This week's page looks both more and less busy than it is:
Monday (Memorial Day) was spent on a quick round-trip to Maine because the single guy can come to a family thing given just a few days' notice even if when nobody can get to the ballgame to which he bought tickets months prior with the intention of sharing them. That, folks, is how the world works for Last Single Friends/Family Members.
It was fun, though - I hadn't seen my grandparents for a while, nor my nieces, so there's an eighty-odd-year spread of reasons to head north. The nieces (two-year-old fraternal twin girls) have a new swingset, and let me tell you, they can do that all afternoon.
I intended to see 100 Bloody Acres as part of the Gathr preview series at the Regent on Tuesday, only to discover I had a ticket to the ballgame. Now, I wouldn't say that it was worth skipping out on baseball to see the movie, but Cliff Lee dominated the Red Sox pretty thoroughly. Ridiculously so, only being pulled for the closer in the ninth because that closer was Jonathan Papelbon, he likes drama, so they might as well give it to him.
For the weekend, I was able to schedule my moviegoing around watching the evening ballgames (where the Sox took two of three from the Yankees). Saturday was the magic double feature of Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay & Now You See Me (the first is better, if not by quite so much as one might hope). Sunday was a lesson in checking the MoviePass app before walking to a movie, as it didn't show After Earth playing Fenway at all. It wasn't hard to get to Boston Common, and the it wasn't tight to see We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, but that's not a cool surprise (though seeing the Somerville Theatre pop up on the list of available venues was)!
* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 June 2013 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)
There were a lot of weird choices made for After Earth, and while they're not all to the film's benefit - not by a long shot - I find myself respecting it for doing the expected things in unusual ways. That some of those odd choices appeal to me is nice, although I don't know quite how well folks will react to the in an all-ages sci-fi adventure movie.
Weird choice number one: Will Smith as the strict, distant father. Smith, after all, is a guy who is as aware of what makes him a movie star in addition to an actor as anybody is, and while he has been taking on roles that require him to stretch a bit as opposed to relying on his considerable charm over the past few years, Cypher Raige is something else again. The name is rather on-the-nose, after all - Cyper is a clenched fist of a man who just isn't ever going to have the moment when he softens and tells his son Kitai that he's not angry at him for that. He's a difficult guy to be fond of, so it's kind of surprising to see that Smith has story and producer credit on the film; he chose to play pretty strongly against type.
I'm going to guess that the flat, strange-sounding accent and cadence the characters often speak in isn't Smith's doing, but I kind of like it, too. Some of it's just exaggerating the militarism of certain characters and some is probably Sophie Okonedo's African accent, but they come together and emphasize the far-future nature of the setting much better than the usual "throw in some different slang" method. It does a decent job of covering how, while Jaden Smith has inherited a fair amount of his father's charisma, he's not quite there as an actor yet. He handles the physical parts of an action/adventure movie well enough, and enough of what he does works well enough to at least seem deliberate, but enough clunks in a way that doesn't seem to happen with his father that it's an open question of whether Jaden Smith or co-writer/director M. Night Shyamalan is responsible.
Shyamalan doing this sort of movie is kind of questionable, too - I don't think there's much doubt that, when he's at his best, he's grounding his stories quite firmly in the real world and having the fantastical intrude. After Earth is a big sci-fi epic, with characters crash-landing on an Earth that has been taken over by bigger, fiercer versions of the animals we know - I'm presuming that they are the work of the same aliens who engineered the "Ursa" which cannot see but can literally smell human fear as much as mutations arising from human damage to the ecology - but it's kind of a neat one. It's beautifully conceived, at the very least - Shyamalan and his production design group take their cues from interesting places, and both the ship that crashes and the Raiges' home on "Nova Prime" feel biologically inspired without going the full Cronenberg.
Along with the effects guys and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, they make a slick-looking movie, although, again, big action and effects aren't necessarily Shyamalan's thing. A lot of the creature effects have room for improvement, for instance, and as much as the design of the ship and the Ursa's container is well-conceived, it can look a bit cheap. The action is fairly well-choreographed, but it can sometimes seem to be over too quickly. Also, for a movie that seems to be made with a younger audience in mind, it has some fairly scary imagery, and the editing could probably stand to be a bit more linear, rather than flashing back so much and letting the main source of conflict between Cypher and Kitai emerge somewhat obliquely.
Underneath, though, there's some pretty interesting stories going on. Sure, it's basically an estranged father and son trying to connect, with the father learning how to trust his son while the son tries to become more responsible, but the context is interesting. As much as this sort of movie is generally about letting go of one's fear, that is in many ways Cypher's problem - he's gotten so good at "ghosting" to fight these Ursas that he often can't express his concern for his children's safety as anything but anger. Maturity for both Cypher and Kitai is learning how to control and channel these potentially destructive feelings, and Cypher's repeated calls for Kitai to "take a knee" are interesting - it's visually reminiscent of prayer, but not quite, though it's a notch above "take a breath"; it's a sort of meditation, knowing one's spirit.
It strikes me that with these themes of mastering those sorts of dark emotions, "cutlasses", and the like - well, that's Jedi Knight material, isn't it? It's kind of a crying shame that Shyamalan doesn't seem to be as tight with Disney as he was when he made several hits in a row with the studio, because he seems to have an excellent handle on what would make a fine Star Wars movie.