Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Week In Tickets: 8 November 2010 to 14 November 2010 - Including a new screen

I saw a fair amount of movies this week, and despite having to do the whole medical data thing to make money, they all get reviews, as I had something to say about most:

This Week In Tickets!

Before getting to the reviews, yes, there's a $15 movie ticket there for a regular movie, which isn't my usual thing (I'm cheap frugal!), but Regal re-opened screen #13 with enhancements, and I wanted to check it out.

The "Regal Premium Experience" screen (RPX) seems to be designed to tap the same wallets as the IMAX-branded digital screen across town at AMC Boston Common, although at first glance I'm not quite certain why the screen had to be closed down nearly a month for the upgrade. Screen 13 was already one of the "Screen Monsters" (although sometime between going from General City Cinemas to AMC to Regal, that cute local name seems to have vanished), a curved common-height screen that more or less filled the entire wall, and unless they've raised the ceiling, it's about the same size. It is, by necessity, a new surface, as the theater is advertising that 3D movies will play there, so the matte screen has been replaced by a reflective one. Maybe the curvature has increased a bit; I certainly noticed it more than I remember doing at other times. Switching that out is the work of a day or two, although it's possible that the actual seating was extensively rearranged, to the point of tearing out the stadium tiering and rebuilding it.

That is where a visitor notices the biggest improvements - the seating is all new, and comfortable. Some of that is likely entirely related to its newness - I can tell which seats in the Brattle Theatre are either seldom-used or recently replaced by how they feel when I drop my butt into them (similarly, I start moving around the Fantasia's Hall Theatre after a week or so because my usual seat has started to accommodate my shape too much) - but even after being broken in, they will still likely be thick and well-stuffed, with a nice leather-y covering as opposed to the usual fabric. I suspect/hope, considering the premium experience they're selling and price they're charging, that seats will be replaced more frequently than usual - heck, they may want to rotate materials with the seasons; as much as I liked the feel of the leather/vinyl on Saturday, I could see hating it next summer when I've just walked three miles there in shorts. For right now, though, they're some nice seats, an easy second place to the IMAX screen at Jordan's Furniture - which isn't bad, considering that comfortable chairs are what Jordan's does for a living.

The seats lack the "butt-kicker" subwoofers installed under every seat at Jordan's, but the sound is right up there with any other screen in the area, non-genuine-IMAX division. Unstoppable, with its constant sound of trains, proved a nice demo reel for the subs, and the room certainly makes a concerted effort to live up to its claim of being the best screen you've ever heard (or something like that; they've been pushing the sound). It's impressively clear even aside from the bass.

The picture... Well, it's bright, and sharp, and clear. It doesn't look quite so overtly digital once you get past the credits, and I'm starting to suspect that studios and distributors don't care about making those perfect any more (logos and credits are where it's easiest to notice staircases and jaggies, since they're relatively static images with non-horizontal/vertical straight lines). My preference is almost always going to be for film, but this looks pretty good, even on a big screen that I sat relatively close to.

Is it a worthwhile upgrade? I'm not sure. The presentation is as good as it gets at the multiplex, and $15.00 isn't that much more than the regular $11.50 that Fenway charges during the evening (though there will almost certainly be 3D surcharges on that when Tron Legacy, lest the RPX be only a token premium over the standard). During the day, when the matinee price is $9.00, they're still charging $15.00, a much more stark difference. In fact, let's revisit the chart from when AMC opened their "IMAX" screen, this time using Saturday's screenings of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1:

ScreenPrice (before noon)Price (afternoon)Price (evening)
Somerville Theatre, 35mmN/A$7.00$8.00
Arlington Capitol, 35mm/DLPN/A$7.00$8.50
AMC Harvard Square, 35mm/DLP$6.00$8.00$10.00
AMC Boston Common, 35mm/DLP$6.00$9.50$11.50
AMC Boston Common, IMAX Digital$10.00$13.50$15.50
Regal Fenway, 35mm/DLP$9.00$9.00$11.50
Regal Fenway, RPX$15.00$15.00$15.00
Jordan's Furniture Reading, IMAX$11.50$11.50$11.50
New England Aquarium, IMAXN/AN/A$12.95

Note: Somerville offers $5.00 matinees Monday-Friday, Arlington offers $6 matinees Monday-Friday. All prices are for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, except the Aquarium, which is for Inception (they'll likely pick up Harry Potter once Tron Legacy opens).

The RPX is the most expensive movie ticket in town before 4pm, barring festivals and special events, and darn close after. As of right now, it is a notable upgrade over everything but the genuine IMAX screens, but will that last? When I saw Megamind in the Imax-digital screen in Boston Common the other week, I was not blown away by the sound the way I was back when I saw Shrek 4 there. This is, sadly, the way things go - people complain that a theater is too loud, management turns the sound down, and it never gets turned back up again. Maybe in a couple of months the seats aren't as plush, or the projector's bulb starts getting turned down, or things generally start to slip. That, also, is the way things go, although by putting "premium" in the name, hopefully Regal will be motivated to keep on top of such things.

For what it's worth, I do think that the price is a factor - I saw Unstoppable at the 7pm Saturday show, generally one of the most busy, and I had a lot of elbow room. I can't compare how the regular 35mm show went at 6:30pm, but I suspect that without the IMAX branding, this may prove to be a bit more than audiences are willing to pay.

Well, at least for something second-tier like Unstoppable. Harry Potter is going to sell out no matter what, but it will be interesting to see if the higher price per ticket makes up for the smaller number of tickets sold for lesser draws.


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 November 2010 at Regal Fenway #2 (first-run)

A guy I follow tweeted about Skyline this weekend, saying to tune into his podcast to hear a review/takedown of the movie, and although I don't want to imply that it's a good movie, that rubbed me the wrong way. Calling your own work a "takedown" seems like braggadocio, and applying it to Skyline... Well, that's bullying. You take down those with inflated reputations, not the independent filmmakers whose weaknesses sadly don't make up for their strengths.

The movie starts out promising, with ships appearing in the sky above Los Angeles and dropping some sort of glowing payload on the city. Then, unfortunately, it flashes back thirteen hours or so, to artist Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson) arriving from the other coast to visit their successful friend Terry (Donald Faison). They go to a party a Terry's place, find things awkward with his wife Candice (Brittany Daniel), "assistant" Denise (Crystal Reed), and friend Ray (Neil Hopkins). Eventually it breaks up, they hit the sack, and then the aliens invade, vacuuming people up into their ships en masse.

The writing for this movie, by Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell, is pretty much terrible. It's generic, filled with people having incredibly stupid arguments, and not only that, rehashing the same ones within minutes of each other. But in the interest of fairness to all the independent filmmakers who can write but don't have the Brothers Strause's technical skills, how are they when the movie plays to their strengths - the parts that the audience is coming to see?

Complete review on eFilmCritic


* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 November 2010 at Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, RPX)

Unstoppable isn't complicated. The filmmakers take a story about working class heroes facing long odds with high stakes and more or less lets it be, resisting the temptation to graft excessive contrivance or melodrama to an already thrilling situation. It's a fine example of how when a storyteller has a good story to work with and the means to tell it, everybody will be well-served by just getting out of the way - an apt metaphor for a story about a runaway train.

The train - filled with combustible and toxic chemicals! - is a runaway because Dewey (Ethan Suplee), a yard worker in central Pennsylvania, set the throttle in the wrong position when he hopped off to switch the tracks. Now it's picking up speed heading the wrong direction on the main line. Traffic supervisor Connie (Rosario Dawson) tracks the train but can't convince her boss (Kevin Dunn) to derail it early. Instead, it winds up on a collision course with a train driven by veteran engineer Frank (Denzel Washington) and rookie conductor Will (Chris Pine) - but Frank may be the guy who figures out how to stop it without major loss of life and property.

Part of the fun of a movie like Unstoppable is how, along with delivering an exciting thrill ride, it gives audiences an idea of the inner workings of something they tend to take for granted - railroads, in this case. Details can be fun, and both writer Mark Bomback and director Tony Scott do a good job of showing how this railway system works from top to bottom, doing it in context so that the information sinks into the audience's brains without dragging around a character whose entire purpose is to have things explained to him. Because of that, we're able to grasp the problems that the heroes are struggling with instinctively, and feel like we're working it right along with them.

Complete review on eFilmCritic

A New Leaf

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 November 2010 at the Harvard FIlm Archive (Elaine May)

There's a shortage of films like A New Leaf today, ones that are broad, absurd, and silly, but also refined in their way. These days, it's the other way around - broad comedies will go for anything, but figure it's okay so long as they tug at your heartstrings and impress you with their sincerity, rather than make the grudging allowance to sentiment that writer/director/co-star Elaine May makes here.

Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) has been a spendthrift his entire idle adult life, spending two hundred thousand dollars a year when his trust fund only generates about ninety thousand. Now, he's broke, although his butler Harold (George Rose), immediately after giving his notice, says that there is one time-honored solution - marry into wealth. Due to some conditions laid down by Harry's uncle Harry (James Coco), it must be done within six weeks lest Henry lose everything, which seems hopeless as a month passes. Then Henry meets Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May) - a mousy, clumsy, unrefined professor of botany with no need of the millions her family left her. She is easy to sweep off her feet, but the union is a perilous one - Henrietta comes with a Andy McPherson (Jack Weston), a lawyer whose entire practice has been managing the Lowell estate, and Mrs. Traggert (Doris Roberts), a housekeeper who runs a rather loose household; Henry, meanwhile, feels he'd be better off as a widower than a husband.

The Henry Graham model of rich buffoon is all but extinct in America, and likely endangered even in Britain. That's sad, because to watch Matthau in this film's opening act is to feast from a smorgasbord of tomfoolery: We start with a bit of banter that invites mockery with open arms, follow it up with Henry's accountant (William Redfield) pounding his head against Henry's obliviousness before delivering a tongue-lashing that only gets funnier as the distance between his even tone and his contemptuous words,grows, and chase it down with a laugh at Matthau's body language as he bids the beloved accouterments of his wealth a sad adieu. And that's before desperation brings a wily cunning to the character. It's an utterly delightful performance by Walter Matthau, as he plays his his loose, lanky frame and expressive face against his character's snobbish propriety. He's terrific whether playing silly or sophisticated.

Complete review on eFilmCritic
Guy & Madeline on a Park BenchSkylineUnstoppable127 HoursA New Leaf

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