Friday, October 15, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 4 October 2010 to 10 October 2010

A busy week (especially when you consider that Sunday was blocked out for my niece's birthday cook-out), including some rare full-priced tickets!

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: The first three Resident Evil movies on Blu-ray.

Sometimes a marathon day seems like a good idea. Knowing that dong any movies Sunday would be out of the question, almost everything on Saturday got locked in in one way or another: I knew that Waking Sleeping Beauty was only scheduled for one week and only matinees and figured Endhiran wouldn't last forever. I'd picked up the first Resident Evil Blu-ray a month or so earlier, figuring I could watch it before the new one came out, but time filled up. Then, while RE: Afterlife had a good first couple of weeks, it didn't last long once it wasn't on the IMAX and digital 3-D screens so much, and Saturday night's screening was likely to be the last. Well, I picked up the other two movies at Best Buy last weekend when they were $10/pop on Blu-ray (along with a few other horror movies I really should get around to watching around Halloween), there looked to be just enough time after getting back from Fresh Pond to get all three in before walking to the T and heading to Park Street.

If you're going to do this, though, it's wise to consider the next day a bit. The last movie was at 12:30am, so it got out around 2, which is after the subway stops running. So it was nearly 3am before I collapsed in my bed, and my brother Matt was going to come by to pick me up at around 9:30am. Figure time for a shower and wrapping my niece's presents... Well, it makes for a short night. Amazingly, Sunday was no problem, but I've been dragging ever since - apparently hanging around with one's family, including and especially a four-year-old birthday girl, keeps you more active and alert than sitting at a desk and staring at SQL code.

And, yes, it makes sense to do it with a better set of movies than the Resident Evil cycle, but to be honest they're not that bad and at least have the virtue of being short.

Let Me In

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 October 2010 at Regal Fenway #5 (first-run)

Let Me In is a good movie, a very good movie even. As much as I wish that there wasn't a rationale for movies like this to be produced, the fact is, a number of people won't go to or rent movies with subtitles, mainstream theaters won't book them, and a fair number of folks who bristle at subtitles don't like dubbed movies either. That being the case, I can't fault Hammer for producing an English-language version - it's a good story that deserves and audience.

And writer/director Matt Reeves does a good job. This movie is good for all the reasons that the original Swedish Let the Right One In is (for why I loved that movie, see the original review), and while I think that a few key scenes aren't done quite as well, it may partly be a matter of which I saw first. Sure, I suspect that you could use math to prove objectively that the final swimming pool scene took a hit between the films, but I'm also reminded of watching The Departed and hearing the theater around me jump at bits that I was anticipating and didn't think were quite up to the level of their equivalents in Infernal Affairs. This version also has the benefit of a nice Michael Giacchino score which manages to be moody and goose the scares nicely.

(From here on in, I'll be comparing the two directly, so SPOILERS for both films)

There are a couple of interesting and crucial differences between the pair that at least make them interesting in terms of comparison. As expected, Reeves doesn't confront the "I'm not a boy" thing nearly as directly as Tomas Alfredson did, in that there's no blink-and-miss-it shot of Abby's castration scars, and Abby is a much less androgynous name than I suspect Eli is in Sweden. But I don't think he avoids it entirely; anyone watching the movie with knowledge of this will likely note just how androgynous Abby is in her early scenes; Chloe Moretz's Abby actually comes off as more masculine than Kodi Smit-McPhee's Owen. Indeed, she starts to appear much more girlish after she first feeds, which she does in response to her caretaker not procuring sufficient blood for her.

That's the other real notable difference here - where Let the Right One In suggested the idea that Oskar would become the sort of caretaker for Eli that Hakan was, the relationship between the two was left rather undefined (unlike the book); in this one, Abby seems to be actively seeking a new protector after seeing her unnamed "father" fail to bring her blood and openly say that he may not have it in him any more. That's when she starts to go to work on the isolated boy next door, giving him the little pushes to make him feel he owes her but also that she is, in many ways, weak and in need of safeguarding. It's little differences that I may have wrong - I don't recall Abby shivering, suddenly remembering what it's like to be human, upon meeting Owen the way Eli did with Oskar; similarly, I don't remember "I'm not a boy" being followed by "what are you?"/"I'm nothing" in Alfredson's film, a potentially revealing and manipulative exchange.

I don't think "Abby is training a new keeper" is the only way to look at Let Me In, but it's an interesting one, and the strength of the theme makes what is superficially a very direct translation actually an interesting variation.

(No more spoilers)

Even taking comparisons to Let the Right One In away, the new movie still has a few issues - some overly on-the-nose 1980s references, occasional stumbles, and some less-than-ideal CGI. Still, if I'd never seen the prior film, I think I would find Let Me In a darn good horror movie, without reservations. It's a worthy remake even with them, well worth giving a chance even if the idea of remaking the original initially seems absurd.

Waking Sleeping Beauty

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)

Watching this movie's opening scenes, with a bunch of animators screwing around, working more or less unsupervised in Disney's old Ink & Paint building, brought together for being college classmates and taking breaks to do skits and home movies, reminds me of my youth. Not because of how I loved Disney movies, or because I was that sort of creative person. No, this image of Walt Disney Studios circa 1984 reminds me of what working for the dot-coms during the internet bubble could be like, and, well, let's just say that I know how that story ends.

Waking Sleeping Beauty doesn't follow this story all the way to its conclusion, though - it mostly chronicles the years between 1984 and 1994, when Disney feature animation rose from the low of The Black Cauldron to the high of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and how behind-the-scenes changes in corporate leadership saved the division, shook it up, and built it into the Disney of the 1990s. We're (re-)introduced to all the important figures of the time - executives Roy Disney, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Frank Wells; creative people like Ron Clements, John Musker, Howard Ashman, and many more, including camoes by the likes of Tim Burton, John Lasseeter, and Don Bluth. They tell the story of what working at Disney was like at the time, in their own words and with their own pictures (both caricatures and home movies).

It's a telling demonstration of just how dependent on editing all films, but especially documentaries, can be. Director Don Hahn pieces his movie together from behind-the-scenes footage and other odds and ends, and he does a decent job of matching his narration and interview recordings to it, although he quite often seems guided by what he has, often indulging his own nostalgia for the time. As a result, the movie is sometimes awkwardly constructed - with over a decade having past since the film's endpoint, much rancor has disappeared; even Eisner and Katzenberg seem to talk about their past dealings with regret more than anger. So in chronically the rise and imminent fall of the group, Hahn seems to have trouble both in saying that Feature Animation needed a shake-up and in presenting the acrimony behind the scenes.

Of course, presenting the chronology of this story presents some unique challenges - it makes sense to present the film in chapters, and the pictures themselves make for reasonable divisions, but production on them overlapped, resulting in a fair amount of back and forth that makes the chronology feel a bit wobblier than it actually is. On the other hand, he and his editors do, ultimately, do an impressive job in framing the film: As the movie wraps back around to the start, footage that initially seemed endearingly awkward is re-presented as contentious, strained politeness.

Waking Sleeping Beauty isn't the definitive telling of this story; Hahn is too close to the material and subjects. It's a good starting point, and offers a tantalizing glimpse at how the suits and creative types need each other, even if they sometimes have a hard time admitting it.

Also at EFC

Resident Evil

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray)

There have now been four Resident Evil movies, which is kind of surprising in some ways. The first is kind of mediocre, the man behind them (Paul W.S. Anderson) has what you might call a negative fanbase, and the fans of the original property kind of hate them for how this first one seems only vaguely connected to Capcom's Biohazard games, and the franchise's central character is created for the movies. But they keep on coming.

How did this one kick off a franchise? Well, most obviously, there's having Milla Jovovich. She's easy on the eyes, good at the physical parts of an action-movie role, and just good enough as an actor that we believe in the character without ever giving the impression that she's slumming. Anderson also makes the interesting decision to pair her with other strong women - here, Michelle Rodriguez (admittedly, not really doing her best work) - reinforcing that the heroines are defined not by the men they're with, but the ass they kick. I imagine that's got a genuine appeal to both women and guys who dig strong women.

And while Anderson the director isn't any great shakes - although he does okay with the action scenes - and the editing is pretty bad, Anderson the writer shows himself pretty adept at writing around budget limitations and capturing the structure of a videogame (thrown right into action not knowing much, story information gradually revealed, constant stream of minor monsters building up to boss battles) while also making it feel like a movie. Resident Evil may not be 100% faithful to the game, but I suspect that it does a good job of stimulating the brain in similar ways.

Resident Evil: Apocalypyse

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray)

Apocalypse isn't a lot better than its predecessor, but it's slicker. Moving to the surface rather than a bunch of underground makes for bigger and brighter action scenes, and at least on the Blu-ray, there's less of a cheapness to the cinematography (I don't mind grain, but Resident Evil looked a bit off, though that may be about how compression doesn't work quite so well with dark scenes that well-lit ones). While the movie still has a few issues with how it's pieced together - if I in the audience notice that star Milla Jovovich doesn't seem to be in it much, then something should perhaps be tweaked - it flows from scene to scene fairly well, better than the first.

The story is thin, and often somewhat random - lots of people meet up at opportune times, and a lot of what the characters need to do is fed to them from outside - but it's a solid zombie action movie with some fun boss battles.

Resident Evil: Extinction

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 October 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Blu-ray)

This is where the series started actually growing on me, because it seems to be around this point that Anderson and company decided that they could start going nuts with the series. It still recognizes its video game roots - its opening is almost a grim parody of how most people play games (play five minutes, die, restart, get a little farther, die...), as is the powering up. The movie gets full-on post-apocalyptic, though, and becomes a cool hybrid between a traditional zombie movie and a gonzo sci-fi one.

There's a really cool "anything goes" vibe, the action is pretty good - even if there's now more superpowers involved - and the filmmakers aren't afraid to off returning characters. The switch from an urban setting to a wasteland is probably in part to stretch the budget a bit, but it does work in a "we don't care if we have to fix this later" manner.

And so, when the movie ends on a nutty, potentially game-changing note, I was pretty pleased and ready to head downtown for the next part. The series has embraced its ridiculous cliffhangers and actually gotten better as it went on.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 October 2010 at AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, Real D digital 3-D)

The reason for that marathon, aside from perhaps wanting to show that yes, I will eventually watch all those movies I buy, was because Afterlife was down to one midnight show a day at the Boston Common theater, meaning that after Saturday it would be gone. It looked like it would be a bit of fun; though Anderson was returning to the director's chair, he was shooting in 3-D, which can be a lot of fun when used well.

And while Anderson indulges in a lot of throwing things at the audience and slow-motion, he and cinematographer Glen MacPherson (who also shot The Final Destination in 3-D) do make good use of it; there is a sense of space and size even when things aren't flying around in mid-air. The stuff they're shooting is fun, too - a clone army, a field of abandoned aircraft, a prison within a prison, a gigantic monster with a massive meat tenderizer who elbows his way through a zombie horde. Of course, so much of it is made with 3-D in mind that I wonder if it's a compromised experience in other media.

By now, the story is a bit repetitive - another ragtag group of zombie-apocalypse survivors, the Umbrella Corporation continuing to do nasty experiments despite the world falling down around it - but it sort of works; it's a good combination between feeling like the story is progressing and giving the audience what they liked about previous films. Although, and maybe this is just me, I'm not sure we need to see zombie dogs every film. Are they this ubiquitous in the games, as well? Why should they be a thing that shows up in every installment, when the streak of Ms. Jovovich getting naked ends with three?

The movie ends on another over-the-top cliffhanger, and I found myself hoping for a fifth movie sooner rather than later. The series may have humble origins, but it has done a remarkable job of getting better, not growing into something unwieldy, and figuring out how to leave the audience both satisfied and wanting more.

HeartbreakerLet Me InWaking Sleeping BeautyEndhiranResident Evil: Afterlife

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