Monday, October 26, 2009

This Week In Tickets: 19 October 2009 to 25 October 2009

Not a big week here, although I don't particularly feel like I'm missing a lot. Of course, some of it just doesn't show up here:

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: Wednesday's screening of nine sci-fi shorts that are candidates to appear in February's expanded Boston Science Fiction Film Festival; a Fantastic Fest screener for A Town Called Panic on Friday; showing off my home theater for Mom & Bill with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls on Saturday; and the Brattle's Sunday Eye-Opener of The Good Soldier.

I vacillate between very excited and very worried about the 7-9 days of festival screenings that are being attached to the venerable sci-fi marathon. On the one hand, I want it to succeed badly, and I think it might be in a better position to do so than the Brattle's late and lamented (by me, at least) Boston Fantastic Film Festival. It's attached to an event with an existing following, and should cross-promote easily with Arisia and Boskone. On the other hand... Well, the premieres at SF/x have been terrible for the ten or so years I've been going. Even if they're only programming one a night, how far down the well of direct to video crud are they going to have to go? Especially if they're going to be reliant on submissions, because the guys doing awesome stuff in Japan aren't looking for small festivals.

I'm not sure how much it's appropriate for me to say about the nine films I saw; so I'll just talk up the good stuff. The highlights were "Lifeline", an animated short that struck me as the offspring between 2001 and Bill Plympton, and "Under God", a somewhat heavy-handed but extremely well-produced tale of President Eisenhower seeing UNIVAC for the first time.

Astro Boy

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 October 2009 at AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run)

Astro Boy isn't a bad idea, either from a storytelling or pragmatic sense. Mighty Atom (as the character is known in Japan) is much beloved by audiences on multiple continents, but doesn't really have a fleshed-out origin story, so there's the opportunity to go Batman Begins/Casino Royale/Star Trek on it, and new animation studio Imagi stands a good chance of making a profit rather than having their first ambitious project put them in the red.

In a lot of ways, they do right by Tezuka's best-known creation. The animation is gorgeous and filled with playful designs, evoking Tezuka's cartoony style while still being solid and three-dimensional. The moments when Atom realizes he can fly are just absolutely perfect, and the filmmakers don't shy away from just how painful a lot of the story that introduces Atom is: He would later become an upbeat character, but there's a tragic core to him. Director David Bowers and his co-writer Timothy Harris do a good job of balancing that with goofy stuff.

And yet, so much of the movie just falls flat. There's messages of non-violence and environmentalism in there, and the opening sequence has a satirical sting, but mostly just vague nods in the direction. And as much fun as the big robot fighting sequence in the middle is, it's not clear why it's okay for Atom to blow up a bunch of other robots.

The Good Soldier

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 25 October 2009 at the Brattle Theatre (Sunday Eye-Opener)

Huh, has it been three and a half years since seeing Sir! No Sir! at the Eye-Opener? It honestly seems like it was more recent. The Good Soldier has the same basic message - soldiers turning toward peace activism after seeing the horrors of war first-hand, although The Good Soldier widens its focus from Vietnam to sixty years of armed conflict, and is more interested in ideals than events.

And, good for it. It's good information, and filmmakers Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys do a nice job of not making the film into a polemic. Indeed, this is one of the first movies of the sort, clearly made partially in response to the Iraq war, that that I think could be shown to people with varying opinions on the war and have them maybe find some common ground. It's not perfect, but that's remarkable in and of itself.

A Serious Man

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 October 2009 at the Coolidge Corner Theater #2 (first-run)

The Coens' latest is one of their most peculiar - it starts with a fable set far in the past, then jumps to the 1960s for a story that frustratingly refuses to provide any sort of release. As quirky as their other movies have been, they went somewhere; this one just seems to stop.

But that's the point, isn't it? At no point is any given person's story over, and it can't be fully understood. A marvelous recurring theme of the movie is uncertainty: The opening segment with us not knowing whether or not Fyvush Finkel's character is a dybbuk or not; Michael Stuhlbarg's physics professor character lectures on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Schroedinger's Cat, and is himself deviled by a paradoxical threat made by a student's father, who encourages him to embrace the mystery about it rather than think too hard. He's caught flat-footed by his wife's desire for a divorce, has nightmares about possible outcomes, and becomes frantic about not being able to get a simple answer.

Stuhlbarg is great in this role, a reasonable man buffeted by forces outside his control. It's a performance that will probably be undersold come awards time because it's very funny, but it's also amazing in how Stuhlbarg and the Coens make an everyman into something that seems like a wholly original creation.
Astro BoyA Serious Man

No comments: