Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Watched more than I wrote over the long weekend, obviously

On the whole, the Thanksgiving weekend let me pile up some movies, but was somewhat disappointing in other ways - I only got to see one of my three brothers, and then the furniture store shuffled their times so that we couldn't easily go out to see Harry Potter IV in IMAX.

With twelve little spaces left on the card, I'm starting to wonder if I can fill it by SundayI think I can, but it's going to take some careful planning, and maybe not so much running from theaters in Cambridge to ones in Boston and back. Although, to be totally honest, I'm running out of stuff to see at th e first-run places without repeating myself.

The Movie Watch-a-Thon Recap:

Movie seen at the Brattle: (11/26) Casablanca, (11/27) Treasure of the Sierra Madre, (11/28) To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep.
Movies seen elsewhere: (11/25) The Ice Harvest, (11/26) Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic, The Constant Gardener, Pride & Prejudice, (11/27) Just Friends, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Money pledged so far: $50 entry fee + $50 flat donations + $9 x (14 Brattle Films + .5 * 13 other films) = $284.50
Why the Brattle Theater Matters
Details on the Movie Watch-a-Thon
Where to send you cash in support
Mail me if you'd like to pledge some dollar amount per movie

The Latest Reviews:

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 November 2005 at Loews Boston Common #7 (first-run)

Shane Black is sick, but he's the right kind of sick. He starts his movie off with a nine-year-old doing the sawing-a-woman-in-half trick - with a chainsaw. Because kids taking chainsaws to other kids? Funny. And he follows it up with other sickness - body parts severed, corpses treated without proper respect, torture which inevitably focuses on the genitals. The film has no shame about its pulp fiction roots; indeed, even when it subverts its pulp trappings or gets all self-referential, the love far outweighs the mockery.

Our narrator isn't any sort of traditional tough guy; Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is a small-time thief from New York who somehow lands in Los Angeles after stumbling into an audition. At a one-time movie star's party, he meets private investigator Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) and wannabe actress Harmony Lane (Michelle Monaghan); it turns out Harmony is his high school sweetheart. The producer who flew Harry out to L.A. asks Perry to give the "actor" P.I. lessons; in the middle of demonstrating how boring most detective work actually is, the pair witness a murder; at the same time, Harmony asks Perry to look into her sister's apparent suicide. In the series of hard-boiled P.I. novels Harmony used to read as a kid, these two threads would be connected, but this is real life, so Perry's desire to steer as clear as possible makes much more sense... right?

Read the rest at HBS.


* * (out of four)
Seen 13 November 2005 at AMC Fenway #9 (first-run)

TAKEN FROM "BOARD GAME REVIEW MONTHLY"; REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION: Zathura proudly boasts that it is from the makers of Jumanji, specifically, game designer Chris Van Allsburg. As with his previous creation, Zathura likely will appeal far more to small children than to their parents or older siblings: The serious spieifriek will find much to admire in its hand-crafted workmanship and retro-style design sense, but the play mechanics leave a great deal to be desired.

Like Jumanji, Zathura initially displays all the strategy of Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders, with even less actual effort required from the players. They spin a sort of wheel and the mechanized board itself moves the pieces along a predetermined path. Once they reach their new position on the board, a card is dispensed, and the piece is either directed to to move further up/down the game board, or the game will make an earnest attempt to kill its players.

While one of course frowns upon such a dangerous product being marketed to children, I must admit that trying to dodge the meteors, robots, and alien "Zorgons" that the game throws at the players does at least involve them somewhat in a game that basically plays itself. Otherwise, the only human skill involved would be finding ways to cheat, and there are strong penalties charged for being caught at that! The nature of this game is, in fact, co-operative, despite how the players are initially led to believe it is competitive. Indeed, though the box states that this is a "game for two players", our playtesters eventually found themselves involving their babysitter, Kristen "Lisa" Stewart, and Astronaut Dax Shepard, who showed up to assist midway through.

Our playtesters, young Jonah "Danny" Bobo and older brother Josh "Walter" Hutcherson, handled themselves ably in the game. Watching them play certainly brought back memories of game-playing with my own brothers as a kid, from Walter's indifference which quickly flares into annoyance and anger, to Danny's quick and insincere apologies, to their competition for their father's attention.

Working from Van Allsburg's original template, the team of David Koepp, John Kamps, and Jon Favreau do an adequate job of building the game. One cannot complain too much about the design, which for the most part confronts the players with actual, tactile challenges rather than electronic approximations thereof. Not that there's anything wrong with what comes out of the computer, but it's often a more cohesive experience, especially with young players, when they have to deal with something solid.

The game's biggest problem is that the players often don't seem to be in control of their own destinies; the structure of the game is thoroughly mechanical, with the players always reacting to random events, rather than planning and initiating their own strategies. If the educational goal of the game is to teach co-operation despite the outwardly competitive structure, it's somewhat muted, and poor Lisa found herself on the receiving end of nothing but abuse for no better reason than having been told to watch her brothers. The endgame is fairly unsatisfying, despite the bombastic phase of play that leads up to it.

When push comes to shove, Zathura is much the same game as Jumanji - which, despite having been a holiday sensation several years ago, does not hold up particularly well. Young players who had yet to be born when the previous game appeared will enjoy the frantic action and running around, but seasoned players will want something more sophisticated.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 November 2005 at Flagship Theaters Quincy #4 (second-run)

In my estimation, there are few phrases that can be attached to a horror movie that do it a bigger disservice than "based on a true story". I can accept ghosts and demons in the context of a fantasy, and can find myself shocked and surprised by them when that fantasy is executed especially well, but actually believing and worrying about them? That, I fear, is asking too much.

Though the number of credulous people in the world is larger than I might hope, I'm not alone in this world-view. Fortunately, the courtroom drama structure of Exorcism is not just about allowing the audience to act as jury - if you're already predisposed to one opinion or other, that's not going to be much of a source of tension. Instead, the film functions as an examination on how the spiritual/supernatural and the strictly rational collide in American life. The question the jury must decide is not just whether or not young Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) was actually possessed, but whether her parish priest's sincere belief that she was is enough that her death while under her care can be considered a crime.

Read the rest at HBS.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

re Zathura, has anyone else noticed that the composer of the theme tune pinched a lot of his melodies from the composer of the Galaxy Quest theme tune? Or is it just me!