It's okay to miss a week during festivals, right? When you're seeing two movies a day but can only really write up one and a half, falling behind is sort of inevitable.
As you can see, the Boston Sci-Fi Film Fest ate my week (and, yes, it was apparently a "fest" versus a "festival" this year). I've managed to review everything I saw at the festival - The Final Shift, War of the Worlds: The Untold Story, Found in Time, Earthbound, Mars et Avril, When Time Becomes a Woman, Juan in a Million, El Xendra, S.I.N. Theory, Love & Teleportation, 95ers: Echoes, Space Milkshake, Motivational Growth, The History of Future Folk, and War of the Worlds: Goliath- and put up a diary of the marathon. Like always, I wish this event would grow a little faster; the emails I got for the Philip K. Dick science fiction festival in Brooklyn last fall suggests that it has already leapfrogged the festival portion of Boston's in its first year, although I don't know what sort of funds they have to go after movies rather than just rely on what showed up in their Withoutabox.
Like before, I'd really like to see a little more professionalism - better communications (which includes burning the website down and rebuilding from the ground), not projecting industry screeners, and, honestly, giving the awards out on merit rather than just because someone from the production showed up. Just as I felt in the last few years that the festival abused the "premiere" designation, both by advertising it for studios that weren't premieres and being the first to show movies because there were no other takers (honestly, would you recommend a festival on the basis of the movies being terrible but you get to see them first?), I think bypassing superior movies to give a best-in-fest award to Motivational Growth and giving War of the Worlds: Goliath a best animated film award when there's a field of one sends the right message to the wrong people: Sure, it might encourage some filmmakers to bring their movies in person, but does it impress those who could win the award on merit? I suspect not, and since a good reputation is the most valuable asset a festival can have, I don't see how these shortcuts can work.
Hope I'm wrong, though; as I say every year, this is something I'd love to see grow into a real "studios premiere their spring movies here and indies value Boston more than SXSW's midnight screenings" festival.
I did have time to squeeze one more movie in, and it sure was squeezed: I caught the Saturday midnight screening of Lost in Thailand on Saturday night, then walked home (no T after 1am-ish), wrote until I fell asleep, and then somehow made it to the marathon at noon as a non-zombie. Mostly worth it; it's a broad comedy, but that broadness translates reasonably well. I half-wonder if it's one of those movies that got a special, less-nationalistic cut for foreign distribution, because what I saw does much less to shove Chinese prosperity down one's throat than many similar movies from the People's Republic do.
Stubless: The second half of the marathon. Scroll up.
The Monday afternoon following the marathon is kind of weird - I'm generally actually pretty alert as things let out, get home, take a shower, and then start to drag mid-afternoon, at which point it's a struggle to get to eight or nine o'clock so that the rest of the week isn't messed up. I'd actually considered Happy People: A Year in the Taiga for that afternoon, but in that situation, Werner Herzog's voice and the relatively mild material would have knocked me out.
I caught it on Tuesday, and then didn't get to anything until the weekend, when it more or less revolved around The Alloy Orchestra's Buster Keaton show - I'd purchased the ticket a while ago, so it meant I was only going to see a bit of the Brattle's Matthew McConaughey mini-series (Magic Mike on Friday). For some reason or another, I didn't feel like heading back home immediately after that, so I headed to Boston Common and went for the next one I hadn't seen, which turned out to be Snitch, which wasn't bad. Sunday's movie was A Good Day to Die Hard, and I didn't dislike it nearly as much as others (faint praise!).
Had time after that to get some groceries before the Oscars started, although missing that might not have been a particular tragedy, as Seth McFarlane was more or less terrible, and I really didn't get the celebration of Chicago's tenth anniversary. That was pretty bad.
* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 February 2013 in The Brattle Theatre (Matthew McConaughey, 35mm)
So, when did we start taking Channing Tatum seriously? 21 Jump Street seems like a reasonable if unlikely place to date it from, although some people did like him in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.
But, here he is now in the title role of this movie, pretty darn charming as an exotic dancer who isn't ashamed of that job but has other ambitions, eventually including the sister (Cody Horn) of the new kid (Alex Pettyfer). Add in Matthew McConaughey as the owner of the club and Olivia Munn as Mike's regular booty call, and it's a pretty nice cast, although not so star-powered that anyone overpowers the ensemble.
What's interesting is how it inverts a number of expectations. The biggest, of course, is going for the beefcake instead of the cheesecake, not just in finding reasons for characters to have their shirts off, but having scenes that are just there for the ladies to ogle men. Even more unusual, though, is how the apprentice winds up providing the object lesson for the mentor; Pettyfer's Adam spirals out of control in the way that Mike never did, and it's not really "man, I've gotten lucky" moment as much as seeing that he's the one that doesn't quite fit.
Buster Keaton Shorts
* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 February 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Alloy Orchestra, digital)
Well, actually it's more Keaton & Arbuckle, as the first two of the three shorts are Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle things in which Buster has a supporting role - although the last one certainly makes up for that. It's a surprisingly stark difference, with Arbuckle going for very broad material while Keaton is still doing physical comedy, but it's incredibly precise and well-planned. To a certain extent, it shows why (beyond scandal and never really doing features) Keaton has endured and Arbuckle hasn't; Arbuckle's material feels dated and primitive while Keaton's, though clearly of its time, is narratively and technically sophisticated enough to hold up.
"The Butcher Boy", for instance, is certainly funny enough, but it's basically a collection of slapstick that you'd mostly find in kids' movies nowadays. It also becomes basically an entirely different movie halfway through, going from hijinks in a general store to Arbuckle and co-star Al St. John both sneaking into the boarding school where the owner's daughter has been sent (which means she's, what, 17 at most? Ick!). Amusing stuff.
"Good Night, Nurse!" is interesting in that it seems more like Buster is playing a part than usual, as the sadistic doctor running the sanitarium to which Fatty has been sent to with the intention of curing his alcoholism. Large chunks of it are completely arbitrary, but the cast (which overlaps a great deal with the previous movie) sells each joke pretty well.
"The Play House", though, is pretty amazing, especially in the opening sequences, as Keaton playing every part on screen, sometimes ten or eleven at once, and the compositing is pretty incredible. The funny thing is, as much as the trick photography is something to be marveled at there, it doesn't necessarily cross the audience's mind that Keaton and company are using it to make twins out of a single actress later. That's in part because Keaton is surprisingly good at the technical aspects, and in part because he's making good jokes that lead from one to the next.
It's pretty amazing, really, just how good Keaton was from an early age; he was 21 when he made "The Butcher Boy" (his first movie) and only 25 when creating something as technically impressive as "The Play House". Alloy was pretty good, too, although kind of low-key - I wasn't sure just how much anybody but keyboardist Roger Miller was playing; the others were in the pit and it was tough to see much activity.
* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 23 February 2013 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)
Man, does Dwayne Johnson need to find better parts. The guy is tremendously charismatic, has the sort of physical presence that the likes of Schwarzeneggar and the other action stars of the 1980s and 1990s did. And yet, this one has him behind the wheel of a truck for most of the action, which is still more impressive than a lot of what he's done in the past.
It is some pretty impressive action, though - writer/director Ric Roman Waugh came up through stuntwork, and he knows what he's doing. The last big chase scenes are actually pretty incredible, especially since, as far as I can recall, there were no digital effects companies listed in the closing credit crawl - Waugh and company just smashed the crap out of a bunch of cars, trucks, and a big rig or two. The execution of the action stuff, and a good deal of the crime story, is pretty darn good.
Unfortunately, there's an agenda at work, and while it's a noble one - I sympathize with the film's message of how mandatory minimum sentencing laws prevent the system from considering people as individuals - it's incredibly heavy-handed. There's also perhaps too little effort to sell the main premise of the movie, that Johnson's character, who works in construction, can do this sort of undercover work on behalf of the government to help his son.
A Good Day to Die Hard
* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 February 2013 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, 4K DCP)
It's kind of amazing, really - you can spot the exact moment when A Good Day to Die Hard goes wrong. The first half of the movie makes a concerted effort to call back to the first, with John McClane (Bruce Willis) out of his league, confronted by his failure as a father, wandering into a mess orchestrated by folks who are, let's face it, much smarter than him. Even when he gets involved in a gigantic car chase, he seems to be kind of desperately making it up as he goes along.
And then, pretty close to the mid-point, son Jack (Jai Courtney) tells him to "do what you're good at - kill bad guys!" From that point on, McClane is in super-hero mode, tossing off cocky wisecracks rather than nervous ones, and often obviously right rather than really working to get things right. It actually makes the movie go too quickly at times - between John being too good at this and Jack being a very capable CIA guy, there's not time for the traditional Die Hard stuff where regular law enforcement is being played or a step behind, McClane just gets physically worn down, and the pieces of the real puzzle take a while coming together. They're too able to move from set-piece to set-piece.
Still, there are enough good parts that this movie won't actually sully the box set. The breakout and car chase in the first act are insanely good - I've been impressed with the stunt driving they've got in Russia ever since Junk, and while I'm sure there's a lot of CGI enhancement going on in this chase, it's insanely elaborate and dangerous-looking. There's also a nifty little scene toward the end, where John looks at Jack and says the day's been fun, that's easy to look at as macho neanderthal crap but which Willis acts well enough that it says, no, this has actually been a nightmare, but he is really happy to be with his boy anyway. There's a lot of dumb stuff in the movie's last act, but that bit makes a lot of it worthwhile.
(Still, given what everyone thinks they know about Jack in the beginning, would it have killed the producers to bring in Bonnie Bedelia for the last scene? Although, now that I think about it, it would kind of be great if Die Hard 6 were to include her in a bigger role than that sort of cameo, especially if the kids are going to be around. Let the facts of being divorced and knowing he screwed it up make John McClane squirm!)