Friday, January 14, 2011

This Week In Tickets: 3 January 2011 to 9 January 2011

The first full week of the new year was, in fact, a full week:

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: The Matsugane Potshot Affair (Friday, 7 January 2011, 7pm, at MIT E51-151) and A Gentle Breeze In the Village (Saturday, 8 January 2011, 7pm, MIT E51-151)

One more reason why I hold that Making Lists Is Stupid: The time spent working on This Year In Tickets over the past few days could have been used on full reviews of these films, many of which seem to have terribly little written about them.

Poison

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 January 2011 at the Brattle Theatre (CineCach├ę)

Todd Haynes's first feature is interesting, and in some ways seems to be making a concerted effort to be interesting. It draws its inspiration from the works of playwright and novelist Jean Genet, and intercuts quotes from his work while switching between three apparently unrelated stories that take place in different time periods. The stories are not just different genres, but vastly different styles: "Hero", the story of a young boy who apparently killed his abusive father and then flew out the window, presents itself as a television documentary; "Horror", wherein a scientist disfigures himself and fears spreading this disease, as a 1950s B-movie pastiche; and "Homo", a tale of love and jealousy in a 1940s prison, recalls Ken Russell's more historical pictures.

At the time, Haynes was considered more of an artist than a filmmaker, and his ability to mimic these various styles is impressive, especially since what he's doing is not merely empty, mocking parody, but solid storytelling, coaxing convincing performances out of his cast, especially in "Hero". As co-editor, he also does a fine job of moving us between stories despite how potentially jarring the transitions could be.

Strangely, though, even though time is divided relatively equally between the three strands and the entire film clocks in at just under an hour and a half, it still drags a bit about midway through. All three segments start to grind at about the same point, which means that there's no relief going from one to another for a fifteen or twenty minute stretch.

Cluny Brown

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 January 2011 at the Brattle Theatre (20th Century Fox 75th Anniversary)

I wish it were possible today for movies to end like Cluny Brown: The last five minutes (if that) are (1) the moment that you have been waiting for since meeting the two main characters, (2) a quick "happily ever after", and then (3) an equally quick last gag. Then "The End" comes up and you go home satisfied, with no endlessly scrolling credits.

And the ninety-odd minutes that get us to that point aren't bad, either. We know, from the very start, that sparkplug Cluny Brown (Jennifer Jones) does not naturally fit the sort of world where one's role is very much determined by the sex and economic class of one's birth, and we know that Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer) is instantly smitten with her. Cluny must, however, remain oblivious of this so that she can have an awkward courtship with the local chemist (Richard Haydn) who is entirely wrong for her, so that we can laugh at this Jonathan Wilson's priggishness, Belinski's annoyance, and Cluny's misplaced enthusiasm.

This is the sort of thing producer & director Ernst Lubitsch did so well; farce that has its participants exaggerated but not outrageous, with one joke following another in orderly sequence in a way that pokes fun without ever seeming mean-spirited.

All Good Things

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 January 2011 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

I certainly hope All Good Things was inspired by a true story, not because I would necessarily wish any of the events of this movie on real people, but because the existence of it then makes some sort of sense. It's a story that features almost every sort of weirdness you could want from a thriller - a writer must take a look at the machinations of the last act and think he would never get away with all that if he made it up.

But, wow, does it not pull together. Director Andrew Jarecki does not see this insanity and dive head-first into it like, say, a young Brian De Palma. Instead, he tries to go the "chilling because of the seeming normality" route, even after the normality is well and truly done away with. Ryan Gosling doesn't help; his character is completely lacking in personality, displaying just the briefest flashes of charisma necessary to get Kirsten Dunst's to fall for him. Dunst is OK, which likely makes her the best part of the movie. She's at least not a sad waste like Frank Langella and Phillip Baker Hall, showing up to collect paychecks between projects where they're probably great additions to the cast.

Matsugane ransha jiken (The Matsugane Potshot Affair)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 January 2011 in Room 151 of MIT's Tang Center (Nobuhiro Yamashita retrospective; projected crappy video)

Most of the people who came out for this retrospective were fans of Nobuhiro Yamashita's previous film, Linda Linda Linda, and thus likely found this off-kilter mix of crime and family rather odd. As screwy Japanese movies go, though, it's almost straightforward in plot: Hikaru (Takashi Yamanaka) accidentally hits a woman with his car, and while she's initially believed to be dead, it turns out that she and her boyfriend are looking to recover a box of lost gold.

It's a straightforward plot, but Yamashita and his cowriters build an intriguingly tight set of relationships around Hikaru, his brother Kotaro (Hirofumi Arai), the rest of their family, and the small town that they live in. At times, it seems like two stories awkwardly tied together, and while they don't necessarily come together to become one larger story, it does present a perfect feeling of how a tight-knit community or family can create pressure on a person.

One thing I do wonder about is the sound mix, which tended to emphasize background noises to a strong extent; a lot of the times what was happening just off-screen is almost louder than what's going on right in front of us. This may be the relatively lousy source being projected, though - the subtitles on the legitimate DVD were apparently lousy, so an alternate source was used, one which had a lot of pixelization, so maybe the mix was screwy, too.

Tennen kokekk├┤ (A Gentle Breeze in the Village)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 January 2011 in Room 151 of MIT's Tang Center (Nobuhiro Yamashita retrospective; projected DVD)

A Gentle Breeze in the Village is likely closer to what one might expect of the director of Linda Linda Linda, in that it's another coming of age story, but it also shares a fair amount of DNA with The Matsugane Potshot Affair in that it focuses on the denizens of a very small town, so small that the elementary and middle schools consist of single rooms in the same building, more than enough for the community's seven children. The tiny size of the community is a crucial part of the story, in that Migita Soyo (Kaho) finds herself attracted to Hiromi Osawa (Masaki Okada) not just because he's a good looking young man, but because he's the only person in town close to her own age - which also means that there is almost inevitably pre-existing ties between their families.

It's an intriguing set-up, although one that Aya Watanabe's screenplay perhaps doesn't take full advantage of. As good as the young cast is, Kaho in particular, it feels a bit constraining to limit things to Soyo's point of view. The end also feels a bit rushed - there's one thread that just takes up time without a resolution, and while the very end may be honest, it perhaps deserves a little more elaboration.

Still, the film as a whole is a clever look at growing up in miniature - the small community lets us see every piece of the social web that touches Soyo and how they interact.

Season of the Witch

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 January 2011 at Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run)

Man, I hope that this turd doesn't deter anybody from seeing Black Death when it comes out in a couple of months. They're superficially similar - dark ages knights heading through unknown territory to deal with a witch accused of being behind the plague - but Dominic Sena doesn't have the directorial skill of Christopher Smith, Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman combined aren't as awesome as Sean Bean for this sort of role, and let's face it... Witches aren't nearly as scary as witch-hunts, as we use the term in the modern sense.

(Similarly, it's tough to get really worked up over the preview for The Rite if you've already seen The Last Exorcism, or so I've found.)

Still, I think that even if you don't have trouble with the whole supernatural angle, it's not a particularly thrilling movie. It starts off goofy, with Cage's Behmen and Perlman's Felson going soldiering in the Crusades for a dozen years before seeing an innocent woman get cut down, at which point, whoa, wait a minute... No-one said anything about people getting hurt in this war! The party escorting The Girl (Claire Foy) is a pretty standard-issue group, and the final twist is a dud.

Black Death will be hitting theaters in a couple of months, so wait for that. It's a lot better.

The King's Speech

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 January 2011 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run)

The previews for The King's Speech make it out to be a very narrowly focused film about a man with a stammer who gets help from an unconventional therapist so that he can give a rousing speech to lead his country during World War II. It is that, of course, but the speech impediment turns out to be the least interesting thing about Colin Firth's "Bertie" - while watching him learn to get his words out is very nice, the reasons why he must are more interesting. This is the story of a good, but timid, man who becomes a reluctant leader because he has a sense of duty that his brother (Guy Pearce) lacks.

And, of course, he's surrounded by sensible people - Geoffrey Rush's Lionel Logue, of course, but also his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter). Rush gets the flashy, funny role, and he makes the most of it, playing up the exaggerated lack of bowing and scraping but also letting us see how quietly impressed he is, respecting the man rather than the office. And it's an almost-unfamiliar joy to see Carter in a good role - she's seemed to be in nothing but Harry Potter and Tim Burton freakshows for so long that one can be forgiven for forgetting that she is capable of playing something other than a Living Dead Doll.

PoisonCluny BrownAll Good ThingsSeason of the WitchThe King's Speech

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