Monday, April 06, 2009

This Week In Tickets: 30 March 2009 to 5 April 2009

Aaah... Spring. Today was just too nice to find another theater after the Brattle Eye-Opener show; instead, it was time to do some grocery shopping and get out the grill.

This Week In Tickets!

Not many great movies this week, though plenty of decent ones. The big surprise of the week is probably The Haunting in Connecticut, which I now kind of wish I'd seen at SXSW (I opted to let the big passholder line have a chance). It exceeded expectations by a little more than Duplicity fell below them, which made for an interesting Saturday at the movies: The gradual realization that Duplicity was just never going to be as much fun as the trailer, sort of feeling resigned as I left that to buy another ticket, and then gradually thinking "hey, this is pretty good" during Haunting.

Just goes to show you never can tell.

Sunshine Cleaning

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2009 at Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run)

This is a nice enough little movie, although it's the sort that fits the "popular indie" profile perhaps a little too well: A few notable actors, quirky characters, some messy emotional entanglements that don't get fully resolved, comedy that is funny but not so funny as to make the audience forget that this is a sophisticated, intelligent movie. It's better than okay at nearly everything, but not really exceptional at any.

Amusing thing: As the credits rolled, we noted that someone was credited as "Assistant to Mr. Spevack", Jason Spevack being the kid playing the eight-year-old son of Amy Adams's character. That's just got to be a weird job, personal assistant to an elementary school kid. It could suck under a whole lot of circumstances.

The Great Buck Howard

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 April 2009 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

Like Sunshine Cleaning, this one played Sundance in 2008 and has been looking for a release date since. In fact, I could swear that it popped up at the Arlington Capitol between then and now, maybe as some sort of test release; it showed up on the local Google Movie Showtimes page a couple times, although at least once it was a mistake, and it should have been The Great Debaters instead.

This one sort of bugged me early on with too much narration; Colin Hanks's Troy Gable keeps telling us things that, even as he's saying them, bring the "show, don't tell" dictum to mind - as in, "this is the exact sort of thing that should be shown and not told". It has a less severe case of indie-itis than Sunshine, but also isn't quite as good when it is good.

The best thing about it is John Malkovich as the title character. He is, in many ways, a broadly-played cartoon, but he's delightfully larger than life. When the film is about him finding and acknowledging his place in the world, it's much more interesting than when Hanks's Troy is at the center for the same reasons, if only because he's not constantly talking about it.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2009 at AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run)

I try to make it a rule to judge movies based only on what they are, rather than what I expect or want them to be. Maybe, someday, I'll give this one another chance and find it to be an acceptable, if not exceptional, espionage thriller. It's hard, though, because the trailer promised a fast-paced, romantic caper, and the reality doesn't have nearly the sparkle that the preview did. It's got a fun question that it plays with - can spies ever truly find happiness when they're trained to be suspicious? - and in the last act, some light-heartedness does show up.

For the most part, though, it's a story of double- and triple-agents that would likely have seemed kind of dull back during the cold war, and while everyone is crisply efficient, there's very little differentiating them as interesting individuals. I also got the feeling that Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti really should have been stealing scenes as the feuding heads of the two drug companies, but after one over-the-top goofy moment in the beginning, nothing seems to come of it.

The Haunting in Connecticut

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 April 2009 at AMC Boston Common #6 (first-run)

About six years ago, Peter Cornwell make an absolutely fantastic animated short film called "Ward 13". It won bunches of awards, absolutely floored me when it showed as part of Don Herzfeldt & Mike Judge's "Animation Show", and it's not a complete exaggeration to say I bought the first two volumes of "The Animation Show" on DVD just to have it - it's that good. On the other hand, I had absolutely no interest in The Haunting in Connecticut until I started flipping through the SXSW program, cross-referencing with the IMDB, and seeing that Cornwell was listed as the director. Suddenly, something that looked like just another "true ghost story" got interesting.

This movie takes its time getting started, and is maybe burdened with more characters than it really needs if it's not going to be going for a body count, but once it gets a head of steam going, it does pretty well. It's got a couple of fun jumps, and every once in a while I'd find myself genuinely interested in the story it was telling, even if it is kind of standard-issue. Cornwell and writers Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe do a pretty nice job of giving the horror elements a mythology that seems intuitively and symbolically solid, but not one that feels constrained by arbitrary rules. And by the time it gets to the end, I found myself pretty impressed at how well it was chugging along, and how the nasty stuff it came up with didn't feel like things I'd seen a dozen times before.

(Also, "Ward 13" does play on a TV during the movie, amusing at least one person in the audience. Include it in HD as a special feature, and I'll buy the Blu-ray.)

Til døden os skiller (With your Permission)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 April 2009 at the Brattle Theatre (Sunday Eye Opener) (screener DVD)

The Brattle was going to do a double feature of the two films that Danish actress Paprika Steen had directed in conjunction with her appearance at the Chlotrudis Awards Ceremony, but Ms. Steen caught ill and could not travel, so the shows were canceled. This one is interesting, a black comedy that amuses for a while before it gets serious enough to get us to reconsider our opinions of the characters but maybe fizzles a bit toward the end.

It is, as Ivy pointed out in the post-film discussion, a very precisely crafted movie; I noted the unusual lack of windows on the outside of the main couple's house but did not fully comprehend what that meant in terms of it being a prison of sorts. I admire that sort of detail, but I also often find that, in these small Danish films, that sort of intimacy is also distancing: I find myself studying these characters, rather than really engaging with them.
Sunshine CleaningThe Great Buck HowardDuplicityThe Haunting in ConnecticutWith Your Permission

No comments: