Thursday, October 18, 2012

This Week In Tickets: 8 October 2012 - 14 October 2012

Cold + baseball playoffs = Not just not getting out to see many movies, but not feeling like writing about them, either. Packed the days I did head out good, though:

This Week in Tickets

I kind of suspect that I should stop seeing movies like Dust Up, especially when there's other interesting options that night. I do it because I like supporting independent genre movies on the one hand and because I've found I get more hits for being one of the few to review an off-beat or older movie on the other. Still, even though I liked this one more than most, I probably don't have the right attitude for them. I want folks to make unironically good movies instead of winking. If you admire these pictures, make the best one you can rather than riffing on them.

Similarly, I should go to a lot more movies shown in 35mm at the Brattle, Coolidge, Harvard Film Archive, and the like. It's not just that these revival/repertory screenings are the only place where the movies are still proper film, but it seems that chances to see them any way may be getting fewer and further between. Sure, right now they are available on Amazon Prime/Retntal or Netflix instant, but whether a movie is available online, on DVD, and/or on Blu-ry at any given time seems much more random now than it has before. So, really, I should see more of the good programs - I probably only saw half of what I wanted to in the Brattle's "Cloak & Dagger" series (just Three Days of the Condor and The MacKintosh Man this week) and less than that where "Outback Gothic" was concerned (just Mad Max and Mad Max 2).

I had more time to kill than I expected on Sunday; the 11am show was the cheapest time to see Frankenweenie in 3D and that day's screening of Trouble with the Curve was the last one I could get to, and for some reason I choked on basic math and thought there was an hour less between the two. I wound up walking to and from Quincy Market in the rain, but happily discovering that the Potbelly Sandwich Shop location I'd heard was opening in downtown Boston had. I'd been to one on a trip to Baltimore/DC a few years ago (it's close to Camden Yards), and they make a good sandwich.

Weird weekend, though - I actually felt a lot better once I got out and about, but was also pretty well drained by the end of the day. I would have liked to hit some stuff in the evening as well, but it just wasn't happening.

Mad Max

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 October 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Outback Gothic Sidebar, 35mm)

This is something like the third time I've tried to get through Mad Max, which you wouldn't think would be so difficult, but every screening I've ever tried to go to has been at midnight or later, and since there are stretches where it's not quite the frantic action one imagines. Three in the afternoon with a head full of snot isn't a whole lot better, but it's good enough.

Every time I've seen it, though, I've found myself most fascinated by the way George Miller sets it on the fringes of societal collapse as it's happening. There are moments when things seem relatively normal - businesses appear to be open and taking money, Max (Mel Gibson) and company are cops, and he and wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) don't seem to be expecting violence the way you usually see in the sort of movie that this franchise evolved into. And yet, as the movie goes on, Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and company seem to act with less fear, and it becomes clear just how ad-hoc the Main Force Patrol really is; it really is on the cusp of just being another gang.

Miller, by the way, is really fantastic at shooting action and building that atmosphere. It's brutally violent Ozploitation with great vehicular mayhem; the opening sequence not only sets the action of the rest of the movie up in an eye-popping way, but it gives an audience some idea of the tactics of a car chase, so that what's going on later never feels like random action. Its slower periods are worth it, and it manages a dark sort of finale much better than its many imitators have.

Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 October 2012 in the Brattle Theatre (Outback Gothic Sidebar, 35mm)

Compared to its predecessor, Mad Max 2 is almost conventional for a post-apocalyptic movie: Desert environment, no sort of government to be seen, baddies in leather. In part, that's because this thing is so good that it's been imitated quite a bit over the past thirty years (Bellflower, for instance, references The Lord Humungus directly despite being closer in tone to the first movie), but not entirely: Despite having an undeniable truth buried underneath it - civilization as we understand it hinges on cheap energy - it's a very simple post-apocalyptic siege movie. It's just better.

In large part, that's because George Miller does huge-scale practical action better than just about anyone. There's very little faked in this movie - whirligigs fly, big weird vehicles are big weird vehicles, and that explosion at the end is actual size. Apparently, Miller and company felt that scale models and matte paintings, by and large, were for the weak. The massive chase scene at the end is still jaw-dropping in terms of scale today.

And though he's only got a dozen or two lines, Mel Gibson is pretty good here, too. As much as the movie visually switches up from the first, Gibson is clearly the guy from the original, made even more cynical in the time since but still having the same self-awareness and desire not to be a simple thug underneath.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 October 2012 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax-branded digital 3D)

Correlation isn't causation, but it's tough to miss the obvious: This is director Tim Burton's best movie in years, and at no point in making it did he give Johnny Depp a stupid haircut or dress Helena Bonham-Carter up as a Living Dead Doll. Coincidence?

This version of Frankenweenie gets a lot of mileage out of sheer love for the material. There's no doubt that Burton and company have unadulterated affection for these classic monsters, and the bond between a child and his or her dog (or other pet) is the heart of the picture. That love lets Burton get away with a lot of things that might seem like little more than gimmicks - the black and white filming style, a couple characters with accents that can be called "iconic" if you're in a very good mood - and plotting that telegraphs things way ahead of time (hey, did you notice there's a windmill in every shot of the town? and that the main character's name is Frankenstein? think Burton's seen the James Whale version of that movie?J).

I'd be interested to hear what actual kids think of the last act of this movie. It's a lot of fun, and while there's big action with life-and-death stakes for the monster-pets, it's never too scary, to the point where the adults watching it may find things a little tame. Given that some of the references are pitched well above what a viewer with an age in the single digits would recognize - sea monkeys, Gamera, specific shots from eighty-year-old movies - I kind of wonder if this has the sort of kid appeal the producers were going for.

I also found myself a little frustrated on the movie's approach to science. On the one hand, Burton and screenwriter John August treat science very well, with the kids as enthusiastic about the subject as anything else, and the Martin Landau-voiced science teacher sayinig that most people like the things science gives them but not what questions it asks... And then follows it up with "it's what's in your heart" as opposed to observation and understanding of process. Two steps forward, one step back.

Trouble with the Curve

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 October 2012 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, digtal)

There are some movies, and Trouble with the Curve is definitely among their number, which really don't make a lot of sense if you apply a bit of knowledge or common sense but have such a relentlessly nice cast that it's hard not to enjoy them despite everything.

For instance, there's a pretty adorable romantic comedy to be made with Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake; they've got great chemistry and both work nicely opposite Clint Eastwood. You will seldom go wrong putting John Goodman into your movie, and the same remarkably holds true for Robert Patrick, even when he doesn't have many lines until the end. That stuff is almost relentlessly charming, and while it's going on, it's easy to forget that other bits of script by Randy Brown don't make much sense at all or that he and director Robert Lorenz opt to deliver things with all the subtlety of a shovel to the face. The pompous high-school baseball star and Matt Lillard's data-dork baseball exec are such broadly-drawn villains as to almost be unbelievable. The latter is kind of annoying for how he seems to be a means to fight a fight that nobody actually inside baseball has any interest in these days (just about every team values the data provided by both "stats and scouts").

There are other little things - Eastwood's Gus acts like every new frustration is something completely new, and why can the Braves just sign one player after going through the draft for another? Plus, the story is basically trying to help Gus keep a job he can no longer perform. It's screwy, but it's got Eastwood, Adams, Timberlake, Goodman, and Patrick, and that makes up for a lot.

Dust Up
Three Days of the Condor & The MacKintosh Man
Mad Max & Mad Max 2
Trouble with the Curve

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