Friday, June 25, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 14 June 2010 to 20 June 2010

Normally my previews stick to the Boston area, but let's define that very liberally because...

  • The New York Asian Film Festival begins today! Someday, when I find an employer who will pay me to travel from film festival to film festival and write about what I see, I'll be able to spend more than a day there on any given year. As usual, NYAFF focuses on popular asian entertainment, although it's not all action. The big three award winners in town this weekend, though, all hail from China/Hong Kong - up-and-comer Huang Bo (a stitch in Crazy Racer), ubiquitous Johnnie To favorite Simon Yam, and legendary martial arts star Sammo Hung.

    I'll be heading into NYC Sunday for Storm Warriors, Bodyguards and Assassins, Echoes of the Rainbow, and Ip Man 2. Certainly, many of these will play Fantasia (for me, NYAFF is partly a dry run in seeing multiple films in a day and handling a long bus ride), but since I'll be working some while there, this will give me flexibility. And it's a great show on its own, spearheaded by Grady Hendrix, a New York writer whose Kaiju Shakedown blog for Variety is sadly defunct, but whose weekly previews of Asian films in New York (Subway Cinema News) is hugely enjoyable even for those of us who only get to NYC once or twice a year.

  • The Brattle kicks off a two-week tribute to the late, great Dennis Hopper with Blue Velvet and River's Edge tonight and tomorrow (25-26 June 2010); also playing are Giant and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Sunday the 27th), True Romance (Monday the 28th), a double-feature of Hoosiers and Rumble Fish (Tuesday the 29th), and a double feature of Night Tide and Witch Hunt (Wednesday the 30th and Thursday the 1st).

  • More SF-1970 at the Harvard Film Archive. I'm actually planning on getting to most of this weekend. The MFA continues with Fellini and Videocracy, and if that's not enough Italian cinema for you, a run of Antonioni's The Girlfriends begins Wednesday.

  • The Coolidge opens Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky on the big screen, with midnight screenings of Troll 2 Friday and Saturday night. Shockingly, George Hardy will not be on-hand... as far as I know.

  • Kendall Square also opens the Chanel/Stravinsky movie, as well as Colin Farrell in Neil Jordan's Ondine. The Cremaster Cycle pops up for the first time in a while, with the notation that it will never be released on DVD. I'm always tempted to see it, because the stills look gorgeous, but it's a big commitment for something that only runs a week and whose publicity talks about it being art about art and creating art, which makes me wonder how far up his own rear end Matthew Barney really is.

    The three programs will be bouncing around the Kendall's schedule, which should also be watched carefully because Love Ranch with Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci (apparently, neither dead nor retired) opens Wednesday the 30th, compressing Solitary Man and Please Give to half-screens for a couple days. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is now down to two shows a day, as well, which is still amazing staying power for a movie that opened back in March and whose sequel comes out in two weeks.

  • Cyrus, Grown Ups, and Knight and Day open at the mainstream theaters. Well, the Harvard Square Cinema for Cyrus, but the IFFBoston alum is on two screens there. Speaking of IFFBoston, Micmacs migrates to the Somerville Theatre, which also has Wattstax on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of its rock film series, and an indie comedy by the name of Wah Do Dem opening in the digital screening room (American, despite the odd name; I suspect it will be explained as something from Jamaica, where the movie is set).

This Week In Tickets!

Awesome ballgame; it was Manny Ramirez's first visit to Fenway Park since his trade to the Dodgers (and all the soap opera that led up to it, and although I could have done with fewer people booing the man - I tend to think that someone who can boo the MVP of the 2004 World Series has no business being a Red Sox fan - the Dodgers fans made up for some of it. (Tangentially, I suspect that even with the down economy, the Fenway sellout streak isn't going to be in any danger anytime soon; it's too much a destination on its own, so that even when the locals aren't buying, the visitors and tourists are) A highly-touted prospect made his big-league debut, the Dodgers' bullpen got taken to the woodshed in a crazy inning, and the whole thing ended with Josh Bard striking Manny out to seal the win.

I picked up a couple "free" tickets for Toy Story 3 for buying the previous films on Blu-ray (quote because even for kids, $8.50 isn't going to get you a whole movie ticket for something released in 3-D/IMAX), but didn't check to see if they offered them for the furniture stores. It probably wouldn't have mattered, as it would have been tough to use them when ordering online, and that was a necessity - when I arrived at Jordan's for the 1:20 show at 12:30-ish, there were signs saying that they were sold out all day, with maybe an 8:30pm show available. And to think they're only showing it for 12 days, so that The Twilight Saga: Eclipse can take over the screen. I half-expect it will be showing up at the Aquarium after that; this movie is just too good (and popular) to stay off the gigantic screens.

Toy Story 3)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 20 June 2010 at Jordan's Furniture Reading (The IMAX Experience)

Toy Story 3 is Toy Story 2 redux, but that's setting sights high rather than cashing in - after all, they did wait over ten years to go back to that well. And while there is something a little disappointing about treading the same territory twice, it sets up a finale that pays off the questions raised in the second film.

As Pete the Prospector said back then, kids grow up. Andy (voice of John Morris) is seventeen and heading to college, and his toys haven't been played with in a long time. Andy selects cowboy doll woody (voice of Tom Hanks) to come to school with him, but puts his remaining toys - Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen), Slinky Dog (voice of Blake Clark), Bullseye, Jesse (voice of Joan Cusack), Rex (voice of Wallace Shawn), Hamm (voice of John Ratzenberger), and Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head (voices of Don Rickles and Estelle Harris) into the attic. A mix-up has them at the curb on trash day, and though they escape, they decide they're better off joining the toys Andy's sister is donating to a local day care center). The senior toys there, Lotso Huggin Bear (voice of Ned Beatty) and Ken (voice of Michael Keaton) seem welcoming, but... Well, what follows is a madcap delight as Pixar spends the bulk of the movie doing the two things that Pixar does best, before getting to their more recent skill.

The first is to introduce a whole raft of new characters - not only at Sunnyside Day Care, but in the bedroom of a little girl who goes there. It's a riot of creativity to rival the first film, every new toy with a fully-realized personality and voice that fits their design perfectly - and not always by being exactly what you expect! One thing that is nice to see this time around is that there are more women and girls in the cast; the previous two films in the series were by and large boy-toy stories, and this really feels like a broader, more varied cast.

Full review at EFC

Loaded GunsTeen LustManny ReturnsToy Story 3

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Revenge of the Grindhouse!

I'm not totally immune to enjoying schlock and camp, although I'm not nearly as fond of it as some of the folks in attendance at the Brattle's Grindhouse series, especially guest programmer/host Lars Nilsen, who delivered long, enthusiastic introductions for everything that played that weekend. The man seems sincere about his love for this stuff, although there were times when he seemed too forgiving; Black Cobra got a long spiel on how maybe these movies don't do things like "telling a story" well, but make up for it with unusual cinematography or the like.

I'm not sure I agree with that; I think that's making excuses to a certain degree, like the talk on how we're getting added authenticity by screening them on scratched-up 35mm prints that are in full yellow-layer decay. And I suppose that creates an atmosphere of sorts, but I'm not sure about fetishizing sub-par work, whether in direction or the quality of the film. I presume these movies looked nice at one point, and they should be appreciated for what they are, not as targets of derision.

That's also part of why I didn't see nearly as much this year as I did in the last Grindhouse series the Brattle held; that one had things like Truck Turner, Rolling Thunder and Darker than Amber which were maybe not mainstream or polished, but which could be appreciated on their own merits. It seems like the entire line-up for "Revenge" was about tacky stuff where the idea is to point at them and laugh.

Black Cobra (Eva Nera)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 June 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Revenge of the Grindhouse)

Leading lady Laura Gemser is very pretty and gets undressed quite a bit. There are snakes, and a weird rivalry between two brothers, with one played by a slumming Jack Palance. And... It's kind of boring. Host Lars Nilsen wasn't kidding when he said that sometimes a kind of "sex fatigue" sets in with these movies; as good looking as Gemser and the ladies who share her bed are, it's a contrived and hollow exhibition.

Loaded Guns (Colpo in canna)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 June 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Revenge of the Grindhouse)

Ursula Andress had a short peak as a movie star, if she ever was one: A memorable entrance in Dr. No and an adaptation of She that occasionally claws its way out of the vaults and onto home video. Of course, that's not her entire career - as much as Hollywood has always chewed young beauties up and spit them out, she kept working in Europe. Loaded Guns isn't a great addition to her filmography, but it's much better for having her in it.

She plays Nora Green, a flight attendant with a two-day layover in Naples. A passenger asks her to deliver a note, which turns out to be a threat to gangster Silvera (Woody Strode) from shadowy criminal mastermind "Americano". He doesn't kill the messenger, but roughs her up a bit. She's found and taken in by acrobat and former boxer Manuel (Marc Porel), and though she seemed to go down easy at first, Silvera doesn't know what he's gotten himself into.

It's a very silly movie, with chase scenes straight out of the Keystone Kops, a silent comedic sidekick who gives a much better impression of being a clown than the actual clowns who attempt to chase Nora down (Silvera's home base appears to be circus), and Manuel's bed conveniently turns into a trampoline when a fight breaks out in his remarkably spacious apartment. The music is something out of the circus, too. The really strange thing, though, is that for as ridiculous as its details are, the story is played rather straight; Silvera is no joke and nothing in the set-up winks at what goes on in the crime story.

Full review at EFC.

Teen Lust

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 June 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Revenge of the Grindhouse)

Believe it or not, when you type "Teen Lust" in the IMDB's search box, it brings you directly to this movie. Apparently there's no fifties/sixties cautionary tale by that name, no foreign film with a title that translates to that, nothing with that as an alternate title. Maybe that would change if I said to include porn. The really funny thing, though, is that James Hong's 1979 exploitation piece focuses on the picture's "good girl".

That girl is Carol Hill (Kirsten Baker). Her mother (Dolly Carolla) is a lush; her father (Stand Kamber) is uncomfortably affectionate. Her boyfriend Terry (Perry Lang) doesn't complain too loudly when his ex DeDe (Lee Ann Barnes) tries to hook up. Carol and her best friend Neeley (Leslie Cederquist) are participating in an after-school program with the local police department, which promptly puts them to work as bait for the vice squad. She's also got a mentally retarded neighbor, Dustin (Michael Sloane), with a trust fund that her mother wants to fix her up with.

There is no credited writer on this movie, with director James Hong generally given the blame. However, this is absolutely a movie that I could see being produced with no detailed screenplay; it's a series of episodes that each have the germ of a funny idea but without much in the way of funny dialogue or a solid zing at the end of the scene. In fact, some of these bits seem to directly contradict each other, even though one wouldn't be taking place without what happened in the other!

Full review at EFC.

Friday, June 18, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 7 June 2010 to 13 June 2010This Week In Tickets: 7 June 2010 to 13 June 2010

What I saw last week, below the page. Finally, the major studios are releasing things worth going out for, but it's the local bookings that have really been fun this summer

  • I am extremely excited about the Harvard Film Archive's SF-1970 series, which plays like a greatest hits of one of science fiction's most exciting decades on film. With one exception, they all were made between 2001 and Star Wars, and there's plenty of classics and curiosities over the next couple weekends

  • Toy Story 3 grabs darn near every digital 3-D and IMAX screen this weekend, as it likely should. Sure, it looks like we're going to see a clueless Buzz again, but I'm curious to see what sort of metaphor for growing up Pixar sneaks in there. It will certainly keep Jonah Hex on the back-burner, which is probably just, as it looks like it does a terrible disservice to a classic character who has a great comic on the stands right now.

  • The MFA offers The Films of Federico Fellini,and stays in Italia for Videocracy, a documentary on how an Italian TV magnate influences his nations politics to a degree that Fox News can apparently only dream of.

  • The one-week warning at Kendall Square applies to Stonewall Uprising, a documentary on a gay bar that stood up to police persecution back when closets were very, very deep. Filmmakers will be present at the Friday evening show. Also opening are another pair of IFFBoston films: Winter's Bone, which is fantastic, and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which was coincidentally moved to a smaller screen at IFFBoston because of the high demand for Winter's Bone.

  • Winter's Bone also opens at the Coolidge, which also opens another pair of IFFB films on top of that: 8: The Mormon Proposition, and Micmacs. Midnights are familiar bookings: The Room and "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" on Friday, The Human Centipede and Serenity on Friday. The Whedon screenings are expensive, but for charity. Special screenings include the Goethe-Institut presenting Berlin 36 and Big-Screen Classic The Girl Can't Help It.

  • The Brattle offers organic-food documentary Fresh, late shows of Harmony Korine's new thing, Trash Humpers, and a Monday evening presentation from The DocYard, 45365.

This Week In Tickets!

Nice to see that somewhat full up again, isn't it? It would probably be even more full, but I came home from Air Doll to find my gas shut off due to some clerical error, and I wound up waiting around until 8pm or so on both Wednesday and Thursday to get it turned back on, as all the technicians who could do that were busy with emergencies, or so they say. If I'd known that was going to happen, I absolutely would have braved the crowds converging on the Coolidge for a Robyn Hitchcock show!

I am extremely glad I saw Splice, and I hope some of my friends see it soon, and it falls squarely into the category of "film I want to talk about but can't without giving the good stuff away". If I had really been thinking when I started writing this week's reviews, I probably would have paired it with Air Doll for a little compare-and-contrast action, as they both are, in broad strokes, movies about things brought to life and... Yeah, can't go farther. Both also kind of falter in the last act, but I think Splice holds together better because it's got a more interesting story to tell. Admittedly, my preference for hard science fiction over "magical realism" kicks in, but I do think that it is, on the whole, a much more solidly put-together movie.

Black Cobra (Eva Nera)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 June 2010 at the Brattle Theatre (Revenge of the Grindhouse)

The Brattle's recent "grindhouse" series will get their own posting in a few days, so I'll be fairly quick with this one: Leading lady Laura Gemser is very pretty and gets undressed quite a bit. There are snakes, and a weird rivalry between two brothers, with one played by a slumming Jack Palance. And... It's kind of boring. Host Lars Nilsen wasn't kidding when he said that sometimes a kind of "sex fatigue" sets in with these movies; as good looking as Gemser and the ladies who share her bed are, it's a contrived and hollow exhibition.

The A-Team

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2010 at AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run)

People have been trying to make a movie from The A-Team for a long time. You can tell just from the opening credits, which has a long list of producers and production companies that worked on the picture at one point,and though the movie wasn't made on their watch, they still maintain some small interest that merits a courtesy credit. What's surprising is that it doesn't feel like a cobbled-together mess, in part because Joe Carnahan and company follow the relaunch playbook.

That playbook was written with Batman Begins, applied to James Bond in Casino Royale, and tested with Star Trek. It's pretty simple: Put together a good cast, keep the good stuff, jettison the stuff that makes for easy parody, and give the audience a previously untold first chapter. The first part: Check. They come close to going overboard on the last one. It's the middle two that are tricky, because a large part of the appeal of the original TV show was arguably its campiness. How do you reconcile that?

Here, it's by substituting movie-crazy for TV-crazy. As Jessica Biel's character tells us, "they are the best, and they specialize in the ridiculous"; so we get set pieces way beyond the budget of a 1980s television show but with the same insane abandon, including a couple of bits of insane aerial action (to go with the team's insane pilot) that Stephen J. Cannell couldn't have dreamed of dreaming of. The end result is a movie that, despite its sometimes convoluted plotline, is almost never grim. Impossible, oh, absolutely, but it's a different kind of absurdity, one to be marveled at rather than scoffed at.

Full review at eFilmCritic


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 June 2010 at Regal Fenway #1 (first-run)

Splice is an independent film that has been cleverly disguised as a big-studio summer movie, so a fair portion of the audience may feel uneasy as they watch it. More uneasy, that is; writer-director Vincenzo Natali isn't just throwing the popcorn-movie rhythms off, but finding ways to creep out even a jaded audience.

The near-future potential of genetic engineering will do that. Genius team Clive Nicoli (Adrien Brody) and Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) have strung together a number of breakthroughs to create "Fred" and "Ginger", a pair of synthetic organisms whose genes may contain a bounty of easy-to-isolate (and patentable) DNA sequences. They're ready for the next big challenge, but their employers (Simona Maicanescu and David Hewlett) opt to scale the program back, so they carry their work out in secret, working with human DNA. Though only meaning to see if such splicing is possible, they don't account for the embryo's accelerated growth, and soon have a small tailed biped on their hands.

Though the science in Splice is likely better than the typical Hollywood sci-fi/horror flick in that it's probably only 75% bull, Natali and company are able to make it seem authentic by not obviously overreaching early, and they do seem to at least know enough about the process and people involved to make Clive, Elsa, and "Dren" (the name they give to their creature) fascinating to watch. These guys seem like real hotshot science nerds as opposed to the usual socially-inept pop-culture obsessives we usually get. More than that, Natali recognizes and presents the process of incremental discovery as fascinating, enough that the movie doesn't need jumps or constant peril.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Air DollBlack CobraThe A-TeamSpliceOh, sure, they lose the day my mom comes!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Air Doll

Though it was only scheduled for a one-week run, I suspect the people responsible for booking movies at Landmark Kendall Square expected a bit more from Air Doll. It's weird, sure, but Kore-eda's films have done well in the area before (I think both Nobody Knows and Still Walking stuck around for a wile), Bae Doo-na is a bit of a known name, and its combination of whimsy and kink might cross over between audiences. It was booked on screen #2, rather than one of the smaller ones (screens #6-9), so they seemed to have some confidence in it. It went quietly after a week, though, and the show I went to was pretty sparsely attended.

That's probably fair. It's easy to see why a certain segment of critics and audiences will like it; it's artsy but not hard-edged, and it is pretty clearly saying something. For me, though, it didn't quite work. It reminded me of last year's Tokyo Sonata, which got pretty weird in the end, threatening to go completely off the rails. I wound up being pretty cool with it, but I could feel it losing other people in the theater.

Interestingly, bits of it reminded me of a book I read during vacation, Hiroshi Yamamoto's The Stories of Ibis. Not necessarily in big ways, but small ones, like how the translators for both use the word "heart" rather than "soul" when talking about inanimate things gaining self-awareness, even though it sounds a bit odd in both cases. Both have threads in their stories about how humans can love inhuman things, and whether this sort of one-sided affection is actually a bad thing.

Ibis, however, is a much better story, and not just because it fits my genre preferences more closely (hard science fiction versus "magic realism"); Yamamoto has put much more thought into how these nonhuman beings would think, and though the future of humanity in Ibis is arguably downright pessimistic, it is at its core much less cynical than Air Doll, which only seems to half-heartedly believe that modern human life can be more than hollow.

Kûki ningyô (Air Doll)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 June 2010 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run)

Air Doll is mostly sweet, as well as a little strange, and has a charming lead performance courtesy of Bae Doo-na. There's a clear metaphor for modern life lurking behind its fantasy premise, but once that's out in the open, there's not much else to it.

Hideo (Itsuji Itao) is middle-aged and single, and based on in his home life, it's not hard to see why: When he comes home at the end of the night full of complaints, they are made to his inflatable love doll "Nozomi", which he dresses, sits at the table, and moves around the apartment. One morning, as he leaves for work, the doll sits up on its own, eventually walking out of the apartment and into the city. Although her movements are initially jerky and awkward, she (Bae Doo-na) soon learns to imitate the people around her (and cover her seams with make-up!). Eventually, she gets a job in a video store, where she catches the eye of Junichi (Arata), a young clerk.

Filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (working from a manga by Yoshiie Goda) doesn't disguise the point he's trying to make, that many of us are as hollow figuratively as Nozomi is literally. There are multiple cases of the dialog running "I'm empty inside"/"me too", with varying degrees of solemnity. Once that's out of the way, though, Kore-eda and company seem to struggle to elaborate on it. Indeed, the filmmakers seem very uneasy about where to go next; they don't have much of a story about what it takes to fill the void inside, and they probably don't want Air Doll to be about the specifics of how Nozomi came to life or what that life implies, lest that overshadow the point they're making about modern life leaving people feeling empty.

Instead, they wind up unspooling a bizarre and unpleasant sequence of events. I can grasp the idea Kore-eda is going for here; it's a mirror image of the cutesy scenes of Nozomi being just adorably ignorant in the first act. Most of the bits work and have a point; unfortunately, the ones that don't flop so spectacularly as to blot the rest out. Kore-eda is already working on a potentially tricky high-wire with the film's mix of innocence and kink, so the last act winds up being a step farther than I'm willing to go.

The movie faltering is not the fault of the cast. Bae Doo-na is game for whatever Kore-eda throws at her, doing a very nice job of building a personality for Nozomi after the too-cutesy first act. She's not quite able to overcome the movie's sillier moments, but when she's given a moment to show Nozomi becoming a more complete person, she always nails it. Itsuji Itao and Arata are quite good as the men in her life, complementary cases of isolation who seem straightforward enough, although they have plenty of human complexity. There's also a larger cast of characters that Nozomi encounters repeatedly who do a nice job of fleshing out her world.

They're all lonely, of course, many just existing as more examples of the concept of being empty inside. After a while, that drains the life from the movie as surely as a puncture will release the air from Nozomi, and the cute inflatable woman gags can't quite pump it back up fast enough.

(Formerly posted at EFC)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 31 May 2010 to 6 June 2010

If you're here for movies, you might as well stay above the calendar page, because I didn't see any movies last week while on vacation. Read a ton, rode a bunch of trains, checked out a lot of museums. Moviegoing is being saved for this and next week.

  • The Brattle teams with Alamo Drafthouse programmer Lars Nilsen for Revenge of the Grindhouse. The vast majority look terrible, of course, but in the very best way.

    Speaking of the Alamo Drafthouse, which I know firsthand is a sweet place to see a movie or a dozen, the news about original owner Tim League returning as CEO mentions the potential for expansion across the country. I believe I speak for a number of people in the Greater Boston Area when I say they'd be welcomed with open arms. I don't know if the Circle Cinema is still movie-theater shaped enough to be easy to move into, although my idea tends to be the old Polaroid buildings in downtown Cambridge. But, anyway, it's clear the Alamo folks have friends up here, so... c'mon up!

  • The Somerville and Arlington Capitol theaters are something I often call "1.5-run", so they often don't get a lot of individual attention, but this week a couple interesting things are opening there: The Capitol picks up Metropolis, so if (like me, dammit!) you missed it at the Coolidge, you've got a second chance. Somerville opens an intriguing true-crime documentary by the name of Cropsey (I believe in the digital screening room downstairs), as well as a pair of music-related features: Elvis:That's the Way It Is on Monday, and the director's cut of Woodstock on Tuesday and Wednesday.

  • The Coolidge opens The Oath on Friday, with midnight shows of Dazed and Confused. Oddly, Micmacs looks to be delayed.

  • The Kendall's one-week warning is for Belgium's Academy Award submission, The Misfortunates. Other openings there include a couple from April's local film festivals: Harry Brown opened the Boston International Film Festival; Solitary Man played IFFBoston.

  • Speaking of former festival films and Austin, the MFA runs Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo from tonight to Sunday afternoon- one show a day, jumping around. I saw it at SXSW last year, and quite liked it. They've also got a preview of I Am Love which I saw at IFFBoston and liked much less.

  • The Harvard Film Archive continues with a second week of Vittorio De Sica – Neo-Realism, Melodrama, Fantasy.

  • The mainstream theaters open the new versions of The Karate Kid and The A-Team. Strangely, I'm looking forward to both of them.

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: The Smithsonian, Sunday's ballgame.

The tickets on that page cover a week spent in three cities, without spending a whole day in one until Friday - I started Monday in Annapolis, checked out of one hotel, caught a bus to Baltimore, and checked into another. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were spent almost like a commuter, spending an hour each way on a train to Washington, DC. And while it's pretty darn cool that you can do that, I think I'd like to just do Washington the next time I'm there, if only so that I'm not looking at the time toward the end of the day. My cousin Laura told me I had to see them light the monuments up at night, but all three days I got nervous about sticking around until the last train back at 9pm. I also had a bit of a cold those days, the kind that just gets worse as the day goes on, never bad enough to make you really feel awful but kind of noticeable.

I spent the bulk of my time in Washington at the various Smithsonian museums, because the Smithsonian is, when you get right down to it, amazing. It's close to a dozen museums in close proximity to each other around the National Mall. Great big buildings, packed with treasures ("artifacts" seems too subdued for the amazing things you'll find in there), open to the public every day without charging admission. That's quite frankly mind-boggling; if you've got broad enough interests, you could build a full and economical vacation out of those buildings alone.

Heck, when I was planning my trip, I jokingly told my friends and family that I could probably spend a whole day in the Air & Space Museum alone. I entered at around 10:30, finished poking around what was in the lobby something like forty-five minutes later. The next time I checked the time, it was something like 5:30, and there weren't many trains on the Camden line left. It was exhausting at times, and a lot of the displays seemed to focus on early-twentieth century aviation - there's a Wright Brothers exhibition, a World War I gallery, and another section modeled on a 1910s air show. Very cool, and although there was a part of me that thought it was a bit repetitive, it probably did a good job of reinforcement.

(Some exhibits seemed to be a bit behind the times, though - a gallery on the planets varied between saying there were eight or nine, for instance, and the first thing you see when entering the gift shop is a wall filled with Fuji film, which I'm sure all the kids with their camera phones and digital cameras must have been very curious about!)

Tuesday was spent in the American History Museum and Natural History Museum. Both are filled with flat-out nifty things: I especially liked the Apollo Theater exhibition in American History, and probably had a big, stupid smile on my face when I saw Kermit The Frog there. Natural History, though... That place has dinosaur skeletons, a gorgeous display of gems and minerals, and many other fascinating things. I feel a little embarrassed that I can't remember which of the two had the display on Korea; even though it was a small one, there are lots of bits of it that I'll remember when I'm watching movies at NYAFF and Fantasia this summer, not the least of which is that the Korean alphabet doesn't have hundreds of letters, but around 22; I'd never realized that the complicated symbols were actually just two or three simple ones stacked one on top of the other.

Wednesday started out elsewhere, at the International Spy Museum. I was kind of curious about it because my brother Matt's employers were at one point going to be building an interactive attraction for it; I opted for the regular museum path, so I didn't see what the interactive portion was like. What I did see was pretty nifty, though - it's nifty seeing how much of the miniaturized spy equipment of fiction was real and how much was greatly exaggerated. Once I got out, it started to rain, and the Smithsonian's American Art Museum and Portait Gallery were right across the street, so I ducked in there. I mostly avoided the portrait gallery portions, but was more engrossed in the art museum than I expected. And that's not just because it's the building where relatively absent or restrained!

For the weekend, I stuck around Baltimore, really not going far from the Inner Harbor. Friday afternoon, I found a nice spot to sit and readbefore getting hungry enough for some fish & chips, then spent the rest of the afternoon on the four ships of the Maritime Museum. Even if you're not as methodical about checking out every square inch as I can be, it's still standing on the decks of a ship that took out slave ships during the Civil War, the last surviving ship from Pearl Harbor, a Coast Guard Lightship, and a submarine. That's cool.

Saturday was spent first at the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum, followed by its sister facility, the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, and then the National Aquarium. The Babe's childhood home was pretty neat,as was the Aquarium, which had plentiful rays and sharks and a traveling jellyfish display, though didn't seem quite so cool as the New England Aquarium in Boston (in fairness, I passed on the dolphin and "4-D" shows).

Of course, Friday and Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon, were spent spending watching the Red Sox visiting Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which was just a fantastic experience. I'm probably never going to love another ballpark like I love Fenway - I've been going there since Yaz's last season and sort of love that it was built almost a hundred years ago for playing and watching baseball, and has remained stubbornly ill-suited to anything else - but Camden Yards is a nice one. What I like most about it is that it is very much a part of its city (no mean feat, considering how parking tends to form a moat around places like this), to the point where the two blend into each other. It's also not ostentatiously quirky in its dimensions. And, even day of game, you can find good seats for less than you'd pay at Fenway, even considering that the O's jack the prices 50% when the Sox and Yankees come to town. Of course, the Orioles getting good might cut down on that.

The first two games were highly-enjoyable butt-kickings, with Friday featuring an especially fine performance by pitcher Clay Buchholz. Sunday was a tight game that went to extra innings, and also lasted long enough for me to miss the 6pm train north and have to settle for the 10:45pm one. Yes, that gets me into Boston at roughly 8am on Monday, which meant immediately turning around and heading for work. And after that... Well, that's next week.

Buchholz and Sox DominateClose until the 9thInternational Spy MuseumNational AquariumHistoric Ships

Friday, June 04, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 24 May 2010 to 30 May 2010

If I were on any sort of official schedule, this would be late. It's late in part because I spent the three days at the tail end of the depicted week traveling to Annapolis, Maryland for a cousin's wedding and hanging out with that branch of my family tree through Monday. And though I didn't say it much or forcefully at the time - partly because it takes me days to figure out just what I mean, and partly because a chunk of the event involved drinking and noisy, crowded rooms (two things that make me excuse myself) - it was great. I have a large and fantastic family, not just because of my three brothers, but because of a ton of cousins, and every new marriage and new baby has just resulted in me knowing more people that I don't just love, but really, really like and enjoy being around. This is currently driving my youngest brother nuts in planning his own wedding, but the degree to which we are fortunate on this count is pretty darn remarkable.

I don't say this enough, in part because I don't see all these people enough, but I know enough people who don't have an easy time with their families that it's worth mentioning: I don't take this for granted.

Anyway, I'm in Baltimore right now, having planned to stick around an extra week, see some sights here and in Washington, and watch the Red Sox play the Orioles at Camden Yards. If I were in Boston, my priority would be...

  • Metrpolis at the Coolidge! If you see nothing else this week, see this!

    I mean it. I bought tickets before realizing that I'd planned to be elsewhere. I kicked around the idea of coming back north for an evening because I wanted to see the Alloy Orchestra accompany this restored version with nearly a half-hour of footage not seen in 80 years an only recently found in Argentina. The Alloy Orchestra screening is sold out, but there are a dozen more after that in the one-week booking at the Coolidge (which is cramming a lot onto their screens this week - check the schedule

  • An interesting group at the Brattle: Orson Welles Weekend, featuring a double feature of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons Friday and Saturday and The Lady From Shanghaiand Touch of Evil on Sunday. Also on the weekend, late shows of an apparently nutting lousy horror movie (Birdemic). The Red Riding trilogy pops up again Tuesday - Thursday. It's good.

  • One-week warning at Kendall Square: Air Doll. I'm pretty sure some friends of mine must have seen it at Toronto, because it stars Bae Doo-na in a film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, and those are names in Asian cinema that tend to catch their eye. Also opening are Living in Emergency (with a Doctors Without Borders aid worker at tonight's 7:05 show), Holy Rollers, and IFFBoston Closing Night Film Micmacs

  • At the HFA, one last night of John Ford at War, Saturday starts a couple weeks of Vittorio De Sica - Neo-Realism, Melodrama, Fantasy.

  • The MFA continues the Boston Jewish Film Festival Encores and has just started a retrospective of Rialto's Best of British Noir. I may try to get in there for some of the lesser-known films, but you can't go wrong with Peeping Tom, The Third Man, and a lesser-known classic, The Fallen Idol.

  • This week's major openers are Splice, Killers, Marmaduke, and Get Him to the Greek. I'm heard good things about the last, and interestingly mixed things about the first, but, man, is this the least exciting summer in recent movie memory or what?

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: Slip & Fall (Liberty Hotel, 24 May 2010, 8pm-ish)

Both of the movies I saw last week were things I really wasn't sure of, and went to in part out of a sense of obligation. For Slip & Fall, I was asked, and while this was a busy week and I wasn't sure about the movie, I try not to miss movies where someone asks me to come to the screening. I sometimes don't know why people would come to me, but I also don't figure that turning screenings down will get me invited to more. For Robin Hood, I had one of those AMC rewards program free tickets that expired on the 28th, and, good lord, the options were limited: Iron Man 2, Letters to Juliet, and Robin Hood. I'd seen the first and hated every preview I saw for the second, so Robin Hoodit was.

(Also needing to be used: A gift certificate to Tommy Doyle's in Kendall Square, as I have three that expire at the end of July and you can only use one per month. When I bought them, the Chlotrudis group was going to Tommy's every other week before a movie, so I figured I had plenty of opportunity to use them, but since then, it's been all The Friendly Toast, all the time!)

Slip & Fall

* * (out of four)
Seen 24 May 2010 at the Liberty Hotel (Movie Mondays)

There's nothing less fun to write than that a locally-produced independent comedy isn't very good. You can skewer pretension with dramas, accept unambitious horror movies as just trying to get something made, but a comedy is just trying to entertain you, and when it doesn't, it's and uncomfortable, unfortunate thing.

Slip & Fall has a pleasant enough leading man in Sam Cohan, and Andrew Divoff is amusing as the piece's villain, but it's got a story that always seems forced when it should be rolling from one crazy situation to another. It never really feels right; throughout the whole movie, there's always this lingering question of why these likable characters are involved with these guys who are really just vile. William DeCoff at least pulls being humorously nasty off as a shyster lawyer, but Zofia Gozynska is given so little as the gold-digging Russian girlfriend that she just doesn't make sense. And while I get an appreciate what writer Jason W. Loomis and director Marc Colucci are trying to do at the end, legalistic arguments aren't a great finale for a comedy, especially since, in order to not have the movie be about Cohan's Danny succeeding by pulling a slip & fall scam on his college, they've twisted the lawsuit around into something unrecognizable.

Slip & Fall has some flashes of raucous crudity and surprising sweetness, but too many long stretches between them where things just don't make sense and aren't funny. There's a germ of something good in it, but the skill to get it out just isn't there.

Robin Hood (2010)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 May 2010 at AMC Harvard Square #4 (first-run)

Somewhere along the line, I'm sure, there's someone for whom Ridley Scott's Robin Hood is exactly what they want it to be. Likely not the original writers, who posited a story about the Sheriff of Nottingham tracking down a thieving terrorist, or most of the critics, who seem to feel that the Robin Hood story reached its platonic ideal in 1938 and a different telling is almost sacrilege. This movie has been twisted in a dozen different directions over the course of its production, and in some ways only works because enough talent is thrown its way to prevent any rough edges.

But, the thing is, it does work. Maybe not in the way one initially hoped, and in fact Robin Hood becomes a bit of a side story, compared to the political manouverings of Oscar Isaac's Prince John consolidating his power while his closest ally, Godfrey (Mark Strong), is helping the French prepare an invasion. That stuff is good, and engrossing, while the story of Crowe's "Robin Longstride" taking the place of the missing Robert Loxley in Nottingham seems forced and almost a little silly. Crowe, Cate Blanchett, and Max von Sydow do fine work with it, but there's also a sense that they're killing time until Robin can join the battle against the French in the last act. There's references to a storyline about children who have disappeared into the woods and gone feral, but it seems to have mostly been cut from the finished picture.

The end result is actually a pretty good movie, although not much of a Robin Hood story. Quite enjoyable for what it is, but it might be hard to see that if you're looking for it to be something else.

Robin Hood (2010)