Friday, February 08, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 28 January 2013 - 3 February 2013

Folks, I have been watching movies and writing about them:

This Week in Tickets

Kind of an eventful week, even aside from watching movies: Tuesday and Wednesday were company meeting days, which means everybody flew in from various parts of the country for a couple of all-day updates and workshops followed by dinner and sleeping fast to leave early the next morning. Fortunately, there wasn't a whole lot I wanted to see aside from Quartet, at least until Thursday.

That's when I scooted out of work a little early so that I could make it to the Coolidge in time for the Sundance USA screening, The Lifeguard. Not so hot, unfortunately, but at least it and the Q&A were short enough that I could turn around once I left and come back for Barbara. Good little movie, which I'm glad I saw on its very last show before leaving town (I'd been meaning to, but...).

I'd been surprisingly drawn by the Warm Bodies previews I'd seen, so that was the Friday night choice. I liked it enough to consider writing a full "rebuttal review" to the negative one on eFilmCritic, but someone else saved me from that. I'd initially meant to hit Stand Up Guys, which still hasn't been reviewed on the site, but the times didn't quite line up.

Saturday afternoon was spent watching Fear and Desire, Killer's Kiss, and The Killing at the MFA; slightly more Kubrick than I'd intended, but what the heck? I screwed up seeing a movie in the evening because I thought I'd forgotten my phone (needed for MoviePass activation). I didn't, but didn't find it in one of the thirteen pockets I had until I got home. I was going to call it a night, but that big bus accident was more or less just across the river from me, and have you ever tried to get to sleep with a helicopter hovering over your house trying to light a busy accident scene? No sleep means Coffy, evidently.

Sunday was a lay-around-reading-comics day, finishing up with a screening of The Thief of Bagdad at the HFA as part of a Raoul Walsh retrospective. From there, rather than support the life-shortening violence on display in the Super Bowl, I opted to watch Bullet to the Head (I'm pretty cool with pretend violence, obviously). The folks down in New Orleans were even considerate enough to delay the game for a half-hour with some power outage or something so that I could do some grocery shopping and still be home in time for Elementary. Thanks, guys!

So, busy week. And the next couple aren't going to be less so, but I'll worry about Next Week in Tickets when I've heard more in terms of cancellations and such. In the meantime...

Warm Bodies

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 February 2013 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, 4K digital)

Funny thing: The posters had a logo for the Quebec film comission on them, which seemed unusual - that's a thing that usually shows up at the end of the credits, rather than with the vanity cards up front or on the posters. That alerted me to where it was filmed, and it became a fun game to spot how they tried to make Montreal into "generic North American city". I suspect half the movie's CGI budget was removing French-language signage, and I also wondered if this was the first time Stade Olympique had been set up for baseball since Les Expos left town. It was fun recognizing the spot where R and Julia sat in the last scene, though!

Also fun: The rest of the movie. It undeniably has some problems with tone in terms of genre - R's narration is pretty chatty and articulate for a zombie speaking in the present tense, although I think that's kind of difficult to avoid if you want a decent amount of zombie POV - and rules, but benefits tremendously from staying on-message. That message isn't terribly complicated - love and connection with other people is what you need to jolt you out of that state where time passes without meaning or joy - but there's not a moment in the movie that doesn't serve it, and so long as the filmmakers don't focus on the mechanics of things too much, that gets the audience through.

Plus, the thing is filled with great moments. Every time I thought the narration was undercutting the fact that zombies should be scary, Nicholas Hoult delivers a quip that justifies it. The entire cast - Hoult, Teresa Palmer, John Malkovich, even the usually tiresome Rob Corddry - is pretty great, and director Jonathan Levine (who found a different way to put genre conventions on unstable ground in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) delivers honest quirk, charm, and some very amusing soundtrack choices. The climactic battle is pretty great, without throwing the rest of the movie away as often happens.

When I first saw the trailer, Warm Bodies struck me as the movie Zombieland wanted to be (if you liked that movie more than me, read "an even better version of Zombieland"), and the end results confirm that. It's one of late January/early February's several nice surprises.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 February 2013 in Coolidge Corner #1 (@fter midnite, 35mm)

It's a funny thing about exploitation pictures, whatever the flavor - somewhere underneath, all the good ones (or at least the enjoyable ones) have aspirations of at least a little more than being low-budget delivery vehicles for sex and violence. They want to be that, no question, but there's at least a sort of ambiguity being poked at here, as Pam Grier's nurse-turned-vigilante title character does at least find herself concerned with the ethics of her actions. Maybe, if there was a little more time and talent and resources involved, they could have made a great movie about that.

Of course, Coffy doesn't have those things; what it has is Grier and a perfect understanding of what the audience is looking for: Righteous bloodshed and skin. That's why there's reason for everybody to become a target as the movie goes on; extra characters still standing at the end do the filmmakers no good. And it's kind of hilarious just how inevitable the many busty ladies' shirts getting ripped clean down the front is in any melee, for that matter. Writer/director Jack Hill believes in giving the people what they want, and for some reason - whether it be the funky soundtrack or the pure uninhibitedness of the time and place - allows blaxploitation to score points for its exuberance rather than lose them.

Is Coffy a great movie? Nah. It's fun, though, with its tongue moving just slightly toward its cheek - after all, a movie where the heroine stuffs razor blades in her afro because she understands the inevitability of a hair-pulling catfight has to be winking at the audience a little!

The Thief of Bagdad

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 3 February 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (Action! Action! Action! The Cinema of Raoul Walsh, digital)

There are a number of enjoyable things in The Thief of Bagdad, but two and a half hours is a lot of silent movie, especially since a lot of the good stuff is loaded into the last hour (which I half-suspect played after an intermission in its original release). That's when all the crazy fantasy stuff with pretty darn good effects for 1924 starts in earnest.

The first hour and a half is still pretty good, though - the bit with the magic rope is fun and establishes what sort of rogue the Thief (Douglas Fairbanks) is before he becomes smitten with the Princess (Julanne Johnston). It's got the sort of grand scale that these epics did so well, along with plenty of amusing bits and Fairbanks's trademark athletic action. It's also noteworthy for two of the folks in the supporting cast: Sojin, a Japanese immigrant who would return home once silents gave way to talkies (and finished his career with a part in The Seven Samurai) plays the villainous Mongol Prince, with Anna May Wong as his spy within the Princess's chambers. Anna May Wong, as you may know, was awesome, especially when one considers that she was about 18 when she made this movie, and already stealing every scene she was in whether or not she was shot from an angle that showed just how deceptively skimpy her costume was.

It's a big, fun adventure that isn't quite so overstuffed with awesomeness as it may appear, but it ramps up the spectacle when it needs to. Holds up pretty well after almost eighty years.

Bullet to the Head

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 February 2013 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, 4K digital)

You know, Sylvester Stallone has kind of earned the purgatory he's been in for roughly the past fifteen years; he's made some pretty bad movies since Copland, only really getting noticed and into theaters when he's got a franchise to work with. And so, as Schwarzeneggar's The Last Stand did, Bullet to the Head sort of tanked at the box office.

It deserves a bit better; it's good pulp, and Walter Hill knows what the audience is looking for just as much Coffy's Jack Hill. As a result, the violence is big and lurid and when he can't blow something up or punctuate a sentence with a bullet, there's thoroughly gratuitous nudity. The poor by-the-book cop played by Sung Kang just doesn't stand a chance in this environment.

And that's kind of the movie's problem at times; it's so busy convincing us that Stallone's hitman character is the cool one that it tends to make Kang's Taylor Kwon look like a fool in a way that it seems like the same kind of puffing up the star's ego as Jack Reacher - it would actually be better if Kwon didn't look so helpless even in banter. There are times when it doesn't know what to do other than make Stallone look cool, especially as the various villains' alliances implode to the point where things can be settled by Stallone and Jason Momoa swinging axes at each other.

Let it be said: Sylvester Stallone and Jason Momoa swinging axes at each other is probably the best thing in the movie. Moma actually comes across as a guy who could be the next Stallone/Schwarzenegger-type star if that sort of physically imposing but charismatic type still became stars today, and it's an action scene that goes on long enough to express the characters' personalities, with Stallone's Jimmy Bobo being no-nonsense and Momoa's Keegan being energetic and kind of nuts. It's a great climax, and the route to it isn't bad either.

The Lifeguard
Warm Bodies
Fear and Desire
Killer's Kiss
The Killing
The Thief of Bagdad
Bullet to the Head

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