Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Those Weeks In Tickets: 12 December 2011 to 25 December 2011

A busy couple of weeks, getting ready for Christmas. Not that I put up lights or anything, but the niece population has doubled, and while they don't necessarily have a lot in common, it turns out that they all like presents.

Also, cold makes it hard to get up in the morning.

Table of contents:
12 December 2011 - 18 December 2011
19 December 2011 - 25 December 2011

This Week In Tickets!

Stubless: Saint, seen 18 December in the living room

Shame and Long Day's Journey Into Night are, quite frankly, terrible movies to see during the season when you get together with your families to exchange gifts and cheer. Terrible.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 December 2011 in Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run)

Shame is an example of how a film can seemingly do everything right and yet fail to be compelling. Maybe that's because it is so careful about every detail; writer/director Steve McQueen is as precise in his filmmaking as lead character Brandon Sullivan is in arranging his solitary life to facilitate his urges, and it's easy to admire the craft without ever feeling anything strongly about it.

That may not even be a particular failing of the movie; if the idea is to make the audience understand the feeling of how something that normally brings joy (in this case, sex) can become an obligation which only provides a shadow of its former release, McQueen and star Michael Fassbender have done a good job. Fassbender hits every note flawlessly, and does manage to give Brandon a personality instead of just making him an exemplar of addictive behavior. The personality is that of a jerk, but a believable one; his scenes with Carey Mulligan and Nicole Beharie (great as, respectively, Brandon's sister and co-worker/potential next lover) make him at least an interesting mess.

And yet, like a blockbuster movie with little story to frame its big special effects scenes, Shame allows its fine acting to exist in something of a vacuum. It's not quite such a grievous sin - McQueen services those centerpiece performances in every scene, rather than making the audience wait like a bad action movie does, but there's still the frequent feeling that the movie has made its point and can move on to the part where something happens now. And when you get right down to it, the ending is just as desperate a grab for sentiment that it hasn't quite earned as you'll see in any more mainstream movie.

That doesn't make Shame a bad movie; in fact, there's really not a thing wrong with it. There's just also not much compelling about it; it executes well, but makes one wonder if what it's executing is worthwhile.

This Week In Tickets!

The theme for this week was "going to the IMAX theater when I really should have been finishing up my Christmas stuff". I actually took Monday off for it, what with having vacation time that wouldn't roll over and the trip out to Reading being something that eats a good chunk of the day. Well worth it, though - not only did this get me the Dark Night Rises prologue, but even though IMAX's digital sharpening work is pretty good, the parts of Mission: Impossible that were genuinely shot in genuine IMAX is pretty gorgeous on the giant screen.

It's kind of a shame that Mission: Impossible and Tintin came out so close together, as it relegated the latter to just a couple matinee showings a day on the Imax-branded screen at Boston Common. It's also a beautiful film, but M:I was a beast that would not be denied - perhaps ironic, as I'm pretty sure M;I's "five days early in IMAX" opening was to originally meant to give it a little more time on the digital screens before Tintin took over, but instead Tintin got bulldozed.

Interesting coincidence of the two coming out back-to-back like that, though, is that it has two very good directors trading roles: Brad Bird is directing the live-action film, while Steven Spielberg is directing the animated feature. As fun a novelty as it is, I hope this reversal doesn't persist too much: Bird has directed some fantastic animated films, and while I get that directing animation in the CGI age is often managing an office full of people working at computer terminals (and who gets into show business to do that) while this let him fly around the world and blow stuff up, there aren't a lot of people who can do what he does. Spielberg got to be halfway there by doing motion capture, but so much of Spielberg's best work has been instinctive; I don't know if the meticulous nature of animation would suit him long-term.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 December 2011 in Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, genuine IMAX)

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is a heck of a ride, filled with one incredible set piece after another, and as a bonus many of the big scenees are filmed in eye-popping genuine IMAX. It's got a few moments when its execution doesn't quite match its ambition, but what works is pretty terrific.

What's missing, in this case, is a villain. Oh, Michael Nyqvist is there, but considering his grandiose plan, he needs to be bigger. His Kurt Hendricks is never established as a strong personality when he needs to be sneering and really just bug-nuts. Instead, he doesn't make the same impression that Lea Seydoux does as the mercenary who he hires. Sure, part of that's Ms. Seydoux being a knockout, but as Sabine Moreau, she's got an oddball hook (gets paid in diamonds), an early set piece showing her as a threat, and a big fight scene with her opposite number. That's how you establish a villain, not by telling us how smart/dangerous he is.

(Aside: In four movies, how come none of the people involved have decided to send Ethan Hunt and company up against an evil IMF? Granted, the team angle has only really been a big factor in the Bad Robot entries, but this seems like a natural thing!)

Fortunately, the good guys are enjoyable enough to watch without perfectly matched adversaries. Everyone knows their roles - being more experienced doesn't make Tom Cruise much less cocky and Simon Pegg is still the eager nerd next door as the returnees, while Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner both do well as very capable people with nagging doubts. They all handle the physical aspects of the job quite well, and there's a fun back-and-forth that develops between Pegg's Benji Dunn and Renner's William Brandt.

But, let's face it, we're here for the action, and it turns out that Brad Bird blows stuff up real good. I'm actually kind of curious to see how this plays on a 2.35:1-proportioned screen, because Bird frames a fair amount of the action vertically, using the 1.44:1 aspect ratio of the IMAX screen to indicate either great height or action happening on multiple levels. His animation background serves him very well, not just because he's a natural where CGI is concerned, but because he's used to paying attention to every quadrant of every frame.

The Adventures of Tintin

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 December 2011 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax-branded digital 3D)

When I was a kid, the Tintin albums were the only comic book-type things in Cumberland, Maine's Prince Memorial Library, and I read them all (heck, they may even have had a copy of Tintin in the Congo). They're great all-ages adventure stories, and it's no wonder that Steven Spielberg has been trying to make this movie for roughly thirty years (or that original comic creator Hergé considered him the perfect man for the job before his death).

They probably couldn't have seen this Tintin movie back then, a three-dimensional, motion-captured piece of animation that captures the way Eurocomics like Tintin are full of incredible detail while being whimsical and cartoony. It's a funny thing - even as motion-capture animation is being phased out and 3D is being scaled back, Spielberg and a few others are doing a great job of showing that the technology itself isn't to blame, but just needs people figuring out how to use it.

And he uses it pretty darn well. There are many flat-out amazing big action scenes in this movie, but three stand out: A battle with pirates that takes on some bizarre angles, a cut-free chase through a Morocco-inspired city, and a swordfight with... No, that would be telling. All three, though, are further evidence that nobody does big action better than Steven Spielberg; that chase, while it only lasts three or four minutes, has a ton of moving pieces to keep track of, and it winds up being not just exciting but so clear that most people will never realize what a frustrating thing it could have been.

The movie is a lot of fun when things aren't being thrown around and shot up as well; Spielberg, the screenwriters, and the cast find an excellent balance of light-hearted whimsy and genuine thrills; while the actual jokes may not always come off, there's a comfortable familiarity to the characters, even the ones just meeting for the first time.

It's a shame Mission: Impossible has gulped up all the IMAX screens during its run; this is a big adventure that deserves the biggest screens, and a fine addition to the exceptional run of kid-friendly movies to come out this fall.

ShameSherlock Holmes: A Game of ShadowsLong Day's Journey Into Night
Mission: Impossible - Ghost ProtocolSedonaThe Adventures of Tintin

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