugu action-comedy Das Ka Dhamki opens Wednesday.

    Bangledeshi action movie Shonibar Bikel (aka Saturday Afternoon) has an encore show Friday night, with Pathaan and Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar held over at Fresh Pond, the latter also at Boston Common.

    Anime hit Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba - To the Swordsmith Village continues at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row; check showtimes for whether they are dubbed or subtitled. Vietnamese drama Nha Ba Nu ("The House of No Man") continues at South Bay.
  • Repertory programs at The Coolidge Corner Theatre start with Boston Irish midnights - 35mm prints of Blown Away on Friday and The Town on Saturday. There's a masked matinee of The Quiet Girl on Saturday morning, , and a Goethe-Institut presentation of Talking About the Weather on Sunday. Monday has a "Sounds of Silence" Buster Keaton double feature with Jeff Rapsis accompanying The Navigator & One Week. Claire Denis shows continue with 35mm prints of 35 Shots of Rum on Tuesday and White Material on Wednesday. Thursday's Big Screen Classic is Hoop Dreams. The Coolidge and CinemaSalem are also the last holdouts for the Oscar Shorts now that the awards have been presented.
  • The Somerville Theatre has a 35mm print of The Craft for Saturday's midnight special. They also have the Cyclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Festival on Monday evening. There's also a special screening of Ithaka, a documentary about the fight to free Julian Assange, on Wednesday, with his father and brother (John and Gabriel Shipton) in attendance.

    Upstairs at The Crystal Ballroom, the Psychedelic Cinema Orchestra will be accompanying South, the 1919 documentary on Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition, on Sunday afternoon.
  • Boston Jewish Film has the in-person portion of their Israel Film Festival this week, with The Artist's Daughter and Valeria Is Getting Married at The Museum of Fine Arts on Sunday, I Am Not at West Newton on Tuesday, and America at the Coolidge on Thursday; a streaming portion will begin the next weekend.

    The Boston Baltic Film Festival has a dozen films streaming online through the 19th.

    GlobeDocs will be hosting a Zoom discussion of the documentary Storming Caesars Palace on Monday; follow this link to learn how to stream it ahead of time.
  • The Harvard Film Archive re-opens after spring break on Monday with artist Youjin Moon in person to present a collection of short films, "Inner and Outer Space".
  • Bright Lights returns to the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount on Thursday with Tiktok, Boom. Director Shalini Kantayya will be on-hand afterward to discuss the documentary on the rise and inner workings of the popular social media network. Admission is free and open to the public.
  • The Museum of Science adds "Serengeti" to its Imax rotation, joining "Everest" and "Ancient Caves".
  • The Lexington Venue is open through Sunday with The Quiet Girl, Living, and Magic Mike's Last Dance.

    The West Newton Cinema adds Shazam 2 and Inside to Eo (Sunday), Four Winters (Saturday/Sunday), Women Talking, A Man Called Otto, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans (no show Thursday), The Banshees of Inisherin, Puss in Boots (Saturday/Sunday), and Tár. No shows Monday this week.

    The Luna Theater has The Whale on Friday, Ghost in the Shell on Saturday, "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" on Sunday, and a Weirdo Wednesday show.

    Cinema Salem is open through Monday with the Oscar Shorts, Scream VI, The Quiet Girl, and Champions.

    If you can make it out to Dedham, comedy A Snowy Day in Oakland plays at the Showcase.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, West Newton, the Capitol and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
Can I cram in Shazam 2, "South", Full River Red, The Quiet Girl, and The Whale in before BUFF? I am certainly going to try!

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Silents, Please: Annie Laurie and Cinderella (1914)

A couple of these ago, accompanist Jeff Raising mentioned that some hard-to-find silent or other wound up being so good that there ought to be a Kickstarter to get it on disc. I don't think it was this one, which recently went live, but I backed it anyway, amused that the transfer being used was almost certainly struck from the same print that played the Somerville (though not quite as much of an odd connection as wondering if AGFA used the same print for Thrilling Bloody Sword that ran at the Coolidge 20 years ago, also typed a the only one in existence).

I mention this because both of these films could probably use a campaign as well - both are safely in the public domain, the Library of Congress has prints worth a transfer, and they're fun, on top of apparently not being available at all. Protectionist David Kornfeld did mention that a friend of his was working on the Technicolor section at the end, so maybe something is already in the works.

The 1914 version of Cinderella was a special kind of trip itself, as the source for this print was an archive in the Netherlands, which meant all the inequities were in Dutch. Surprisingly, this is not the first time I've had to fend for myself with something in that language at the Somerville (one of those years that the Sci-Fi Festival took place in the middle of a blizzard, things got weird), and it was an amusing demonstration of just how much you can get out of a decently-made movie without the words, especially if the story is familiar

We wound up a bit rushed, because Cocaine Bear had the screen right after, and I kind of how some folks stayed around. Anyway, if you're someone who crowdfunds silent movie Blus, Annie Laurie is worth checking out.

Annie Laurie

* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 Match 2023 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents, Please!; 35mm with accompaniment)

There's something rather amusing about a silent movie whose opening titles boast of it being based upon a well-known song: First, it's a silent film, so including it is tricky (I don't know if Jeff made it part of the soundtrack, or if the lyrics with which the title character is serenaded at one point would have had audiences in 1927 singing along); second, well, it's been almost a century and "Annie Laurie" is not something the average person would be expected to know. That makes this film an odd sort of test as to whether something can exist beyond its intended context, and it does: It's a fun historical drama on its own merits.

As it opens, the MacDonald and Campbell clans have been feuding for decades; the former are Highlanders in the rugged mountains while the latter live more comfortably on the ground, with ties to London. When a MacDonald is killed, they decide to raid the Campbells with the chieftain's son Ian (Norman Kerry) and his brother Alistair (Joseph Striker) leading the way. The Campbell chieftain (Brandon Hurst) is holding a party at the time, hosting Sir Robert Laurie (David Torrence) and his daughter Annie (Lillian Gish); daughter Enid Campbell (Patricia Avery) is Annie's best friend and son Donald (Creighton Hale) has designs on marrying her, though Annie isn't quite so enamored. Enid is kidnapped in the raid, but apparently falls for Alistair, and Robert's later attempts to broker peace have the Campbells scheming to crush the MacDonalds once and for all, but also introduces Annie to Ian, as the latter escorts her to visit Enid.

Does the whirlwind, offscreen courtship between Enid and Alistair that results in an awful quick pregnancy kind of sink to high heaven? Yeah, absolutely, but you kind of have to roll with it and a number of other plot devices that keep the story rolling on to its next destination without having to to compromise who any of these characters are at their core throughout. The writers (all or mostly women, it should be noted) are better than many about not having Annie or Enid swoon for their partners due to them being such masterful creeps, and nobody really comes across as particularly dumb. Folks are what they are, including being prideful enough to court disaster. This isn't about subversion or irony.

Mostly, it's about Lillian Gish being 75% doe-eyed ingenue and 25% very smart and sensible - at least here, she's very much from the same mold that would latter cast the likes of Amanda Seyfried and Anya Taylor-Joy - and surrounded by appealing beefcake, with Norman Kerry sporting bare-chested looks over his kilt and a swashbuckler's mustache while Creighton Hale's Donald does a nice job of leveling up from obnoxious to nasty without being a real sneering cliché.

It's a nice-looking movie, too; MGM appears to have spent a little money on it and the crew does a fine job of making settings that really aren't that expansive feel like they have some grandeur to them. Director John S. Robertson handles the action well, too - even if it's not bloody like a modern take on the same story would be, he's got a knack for cranking up the intensity when the swords come out and making what could seem like a low-key action climax (Annie scaling a cliff to light a signal fire) impressively tense.

Somewhat surprisingly, the two-strip Technicolor epilogue doesn't kick in until after that big set-piece; some actual red fire might have popped. Of course, this isn't really an action/adventure at its heart so much as a romantic historical drama, and a good one. Hopefully somebody is working on making it more available, now that it's in the public domain and that can be done without getting a studio involved.

Cinderella (1914)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 Match 2023 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents, Please!; 35mm with accompaniment)

This is not the oldest "Cinderella" film - Georges Méliès did two, and there were several other shorts - but at 52 minutes, this was the one closest to what we'd think of as a feature, rather than something rushing through the story in less than one reel. It's got some room to do a little more than just hit all the familiar beats and move on, although there's a fair amount of that.

It would be another generation or two before Disney's version, which would become the de facto standard, but it's interesting to see how, before that, this adaptation is pretty darn grimy at times: Real mice and rats, with Cinderella quite casual about having traps full of them, instead of something cutesy, even though there is some rudimentary stop-motion going on at times, and the fact that the stepsisters and stepmother aren't looking that prosperous makes their treating her as a servant potentially more cruel, like they just need someone beneath them. There are steps to be run up and down, but the "palace" and ballroom are modest. It was mostly down to practical considerations, I imagine, but the scale works for it.

Mary Pickford makes a likable-enough Cinderella, giving her enough energy that this character needing to be impossibly decent much of the time works well enough. Prince Charming is played by her real-life husband Owen Moore, and they play off each other fairly well. There's playfulness in the fairies and other magical beings.

I can't say whether the intertitles and dialog was any good - for whatever reason, the print that the Library of Congress has is in Dutch - but it really doesn't need to be. It's Cinderella, you know the drill, and Pickford is a good enough choice for the role that it works.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Peter Greenaway x 4: The Draughtsman's Contract, A Zed & Two Noughts, The Belly of an Architect, and Drowning by Numbers

Peter Greenaway is a filmmaker who has kind of been at the edge of my awareness for a while: I probably didn't catch his name when The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover was raising eyebrows for getting into some mainstream theaters despite its NC-17 rating, but when Prospero's Books came out while I was taking my second Shakespeare class in high school, I was mildly intrigued. I'd hear about his new films in the 1990s but chances to see them in either Worcester, MA or Portland, ME were scant, and I was kind of growing into someone who liked movies and dug deeper for stuff to see but didn't necessarily stray that far from the mainstream, so as his releases became harder to see, they never really crossed my path.

Truth be told, I sort of assumed he had died or retired; when he was middle-aged and in his prime, my impression was of someone older; he was the sort of art-house filmmaker who was described in academic terms, rather than as someone getting at the guts of a character's emotions. Looking at his twenty-first century filmography, he seems to have leaned into that harder, and his more recent have had runs befitting a that sort of profile.

But as I've grown to (and past) the age where he made these first four films, I've hopefully become more open to their like, and the Brattle playing them figured like a good time to dive in - if Draughtsman's Contract didn't intrigue me, I could always bail. Amusingly, I apparently did catch two of them there almost exactly 15 years earlier, and found myself not particularly impressed but also acknowledging that I was tired and these movies demand alertness. On a second go-round, I liked both better, although they still both hit me in basically the same way.

It's interesting to see them now. I tend to scoff at the who "you couldn't make a film like that today" line, because you can make all sorts of films today, and the trick is getting them distributed, and that's the key - I don't know that there are obvious places for films this academic and eccentric and sexual to get played. Fewer movies take up more screens at the multiplexes, specialty houses are playing safer material post-pandemic, both because audiences are sparser and the supply appears to be thinner, and there's less advertising and broadly-consumed arts coverage to maybe pique someone's interest. These movies are not going to be on the front page of any streaming service but MUBI or maybe Kino Now, and you don't have MUBI unless you're already all-in on this sort of thing. There just seem to be fewer chances to make the jump to this sort of fare if you're middlebrow but open to something odd. Which happens as you get older, one hopes.

One thing that struck me as I watched them was just how much nudity and sex there was. There's been a thing going around online about how today's kids are prudes who don't see how sex scenes are ever necessary, and I don't know how much truth there really is to it - the algorithms pick up the stuff that upsets people and amplifies it, so something that's not really a big deal gets treated like it is - but Greenaway is certainly positioning sex as a central part of his romantic and other relationships, not as a shameful urge but a natural one, and when you consider how central the character' bodies are to A Zed and Two Noughts and The Belly of an Architect, not showing them in their entirety would seem to be avoiding something crucial.

I suspect that part of the issue with the prudishness comes from some of the same roots as films like Greenaway not getting distribution - there's not nearly so much mainstream-overlapping space that talks about film and art as much more than a plot-delivery device, at least as a fraction of what one will accidentally stumble upon, and it's not just the young: Folks my age aren't putting ourselves in places to expose ourselves to things like Greenaway, because we can just pull in the talk and material that we know aligns with our interests and be sated. I sometimes feel like I should be moving on from some of the genre material I love, but instead I sometimes find myself sinking deeper into it, because there's just so much accessible.

I'm glad to see that I'm better able to get my head around some of this material at 49 than I was at 34, although there are definitely points where I found myself having the same reaction that I had to Wild at Heart last year: Disbelief that this sort of material is often called boring, because it's often the opposite of that, filled with emotion and intensity that conventional narratives lack - but also often so idiosyncratic that it it loses you. Greenaway is definitely in that category for me. I'll certainly try to catch his films when they play near me more often… And I'm certainly interested in the nifty new 4K disc of Drowning By Numbers that's coming out, if only so I can find all 100.

The Draughtsman's Contract

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2023 in the Brattle Theatre (Greenaway x4, DCP)

I had the feeling, going into the Brattle'a short Greenaway series, that he was going to be very much my thing or something where I would lose patience after ten minutes, and, well, I did not lose patience with The Draughtsman's Contract this time around. This isn't entirely my thing, but it's a combination of wit, absurdity, and murder that I quite enjoyed.

Oh, and fine art, but I'm not nearly so strong in that area. This is, I suspect, a richer film for those who are, and who recognize the allegorical devices Mr. Neville is accused of using, implied narratives lost to those of us not familiar with the tropes and symbolism. That being tantalizingly out of each is not actually a problem, though, as the surface pleasures of Greenaway's composition and the character's draftsmanship are plenty, and really delightful costume design that says all it needs to about the characters' various forms of absurdity right first sight. I found myself delighted and intrigued by scenes where the lighting wasn't perfect - a foggy day gave the film a more painterly feel and played into the plot, while a late scene where the sun apparently drifts behind clouds and out of shadow highlights the ground shifting beneath its subjects' feet.

I must admit, for as much as I enjoyed the surreal nature of the film, it's a bit of an odd choice to set up a murder mystery that only sort of plays out, especially with the background gag of a "statue" that hands around and gets up to mischief (or may be the missing-presumed-dead Lord of the Major) who one would think would be a much a potentially dangerous witness as Anthony Higgins's title character. It's perhaps not that important - Greenaway mostly seems content to talk about the relationships between gentry, the artisans who create pedigree prestige for their money, and the women in between, all sure that they're the ones bringing something of value to these places and pushing the limits of their power until it turns into physical violence. How the puzzle is solved is not actually that important, even if it would have made the movie easier to digest.

A Zed and Two Noughts

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 27 February 2023 in the Brattle Theatre (Greenaway x4, DCP)

I wonder if watching this a third time would allow me to recognize the exact moment that things got smothered under weird obsession to the film's detriment. There's something raw and tragic about the start, as its twin botanists flail in the wake of the sudden, violent deaths of their wives and maiming of the women's friends, but as time passes, and the distinctly different twins converge, they become dull and blandly eccentric, their obsession with decay no longer feeling connected to their wives' deaths but just a mechanism for Greenaway to indulge in gnarly time lapses and toss out an increasingly bizarre set of ideas that don't really go anywhere. Even the secondary characters, who seemed weird but human when introduced, start to feel like props.

The initial premise and Greenaway's off-kilter ideas on where to go with it are more than enough to carry the film through, especially when he's staging scenes in the midst soaps hospital room ever that see him obsessing on symmetry in his composition around an amputee character who is, necessarily, not so, or digging into educational films about the origins of life but having folks miss the point that it's chaos by trying to find fate or order. The more abstract he gets, the less interesting the movie gets, and by the end he's lost a lot of what he started with.

This is the point when one starts to realize that he's exceptionally utilitarian where death is involved in his dark comedy. It's an easy way to kick things off or be done with them - you don't really have to worry about following any story threads past that point - but eventually it's so much a plot device that one can't really feel the loss, grief, and madness that comes as a result.

The Belly of an Architect

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 February 2023 in the Brattle Theatre (Greenaway x4, 35mm)

Does Peter Greenaway take advantage of being able to point a camera in just about any direction in Rome and get a great background for a film about an architect having a breakdown? Yes, absolutely, to the point where I almost wish the architecture were more obviously central to the storytelling. There's some vague talk about how both main character Stourley Kracklite and his idol Étienne-Louis Boullée are avant-garde for their times but it often seems just a bit tossed off - although, as tends to be the case with Greenaway, he could just be integrating it more matter-of-factly than someone with my lack of expertise could notice.

Whatever the result, though, it's a terrific piece for Brian Dennehy. Dennehy was a guy who always seemed to slot in as a character who, even if they've climbed a ladder, was a flannel-wearing working-class guy to start and still has a lot of that in him, but he half-channels Orson Welles as Kracklite, intellectual arrogance pushing out his rough-hewn charm (though not completely). The film is built around his character's illness, and it rings truer than a lot of movies where the filmmakers use more makeup effects to highlight deterioration or have the actors playing to the rafters. Dennehy nails how one can get used to that sort of stomach pain until it's obviously much worse than initially, though in a way that's both casually familiar and alarming. He and Chloe Webb are similarly excellent showing this May-December coupling fraying to the point of completely dissolving over a period of months; they and Greenaway really excel at finding the distance that comes naturally from their age gap and how it will suddenly broaden under these circumstances.

It's an unusually solid, relatable core for a Greenaway film, if the other two I saw that week are indicative of his work, although as with those, it eventually feels a bit like the filmmaker is content to explore the ideas which piqued his curiosity and build parallels between them but not terribly interested in the story as a thing to come to a conclusion that everything has been driving toward, rather than a point where the sequence of events doesn't continue. For good or ill, it's anti-cathartic, refusing to assign more universal meaning to these stories of decidedly individual characters. It's dramatic, at least.

Drowning by Numbers

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 March 2023 in the Brattle Theatre (Greenaway x4, DCP)

Here, Greenaway is playful in a way that seems designed to call attention to that playfulness first and foremost, perhaps to change one's thought process about how one watches such a thing. Even if one is not the sort who tends to really focus on movies until doing an Easter Egg hunt the second or third time through, the consecutive numbers can't help but grab your notice, and then you're scouring the screen, and maybe taking in more than you're used to. Art-house training wheels, in a way.

There is nevertheless a point when you're watching for the next number in sequence when maybe you start to wonder if you should be contemplating how willing this group is to murder. Or, at least, to drown their husbands, as they seem to consider it a lesser offense, as if the fact that these men are not exactly far from dying of their own carelessness means that it's not so bad for their frustrated wives to give them each a little push. One is inclined to sympathize with these women, after all - played by Joan Plowright, Julliet Stevenson and Joely Richardson, and all sharing the name Cissie Colpitts (sure, run worth a stages of life thing if you want to), they're a spectrum from sensible to purely sensual, wittier than their men and not betraying anyone until safely widowed they banter among themselves and with everyone else on a manner that's genial without being mannered. It's only as the people start point that the ruthlessness that enables them to act on their discontent really reveals itself, and things start to get uncomfortable.

Greenaway and his crew build the film as chaotic whimsy covered by a veneer of structure; this seaside town is full of clutter, with coroner Madgett (Bernard Hill) and son Smut (Jason Edwards) handling plentiful animal carcasses coming up with rules for games that don't really do much to impose order. The numbers imply fate, but it's an illusion.

For all that Drowning by Numbers is sexy and funny throughout, it's a grim thing, by the end. We're told there's no point in counting past 100 and there isn't, with the games empty distractions and all love ultimately tragic. Neither earthy plantings, cool symmetry, nor unhoused freedom protects one from things turning sour, even if one has had plenty of fun on the way.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 10 March 2023 - 16 March 2023

Happy "Geez, are the Oscars this Sunday? I had better catch up!" weekend to all who celebrate.
  • The weekend's new releases aren't exactly dumped, but they're also not expected to upstage the ceremony, either. 65, for instance, features Adam Driver as a colony-ship pilot who winds up going through a wormhole and having to deal with dinosaurs as he tries to survive on a prehistoric Earth. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill. Oddly, the movie getting most of the premium screens and 3D shows is Scream VI, which comes out barely a year after #5, some old-school slasher turnaround considering that this series is more reliant on returning cast than other similar series, although Courtney Cox is the last holdover from the first, meeting up with prior targets and new blood in New York. It's at the Somerville, Fresh Pond (including 3D), Boston Common (including RealD 3D/Dolby Cinema), Kendall Square, South Bay (including Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including RealD 3D/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill (including RealD 3D).

    Bobby Farrelly reunites with Woody Harrelson for Champions, playing a coach saddled with a team of people with intellectual disabilities who finds there's more potential there than expected (worth noting that despite specializing in crass comedies, the Farrellys have always been earnest advocates for the disabled). It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Kendall Square, South Bay, Assembly Row, Arsenal Yards, and Chestnut Hill.

    Fresh Pond opens The Magic Flute, a German-produced family film that re-imagines Mozart's opera as a Harry Potter-style adventure, with Amadeus's F. Murray Abraham amusingly cast as one of the teachers at "Mozart Academy". The Amazing Maurice is also doing a really impressive job of sticking around there.

    Irish horror movie Unwelcome, from Grabbers director Jon Wright and featuring Hanna John-Kamen, Douglas Booth, and Colm Meaney in a couple-goes-to-rural-Ireland-and-discovers-its-murderous-folklore scenario, plays 10pm shows at Boston Common.

    Boston Common also has the non-Netflix Best Picture nominees over the weekend. Darren Aranofsky's debut film Pi, shot on exceptionally grainy stock, gets an Imax blow-up and post-film QA broadcast in Imax at Boston Common for Tuesday as a "Pi Day" special.
  • Apple Fresh Pond opens Agilan a Tamil-language gangster flick about a crane operator who is also the smuggler known as the "King of the Indian Ocean", Thuramukham ("The Harbor"), a dramatic action movie about protests Maheshum Marutiyum, and a Malayalam romantic comedy set in 1983 described as a love triangle between a man, a woman, and his car. Bangledeshi action movie Shonibar Bikel, aka Saturday Afternoon, also opens; it appears to have been made three years ago, when the real-life attack that inspired it was much more recent, and waited for a post-pandemic release date.

    Bollywood romantic comedy Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar opened Wednesday at Fresh Pond and Boston Common; Hindi-language action flick Pathaan continues to hang around at Fresh Pond. Boston Common has RRR "fan celebration" shows through Wednesday (at least).

    Anime hit Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba - To the Swordsmith Village continues at Boston Common, South Bay, Kendall Square, and Assembly Row; check showtimes for whether they are dubbed or subtitled. Vietnamese drama Nha Ba Nu ("The House of No Man") continues at South Bay.
  • The Brattle Theatre has All That Breathes, an Oscar-nominated documentary about brothers running a makeshift bird hospital to aid the black kites being choked by New Delhi's pollution, through Sunday. They also get their hand on a 35mm print of Skinamarink, which gets the last show of the day (which means 4pm on Sunday due to the theater's Oscar party).

    After that they have another quick rep series based upon a new restoration, this one focusing on Hou Hsiao-Hsien: Flowers of Shanghai plays Monday, the cleaned-up Millennium Mambo (which did the good work of introducing the wider world to Shu Qi) on Tuesday & Wednesday, and Assassin on Thursday
  • Return to Seoul picks up showtimes at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, though mainly on the smaller screens.

    As last weekend's midnight shows anticipated Oscars for Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger still hanging around!), this weekend's are betting on Brendan Fraser, with Airheads on Friday and Monkeybone on Saturday, both on 35mm film. If you don't plan to watch the Oscars, or do anything else Sunday, their annual Lord of the Rings marathon is all Extended Editions this year, starting at 11am and finishing at 12:30am with tea and dinner breaks in between. Monday's Big Screen Classic is All About Eve, with Boston Globe critic Odie Henderson offering a pre-film seminar. There's an Open Screen on Tuesday, as two Claire Denis films: Beau Travail on Tuesday and a 35mm print of Trouble Every Day on Wednesday. Thursday's Cinema Jukebox show is School of Rock on 35mm.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square mostly opens the same films as the mainstream multiplexes, and their David Lean throwback, Lawrence of Arabia, plays at 4pm on Thursday rather than the usual evening slot.
  • The Somerville Theatre picks up The Quiet Girl as well as Scream VI. Friday's midnight special is Death Becomes Her. Note that New Found Glory have a concert in the main room on Thursday, which will mess with times and crowd the lobby.

    The Oscar Shorts go up the road from the Somerville to The Capitol; the various programs are also playing at the Coolidge, the Kendall, CinemaSalem, and Luna Lowell.
  • The Boston Baltic Film Festival has a dozen films streaming online through the 19th.

    Boston Underground Film Festival has announced their lineup, with festival passes available, and Boston Jewish Film has done the same for their Israeli Film Festival. It doesn't look like we're getting an Irish Film Festival this March, despite them sponsoring a The Quiet Girl Q&A a couple weeks back; hopefully that's on tap for later in the year to avoid the logjam.
  • Last weekend for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania on the dome at The Museum of Science!
  • The Lexington Venue is open through Sunday with The Quiet Girl, Living, and Cocaine Bear.

    The West Newton Cinema brings back Eo alongside Return to Seoul, Cocaine Bear, Four Winters, Women Talking, A Man Called Otto (no show Tuesday/Thursday), Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans (no show Thursday), Aftersun (Saturday/Sunday), The Banshees of Inisherin, Puss in Boots (Saturday/Sunday), and Tár. No shows Monday this week.

    The Luna Theater has Close on Friday, The Whale Saturday and Thursday, and all three Oscar shorts programs on Saturday and Sunday. Weirdo Wednesday in between.

    Cinema Salem is open through Monday with the Oscar Shorts, Scream VI, The Quiet GIrl, and Champions. The Sting plays Saturday & Sunday afternoons, and VideoCoven has a double feature of the first two Slumber Party Massacre movies on Thursday.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, West Newton, the Capitol and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
Still got some Oscar Shorts to catch up on, along with The Quiet Girl and Return to Seoul. I'm also looking forward to 64 and Unwelcome, and may try to do Skinamarink and Hou Hsiao-Hsien at the Brattle.

Friday, March 03, 2023

Next Week in Tickets: Films playing Boston 3 March 2023 - 9 March 2023

Happy "Geez, are the Oscars next week? I had better catch up!" week to all who celebrate.
  • Creed III sees star Michael B. Jordan going behind the camera as director and facing a onetime-friend-turned-rival played by Jonathan Majors inside and outside the ring, and without Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa as a mentor. It's at the Capitol, Fresh Pond, Jordan's Furniture (Imax), Boston Common (including Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Kendall Square, South Bay (inlcuding Imax Xenon/Dolby Cinema), Assembly Row (including Imax Laser/Dolby Cinema), Arsenal Yards (including CWX), and Chestnut Hill.

    Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre shows up a year after its intended release, apparently because a movie having Ukrainian villains became a bad idea in 2022 (whether they've become Russian through the magic of ADR, I don't know). Guy Ritchie directs with Jason Statham as secret agent Dominic Fortune, Aubrey Plaza as his partner, Hugh Grant as the arms dealer they're targeting, and Josh Hartnett as the movie star they're using to get on the bad guy's yacht. It's at Boston Common, South Bay, Assembly Row.

    The latest version of Children of the Corn opens at Boston Common, after sitting on the shelf for the better part of three years, which even considering the pandemic doesn't sound good, but it's interesting in that it's the first film written and directed by Kurt Wimmer since Ultraviolet over fifteen years ago.

    Boston Common has most of the Best Picture nominees playing at various times over the weekend (excluding All Quiet). Casablanca plays South Bay, Assembly Row, and Arsenal Yards on Sunday and Wednesday without it even having to be an anniversary (which is apparently why the Brattle had just the one show last month). Among the night-before previews is a Scream VI "3D Fan Event" at Boston Common, South Bay, and Assembly Row.
  • Irish nominee for Best International Film The Quiet Girl plays at The Coolidge Corner Theatre, Kendall Square, Boston Common. Mostly in Gaelic, it tells the story of a girl dropped off with distant relatives for the summer, not sure when she will return to her immediate family, who starts to come out of her shell before learning a family secret.

    The Coolidge also offers a weekend of RRR screenings, 9:30pm on Friday and Saturday and 3pm on Sunday (as does Boston Common and CinemaSalem, at different times). The midnights are Michelle Yeoh Mystery Movies, with a different movie playing on 35mm film on Friday and Saturday, convenient double features with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, whose rerelease is still going strong at the Coolidge after being kind of perfunctory elsewhere. They also start a new repertory screening for March, featuring the films of Claire Denis, with Chocolat on Tuesday (including a seminar from UMass Professor Sarah Keller) and No Fear, No Die on Wednesday.
  • Landmark Theatres Kendall Square and West Newton open Return to Seoul, a much-lauded film about a 25-year-old woman returning to the nation of her birth after being adopted and raised in France. It was, despite that, the Oscar submission for Cambodia.

    For their March throwbacks, the Kendall is alternating Orson Welles and David Lean, kicking things off on Tuesday with Citizen Kane. They also have a one-night presentation of Remember This on Wednesday, which features David Strathairn in a one-man show as Jan Karski, who escaped Poland to get the word of the Holocaust out to the wider world.
  • Demon Slayer: Kimetsu No Yaiba - To the Swordsmith Village plays the US just a month after opening in Japan, with the last entry one quietly one of the sleeper hits of the pandemic and this one (I think) offering a preview of the next season of the TV series. It's at Boston Common, South Bay, Kendall Square, Assembly Row; check showtimes for whether they are dubbed or subtitled.

    Vietnamese drama Nha Ba Nu ("The House of No Man") opens at South Bay; with Le Giang as a matriarch who runs her three-generation household the same way she does her crab noodle stall.

    Apple Fresh Pond opens Egyptian action movie The Spider (Al Ankabout) this weekend; it came out in the Middle East last summer and focuses on a drug dealer whose empire is under siege.

    Hindi-language action flicks Selfiee and Pathaan are held over at Fresh Pond, with Selfiee also at Boston Common; Bollywood romantic comedy Tu Jhoothi Main Makkaar opens Wednesday at Fresh Pond and Boston Common.

    Cheng Er's WWII thriller Hidden Blade is down to one or two showtimes a day at Boston Common (you can actually see it at 7pm!).
  • The Brattle Theatre presents Round Midnight on Friday, with Maxine Gordon introducing the film starring Dexter Gordon as a jazzman in Paris who forms a friendship with a destitute fan.

    Since 3/5 is "Reel Film Day", the Brattle makes a weekend of it, with a double feature of Peral & X on Saturday and Singin' in the Rain & Sullivan's Travels on Sunday, all on 35mm film.

    For the rest of the week, they celebrate the lead-up to the Oscars by noting one of the more egregious omissions in Gina Prince-Bythewood. Beyond the LIghts and Love & Basketball play Monday, The Secret Life of Bees on Tuesday, and The Woman King from Tuesday to Wednesday.

    There's also a special free premiere screening of Judy Blume Forever, on Wednesday - admission is free, but RSVPs are required (though they do not guarantee entry).
  • The Somerville Theatre is back to having Midnight Specials this week, starting off with a 35mm print of The Big Lebowski on Saturday. They also have a Women's History Month "Silents, Please!" double feature on Sunday, with Jeff Rapsis accompanying Lillian Gish in Annie Laurie and Mary Pickford in a 1914 adaptation of Cinderella.

    The Capitol opens indie coming-of-age film Palm Trees and Power Lines, starring Lily McInerny as a teenager who starts a relationship with a man twice her age. They also bring back Women Talking for those doing some Oscar catch-up.
  • The Harvard Film Archive is all about "Remapping Latin American Cinema: Chilean Film/Video 1963-2013" this weekend with Little White Dove on Friday, Jackal of Nahueltoro and To Kill a Man Saturday, El Pejesapo and Naomi Campbel on Sunday, and on Monday before going dark for a week during spring break.
  • The Boston Baltic Film Festival takes place is the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount from Friday to Sunday, featuring 10 films from Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, most with post-film Q&A. Starting on Monday, five of those films plus seven others will be available to stream online through the 19th.

    While you're in the festival mood, passes are on sale for Boston Underground Film Festival, and I imagine titles will be announced soon.
  • The Regent Theatre is mostly a live venue, with "Children of the Streets" being presented as a play on Friday and Saturday, although it is also being shot as a mini-series pilot.
  • The ICA has the Oscar animated and live-action shorts on Sunday; the various Oscar Shorts programs also playing at the Coolidge, the Somerville, the Kendall, the Lexington Venue, and Luna Lowell.
  • Bright Lights shows "Subtle Images of Every Day Revolt: Short Works From Contemporary Iran", with the title of the program explaining it pretty well; this is four short films be female and non-binary Persian filmmakers, whether in Iran or elsewhere. It's free and open to the public at the Paramount's Bright Screening Room on Thursday night, with Q&A from some directors afterward afterward.
  • Ant-Man 3 continues to play Friday & Saturday on the dome atThe Museum of Science, with "Everest" and "Ancient Caves" alternating the rest of the time.
  • The Lexington Venue is open through Sunday with the three Oscar shorts packages, Living, and Cocaine Bear.

    The West Newton Cinema opens Return to Seoul and Cocaine Bear, continuing documentary Four Winters, Women Talking, A Man Called Otto, Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans (no show Thursday), Aftersun (Saturday/Sunday), The Banshees of Inisherin (no show Monday), Puss in Boots (Saturday/Sunday), and Tár. No shows Tuesday this week.

    The Luna Theater has Close on Friday, The Whale and all three Oscar shorts programs on Saturday. and Misery all day Sunday. Weirdo Wednesday is back on the site.

    Cinema Salem is open through Monday with the Oscar Shorts, RRR, Cocaine Bear, Ant-Man, and The Fabelmans. If you can make it out to the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, they have Blueback, an Australian family movie with an impressive cast (Radha Mitchell, Eric Bana, Mia Wasikowska) about a girl who fights to keep poachers away from the large blue grouper she discovers while diving, and Hunt Her, Kill Her, a sort of reverse-slasher with Natalie Terrazzino as a janitor who must survive a gang of four would-be killers.
  • For those still not ready to join random people in a room for two hours, theater rentals are available at Kendall Square, West Newton, the Capitol and Somerville, The Venue, CinemaSalem, and many of the multiplexes.
Geez, a week and a half until Oscar and I still haven't seen the shorts, Women Talking, or Elvis, much less The Quiet Girl? Geez, how am I going to fit Operation Fortune and Return to Seoul in as well, not to mention Love & Basketball and Palm Trees and Power Lines?

This Week in Tickets: 20 February 2023 - 26 February 2023 (Universal Horror 2023)

I was telling myself that I might hit the midnights at the Coolidge more often, but Friday night I really didn't want to be waiting for a cab outside the Coolidge after the Green Line or 66 stopped running - and, sure, maybe there would be a late one, but it was expected to be really cold. So there's some of what's not on this spread!
This Week in Tickets
Lets look at this a bit out of chronological order, just because it's more interesting that way: The week had two Film Rolls entries, with The Internecine Project on Tuesday and The Bad News Bears on Thursday, and might have had another once i decided I was staying in Friday night, but sometimes the player, basically being a computer, sometimes doesn't boot properly and needs a full unplug-and-wait reboot, but it's hard to reach back there.

On Wednesday, I headed downtown to pick some stuff up at Fenway and then headed to Boston Common on the way back for Knock at the Cabin. Three days later, I was in the Somerville for Cocaine Bear, and while both of them are pretty decent, what's kind of interesting is that they are both from Universal, which is spending the first half of 2023 dropping roughly one high-concept but mid-budget horror thing a month, which is an interesting strategy.

Saturday also featured the first entry in the Brattle's "Greenaway x4" series, The Draughtsman's Contract. The series is going to get its own write-up, but it was a good start, since I figured Greenaway would either be completely my thing or something I wanted to flee ten minutes in.

Then on Sunday, the week is finished with a couple things I had just not gotten around to before - The Amazing Maurice, which has had a pretty decent run at Fresh Pond for looking like a one-week four-wall a month ago, and Hidden Blade, which I'd planned to catch after Knock at the Cabin on Wednesday before seeing that it would be extended another week.

Pretty enjoyable. First drafts, as always, on my Letterboxd, if you're impatient and don't want to wait until it's almost Next Week to read what's going on This Week.

The Internecine Project

Seen 21 February 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

I don't necessarily know that I'll actually have a lot more than this to say when I do a Film Rolls write-up: It's a nifty premise for a movie, but the writers seemed so excited to build their perfect murder(s) that they forgot that the fun starts when something throws a wrench into the gears, and this movie is wrench-free for far too long.

Knock at the Cabin

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 February 2023 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

A preview that includes a shot or two from the last stretch of Knock at the Cabin kind of let the air out of the film for me a month ago because, as a rule, I find people torturing headstrong (or epileptic) girls with exorcism scary while girls possessed by demons are just silly made-up shit, and the same goes for apocalypse cults. The second it looked like the crew led by Dave Buatista's Leonard might be in the right, I'm rolling my eyes, and the film doesn't really give them a point to have or anything that resonates. The world will end unless there's an arbitrary sacrifice, and that's it. It's just a plot device, not something which has a pesky ring of truth, and the script can't balance giving it one and allowing for skepticism.

Aside from that (which is an admittedly large value of "that"), it's a darn solid movie. M. Night Shyamalan has settled into his groove as a horror guy making modest flicks over the last decade, but he still has great chops as a director that made his films an event during that early-aughts run, and it's a level of confidence others might not have. He gives the film a steady pace, using flashbacks to keep tension from snapping and having enough confidence to try and create memorable images of his own and cut away rather than focus on gore or do the sort of call-outs other genre filmmakers do. He wants violence to create sadness and torment, not an adrenaline rush, and he's able to do that without deflating the moments when he needs tension.

He gets very nice performances from his cast as well; he may encourage them to go a little big and odd - it's kind of hard to believe Leonard was actually a second-grade teacher before his calling - but that's not a bad thing. There's a sense of who they are and how this situation has pushed them from being who they usually are, even if they're destined for a quick exit. Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge get chances to carve out important differences despite coming across as the same sort of generically handsome young father, for instance; Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint, and Nikki Amuka-Bird all get a chance to present as normal people doing very abnormal things, while Bautista uses his size and quiet reserve to be both a steadying anchor and kind of unnerving. Shyamalan's been great working with children forever and has found someone terrific in Kristen Cui; she always feels like that kid rather than just a kid, and that lets the opening set the stage nicely.

If I didn't have that atheist's outlook toward supernatural horror, there's a fair chance I'd consider this one of Shyamalan's best. But I do, and this movie doesn't quite do what it needs to in order to get past that for me.

The Bad News Bears '76

Seen 23 February 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

This one, I suspect, I might go long on; it's one I never particularly avoided but also never sought out, even once I realized just how much I liked Walter Matthau. It's a kind of surprising classic, more than just the foul-mouthed underdog sports story it can get reduced to, but kind of a New Hollywood family comedy on the one hand and an unconventional love story on the other. Not a romance - mind out of the gutters! - but Buttermaker and Amanda want to be father and daughter the way romantic partners want to be together if not for circumstances, and the moments when that is right out front are just as great as all the stuff about youth sport parents being kind of awful

The Draughtsman's Contract

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2023 in the Brattle Theatre (Greenaway x 4, DCP)

A fine opening to a series because, within it, one can see a lot of the themes Peter Greenaway would pursue throughout the rest of the films, but it's fairly straightforward in its way even as it does get downright peculiar at times. I knew I was down for the other three, and while Greenaway would return to favored themes constantly, he doesn't exactly repeat himself.

I admit, I am very much the sort to look at this and say "there's a murder mystery here - solve it!", but also can't particularly find fault with him not doing so.

Cocaine Bear

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2023 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 4K laser DCP)

Cocaine Bear does what it says on the package, both from, yeah, having a bear that does cocaine and goes on a rampage and from how the filmmakers and audience are pretty much on the same wavelength about how silly a premise this is, with the folks on screen attacking it accordingly. Almost everybody in the cast goes big, the film is splashed in bright 1980s colors, and the songs on the soundtrack aren't always obvious but do feel like they're hitting a target. Heck, even the CGI bear not always looking quite right works; a creature feature being fun kind of depends on it not completely selling itself as authentic, and the star of Slither understands this just as well as anybody else who might be called on to direct such a film.

Is it all it could be? Not quite. The movie maybe coasts a bit on the gonzo story and having the right attitude, like the filmmakers know you were sold on it when you bought the ticket and just kind of have to maintain that initial buzz. Elizabeth Banks directs the film with energy, especially toward the start, and most of the characters come across as just oddball enough to work - Banks, writer Jimmy Warden, and the cast all get that a character in a comedy who is not funny in some way is contributing less than they should, and you can see how these folks are funny more or less as soon as they show up on-screen. There's a lot of them, though; even considering the need to have bodies drop on the regular, there are too many characters split up and bumping into each other randomly for the film to really flow. It often comes off as a collection of possibilities Warden came up with along with the title, and it's got the sort of finale where something is missing even if all the elements are there.

It works most of the time, at least, and nailing the vibe counts for a lot here.

The Internecine Project Knock at the Cabin The Bad News Bears The Draughtsman's Contract The Amazing Maurice Cocaine Bear Hidden Blade

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Hidden Blade

You know, I don't think we're actually going to get A Guilty Conscience playing Boston Common, given that the date on that standee is a month ago. I suppose it could wind up here now because it's apparently the number one movie in Mainland China after opening there a few weeks behind its Lunar New Year opening in Hong Kong, since the Boston Common bookings tend to favor Mainland or Mandarin-language hits.

Supporting that: This played at generally weird times last week - I don't think it got a showtime between 6pm and 8pm for the whole week, but every time I tried to schedule a time that worked for me, it was sold out. Even at 10:45pm times, which would let out at about 1:15am given AMC's tendency for 20 minutes of trailers, sold out. That's not as crazy as you might think, in that if you figure most of the audience was being drawn from nearby Chinatown, they could walk home rather than dink around with the MBTA like me. I actually had a 9:30pm ticket on Wednesday reserved until I saw it got a second week. For that week, it had a full slate of times, but it was not especially packed for my Sunday evening show, although it was a respectable audience, and I wasn't the only non-Chinese person there. It's being held over for a third weekend, but pretty limited showtimes again.

It's an interesting cycle, actually; I wonder if the fact that Well Go actually seems to be promoting this beyond Chinatown audiences plays into it, or to what extent AMC had data that said the previous week's weird schedule (which often seemed like trying to split a screen with three-hour-holdover The Wandering Earth 2) would work so well.

Ah, well. Given that this is a Well Go release, I'm kind of surprised there wasn't a Sakra trailer, although I suppose they might want to wait for the release date to be firmed up and push it with John Wick 4.

Also: Kind of odd that the full-screen credit for Tony Leung has a little "(Hong Kong, China)" at the end. I've seen these nationality tags on people's names before, not just for Chinese/Hong Kong movies, and I wonder what the purpose of it here is (unless it's some sort of disambiguation with a Leung Chiu-Wai from the Mainland).

Wu ming (Hidden Blade)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 February 2023 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

Hidden Blade is one of those spy movies that makes me wonder if Shanghai really looked this cool in the middle of a war, although China is a big place and the majority of the fighting may have been far away. Still, one accepts the genre for what it is, and in this case that's smartly dressed, capable professionals looking like they've got it all under control on the outside while the situation deteriorates for some and the strain of maintaining a facade crumples the double agents from within.

The story jumps around in time from 1938 to 1945, following Shanghai-based officers in the Political Security Department, an agency of the puppet government dominated by the Japanese, with Minister Tang (Da Peng) and Officer Watanabe (Hiroyuki Mori) running things. Much of the action foucses on two cases: In one, high-ranking officer Mr. He (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) debriefs Mr. Zhang (Huang Lei), part of the communications pipeline to the Communist leadership for the area along with cohabitant Miss Chen (Zhou Xun); in another Mr. Ye (Wang Yibo) and Mr. Wang (Eric Wang Chaunjun) investigate the ambush of a Japanese unit containing a minor member of the royal family. It's clear that there is a Communist infiltrator in the PSD, but who?

It's not exactly difficult to guess, given the billing and where the film starts before the flashbacks begin, but writer/director/editor Cheng Er plays things much closer to the vest than one might expect for a part of a larger wave of "China Victory" films. That's a function of how he writes and directs, but perhaps his most fascinating work is as editor, in that he has the movie jump back and forth through time not just to hide things from the audience, though it does so artfully, but to create a sense of fatigue and confusion. War and spying is stressful and leaves one unmoored, a blur as one looks back, with basic facts seeming to elude as one lives in two separate realities. The audience is as unsure what to trust and what's hiding secrets as the characters. It doesn't always work - the story and discovery of the family in the well feels like it should have layers rather than coming across as a coincidence - but it's a neat trick to hold back without feeling like that's the entire point.

There's a fine bit of work portraying all that without necessarily giving the game away as to which is which. A big part of that is the cast finding ways to make either being two-faced or just cracking as collaborators work. Tony Leung, for instance, smiles and pokes as Mr. He, trying to remain above things but maybe not having it in him; Wang Yibo looks about to snap, especially in the aftermath of a scene when his character's wife (a fierce Zhang Jingyi) makes it clear she despises him and what he stands for. Even the least ambiguous characters are strained; Horiyuki Mori playing the Japanese commander annoyed by the politicking he must do is entertainingly, humanly callous.

There are also a couple of absolutely fantastic action scenes, even if that's not the film's main focus. Wang Yibo gets a heck of a showcase in the center, for instance, and the finale is an especially great fight that looks like every little bit of it hurts, and which manages to keep going on even though the gunplay feels like it could be cut short at any moment. It's so terrific that I was a bit disappointed that the film kept going for another ten or fifteen minutes after such a coup de grace: There's one nifty bit in that but some adrenaline does drain.

Still, I can see why the local crowd was selling it out even at crappy times last week. Even if the outcome of a Chinese spy movie may be foreordained, this one takes a pretty slick route getting there. I didn't particularly love Cheng's previous film, The Wasted Times, but here his tendency to fold a genre story back over itself until it takes on a new shape does more to help the story he's telling than to obscure it, and the result is engrossing.