Monday, September 09, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 2 September 2013 - 8 September 2013

Shortish week because of the holiday, so I spent some time lollygagging at home and parceling my movie-watching out, for the most part.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: The rest of online screeners I watched fromt Fantasia: The Grand Heist on Monday morning, Horror Stories that night, and Across the River on Tuesday the 3rd. Plus, I gave Go Down Death another view on Wednesday, just to get names because I didn't take notes back in Montreal, and, wow, that thing makes a lot less sense when you're awake and alert

Theatrically, the work week went to indie/foreign stuff that got written up for eFilmCritic: Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster is pretty darn good, though I look forward to seeing the un-Weinsteined version; A Single Shot has its good points but doesn't quite have the nifty twists that make for a great bag-of-money film; and Short Term 12 is generally excellent.

That leaves the weekend, where I tried to fit moviegoing in around the Red Sox clobbering the Yankees on TV. Family Plot and Under Capricorn were the latest HItchcock movies I saw at the HFA, and they were better than OK. I was happy to get a new Riddick movie, even if it was kind of franchise servicing more than something great on its own. And though I didn't get to Somerville on time to see Harold Lloyd's The Freshman on Sunday, that did make it fairly easy to fit in Prince Avalanche.

That means I saw both Vin Diesel and David Gordon Green go back to what they do best on consecutive days. The means by which they did so were obviously different, although the results weren't bad in either case.

Baramgwa hamjje sarajida (The Grand Heist)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

For all the noir, caper, and pulp material I've consumed in my life, I don't know how many times I've ever actually heard someone refer to the jewels they were looking to steal as "ice", and I don't know if that's part of the vernacular in Korean. Even taking that as a given, the gimmick of The Grand Heist - a rag-tag group of thieves who are actually looking to steal big blocks of ice - still makes me grin. That it turns out to be a pretty entertaining caper movie on its own doesn't hurt.

After all, it does the two things an audience wants this sort of movie to do well: It sets up a robbery that is sufficiently complex to take up a full-length feature but whose parts can be grasped fairly readily - and which can be swapped out by last-minute snafus or hidden for double-crosses and surprises - and which the audience doesn't really mind happening. Then it assembles a team to do it which is a lot of fun, both in terms of the odd couple leading things and the entertaining array of specialists who help out. Add a smooth directorial hand like Kim Joo-ho's, and you're in business.

If there's a flaw, it's with how much time Director Kim and writer Kim Min-sung spend setting up the antagonists. While they may play much less confusingly to Korean audiences than Western ones, and they actually do a good job of making the actions of a nineteenth-century Korean monarchy an easy metaphor for the incestuous relationship between government and contractors in a modern democracy, it's actually some time before the good guys are teaming up and getting together, and the story only really needs one guy to serve as a target at the end. That's a quibble, though; the rest of the movie is pretty much the breezy fun it hopes to be.

Mooseowon Iyagi (Horror Stories)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

You could get a lot of horror anthology action at Fantasia this year, between this, Hong Kong's Tales From the Dark, and America's V/H/S/2. One thing that I find interesting, looking at the three, is that curation can in some ways be as important as individual scary segments. Tales had a common author's works as source material, and V/H/S/2 had a unifying feature that at least had room for variety. Horror Stories seemed to be four or five teams working separately and pasting things together, and while they avoided stepping on each other, the end result felt kind of sloppy.

There are certainly good moments throughout, whether in terms of being scary, gory, or what-the-heck?-inducing. One thing I found very problematic, though, was that every single segment seemed to include a "no, hang on, this is what really happened" moment, and while those can be great, the first was just so screwy as to make the whole thing unsatisfying, and by the end... Well, it's no longer shocking, is it? Someone, it seems, should have been told to play it straight.

Horror Stories has moments, though, and you only need one or two for a quality horror short, most of which deliver. That's not the greatest result, but it's not a bad one.

Oltre il Guado (Across the River)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

I get the feeling that when the time comes to do a full write-up of Across the River, I'm not going to have a whole lot to say. It is, after all, a pretty minimalist movie - guy goes alone into the woods, weird stuff happens, and there's a real possibility that nobody is coming out again. There's almost no dialog and backstory is parceled out in miserly fashion toward the end.

It does pretty well in the atmosphere department, though. Start from how the woods is inherently creepy, add a crossing of running water that filmmaker Lorenzo Bianchini makes far more portentious than it logically may be, and give away so little that it's not even clear whether what's hidden in these woods is cryptozoologic or paranormal - or what the motives of the researcher we spend most of our time following are, and things get thoroughly unnerving. Bianchini knows what he's doing, though - he appropriates found-footage techniques without ever making it that sort of film, and he never feels like he's holding back just to string the audience along.

Would I like it if he were a little less stingy? Yeah, a bit, although he avoids the feeling of only having part of a movie that this sort of project often has. But I'll bet that if I'd seen it in the festival setting, I would have jumped more and been more thoroughly creeped out. It's got a good Blair Witch vibe to it, and could use the effect of people jumping.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 September 2013 in AMC Boston Common #17 (first-run, DCP)

So, what, am I supposed to move these movies from "R" from "C"on my shelves now? I already moved Pitch Black from "P"!

I kid, but this silly complaint demonstrates the sort of dilemma this movie inspires; like Curse of Chucky (which I'll be getting to relatively soon), it's built to be a sort of soft-reset of the franchise, although there's actually enough material that references the previous movies that audiences are either actively encouraged to find them on Netflix or are assumed to have already done so over the past decade. For a back-to-basics movie, it carries a bit of mythology.

And yet, I kind of like that it does, not just because I've absorbed that stuff and want to be rewarded, but because when you combine it with the narration the title character provides, the movie suddenly gets a film noir/pulp sort of atmosphere: Riddick (Vin Diesel) feels like he's losing a step, and while he's still big, powerful, and very dangerous, there is a certain amount of wear on him. Heck, Richard B. Riddick sounds like a film noir anti-hero, which is a pretty cool approach for a movie that doesn't ape that genre but instead throws its character into the middle of Aliens.

The end result does feel a little calculated - this is the movie that Diesel and writer/director David Twohy could make for $35M in the hopes that it will do well enough to make the big "Underverse" movie that was going to be Chronicles of Riddick II. It's not a bad movie at all - it looks pretty spiffy, it's got some quality monsters, a reasonably enjoyable cast of supporting characters (though the females could use some work; Katee Sackhoff is great but not exactly well-served here). It's just very much Pitch Black redux, with Riddick pushed into a lead role rather than part of an ensemble. And, hey, I liked Pitch Black and am glad to see more. I just hope that Diesel & Twohy get to finish the series the way they intend, because even this scaled-back entry shows that they've got a universe they want to grow and a story they want to tell.

Family Plot

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 September 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Hitchcock, 35mm)

It's kind of a weird thing to see Hitchcock rubbing against the present day like this. Family Plot, Hitchcock's final film, has a number of people involved that I think of not for how they're involved in classics but for how they're around in the present: Composer John Williams, for example. The cast of Barbara Harris, Bruce Dern, William Devane, and Karen Black. Now, they're all either aged or have recently passed (RIP, Ms. Black), but that 50-plus-year career is something kind of amazing.

And while it didn't end on a masterpiece, Family Plot is a very entertaining little movie. It's premise of dueling teams of crooks - one relatively benign, one being revealed as ever-more malevolent - sets things up in an entertainingly amoral fashion, and Hitchcock seems to have a good time getting the two groups to circle each other. It's a fun cast, too, and the master's trademark dark humor pops up in unexpected places.

It does feel kind of tired in some spots, though. There's a car chase toward the end, for instance, where Barbara Harris is panicking and climbing all over Bruce Dern that feels like a leftover bit from a screwball comedy decades older, and it never quite works with the modern style the rest of the production tends toward. It's interesting that Hitchcock's last movie, Frenzy, seemed to embrace the 1970s without any problem, perhaps because there were boundaries to push there, but he wasn't sure ow to be lighthearted in this new environment.

Prince Avalanche

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 September 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Hitchcock, 35mm)

Remember a few years ago, when David Gordon Green was making stoner comedies with James Franco and we all (for certain definitions of "we all") wished he would go back to the quiet, character-based indies with which he made his name? There are moments when Prince Avalanche seems like an admonition to be careful what you wish for, because it's small to the point of being undetectable, and seems a bit like a conscious effort to be such.

And in some ways, it never really escapes that It's not quite the self-consciously limited thing Riddick is (to something this movie's makers probably didn't figure on being compared to), but there's a theatricality to how Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch both portray fairly obtuse characters who recognize what is ridiculous about the other but not themselves that works on stage but seems kind of artificial on film. Meanwhile, this is a fairly cinematic production, with Green and cinematographer Tim Orr shooting the heck out of Texas backroads. Odd combination, although something about it fits together and works, especially with the late-80s post-wildfire timeframe: It's just similar enough to be familiar most of the time, but without the cell phones and internet access that would have sped the story up too much.

For as good as Rudd and Hirsch wind up being, though, there is an element of frustration to this movie: A bit toward the end is screwy for the sake of being screwy, and the rest of the last act is kind of... I don't know, facile? Clichéd? Or just kind of annoying, in that Green sets up the question of how these two characters can get along if the connection that originally linked them is severed, and all they can come up with is "get drunk and throw stuff around". Maybe that happens in real life, but it just seems like a cop-out or shortcut, and leaves a bad aftertaste, like after spending an hour and a half putting pieces in place, all he needed to do was randomly smash them together.

Under Capricorn

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 September 2013 in the Harvard F (first-run, DCP)

It was mentioned at the screening for Jamaica Inn that Hitchcock really didn't like doing period pieces, and he certainly did far fewer of them than one might expect given the time period when he was most active. And whether because of a lack of enthusiasm or as a trigger for it, Under Capricorn is definitely one of his lesser films; there's a spark that's missing that can be found even in movies that are more egregious failures.

What can't be avoided, I think, is that this one feels much like any other period piece, only mismatched. Michael Wilding's Charles Adare seems like a standard-issue fop, for instance, and though he's the character the audience shares the most perspective with, he seems to bounce through too randomly even through the events where he's a major actor. Ingrid Bergman has to play Hettie Flusky as a fairly theatrical alcoholic (with an accent that can generously be described as "not Irish"), and Jospeh Cotton has the bad luck of not being on-screen for the scene that defines his character.

That scene is pretty great, though - Bergman suddenly reaches out and grabs the movie, and she turns it into a viable romance almost through sheer force of will. The script takes that sequence and creates a conundrum that is interesting even if the way out isn't quite so much, though Margaret Leighton makes her chief housekeeper a heck of a Lady MacBeth. It becomes a serviceable-enough movie, just not quite what one would expect from the people involved.

the GrandmasterA Single ShotShort Term 12RiddickFamily PlotPrince AvalancheUnder Capricorn

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