Tuesday, February 07, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 30 January 2012 - 5 February 2012

Well, the "always have it up on Monday" plan didn't really last for a month. In my defense, I actually spent a lot of time in theaters this week, with Wednesday the only real "day off":

This Week In Tickets!

Friday, meanwhile, was a day off from work as IT reconfigured our computers for the new corporate overlords, and while for the most part, I'm not noticing much difference in working for a gigantic company versus the start-up it acquired, I might just decorate my laptop with stickers that accidentally cover the camera. I spent the day lolling around the house doing nothing, but it let me get to the MFA in time for a Miyazaki double feature.

And as you can see, I wasn't watching football Sunday night. Hey, it's not like I watched any of the Patriots' other 18 games this season, and Oscilloscope had been strangely quiet about opening We Need to Talk About Kevin in Boston. I suspect plans changed when it wasn't nominated for the expected Oscars (really, how does the Best Actress category not have either Kirsten Dunst or Tilda Swinton?), but it wasn't on the postcard they included in my latest Circle of Trust DVD, either. I hear it's been booked in West Newton, but the expected Cambridge playdates have yet to be announced.

Funny thing: This was the second time I've wound up watching a preview for a dark, dark movie at the HFA instead of the Super Bowl; the first being Irreversible. Since I arrived late and was in the front row, I don't know if Kevin had any walk-outs. It was eerily quiet when I got out, though - I could have walked back home in the middle of the street in perfect safety, just like the morning after a major snowstorm. But, hey, at least I saw a really good movie; I'm probably ahead of the folks who watched a crushing loss in that regard.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 January 2012 in the Brattle Theatre [(Some of) The Best of 2011, 35mm]

Beginners is a cute, pleasant-enough little movie that will probably be seen as smothering Christopher Plummer's great performance, since that's what has been getting the bulk of the acclaim as people started making lists and filling in ballots to commemorate the change of one year to another. I think that might be a fair assessment - if the "Beginners" of the title are people just figuring out how to be in a relationship, despite their not exactly being kids any more, maybe we should see Plummer's Hal stumble with his new out-ness more, especially when what's going on with Hal's son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) and Anna (Mélanie Laurent), the equally relationship-challenged girl he meets is nice, but not quite superlative. There's also hints that this is the first time Hal and Oliver have ever been anything like close, but there's not a lot of beginners' mistakes there, either.

Still, there's not a bad performance from the main cast - McGregor and Laurent don't get to play parts as flashy as Plummer's, but they play their learning-how-not-to-be-lonely parts well. Pllummer is, of course, excellent, and while writer/director Mike Mills does tend to get a little cutesy with a gimmick in Oliver's narration a few times, he's also genuinely fantastic at how he abruptly moves back and forth in time, really making it clear that Oliver, for as hopeful as his present is and how hard he's trying, is very much stuck in the past at times.

The Alloy Orchestra: "Wild and Weird"

Seen 4 February 2012 in Somerville Theatre #1 (CrashArts)

The Alloy's annual visit to the Somerville Theatre wasn't quite a new soundtrack for a silent classic this year, but a concert where they accompanied ten short films, mostly from the early silent era, half of them over a hundred years old. They were projected from a video source, but almost all of them were kind of amazing in one way or another, as early filmmakers played with special effects, animation, and broad slapstick. There were a couple of variations on a theme - two takes on Windsor McCay's "Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend", only one of which by McCay himself; two with insect casts. Sometimes you have to catch yourself - at one point during "Red Spectre", I found myself thinking that it looked a bit rough before remembering that it was made in 1927 and the full color was actually amazing.

I am a little disappointed that I didn't get pictures, because this was the first time I've seen the Somerville's reconstructed orchestra pit in action. It changes the experience from the previous Alloy shows I've seen, where they're on stage next to the film and I find myself watching both - less makeshift, sure, but I did kind of find myself missing the band and their more unusual percussion being a visible part of the show.

Gianni e le donne (The Salt of Life)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (Talk Cinema, 35mm)

The Salt of Life is the title given to this movie for it's American release; the actual title translates to "Gianni and the Woman", which is kind of literal but less pretentious, which might have been preferable. There's no great wisdom or philosophy to be found here, but a few smiles, as it's an amiable enough "late-life-crisis" movie.

It's one of those films that's "more a character piece", and this is one of the times that feels a bit like a cop-out. Character is best expressed via the character's action, and Gianni doesn't really do a lot; most of the time, he seems to be an unenthusiastic reflection of his friend Alfonso. It leads to a few funny moments, a few uncomfortable ones, and far too many moments that aren't really either. There either need to be more memorable moments or something stronger tying them together.

The Woman in Black

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2012 in Regal Fenway #11 (first-run, 4K digital)

A pretty darn solid ghost story. I think I enjoyed The Woman in Black much more than I expected, in part because it was going for a genre that seems hard to do authentically. The conventions of gothic horror movies were codified in film's infancy, and as the genre occasionally fell out of favor, the way movies were shot changed, and the basic culture became less familiar, there's a sense that later entries are trying to imitate the older ones, and it doesn't quite work; the cast and crew aren't as directly connected to the characters' world, and something about the look doesn't seem right. For example, during this one, I often found myself thinking that the background was too elaborate - the house should look like a flat matte painting, and the town should feel like it was built on a soundstage, with the camera and characters still lest it reveal that the scenery ends a foot past the edge of the frame.

But, judge this on what it is rather than an unfair (and sort of ridiculous) set of prejudices, and it works. The mythology makes a sort of spiritual sense, tragedy and fear loom over every inch of the story and setting, and director James Watkins times his scares well enough that the jumps punctuate stretches of actual nervousness. It's the sort of horror movie that wears its PG-13 rating as a badge of honor rather than an indication of compromise, and the cast does quite well when they are "doing" and "being" rather than just "establishing".

It's not perfect - through no fault of his own, Daniel Radcliffe is going to need a little more time to put Harry Potter behind him, especially for a role like this. Being young is fine, but his face needs to be more than glum; we need to see he's been shattered by tragedy. And like a lot of horror movies it doesn't quite stop at enough - it needs to bang the piano to punctuate something appearing, and any way you look at it, the last sequence is problematic. By and large, though, it works, creeping the audience out more than many of its more explicit counterparts.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2012 at the Harvard Film Archive (Lynn Ramsay, 35mm)

As chilling as everybody its reputation, with fine performances by the actors playing the title character at various ages and John C. Reilly as his father, as well as an absolutely fantastic one by Tilda Swinton as Eva. Co-writer/director Lynn Ramsay maintains an incredible level of focus, never once going for twists when crushing, horrible inevitability is an option. It is, after all, not about what happened as much as the reaction to it and build-up to it. It does a legitimately great job of playing on the audience's emotions - as much as the easy, and likely right, explanation is that Kevin was just born bad, it's hard not to get caught up in Eva's feelings of guilt that maybe she did something wrong. Or, perhaps, she's an unreliable narrator... The simple explanation is probably right, but the nuances make it fascinating.

If there's one fault, it's the occasional use of ironic music and sound choices, which might be clever in another movie, but this isn't really a pop-culture commentary picture. Still, that doesn't come close to undercutting the movie's effectiveness.

Friends and family with young kids: Don't see this movie for, like, twenty years.

Miss BalaBeginnersOnly YesterdayHowl's Moving CastleKiki's Delivery ServiceWild and WeirdThe Salt of LifeThe Woman in BlackWe Need to Talk about Kevin

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