Friday, July 15, 2011

These Weeks In Tickets: 27 June 2011 to 10 July 2011

So here's the deal: I'm in Montreal, want to write up the stuff I saw last night, have written most of this up already, and the ones I haven't are IMAX featurettes. Let's blow through this quickly, OK?

This Week In Tickets!

This Week In Tickets!

That last week of June looks a lot busier than it actually was; all those individual tickets for NYAFF take up a lot of space and push the ones from the Museum of Science up on the page. As I mentioned when chronicling my first day, this was a sort of last-minute thing, which meant that I had to rearrange several plans, including using up those Groupons for the MOS stuff that expired on 3 July. Technically, I shouldn't have seen two on the same day - the fine print says "one per trip" - but the folks there were pretty cool about it.

One thing I noticed that night was that finding the "sweet spot", seating-wise, is even more crucial at a domed "OMNIMAX" theater like the one at the MOS than anywhere else. Arriving somewhat last-minute for "Tornado Alley", I was off in a corner, where it was all-too-easy to see the odd geography and distortion of the screen. I got much closer to the center for "Rescue", which led to a much more immersive experience.

So I saw those, got up early to head to New York, spent a couple days there, and then came back to Boston to watch the fireworks. I wish I had horrible photography to inflict on people, but my phone lost its charge, so there are no pictures of some of the creative solutions some people had for watching the show on the river. One family appeared to have a barge of their own, while a couple of other groups that I suspect were MIT students had done things like put sofas on floats and cobble together a float that they rowed with snow shovels (hey, might as well get some use out of them the rest of the year). I am trying to convince my family members who have boats up in Maine that they should come down and see the fireworks this way next year. And, hey, Matt and I deserve to have people come to us for one holiday, right?

The next weekend is pretty blank because I went up to Maine to see family - grandparents I hadn't seen in years, twin nieces who were only a week and a half old, and everyone in between - just getting back in time for Silents at the Somerville.

In between, a baseball game, which was pretty good. It was a further reminder that the cheap bleacher seats can be just as great a view as the more expensive options, the Sox won, but with a cost - Lester was pulled after four no-hit innings to go onto the DL. Hopefully he'll be back soon.

"Tornado Alley"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 July 2011 in the Boston Museum of Science Mugar Omni Theater (first-run, IMAX)

Tornado chasing is a natural for IMAX, so it would seem - the visuals are overwhelming, and the wind should make great use of the massive speaker systems that these theaters install. And while "Tornado Alley" is a good movie, it's a fair bit short of "great".

Part of this, again, may be that I didn't have a great seat, and when you sit toward the back and corner in this theater, distortion kicks in and you can see the edges, which you absolutely do not want in an IMAX picture - it's a blow to the immersive effect. The visuals themselves were frequently fantastic, with tremendously crisp images that give you the whole horizon and show the incredible forces at play, and the sound is equally impressive. Director Sean Casey gives us plenty of good information, and presents it clearly.

In the end, I think "Tornado Alley" has a greater-than-usual tendency to fall victim to falling in love with its tools. A good chunk of the beginning is given over to Casey building his Tornado Intercept Vehicle, and it is very cool indeed - a cobbled-together tank that would make the characters from Bellflower salivate, with features uniquely adapted to its purpose, including a domed turret specifically designed to handle the large-format camera. It's the world's most awesome toy, and it's a good contrast to the somewhat more dry prep work that the Vortex-2 science team led by Donald Burgess is doing. But then, as tornado season actually starts and V-2 starts doing nifty work, trying not just to chase tornadoes but surround them, Casey and company become somewhat distracting amateurs in comparison. They get some excellent footage, no doubt, but I often spent the time they were on the screen wanting to get back to the science, even if that doesn't have a moment as visually amazing as a scene from Twister.

And, speaking of Twister, Bill Paxton is a fine choice to narrate; he's got a great everyman/genuinely fascinated by science vibe.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 July 2011 in the Boston Museum of Science Mugar Omni Theater (first-run, IMAX)

I wondered, when watching "Rescue", whether I was seeing a movie that came together in darkly serendipitous fashion or the work of particularly nimble filmmakers who were able to quickly get some amazing footage and then get background. It doesn't really matter, of course, but an IMAX movie is a complicated undertaking, and the aftermath of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake doesn't need more complication.

As it turns out, per the website, they were already filming Canadian destroyer Commander Peter Crain when the earthquake happened, so they already had a contact when his HMCS Athabaskan was dispatched to the scene. There, they met Steven Heicklen, a contractor and firefighter from New Jersey who was working with a volunteer organization on the ground; it's likely also when they met USAF Captain Lauren Ross and Nevada Army National Gard Major Matt Jonkey (she flies cargo planes, he helicopters). Of course, the film doesn't present it that way - we're introduced to those four and their regular jobs, and then when the quake happens, it appears we're following them to Haiti.

That's not exactly deceptive, just good creation of a narrative. And that strong sense of story does help make "Rescue" a particularly compelling IMAX documentary; the audience has a sense of these people before they spring into action, and they're all quite likable folks. To a certain extent, Heicklen stands out in that he's not military and his passion has a different flavor than the others' calm professionalism, but all are admirable folks whom the audience feels they can count on almost immediately. The audience gets to see a lot of good done without having villains injected into the mix.

The picture itself is, as it so often is with IMAX productions, remarkable. I saw this screening at a domed IMAX theater, and while the aerial scenes might have had a slightly bigger wow-factor in 3-D (the film is playing in all three types of IMAX venues - domed, 3-D, and flat 2-D), the clarity and detail of this film shot on large-format film is amazing. It is one thing to see televised news footage of a natural disaster, but in this format we can see it in both scales simultaneously: The massive, seemingly-endless damage that stretches to the limits of your vision as well as the individuals affected, who don't just become blurry ants in the big picture.

The clarity is sobering, especially when the audience sees what might be the money shot of an action-adventure movie, a church collapsing before our eyes. It's awe-inspiring and also terrible, and lets us know that even once the movie is over and the subjects go back to other things, there's still going to be a lot of work to be done.

Tornado AlleyRescuePunished13 Assassins: Director's CutShaolinRawForceA Boy and His SamuraiDuel to the DeathKarate-Robo ZaborgarNinja Kids!!!Buddha Mountain

Lester? NOOOOOOOO!!!Seven Chances

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