Monday, August 21, 2006

The week in movies: Between Midnight and Dawn, The Illusionist, Snakes on a Plane

I meant to see more at the Brattle this past week, catching all three repatory series that are running down the calendar, but it didn't quite work out that way. I wound up hanging around the comic shop long enough to miss the beginning of The Phantom Tollbooth on Wednesday, and then stuck at work long enough that I would have been seeing Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion on an empty stomach, and it looked just long enough that I figured I would rather not. Weak, I know, especially when I planned my Saturday around Snakes on a Plane.

I did stop in to get the new Brattle schedule on Saturday, though, and I like it. It's got Schwarzeneggar midnight shows, a week of Terry Gilliam, Mutual Appreciation, Azumi, Yellowbeard to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and Bruce Campbell introducing Bubba Ho-Tep. That last one may have to substitute for the traditional Halloween showing of Evil Dead 2, since at the end of the month, they're doing an almost-unheard of four-week series of new prints from the Janus Films library (Janus, remember, got its start at the Brattle).

The Boston Fantastic Film Festival is also back for its fourth year, and its six-week run may (I think) be its longest yet. The really good news is that a preview screening of Tideland has already been booked for it. I'm really hoping that it's six days because Ned & company feel momentum as opposed to a six-day hole in the schedule; I'd like this festival to get within an order of magnitude of Fantasia.

So, I've been a bit of a movie-viewing slacker this week, but to tell the truth, it's been a weak summer anyway. I had to toss one of my AMC reward tickets because I didn't find something I wanted to use it on before it expired.

Between Midnight and Dawn (aka Prowl Car)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2006 at the Brattle Theater (Rare Film Noir)

The film opens by almost fetishizing cops in their prowl cars, delighting in the code numbers that the dispatchers read to the various patrolling units. We follow one that gets involved in a shoot-out and then has trouble getting a store-owner to testify against a tough running a protection racket. It's the latter that sets off the chain of events that consumes most of the movie, as Edmond O'Brien's Dan Purvis becomes obsessed with taking down this gangster, even as a new guy moves in from the East Coast and sets of a gang war. Mark Stevens's Rocky Barnes has a more benign obsession; he's smitten with the dispatcher's sexy voice and sets out to woo her.

Between Midnight and Dawn would be considered a set-up for a TV series rather than a movie now; it spends a lot of time setting up situations that might seem more fitting playing out over the course of a season rather than in a film. It also seems to lose focus a little, as it starts out as a thing about the front-line cops responding to 911 calls, and then becomes a higher-level story, about two patrol copsversus the mob. It's decent at that, and the cutesy romance isn't bad, either, but it would almost be better if Purvis and Barnes weren't so personally involved - make it truly about the beat cops.

The Illusionist

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2006 at AMC Boston Common #4 (First-run)

You'll have a hard time finding somebody less snotty about the use of CGI in films than me, but even I've got a line to draw, and that line is at a story of a stage magician. It's one thing to show things disappearing into thin air when Paul Giamatti's character is recounting the semi-legendary story of the origins of Edward Norton's character, but when he's actually performing on-stage? If you can't do it in-camera, you shouldn't be doing it. Peiod, end of story, because otherwise there's no real limits on what can be done with the inevitable rest of the movie.

Also, everyone is doing a silly-sounding Austrian accent - although, as seems typical, pretty young girls have accents that are less thick than the rest. I say, let them use their real accents as in The Grey Zone - after all, the characters are not speaking accented English, they're speaking (relatively) unaccented German, so the logical translation is to have them speak clearly. Edward Norton sounded very silly. So did Paul Giamatti, but he sold it better.

Snakes on a Plane

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 July 2006 at AMC Fenway #13 (First-run)

It's been a tremendously disappointing summer, but this little movie about snakes on a plane delivers the goods. It's a bunch of generic characters stitched together in something that would go direct to video without Samuel L. Jackson, but it's handled with wit and aplomb. And even if the vaunted marketing didn't put a whole lot of butts in seats, they were some of the most enthusiastic folks I've seen at a regular movie in a while.


Reel Fanatic said...

Though you're right that it's probably not enough to save the summer, I too thought that SoaP delivered exactly what it promised ... a big ball of B-movie fun

Anonymous said...

This summer has been full of crap movies, but SOAP definitely delivered. When watching the movie I almost think they wrote the script for Sam Jackson. The script fit his style perfectly. I just wish they would of cast someone different to play the surfer kid who witnessed the murder...