Thursday, March 01, 2012

These Weeks In Tickets: 13 February 2012 - 26 February 2012

As I mentioned last week - festivals throw the entire schedule off. But, it's not like seeing a bunch of good movies is exactly a bad thing!

This Week In Tickets!

So, as you can see, the science fiction film festival ate the entire week, with the marathon at the end an exclamation point. Overall, pretty good, although it was a bit of a disappointment that we were back in the micro-cinema after being on real screens last year (and having only four films playing at the theater all week) for all but the marathon and, oddly, The Golden Age of Science Fiction, when I suspect we were only sitting in screen #2 because there's a regular improv thing in the tiny room on Thursday.

The programming has improved in quantity this year, although the quality control could definitely use some work. I used the "crap" tag a lot more than I would have liked on the blog over the last couple of weeks, and I chalk this up to festival honcho Garen Daly wanting premieres. He's been rather more free with that word than he should be at times - this year, claiming Endhiran as an "East Coast Premiere" even though it played Cambridge for a month back in 2010, which frustrates me because one can check this stuff so easily - but I don't think any of the festival films were mislabeled this year. A large chunk of them just weren't very good.

Now, it's not that I don't see the value in having premieres, but it was odd to see Garen bragging about them toward the end of the week, when those of us in the audience had been saying that in a couple of weeks, nobody would care about which movies were having world premieres, but which ones were good. I have no idea whether The Last Push played elsewhere, but it's the one from the festival I'll be recommending. I think both the fest's long-term reputation and short term attendance would be helped if the lesser premieres were replaced with sci-fi stuff from Fantasia/Fantastic Fest/Sundance. Heck, I'll mail folks a program which includes contact information if they want it next year.

On the balance, though, it was a fun week, with more good than bad. The full program is a step forward, some of the premieres and other movies were pretty good, and having non-local guests on most days was pretty impressive. Here's hoping it grows for next year.

This Week In Tickets!

Believe it or not, I wasn't really movie-d out after the festival and marathon; I just had a couple of days at work where things are quiet all day until a bunch of stuff lands on my desk at 4pm, and getting to a 7pm show in Cambridge or Brookline from Burlington via public transportation impossible. Arietty really should have been seen on Tuesday (and, yeah, they gave me the wrong ticket on Saturday; oops). Plus, one of the movies I really wanted to see, Declaration of War, was only playing 4pm and 9:30pm, even in its first week. That 9:25 movie is a tough one to get out the door for if it's not the tail end of a double feature.

I'll be writing up Whit Stillman's first couple of movies in the next couple of days, maybe even pulling out the Last Days of Disco DVD to finish the set. He was at the Harvard Film Archive for the weekend, including a preview of his first movie in fifteen years, Damsels in Distress. That sold out, with me at the front of the line when it happened. The very front. Kind of disappointing, that.

So I went and saw The Phantom Menace in 3D instead. Don't judge me.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 February 2012 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Discreet Charm of Whit Stillman, 35mm)

Baby-faced Chris Eigeman freaks me out; the man just doesn't look right to me.

Metropolitan is the sort of movie I'm inclined to dislike, full of privileged young people who talk a lot but don't do very much, but it works very well. This is in large part because Whit Stillman is very good at putting words in his characters' mouths; from the very first scene, it's clear that these are chatty folks, but also funny ones, and Stillman is able to have just the right amount of detachment: He's aware of how ridiculous these kids are, but he doesn't hoard it, instead giving the cast just enough self-awareness to not be hopeless cases but not be self-loathing.

It turns out to be a pretty nice little coming of age piece, with Stillman deftly narrowing the cast down to the most self-analytical characters and then confronting them with the need to actually do things. What sets Metropolitan apart is that he always does it in a funny, natural way; it's the sort of careful, clear writing where Tom's preference for "good literary criticism" to actual literature is is a clever metaphor until sitting down to write/think about it - and one which fits the present pretty perfectly.

Not bad for a movie made twenty-odd years ago and set in the 1970s. Metropolitan may seem a bit cobbled-together now, but it's surprisingly skilled and resilient.

The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2012 in the Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, 35mm, US dub)

This doesn't really apply to the Coolidge, but if Boston Common is playing this digitally, why isn't, say, the 10pm show presented subtitled? Even if it's not the same as choosing different audio and titles on a DVD, a second hard drive wouldn't be as tough to wrangle as a second print. The icing on the cake is that the UK has a more promising dub than the US, with Saoirse Ronan voicing the title character rather than Disney Channel kid Bridgit Mendler. (I imagine it would still sound wrong; the first "nnh!" grunt from a kid is a reminder that that this movie wasn't made for English.)

That aside, Arrietty is pretty darn good. Hayao Miyazaki doesn't direct personally - Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi makes a fine debut. but plans and writes the screenplay, and it reminds me of Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro in a lot of pleasant ways. It's relatively quiet and restrained compared to what other filmmakers might do, but very smart: Shawn/Shou and Arrietty are never presented romantically, but even with few scenes together, their attraction makes sense. Arrietty is reaching an age when she needs more than her family, while Shawn needs to be seen as capable - a man - rather than sickly. There's also an intriguing duality to the usual environmental message: The "Borrowers" fear extinction at the hands of man, but turning away from technology leads to a life like wild boy Spiller's, which they don't seem to want.

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2012 in the AMC Boston Common #15 (3D re-release, Real-D)

As much as the 3D in the re-release disappoints, it was a surprising pleasure to see this one again and realize that for all the attention that its faults get, the things that George Lucas does really well should get a lot more mention. There's probably nobody better at big sci-fi action than he is, the machinations of the villain are fascinating to watch, and he's committed to having something cool on-screen as much as possible. It's a fairly self-contained story and also the start of a trilogy which will grow with its main character from kids' adventure to something darker, and plants the seeds well.

Yes, it's the weakest of the six movies. It's still got terrific action, a great score, and good work from Liam Neeson, Pernilla August, and especially Ian McDiarmid. Lesser >Star Wars is still better than most other fantasy action movies being made.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 February 2012 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Discreet Charm of Whit Stillman, 35mm)

I liked Metropolitan quite a bit, but Barcelona may be a notch better for being more active and focused on a smaller group of characters. It's just as absurd at points but less arch about it, which lets Stillman build a disaster out of things that seem too strange or tiny to matter, even given what we see in the beginning.

It's not perfect - I never quite believe in Fred's attraction to Montserrat beyond "well, obviously" - but it's a light, zippy movie that shows Stillman losing none of his distinct voice and ability to get at the heart of characters despite their tendency toward circumlocution, and the extra polish makes it even more enjoyable.

The Book & The Last PushWhatever Happened to Pete Blaggit & Zero OneTime of the RobotsThe Golden Age of Science FictionSol & Steampunk'dTime Again & DimensionsThe Marathon

MetropolitanThe Secret World of ArriettyStar Wars: Episode I - The Phantom MenaceBarcelona

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