Wednesday, September 04, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 26 August 2013 - 1 September 2013

You know, I don't know that this week was actually that much busier than a typical week, it's just that all the places I went had great big tickets:

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: I started going through the online screeners for the films I couldn't get to at Fantasia: Tiger Mask on Tuesday the 27th, After School Midnighters on Saturday the 31st, and Les 4 Soldats & The Battery on Sunday the 1st.

Okay, fit those in, and it actually was a busy week. I'm trying to cram those in late not just because I tend to procrastinate, but so that they're not terribly far from the front of my mind when I have finished with writing up the stuff I saw in person. I'm also planning to do the same with the Hitchcock stuff, but who knows? That slowed down a little this week, with just two screenings for me: "Aventure Malgache" & Lifeboat on Monday, and Murder on Sunday.

Also coming in a pair: Red Sox games. I had really good seats for the one on Thursday night - not only were they in the loge box along the first-base line, but they were right at the top of a walkway, so I had something resembling leg room. The Red Sox lost, in large part because it seemed like John Lester would not throw strikes and Johnny Gomes could not play left field, but Shane Victorino clobbered an impressive homer. Sunday, I was in the bleachers with my brother Matt and his wife Morgan, and it kind of rained on and off, but this game they won. It was a long, kind of grinding game, and kind of the start of September baseball - you know, when there are too many call-ups and so there's a lot of pinch-hitting and relief appearances. As inefficient as Doubront was, usually Farrell would leave him in for a chance at the win. It was kind of a weird feeling - for as close as the score was, it never seemed like the White Sox were actually going to take the lead, even before Koji time.

The Gathr screening this week was Breath of the Gods, which isn't bad at all, although it's the kind of thing that doesn't leave a terribly strong impression. That can't be said for the other films I saw in theaters - The Last Dragon is thoroughly bonkers, but in a cheerful sort of way; I already knew I loved Starry Starry Night, but it was very nice to share it with some friends and see that, yeah, it holds up like crazy; Getaway was a harsh lesson in not going to see a movie just because of its start time; and Phantasm was at least as genuinely weird, although I don't know if you're going to get anything else with Don Coscarelli.

And, right in the middle of the week, I went to my second concert of the summer at the Bank of America Pavilion, this one for Huey Lewis & the News. I saw them there before, I think on the tour for Four Chords & Several Years Ago, when I think it was still called Harborlights, and I realize that marks me as old in two different ways - though, to be fair, Huey mentioned having played Great Woods, so we're all likely to revert back to pre-naming-rights-sale titles when there is one.

Fun concert. The opening band was The Stompers, a Boston band that got their start at the same time as the main act but never really took off; it's a reminder that this sort of success can be random. I see now that their last song was "Never Tell an Angel", which in retrospect makes a lot more sense than "Never Tell a Ninja". Then Huey came on and played the entire Sports album, which still holds together very well, and it's neat to see an album played in concert like that; good albums are built with the flow from one song to another in mind, and the "grab the hits" format of the typical concert loses that. Plus, there was a lot of other fun stuff - "Some Kind of Wonderful" running right into "But It's Alright", bringing the drummer's daughter up on stage to sing Gwynneth Paltrow's part in "Cruisin'", and making "Plan B" a way to show off the horn section, including special guest Grace Kelly on alto sax. Obviously, a different one.

I recommend the show a lot; the thing about this band is that, while they never particularly influenced rock & roll, they made a lot of solid songs, and the vibe is upbeat. You can understand the lyrics, and the style is encompassing enough that playing oldies doesn't seem out of place. They're arguably the world's greatest and most successful bar band, and they make it a positive.

"Aventure Malgache"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

"Aventure Malgache" is an oddity from Hitchcock; a half-hour-long propaganda film that he returned to England to shoot in French during the war. It was meant to be used as a propaganda film, but apparently portrayed the Resistance as being too human and imperfect to be distributed at the time, and as such wound up languishing in obscurity.

Looking at it now, I'm not sure that those complaints are particularly valid, though I'm not living in that particular sort of wartime environment; maybe the ambivalence the French in Madagascar are shown as feeling at the start just wouldn't fly. It is, more disappointingly, rather dull; much of the action takes place off-screen and there are frequent returns to the framing device of exiled Frenchman in a theater troupe. This sort of film seems like an excellent chance to amp the melodrama up, or engage in some barbed black comedy. Instead, we merely get a few lines disparaging Vichy water, and the admittedly amusing way a collaborator tries to hide the evidence of working for the Germans.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

I'm not sure I quite love Lifeboat as much as when I first saw it, but I may appreciate it more. It's really quite a remarkable film for its time, daring to wonder about wartime morality and its costs when many other films might be satisfied with either demonizing the Germans or having ethical behavior be unrealistically rewarding. It's also got an impressively full role for Canada Lee, a relatively rare thing for African-American actors at the time.

It also holds up very well for a movie that is often in the Ten Little Indians mold, remaining quite compelling even when one knows just what is going to happen next. It gets into impressively dark territory, enough so for the last act especially to contain multiple kinds of horror beyond mere surprise.

EFC review from 2006

Tiger Mask (Taiga Masuku)

* * (out of four)
Seen 27 August 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

Tiger Mask is disappointing in a way that resembles lack of ambition, but may very well just be low budget problems. After all, during the first act, my jaw was regularly dropping about how genuinely nuts it seemed to be; it's not very long at all before you've got a whole passel of orphan boys being trained by whip-wielding women in tight leather dresses, all aiming to be the one that gets to wear the skill-enhancing Tiger Masks made by Mister X. And while the idea of funding a criminal network by having these guys participate in underground pro-wrestling deathmatches is goofy, it can certainly work in this story's world.

Unfortunately, at that point, the filmmakers seem to reach the end of their madness and resources. The action may be well-staged, but the matches look small. There's a neat idea that the environment in which they were raised has left hero Naoto Date very much unprepared for things like bars and girls and the like, but they don't do much, and the shadowy organization behind Mister X remains too shadowy, despite seeming awfully central to the plot.

There's a post-credits tease promising more in a sequel, but it's the sort of "more" that really should have been in this movie in the first place.

The Last Dragon

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (@fter Midnite, DCP)

The Last Ddragon is as goofily 1980s as something can manage to be, and early on I realized just what that meant when all the broad parody it was doing fit in pretty seamlessly with an El Debarge music video, and I couldn't help but feel some kind of amazement that Debarge was a thing back then. It's kind of scary to look at things from your youth and not have any idea where reality stops and mocking begins.

One thing which I hope is real - although it falling out of favor since then makes me sad - is just how gleefully cultures were shown as cross-pollinating. "Bruce" Leroy Green (Taimak) loves kung fu and acts a bit like a stereotyped Asian, but nobody really cares, and he doesn't have to embrace his blackness to succeed. The same sort of goes for Sho Nuff (Julius Carry), plus there are Asian folks acting like the popular perception of African Americans; Green owning a pizza place even though folks say a black guy doing so is strange; and the youngest Green child has a bunch of names from different cultures, as if they're not going to make her be one thing or the other yet. Heck, the villain (Chris Murney) is the guy who is ashamed of where he comes from and disdainful of what he does, and that's just the worst thing he can be.

The movie's a lot of fun that way in general, and while it doesn't necessarily have great kung fu, it's lively and over-the-top enough to maintain smiles and laughter all the way through. I'm not particularly surprised that this was the role that most people remembered Julius Carry from after his death - I may prefer "Lord Bowler, MANHUNTER", but Sho Nuff reaches out and grabs one's attention, doesn't he?

After School Midnighters (Hokago Middonaitazu)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 August 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

This was scheduled as Saturday Morning cartoons at Fantasia, and I found myself holding out on the screener until I could watch it as such at home. I'm quite glad I did - just like it's more fun to watch horror movies when it's dark outside, kids' cartoons are more fun when you're alert and maybe feeling a bit of a sugar rush from breakfast. You just feel like you're doing it right.

And this one, for all it clothes itself in spookiness, a self-contained loop of a time-travel subplot, and some weirdly adult references (although if Animaniacs could have a regular bit based on GoodFellas twenty years ago, why shouldn't a Japanese CGI cartoon give gun-toting bunnies names from The Godfather?), After School Midnighters really is for kids, leaping past explanations or much in the way of logic the same way a kid's brain does, propelling things forward with raw energy, cuteness, and just plain being silly. It goes for the gross-out humor at times, and I can't imagine what an American distributor would do with it as a result - but never as anything truly malicious or humiliating.

I kind of wish I'd had a chance to see it on the big screen (got stuck with Zero Charisma instead, and, ugh), if only because the HDMI output from my computer to my TV runs kind of dark, and I'd have liked to see how poppy the colors were. It's got a video-game level of detail, but the style mostly works for it; everything on-screen is kind of smooth and rubbery, lending itself to slapstick and exaggeration. It's all over the place, at least for an adult watching it by himself, but it's at least never boring.

Xing Kong (Starry Starry Night)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 31 August 2013 in the Museum of Fine Arts Remis Auditorium (Boston Children's Film Fetival, 35mm)

I spent a bit of effort pushing how great this movie was for its two shows at the MFA, and while I did get three people in, I still feel kind of bad that it was a pretty empty auditorium, with no kids present for something that's part of a Children's Film Festival. Sure, they may have come the night before, or when many of these same movies played back in April, but I must admit to being rather puzzled by how this movie really just hasn't gained any traction in the US at all. It had a tiny China Lion release last year and doesn't seem to have been picked up on video at all. Shame, because it's great and not so specifically Taiwanese that an American audience would be thrown by it - heck, most of the references are Western.

One thing that really impressed me the second time through was just how much Tom Lin's flights of fancy really worked, even when they're not surprising or just being admired for their beauty and ingenuity. They're the sort of artifice that can be distancing - it's not for nothing that I occasionally describe this movie as what Moonrise Kingdom would be with real kids instead of Wes Anderson quirkbots - but they do actually heighten the emotion here.

I also like how much effort there is to not make the mother of the collapsing family a monster. It's easy to see her as horrible - she's so deeply unhappy that she doesn't just want to leave her husband, but her country - but she does come off as more hurt than selfish, and I think it's clever that the beret Xiao Mei wears at the end is the one she got from her mother and mostly ignored toward the beginning. It's a detail I missed the first time, but it's impressively gentle and real.

Original 2012 review on EFC


* ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 August 2013 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

As I mentioned earlier, Getaway is an excellent argument for not seeing movies just because of when they start. For whatever reason, it was the only movie I hadn't seen in the 5:00-6:30pm window on Saturday (and even that qualifier may not have been necessary), so out came the MoviePass card, because why not?

Well, "because it stinks" is why not. As much as I'm going to have some affection for any movie that commits to smashing up real cars, this one didn't have a whole lot to offer beyond that, and it had the sort of hacky editing and staging of the car chases that felt like the filmmakers were just trying to set a record as opposed to creating excellent chases. It seems like a huge mistake to not put anyone of any interest or consequence in any of the other cars, and a script can only point out that a plan is stupid so many times before it stops being likably self-deprecating.

On the plus side, it does have Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez, who aren't doing great work, but are better than the movie deserves. They try for chemistry despite it being tough to get blood from a stone. You can see the benefit of experience as Hawke does a slightly better job of building a character out of nothing than Gomez does from her nameless, whatever-the-script-needs-her-to-be-right-then construct. Jon Voight, on the other hand, is just picking up a paycheck, with the director trying hard to use style to create menace despite the fact that they've got a perfectly capable actor there to do it.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 August 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Cinema Slumber Party, 35mm)

Sometime I'm going to have to go through Don Coscarelli's output, especially the "Phantasm" series, to see if he's really displayed a specific interest in certain subjects, or if I'm finding patterns where there aren't any. For instance, in the first film I saw from him, Bubba Ho-Tep, he's got an Egyptian mummy sucking souls out of the anuses of the elderly - including a long-forgotten Elvis and JFK - and it's not hard to see that as a commentary on the indignity of death, impending and otherwise. I didn't make the entire connection when watching Phantasm II a few months back, because I was mostly trying to process all the strangeness on display, especially considering that it did relatively little to catch the folks who hadn't seen the first up, but there's something similar going on in his most famous series.

Here, the focus is less on impending death than the recent variety, but it's set around a mortuary and graveyard that is a passageway to another world. If he's not referencing some form of mythology, he's doing something wrong. Granted, that he's creating his own mythology is undeniable, and he just goes for flat-out weird on occasion. What is with the fortune teller Mike visits, for instance? In a lot of movies, he'd be trying to spend time with the cute granddaughter, but they play that as the pair being straight psychics, and then the granddaughter is pretty much just removed from the movie, and the fact that this town has something supernatural going on is more or less forgotten.

It's still plenty enjoyable, though - Coscarelli has a knack for the strange, and when he decides he wants to scare, he knows how to get the job done. The cast may not exactly be great, but they're pretty good matches for these characters, and that gets the movie most of the way there. I do tend to think that the second film is an improvement on this, although I suspect I'll need to see the whole series to really get an idea of the scope of the world being created.

Les 4 Soldats (The Four Soldiers)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

I definitely wish I could have seen this one in Montreal, although it seemed as though there weren't going to be any English-language subtitles. I really should brush up on my French, so that maybe I can enjoy movies like that and the Q&A afterward.

I gather writer/director Robert Morin is kind of a big deal in French-Canadian film, which doesn't surprise me from watching Les 4 Soldats; it's a very confident, assured independent film, impressive for how it can take relatively minimal activity and still make something very dramatic. He establishes a civil war of sorts at the beginning but mainly uses it to isolate his characters, shrinking their world physically, emotionally, and in terms of direction.

He does a number of interesting things with his narrator, too - occasionally Dominique will start talking mid-scene for only the audience to hear, though other moments will be standard voice-over. There's something more intimate about the former, naturally - those are her feelings as opposed to just information being delivered. I also wondered if the other characters were meant to think she was a boy - the pronouns occasionally worked that way, and she never does undress at the pond. At any rate, Camille Mongeau gives an impressive performance as Dominique, and the rest of the actors playing the core group are just as good, even though some don't have particularly showy parts.

The Battery

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia International Film Festival, Cinando screener)

I've heard a lot of praise for this one, and in some ways I find it somewhat puzzling. I suppose you could say that it does what it's looking to do fairly well, exploring the bond and antagonism that form between two survivors of the zombie apocalypse thrown together by chance. The question, then, is whether this is a story worth telling.

Maybe if World War Z had been adapted as an anthology, this would have made a nice hour-long entry, but as it is, it feels a little padded, especially when minor league ballplayers Ben & Mickey find themselves at the edges of bigger stories that might have made for the plot of a fine story-based zombie movie but wind up being less of a focus here.

It's also worth noting that this movie has some of the least-scary zombies even by slow-zombie standards, with very little make-up in many cases and one memorable extended moment when Mickey's response to being near the undead is rather unconventional. I also found the end rather frustrating, both in "we're leading up to this?" terms and requiring a certain lack of common sense to get there. It's a nice-looking movie and writer/director/star Jeremy Gardner does a fine job of making something intriguing from very little, but it just didn't grab me like it did some others.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 September 2013 in the Harvard Film Archive (The Complete Alfred Hitchcock, 35mm)

Murder is notable for being one of the few "whodunit" style thrillers Hitchcock made, and it certainly is entertaining enough as that sort of cozy mystery. You can probably blow any number of holes in it, but it's also interesting to look at it as a sort of deconstruction of that type of mystery story, in the way Hitchcock pays particular attention to one facet that, even decades later, fans tended to take for granted.

That would be the "gentleman detective", a subset of amateur sleuths whom everyone - be they cops, suspects, witnesses, or friends and family of the victims - gives something approaching carte blanche to look into the matter. The unspoken assumption is that this upper-class fellow is presumed to simply know better by dint of his or her social position and implied education/influence. It's intriguingly magnified here, with sleuth Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall) presumptuously deciding to investigate a case on his own after having been on the jury that convicts a woman for murder, cavalierly offering favors to people who are in no position to refuse. There are some strong working-class accents among the latter, and a weird combination of opportunism and deference.

Eventually, of course, it goes "the play's the thing", as it sort of must with a plot so full of actors, and it's not necessarily the most satisfying finale. But that's okay, since the murder mystery seems sort of secondary from 2013. I don't know how much of that was deliberate and how much was just "how things are done" in 1930, but it makes the movie an interesting artifact, at least.

Aventure Malgache & Lifeboat
Breath of the Gods
Huey Lewis & The News
Red Sox Lose!
The Last Dragon
Red Sox Win!
Starry Starry Night


Anonymous said...

They actually struck a proper DCP of THE LAST DRAGON??? Sure it wasn't DVD or BLU RAY?

Seems awfully strange that films like ALTERED STATES only have Blu Ray but a true obscurity like DRAGON would have been transfered.

Jason said...

Yeah, they mentioned it was a DCP during the intro. Looked pretty nice, to the point where the Coolidge folks were grudgingly admitting that it might have looked better than the print they likely would have been able to get their hands on.

Might be a studio thing; The Last Dragon is a Tri-Star film, and Sony obviously has reason to make it worth theaters' while to use DCP.