Thursday, November 28, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 18 November 2013 - 24 November 2013

Some long days and some days when work went just the right length to screw plans up, but at least an interesting week.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: An Adventure in Space and Time at about 7-ish on Sunday the 24th. It's a TV movie, but considering there will be a ticket for another one on next week's page, it only seems fair to include it.

Kind of a quiet week. The company that owns the company that owns my employer had its"Vision Week", which brings a lot of extra people into the office, has some awards given out, some other presentations, and face-to-face time with people I normally deal with over the phone. It throws the schedule out of whack and some guys are real experts in squeezing twenty minutes of information into an hour and a half, but on the plus side, they did pay for food a few times and there is still apparently no thought of packing the operation up and moving it to Texas. I should probably be a little less paranoid about that.

On either side of the week, Bollywood! Monday night's movie was Ram-Leela, which is basically Romeo and Juliet with songs and a whole bunch of new stuff added to the last act; Saturday afternoon's was Gori Tere Pyaar Mein, a fairly standard romantic comedy that could do with being a little more of each. To a certain extent, this is a bit of a sign that there's not a huge amount of new releases and you might as well see everything if you can, but I am having some fun with these pictures.

In between, I did a double feature of The Armstrong Lie & Go for Sisters. As I said in the post, the original intent was to see the latter with a Q&A by John Sayles, but that sold out early. Both wound up being pretty good movies, though I liked Go for Sisters a little bit more.

Sunday was a triple-header: Dallas Buyers Club in the afternoon, pulling An Adventure in Space and Time off the DVR, and then The Visitor at the Brattle. I wound up liking Adventure more than Buyers Club, although the latter may be the more ambitious and dramatic. The Visitor, though... Ugh.

Dallas Buyers Club

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2013 at Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run, DCP)

Sometimes I wonder if every interesting true-life story really needs a movie, despite having some of the raw materials for one. Take Dallas Buyers Club: Interesting situation, a couple of roles that actors can do amazing things with, and an idea worth chewing on. The story is more a string of things that happened than something that drives from point A to point B, and sometimes that makes for a bit of distance from the audience.

Just sometimes, though, and if you take the perspective that the rest of the movie exists to give Matthew McCanaughey and Jared Leto a venue for these performances, that's fine. As two different sorts of AIDS patients in the mid-1980s - a heterosexual rodeo enthusiast and a transgendered hustler - they both undergo the requisite physical transformation but also sink into their characters in other ways. There's nothing inauthentic about Leto's Rayon at all, for example; she's got a ton of personality rather than just being a set of familiar mannerisms, and Leto sells her tendency toward self-destruction without making the character even primarily frustrating. McConaughey, meanwhile, is not quite mesmerizing but certainly has an eye on what makes Ron Woodruff fascinating: There's a fierce determination to survive to him that manifests itself in him expanding his horizons rather than narrowing them, becoming a better man but not in a santimonious way - finding ways to hold the disease back is serious work, but it's possible to have fun doing it.

I do wonder if maybe writers Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack and director Jean-Marc Vallée might have been able to make the story more compelling by digging into a possible irony of this story - that the characters' attempts to fight their disease by making an end run around the FDA is, in a way, the same sort of high-risk behavior that led to them contracting HIV in the first place, even as the two main characters' contradictory behavior toward what they put in their bodies aside from medicine after starting the buyers' club leads to the obvious results. Medicine is complicated, and both the FDA's tough standards and the scientific method serve important purposes, but this movie's tight focus on what are admittedly its best parts does occasional lead to it taking things for granted.

An Adventure in Space and Time

* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2013 in Jay's Living Room (Doctor Who week, HD DVR)

A sort of interesting thing about Doctor Who is that it really doesn't have a single creator. As this TV movie chronicling its birth on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary shows, Sydney Newman (Brian Cox), the head of the BBC's drama department, came up with the idea; someone else wrote the initial script; and first-time producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) and director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan) took it seriously enough to develop it into something that could last.

And it's a pip watching this charming cast play this creation out in a glossy version of 1963 London . It doesn't dig deep into the making-of elements, but it takes a close enough look that one can admire the improvisational nature of making television, especially in those days, especially when you compare the tight sets and even tighter compositions Hussein had to work with on those first serials compared to the open, widescreen picture Terry McDonough gets to give to Mark Gattis's script. It's pretty cool how, after making an obvious point with having Lambert watch footage of the first woman in space, there's still something very refreshing about how she argues for the overtly science-fictional aspects of "The Daleks", intuitively grasping how the things Newman dismisses as juvenile are actually the most mature and powerful parts.

But, ultimately, the focus winds up falling on David Bradley as William Hartnell, the first actor to play The Doctor. It's a part he had every reason to be skeptical about, and which right from the start was probably too much for him. But he grew to love it, to the point where he couldn't understand the younger people he worked with wanting to move on to other things, and his stern but ultimately cheerful personality formed the basis of something that would last fifty years and counting. And his story arc underscores a truth about pop culture that we don't often give much thought to: That if one wants to create something that lasts for generations, at a certain point he or she has to give it up. Maybe not in the literal way that Lambert and Hartnell hand Doctor Who off to other producers and actors, but at a certain point, the creators have to be okay with somebody else saying their lines, writing their creations, etc. It's a hard thing to accept, but who knows if this show becomes more than a curiosity if that doesn't happen?

The Visitor (Stridulum)

* ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Special Engagements, 2K DCP)

It's probably not a good sign that, roughly ten minutes into The Visitor, I noticed that director Giulio Paradisi and his co-writers apparently didn't understand the rules of basketball, as the game at which we meet much of the Earthbound cast had teams going on 8-0 scoring runs without ever seeming to force a turnover. That may be a silly, petty thing to nitpick, but I think it accidentally illuminates one of the movie's problems: The filmmakers don't seem to know how to make something thrilling, passing over the naturally exciting things and filling it in with stuff that just doesn't make any sense.

Ah, you say, but that's part of the charm - it's a bug-nuts Italian sci-fi/horror movie! And in the moments when it gets to be that, like the very first opening scenes with some cool smoke effects suggesting an utterly alien world, it's fun. But so much of it is just hanging around 1979 Atlanta, with a secret society and an extradimensional hero both trying to harness the power of a telekinetic girl (and her mother's womb), and it's surprisingly forgettable. Indeed, the most memorable bit is the finale, which seems tacked on at the last minute as every possible way of obscuring the face of the little girl seems to be used.

Admittedly, I may have drifted off for a couple minutes a few times, but something as creative and insane as Drafthouse is selling this to be should really make that impossible. But despite the trippy previews that are floating around, this is a boring, cheap movie with a few isolated good bits. I occasionally take hits on not "seeing the fun" in bad/schlocky movies, but it's not like I go in expecting not to enjoy it. But at a certain point, bad movies are just bad movies, and acting clever because you recognize The Visitor as weird doesn't actually make it a better movie.

The Armstrong Lie
Go for Sisters
Gori Tere Pyaar Mein
Dallas Buyers Club
The Visitor

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