Saturday, May 12, 2012

Two nights at the Arlington Captiol: The Pirates!: An Adventure with Scientists and Nesting

Actually, three nights at the Capitol this week, including The Avengers on Monday. As a venue, it's got its issues - five of the six screens have center aisle, which is a bit of a nuisance for those of us who like to sit in the center - but like their sister theater in Somerville, it's a nice place that prides itself on good presentation, and the ice-cream shop in the back

Nesting showing up there seemed kind of unusual, though. It's the right place for it - if you're going to book a theater to show your tiny indie movie for a week, the 48-seat room is probably the proper size - but even with that being the case, the Regent down the street seems to be used for that purpose more often, or the microcinema at the Somerville. Theater #6 is generally the "last stand" of a movie on its way out of town or used for birthday parties.

I wonder how many similar venues it's playing in across the country right now. I got a heads-up on this one because the lead actor is from Massachusetts and the distributors were hoping for an interview, which I don't really do between the day job and everything else (all I could spare was a middling review), but it's not listed in many places. It's not really a bad movie, and in some ways that works against it - it doesn't have the resources or ambition to really flop big. It's capable enough, with a few good jokes, but never puts itself out there in a way that not just pleases audiences, but maybe convinces festivals or distributors to give it a shot.

Still, one thing about a 48-room screening room is that a couple dozen people (some of whom likely know Todd Grinnell) feels like the movie is pretty well-attended. I've been to movies with bigger crowds that felt abandoned, whereas my opinion of this one likely benefitted a bit from having that much reaction in a small space.

The night before, there were, I think, three of us there to see The Pirates!, which isn't that bad after a couple of weeks. After seeing it, I'm a bit less outraged about the name change from "The Pirates! in An Adventure with Scientists" to "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" for America, mostly because there's only one scientist in a major role. Still, the rationale behind it is troublesome - someone at Sony Pictures quite likely believed that having "scientists" in the title would scare kids away, and, more importantly and sadly, ticket-buying parents might not want their children seeing anything that involved those terrible scientists! In specific terms, it's not really objectionable, but the thought process behind it is awful.

(Which dovetails nicely into the next thing I'm writing up, but that's for tomorrow...)

The Pirates! in An Adventure with Scientists (aka The Pirates! Band of Misfits)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 10 May 2012 in the Arlington Capitol #4 (first-run, Real-D 3D)

It's a bit of a puzzle to fans of the medium (and quality family movies) that Aardman Animation is not more popular in the U.S. Is it just too British? It can't be the quality of their work - even something like The Pirates!, which isn't quite as brilliant as Chicken Run or their Wallace & Gromit pieces, has a tremendously impressive amount of quality packed into every frame and the animation thereof.

Though his crew loves him, The Pirate Captain (voice of Hugh Grant) is considered a joke by other aquatic marauders, so he sets out to win the annual Pirate of the Year Award with equal parts delusion and determination. He finds no booty on any of the ships he raids, although a passenger on one, the Beagle, believes that his parrot Polly is quite extraordinary. Promised rewards beyond compare, the crew and this Charles Darwin (voice of David Tennant) voyage to London to present Polly to the Royal Society, even though The Pirate Captain's trusty Number Two (voice of Martin Freeman) finds the whole thing suspicious and it brings them perilously near the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (voice of Imelda Staunton).

Aardman productions, whether stop-motion like this film or CGI like the recent Arthur Christmas, tend to be simple in concept but meticulously constructed in production, and The Pirates! is no exception. From the way that the pirates are named, Gideon Defoe's original book (which he adapted as a screenplay) at least imitates something pitched to those whose age has not attained a second digit, and the vast majority of the jokes are some variation on "this character is rather dim". Defoe, director Peter Lord, co-director Jeff Newitt, and the rest of the filmmakers pack creativity into every corner, though, whether it be with amusing anachronisms (and other liberties taken with history), background gags that will eventually give home audiences' freeze-frame buttons a workout, and tossed-off references that will amuse the adults in the theater without leaving a hole in the movie for the kids. It's cognizant of being a kids' movie about thieves and cutthroats without ruining the fun.

Full review at EFC.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 May 2012 in the Arlington Capitol #6 (first-run/four-wall, video)

Nesting is a nice enough little indie comedy that does nobody any harm and has the occasional pretty decent moment. That's a nice starting point, but the movie could use a little bit more of everything, from resources to rewrites.

Neil (Todd Grinnell) and Sarah (Ali Hillis) have been married a few years, just long enough that Neil is starting to wonder when the fun girl he married became the yuppie with the fancy coffee machine and planning to redecorate their house. Since this work is going to require them to be out of the house for a few days, they decide to go on a vacation that detours through their old neighborhood, leading (as it does) to them breaking into their old apartment.

Writer/director John Chuldenko doesn't have a bad idea here; the characters start at a place that many at that age will find familiar and the premise of trying to return to their old lives with potentially disastrous results is kind of clever. Unfortunately, Chuldenko doesn't seem to have developed it nearly as well as he could have. The "marriages often fall apart at the 'nesting' stage" theme is laid out baldly but not strongly in the first act, and the end doesn't really have a strong statement on the subject. There's also a weirdly materialist streak to the end that doesn't necessarily sit right.

The big picture has its issues, but Chuldenko does come up with some neat details. There's a fun, off-beat sequence at the beginning that involves Neil taking advantage of his unusual job; the middle section where Neil and Sarah have a series of odd misadventures in their old neighborhood has a bunch of nifty single-use characters and odd situations that are good for a chuckle. There's a number of pretty good lines in there. There are also a few bits where the filmmakers' ambition exceeds their capabilities - it's probably not the best idea to mention a comically large disaster (and pictures of it) if you don't have the budget to actually show it. And while a montage at a certain point would have been a cliché worth mocking, the moment does need something showing us that people are doing stuff.
Full review at EFC.

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