Monday, July 04, 2011

This Week Month Long Friggin Time In Tickets: 25 April 2011 to 26 June 2011

So here I was, not intending to let a film festival get me ridiculously far behind like it did for BUFF, but somehow this took even longer, as the graphs in this post show, the longer the festival, the wider the distance between finishing the movie and writing the review, and the gap got up to 31 days at points. Then came Noir Nights and the questionable decision not to post this until I was caught up. Which took forever.

And then I found myself Wi-Fi-less upon reaching NYC for the Asian Film Festival, but I'm not pushing this finished thing off until Fantasia to get that done.

So, here's a table of contents of sorts:

25 April 2011 - 1 May 2011
2 May 2011 - 8 May 2011
9 May 2011 - 15 May 2011
16 May 2011 - 22 May 2011
23 May 2011 - 29 May 2011
30 May 2011 - 5 June 2011
6 June 2011 - 12 June 2011
13 June 2011 - 19 June 2011
20 June 2011 - 26 June 2011

So, let's see what I've been up to...

This Week In Tickets!

Whoa... I saw Limitless. Huh, that was a while ago.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 April 2011 in Somerville Theatre #3 (second-run)

Super-intelligence is a tricky thing to pull off; it requires the writer to try and figure out what someone smarter than himself would do in a given situation. You can fake that in a couple ways: The first spending a long time thinking through actions that the character must run through in seconds, and the second is to give the characters blind spots. The trouble with that is, you notice the latter much more than the former, despite a number of scenes meant to show off how clever Bradley Cooper's character has become.

One thing I wish the movie had done is to make Robert De Niro's industrialist the main antagonist rather than spending so much time on Andrew Howard's gangster. Since they establish early on that the miracle drug helps a lot more if you're already smart, all Gennady has on Eddie is ruthlessness, while Van Loon would be able to counter the raw, expanded intellect with life experience, which would be an interesting battle.

This Week In Tickets!

The last time I did this, I said I wanted something of a breather after BUFF; well, I sort of knew that wasn't going to happen with IFFBoston. I wound up taking the day after after the festival off from work because the "TBD" on the ticket wound up being for a day game. Good chance to rest up from a long week of wrangling SQL by day and seeing back-to-back movies by night (and weekend afternoon), right? You'd think, except that the previous night's game was delayed by rain and went into extra innings. I flipped it on thinking "cool, even after Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, I can watch some baseball", and wound up loopy by the end. The afternoon game wound up being not great, to say the least - John Lackey and the bullpen (which could really have used the rest) got obliterated.

The Sunday game was a lot more fun; my brother Dan, his wife Lara, and their awesome little girls came, the Red Sox won, and we got to walk around the warning track afterward. One thing I missed the last time I did this was that you can not only see dents where balls hit the scoreboard in left field, but they're often going fast enough that you can even see imprints from the stitches.

In between, we have an illustration of how expensive going to the movies in Boston can be. Clearly, I've got to start hitting the Capitol and Somerville Theatres more often; notice how the Capitol's evening 3D price is the same as the Common's evening flat price (and, honestly, there should have been a discount on Rammbock; that was about an hour of movie). Then you look at what Cave of Forgotten Dreams runs for a 3D evening show... I paid that under the "support good movies, go cheap on filler" edict, but that's some expensive support.

Incidentally, Cave is (as of this writing) still playing at Boston Common (it's also opened in 2D at Coolidge Corner), and I think it's a pretty strong example of how people do appreciate 3D, when it's used well. That's a pricey ticket for a documentary, which isn't exactly the megaplex's bread and butter, but it's been doing well enough to stick around for at least a five-week run, which a lot of fictional features considered modest successes don't get.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2011 in Arlington Capitol #1 (first-run, RealD 3-D projection)

Thor is the Marvel movie I figured would be the toughest sell when these things were first announced; it's a weird combination of Norse mythology and superheroics to begin with and the Iron Man flicks had announced both that Marvel's movies were going to be tied together in a similar way to their comics and that they were taking place in a predominately science-fictional universe. That the movie works is a great tribute to director Kenneth Branagh and the other filmmakers, who dive right into a Kirby/Simonson vision of Asgard, arguably more "sufficiently advanced technology" than Viking-influenced.

A nice cast doesn't hurt; Chris Hemsworth does a really kind of wonderful job as the title character - cocky and brash can be easy, sure, but having Thor still be recognizably himself after learning some humility and perhaps how to think as opposed to just being a blunt object (having a hammer as a weapon rather suits him) takes skill. Tom Hiddleston is also impressive as Loki, managing the trick of crafting a frequently sympathetic villain despite the fact that his actions are those of a sociopath. Neat trick. Branagh knows when to rein Anthony Hopkins in and when to let him go as Odin, the banter between Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings as the scientist and student who find Thor is a lot of fun, and Stellan Skarsgard is a real asset as Portman's mentor, a middle-aged Scandinavian guy not quite able to grasp the idea that he's drinking with the god of thunder he'd heard stories of as a child.

As to the story - it's good enough. It's an origin story on one hand and an introduction on the other. Branagh manages grandeur and fun, but something about it stops just shy of bowling the audience over. It's the expected story, and while the details are fun, an extra surprise or two would be very cool.

Fast Five

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 May 2011 in Regal Fenway #8 (first-run)

I haven't seen a The Fast & the Furious movie since the first one - I think I've got an HD-DVD of Tokyo Drift somewhere, but knowledgeable people tell me that it's a side-story that actually occurs after #4 & #5 in continuity - though let's face it, this is not a series where knowing the minutia matters: There are fast cars, a heist will probably be involved somewhere or other, and guys on opposite sides of the law will find some common ground.

It's a template that works here, as writer Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin pull together pretty much every surviving character from previous installments, throw in Joaquim de Almeida and Dwayne Johnson as adversaries pursuing them in different directions, and keep things moving well enough that the audience isn't too fidgety by the time the movie gets around to the big car chase through Rio that was teased in the previews.

The film isn't all that it can be - wouldn't it have been awesome if Vin Diesel and the Rock had had a screen fight for the ages? - but it's a surprisingly enjoyable entry in a series that by rights should have gone direct to video two sequels ago.

This Week In Tickets!

Not to make broad generalizations, but look at the size of that ticket to Yankee Stadium. They just don't do restrained, do they?

Anyway, since I've already done entries for Queen to Play and True Legend & the game, there's not a whole lot to say. I enjoyed the movies quite a bit, although the trip to New York wound up being a punishing schedule - I got there at around 1pm, saw the movie, got turned around on the subway a bit, and then had a decent burger at a diner before catching the 1:30am bus back to Boston, at which point my brother Matt picked me up to travel north for a baby shower being thrown for my brother Travis and his wife. I thought I did reasonably well staying alert on Sunday, but it turns out that this really isn't the case at all.

Anyway, seeing a game in enemy territory was a nifty experience; I heartily recommend it to sports fans everywhere. But, wow, things are expensive in NYC - my eyes bugged just a little at that $13.50 movie ticket for a 2pm show, and I've gotten much too used to the $2 programs outside Fenway to believe the $10 the Yankees wanted.

(I also love how, even with the way the Sox devour Yawkey Way on game days, the Fenway area still retains a bit of an independent feel; Yankee Stadium 3 is very corporate, with anything not run by the team pushed well away from the stadium by a concrete moat.)

This Week In Tickets!

Those games do wind up clustering, don't they?

The effect of getting older that I find I hate most is how long it takes me to bounce back from things - or, more accurately, the insidious delayed reaction. It was Saturday night that I stayed up until 2am and got about four hours of low-quality sleep on the bus, but I had a quiet day Sunday and most of Monday and Tuesday to recover, and yet, when I hit the theater for Meek's Cutoff on Tuesday, I was dragging. And let me tell you, that is not the condition you want to be in when seeing a movie like Meek's Cutoff.

Meek's Cutoff

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 May 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #8 (first-run)

Why don't you want fatigue poisons in your system when seeing this movie? Because it is frequently boring, and seeing it in that condition will exacerbate this. Reducing it to simply that one adjective is tremendously unfair - director Kelly Reichardt and her cast take a script dangerously short on events and does beautiful work on the details, but understand - this is a movie that, for better or worse, is not enjoyed but endured.

That is, in many ways, entirely appropriate - crossing the American West to make a fresh start in California or Oregon was a trial more often than it was the exciting series of events that the word "adventure". Reichardt throws us right into this, starting the movie at a point where a three-wagon train of settlers is already lost and rationing food, quietly discussing whether to hang their guide, Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood). When their path intersects that of a native hunter, they must decide whether to trust him or Meek. Meek, seeing his impending obsolescence, preys upon the settlers' fears.

The ethnic politics of Meek's Cutoff are interesting. One of the characters makes casually racist comments early on to establish the attitudes of the time, we're inclined to forget our initial revulsion as the rest of her words and actions within the group tend to be innocuous. The more immediate question, of course, is the relationship with the native (Rod Rondeaux). The dynamic is set up as certain members of the party attempting to put aside their fears and trust his superior knowledge of the terrain while others hold on to frightened prejudices, but it's important to note that even the group that scans as open-minded isn't looking for the sort of co-operation that comes out of friendship, but exploitation. In its quiet way, the movie is a damning indictment of white America's treatment of the people they displaced, where even those attempting to do right by the natives do so in a conditional, self-serving way.

Full review on eFilmCritic

J├╗san-nin no shikaku (13 Assassins)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 May 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run)

About twenty or thirty minutes into the screening of 13 Assassins that I attended, the second pair of people got up, trudged across the part of the screen where the subtitles were, and left. It happened in the wake of the second scene meant to prove the villain is a menace who must be destroyed, and while I sort of get that this is the sort of thing that can be off-putting... You guys paid money to see a Takashi Miike samurai movie named 13 Assassins; violence is part of the deal.

And while this is certainly not one of the symphonies of the bizarre that is often associated with Miike, to say he is playing it straight undersells it somewhat Sure, the filmmakers stick with conventional costumes and weapons, and has its story driven by traditional codes of honor, it's unconventional in many ways. Many have spilled electrons on how samurai films were traditionally a conservative genre, about noble warriors either protecting the people from outlaws or tragically forced to face off in combat because their sense of duty has placed them on opposite sides, while this film's sympathies are with the rebels. Yes, the leaders are inevitably old friends who must face off, but it's very clear here that tradition and deference are the problem.

But, aside from that, the action that makes up the last act is crazy. Miike and his characters convert an entire town into a mechanized deathtrap to allow the rebel samurai to cut Lord Naritsugu's army down to a more manageable size, and in many ways the end result resembles the way Tokyo transforms from a city to a fortress in Evangelion, albeit in a completely period-appropriate way. It is absolutely blockbuster-scaled action in a genre that seldom works at that scale, going on and on without let-up but also without exhausting the audience. I've noted before, especially after seeing Sukiyaki Samurai Django, that Miike is really a fantastic action director and it might be interesting to see what he can do when not winking at the audience.

The answer: He's really good, but let's not call him conventional just yet.

This Week In Tickets!

That Kung Fu Panda ticket is kind of beat up because apparently it (along with my phone) stayed in my pocket while I rented a kayak and rowed on the Charles that afternoon. I liked it a lot more than my previous attempt at rowing - a summer crew class which just wasn't for me, as I was more interested in just enjoying the breeze on the river than getting in sync with seven other people and trying to make good time. The important thing to take away from that, aside from "keep paper items in a waterproof container", was that rowing from a bit upstream of Harvard to MIT is, perhaps, a bit overambitious. It leads to a moment where the thought "oh, crap, I've got to return this boat" races through one's mind, and then, when you turn the boat around to head upstream, the river looks completely different. The placid, glass-like surface suddenly appears not just choppy, but angry.

I hurt the rest of the day. And sometime arond 1am, yikes, that was some pain.


* * (out of four)
Seen 27 May 2011 in the Somerville Theatre micro-cinema (four-wallin')

Sometimes I hate meeting filmmakers. It kind of sucks to meet a nice enough guy like Castparty Productions's Justin Fielding, shake his hand, take his business card, give him your own, and sort of promise to write his independent comedy up, only to find that the best thing you can say is "better luck next time".

It's inventory time at the Mattress Warehouse store, so the store is closed but the entire staff is on-hand to count what's in stock - although, being slacker misfits, not a whole lot of work is likely to get done. There's mopey Eleanor (Amanda Hurley) and her ex-boyfriend Chuck (Ken Breese); bible-toting Bess (Irina Peligrad) and Ukranian immigrant Nastasia (Katarina Morhacova); nunchuck-wielding Jackie (Shelly Finnegan) and Tucker (Quentin James), about to start a new job; big-talker Greg (Christian Anthony), timid Percy (Dennis Hurley), and oddball Zoe (Cat Miller); along with manager Barbara (Chris Holliday) and store owner John Panda (Matt Carbo).

The template that Inventory follows isn't a bad one for an independent comedy - basically a single location that's big enough for the large cast not to be tripping over each other, just enough plot to give the movie a logical place to start and finish, and a potential ensemble of interesting characters. Fielding does a good job of jumping from one thread to another, spending enough time in each place to do something but not letting any specific bit drag. He's at his best when there are gags coming at a quick pace. There's potential for a snappy observational comedy here.

Full review at EFC

Kung Fu Panda 2

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 May 2011 in AMC Harvard Square #3 (first-run)

What's there to say about Kung Fu Panda 2? It's a good movie that doesn't quite get over the hump to being a great one, a sequel somewhat doomed to be seen as less than its progenitor because the original idea - take the animal-inspired fighting styles from Shaw Brothers movies and have them done by cartoon animals, including a panda, the symbol of China! - is so perfectly brilliant that even doing the follow-up well can't compete with the sheer inspiration of the first. It's difficult to give this one a fair shake.

It's got its problems - aside from the Angelina Jolie-voiced Tigress, the rest of the Furious Five have very little to do, aside from a couple delightfully morbid jokes about the source of Mantis's daddy issues, and it's kind of surprising that nobody mentioned what was apparently a panda holocaust to Po before now. But it's also quite a lot of fun - director Jennifer Yuh Nelson and company have a funny but not lightweight script to work with and a bunch of new celebrity voices to add to their already nifty returning cast. Visually, they choreograph some exciting fight scenes, and there's nobody who puts more real effort and attention into their 3-D like DreamWorks Animation.

An idea is only revolutionary once, but it's still good after that, and I'd still like to see another Kung Fu Panda movie - which is a good thing, because the end more or less promises one.

This Week In Tickets!

I'm not sure where the rest of the week went - well, the holiday on Monday was spent moving very little because of the rowing-related soreness. Then probably a busy week at work, a day best suited to sitting on the deck and reading, then a baseball day with Mom & Bill. It wound up being a good game, and a nice enough day that we wound up walking from North Station to Fenway, getting brunch along the way with Matt & Morgan, and stopping to admire how all the statues in the Public Garden were dressed up in their finest Bruins gear. The game was a pretty good one - we got to see an Adrian Gonzalez home run, but that's sort of free with admission (the guy is good) - and then we had really good fish & chips at a seafood restaurant that probably expected us to order something more sophistimacated/expensive.

I got them to their train and then headed to Somerville just in time to catch the silent movies. Read about it here; it was a great show, with excellent prints and a fine soundtrack performed live by Jeff Rapsis. The next one is on 11 July and I'm certainly hoping to fit it into the crazy mess of moving parts that is my July.

This Week In Tickets!

No, I didn't pay full-price for a movie even when I didn't have to; I had a coupon code for two tickets on Fandango that expired on or around the 6th but never a chance to use it for a pair. The sad thing is that I think it was for $9, which means I still would have wound up saving money even if I used it for one matinee ticket. Movie tickets, they are expensive in Boston.

The "Noir Nights" program swallowed a big chunk of the weekend, but I have no complaints about that; most was quite good, and seeing them on the biggish screen was a treat, both because most aren't available on video and the prints themselves are high-quality. It made for kind of a crazy weekend. I had to catch a ride from work in the middle of a thunderstorm on Thursday - the bus stop at the end of Corporate Drive in Burlington is basically a telephone pole with a loose wire dangling from it right next to a manhole cover; if the wind catches the cable just right, you can complete a circuit of certain death! I then had a bunch of time to kill between Alias Nick Beal and Yellowbrickroad on Friday night, which was used to verify that Sal's makes a decent pizza and that the Stuart Street Playhouse was more or less closed.

It was close to 2am by the time I got out of the theater after that one, which means that the T was good and shut down. So 3am by the time I hit the sack. Thus, no other movies besides the noir seen the rest of the weekend; that sort of thing tends to mess me up.

X-Men: First Class

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 June 2011 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run)

X-Men: First Class flew under the radar a little bit, because as good as it is, I can see nobody involved knowing quite what to do with it. It's a weird superhero period piece, in that it uses Marvel characters but not in any way that matches with anybody's image of them and proposes an alternate history, always an iffy thing with audiences. It's pretty good, though; I rather suspect that even without the superheroics, a great deal of it could work as a period/retro adventure movie. It's impressive just how good a job Matthew Vaughn does in really saturating the film with 1960s imagery without the movie becoming self-parody.

Michael Fassbender is really good here, too. As magnificent as Ian McKellan often was as the same character in his three X-movies, seeing Magneto in his prime is fantastic: The anger is still raw as opposed to having been forged into a precise weapon, and when this younger version gets into a climactic fight, it never feels like beating up on the old, frail guy. James McAvoy is a co-lead here, but whenever Fassbender is around, McAvoy finds himself assuming his usual position - the pleasantly bland (or, in this case, dickishly bland) guy meant to be a viewpoint character who seems to be a distraction from all the really interesting people in the movie.

The big flaw - not a crippling one, but one that is hard to avoid - winds up coming from a surprising place. It's not the way Vaughn & company find themselves checking things off a list toward the finale, but how what is probably the most important action in the movie seems muted. That is (spoilers for 45 years of comics and three previous movies) Raven/Mystique opting to side with Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence's character is the true heart of the movie, and the way Xavier's arrogance and misplaced priorities pushes her away is the film's true tragedy, but the moment when it happens seems off-kilter and minimized in every conceivable way.

Maybe that's deliberate, and Matthew Vaughn (or whoever producer Bryan Singer and Fox get to direct a potential sequel) are saving Raven's true, irrevocable fall - the one where she stops being a sweet, confused kid and becomes a cold-blooded killer - for later. If that's the case, I hope we get to see that second film, because without out that story, this prequel seems a little incomplete.

This Week In Tickets!

Summer movie season gets into something closer to full swing, but I'm still trying to fit oddball things into my schedule. I'm also making a bit more of an attempt to see stuff at Somerville and the Capitol - they're local and cool! - and it's a lot easier when their websites say "playing in our main auditorium" next to a movie. $8 for an evening show in one of the area's best screens (with, depending on your preference, milkshakes or beers available) is pretty darn good. It also may give you an opportunity to have a "King" burger at Boston Burger Company beforehand, which is always delicious.

And, remember a few pages ago when I talked about the pain that comes from rowing too far downstream and then rowing upstream? Doing it the other way around (as I did on Sunday, after arriving at Charles River Canoe & Kayak's Kendall location just in time for a thunderstorm nixed my plans on Saturday) gets you just as tired, but the recovery seems less painful. Or perhaps even semi-regular exercise like rowing on the river and walking a couple miles daily between the T stop and where I need to be eventually builds a certain amount of strength. Crazy notion, but possible.

Super 8

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 June 2011 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run)

When looking at this movie critically, I get a little bit annoyed at writer/director J.J. Abrams, because while this is perhaps his most technically polished movie - he no longer seems to be shaking the camera to cover up awkwardness at staging an action scene well, for instance - it's tough to deny that he uses a lot of shortcuts. Even the climax does this, and it may be the moment that most offends in that regard: Joe (Joel Courtney) gives something up, beautiful effects scene, everybody in the audience and film knows what that means and gets a little misty. Except... The effect is almost purely pavlovian. We know this beat by heart, and we react to it the way we're meant to, but in retrospect, we may realize that Joe having to let go has not been a theme of the movie at all.

And yet, we also realize that it sort of doesn't matter. Does that sort of thing take away from the nostalgic joy of watching these kids try and make their movie as things start to get crazy all around them, or the beautifully sad romance that develops between Joe and Alice (Elle Fanning)? Not really. The absolutely terrific action sequences as a train jumps the rails, or the kids race through a nightmarish transformation of their town? Still pretty darn amazing. And Abrams pulls off a bunch of moments that just make me smile, like when the sign outside a gas station rotates just so, blocking off the view of the monster just when it seems we might get a peek.

Because, let's face it, we know we're not going to see the creature until the characters' super 8 film is developed; like so much else in the movie, it really can't happen any other way in a movie. Abrams takes it for granted that these beats will work, and he's got the skills to make them go down well. It's slick, and a very good time; just imagine what it would be like if Abrams didn't occasionally take the chance to slide.

Green Lantern

* * (out of four)
Seen 19 June 2011 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, RealD 3-D)

While entering my star rating into Flixster, I saw a comment along the lines of "this is why CGI ruins movies", and I had to sigh. An overabundance of CGI is not why Green Lantern is a bad movie. It is, after all, a movie with a significant chunk that takes place in outer space, on a world where all manner of aliens congregate because they are space cops equipped with a sufficiently-advanced-science ring that creates solid energy constructs out of pure willpower. Let's face it, while many movies, it can be argued, could benefit from less in the way of visual effects, there is no "too much CGI" for a Green Lantern movie. It's perhaps the perfect project for Stephen Sommers; he'd be completely free to indulge his "more effects! More!!!" compulsion and would bring a giddy sense of fun to it.

But we don't get Stephen Sommers; we get Martin Campbell, four credited writers, bizarrely-popular DC Comics writer and creative officer Geoff Johns on board as a producer, and probably everybody within Warner Brothers Pictures and DC Entertainment who have invested a lot of money in this thing giving notes, sucking any personality the film may have right out and leaving us with a bland movie that just goes through the motions, but without the zing Abrams gives Super 8. Campbell only rarely allows the audience to feel the giddy joy of this absurd but (potentially) hugely fun character and world.

Instead, the movie is terribly serious outside of calculated comic relief (which is generally of the "make the main character look stupid variety, not what this movie needs). It's often as though none of the writers noticed how goofy "the yellow power of fear" sounds, or that the way the characters talk about the opposing forces of will and fear sounds like an even sillier version of Donnie Darko's "fear-love diagram". Then there's the open question of why the ring chooses Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) instead of Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) - both seem brave and intelligent and decent flyers, but Ferris isn't an irresponsible jerk. It's not that I want to see Lively acting in the lead role (ugh!), but it raises the question of just what makes Hal special. And then there's the whole question of just what the deal is with Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) - it's a crazy coincidence that the xenobiologist the government calls in just happens to be a childhood friend of Hal and Carol, and it's an example of how sloppy the writing is that this just pops up without like it's something the audience should have known all along. Then his envy comes out, and...

Ugh. Let us not even get into the Yellow Fear Monster with its absurd face, or the fanboy-baiting credit cookie that has nothing to do with what came before. It's just too depressing to see what could have been a big, fun movie collapse under its own weight and the weight the studio placed upon it.

The Asphalt Jungle

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 June 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (John Huston)

Ideally, this would have been written up as an addendum to "Noir Nights", but i was worn down enough that I missed a few bits. Shame, because this is a really fantastic little crime story. The crooks who are set to take part in the caper are all scrappers trying to obtain modest dreams, the "respectable" cops and money men thoroughly corrupt, and the women are tragically loyal. It's a "crime does not pay" story, sure, but one where we can feel grudging respect for the crooks and especially the people attached to them.

After all, Sam Jaffe's "Doc" Erwin Riedenschneider is a likable sort; he's the sort of master thief who doesn't carry a gun and really wants nothing more than the attention of a pretty girl. Sterling Hayden's Dix Handley really isn't likable, but we get him; he's a country boy displaced to the city by circumstance. Back home, he's a brilliant horseman; here, he's a thug and a brute. Jean Hagen's Doll Conovan loves him anyway, though; maybe she's not so bright herself, or maybe she just wants to escape to Dix's world because her's isn't working out for her, but her loyalty and devotion are as beautiful as they are tragic.

Almost every character in the story has a story to tell, but co-writer/director John Huston doesn't let the story meander. Unlike some who make this sort of ensemble piece, he knows that everything must tie in to the robbery, its planning, and its aftermath. That makes The Asphalt Jungle one of the best combinations of ensemble drama and crime flick ever put together, even sixty years later.

(And, as a bonus? Marilyn Monroe in an early role as the money man's mistress. Even with the Hayes Code in full effect, she's such pure sex that one doesn't really have a problem with the characters stopping to just express their astonishment that such specimens exist.)

This Week In Tickets!

And, as we reach the end of this massive post, we see IMAX 3D on the weekend but, before that, two neighborhood theaters with rather opposite fortunes. The Somerville has really been on a roll over the last few years, taking advantage of the closing of the Assembly Square multiplex to upgrade itself from a second-run house to a first-run space, carving a new video screening room out in the basement, upgrading the projection and sound in the main auditorium and keeping the prices low. Knowing they've got a classic theater atmosphere, they've been programming more special events, including this summer's classic, cult, and silent series.

The Stuart Street Playhouse? Well, this sort of says it all:

This Week In Tickets!

The folks who own the West Newton CInemas and Belmont Studio still seem to have the lease - the phone number on the website to call for private bookings hasn't changed - but regular programming stopped as April became May, and when I went there for Jig, the concession stand/box office had been removed and the folks tending bar and selling candy at temporary-looking stands were wearing nametags from the Radisson Hotel in the same building.

Jig was the first thing to play there in a month and a half, which was weird, as the place really seemed like a going concern during Independent Film Festival Boston, but it stopped playing films regularly almost immediately afterwards. I really sort of puzzles me that they didn't try to do something a little more creative with their programming before that. Outside of festivals, I've never seen a large crowd there, in large part because they generally charged $10 for second-run boutique pictures. That just doesn't seem sustainable, and while I know it probably pays to be somewhat conservative with a single screen theater - booking a bomb and having the place be dead for a whole week could be disastrous - the place could have done well with some more adventurous programming. Program a cheap Monday martial-arts double feature and advertise it in nearby Chinatown, for instance, or a music-doc series that's plugged on the nearby college campuses, but don't charge first-run prices for second-run material.

Now, they just seem to be renting the theater out, so how often movies run there looks like it will be directly tied to how often distributors are willing to go the "four-wall" route. Here's hoping Indomina, Well Go, and other small distributors take advantage of that.

Captains Courageous

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 June 2011 in Somerville Theatre #1 (summer repatory)

Harvey Cheyne (Freddie Bartholomew) is a brat, and this movie is not going to be the least bit subtle about it: Director Victor Fleming and the writers charged with adapting Rudyard Kipling's novel likely don't spent that much time on establishing what a prize turd this kid is, but it certainly feels like roughly forever. The kid is so thoroughly annoying that the audience grins when he falls over the side of an ocean liner, escaping drowning only when fisherman Manuel Fidello (Spencer Tracy) picks him up, leaving him stuck on Captain Disko Troop's (Lionel Barrymore) sailing vessel until the hold is full and they can return to Gloucester at the end of the season

The boy will, of course, face dangers and adventures and learn the true nature of decency and friendship, and once that gets started, it's quite enjoyable. It is, relative to even a kids' movie today, pretty simple; you don't see a lot of shamelessly mugging child actors any more, and the movie lays its lessons out without much camouflage. There's a certain amount of charm in its sincerity, though, and I suspect that the kids in the audience enjoyed it thoroughly for just saying what it means and serving up some impressive adventure at sea.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 June 2011 in the Stuart Street Playhouse (four-wallin')

Nothing makes an adult male moviegoer feel quite so much like a creep as going to a movie and finding that the entire rest of the audience is pre-teen girls and their parents. During its single-week booking, this one did a booming business among local kids into Irish Dancing, and why not? It's a charming enough look at that world, one that openly acknowledges some of the things which can make it seem silly (for example, the wigs) but certainly respects the dedication and joy of the participants.

The movie focuses on quite a few - three girls in the 19-21 group who have been competing all their lives; an adopted Sri Lankan teen in Holland who sees this as the one thing at which he can really excel; a pair of boys training under the same instructor in England, one ten years old and looked at as weird by his four soccer-playing brothers and the other a teen prodigy who is quite likely one of the best in the world, maybe the next Michael Flatley; and, perhaps more than any of the others, two young girls: Brogan from Derry, an awesomely outgoing little Irish chatterbox, and Julia from New York City, whose Irish-American father had never heard of this thing but whose Filipina mother dives right in.

It all leads to the big competition - the Worlds in Glasgow - and that's where things start going sort of wrong, and not just in a "why make dance into a competition" way (I spent my high school years doing competitive math, so I'm not one to judge!). The Russian girl we'd met, Ana, is denied a visa, so someone else abruptly becomes the face of that group. The early rounds, especially, are visually confusing, with multiple people on stage doing unsynchronized routines (in one case, actually running into each other), and it becomes evident that as much as we have learned about the activity in the previous hour or so, it's not always enough to distinguish "pretty good" from "very good" (although Joel Bitter does appear to be legitimately great). The scoring is outright bewildering, a bunch of random-seeming numbers announced over a terrible loudspeaker (although this does give a moment of humor as we watch dancers and coaches struggle to do the math in their heads).

The fans in attendance seemed to dig it, which means director Sue Bourne did at least part of her job well. For the laymen in the audience, it's a bit more of a mixed bag - we certainly become fond of some of the participants, but we never really get the tension that similar movies like Spellbound managed.

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