Thursday, August 20, 2009

This Week In Tickets: 10 August 2009 to 16 August 2009

This is late because I figured that I'd put the review of Evangelion 1.0 up while it was still playing the Brattle in order to warn people away, and then Saturday kept me busy, then over the next couple days, quite honestly, it was too warm to actually hold a laptop on my lap and write.

And now, a demonstration of how concert venues expect their tickets to be kept in scrapbooks much larger than a datebook:

This Week In Tickets!

The labeling of that ticket is a little deceptive, and Ms. Raitt and Mr. Mahal shared billing more or less equally, each doing a set somewhere between 45 minutes and an hour and then coming out to do a set together. I ordered the ticket on one of the "no service fee" promotions Live Nation has been doing on Wednesdays, and it was a reminder of how much I like Bonnie Raitt. I'm a bad fan, in that I haven't picked a new album up since the mid-90s.

And Taj Mahal... He's a guy whose name I knew, but really didn't connect to anything specific. I still don't, but it doesn't much matter; the man can pay the blues.

Around the concert, I spent the weekend catching up with some movies in mainstream release. Also, hitting the Brattle to at least get one movie from the Errol Flynn series in.

Mildly amusing: I saw the trailer for 9 in front of District 9, and the trailer for Nine before Julie & Julia. That's gonna have to confuse some folks.

Footsteps in the Dark

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2009 at the Brattle Theatre (Errol Flynn Centenniel)

Originally scheduled as part of a double feature, but the other print didn't come in. Footsteps is fun, though, a murder mystery where Flynn's sleuth is a investment banker who sneaks away from his day job to write mystery novels which mercilessly caricature his high-society acquaintances. Naturally, he winds up in a situation where he must really solve a case, without revealing to the police that his "normal" life had him at the scene of the crime earlier and preserving his reputation by not revealing to his family that he's a sordid novelist.

It's fun, managing to work both as a screwball comedy and a cozy mystery, but it also winds up with all the faults of both genres, too: There aren't enough characters to make the mystery particularly difficult, and many of the comedy elements rest on people acting in a very silly fashion. Flynn, though, glides through it all with an easy charm, and while most of the other characters are of the one-note variety, that note tends to be perfectly in tune.

Julie & Julia

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 August 2009 at Regal Fenway #7 (first-run)

Very charming, as is to be expected with its cast - Meryl Streep as Julia Child, Stanley Tucci as her diplomat husband, Amy Adams as a modern woman working and blogging her way through Child's cookbook, and nice supporting bits for Jane Lynch, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Frances Sternhagen. It also works passably well as a "food movie", and it's also refreshingly nice. There are tensions, to be sure, but I rather liked that in this movie, marriages and relationships are almost always strong things that give people strength rather than fragile compromises under constant threat.

Another thing that I really liked was that the filmmakers really seemed to get blogging. As with many new forms of technology and communication that are integrated into our daily life, Hollywood has often seemed wary of blogging - films will either look down their nose at it, or need to make it into something with video, or just display hilarious ignorance (often referring to "bloggers" as people who read blogs rather than write them). This movie gets it mostly right, from showing how excited bloggers get over comments, the worry that no-one is reading it, and that it's disciplined writing, not (always) amateurish garbage. Screenwriter/director Nora Ephron had a head start, basing her movie in part on a book that came from a blog, but it's worth noting that she also made You've Got Mail, which was centered on adult, non-technical people using email before Hollywood had caught on that it wasn't just the nerds any more.

District 9

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 August 2009 at Regal Fenway #13 (first-run)

Pretty darn good, though it could be about 15 minutes shorter. One thing I really dug about it was that this is a very South African movie - it's pointedly set in Johannesburg, and the script, while not really about apartheid, is clearly the work of someone who grew up with that being more than a faraway concern. It's cool to see that, despite how Hollywood tend to underestimate its audience, folks will come out for something that is unabashedly foreign if it looks like an entertaining movie.

It's also a very competent sci-fi actioner. Filmmaker Neill Blomkamp doesn't stint on the red stuff when the big guns come out, but he's also not nearly so enamored of it as Slam-Bang's Mark Lebanon. The visuals are very snazzy for a mid-budget film like this, too. He makes an interesting choice in making his protagonist more or less a jackass for much longer than an American filmmaker looking to make a big action film might, and uses the faux-doc bits well. There are some bits of science that don't fit quite so well for me - even if you accept that the aliens' technology has a strong biological component despite looking pretty mechanical, the man plot device is really absurd - illness in response to contact with alien motor oil, sure, I'll buy that, but massive and ordered biological changes for a species that evolved on a separate planet? A bit much.

The Hurt Locker

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2009 at AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run)

I've been looking forward to this one for a while; I missed a couple chances to see it at SXSW and a preview just before leaving for Fantasia, so I'm very grateful that it stuck around long enough that I could fit it into my schedule, because it's great.

It's great in large part because it does what good cop shows & movies do: Puts the audience right in the middle of the action, giving us plenty of procedural goodness while also cranking up the tension and building characters we're genuinely interested in. It sticks fairly close to its core three characters, and played against a frequent Hollywood standard by tending to align our sympathies much more with the regulation-spouting by-the-book type as opposed to the laid-back, more intuitive fellow. Not completely - Sgt. James is the main character, and we're often given the impression that he's as incredibly good at defusing bombs as he is because he doesn't always stick to protocol - but it's a nifty balancing act, very respectful of the military without being gung ho.

The Hurt Locker is also one of the most tense movies you'll see all year. Kathryn Bigelow can direct the heck out of an action set piece, including those that rely far more on the threat of something happening than on the actual bullets and shrapnel flying, but she and her cast are fantastic with the times in between, too, relieving immediate tension while turning the emotional screws just a little tighter. It's a wonderful little war film, in the tradition that says war is hell, no matter what people think of the specific conflict before, during, or after.
Footsteps in the DarkEvangelion 1.0Julie & JuliaDistrict 9The Hurt Locker

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