Wednesday, September 05, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 27 August 2012 - 2 September 2012

You know, given my propensity to lose even large things, it's amazing that more of these pages don't look like this:

This Week In Tickets!

Premium Rush isn't my fault - I'm starting to suspect I'm the only person in the Boston area using MoviePass, since it seems to flummox box office folks every time I show up with one. Can't necessarily blame folks; at $35/month, you've got to see roughly four movies at participating theaters to break even, and I've seldom managed that. I thought I would use it to see more movies on the borderline, but time just hasn't allowed. In this case, they just gave up and waved me in.

For The Possession and The Bullet Vanishes, I know almost exactly what happened - I was leaning back in my seat, wearing shorts with pockets that empty easily, and they fell out, just like the phone that was in the same pocket, though I didn't think to connect the two when I found the phone slipping out. Realized it on the way down the escalator, but figured "I need to go back up to retrieve my ticket stubs!" probably wouldn't fly with the ushers.

Anyway, it's nice to see that The Bullet Vanishes will be lasting another week, though Flying Swords of Dragon Gate only gets the one scheduled. If you've got a chance before Raiders takes over the screen on Friday, it's worth catching, just for the crazy action on the big screen.

Those guys let me fit in the tail end of the Harvard Film Archive's 100 Years of Paramount Pictures series, basically The Big Clock and the pre-code marathon. The latter was a pretty neat idea, but more or less confirmed for me that there are apparently things I can't fight encroaching middle age on, and overnight movie marathons are one of them. It's not just that I drifted off on occasion (although it's interesting that I've never fallen asleep during one movie and awakened to another or had to be nudged awake as the theater emptied), it's that I was wrecked for Sunday and Monday. I don't even want to ponder what would have happened if I'd had to report to jury duty on Tuesday like expected; I was looking at getting up at 5:30am so that I could be on the T by 6:30. It would have been a disaster.

Premium Rush

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 August 2012 in Capitol Theater #4 (first-run, digital)

I'm not going to say that Premium Rush is Jospeh Gordon-Levitt's best movie of this summer, considering that it comes between one much-loved behemoth and the much-anticipated Looper (which may squeak into what is technically summer by the calendar)... But, man, it's a pretty satisfying little movie. Co-writer/director David Koepp has sometimes been hit-and-miss, but he does good here.

A couple things above the rest make this work: First, it's got a proper sense of its scale. Even as it escalates toward the end, Koepp and company never lose track of how this film has been built on bicycle-size/speed chases, and doesn't try and become something else for its finale. Indeed, it's remarkably steady throughout its 91-minute runtime, bouncing from one chase scene to another with just quick breaks for exposition (which are less people talking than jumping back in time to add a little context). And the chases themselves are pretty great - Koepp and company blend fine stunt riding with what must be a fair amount of digital work so well that the audience just gets caught up in tricky-but-possible-seeming action that leaves a goofy grin on one's face rather than worrying about how it's done. Plus, the filmmakers take sadistic pleasure in showing just how things might go wrong.

Second... Well, Michael Shannon has to be given serious consideration as the year's best villain, right? There's been plenty of big action movies this summer, but I defy you to find even one guy who is anywhere near as memorable as Shannon's Bobby Monday is here; it's just a perfect combination of twitchiness, bizarre accent/speech rhythms, and maniacal arrogance. He's not nutty enough to skew the movie, even considering how relatively straight Gordon-Levitt and co-stars Dania Ramirez and Jamie Chung play things, but he hits the funny/threatening sweet spot.

Premium Rush doesn't try to accomplish too much, but it does achieve what it sets out to do, and that stuff is fun. It's quite the enjoyable way to spend a late-summer evening.

The Possession

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2012 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

No matter how short a horror movie is, I find myself wishing that it was feasible for them to be shorter. The Possession is 92 minutes long, and I honestly don't see any reason why not to cut roughly twenty minutes out of the front, attach a short film to it, and put that package out in theaters. Audiences would get the same amount of movie, but with two stories, more scares and less fidgeting.

Maybe you don't need to hack a quarter of the movie out, but something's got to be done about the movie's first act; after a prologue that shows what the dybbuk in the ornate box is capable of, the movie spends a lot of time letting the audience get to know the characters, but it's a case of details not adding up to actual interest. We learn that the divorced father is a college basketball coach, the mother is dating a dentist who is kind of a tool, the older daughter's in a dance club and the younger one still hold out hope of her parents getting back together. Maybe if the parents were played by different actors, they would grab the audience more - Jeffrey Dean Morgan can carve out a nice supporting role but struggles as a lead, and Kyra Sedgwick apparently needs parts designed to play to her strengths - but there's a lot of "you should care about these people because they're nice!", but that can be established more efficiently and takes time away from the fun stuff coming up later.

And that's the thing: Once director Ole Bornedal gets past the "getting to know you" stuff, the man makes a pretty good horror movie. There may not be a lot he can do with the script, but every decision that involves pacing, lighting, where to put the camera, and how to make simple things like a box opening itself creepy is made with fantastic precision. He creates an atmosphere of ancient evil trying to force its way into the modern world without getting more operatic about it than makes sense, and coaxes a fine performance out of Natasha Calis as the possessed younger daughter. He also benefits from finally getting to use a character who is not thoroughly generic - Tzadok (played by the singly-named Matisyahu) takes the job of exorcist, and this young Hasidic Jewish scholar has a nervous bravery to him, and manages to have a cultural identity without coming across as a stereotype.

So, by the end, Bornedal and company mostly climb their way out of the bland rut they started in. It's enough to have me coming out of the theater liking the movie more than not, but also wondering what it would have been like if the movie had spent more time making things interesting rather than relatable.

Premium RushFlying Swords of Dragon GateThe Big ClockPre-Code MarathonThe PossessionThe Bullet Vanishes

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