Wednesday, November 03, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 25 October 2010 to 31 October 2010

A little slow this week - the World Series started Wednesday, and though it was a pretty short one, it occupied a few evenings. And while I'm not sure that Fox pushed the schedule around so that it wouldn't interfere with Glee (how is it fair or right that I don't get to see Fringe for a couple of weeks, but that thing continues uninterrupted?), it certainly seems that way. Still, good series, and my friend who roots for the Giants is probably still on cloud nine.

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: Trick 'r Treat (31 October 2010, about 6:30pm)

Nothing really big-time this week - one movie I didn't really feel like talking about, one I wanted to talk about a lot, and one I went to in part because I figured few in the mainstream American blogosphere would be covering it (laugh all you want, but Endhiran drove people to this blog like crazy, relatively speaking). It's starting to get to be time to really pay attention to the multiplexes again - I really should get around to The Social Network and Hereafter while they're still playing theaters and the crush of other stuff isn't too heavy.

The one I felt talking about, Never Let Me Go, is in part because of something that gets under my skin more than it should: Nearly every write-up or review I've seen has said, more or less, to not worry about the science-fictional aspects of it, or used a euphemism like "speculative fiction", or, the one that really gets my goat, used some variation of "it transcends/is more than science fiction."

Look, I'll be the first to admit that there's a reason Sturgeon's Law was first applied to science fiction: 90% of it is crud. But, some of the other ten percent is like Never Let Me Go, fantastic. And for good science fiction to be taken seriously, it needs to stake a claim to things like this. Sure, the movie's trailer may have tried to downplay the science fictional aspects, but it was still pretty obviously a movie about clone kids created as raw materials for organ transplants (an art-house version of The Island, if you want to be sarcastic about it). Sci-fi fans should step forward and own that.

Or maybe it wasn't so obvious - before the screening, one of the trailers was for Monsters, an independent film which wears its genre trappings on its sleeve. It got a couple snickers from the audience, although it may just have been at the incongruity of one of the quotes being Ain't It Cool with "The greatest giant monster movie in years", or something like that. Still, I hear that, and I do have to wonder whether that person knows that they were settling in for science fiction themselves.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

* * (out of four)
Seen 25 October 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run)

It's no fun reviewing Woody Allen movies any more, even on the odd occasion when it's actually rewarding to watch them. About ten years ago, with Small Time Crooks, I found myself disliking the quite pessimistic take he seemed to have on life; the end result of the movie seemed to be the universe smacking characters down for any sort of ambition. Not just the characters plotting a robbery, but any attempt to rise above one's station would be punished. And every film of his to come out in the past decade seems to conform to this, though I haven't seen Scoop or Whatever Works. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is not the film which breaks the streak.

It is, however, unusually frustrating, in that it's pretty darn inert. There's not really a story for the quality ensemble to act out, just parallel situations of temptation that ultimately leads to destruction. Random, chaotic destruction, rather than smiting directly connected to ambition, but make no mistake - happiness will only come as the result of self-delusion.

Still, there are worthwhile moments. The awkward last scene between Naomi Watts and Antonio Banderas, for instance, as she tries to act on her attraction when they both know it's too late, even though she knows it's the first moment when she feels she can, while he just won't rise to it. That's a brief moment of quiet, almost beautiful tragedy, one of the few that stands out among the uninteresting selfishness and delusion that the movie otherwise settles for.

Never Let Me Go

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 29 October 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run)

Never Let Me Go is the sort of science fiction that tends to hide its genre or go by another name - "speculative fiction" or "slipstream" - because it wants to associate itself with a different audience. Science fiction is considered to be stories about gadgets and things, while this work is about people, and relationships, and ideas. It's a false distinction, but even if one buys into it, all of the best science fiction has been about ideas, and this one is about people treated as things.

In its world, organ transplants became much safer much earlier, and cloning was apparently mastered not long after Crick and Watson discovered the double helix. Thus, by the late 1970s, Britain's National Donor Program has facilities of various types scattered around the country. Hailsham looks like a boarding school, but its charges have no parents to go home to. Three children on the cusp of adolescence are brought into focus: Tommy (Charlie Rove), a volatile but sensitive boy; Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small), a curious young girl who finds herself attracted to him; and Ruth (Elle Purnell), her best friend. It's Tommy and Ruth who eventually pair off, though, and as they grow up and are moved to "The Cottages" to await their first "treatments", Kathy (now played by Carey Mulligan) opts to train as a "Carer". The three go their separate ways, until Kathy meets Ruth (Keira Knightley), who suggests they reunite with Tommy (Andrew Garfield) while they can.

Director Mark Romanek, novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, and screenwriter Alex Garland set the story in an alternate history rather than the future, and the speculative elements are all the chillier for it. A potential future, after all, is something that we can avoid; this world is so familiar that it feels like the way that the twentieth century would have inevitably run with those key differences in medical science. The world-building is deceptively meticulous - we hear little technical jargon and few details that the audience could trip on, but the details of the clones' lives at Hailsham and after always ring true. They cheat a little, perhaps, by having characters take note of their unusual psychology, but they also sneak things in that show that the world isn't standing still, and as horrible as the idea of Hailsham is, the setting implies things that are even worse.

Full review at eFilmCritic.

Trick 'r Treat

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 October 2010 in Jay's Living Room (Halloween! blu-ray)

How, I wonder, does Trick 'r Treat not get actual theatrical distribution? It's got a couple of of notable production companies behind it (Legendary Pictures and Bryan Singer's Bad Hat Harry). It's got some reasonably recognizable faces for the trailer. The effects are slick. It markets itself as a Halloween movie, a more fun alternative to the annual Saw release. Is there really no room for a horror-comedy more interested in freak-outs than gross-outs?

That's not to say the movie is perfect, although of the four or five interconnected stories, only one - a serial killer with a really annoying kid - falls flat, and that one at least gives Dylan Baker a good, nasty-funny role. Similarly, there's a fairly notable lapse in logic to the young t(w)eens collecting pumpkins and going to a haunted quarry, but the atmosphere is more than good enough to cover it. And there's nothing wrong with Brian Cox under siege from a demonic trick-or-treater and Anna Paquin as a college girl put upon by her more experienced sister and friends.

For any faults it has, though, it's a fun ride. Writer/director Michael Dougherty is good at tingling the spine; the expectation of what may happen next is built up very well. He's also good at having the humor come from the characters as opposed to making fun of the genre. He takes his scares seriously, but populates the stories with funny people.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark StrangerNever Let Me GoAftershock

1 comment:

Elgart said...

This film really excites me! Never seen this yet. Hope this week.