BOFCA REVIEW ROUNDUP: 11/30

KILLING THEM SOFTLY

“See where he’s going with this? It’s a smart allegory; ruined by the fact that Dominik doesn’t trust you to pick up on it for yourself. He wants to drive it into your skull with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.” – Jake Mulligan, EDGE Boston

“A better than expected entry for this week, perfect for those who prefer down-and-dirty crime films to overstuffed costumed productions.” – Daniel M. Kimmel, Northshoremovies.net

“About as on-the-nose as metaphors can get, but you can’t say the film doesn’t have the courage of its convictions.” – Bob Chipman, The Escapist

“The closing punchline is such a knockout, you might forgive the lack of subtlety preceding it.” – Brett Michel, The Boston Phoenix

“It’s difficult to not find something to love within nearly every frame of KILLING THEM SOFTLY, a cool, confident crime drama drenched with a bitter cynicism.” – Greg Vellante, The Eagle Tribune

 

THE WAITING ROOM

“If people believe Mitt Romney’s assertion that emergency rooms are a solution for the uninsured, this is a powerful rebuke.” – Brett Michel, The Boston Phoenix

 

THE COLLECTION

“Just buckets of the same old boring gore.” – Brett Michel, The Boston Phoenix
 

 

BOFCA REPERTORY PICK: 11/30

by Jake Mulligan

You can’t be blamed if you missed THIS IS NOT A FILM during its first trip through Boston theaters. Playing on a small screen at the Kendall Theatre for 7 days, the picture brought in miniscule grosses. No doubt, it had support – critics raved. I don’t normally put stock in this type of thing, but a 100% approval rating at RottenTomatoes.com is nothing to scoff at. Still, there’s something alarming on that Rotten Tomatoes page. Jafar Panahi’s effort is listed as a documentary. Go to Imdb.com, and you’ll see the same. Peruse the reviews – Andrew O’Hehir calls it a “video essay,” Christy Lemire, a “documentary,” A.O. Scott, a “masterpiece in a form that does not yet exist.”

The fact that THIS IS NOT A FILM is a stunning cinematic achievement seems to go without saying. I believe that it may be the best film I’ve seen thus far this year (irony notwithstanding,) and I’m surely not the only one. But what no one seems to agree on is what this 75-minute experience actually is. An essay? A documentary? A diary? Something else? All worthy interpretations, but they all reduce what Panahi has done. He’s made a narrative film, pure and simple; the exact thing the Iranian regime had suppressed him from making in the first place.

The big secret is, on the surface, this isn’t a grand political rebellion. It’s a simple story about a man, Panahi, trying whatever he can to transcend his house arrest – the Iranian government jailed him for years due to the color of a Beret he wore at a film festival in Montreal – to make a film. When we start, he’s bored; feeding his daughter’s iguana, eating breakfast, making a call to a fellow director who’s been wanting to “film filmmakers when they aren’t making films.” Panahi is a passive subject – walking longingly past the cameras his family has set up, seemingly independent of his own interests.

Eventually his partner shows up with a professional grade camera. Panahi shows clips and critiques his past films, all of which blur the lines between documenting reality and presenting narrative fiction. He shows videos of prospective sets and begins to act out the script of a film he failed to produce. He starts to walk around the house, filming his own plight (and the fireworks outside, celebrating the Persian New Year,) with an iPhone. None of it satisfies him. It’s only when co-director Mohjtaba Mirtamasb leaves, and Panahi fatefully picks up his camera to turn it on someone else, that he begins to find the beauty in the form again.

At first he’s talking about himself; questioning his ‘subject’ – a trash collector – about what he saw the night the police came to arrest him. By the end of the conversation, Panahi just wants to study the man himself. Once again, he’s capturing daily life in Iran – as a director, and no longer a subject. And with the return to that artistic urge, the film (that is not a film) comes to an end. Forget the idea of a documentary. This is a soul-baring, autobiographical narrative film – an even more impressive prospect. This is the introspective cinema men like Jean-Luc Godard and Dziga Vertov dreamed of.

Because when you inspect the filmmaking itself, things get interesting. Certain scenes that cut back and forth between multiple perspectives (a cut from Panahi on his phone, to a shot of the iguana passing by, back to Panahi staring at the iguana, for example) would technically be impossible to capture ‘honestly,’ considering the amount of cameras (one) we know the team has. Most of the interactions with other characters occur offscreen; and could be easily dubbed. The garbage man Panahi speaks to at the conclusion just happens to be a University student with a vested interest in cinema, and he just happens to have also been at the apartment complex the same night Panahi was seized and arrested.

I can’t pretend to speak definitively, but all the evidence points to the fact that this is as scripted and pre-arranged as any of Panahi’s other films, if not more so (Mirtamasb has admitted, at the least, that this ‘day-in-the-life’ was filmed over more than a few days.) Yes, the craft suggests it, but that’s not all. The narrative progression is too tight, the subtext too intricate, for me to believe this is all off-the-cuff. No, it’s a masterful act of rebellion; cinema as a stealth enterprise; a traditional narrative film by a man banned from making them; fiction that you’re tricked into accepting for reality.

And as for the result, you can cut it up and analyze it one hundred different ways. Panahi, iPhone in hand, could be studying the nature of how picture quality and visual format dictates cinema. Perhaps he’s interested in whether his docu-drama will be accepted as truth or fiction. He could simply be trying to create a document of his life, from his overarching prison sentences, to his pets, down to the people he crosses path with in his apartment complex. He might even see NOT A FILM as a thematic re-telling of the script that got him investigated, which also (allegedly) focused on one girl locked indefinitely in her home; persecuted by a society that seeks to silence her. Hell, he might even just see the picture as just another work in his oeuvre; inquiring, as pictures like CIRCLE and OFFSIDE have, into the nature of Iranian society and the possibility of a humanistic cinema, and how the former tends to discourage the latter.

Or perhaps, he sees it as I do: as the definitive work of modern Iranian filmmaking, gleefully skirting the line between reality and art, between fiction and non-fiction, between what’s permissible and what will earn you a 20 year jail sentence. All of his countryman’s cinema bristles with the aftereffects of censorship and Orwellian working conditions. Here, the struggle between filmmaker and regime is not in the background, in the subtext, or relegated to academic studies of the film. It’s literally the narrative. It’s the text. It is his primary passion – the film is even dedicated to Iranian filmmakers; with blank spaces left in the special thanks column where their names should be.

Panahi doesn’t tell you how to think about Iran, and his place in it. He simply depicts it as it is, as he can afford to, without implicating anyone further. That is to say: from his apartment complex, and often speaking in a form of code (he may not complain about his situation directly, per se, but a prominently framed illegal DVD copy of the Ryan Reynolds feature BURIED articulates his situation well enough.) There’s a mysterious and ambiguous edge hanging over his actions, right up until the haunting final frames. THIS IS NOT A FILM? I disagree. This is a Film By Jafar Panahi, as much as any other. Not only that, it’s his masterpiece.

THIS IS NOT A FILM plays tomorrow 11/30, and Sunday, 12/2, at 7PM. The Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy Street Cambridge, MA 02138. The HFA is playing the entirety of Panahi’s oeuvre over the weekend in their series JAFAR PANAHI: THIS IS NOT A RETROSPECTIVE

BOFCA REVIEW ROUNDUP: 11/23

LIFE OF PI

“To call Lee’s adaptation transcendent wouldn’t simply be a way to describe its impact; the film often seems to take place in a realm of stars and clouds, with majestic skies mirrored by the ocean’s surface.” – Kilian Melloy, EDGE Boston

“The problem is that the stunning visuals are constantly undone by the screenplay’s dull literal-mindedness.” – Sean Burns, The Improper Bostonian

“One of the most frustrating films of the year. The whole movie feels like you’re taking a museum audio tour narrated by the older sister from DOUG.” – Bob Chipman, The Escapist

“Ah, the white man framing device. How unfortunate.” – Greg Vellante, The Eagle Tribune

“It’s pretty clear after a while that this isn’t a story about survival anyway; it’s a story about finding God and it’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer.” – John Black, Boston Event Guide

“I often felt like I was watching the world’s most expensive screensaver. The spiritual elements run an obvious second to the spectacle when it comes to these storytellers’ priorities.” – Jake Mulligan, Charleston City Paper

“Taken on its own, LIFE OF PI is sometimes lyrical and challenging but, in the end, leaves us wondering why we were being told the story at all.” - Daniel M. Kimmel, NorthShoreMovies.net

 

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS

“It turns out not to be about which miracle is greater – that is, the birth vs. resurrection of Jesus – but presents vs. eggs. Perhaps Christian theology is not the best approach for a Jewish film critic.” – Daniel M. Kimmel, NorthShoreMovies.net

“A true surprise, this feature debut from storyboard artist Peter Ramsey isn’t the lump of coal I expected.” – Brett Michel, The Boston Phoenix

“It’s THE AVENGERS for childhood mythology. Okay, I’m on board.” – Bob Chipman, The Escapist

“Way less farty poo-poo than other Dreamworks animated features, the film has a square-jawed elegance that occasionally hits a note of grandeur when it’s not just being silly.” – Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly

“Alec Baldwin and Hugh Jackman are particularly obnoxious in their characterizations, each of them hamming it up to an embarrassing degree.” – John Black, Boston Event Guide

 

RED DAWN

“I don’t know what pisses me off more: the fact that it’s recruitment-baiting war porn, or the fact that it’s not even good recruitment-baiting war porn.” – Jake Mulligan, EDGE Boston

“The 1984 RED DAWN may have been a cheesy movie but it reflected the anxieties of its era. This version simply reflects a business decision gone bad.” – Daniel M. Kimmel, NorthShoreMovies.net

“They could have made all the invading soldiers look like Blue Meanies from YELLOW SUBMARINE and it wouldn’t have made RED DAWN worth watching.” – John Black, Boston Event Guide

“Someone needs to tell the writers that there are more words in the English language than ‘hard’ to describe tough situations. Invest in a thesaurus, people.” – Evan Crean, Reel Recon

“Especially in times like these, a stupid movie could give anyone the wrong idea. RED DAWN comes off as a very dangerous joke.” – Greg Vellante, The Eagle Tribune

 

HITCHCOCK

“Ron Howard usually is the one who abuses such hoary devices, and I doubt the Master of Suspense would be amused by their presence in director Sacha Gervasi’s biopic.” – Brett Michel, The Boston Phoenix

“If you recently visited the Alfred Hitchcock Wikipedia page you will likely understand most of the jokes. But that does not mean you will find them funny.” – Greg Vellante, The Eagle Tribune

“Insultingly stupid. I’d rather be watching Gus Van Sant’s PSYCHO remake.” – Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly

“Anthony Hopkins wears a fat suit and laughable prosthetics; portraying him as a fumbling would-be cuckold who used cinema as a means to leer at large breasted actresses. What a fitting way to pay tribute to a visionary.” – Jake Mulligan, Charleston City Paper

“None of the bumps the story hits along the way take away from the sheer joy of watching Hopkins and his fellow actors tear up the screen with their passionate performances.” – John Black, Boston Event Guide

“What we end up with is neither historical document nor drama, but something that smacks of backhanded idolatry via mimicry and, on occasion, reeks of farce.” – Kilian Melloy, Kal’s Movie Blog

 

BOFCA REVIEW ROUNDUP: 11/16

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

“David O. Russell tries to toe the line between making something personal and making something that feels like it came off a conveyor belt. He ends up on the wrong side.” – Jake Mulligan, EDGE Boston

“It’s a goofy crowd pleaser with some pretty good performances and a carefully calibrated illusion of ‘edginess.’ It’s also offensive.” – Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly

“Is he serious? Is all it takes to fix a painfully broken man’s mind the love of a woman he just met, a woman he’s mentally and emotionally abused for most of the film?” – John Black, Boston Event Guide

“Pat and Tiffany find emotional healing through the power of love, and although it’s overly optimistic, there’s something really charming about that idea.” – Evan Crean, Starpulse

“Yes, this is a romance between two people with mental problems. We’re supposed to find that endearing because, after all, you know how much fun schizophrenia can be.” – Daniel M. Kimmel, NorthShoreMovies.net

 

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2

“Glorious. A slow-motion, fifty-thousand clown-car pileup of a disaster that’s funnier than almost any other moviegoing experience I’ve had this year.” – Bob Chipman, The Escapist

“A hilariously funny, wild and camp-strewn romp that manages to tweak the solemnity of the material with a knowing wink at it’s inherent absurdity.” – Tim Estiloz, Boston Movie Examiner

“Years from now a new generation of teenage girls will inevitably ask: ‘Grandma, you really liked this stuff?’” – Daniel M. Kimmel, NorthShoreMovies.net

“Of course this series is garbage, but by now it has calcified into winking, self-aware camp that eventually explodes into a craptacular of the highest order.” – Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly

“At a key point, coven leader Michael Sheen lets out a spectacular laugh, which nearly drowned out my own.” – Brett Michel, The Boston Phoenix

“It’s over. It’s finally over.” – John Black, Boston Event Guide

 

ANNA KARENINA

“As jaw-dropping and audacious as the setting is, Wright is extremely careful to never let it dominate the story or the actors telling it.” – John Black, Boston Event Guide

“Wright doesn’t just believe in Brechtian distancing devices; he’s built a movie around them.” – Jake Mulligan, Charleston City Paper

“You’ll likely find Stoppard’s all-too-literal interpretation of the dressy role-playing of society life to be a cause for slowly mounting aggravation.” – Kilian Melloy, Kal’s Movie Blog

 

TALES OF THE NIGHT

“The kaleidoscopic backgrounds offer a colorful counterpoint to the simple silhouettes that form the people, animals, and mythical beasts populating the six fables.” – Brett Michel, The Boston Phoenix

 

 

BOFCA REVIEW ROUNDUP: 11/9

SKYFALL

“SKYFALL rocks. The action is spectacular, the humor as sharp as the creases in Bond’s well-tailored suits, the script is tight and the acting – yes the acting – is spot on.” – John Black, Boston Event Guide

“The movie feels like a James Bond video tribute compilation, with new director Sam Mendes trying on his Christopher Nolan big-boy pants and notably failing.” – Greg Vellante, The Eagle Tribune

“So of course SKYFALL has to go and fucking blow it by explaining everything. Yes, this is exactly what we needed: expository monologues about James Bond’s sad childhood.” – Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly

“For those who are willing to go beyond the babes and thrills to question what a ‘James Bond’ means in the 21st century, SKYFALL asks some interesting and difficult questions.” - Daniel M. Kimmel, NorthShoreMovies.net

“If you’re a James Bond fan who feels like the new movies were shipped with a few of the pieces missing, SKYFALL is the movie you’ve been waiting for.” – Bob Chipman, The Escapist

“Cinephiles will appreciate its high quality aesthetics, but Bond fans may be a bit let down by the weak villain, fewer action scenes, and lack of crazy gadgets.” – Evan Crean, Starpulse

“Welcome back, Mr. Bond.  At 50, you’re looking pretty good for your age.” – Tim Estiloz, Boston Movie Examiner

“Whatever. Turns out James Bond is the British Batman, or perhaps Batman was an American James Bond? I can’t wait until the British Joker shows up in the next movie.” – Monica Castillo, Bitch Magazine

 

LINCOLN

Remarkable. Tasked with dramatizing some of the most significant moments of the 19th century, Spielberg shoots the picture as a bustling ensemble comedy.” – Sean Burns, The Improper Bostonian

“Day-Lewis’ fine work is stuck in the middle of a plodding, ponderous and preachy Steven Spielberg film that feels like it lasts longer than the actual war did.” – John Black, Boston Event Guide

“There hasn’t been a film that found so much humor and even heroism in acts of subterfuge and misdirection since OCEAN’S ELEVEN, and in a way that’s an appropriate comparison.” – Bob Chipman, The Escapist

“The historically enriched portrayals are infused with the energy of a screwball comedy, with dialogue that flies back and forth with fiery dynamism.” – Greg Vellante, The Eagle Tribune

“More than anything, it’s the humor that separates this portrayal from any others past. Not content to play the president as a hero, Day-Lewis brings him to life as a smooth negotiator, as sly as he is wise.” – Jake Mulligan, Charleston City Paper

“As history it is fascinating and as entertainment it is superb; with a remarkable cast, a tight and sharp script, and a sure hand on the helm.” – Daniel M. Kimmel, NorthShoreMovies.net

“If this film has a trace of greatness about it, that’s probably because of the way Kushner, Spielberg, and Day-Lewis recollect for us the greatness of the man.” – Kilian Melloy, Kal’s Movie Blog

 

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE

“Linked and displaced as our lives might be, the film suggests they play out at the foot of monumental events and historic triumphs and catastrophes alike.” – Kilian Melloy, EDGE Boston