Monday, August 10, 2009

This Week Month-Plus In Tickets: 6 July 2009 to 9 August 2009

It's been long enough since I've done one of these that I've just about forgotten how the scanner works. Of course, there was Fantasia Daily for a good chunk of it, but now things are about back to normal. So, without a whole lot more in the way of ado...

This Week In Tickets!

Remember back at the beginning of July, when the Red Sox were in first place, it didn't look like they could be budged from the spot, John Friggin' Smoltz looked like he was going to strengthen the rotation, and it looked like the most significant and exciting part of the baseball season was the return of Nomar Garciaparra? Wasn't it great? I got tickets to both of those games just in case Oakland didn't play Nomar in one, and I got lucky - the seats for the first game weren't far from the Oakland dugout at all (although they weren't kidding with the "Walkway Traffic" label!), and Nomar looked unbelievably happy to be here. They didn't play him at all the second game, but at least that one the Sox won.

Then, after that, it was off to Montreal for Fantasia. The trip down was a slog, but once there, the days were as packed as ever:

This Week In Tickets!

This Week In Tickets!

Those last two days on the schedule, plus the one they added after that... Some year, I'll remember that this festival is never over when it's originally announced to be over. Of course, to make that work, I'd have to have a job that paid me to go to festivals, gorge on movies, and write about them, rather than just a hobby (anyone with such a job to offer, feel free to contact me)!

By the time I got back early on the 28th, I was, as you might imagine, kind of movied out, so I spent the next week not moving far from the house, doing pretty much nothing. So, let's skip the blank page and move to where things more or less get back to normal:

This Week In Tickets!

I don't generally shell out that sort of money for a concert, but the Beatles are proving much less death-resistant than other pop legends, so you see them while you can. It was a heck of a time getting there, though - the website said they would send the tickets two weeks before the show, when I was in Canada, and I didn't find them in my pile of mail when I got home. Despite buying them via Live Nation, I had to call eTix to find out what was up. Then the T bit me; I left work at in Waltham at 5pm, apparently just missed the bus connection in Watertown, wound up waiting for a #57 bus that's supposed to depart every fifteen minutes for nearly half an hour, and then sloooooowly moved through traffic. Walking from Kenmore to Fenway was one of those "we're all going the same place for something that has started already, why aren't we moving as a unit?" experiences. I wound up in the park at roughly 7:15, just in time to see the end of the opening act.

Once the concert proper actually started, though, it was a lot of fun. It amuses me that the seat would have been the best seat I have ever had for a ballgame - five rows behind home plate, not far off center - only to have all the action be waaaaay out by the bleachers (oddly, that makes those terrible monster-facing seats in right field some of the best in the house). McCartney's a guy who knows what his audience wants - the set list was something like 65% Beatles, 30% Wings, 5% more recent - has a likable befuddlement that he's still playing rock & roll at the age of 68, and works the audience well. This isn't one where you're trying to get the crowd hyped up (he had jokes about random cheering), but he's got a knack for seeming to speak directly to the audience and telling amusing stories to stitch the songs together. It helps that he can start them with "my friend George" and "my friend John".

And now... Movies!

Afghan Star

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 August 2009 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

I'm not usually one to rail at unscripted television - at this point in the game, the ones that have had staying power are ones that tap into something pretty basic: Desire to travel, belief that talent will out, that sort of thing. The Afghan Star program, a sort of Afghani version of American/Pop Idol, seems to have that basic appeal: Reviving music and pop culture in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, feeling like a united country rather than splintered tribes, etc.

The thing is, I don't watch a lot of these shows, in large part because they feel padded and full of air, as they try to stretch twenty minutes of good content into an hour or two, and the first half of the movie, which feels like a compressed version of the season, has that same sort of problem. Once things start to hit snags in the second half, the film becomes a little more interesting, but despite some interesting details, it's still things we already know: Things still aren't really great for women there, the Taliban may be out but there are still plenty of religious fundamentalists in power ready to attack what seems like anything that involves people enjoying themselves, and struggles against common enemies have only hidden local rivalries, not ended them.

There are bits of interest - while few of the contestants really drew me in, I did grow quite fond of the Khan family, big-time fans of the show - but not enough. The talent competition was generic, and the look at modern Afghanistan, while important, seemed just like every other look at transitional-stage middle east countries I've seen.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

* * (out of four)
Seen 8 August 2009 at AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run)

First, the damning with faint praise: G.I. Joe is a much more enjoyable 1980s toy/comic/cartoon-to-screen than its sibling Transformers. For all that it appears to have taken severe liberties with everything that was done with the property the first time around, it's mostly good ideas: Making the Joes an international anti-terrorist force, giving them black suits that not only looks slick on screen, but enable larger-than-life action that is both cartoonish and vaguely possible, keeping the characters down to a manageable number. The cast is mostly filled with people who, honestly, should be able to do better. Director Stephen Sommers isn't quite back to his Deep Rising form, but he's way ahead of The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing here.

And that's part of what makes it so disappointing: Enough things that shouldn't work go right that falling down on the job on really basic things undermines it terribly. Did anybody, while writing the script, ever read the lines they'd just written aloud and realize that even the best actors can't make them sound like something people would actually say? Considering how ridiculously good everybody around them is - this film boasts Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Eccleston, Arnold Vosloo, Jonathan Pryce, Sienna Miller, Dennis Quaid (who actually makes his growl of "knowing is half the battle!" work), Rachel Nichols, and Lee Byung-hun (a regular lead for both Kim Ji-woon and Park Chan-wook, who should be a huge international movie star; when the heck do we get A Bittersweet Life, I Come with the Rain, and The Good, The Bad, and The Weird over here?... but I digress) - why on earth do you settle for Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans in the two biggest roles?

It annoys me, because there's some pretty slick stuff in here - the Paris set-piece is a doozy, even with some rough CGI, and as much as this is a "nanotech can do anything!" movie, they are actually pretty clever and consistent in its usage. Sommers ODs on the effects toward the end, because that's what he does, but he at least does it in a way that we can sort of follow. A little more attention to the basics, and he's made a darn good action movie, but instead, I can't help but feel a little cheated.

A Perfect Getaway

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 August 2009 at AMC Boston Common #7 (first-run)

New Stephen Sommers and David Twohy on the same day? Wow. Neither is around much for five years, and then, bang!

Twohy's got the better movie, although putting "Perfect" in the title is a bit of hubris. Understand, it looks great, is well-acted, and has a nice story, but in trying to be clever, it tips its hand way too early, winding up obvious. Now, normally I hem and haw and do everything I can to try to avoid saying that a thriller is a "twist" movie, because the audience deserves the surprise, but Twohy is terribly obvious in laying it out: He makes one character a screenwriter, then tosses bits about red herrings and second-act twists into the dialog. I thought maybe this might be an elaborate fake-out, but, no, once I figured out what the most complete reversal would be, I had it.

Maybe if the movie hadn't so obviously telegraphed its twisty nature, I'd have found it a cheat, but I doubt it. In Twohy's defense, even once the savvy audience has figured out just what's going down, he's not bad at planting doubts in our heads. All six members of his main cast are great fits for their characters. And when it comes time for the last act, Twohy and company don't mess around - the action is nifty and nasty, and very easy to follow. It's rough getting there, but the finale is definitely worth it.
Afghan StarPaul McCartney Set ListG.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraThe Perfect GetawayNomar plays for Oakland, Julio Lugo plays for Boston, Sox loseOakland sits Nomar, Boston sits Julio Lugo, Sox winFantasia Catch-up #01Fantasia (9 July 2009)Fantasia (10 July 2009)Fantasia (11 July 2009)Fantasia (12 July 2009)Fantasia (13 July 2009)Fantasia (13 July 2009)Fantasia (14 July 2009)Fantasia (15 July 2009)Fantasia (16 July 2009)Fantasia (17 July 2009)Fantasia (18 July 2009)Fantasia (19 July 2009)Fantasia (20 July 2009)Fantasia (21 July 2009)Fantasia (22 July 2009)Fantasia (23 July 2009)Fantasia (24 July 2009)Fantasia (25 July 2009)Fantasia (26 July 2009)Fantasia (27 July 2009)

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