Friday, August 16, 2013

This Week Month In Tickets: 15 July 2013 - 11 August 2013

Ah, Fantasia time, the most wonderful month of the year for genre movie fans. I've said it before, and I'll likely say it as many times as I can possibly bring the subject up: It's my favorite festival on the calendar, and a fantastic excuse for a summer vacation.

It does keep me from updating this regularly, as I'm not lugging the scanner up north and, besides, I do daily posts while I'm up there. So, because it doesn't start on Monday, here's four weeks of tickets:

15 July - 21 July
22 July - 28 July
29 July - 4 August
5 August - 11 August

This Week in Tickets

Remember the Harvard Film Archive's "The Complete Alfred Hitchcock" series from a month ago? That was a lot of fun and it's only half-over now even though I've spent weeks away. That supplied the last movie I watched on American soil before my trip, The Ring, a silent that I didn't love so much in the watching as I appreciated it after writing about it. That's either the mark of a good movie or talking oneself into something.

The day after that was the Barenaked Ladies/Ben Folds Five concert, at which I discovered that, you know, maybe I don't like Ben Folds as much as I thought. He'd seemed to be right in my wheelhouse, but something about the way he performs - melodramatic and overly precious, as if bored with rock & roll - rubs me the wrong way. I had much more fun with BNL, and the live show did a nice job of selling me on their new album, which I had liked but not loved so far.

The other fun thing about it was that my sister-in-law Lara works for the company that does tour support for the band, so that meant she was there with my brothers Dan & Matt and my niece Dagny, who was dressed in a volunteer t-shirt and got to go to the after-party. Not bad for a kid who turns seven this fall.

Wednesday night was spent on laundry, packing, and the like, and then it was on to Canada! Here are the first four days, if you can't see/click on the picture easily:

18 July: Shield of Straw
19 July: Drug War, Lesson of the Evil
20 July: Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo, Rurouni Kenshin, Confession of Murder, It's Me, It's Me, Frankenstein's Army
21 July: Key of Life, "The Outer Limits of Animation", Sweetwater, Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend

The press pass doesn't get you into the special opening and closing night films, so I had to buy a ticket for Shield of Straw, which I'm cool with. That was the last one, as a matter of fact, and only available because someone had returned it and I was flying solo. Nothing was getting me into The Conjuring, though, so I'll have to catch up with it later.

This Week in Tickets

Surprisingly, this turned into a pretty quiet festival for doing touristy stuff. I anticipated a lot more time for it during this week, but a bit of rain and chilly weather made it easy for me to stay inside and write, with my only venturing-out stop being to Pointe-a-Calliere on Tuesday for the annual look at the year's exhibits. As usual, it was fun and informative: The main exhibit was on the history of tea, and all the variations it has and had around the world, which runs much deeper than the British East India Tea Company, which is itself a pretty big deal. The spot across the street covered Beatlemania, centered (naturally) around their one very short trip to Montreal for two sets as part of a crowded bill. They actually never even went to their hotel, as Ringo received death threats for being an English Jew (which, sure, he isn't, but you don't mess with death threats). An energetic display, although by the end it does feel a little stretched. The most interesting part, I think, was how the influence of rock & roll changed francophone music in the province, shifting popularity from "chansons" to "zé-zé".

Aside from that, lots of movies:

22 July: The Garden of Words, The Burning Buddha Man, Secretly Greatly
23 July: Bounty Killer, Son of Sardaar
24 July: Uzumasa Jacopetti, OXV: The Manual, Black Out
25 July: The Last Tycoon, Missionary, The Machine
26 July: The Complex, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips, Big Bad Wolves, Zombie Hunter
27 July: Zero Charisma, Bushido Man, Machi Action, L'autre mode
28 July: The Lady Assassin, "Far East Fragments", Vessel, See You Tomorrow, Everyone, Doomsdays

Thursday was when one of the folks I see for a week or two at a time once a year, Kurt Halfyard of Twitch & Row 3, headed back to Toronto after a week and a press screening. A great guy to hang out with.

One thing I saw this week that I may have to work future Fantasia schedules around was the annual fireworks competition at La Ronde. I've sort of vaguely known that it overlapped the festival for a few years, but the temporary location at the Imperial meant that we could see and hear it when waiting in line outside - well, sort of; there were some buildings in the way. It sure sounds like a fun event, and I'll bet it's awesome to watch from the Vieux-Port.

This Week in Tickets

This was the "work week", where I pull out the office laptop, VPN in to the company network, and do some light report writing. Gotta pay the bills, after all. So, basically all week the thought process was that I'd finish up around 1pm, maybe write a little more, and then have time to grab some food before the movies started. Five times I learned that nothing goes quicker than expected, and wound up running to barely make the start of my first show.

29 July: Saving General Yang, Helter Skelter, The Dirties
30 July: "Slipstreams and Eclectic Sheep", Library Wars
31 July: Ip Man: the Final Fight, Ritual: A Psychomagic Story, Antisocial
1 August: Number 10 Blues/Goodbye Saigon, The Dead Experiment, The Resurrection of a Bastard
2 August: Thermae Romae, Curse of Chucky, Raze
3 August: Berserk Golden Age Arc 2: The Battle for Doldrey, Berserk Golden Age Arc 3: Advent, Discoopath, The Rooftop, HK: Forbidden Super Hero, You're Next
4 August: 009 Re: Cyborg, Imaginaerum, Tales from the Dark Part 1, 24 Exposures, 5-25-77

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: The Stewart Museum, Thursday 1 August and La Cinemateque Quebecois, Friday 2 August.

5 August: When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep, War of the Worlds: Welles & Wells, Go Down Death
6 August: The World's End, Halley & Plus One
7 August: Bad Milo & Bad Film

And here, some blessed free time, as the festival ended Wednesday (and started relatively late for me on Tuesday & Wednesday, so I could run around like a tourist some.

I actually hit the Botanical Gardens twice; a singe ticket gives you two admissions and I wore myself out walking the first time. It was pretty well worth it, though; the "mosaiculture" exhibition being advertised around town - sculptures crafted out of plant life, looking like the world's most elaborate hedge trimming - was genuinely fantastic; my only real complaint was that the sun was bright enough that I had a hard time capturing some of the colors on my camera's phone (my stand-alone camera being left at home because it decided to choose "right before vacation" as the perfect time to turn into a brick). So, I came back Friday in the hopes that it being a different time of day or a little more overcast would improve conditions. In some cases, it worked out okay; I've done a big Facebook picture dump here.

Aside from the Mosaiculture, I also did the Chinese garden on Tuesday and the Japanese garden and the "tree house" on Friday. The latter two basically served as museum exhibitions to me, though interesting ones: I saw exhibits on Japanese papermaking and a guy who makes book-themed sculptures out of wood. I also headed for the Biodome on Friday, but that was kind of disappointing this time around; big chunks were under construction, it was crowded enough that most of the animals were hiding, and the crowd around the penguins and puffins was three deep.

Other museum-ing: The Stewart Museum is one I like to check out every few years, although I was drawn by a map exhibition this year. Some nifty stuff, although I'm going to have to say that the thing that sticks out was that, since I was apparently the last one to arrive for the day, I was mostly on my own and the exit was locked down with no-one in sight when I went to leave at ten minutes before closing. Fortunately, the heavy chain on one of the gates was set up so that I could open it wide enough to slip out.

Before leaving, Kurt mentioned a special-effects display near the Imperial with a bunch of Harryhausen stuff, as well as a pod from Cronenberg's ExistenZ and some other interesting items. It turned out to be the new "permanent" exhibition at the Cinematheque Quebecois (replacing the cool animation one from last year), and there was some keen material. The old TV display wound up spilling into the space where the Alternate History of Canadian Horror was last year.

On Saturday, I wound up mostly milling around the waterfront. I had intended to do a breakfast cruise on the St. Lawrence, but I ate late and large on Friday (ribs with root beer barbecue sauce at the Deville Diner Bar) and was perhaps not up to boats or brunch the next morning. There was a big line outside the deli where I was told the city's best smoked meat sandwich was served, so I figure it'll be next year before I try Schwartz's. It did give me a reason to stop into Buns, and now I feel like a fool for not heading into the one near Concordia on St. Catherine Street at any time during the past decade: While there are many burger places in the area with fancy toppings, these guys instead to the basics more or less perfectly, with a big wood-fired grill, toasted rolls, and mozerrella cheese and/or bacon if you ask. Pretty much perfect, and cheap, too.

As usual, the last thing I did was stop in a drug store to spend the last of my Canadian currency on Crush Cream Soda and Kit Kat flavors you can't get back home. And because I'm me and don't hit the night life, I saw three more movies before leaving Canada. I liked both theaters I went to, although the idea of a chain selling naming rights to a bank is bizarre. Still, the Scotia Bank Cinemas has a Tim Hortons inside, and, really, I'm not sure why Dunkin Donuts hasn't made a push to get inside theaters down here. I will admit to being a little confused when going to The Wolverine - I mistook the "13" on the ticket as the screen number rather than the rating and didn't know what was going on when I couldn't find a screen 13 (well, the Imax screen was unnumbered, but I didn't recall this movie having an Imax release). Thankfully, junior-high French from twenty-five years ago saved me and I recalled that "salle" meant "room". Ha-ha!

I saw three non-Fantasia movies while there - Only God Forgives, The Wolverine, and Elysium - and then got on the 11:30pm bus back to Boston. I thought I did pretty good at getting enough sleep on the bus, but I hit a heck of a wall during the Sabotage/Number 17 double feature at the HFA that night.

Only God Forgives

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 August 2013 in Cinema du Parc #1 (first-run, DCP)

I readily admit that I may have missed a bit of what was going on here, although the reason why is somewhat unusual for me: The listings for Only God Forgives had it as being in English with French subtitles, which it was - until one of the Thai characters starts speaking in his native language and I realize just how much/little I've retained from high school ("crap! what verb has 'pu' as its past participle?!"). The answer: More than expected, less than ideal.

Not that this is a movie that's exactly going to live and die based on characters' word choice. It's a strikingly gorgeous picture, beautifully photographed on the one hand and with the crew creating a bunch of open, empty spaces that that reflect the characters' frequent isolation and lack of a human connection. The electronic soundtrack adds to this, too - it never sounds like people working together.

And for as much as it successfully makes its point, that makes it a tough movie to love. The individual performances are compelling - Kristen Scott Thomas is a thorough monster as the Ryan Gosling character's mother, while Nicholas Winding Refn once again uses Gosling's blankness to great effect: This is a guy who has retreated deep within himself because he can't really stomach the family business. The trouble is, all of the characters are so precisely defined from the start that the movie can't do much other than play out mechanically. It leads to an unusual ending for this sort of crime picture, but it's from such a remove that it's hard to feel much but aesthetic appreciation for what Refn and company have constructed.

The Wolverine

* * * (out of four)
Seen 9 August 2013 in ScotiaBank Cinemas Rue Ste. Catherine #1 (first-run, RealD 3D)

I must admit, I wasn't expecting much out of The Wolverine; Hugh Jackman's previous solo outing as the Canadian mutant was, to put it kindly, disappointing, the movie bounced between directors before settling on the pretty-decent-but-not-Darren-Aranofsky James Mangold; and the previews were uninspiring. And as an X-Men movie, there's something very much off about it; Jackman's Logan feels too handsome and centered compared to the comic character, while at the same time it seems very strange that he's so hung up on Jean Grey given how little play that got in the movies (not that I'm liable to complain too much about finding a reason to shoehorn Famke Janssen into a film).

And yet, without ever managing to find greatness, Mangold and company manage to be a little better than might be expected at every step. There are a number of fun action sequences, including a battle that breaks out at a funeral and a nifty number on top of a bullet train. Various new mutants pop up, and the tone of how these characters fit in is dead-on; the world doesn't feel too science-fictional but the fantastical elements don't come across as intrusions. The supporting cast is mostly unknown, but generally able to hold their end up. I particularly liked Rila Fukushima as Yukio; she may not be the greatest actress, but she has just the right sort of charisma for the character.

All of this doesn't quite translate to greatness, including the mid-credit tease for next year's Days of Future Past, and I always had the sneaking feeling that Wolverine could be replaced with a somewhat less iconic character without much change to anything but the mechanics of the action scenes. But it makes for a fair superhero movie that's enhanced a bit by its Japanese setting, and that''s nothing to sneeze at.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2013 in ScotiaBank Cinemas Rue Ste. Catherine (first-run, digital Imax)

I wonder, if at any point during the making of Elysium, writer/director Neill Blomkamp gave any thought to the idea that the MacGuffin at the center of his movie - that the residents, military, and society at large of the titular space station would apparently just accept their positions and policy being suddenly upended because the central computer had a different person's ID in the "President" field when it was rebooted - might be a sharper bit of satire than all the class-warfare and health-care topics that are right up front? Because, if not, then it's little more than a weapons-grade stupid plot device.

(Based on his two movies, it seems Blomkamp is really fond of idiotic plot devices - remember District 9's magic motor oil?)

Until that starts rearing its ugly head, though, there's quite a bit to like about the movie. Matt Damon, for instance, is quite enjoyable as the working-class hero who, for putting a life of crime behind him and trying to live right, is rewarded with a fatal dose of radiation (although it's Star Trek radiation that kills you all at once five days from now); William Fichtner is doing some corporate evil that seems at once thoroughly bloodless and quite entertaining. All three of the movie's villains, really, are at least memorable, with Sharlto Copley a sadistic cyborg sasquatch of a man who is going thick enough with his South African accent as to be almost incomprehensible at times, while I'm not sure what the heck Jodie Foster is doing, but, well, it's something.

And I appreciate that there's absolutely no thought of a PG-13 to be had here (although I gather it was actually rated "13" in Quebec); the characters fire the sort of future guns that explode their enemies into chunks and red spray, which is a whole lot more fun than it really should be. Even when not providing extra gore, Blomkamp directs a darn fine action scene, with a real feeling of solidity to everything and one beat leading to another in nice succession. It's energetic and earnest enough to get past a lot of the things that aren't well-thought-out, but Blomkamp's reaching the point where his good intentions won't be enough.

"The Clock Cleaners"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

Obviously, this Mickey Mouse cartoon is not an Alfred Hitchcock picture, but it was introduced as being by one of Hitch's favorite filmmakers, as evinced by another Disney cartoon showing up in Sabotage, and since we were seeing a 1930s-style double feature, including a cartoon was only logical.

It's a fun one, which goes for a lot of these shorts; they're based on a simple situation that sets up a bunch of fairly gentle slapstick for Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Mickey is fairly fully-formed at this point, as is Goofy, although Donald has some evolution to go, visually (his temper is pretty much as it should be). In this case, they're cleaning a clock tower, so Goofy thinks he's being attacked when mechanical figures come out to ring the bell - and dazed enough to almost plunge from a great height when the bell rings near him - while Donald finds a situation in the coiled mainspring he can keep making worse as mistakes cause him to react rashly. Mickey, naturally, is figuring his way out of tricky fixes only to look up and see he has to bail his friends out.

The set-up works, of course; these are great characters and Disney had a real knack for using animated deformation just enough to tell impossible jokes without highlighting their impossibility. As befits a cartoon set on, in, and around a clock that strikes the hour, sound, music, and rhythm are a major part of what makes "the Clock Cleaners" work - even when things aren't moving in obvious lock-step, Disney is always leading the audience to the next gag.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

I started hitting the wall here, so I wasn't absorbing Sabotage quite as well as I could. That doesn't matter too much - I've seen it before and it's far from a complicated story to begin with- but it's well-done enough that I'd like to be able to talk about it a little more.

In some ways, it's prototype Hitchcock and noir, centering around a villain who is just well-realized enough by Oskar Homolka that the audience starts to empathize with him: Life is full of nuisances, he hates running the movie theater that serves as a front for his illicit activities... It just makes one feel worn out, you know? He's a spy, but human. And then he's amazingly complemented by Sylvia Sidney as his wife, who carries around this air of not thinking she's good enough in every scene, even as the undercover detective next door nurses a crush on her. As she learns the truth toward the end, she just gets more and more quietly devastated.

I think how she reacts upon learning her husband is responsible for every horrible thing that happens reveals a rare misstep on Hitchcock's part: The movie needs to end with her at her nadir, but it keeps going on as if the climax was just a twist to set up a truncated third act. It also starts a swing into dark comedy that isn't dark or funny enough to work.

Number Seventeen

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

Every once in a while, even the greats stumble. Supposedly, Hitchcock really didn't want to do Number Seventeen, and while the program and introduction talked about how he seemed to make lemonade by experimenting here and there, it really is a slog, even at just over an hour.

To be fair, I missed the middle and don't have much idea how the start and finish connect, but neither particularly impressed. The cast is pleasant enough, but from what I can see, the package as a whole just doesn't work.

The RingBarenaked Ladies & Ben Folds FiveShield of StrawDrug War & Lesson of the EvilEvangelion 3.0, Rurouni Kenshin, Confession of Murder, It's Me, It's Me & Frankenstein's ArmyKey of Life, Outer Limits of Animation, Sweetwater & Hello, My Dolly GirlfriendShield of Straw

The Garden of Words, The Burning Buddha Man & Secretly GreatlyBounty Killer & Son of SardaarUzumasa Jacopetti, OXV: The Manual & Black OutThe Last Tycoon, Missionary & The MachineThe Complex, How to Use Guys with Secret Tips, Big Bad Wolves & Zombie HunterZero Charisma, Bushido Man, Machi Action & L'Autre MondeZero Charisma, Bushido Man, Machi Action & L'Autre MondeThe Lady Assassin, Far East Fragments, Vessel, See You Tomorrow, Everyone & DoomsdaysPointe-a-Calliere

Saving General Yang, Helter Skelter & The DirtiesSlipstreams and Ecelectic Sheep & Library WarsIp Man: The Final Fight, Ritual: A Psychomagic Story & AntisocialNumber 10 Blues/Goodbye Saigon, The Dead Experiment & Resurrection of a BastardThermae Romae, Curse of Chucky & RazeBerserk Golden Age Arc 2/3, Discopath, The Rooftop, HK: Forbidden Super Hero & You're Next009 Re: Cyborg, Imaginaerum, Tales from the Dark Part 1, 24 Exposures & 5-25-77

When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep, War of the Worlds: Welles & Wells, Go Down DeathHalley & Plus OneBad Milo & Bad FilmBotanical Garden & BiodomeOnly God ForgivesThe WolverineElysiumSabotage & Number Seventeen

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