Monday, January 30, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 23 January 2012 to 29 January 2012

I swear, tickets at the Coolidge keep getting bigger. I think they know about this blog and are jockeying for real estate on the screen.

This Week In Tickets!

OK, that's because I pre-ordered a ticket for Celeste and Jesse Forever and thus printed it out at home. Meanwhile, I half-suspect that the Brattle just gives out ticket stubs because it would feel weird to go to a movie and not have your ticket ripped.

Well, that and litter-based advertising. Not that the good people who run movie theaters would say they want you to just toss things away, but people seeing those brightly-colored bits of paper with the theater's name on it on the sidewalk or the floor of the bus can't hurt.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 January 2012 in Arlington Capitol #3 (first-run, 35mm)

One might think, based on the casting of a mixed-martial arts fighter in the lead role, that Haywire would be a non-stop action showcase, one more piece of evidence that director Steven Soderbergh can make any genre his own. That it's not the sort of melee-based movie that one would normally see out of Hong Kong or Thailand is initially a bit disappointing, at least until the viewer realizes that it's Soderbergh doing what he does best - with additional ass-kicking.

We start with private security operative Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) sitting in a diner in upstate New York, waiting for a contact who finally comes in the form of her colleague Aaron (Channing Tatum). He, naturally, is planning to double-cross her, but she's ready, escaping with young hostage Scott (Michael Angarano). It's not the typical hostage/captor relationship, though, as she spills every detail about her mission in Barcelona with Aaron at the behest of State Department officials Coblenz (Michael Douglas) and Rodrigo (Antonio Banderas), how her employer and former lover Kenneth (Ewan McGregor) pulled her in to one more mission in Dublin with Paul (Michael Fassbender), and how that led to her stealing his car and having him patch up her arm while she tries to make her way to her father (Bill Paxton).

Soderbergh has made a lot of movies in his career, from tiny indies to big studio productions, and across all genres, but the thread that has run through most of them in one for or another - and been particularly prominent in some of his recent work - is the idea of a sort of observational drama. Haywire, like Contagion, The Girlfriend Experience, and some of his other films, has him standing back and matching his characters' cool professionalism rather than poking at them to figure out what makes them tick emotionally. It can make for dry-seeming movies unless you find process as fascinating as Soderbergh seems to, but the attentive viewer will surely be rewarded. For Haywire, that means showing the audience what may seem inconsequential details like Coblenz and Kenneth negotiating the contract for the Barcelona job, or the agents doing the sort of set-up that would be quick-cut flashbacks in other action movies. One has to watch closely and give special attention to looks that linger for a second extra or twitches at the corner of the mouth.

Full review at EFC.

Celeste and Jesse Forever

* * (out of four)
Seen 26 January 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #3 (Sundance USA, digital)

This will get its own entry in a day or two, but let's just say that, despite being a game effort, it's not very good. The main character is difficult to like and has the frustrating tendency to lag well behind where the audience expects her to be in her development, and she's surrounded by characters who really seem to exist when and for what purpose the plot needs them to exist. This includes Andy Samberg's Jesse, which is especially frustrating, because we hear him talk about problems in his new relationship but never see them. As played-out as those storylines would likely be, they've got to be more interesting than Celeste's self-pity.

The Grey

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 January 2012 in Somerville Theater #1 (first-run, 35mm)

About a year ago, the AMC and Regal cinema chains announced that they were forming their own distributor, both to keep a little more money from ticket sales and to supply themselves with the sort of movies that they felt the studios were ignoring - middle-budget productions aimed at an adult audience. From the looks of The Grey, Open Road is delivering the goods; it's a tight wilderness thriller whose aspirations to be somewhat more actually do elevate it.

A big part of the reason why is that John Ottway may just be the best role Liam Neeson has ever had, Oskar Schindler included. It's a part that requires the comingling of incredible confidence and despair, because it's a real man's role: The type that requires outword stoicism or brusqueness to attempt to cover for how the man feels too much. Neeson's great at that, both as Ottway does all he can to keep his fellow plane-crash survivors alive and at the moments when there's nobody to present a front to and he's overwhelmed.

He's got a strong script to work with from Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, with Carnahan delivering a tightfinal film. He never forgets that this is an adventure film as well as a character study, and keeps the moments between life-threatening danger short and to the point. He also knows how to get maximum impact from his action scenes: Where a lot of directors having people cross a rope over a gap would do the vertigo-inducing shots on the first person to cross and then have the others make it without incident, he reverses the order, never allowing us to take for granted how dangerous it is.

Be warned: The Grey is not the "Liam Neeson punching wolves" movie that the preview implies, but "Liam Neeson facing death with manly resolve is just as good. Also, despite the fact that the movie is produced by two theater chains rushing headlong into digital projection (I think all of the AMCs or Regals in the Boston area are 100% digital), it looks really great on 35mm film; see it that way if you can.

Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 January 2012 in the Brattle Theatre [(Some of) The Best of 2011, 35mm]

This one will also get its own write-up sometime in the next week, as it's a good film that doesn't have a review at eFilmCritic. In the meantime, it's a good movie that wanders a bit, although that tendency is its greatest strength as much as it's a weakness.

Writer/director/editor/narrator Patricio Guzmán is more known for his political documentaries, so the telescopes in Chile's Atacama desert may seem like an odd starting point for him, but we soon see that the same zero-humidity conditions that make Atacama ideal for stargazing also preserve other types of history (any space enthusiast will remind you that what one sees through a telescope is the universe as it once appeared, not how it is at this moment): Drawings made by pre-Columbian natives are remarkably clear, and old widows can still search for the mummified remains of political prisoners from the Pinochet dictatorship. It turns out to be a masterful way to pull disparate subjects together, and Guzmán's film seems much more focused than other broadly philosophical pictures of its ilk.

Still, it does run on a little bit. The streamlined interview structure of the first half falls aside as he speaks to many survivors of the Pinochet years who basically say the same thing, a metaphor involving calcium doesn't quite gain traction, and everything after the film's most striking image (what seems to be another picture of the moon becomes a skull as the camera pans down) is maybe gilding the lily. Ultimately, though, Guzmán does what he set out to do, making a documentary that can draw an audience interested in one subject in to a film about another.

Celeste and Jesse Forever
The Grey
Nostagia for the Light

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