Wednesday, October 03, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 24 September 2012 - 30 September 2012

The writing, it was slow this week, in part due to actually seeing movies and in part because TV started up again, and while it's not a packed schedule, it's not the same sort of background noise as baseball. Attention is sort of demanded.

This Week in Tickets
Stubless: The Oranges, 10am Sunday at Coolidge Corner

Red Sox baseball is more or less done for the year, and after the poor showing Wednesday, it's kind of a relief. That was the last home game of the season, and kind of summed things up: Great pre-game ceremonies with the all-Fenway team announced - you can tell this is a team with a long, great history when Manny Ramirez can't even crack the top three left fielders - followed by a game where the Red Sox are in it until a crushing end. This was a sort of last-minute decision on my part - I remembered I had a coupon at an onlne ticket reseller that had to be used right away, so why not see the last game of the season? Obviously, the answer is "beccause they're the 2012 Red Sox".

I'd considered Tuesday, but I wound up seeing The Master with the Chlotrudis crowd then. Saturday was a double feature at Boston Common - Vulgaria and Solomon Kane - and Vertigo at the Brattle that evening. Sunday was stuff at the ends - a Talk Cinema preview of The Oranges in the morning and Hotel Transylvania in Arlington in the evening.

I was sort of wiped out on Sunday because my DVR suddenly started mostly working on Saturday after not doing so all summer, so the trick I used to record Doctor Who at 9pm failed, and I stayed up watching the midnight rerun. I've got to admit, as much fun as it was, I was a bit disappointed.


That was kind of a rubbish way to send the Ponds off, wasn't it? I'm on record as not being a big fan of the "one last scare"/"you're suddenly screwed" ending, and that's what this was - the paradox wiped out the Angels, except, apparently, this one, which pops up to toss Rory back. Then Amy follows him, and because 1938 New York is now apparently a mess of paradoxes, the Doctor can't get there in the TARDIS. Of course, there's 1939 New York and 1938 Connecticut, and River can visit, but...

Well, but nothing, and I'm kind of hoping that this set-up is hole-filled so that there's an easy way to bring them back as part of the inevitable big 50th anniversary special next year (The Four Doctors, with McGann, Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith?). But even besides the poor time-travel logic, it was a frustrating ending because it was a bit of last-minute forced dramatics that wasn't necessary, in large part because there was a more logical end being seeded - that Amy had outgrown her imaginary friend, and she and Rory were ready to settle down, raise a family, and only have the occasional adventure. It would be a neat metaphor from both perspectives - Amy and Rory growing up, the Doctor as the last single member of a group feeling the loss of his friends to predictable convention.

Plus, this would make Amy and/or Rory the logical folks to move into Sarah Jane Smith's old neighborhood and have adventures with those kids. But, no, instead, the dramatic Weeping Angels thing that makes no sense, probably Moffat's biggest misstep on the series.


Ah, well. And now - movies!

The Master

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 September 2012 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 70mm)

I've said it a few times since seeing it, but The Master is so beautifully shot and forcefully acted that afterward, I've been trying to talk myself into liking it more. It's got the feel of an epic, classic more, with its gorgeous 65mm photography, great performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix, bold editing that gives it sweep. And yet, it's just good.

Which is not to disparage good. At all. I heartily recommend seeing this in 70mm at the Coolidge while you can, because it is quite often a breathtaking experience. It just really could use a stronger story. As impressive as Phoenix's asymmetrical grimaces are, he's still more or less just playing a drunk who repeatedly screws up. The story of Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd, a thinly-veiled riff on L. Ron Hubbard, is potentially more interesting - how does a cult like "The Cause" get started, sustain itself, and grow? - but it's often aggravatingly secondary. Dodd's son, for instance, wavers in his commitment, and the group seems to paradoxically grow stronger even as it is chased from place to place. What's up with that?

To a certain extent, I think this would have been a much more interesting movie if it had been about Hubbard and Scientology rather than a proxy. This way gives writer/director P.T. Anderson and Hoffman a chance to create a character, true, but Scientology has the urban legend of Hubbard making a bet with Arthur C. Clarke and the calculated attempt to court celebrities. Also, I sort of think the relationship between Dodd and Phoenix's Quell makes a lot more sense if you know a little about Hubbard, a pulp writer and self-styled soldier of fortune who came back from WWII disappointed that nobody asked him to be a military government. I can see someone like that who has found a gig all about purging negativity and quasi-spirituality drawn to the angry and violent masculinity that Quell represents, but since Dodd is not Hubbard, you're either constructing that backstory or character yourself or just seeing them as a sort of opposites attract thing.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 September 2012 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

I saw this during Fantasia and loved it, and as a general rule I try to find a way to give the best things I see at festivals my money (sure, maybe this writing thing drives people to see it, but I'm sure theaters and studios appreciate a certain ten bucks too). Sometimes the second time around is a bit of a disappointment, and occasionally it reveals new depths.

Vulgaria is still a very funny movie, one of the most gleefully crude I've seen this year, even if having read the press notes in the last couple of months does make me realize that there is a great big cheat in the middle of the third act (the filmmakers basically hitting the fast-forward button once they've exhausted most of their on-set jokes). I don't know if I laughed out loud quite as much - I'm apparently not nearly as demonstrative when it's ten people in a room in my hometown as in a packed house of 500 north of the border - but I did laugh, quite a bit. It's a comedy funny enough to work a second time on the anticipation of jokes instead of surprise.

And, hey, those ten folks hung around except for the one guy who took a bathroom break; it's the fewest walkouts I can remember seeing at a China Lion presentation. You can't argue with that as a sign of quality!

Solomon Kane

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 September 2012 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

One thing I'll have to ask my friends at the Picnic who dig Robert E. Howard is whether Solomon Kane ever had a specific origin story, and how close this movie is to it. For many franchises, I get leaning on the origin, because that's the one that has the most character growth and says the things about the character that resonate the most, but I don't know if Kane is one of those characters/properties. He's pretty simple - a seventeenth century Pilgrim who fights monsters and demons - so put the hat on and let him go!

Instead, though, it's about halfway through the movie before the hat is on, as we need to learn about his background as a noble, a pirate captain, and a monk, and each bit of information makes what is going to happen in the third act obvious even to a Howard neophyte like myself. It's not bad material, don't get me wrong - it gives us a lot of scenes with Pete Postlethwaite, and they're not making any more of those. James Purefoy handles the role well; penitent and powerful is tough to reconcile. And the action's pretty good.

The effects aren't bad, either, although neither they nor the story ever has the big "awesome, give me more" moment that a movie hoping to be both a hit and a franchise kind of needs. It is unabashedly R-rated, and I suspect that if this exact movie had come out in the 1980s, it would have been a big deal. Now, yeah, it's pretty good and I'm pleasantly surprised that it got a theatrical release - most movies which sit on the shelf for three years tend to go straight to video or SyFy and deserve to - but it's not exactly the epic/event that the people who made it and the fans likely were hoping for.

Side: I know video releases are coming fast these days, but this needs to be on Blu-ray with a tongue-in-cheek ad campaign by Thanksgiving, because when else are you going to want to see a movie about an ass-kicking pilgrim?


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 29 September 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagement, 35mm)

I'm pretty sure that I've seen Vertigo before, likely on film and at the Brattle. And as much as I get a little nervous when people start throwing around "best of all time" comments, as happened this summer when Vertigo landed ahead of Citizen Kane in the results of the decennial Sight & Sound poll, there's no denying, this is really good.

If you've seen it, you know why, and if you haven't seen it, I can't really tell you, because the good stuff is packed into the third act. And while it's easy to say "55-year-old movie, go nuts", a guy a few rows in front of me gasped a few times. Even if Hitchcock and company do rather neatly dispose of the thriller elements and refocus the movie, part of the fun of Vertigo is that it does play as a mystery for a good chunk of its running time before it goes all-in with the twisted story of obsession it's known for, including some of the best work of James Stewart's career and the reason why we know Kim Novak's name.

This 35mm print looked gorgeous, of course; it's a new copy based on the restoration from a few years back, and while it's probably been inside a computer at some point, it doesn't look it. The VistaVision photography is beautiful, and it's not just about pointing large-format cameras at various points in San Francisco, though - watch how a certain scene gets darker as the conversation goes on, or the nifty effects used for Scotty's dreams and dizziness.

The Oranges

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 30 September 2012 in Coolidge Corner #2 (Talk Cinema, 35mm)

The Oranges isn't bad as "stripping the sheen from suburbia" movies go. It's got Hugh Laurie in a nice turn as a disaffected suburban husband and father and Leighton Meester as the neighbor's daughter with whom he falls in love (and vice versa), and they're pretty darn good. They have to be; if they weren't, then the audience would likely hate the characters involved in most of the movie's scenes, and watching it would be a miserable experience.

Instead, things just feel kind of lazy. There's plenty of what seems like an attempt at anti-consumer commentary, not because director Julian Farino and/or writers Ian Hefler & Jay Reiss have anything in particular to say about it, but almost because it's expected. Alia Shawkat plays the Laurie character's daughter who serves as the narrator, but for someone who should be right in the middle of it, she is terribly underused. The story also sees unnaturally packed in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with events that seem like they should be spread out more instead happening within days of each other.

It's not a bad movie. It's just a well-worn subject, and good performances/jokes aren't quite enough there.

The MasterGame 81Solomon KaneVulgariaVertigoHotel Transylvania

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