Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This Week In Tickets: 18 May 2009 to 24 May 2009

I'd like to say this got pushed off until Tuesday because I spent the holiday weekend traveling or otherwise doing something out of the ordinary, but I really can't. I mostly spent it right on my own back porch, making a dent in the pile of manga and collected comics I've purchased over the past year. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon or two, although when they started playing baseball, I certainly wished I had some sort of portable radio. It kind of surprises me that I don't; everyone had one or two of those when I was a kid, but nowadays, who needs them when you can carry every song you might want to hear in your pocket, and the vast majority of stations are chain-owned blandness or noxious talk? That includes the sports stations most of the time, but for live sports when you don't want to be chained to the TV, they're pretty useful.

This Week In Tickets!

Anyway, I did take a bit of a break from reviewing stuff when I finished the IFFB reviews, using my bus time to finish the first Lensman volume. Triplanetary also included "Masters of Space", and, good gravy... I'd love to see movies or TV made of these stories, because for all E.E. "Doc" Smith could come up with thrilling, cliff-hanging adventure stories, he could not write about people at all. Triplanetary was bearable, in part because it's the 1930s and this is pure pulp and the lurid prose is sincere. It's a total engineer's fantasy, with ideas going form concept to flawless production model in days without management, QA, cost & availability of materials, etc., being an issue. "Masters of Space", though, was written in the sixties, and tries to have soapy elements in it, but everyone is so self-aware that it's maddening. The characters talk about how and why they love each other in this purely rational way that never once rings true, and can we please get back to the ancient astronauts, galaxy-conquering marauders, scientists ascending to near-godhood, and villains intending to use one planet as a bullet to take out another?

Final IFFB update:

22 April 2009 (Wednesday): The Brothers Bloom
23 April 2009 (Thursday): Children of Invention, The Missing Person
24 April 2009 (Friday): Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, In The Loop, Pontypool
25 April 2009 (Saturday): Still Walking, Nollywood Babylon, Lost Son of Havana, Grace
26 April 2009 (Sunday): Herb and Dorothy, Helen, Unmistaken Child, The Escapist
27 April 2009 (Monday): For the Love of Movies, Art & Copy
28 April 2009 (Tuesday): World's Greatest Dad

Finished! Now, to start making reservations and vacation plans for Fantasia. I really need to find some way to get paid to travel the world, going to film festivals and reporting back (c'mon, entertainment websites... just think how much content I could generate for you if I didn't have my day job slowing me down!).


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 May 2009 at Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run)

I don't think I've seen anything of Atom Egoyan's other than The Sweet Hereafter, and I was young enough then that I missed about half of what was going on. There's some similar themes at play here - survivor's guilt, unhappy families, etc. - but it's never as quietly devastating, and some of the storytelling tools seem... unfair, I guess?

Of course, it's not as if a movie is obligated to play fair, and just because certain things are conventions doesn't mean a specific work has to follow them. So, just because Adoration establishes early on that bits have an unreliable narrator doesn't mean the film can't later on show us an unwitnessed event definitively, especially given how the "unreliable" scenes are shown as being completely untrue. Similarly, a piece of information revealed toward the end seems kind of out of left field, and I found myself sitting there thinking "really? you want to go with that?" It's not a terribly ridiculous coincidence, in retrospect, but when you consider that one of the main themes of this movie is how easy it is to manipulate people with false or incomplete information, it's perhaps not unreasonable to wish the filmmakers did it more artfully.

Also, Egoyan perhaps should have chosen his ending scenes a little more carefully. I didn't come out of the film thinking about media manipulation or prejudice, but about how that kid really did not appreciate the value of nice things. That's a fine violin and phone gone to waste.

Terminator Salvation

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2009 at AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run)

For years, I've been hearing from various sci-fi/film fans about how cool it would be to do a Terminator film that focused on the future war, and I didn't get it. Even when I was younger, I knew a bit about the whole "less is more" thing, and that by giving us small glimpses, James Cameron made it worse than we could imagine. And that was before anybody even considered the idea that there might be a PG-13 Terminator sequel, with the future war a bloodless affair conducted in bright sunlight.

That's part of the problem with Terminator Salvation, a competently made sci-fi action movie with some nice effects and a ridiculously overqualified cast. It leeches the horror out of the idea. In my mind, Skynet never took prisoners - why would they need more than a handful? - and the resistance was always scattered guerrillas, not folks with bunkers and helicopters and the like. They probably weren't as dumb as the characters in this movie could be, but let's be honest - they're really just average sci-fi movie dumb, not recognizing an obvious trap and communicating over frequencies that their enemy could easily eavesdrop on.

The bigger problem is that this movie is conceptually smaller than all the others. All three previous movies hit the audience with the idea that the end was the beginning: It's literally the case for the first and (under-rated) third; they used the time-travel storyline to make the movies closed loops, so that the denouement also happens to be the backstory. The second inverts the idea to suggest that the future was now unpredictable, a wide-open road on which the characters are just now starting their journey. This one is just a disposable side-story, something that happened to John Connor during the part of the story that James Cameron deemed relatively unimportant in The Terminator. It's the stuff of comic book tie-ins, not a story worthy of standing alongside Cameron's films or even Jonathan Mostow's.

The funny thing is, it's not really a bad cyborg wondering about his humanity in a post-apocalyptic future movie; remove the brand name and stop trying to force it into the Terminator mythology (which does hurt the story), and there's a potentially fun movie here. Terminator demands more, though.

Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2009 at AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run)

I've mentioned before that it's not a good idea to see movies out of a sense of obligation, which is why I've consciously started scaling back on feeling the need to catch all the Oscar or Chlotrudis or what have you nominees during the first couple months of the year. Movies shouldn't be homework. Still, I often look at stuff on the Brattle's schedule, and I figure I should see some of this stuff, even if it's not something I'm particularly enthused about. Like a retrospective of François Truffaut, focusing on the Antoine Doinel films.

So, maybe I just wasn't in the mood for The 400 Blows this past weekend. I found myself losing patience early and often, and Doinel often felt like a blank to me. I get that it's a movie about a kid getting into trouble because he's got nobody to focus him, but I also don't get a sense of who he would be or could be otherwise. He makes jumps that don't even seem to make sense by kid logic. The story doesn't end so much as it stops, or so it seems.

On another day, I might have enjoyed The 400 Blows a little more, but I'd walked to and from the Common for Terminator, and wasn't exactly in the mood for something abstract (a smidge less so than usual). Obviously, it's a film that can be dissected and studied, but I don't find myself of a mind to.

Baisers Volés (Stolen Kisses)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2009 at AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run)

I liked Stolen Kisses a little more, though I was glad I didn't see it back-to-back with The 400 Blows. The two star the same actor as the same character, but aren't connected very tightly. It might have worked better if the Brattle was able to show "Antoine et Colette", which was made between the two features and establishes Antoine's tendency to fall for entire families.

This one is a collection of anecdotes, not strongly connected, and while some of them are fairly entertaining, there's also a sense of annoying randomness to it, as if Truffaut had a bunch of events that didn't really gel into a story, but he wanted to film them all. It also established Doinel as the sort of character who annoys the heck out of me, because he seems to succeed without ever doing anything well.

On the other hand, this film does introduce us to the lovely Claude Jade as Christine, who will be the highlight of this film and the next; I found myself wishing we were spending as much time with her as with him

AdorationTerminator SalvationThe 400 BlowsStolen Kisses

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