Thursday, November 11, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 1 November 2010 to 7 November 2010

The end of Daylight Savings Time: Why a person can stay up late cleaning out the DVR/writing a review of Action Replayy on Saturday and still make it to downtown Boston for two "A.M. Cinema" screenings on Sunday.

... albeit being pretty much ready to crash after Fair Game:

This Week In Tickets!

No "stubless" movies per se, although when cleaning out the DVR, a lot of what I watched was feature-length episodes of Masterpiece Mystery! - specifically, the latest entries in the Wallander series and most of Sherlock. And while this was a pretty decent weekend at the movies, those GBH/BBC co-productions certainly help raise the average.

Wallander is based upon a popular series of Swedish detective novels and stars Kenneth Branagh as a detective with depressive tendencies, the sort who cares too much and obsesses about each case to an unhealthy degree. This cycle has him confronting death not just in the messy aftermath, but first-hand, as he's forced to fire his weapon when confronted with a killer and sees his already-ailing father (David Warner) further deteriorate.

I'm not certain how much of a prestige project Wallander is for the BBC, but it's one of the most impressively-produced series on the air. Three or four times an episode, there will be a shot of the gray sky and bleak landscape that just stuns, and WGBH and Comcast had the good sense to not ever hurt it with much compression. Though set in Gstad, neither Branagh nor anyone else in the fine cast affects an accent, but it doesn't take away from the Scandinavian chill (and charm) at all.

As for Sherlock... Well, anyone reading this blog last December recognizes that I am something of a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and when I saw that Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis would be doing a new series called Sherlock for the BBC, I was understandably excited; Moffat has tended to be responsible for the best episode of Doctor Who ineach of the revival's first four seasons (as well as the fun "Timecrash" special), and though I hadn't heard of Benedict Cumberbatch before, Martin Freeman seemed like a fine Watson. I hadn't heard that the new show would be contemporary until the press release that WGBH had picked up the U.S. rights, but that certainly gave me pause.

Not that Holmes hadn't been updated before - throughout the silent era and thirties, when Doyle was either still writing new Holmes stories or had passed relatively recently, the movies tended to be set in the present day, although that wasn't too much of a stretch. The first two Rathbone/Bruce movies (done for Fox) were set in Victorian England, but when Universal picked the series up in the early 1940s, it was moved to the then-wartime setting to save production costs. Still, the idea of putting Sherlock in the present day seemed a little more nutty, if only because one of the things that set Holmes apart in the nineteenth century was Arthur Conan Doyle's emphasis on what we now call forensics, and it might make Holmes seem less exceptionally brilliant.

And it does, to a certain extent (as does Rupert Graves's Lestrade not coming off as a buffoon or goon); the producers and cast compensate by pushing Holmes's antisocial tendencies more than usual. But not so much that we ever lose track of how Holmes and Watson are among the best characters ever created. I wouldn't be shocked if Moffat and Gattis came to the BBC with a nameless pitch ("an army doctor back home after being wounded in Afghanistan teams with an antisocial genius to solve crimes too sensitive or strange for Scotland Yard") before telling them it was Sherlock Holmes. It's a great hook, and the producers do a fine job of building it into a contemporary series while still remaining true to the characters.

Oh, and the last fifteen minutes of the finale (which has enough going on for six episodes of most television series), where Holmes confronts Moriarty, is likely the best use of Moriarty ever. He's an overused character, especially compared to how seldom he appears in the canon, and I'm not sure his plan here makes senes, but the phrase he uses to describe himself makes it worthwhile.

This past summer/fall of Masterpiece Mystery! was outstanding all around, actually - though I didn't pay much mind to Miss Marple or Inspector Lewis, it still gave me new installments of Foyle's War, David Suchet in Poirot, Branagh as Wallander (again, honestly, one of the best-looking shows ever produced), and this new Sherlock. So if you missed any of it, use the Amazon links as something other than decoration.

Due Date

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 November 2010 at AMC Harvard Square #1 (first-run)

Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Junior is usually worth checking out. Sadly, that's not the case here. While I can't literally say that I didn't laugh once during Due Date, the moments were, shall we say, well-spaced. What's worse is that the bit that generally had me laughing during the previews (Jamie Foxx speeding through a drainage ditch to toss Zach Galifianakis around in the back of his truck) turned out to be far less enjoyable during the actual film. Instead, they became examples of just how mean-spirited and dumb the movie is.

And it really is unpleasant. I don't require a movie to give me someone to root for, but I get the sense that director Todd Phillips and his co-writers really did want us to like Galifianakis's and Downey's characters, but it never happens for me: Galifianakis's idiot never grows on me, and Downey's high-strung guy still has me worried - this is a guy who gut-punches an annoying kid toward the start and alludes to a severe rage problem several times (as in, he apparently doesn't even remember the times he snaps) - and we're supposed to be rooting for him to get home to his wife and new child? Sure, the idea is that spending time with this goofball makes him a better man, but I never believe it.

For what it's worth, I didn't much like Phillips's previous film, The Hangover, very much either. Both movies share a crude, mean-spirited, black little heart, and seem to be built on people doing things that just make no sense other than the filmmakers needing other characters to accidentally be screwed over. Everybody's got their own line between amusing absurdity and lazy idiocy, of course, and Due Date consistently lands on the wrong side for me.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7 November 2010 at AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, 3-D, digital IMAX)

As expected, Megamind is akin to Monsters Versus Aliens - an affectionate pop-culture spoof with a decent combination of comedy and action, along with DreamWorks's trademark star-studded cast. Of course, big stars aren't always great voices, as evinced by how, when Megamind disguises himself as another character and I have no idea whether it's Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller speaking. And as much fun as some of the script's riffing on Superman is, it does mean it's a very specific parody. The details are kind of fun, though; it doesn't require knowing comic book minutiae.

It's nice enough, and along with superstar voices, DreamWorks is rapidly establishing good use of 3-D as one of their calling cards. It's not flashy, but it's well-done. It's an entertaining movie, not quite so good as some of the company's other animated films (such as How to Train Your Dragon), but it works well enough.

KuronekoMonstersDue DateAction ReplayyMegamindFair GameGerrymandering

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