Monday, January 23, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 16 January 2012 to 22 January 2012

Busy at work all week, but do not take the lack of tickets on Saturday for fear of a little snow. Hardy New Englander here.

This Week In Tickets!

The snow did have a little effect on my Saturday, as there were only two of us at Japanese class instead of the usual five, and I'm guessing it kept a few people from the Chlotrudis Awards nominating meeting, leading to it running short and being practically over by the time I got there. One of my best classes, though - more one-on-one time, less trying to pick voices out in a crowded room.

Main noteworthy effect - I could at least pick out that some of the Japanese dialogue in The Flowers of War was in the past tense (verbs ending in "-mashita"!) and in the form of a question (sentences ending in "-ka"!). My goal of being able to understand random words in dialogue by NYAFF/Fantasia is seeming possible!

Oh, and what's with moving the switchover from matinee pricing to evening prices from 6pm to 4pm, Regal? Not. Cool.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run, 35mm)

This is an extremely strong feature debut from Dee Rees; it's a rare thing for a filmmaker to be both close enough in age to the teenage characters of a story like this to have a clear view inside their heads and have the skill to tell the story this well. Rees may never make another movie this good, but I hope she gets the chance.

A lot of praise will (and should) also go out to Adepero Oduye, who stars as Alike "Lee" Freeman, a smart girl trying to figure out just what being gay means to how she fits in her family; it's the sort of performance that has to be precisely measured and never feels even a bit off. There's not a weak link in the rest of the cast, either; I particularly liked Charles Parnell as the father (with problems of his own) who seems to know about his daughter but doesn't quite let himself know.

I think what I like most, though, is the way Alike's first relationships are handled. It deserves a little elaboration, but Rees does an exceptional job of establishing that while Alike shouldn't be identified by her sexual orientation, it is a big deal. I'll probably write this up a little more later, and hope to expand on that, because I think it's part of what makes the movie ring true for everyone even if it is a story about ethnic and sexual minorities.

A Dangerous Method

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, 35mm)

It struck me, when I saw the trailer for this one, that there may be a fair amount of people who just know David Cronenberg from his recent, mainstream work like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, as opposed to his early kinky horror work. It's kind of neat that fans of both might see something familiar in A Dangerous Method, even as it seems a departure for the man.

It is, however, not without its problems. It may presume more knowledge of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) than some in the audience possess, and while Cronenberg and company do a fine job in keeping a movie that is often nothing but pointed conversations moving, it can be a bit fatiguing at times, especially when the script seems to cover the same ground two or three times.

Still, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley are rather fantastic as Jung and patient-turned-colleague Sabina Spielrein. Knightley's work is especially impressive, as her lurching, out-of-control tics are a huge contrast to the precisely controlled affect of the rest of the cast (especially the icy-but-delicate Sarah Gadon as Jung's wife), but it comes off more as a fine mind struggling with an unruly brain than an actress out of step with the rest of the cast.

The Viral Factor

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2012 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, digital)

This one got an eFilmCritic review over the weekend; it's a fairly enjoyable action movie that would like to be the sort of operatic action movie that John Woo made back in the late eighties and early nineties, but Dante Lam isn't John Woo and Jay Chou isn't exactly Chow Yun-fat. Still, I appreciate it making the effort, as well as Lam's enthusiasm for smashing cars up.

A couple of funny things - it seems like I've been hearing Dante Lam's name as one of the current wave of Hong Kong action directors for a long time, but this is the first movie of his I've seen, and there's not a whole lot of other stuff in his filmography that really screams for my attention. The exposition toward the beginning was a bit odd for a couple of reasons - one, it's a case of somebody telling other characters things they would already know because they're really talking to the audience; and two, the actor doing so (Andy Tien), has such a good accent in English that he must be fluent, but he repeats the script's awkward grammar precisely. And, I admit, it's a little weird to see Sammo Hung's son Sammy in the movie as a generically good-looking guy; I initially thought Philip Keung was the younger Hung, just because he sort of looks like Sammo.

Full review at EFC.

Red Tails

* * (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2012 in Regal Fenway #9 (first-run, digital)

To see Red Tails is to wish, almost immediately, that it was a better movie. From the very first lines of dialogue, uttered in the middle of a pretty spectacular looking aeiral battle (as charmingly retro opening titles appear on screen), it's very clear that for all the good intentions behind this movie, a great many things are going to fall short.

It's almost impossible to describe just how much of a mess the script is. There are bits where the dialogue is so simplified that it seems to come out of a children's book, but writers John Ridley and Aaron MacGruder don't seem to have any particular idea of what's important and what's not. There's a subplot about David Oyelowo's "Lightning" being a hot head who goes looking for confrontations with racists that comes straight out of nowhere, and another about his wingman "Easy" (Nate Parker) having a drinking problem that has no structure to it whatsoever. There's a POW camp story that could be its own movie but comes and goes randomly here. Director Anthony Hemingway doesn't seem to have the heart to cut a single second of the spiffy effects footage that George Lucas has paid for, even when it serves no purpose or when a little editing could punch an action scene up.

And yet, given the lines they've got to work with, I like Oyelowo and Parker a lot. They're not complicated characters, but the actors are charismatic. And Terrence Howard - his first scene with Gerald MacRaney is two guys doing the sort of beats they hit best, and he makes the entire cast around him better. And when it comes time to get into the air, Lucas's money is spent well - the flying scenes are gorgeous.

It's frustrating bordering on tragic, really, that this project Lucas spent nearly twenty-five years working on isn't what it should be.

Jin líng shí san chai (The Flowers of War)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 January 2012 in AMC Harvard Square #2 (first-run, digital)

Here's one I'm hoping to figure out while writing a longer review on the bus ride home, because it veers all over the place. On the one hand, the opening sequence is absolutely stunning, the sort of thing that makes one wish it was the entire movie. But it soon gets into areas that seem completely and utterly misguided, including scenes between Christian Bale and Ni Ni that are occasionally played for thoroughly inappropriate laughs. And then there will be a moment where that seems to work - it's people trying to remain true to themselves and sane in the middle of circumstances so horrific as to defy imagination.

What Zhang Yimou is striving for seems to be a Chinese Schindler's List, a presentation of the Rape of Nanking that is both as harrowing and as digestible for a mainstream audience as Steven Spielberg's take on the Holocaust. It's not that; the story is often repellant not for what is presented but for how cavalierly the material is treated. Zhang is too talented, though, to make a movie that can be completely dismissed. I can't say I enjoyed The Flowers of War; it's not that kind of movie. I did find myself impressed more often than I wondered what Zhang and company were thinking, though, and that's got to count for something.

PariahA Dangerous MethodThe Viral FactorRed TailsThe Flowers of War

No comments: