Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Week Month In Tickets: 22 April 2013 - 19 May 2013

And here I honestly thought that IFFBoston was going to be a "delays stuff three weeks" festival at most, though I guess I didn't really take into account just how many other movies I would get to that needed reviewing. But we're there now, and it feels good to be caught up..

22 April - 28 April
29 April - 5 May
6 May - 12 May
13 May - 19 May

This Week in Tickets

I think I mention it on the Independent Film Festival Boston Opening Night write-up, but due to me being kind of linear, I didn't really start thinking about getting my ducks in a row for that festival until I was finished writing up everything for the Boston Underground Film Festival, which took long enough that the link for press accreditation on IFFBoston's site was gone by the time I tried to use it, so I wound up buying a pass like the civilian I mostly am. I probably could have saved some money and just bought tickets to the 17 movies I wound up seeing, but I like getting to make decisions on the fly too much. Being the first to sit isn't bad, either.

The festival itself was pretty good; only a few movies I loved but plenty I liked. I saw fourteen movies these first five days:

24 April: The Spectacular Now
25 April: Tokyo Waka, Wasteland
26 April: Soft in the Head, A Hijacking
27 April: Secundaria, Night Labor, Computer Chess, Oxyana, V/H/S/2
28 April: The Defector, Remote Area Medical, The Act of Killing, Berberian Sound Studio

I meant to do a little bit more cramming before the event started, but it didn't happen outside of Trance. That's fine; a day to rest up doesn't hurt either.

Trance

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, 35mm)

Wow, it feels like a long time since I've seen Trance, much longer than the actual four weeks. That's got to make it count as a bit of a disappointment, as director Danny Boyle does everything he can to sear its crazy story into the audience's brain with his trademark style of quick-cut, colorful scenes. It just isn't quite good enough.

Give him credit for what he does; this is a movie that spends a lot of time on people sitting around asking each other questions, and even with plenty of flashbacks, that can be kind of a dull process. So while writers Joe Ahearne and John Hodge weave in a fair amount of present-day intrigue, Boyle and his crew do what they can to keep the buried memories of James McAvoy's Simon engrossing. It helps that they get one of McAvoy's more interesting performances, in that even before we start digging into his past, Simon doesn't just seem like the guy more interesting people are contrasted with. Vincent Cassel has long experience playing this sort of tough guy and knows what he's doing, and while she seldom really grabs the screen, I don't know if I'm capable of not liking Rosario Dawson in a movie.

The big issue, I think, is that this is a thriller whose plot is stretched to the breaking point. The high concept of a guy who is part of a heist injuring his head and thus needing to have the location of the stolen painting retrieved via hypnosis is a good one, and I kind of like the question implicit in the resolution of just who among the main characters was abusing and exploiting the others most egregiously. Getting there required twist upon twist, though, some of which did a real number on suspension of disbelief. It took a simple story and made it into a Rube Goldberg device, and that's a perilous thing to do.

This Week in Tickets

First up: The last two days of IFFBoston, which ran a day shorter than it has in recent years. Kind of a bummer, that, but it didn't seem to be for lack of decent movies to show.

29 April: Some Girl(s) & Willow Creek
30 April: In a World...

I got a bit lucky in terms of my movie choice; I could very well have seen Twenty Feet from Stardom during the festival, though it would have meant a bit of back-and-forthing on the Red Line and minimizing my flexibility in other places. Plus, while I didn't outright state a "no performer docs" this year, as the festival wasn't nearly as packed with them as it had been in previous years, that was still kicking around in the back of my mind. Still, I wasn't disappointed to see Talk Cinema pick it up and I actually thought Twenty Feet from Stardom and In a World... made a fine double feature.

In between, well, I'm guessing I watched some baseball, wrote some, and otherwise just wound down before paying the fees necessary (new release + RPX + 3D) to see Iron Man Three on one of the spiffier screens in Boston proper.

Iron Man Three

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2013 in Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, 3D RPX DCP)

I kind of love this one, even if it does reveal a few flaws in retrospect. In part, it's because I'm a person who really liked Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the idea that Marvel decided not just that using their big franchise to re-team Robert Downey Jr. with Shane Black was a good idea, but that they should let him make a Shane Black movie without messing with his voice too much was something that made me smile throughout. But even more, it's that this is a genuinely fun movie. It's got big, crazy action but also a really sharp sense of humor; it gets family-friendly tropes in without feeling like it's neglecting its grown-up audience; and the cast really seems to work well together.

One of the greatest things that I think Black does (along with co-writer Drew Pearce) - and there are many, from the tossed-off explanation of why the Avengers aren't getting involved (the government "doesn't consider this a superhero situation" and by the time Tony realizes it is, it's too late) to how the women have genuinely important roles to clever henchman dialogue - is that he uses the big action sequences not just as spectacle, but as things which really define character:

SPOILERS!

The first time you really notice it is when the Mandarin destroys Tony's mansion, and he tells the Mark 42 to assemble - around Pepper. Would the Tony of even Iron Man 2 have done that? No, he was too much of an egomaniac. But after The Avengers, he not only cares enough about Pepper that getting her to safety is his first priority, he trusts her to do it for herself. Also: This scene shows the proper way to use a piano to take out henchmen - take that, Superman Returns! Then there's the great barrell-of-monkeys scene, which is just an amazing aerial stunt on its own, but which also defines Tony's character perfectly: Faced with thirteen people falling to certain doom and told he can only carry four, he's going to use his brains and technological know-how to figure out a way to save everyone in a non-negotiable time frame. Then, in the big, climactic finale, he tells Pepper he'll catch her, fails, and is then surprised (but not disbelieving) when she pops up and takes the bad guy out herself. It's a great moment showing that they are partners who trust each other that not a lot of couples in action movies really get.

And while we're here in spoiler-land, I've got to say that I kind of like the way the movie handles the Mandarin - or at least, I agree that they couldn't really go any other way. In 2013, you're not going to have a traditional yellow-peril villain, not with China being the fastest-growing economy and movie market in the world, especially not with their DMG Entertainment funding a large chunk of it. So, sure, use the villain most closely associated with the comic book character and potentially tie off the Ten Rings storyline since there's a very real possibility that there will be no Iron Man 4, but do it in a way that makes the ugly xenophobia and nationalism inherent in the character a dangerous distraction. I don't know if it necessarily had to be Ben Kingsley in the role - couldn't they have found some Eurasian actor who could do the requisite funny accent? - unless the idea was that he could be spun as Middle Eastern when the movie plays in China.

Now, bringing up AIM and not having there be a funky yellow beekeepers' outfit in sight, that's a disappointment.

!SRELIOPS

So, all in all, a pretty darn entertaining movie which stands a good chance of being my favorite of the summer - though, happily, it's still early.

This Week in Tickets

And we are back on the horse post-festival! It's more or less a given that if you show a silent movie, I will make every attempt to be there, and the Coolidge's "Sounds of Silents" program is one of my favorites, especially when they bring in Berklee's Film Scoring class. Of course, getting from Burlington to Brookline by 7pm is a challenge, so I always get seats with this sort of view:

 photo IMAG0367_zpsaf362189.jpg

... but it's generally still cool. The students do a nice job, and Our Hospitality certainly doesn't suffer for it. I kind of wish I'd gone to the screening of The Thief of Baghdad at Somerville on the 12th instead of the Red Sox game I did make; not only did I wind up eating a few tickets because getting people rounded up is difficult (and there really isn't a window at Fenway where they'll exchange five seats up in the bleachers for one seat at field level), but it was a pretty crappy loss, too. Coolest thing was that I was one seat diagonally away from the red seat, so... Yeah, not really cool.

To be fair, it was Mother's Day, which leads me to the question... Whose genius idea was it to release Go Goa Gone, Aftershock, and No One Lives on that weekend? I mean, really, who's bringing their moms to that? I mean, sure, Peeples, I can see, but the other three?

Our Hospitality

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 6 May 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sounds of Silents, digital w/ live music)

It's been a couple of years since I last saw Our Hospitality (with Jeff Rapsis at Somerville), and silent comedies especially can kind of warp in one's mind over time: The really great bits of physical comedy come to stand out, and the dangerous stunts stick as well, while some of the bits that fill time in between kind of fade away or get remembered as funnier than they were. Our Hospitality is still a very funny movie, and indeed among the best of Keaton's pictures to rely on characterization as much as physicality, but some of the bits didn't hit me quite as well this time.

Of course, it could partially be the different score, too. Seeing a silent movie is unique in that something that is such an important part of the experience - and one that's heightened for silents, because it doesn't have to stay out of the way of dialog or sound effects - changes radically between viewings. Our Hospitality is a tricky one, because it's got the dead-serious opening that has to quickly become rather airy comedy before getting kind of dark but just as absurd. The Berklee kids did a pretty good job of it, though, just as Buster did.

My 2011 review on EFC

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Black Rock at Apple Cinemas #5 (7:45pm, Friday 17 May 2013)

Another lost ticket after the one from a week before, and the surprising thing is that I wasn't even wearing the pants whose pockets seem purpose-designed to spill their contents when sitting in any seat that reclines just a little bit. The next time I go to the store to buy some pants, I'm going to see if the store's employees have recommendations on that subject, or at least have a chair in the changing room where you can test this.

Speaking of seats, the Somerville Theatre tore the seating out of their smaller theaters and replaced them after IFFBoston, something I was happy to check out with The Great Gatsby. Verdict: Nice just for their newness as opposed to being worn out, and probably just enough of an upgrade in width and leg room to make a difference without really hurting capacity. The arrangement is slightly different, as well; where before screen #5 had a big center section and two wings about three seats wide on the other sides of the aisles, they've now all been pressed together,with the aisles along the walls.

Thursday was the Brattle's quickly mounted tribute to Ray Harryhausen with Jason and the Argonauts and the original Clash of the Titans. It yielded a fair amount of polite applause every time Harryhausen's name appeared on-screen, and they got pretty decent prints, too. I won't lie, though - I kind of expected the opening for the Kevin Sorbo Hercules series in front of each of them ("In a time of myth and legend, the ancient gods were petty and cruel, and plagued mankind with suffering. Only one man dared challenge their power...").

Saturday didn't quite work out as planned - I bought a ticket for Star Trek Into Darkness at Jordan's Furniture in Reading online, figuring it would be sold out by the time I got there, but got on the T later than I should have, so as soon as the Orange Line was traveling above ground, I was tracking the bus I'd need to catch on my phone, eventually getting off at Wellington and taking the train back into town when I saw I'd lost the race, settling for seeing it on the lesser Imax-branded screen at Boston Common. Then at night, I cut it pretty close to see Kiss of the Damned, only to have it not show up on the MoviePass app. So, a fair amount of money spent on movies that I shouldn't have had to spend, but the results were OK.

Sunday I slept until noon and didn't even leave the house because I got caught up watching baseball.

The Great Gatsby

* * * (out of four)
Seen 13 May 2013 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, Real-D 3D)

When the trailers for Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of The Great Gatsby started appearing, I was rather intrigued, if only because I remember not enjoying it very much when I read it in high school - and seeing the adaptation starring Robert Redford in Mia Farrow didn't help. Thus, seeing the previews with fast cars, plenty of gaudy production design, well-used 3D, and Leonardo DiCaprio looking almost as energetic and pleased with himself as he did in the concurrent previews for Django Unchained assured me that Luhrmann was doing his damnedest to make this material not boring.

By and large, he succeeds. Gatsby is a blast to watch, making fine use of Luhrmann's tendency toward excess even when he is also making a point about how hollow it is. It can be a tough balancing act; for instance, the the ever-watching eyes from the optometrist's advertisement can be blotted out by the shot showing Manhattan surrounded by a sort of wasteland (which I love). He is just the right guy to understand the vigorous romanticism in Jay Gatsby, who thinks in terms of grand gestures and has managed to build himself up so much that he can't help but trust in his ability to keep making his fantasies real.

As for the problems... Well, the movie is still a version of The Great Gatsby. I love Carey Mulligan and she fits the part of Daisy perfectly, but Daisy is kind of a tough sell to a modern audience; her porcelain weightlessness makes one wonder why this is the girl who causes such an obsession, especially when Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker is standing right next to her all the time. Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is perhaps the template for the frustrating character whose job is to observe the really interesting one from the audience's perspective. And Luhrmann tends to use a lot of F. Scott Fitzgerald's words, which is understandable, but they're always describing something we can see or really should be able to pick up from the characters' expressions or actions, or at least words. When narration is going on, it feels like nothing is happening, and that happens all too often.

Still, it's a beautiful movie that at least gives me the idea that I maybe shouldn't have judged this story so harshly at sixteen, and that's something.

Jason and the Argonauts

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 May 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Ray Harryhausen, 35mm)

I was never a huge Harryhausen fan growing up. We didn't have the television channels, repertory cinemas, or well-stocked video stores that lead a kid to develop a love of this material in my corner of North Yarmouth, Maine, and by the time we did,I was maybe smart enough to be impressed at what he did with the materials available to him, but not necessarily to really imprint on it. It's led me to develop a fairly healthy suspicion of nostalgia which I honestly think serves me pretty well.

But, man, is what he does in Jason and the Argonauts kind of amazing or what? In a lot of ways, it's not so much the meticulous creation of stop-motion animation that does it, but the way he incorporates it: There is great compositing, matching of movement and lighting, and fine attention to detail for when it's necessary for something to be built in two scales. And unlike a lot of effects work, his effects sequences are always well-directed - he knew when sudden and subtle movements were appropriate. It makes for surprisingly seamless work, even to the modern eye.

As to the movie itself.. Well, that's the part where I have a little more trouble. It is, like many of the movies Harryhausen worked on, aimed at a fairly young audience, and it kind of inherits the nonsensical nature of both the original mythology and the relatively unsophisticated nature of that sort of genre film. It also bumps up against a problem mythology-based films have a hard time avoiding - the gods are, by and large, capricious jerks, so trying to fit their actions into a sort of reasonable motivation is almost impossible, while also being so powerful that it's no wonder the classical theater which used them gave us the term deus ex machina.

Still, plenty of fun, with a cast that includes future Bond girl Honor Blackman and future Doctor Who Patrick Troughton.

Clash of the Titans (1981)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 May 2013 in the Brattle Theatre (Ray Harryhausen, 35mm)

Before this movie started, I half-jokingly tweeted that it came out in 1981, when I was seven years old and very much enamored of Greek mythology, so why the heck had I not seen it before now? Huh, Mom & Dad?

A few minutes in, I figured the answer was nudity, although apparently this was rated PG from the start, even though in today's environment it would probably get an R for skin (or be re-edited, or more likely still never show a nipple at all) and a PG-13 for violence. It plays as somewhat more adult than Jason and the Argonauts, and I think that's a bit of a downfall for it - the greater intensity of the action and open references to sexuality clash against some of the more broadly played bits (including the goofy robot owl), and the dumb mythological plotting that hurts Jason becomes even more noticeable here.

Still, there's no denying Ray Harryhausen does some pretty amazing things. Calibos, for instance, is an amazing creation, fully good enough in some of the full-bodied scenes to convince me I was seeing a man wearing prosthetics rather than an animated model. Pegasus works; I'd be shocked if the CGI models in the recent mythological movies worked better. And action scenes where animation and live-action have to interact are often pretty seamless.

I can't help but see the flaws now, but I would have eaten this up as a kid. Ah, well.

TranceIFFBoston: The Spectacular NowIFFBoston: Tokyo Waka & WastelandIFFBoston: Soft in the Head & A HijackingIFFBoston: Secundaria, Night Labor, Computer Chess, Oxyana, V/H/S/2IFFBoston: The Defector, Remote Area Medical, The Act of Killing, Berberian Sound Studio

IFFBoston: Some Girl(s) & Willow CreekIFFBoston: In a World...Iron Man ThreeTwenty Feet from Stardom

Our HospitalityNo Place on Earth
Go Goa GoneAftershockPeeplesNo One LivesJays 12, Sox 4


The Great GatsbyJason and the Argonauts & Clash of the TitansBlack RockStar Trek Into DarknessKiss of the Damned

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