Monday, March 15, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 8 March 2010 to 14 March 2010

Plenty of good stuff coming up this week, well worth spanning eight days to mention:

* My friends would likely give me a hard time if I didn't start with The Chlotrudis Awards on Sunday night at The Brattle Theatre. It's a fun evening, honoring quality independent films, and Society President Michael Colford is probably going nuts even as we speak to meet the person who spoke the Donnie Darko line that has been in his email signature for years, special guest Beth Grant.

But, hey, that's just an awards ceremony, one I'm almost willing to punt if I can't find time to get to the ridiculous amount of other stuff playing in (potentially) short runs this week:

* Before the awards, the second half of the one-two punch Werner Herzog brought to last year's Toronto Film Festival opens at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday. If My Son, My Son, What Have You Done? is even half as good as Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, it will be well worth figuring out the MFA's schedule to catch.

If you haven't gone to movies at the MFA before, I'm only half-joking about the "figuring out" bit. Even when a movie like My Son is having a "run", that means it's booked for 4-6 dates which are not necessarily in a row or at the same time. This one is playing five times, around The Films of Kim Longinotto and the start of The Boston Turkish Film Festival.

* Hubble 3-D opens at the Aquarium on Friday, playing 3 matinees daily while Avatar has the night shift. The Ultimate Wave: Tahiti 3D is also playing there, and that looks pretty cool. But gorgeous photography of Tahiti and James Cameron's cool sci-fi flick aside, is there anything cooler than documentary footage of spaceflight and crystal-clear images from the Hubble in genuine reels-of-film-that-require-a-forklift-to-move-with-single-frames-the-size-of-your-fist-projected-with-a-bulb-that-doubles-as-a-death-ray-onto-a-screen-the-size-of-a-medium-sized-office-building IMAX 3-D? Not for $12, there isn't.

* Circus Films at the Brattle! It's a small, weekend series, but there's some neat stuff, including an outfit called Cirkestra providing live accompaniment to a silent, The Unknown. That always gets me to the theaters.

* Kendall Square opens a few new movies, including The Secret of Kells, which looks like it thoroughly deserved its Oscar nomination from the gorgeous clips and previews. Also opening are The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Mother; the one-week-wonder is Neil Young: Trunk Show.

* The Coolidge has a 25th Anniversary special screening run of Ran on Monday beginning Friday to celebrate the Kurosawa Centennial. They'll be running Rashomon later and the Brattle will be running a three week series.

* And, finally, even though I'll probably get another chance to remind the half-dozen or so people who read this blog about it next week, The Boston Underground Film Festival kicks of next Thursday, the 25th, with the local premiere of Sion Sono's Love Exposure, an amazing film that has too much awesome packed into its four hours to classify. It's funny, heartbreaking, and utterly bizarre by turns; I loved it when I saw it at Fantasia last summer.

Yes, I said four hours, which is one of the reasons I highly recommend seeing it at the Kendall on the 25th. If it played a regular run, or came out on video, it would be easy to say "four hours? not tonight!" at any given time; at a one-time festival screening, though, you make the time, because there aren't other alternatives. And you should, because in addition to being as long as two movies stuck together, it's got as much good stuff as two individual movies, maybe three.

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: Wonder Woman (2009), 13 March 2010.

It rained in the Boston area this weekend: An annoying drizzle when I left in the morning to catch Green Zone, and just enough to keep me in the theater for Cop Out when that ended. Looking at those ticket prices, I kind of wish I'd seen them in reverse order; Green Zone was easily worth more than Cop Out.

Then, Sunday... I was intending to go out and see something else, but a couple minutes buying a paper a block away convinced me that I didn't even want to walk as far as Central Square to catch the T. I spent the day bagging and tagging over a year's worth of comics that had piled up in the attic. Still a few left, and then there's the putting them into long boxes in the other corner of the attic (where another six to eight months's worth are also waiting. Curse my mania for alphabetical order.

I'm also beginning to strongly suspect that screener DVDs degrade over time. Every time I try to start going through my Fantasia/Fantastic Fest screeners to try and catch up, just starting gets more and more frustrating - the Blu-ray and HD DVD players won't touch them, then the laptop pops up a "No Disc in drive" message when I try to watch Spare, wouldn't send sound out to the SlingCatcher when I tried to watch The Chaser and its enormous watermark, and now doesn't even react to the presence of The Chaser in the DVD drive at all.

All that really means is I can maybe skip over some of my backlog stuff, and get started on the next phase that was to come after screeners: All the HD DVD/Blu-ray stuff I've purchased but never watched in any format (discs I have never watched despite having seen the movie are exempt). I opted to start from the end of the alphabet rather than the beginning for a simple reason: It was 10pm and Wonder Woman runs 74 minutes, while Alexander Revisited is three hours plus. Potentially unfortunately, that means that the next disc up is White Noise 2, purchased because I was assured it had nothing to do with White Noise and I like the cast. Still, you could clear the bar of that first movie by a lot and still be utter crap.

Oscar Shorts - Live Action

Seen 9 March 2010 at the ICA (Oscar Shorts)

The winner, which we knew going in, was "The New Tenants", a fairly deserving choice, although I do wonder about the politics: As much as it's officially from Denmark, it's in English and has appearances by familiar faces like Vincent d'Onofrio. To balance, thought, the film from Ireland is not in English, but Russian.

"Kavi" - * * * - Pretty good short about a kid in India whose entire family is enslaved. It kind of goes on for a bit, and kind of peters out, but it's well-done.

"The New Tenants" - * * * ¼ - The winner is quite funny, darkly so. Excellent deadpan sense of humor.

"Miracle Fish" - * * * - Nifty little story that goes into odd places. It ends kind of abruptly, but is intriguing throughout.

"The Door" - * * * ¼ - Neck and neck for the award with "The New Tenants", at least in my mind. It's a crushing story that follows Chernobyl villagers in the aftermath of the meltdown, brutal to watch at times.

"Instead of Abracadabra" - * * ¾ - Cute story with some funny bits, although it's not as good as it could be at points. The main character's a bit too dim to make it really work perfectly, though.

Oscar Shorts - Animated

Seen 10 March 2010 at the ICA (Oscar Shorts)

"Logorama" won the Oscar and it was my favorite of the program. As I mentioned last week, it's a pretty good year when a new Wallace & Gromit short is perhaps among the weakest entries.

"French Roast" - * * * - Funny little short, although it's a little strange visually; it takes a while to get used to how much of the action is rendered in a mirror that looks a lot like a window. That's a pretty impressive trick from a technical perspective, though.

"The Lady and the Reaper" - * * * ½ - I swear I saw something very similar to this a couple years ago, although I think that was much more somber and maybe hand-drawn. This is CGI and madcap, full of cartoonish slapstick about death fighting a heroic surgeon for the soul of an old woman who is at peace and ready to see her late husband again.

"A Matter of Loaf and Death" - * * * ½ - Yep, still funny.

"Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty" - * * * ¼ - The initial idea isn't quite so fantastic (a granny telling a disturbing and self-serving fairy tale to her grandchild, with a different form of animation within the story), but the punchline is perfect.

"Partly Cloudy" - * * * - I can't remember whether this was 3-D or not when I saw it with Up, but it's still a cute, very enjoyable little short. Pixar does great work.

"Runaway" - * * * - Nice-looking short out of Canada with kind of a nasty sense of humor despite its smoothness.

"The Kinematograph" - * * * - I dig the "early history of film" part, but there's something about the emotion of this one that leaves me kind of cold, like we're supposed to look down on the inventor even though the wife is concealing her illness. The implication is that he traded his love for his invention, and knowledge comes with a price that is often not worth it, and you're going to have to try a whole lot harder to convince me of that.

"Logorama" - * * * ¾ - You know what's cruel about this short? That a whole bunch of lawyers will keep it from ever being issued on video (although if it's available on iTunes (ptui!), I'd imagine at least some of that's been worked out), but it's the one you will most want to have available for freeze-framing to catch all the clever little bits of things that directors "H5" put in every corner of their world made up of corporate logos.

Green Zone

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 March 2010 at AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run)

A lot of folks have been making the obvious comparison to the Bourne movies (Damon! Greengrass!), mainly because it is the easy comparison. I think that, in a lot of ways, Green Zone is better than his work on those, because while I found that globe-trotting action/adventure isn't really Greengrass's forte (my impression of those films will always be him taking what was clearly an impressively staged and executed car chase in The Bourne Supremacy and cutting it into incomprehensibility), he does damn good "you are here". There's a great boots-on-the-ground feeling to the movie, not just in how tense the action can get, but in how we instinctively understand an NCO like Miller's place in the world: He's the glue that holds the army together, although the likes of Miller are so well-trained that the likes of him actuallly questioning his orders is unheard of.

Cop Out

* * (out of four)
Seen 13 March 2010 at AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run)

So, let me understand this, MPAA (or Warner, or whoever is responsible) - it's okay to have the line "a couple of dicks" front and center in the movie, but having it as the title is crossing a line? How's that work?

That aside, Cop Out is interesting in what it says about Kevin Smith as a filmmaker. Not the moral judgment of "how can you stand having your name on this?" or the political implications of whether this is a gesture to make him seem more studio-friendly to people other than the Weinsteins, but how it lets us examine specific talents. All his previous films were as a writer/director, with the general impression being that he can write well enough to cover his weakness behind the camera. He didn't write Cop Out, though, and it indicates that while he can't spin gold from straw, he's built up enough skills to maybe make a mattress. It is a pretty dumb script, after all, but in many ways the execution isn't bad. The scenes and bits that don't work - and there are many don't call attention to themselves; they move smoothly on to the next bit.

Bruce Willis helps. You can't blame the guy for all the big-money action roles he's taken - if someone waved a check for twenty million dollars in my face, I'd have a hard time saying no, even if it wasn't the first time - but it is a crying shame that he doesn't do more comedy, because he's both a good straight man and wiseass. I'm not quite so sold on Tracy Morgan; I kind of get what he's going for here, and he's saddled with a particularly dumb subplot, but he kind of reminded me of the Nigel Bruce-model Watson here: Eccentric, kind of clueless, etc., is funny, but when a character comes off as so rock-stupid that it's impossible to picture his as a homicide cop with ten years on the job, that's a problem.

Wonder Woman (2009)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 March 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray)

A few idle questions to ponder when trying to evaluate the merits of last year's direct-to-video animated Wonder Woman:

* Would I enjoy it more if it were done in Japan, at roughly this level of quality? I've watched a fair bit of animated action/adventure out of Japan, and not always the big-budget theatrical releases, and liked much of it. The question is, does the language barrier help (making it harder to notice bad dialogue/voice acting), as well as the lack of familiarity with the source material? Through a lot of Wonder Woman's first half, I was thinking that this was rather flat, not really up to the standards one would hope for.

* Would this be acceptable story if this were a live action film? Probably not. It shows how unwieldy the character's origins are, especially how long it takes to get Diana born and off her island. It really locks things into the character's mythological origins, and a characterization that is much more simplistic and aggressive than the well-developed Diana we know from the comics.

* How involved was Gail Simone? She's the current writer of the Wonder Woman comic (at least through June), and though her run hasn't been as good as Greg Rucka's, she has emphasized the mythological warrior elements of the character. She's got a "screen story" credit on this, although I wonder if she contributed more directly to the second half. Certain bits, like "They're messing with Lincoln! No-one messes with Lincoln!", have her stamp on them.

I wish more did. There's potential here, and a really nice voice cast (Keri Russell as the title character; Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor, the guy with the line about Lincoln; Rosario Dawson as Artemis). It's got pretty serious action for an American animated film. I just wish it had more of Rucka's ability to make all the elements of the character or Simone's wit and inventiveness.
Live Action ShortsAnimated ShortsTerribly HappyGreen ZoneCop Out

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