Thursday, October 22, 2009

This Week In Tickets: 12 October 2009 to 18 October 2009

Yes, I've been using computers since I started playing with the school's TRS-80 Model 1 in the second grade, and I work in the field, but I've been slow about following certain online trends. So, I've spent the past couple of weeks catching up, a little: Here's me on Twitter and me on Facebook.

Here's me at the movies:

This Week In Tickets!

I can't claim I'll friend everybody on the latter or reciprocate with everybody who follows me on the former; past a certain point, all it does is make it harder to follow the people I do want to keep track of because they're swamped in a sea of folks you sort of knew back in high school.

And all they'd get is me complaining about baseball officiating and telling stories about how I scored a mini-jackpot on Saturday - my ticket to Paranormal Activity not only pushed me over the Regal points threshold for a free movie ticket, but also happened to be in one of the big rooms without my even checking.

(And, yes, sometimes when I go to the Fenway theater and I'm not sure exactly which movie I'm going to see or if it's playing on more than one screen, I'll check and see which ones are running on screens 12 and 13. Hey, they all cost the same, so you might as well get the most bang for your buck!)

The Boys are Back

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2009 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)

The basic idea behind The Boys Are Back is kind of a chestnut: Newly widowed father has to take care of his two sons, only, get this, in many ways he's still more a boy than a man himself. It's not bad at that, although it doesn't exactly break a whole lot of new ground. Clive Owen continues to make a good case that he is, in fact, an actor, rather than a guy who has benefited from choosing roles that fit his on-screen persona well. Nicholas McAnulty and George MacKay are good as the sons, and Emma Booth is good as the woman who enters his life.

Like Up, though, The Boys Are Back distinguishes itself in its tragic set-up. Director Scott Hicks and screenwriter Allan Cubitt take just ten or fifteen minutes to discover wife Katy's cancer and have it run its course, but it's gut-wrenching, managing to communicate both how quick it can happen and how painful and drawn-out the process can feel. Then there's the way younger son Artie reacts to it, which made me feel a sort of weird frustration that he didn't seem to understand just what the situation was. And how sons Harry and Artie, who have been raised on different sides of the world, aren't sure how to react to having a brother in their lives.

So, nice, and refreshingly aware of how complex family relations in the twenty-first century can be.

Paranormal Activity

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 October 2009 at Regal Fenway #12 (first-run)

Paranormal Activity is without question working from the Blair Witch Project playbook, but does so with great effectiveness. Like that predecessor, it's built on not showing the audience too much, knowing that no matter how creative visual effects guys get, they'll never be able to create a single image that scares everybody. Let us imagine our worst nightmare, though...

The flip side, though, is that what makes this movie work is how much it shows. Writer/director Oren Peli lets us get familiar with the house where everything takes place and holds the camera steady - in fact, the characters trying to capture their haunting even have the courtesy of mounting it on a tripod. Some very well-timed and seamless practical effects show us that something is going on, but are likely simple enough that the audience doesn't disengage and wonder how the filmmakers did it.

And, the two characters we spend the most time with are able to keep from wearing out their welcome. They like each other but can still be irritated by each other's foibles. Micah Sloat in particular manages a nice balance: His enthusiasm about investigating this mystery is thoroughly understandable - how many of us wouldn't be excited about something so out of the ordinary in our lives - even as we realize it is really dumb for a character in a horror movie.


* * (out of four)
Seen 18 October 2009 at AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run)

Even if Zombieland were executed really well, it would probably rub me the wrong way, at least a little: I kind of like my horror movies to be scary, and this one isn't, not even a little. Sure, it's not actually a horror story, rather a coming of age comedy that uses a zombie apocalypse as a metaphor (don't go through life as a zombie!), but it's not a very good one. Jesse Eisenberg's character is annoying even without the constant narration, and neither Woody Harrelson nor Emma Stone is much more interesting. Abigail Breslin, at least, is a unique entry, the 12-year-old scam artist who bounces off both Stone and Harrelson quite well.

Unfortunately, the movie just isn't very funny. It's the sort of thing marketed to movie fans that relies heavily on familiarity with in-jokes about how to survive zombie movies or the like, and I get them, but that's not actually funny. The most egregious is when a certain actor whom I absolutely love shows up playing himself midway through, and the movie just thinks having him there will lead to spontaneous laughter, but even he is just not that funny on his own. Thus, Zombieland makes one appreciate the occasionally clever writing in Space Jam, which did the same thing, only much better.

The killer is, the movie undermines even that by having Breslin look blankly at the characters having their little in-jokes and actually say "I don't know what you are talking about" - the movie actually acknowledges that this stuff isn't funny on its own!

New York, I Love You

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 October 2009 at Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run)

Paris, Je T'Aime had 18 segments directed by an amazing selection of directors from around the world, with a similarly high-profile cast. New York, I Love You has ten, and one of the directors is Brett Ratner.

I kid; Ratner's is actually one of the more entertaining, telling a tight little story with a fun appearance by James Caan. It's far from perfect, but it does have a beginning, middle, and end, with a bit of a twist, and memorable performances from Caan, Anton Yelchin, and Olivia Thirlby. The same can't really be said for any of the other shorts, though: Yes, some of the directors are folks whose name gets me interested - Allen Hughes, Mira Nair, Shekhar Kapur (pinch-hitting for the late Anthony Minghella), maybe Yvan Attal, and the cast is full of stars. Only Ratner, Josha Marston, and Hughes really seem to do what they set out to, though; the rest just seem somewhat inert. And Marston has Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach, which means he starts out way ahead of everyone else.

Adding insult to injury, IMDB's trivia page for the movie says that two segments were cut entirely - one directed by Scarlett Johansson and starring Kevin Bacon, another directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev and starring Carla Gugino. Those had better show up on the Blu-ray.
Witchfinder General / The Oblong BoxFall of the House of Usher x2The Boys Are BackParanormal ActivityZombielandNew York, I Love You

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