Monday, January 16, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 2 January 2012 to 15 January 2012

Okay; new plan: This Week In Tickets goes up when I get to the office on Monday morning, because punctuality is cool when you do something on a regular basis.

(Note: That sentence was written at 11:10pm Sunday night)

(Yes, I know it would have done this a week ago. The calendar just came this week, because I had to buy it at Amazon, because I usually get them at Borders, and everyone else appears to have ordered Taschens or stuff the same size sensibly enough that by the time I started shopping, they were gone.)

(And, yes, there will be doubling back to get to the week between Christmas and New Year's; I just want to give the Ginger Rogers stuff proper reviews before putting that one up, although I won't be letting myself fall behind in that way in 2012.)

Table of contents:
2 January 2012 - 8 January 2012
9 January 2012 - 15 January 2012

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: Fish Story, 3 January 2012, in the living room. The good news: Fish Story is finally out on DVD! The bad news: It's not Blu-ray, and it's not even an anamorphic encoding. Seriously, a movie that came out on video on the last weekend of 2011, despite 4:3 TVs not having been available in the US for a year or three (and most computer screens and portable players having a 16:9 aspect ratio) is still optimized for NTSC! It's such a good movie that I'm willing to overlook that, but knock it off, Pathfinder Pictures!

(Still worth seeing, though; I was pleasantly surprised by the obvious thing I missed a year and a half ago!)

I actually spent part of my day off Monday looking for a new TWIT calendar, making a big loop that started out with using up a Groupon-type thing at a bagel place in Quincy Market, heading into Coolidge Corner to check Brookline Booksmith, seeing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and then making my way back toward Cambridge, stopping to check and see if New England Comics had an issue of something that I was missing and then not remembering which specific issue I was missing.

And then, a bunch of nothing all week, as I spent a lot of what would be movie time watching the sixth season of Supernatural.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2011 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about a number of things, but the thing that strikes me is that it's about old men sending young men to their dooms. Deposed spymaster "Control" is played by John Hurt at his most cadaverous, with would-be heirs played by Gary Oldman and Toby Jones seeming like gray people who have had their humanity burnt out of them, and other potential suspects played by David Dencik, Ciaran Hinds, and Colin Firth having long burnt out the principle of their youth. It makes one worry for the younger characters played by Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, and Benedict Cumberbatch - they're just not going to have the chance to grow as cold as their predecessors.

That gray age is, I think, what director Tomas Alfredson and star Gary Oldman bring to the picture to make it theirs. There are storylines that hint at passion or idealism being a factor, but ultimatelyTinker Tailor Soldier Spy sees the Cold War as the actions of aged people locked in battle because they don't know how to be otherwise. The world is a chess match to them, and while the audience starts out trying to learn the identity of a traitor, we ultimately find ourselves learning the hard facts of the spy business.

In fact, I find myself really liking the way that the advertising campaign is deceptive for how it fits in with this being a theme: A line that seems like nobility in the trailers and adds turns out to be a bald-faced lie when it actually appears in the film. It's almost like it was planned that way.

Kassandra with a K

* (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché, Blu-ray quality video)

Ugh. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but a filmmaker who feels it is necessary for the audience to see him relieve himself on-screen had better have a damn good reason to do so. Somebody who does it twice like Ahmed Khawaja does in this movie has severely overestimated how interesting his life is to an audience.

That's how one winds up with the likes of Kassandra with a K, so named for the first girl who broke Ahmed's heart, leading him to spend time acting homeless, planning to use the spare change he picks up to make a movie about homelessness and pining for Kassandra, and so on until the movie threatens to collapse upon itself in a sad, navel-gazing singularity. It's a dull piece which roommate/best friend/co-writer/director/etc. Andre Puca tries to liven up, but the pair never seem to realize that they are without a compelling subject for their film and have neither the wit nor raw talent to keep this from being a crippling problem. There are precious few moments when someone watching this movie is not going to be more curious about what is going on somewhere else.

The preview reminded me of I Am a Sex Addict, and while that was a terrible movie, it was at least made by a filmmaker who knew how to sell the occasional joke and could work a bit of sincere self-deprecation into the story. Kassandra with a K tries to be that sort of clever, but just doesn't seem capable.

(Of course, don't try telling that to the people in the Q&A Session From Hell, all apparently personal friends of Khawaja and Puca intent on telling them how brilliant their movie was. It's the sort of environment where you just can't raise your hand and ask "at what point did you realize you were making a bad movie and why didn't you stop?")

We Bought a Zoo

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 January 2011 in the AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run)

People seem to expect a lot out of Cameron Crowe for some reason or another, maybe because he of his music background; there's a magical level of understanding given to that stuff. Crowe made films about youth and idealism that people connected with, and when he did this, the reaction was almost like a betrayal - why would the guy who understands me so well go and do some dumb kids' movie?

The answer, of course, is that he didn't, really; he made a movie about his audience hitting middle age and suddenly having to deal with loss and kids and maybe not being quite so bold as when the only risk was one's own heart breaking. It's very much Cameron Crowe stuff, handled with all the earnestness and people who speak plainly but much more eloquently than in real life. He just also happens to have the cutest little girl who is not my niece in the world in the cast and a bunch of animals as well.

That's not to say the movie is without its flaws; Crowe has more subplots and supporting characters than he knows what to do with. I occasionally found myself wondering if Scarlett Johansson's Kelly, thrust into a position that usually goes to a more experienced zookeeper and both having to deal with a novice employer and rely on her niece to keep the zoo running, might actually make a more interesting main character. It's still an entertaining movie, though, likely with Happy Feet Two on the second tier of family movies to see this winter, and that's not a bad place to be.

This Week In Tickets!

The preview for Pina was pretty nifty. I was kind of surprised/worried when I saw the huge line until I saw that it was for another preview (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close); I just got waved upstairs. Most of the people there seemed to be either dancers or enthusiasts - between them and critics, about half the theater was roped off when I got there, sending me to the front row. Not necessarily where you want to be for a 3D movie, both because of digital resolution and the uncomfortable angle. It still worked pretty well.

While we were waiting, a group of young dancers did a bit of an impromptu show in the hallway, and as much as I respect their art, it can look kind of silly in the wrong context. When they were standing in the hall, barefoot, moving slowly, I had to wonder what the people coming to see other movies thought: Cool, in my way, odd, or are these guys handicapped? They all seemed to be reasonable responses.

The Haunting (1963)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Dead of Winter, 35mm)

The Haunting likely isn't actually the original template for other haunted house movies, but it's early and certainly well-enough done to imitate. It's also evidence, in case anybody didn't know, that Robert Wise is extremely underrated because of his versatility: His work is spread across too many genres for him to be a particular hero to film fans of any particular stripe, but his broad experience means he brings more to a particular type of film than one might expect.

Thus, The Haunting, where he takes a script that in many other hands would seem like a cliché-ridden, contradictory mess, puts together a really fantastic cast and gets them to work together in a way that makes the characters' occasionally hostile interactions amid potentially life-changing (or life-threatening) circumstances seem perfectly reasonable. It's a really fantastically layered picture - things that go bump in the night on top, the unraveling of Julie Harris's Eleanor "Nell" Lance underneath, and a network of stymied attractions holding them together.

It's a pretty neat set-up, actually. I almost wonder if Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding are deliberately making the behavior of certain characters very simplistic - the exposition Richard Johnson delivers as the scientist investigating Hill House and the way heir Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn) displays little but naked avarice - so that audiences of the time might not particularly note that the chain of romantic tensions between the characters has a big old gay link in the middle. It works really well, and that's before getting to what a really great ghost story this is. Wise does what would now be called the Paranormal Activity thing, getting plenty of scares out of doors slamming, loud noises, and one special effect that is low-fi by today's standards but darn effective.

It's a nifty little haunted house flick, deservedly considered a classic.

Young Adult

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, 35mm)

It's clear at this point that I'm just never going to warm up to Jason Reitman. Even a movie like Young Adult, which has plenty to recommend it, just doesn't connect with me. Part of it, I think, is that I tend to be really story-focused, and he's not really interested in that. He's got characters to explore, and he's going to make sure that he doesn't miss an inch of what he's examining.

It's kind of frustrating. There's no denying that Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt are excellent here, and even better as a pair. But the movie's pattern is established very early - Theron's Mavis has designs on a a married man and new father, Oswalt's Matt tells her she's nuts, she doesn't listen, repeat. It's well-done, but I found myself wishing that Reitman and writer Diablo Cody would get to the point, or movie things forward, or at least give us some black comedy that is enjoyably mean.

Instead, they just cover the same ground over and over again, and when the movie reaches the end, it's with a revelation that just sucks any life out of the room. It's not funny, but it's also not enough of a swerve to punch us in the gut. It's one of those "hey, life is complicated" endings that may be honest but doesn't feel like an accomplishment. It's realistic, sure, but at a certain point catharsis trumps that, and Young Adult never has the moment that makes us feel something strong.

Kassandra With a K
We Bought a Zoo

Beauty and the Beast
The Haunting
Young Adult

So... Only 13 hours past my original plan. In my defense, this is a double issue and the MBTA did everything they could to disrupt my schedule this morning. In related news, I really have to figure out how to write in an environment aside from a moving bus.

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