Wednesday, March 13, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 4 March 2013 - 10 March 2013

Ah, stupid snow and work and knowing I'm not going to make it through a two-hour-plus midnight movie, leaving all that white space:

This Week in Tickets

I meant to see a couple other things, but for some reason Tuesdays have been keeping me at work late (stuff you can't put off until tomorrow just always seems to spring up at 4:30pm on Tuesday), while Thursday's attempt to see Side Effects was thwarted by MoviePass not bloody working again. Honestly, when I'm standing in the lobby and it's giving me "please wait" for ten minutes while trying to verify my location...

To be fair, it did get me into two movies during the weekend - neither Dead Man Down nor Emperor was particularly good - but that's the kind of frustrating thing about its user experience - the 75% of the time when it works smoothly do not stick in one's memory nearly as well as the 25% where it either fails or feels like it's about to fail.

Other on-line offers got me into the other movies for cheap - discount Aquarium IMAX tickets for "The Last Reef" and another offer got me $13 toward Oz: The Great and Powerful on Fenway's premium screen, and those were both pretty good. 10am-on-Sunday shows at Fenway can be pretty odd, though, since there's a church that rents a room there (whether it's for live preaching or something beamed in, I don't know), so when you arrive at 9:45 there are smiling folks handing things out while the manager has to hop behind the counter when she realizes that this guy is here to see the movie with witches in it and wants popcorn for his brunch.

A fair amount of walking both days, leaving me a bit worn down, which was probably as much a factor as uncertain weather in me not seeing ABCs of Death at the Coolidge (did I feel like walking home from that at 2:30am? No, I did not!). Not sure I'll see it this coming weekend, either, what with all the keen wuxia at the Harvard Film Archive.

"The Last Reef"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 March 2013 in the New England Aquarium Simonx IMAX Theatre (first-run, IMAX 3D)

Venues like the New England Aquarium and Boston Museum of Science don't use the same playbook as other cinemas in booking their screen. A new IMAX film will be released, it will go into the rotation, and then stick around potentially forever, especially if its subject matter matches what's on display at the institution. Which means that there's a good chance that the Aquarium will keep this one around for, say, a year or two, if not longer.

Which is cool, because "The Last Reef" is a pretty good IMAX documentary. It's informative, entertaining, and impressively put together. It's an nicely focused featurette, not trying to focus on the whole ocean as opposed to this one facet of it, which has left more than one of these movies feeling somewhat shallow. The movie makes the unavoidable points about what increased carbon dioxide levels do to coral without seeming too strident or taking the focus off how amazing coral reefs are; the end includes a lot of hope to go with the caution. It's pretty basic information, but when you figure that kids are the primary audience, it's a good start.

Not that you need to be a kid to enjoy the main draw of these movies: Amazing photography. The ocean is a fertile setting for IMAX 3D movies, since they're full of amazing things moving about in three-dimensional space as opposed to hugging a surface like we land-dwelling creates do, and the movie serves up plenty of colorful creatures with improbably structures like sea slugs and flatworms that make the CGI creations in fantasy films seem boring. Other cool things include symbiotic relationships that have small fish feeding on stuff that sticks to much larger rays, fiercely territorial clownfish weaving in and out of reefs, and massive schools that fill the six-story screen. Plus, jellyfish (the Aquarium could probably sell me a ticket to an IMAX film called "forty-five minutes of jellyfish swimming" every time I feel a little tense).

Filmmakers Luke Cresswell & Steve McNicholas (who write, direct, edit, and compose the music; D.J. Roller shoots) break things up a little so that it's not all just schools of fish, lest the audience take what it's seeing for granted. Some attempts are a little over-thought, like the bit about atomic bomb testing on bikini atoll that opens the movie, though the basic idea is revisited at the end. The cutaways to New York City sometimes seem to fall in this category, but they do serve to connect the themes of reefs being natural cities and modern life stressing the world's CO2 capacity; they're also some nifty bits of 3D time-lapse cinematography in their own right. There are occasional bits of whimsy, as well, especially when human divers enter the picture.

On a certain level, the three underwater documentaries playing the Aquarium are kind of interchangeable - you're going to see them for the same basic reason, and may wind up choosing which one based on what fits your Aquarium visit. It's a good IMAX doc on its own, too, if you're looking for forty-five minutes of nifty photography and cool science.

Dead Man Down

* * (out of four)
Seen 9 March 2013 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, digital)

It doesn't seem that way at first, but once Dead Man Down gets started, it's basically a movie about rooting for a Batman villain, making big elaborate plans for revenge when he could just put a bullet in someone's head, and who knows what sort of collateral damage is going to go on in the meantime?

Kind of a silly story, though it admittedly acknowledges how overcomplicated it is and mostly overcomes it with a strong cast: Colin Farrell tends to be a little too low-key and hangdog, but it works opposite Noomi Rapace, who tends to see just how far she can push as the neighbor who sees he's a killer and wants to use it to further her own revenge. Terrence Howard is a fine villain, and Dominic Cooper has a nifty supporting role is the crook who is smarter than you might expect - maybe a little too smart for his own good.

And while the plot may grind forward fairly slowly, director Niels Arden Oplev does a pretty good job of camouflaging it. He also stages one or two fairly well-done action sequences, especially a finale that may not quite fit the rest of the movie - it's raucous where what comes before is often dour - so it's far from a complete loss. It means the movie is just below average, rather than really bad.

The Last Reef
Dead Man Down
Oz: The Great and Powerful

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