Saturday, October 19, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 7 October 2013 - 13 October 2013

The relatively abundant white space on this page doesn't let on just how much I was wearing myself out over the course of the weekend. I was dead tired afterward.

This Week in Tickets

The week started off, as is rapidly becoming traditional, with the Gathr Preview screening, The Other Shore. Not bad, although I really do wonder if it wound up being the movie the filmmakers intended to make. Or, if it was, whether it was the movie they wound up intending to make. It's complicated.

I wound up in Davis Square for much of the weekend. Friday night, the movie was Escape from Tomorrow, which is worth justifying one's curiosity with. Then, it was a fairly quick turnaround to be back at the Somerville Theatre by noon for the kick-off of the Boston Terror-Thon.

The Terror-Thon is a bit of an odd event this year. At one point, it was listed on the theater's Facebook page as a sci-fi marathon for a couple of days, and the focus was certainly on the intersection of science fiction and horror. I gather the guys that do the February sci-fi marathon are involved, though apparently more in terms of the newer indie horror that played over the next few days. Kind of like the "festival" and "marathon" portions of the sci-fi event, the two halves seem a bit oddly disconnected. Still, the set-up for the marathon itself was pretty cool - all 35mm, (roughly) one movie from each decade, starting in the 1920s and running to 1990. The movies were The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Invisible Man, Dr. Cyclops, Forbidden Planet, Planet of the Apes, Westworld, Buckaroo Banzai, and Tremors, along with a bunch of trailers and cartoons which stretched things out to 2am. Long night.

... Especially since I made the pretty foolish decision of DVRing the first game of the American League Championship Series and opted to watch it when I arrived home at 2:30am. I had avoided anything about the game when checking my phone between movies, so I didn't realize I was in for a painful near-no-hitter. Fortunately, I wound up pretty numb by the time it was over. Didn't get enough sleep, though. Left to my own, I might have slept until 2pm or so, but my brother Matt and his wife Morgan had made lunch plans with me for 12:30, and from how much effort they were putting into locking it down, I kind of knew something was up.

And, it was - my parents, brothers, and nieces were waiting at Redbones for a belated 40th birthday dinner. Which was pretty great - good food, I don't get to see the Maine contingent as often as I'd like - it's been months since all four of the nieces were at the same place I was. Those opportunities look like they might be getting rarer, so it was good to grab one and even better to spring an early birthday present on Matt - two of the three bleacher seats I'd purchased for that night's second game of the ALCS. I've never seen someone so blindsided by a gift that they actually asked if it was real.

The game itself? Pretty great. Sure, the game had the same sort of "Sox can't get a hit" start, and then the Tigers built a pretty good lead, but... Well, things turned around. We had great seats in center so we had a great look at Torii Hunter falling into the bullpen chasing Ortiz's grand slam. It's the most bonkers I've ever seen Fenway get in person, although (as of this writing) Saturday stands a decent chance of beating it.

Now, the next couple of days were the logical end to that sort of weekend, in that they were a harsh reminder that I am 40 rather than 25, but that's a matter for next week's post. So let's just get to the Terror-Thon movies.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

It feels like I've been trying to find an opportunity to see this movie all the way through, but even though somebody always seems to pick it up for Halloween screenings, but this German Expressionist movie has knocked me out every time. Seeing it at noon with Jeff Rapsis on the organ countered that.

And I dig it. The movie's not really that much for story, in ways that I often find really frustrating in other movies, but Robert Wiene does so great at generating atmosphere as to get away with it. What I particularly love is how Wiene's constant build-up of tension and fear twists into madness by the final acts. It could be cheap, but instead it's very natural.

I've got to admit, though, I'm going to be very disappointed when I someday go to Germany, visit a small rustic town, and do not find it filled with bizarre, asymmetrical architecture that's never heard of a right angle.

The Invisible Man

* * (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

Sometime I'm going to come up with a good reason why I tend to conk out during the second movie of a multi-movie day. Is it just some sort of weird conditioned response of thinking that 45 minutes or so after a movie ends is bedtime, my brain knowing that the really good stuff is coming up later, so get some rest now.

That would certainly explain why I took a fair-sized nap during The Invisible Man. It just never clicked with me and this time around was no different; to the extent it annoyed me lest, it's because I saw less.

Dr. Cyclops

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

Dr. Cyclops isn't really a very good movie, but the 1940s were relatively lean times for fantastical cinema. It is kind of amusing in how it uses the mythological roots of its title less literally than literarily - until the end, it's more focused on how the Cyclops of myth was a man-eating giant than a beast with one eye - but make no mistake, it's very much a B-movie whose pretty Technicolor photography doesn't really make up for how paper-thin its characters and plotting are.

On the other hand, movies where people get shrunken down to doll-size are fun. The story possibilities are limited and by now people are well-enough aware of how absurd the science is, but over-sized props are a blast and cats become vicious monsters at that size. The characters, no matter how alpha-male (or female) they may be otherwise become automatic underdogs, and straightforward problems require ingenious solutions. Dr. Cyclops never takes the next step of becoming really clever, but once everybody gets small, it does an impressive job of not squandering the inherent joys of the shrinking movie (even while displaying a mean streak that's impressive for the Hays Code era).

It actually reminded me why Edgar Wright's Ant-man movie for Marvel could wind up being a real kick - sure, it seems like the stakes could be low for a big action-adventure, but if Marvel taps into the joy of it and makes it an offbeat comedy, that might not matter.

Forbidden Planet

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

It's pretty darn impressive how this sci-fi picture from the 1950s manages to age so gracefully. It's dated in its attitudes, sure, but not obnoxiously so. The special effects and design are futuristic-for-the-fifties, but have a believable practicality to them. Where so many other movies of its era tried to stretch smaller budgets to do too much, this one always seems to know how much is just enough.

It's still pretty great, even when you know it by heart; it's got a great, seldom-matched grandeur, a set of very likable performances in the lead (young Leslie Nielsen never fails to surprise me with his crisp confidence), and nice attention to detail. And while it may seem an odd match for a Halloween-oriented event, the genuine feeling of horror that overtakes its characters as they solve the central mystery certainly qualifies it, giving the movie plenty of dramatic weight as well.

Link to the review I wrote a while back, when the HD-DVD was new.

Planet of the Apes

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

This one, on the other hand, doesn't fit the Halloween theme quite as well. There's certainly a world-turned-upside-down horror vibe to it, but it doesn't really manifest itself in a scary way. The movie's too satirical about humanity in general, as opposed to telling a story where Taylor is personally tormented. Heck, he's too cynical to actually be horrified.

Still, as much as I don't have much interest in the rest of the franchise, this entry always winds up looking a little better every time I see it (in this case, literally; projectionist Dave Kornfeld mentioned that this was one of the best prints he'd ever shown of this film). The crash and escape from the spaceship took me aback for just how tense and well-shot it is, for instance, while on the other end, the politics of its last act and how willing those in power are to treat others as sub-human (or, in this case, sub-simian) has yet to lose its sting. As unpleasant as Charlton Heston's character often is, it blends perfectly with his desperation, and even the dated references hold up.

Link to another review that's been kicking around a while.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

There's been talk about remaking Westworld for a while, with the latest action apparently taking the form of a pay-cable series, and I can get behind that. It's a movie filled with strong concepts and fun genre-bending that doesn't quite stitch it all together into something great. Something good, fairly often, but either the resources are lacking to make a masterpiece, or things are hobbled by writer/director Michael Cricthon's tendency toward blunt cautionary tales.

There's a lot going on here beneath Crichton's tale of androids run amok in a theme park where visitors can live out their western/roman/medieval fantasies - the question of whether living out such vivid power trips is healthy, the ethics of creating this sort of autonomous being only to be killed again and again, the sort of corporate callousness (and absurd security design) he returned to with Jurassic Park. And the final act, when all hell breaks loose resulting in the sci-fi trappings to take center stage while characters crossover between genre areas, has great potential. It just never quite achieves what it could; Crichton has stories half-develop and then get thrown out of the way, and doesn't quite seem to realize the potential of the plot device beyond a way to get the story kicked off.

Still, enough works out well that the movie's worth seeing. Crichton's cheerfully amoral screenplay is full of twisted humor. The characters are kind of bland, but the cast isn't bad (though I can't quite see why Yul Brynner often seems to be considered iconic rather than just clever casting in this role). It's a fun little movie. I look forward to someday seeing a great version.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

Huh, the print for this one was from the UK, and I could have sworn it was different from the one I've seen before; I can't recall ever seeing the flashbacks with young Professor Hikita and John Lithgow's Emilio Lizardo becoming possessed by Lord John Whorfin. Must have, though.

It's a weird one, deliberately so, but interesting in the how of it. It's a very peculiar combination of rinky-dink and impressively realized, cutting from terrific special effects to sets designed to save every bit of money possible when the opposite seems the case more often (maintain a certain baseline and eke out just a bit more). Writer Earl Mac Rauch sets the thing in an elaborate pulp universe like that's no big deal, with director W.D. Richter on the same low-key page, both enhancing and undercutting just how bizarre the movie is. And maybe I'm missing something, but this seems like one of the first times American pop culture really tried to integrate Japanophilia, as opposed to dubbing things or fetishizing the strangeness James Clavell-style. Here, there's a real sense that the future of cool is going to be a fusion of the American and the Japanese.

Maybe that's reading too much into it, but it was late then and it's late now and that was what ran through my head during this movie that lives right on the border of being too cool for its own good (but never quite falls on the wrong side).


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 12 13 October 2013 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Terror-Thon, 35mm)

Believe it or not, I've actually heard people talk shit about Tremors, like it was a not-very-good movie, only to be surprised when I responded that I like it not just as a guilty pleasure, but as a genuine quality piece of work. For real. But it's true - although it looks like a guilty pleasure movie, there's no part of it that the whole has to overcome. Every element works.

I don't think I convinced the people who said that at the time, but there's good reason why people smile when this movie's name is mentioned and why, whenever a half-decent monster movie with a fun cast of characters comes out, this is the one we compare it to. This really is close to the ideal form of this type of movie, well worth staying up until 2am for.

I said much the same thing last year.

The Other Shore
Escape From Tomorrow
The Terror-Thon
ALCS Game 2


Anonymous said...

Hey, I have a wordpress account!

I think that Tremors has been devalued in the public eye by the 3 sequels and the semi-forgotten TV series. The original is still quite good, but, as with the Howling sequels, it's crummies up the image of the original.

Post your review on the Marathon board here:

Home Theater Austin TX said...

It's truly fun to watch a Sci-fi movie. It really sparks our own imagination. Good movie reviews,i hope I have enough time to watch these movies in the future.