Thursday, November 07, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 28 October 2013 - 3 November 2013

Last post talking about how watching baseball cuts into the movie-watching for a while. But, hey, The Red Sox won the World Series and that is awesome.

This Week in Tickets

So, that's why the no movies Monday and Wednesday; those were the games where Jon Lester once again out-dueled Adam Wainwright while David Ortiz continued his assault on Cardinals pitching and then John Lackey won the last game of the season, and as I told Tony during an unusually truncated Wednesday stop at the Million Year Picnic to get the week's comics, I don't think anybody would have guessed ten months ago that not only would the Red Sox have been in the World Series at the end of the 2013 season, but that we'd feel pretty good about winning it because John Lackey was on the mound. It's been a tremendously enjoyable season, all the more so for how unexpected it was.

So, just to finish things off, Saturday Morning duckboats, taken from the Cambridge side of the river:

Trophy! photo IMAG0603_zps07ac7621.jpg

Okay, movies, why most people read this blog. Though Halloween falls in the middle of this week, I didn't do a whole lot of scary movies to mark the occasion. The Body was a fun entry in the Gathr Previews series which had some fun applying some horror elements to the sort of thriller story that generally doesn't have any supernatural pieces. I actually tried to distribute candy on the night of the 31st, but I seem to have arrived home just as the local kids were wrapping up. Curse you, Burlington commute, for making me keep all the peanut butter cups and Kit Kats for myself.

There was more spooky stuff over the weekend, as the Brattle Theatre did a Guillermo del Toro retrospective, and I hit as much of that as I could, only missing The Devil's Backbone. I've finished up a full review of Cronos and have a few quick things to say about Mimic, Pan's Labyrinth, Blade II, Hellboy, and Hellboy II before giving them more full write-ups (along with Pacific Rim) later in the week. That'll also give the Mimic director's cut which I didn't know existed until last night some time to arrive.

In between, I negotiated the new MoviePass usage restriction which they tried to pass off as a feature in a pretty insulting manner to catch Last Vegas and Krrish 3. The former was pretty disappointing despite a great cast, the latter better than I expected.

Cronos

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Guillermo del Toro, digital)

Twenty years ago, there odds that Cronos would become known as "Guillermo del Toro's first feature" were probably not as good as those of it becoming "an interesting curiosity out of Mexico for fans of unusual fantasy and horror". There's probably no small amount of luck involved in it bucking those odds - everyone needs a couple of good breaks - but it's also a good enough piece of work that the filmmaker building a pretty great career afterward is no surprise.

It is an odd little movie, though, starting with a tale of an alchemist who came to Veracruz in 1537 with the idea for a machine that could grant eternal life. This "Cronos Device" worked - it would be four hundred years before he died of something other than old age. The device itself disappeared for another half-century before surfacing in the shop of Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi), who spends more time playing with granddaughter Aurora (Tamara Shanath) than selling antiques. Word gets to industrial magnate De la Guardia (Claudio Brook), who has been searching for it all that time, though he is ill enough that nephew Angel (Ron Perlman) must do all the legwork.

Looking back twenty years later, one can't help but notice that many of del Toro's trademarks are already in evidence - surface elements like his fondness for insects and elaborate machines, sure, but also his tendency to use prologues to establish a grand history for his fantastic creations. And, yeah, he was casting Ron Perlman right from the start. Kids have always been an important part of his stories, although Aurora is only the first to not be particularly shielded from the horrors conjured up - and from the way she lives with her grandparents rather than her late parents and rarely speaks, what the Cronos device brings is not her first encounter with darkness.

Full review at EFC.

Mimic

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Guillermo del Toro, 35mm)

Before the Brattle Theatre's Guillermo del Toro retrospective, the first and last time I'd seen Mimic was at a late show during its initial release at the Nickelodeon in Portland, Maine, and it feels like an example where the context matters - the Nick was (and, I think, still is) six small screens crammed into a tiny space in Congress Square; I think it was a second-run house at the time; it certainly wasn't in first-run condition. So it wasn't a great place to see a movie I wasn't tremendously excited about in the first place, and very little about it stuck. Fifteen years later, seeing it in the Brattle with a crowd of other folks who have come to love the director... Well, that's different.

This theatrical cut still has a lot of problems: It is still one of the darkest and grimiest movies to put a strong emphasis on cool effects that you will see, the premise of mutant termites who have grown to human-size and have somewhat decent human camouflage is very silly, and it's not a great cast of characters when the highlight is Charles S. Dutton slumming it as a yelling cop. And yet, it's also abundantly clear that del Toro is good at this; he sets a scene up clearly, establishes stakes, sacrifices unlikely characters, and does fine action.

Plus, I've sort of found over the past year that I'm drawn to this period's sci-fi movies, the likes of Mimic, Judge Dredd, and The Fifth Element, where practical effects work has hit what will likely be its high point, studios are willing to spend some money to do big things with it, but the massive blockbuster budget hasn't become common and digital hasn't reached the point where people will consider using it for everything yet. These movies have their own issues with the uncanny valley, but it's almost like the last days of silents in a way: Hollywood had just figured out how to make things work before the Star Wars prequels had them relearning how to make a movie again.

El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Guillermo del Toro, 35mm)

Confession time: Though this is the movie widely considered Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece - and justifiably so - it leaves me somewhat cold. It's on me, really; there's something about fantasy-as-refuge that rubs me the wrong way, with me wanting the reetreating character to figure something out in the real world and being frustrated by what seems like a distraction to my problem-solving mind.

That doesn't diminish what del Toro does well here at all - the real-world situation he brings forth is perfectly impressive but populated by a set of characters who are all interested and well-realized, even (and maybe especially) Sergi Lopez's Captain Vidal. The fantasy elements are brilliant as well; they feel like a mish-mash of various elements connected by a child's imagination. There are moments, such as when Ofelia wills an insect to become a fairy, that it's easy to feel the power of what the filmmaker has tapped into, and they override some of the weaker bits.

And then the end comes, and I feel like I've loved all the parts but not what they add up to. Maybe I'm just an American whose fairy tales were too Disney for my own good, but I feel like something's been wasted - that you don't need a detailed fantasy world to tell this story, or that the finale is a bit of a cheat (although, to be fair, it's been established in the film that fairy tales will contradict themselves to make whatever point they're looking to make at the moment). I admire Pan's Labyrinth, but it also makes me wonder if Guillermo del Toro may end up in a similar situation to Stephen Spielberg and John Ford - the admired, serious dramas are good, but don't have the sincerity and simple truth of the exciting adventure movies.

Blade II

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 2 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Guillermo del Toro, 35mm)

I believe that this is, thus far, the only movie Guillermo del Toro has made where he doesn't have a screenplay credit, and while it does feel like his in many ways, that may be coincidence: The summary of the first film feels like one of his prologues, the autopsy recalls scenes in Mimic and Cronos, and his willingness to poke around and see how things work is there. It's enough to make me curious just how much David S. Goyer tailored his script to his director when del Toro came on board.

So while there's a fair amount of Guillermo del Toro in there, there is a different focus, specifically on the action, and it's a bit of a standout there. I hope Wesley Snipes has a decent role in the next Expendables flick, because for all that he burned a decent career to the ground, he was a damn good screen fighter and also an actor good enough that his character copping an attitude or showing emotion on-screen was laughable. And on the other end of things, this is one of the movies Donnie Yen made during that brief turn-of-the-millennium period when Hollywood was underusing him dreadfully, so there are some quality fights to enjoy.

There's a lot of good people here - Ron Perlman is in the cast, of course, as are Kris Kristofferson, Norman Reedus, Thomas Kretschmann, Yen, Leonor Varela, and others; Mike Mignola helps out as a concept artist. It's just hard to get past that this is a Blade film, and a lot of the "hey, this is a cool take on vampirism" stuff happened in the first, leaving little but some fairly predictable plot twists for this one. It's at least enjoyably violent and otherwise R-rated; the edge works, and seems a little sharper when you remember that this is a Marvel comics adaptation.

(Note: I would love Snipes popping up on Agents of SHIELD as Blade sometime. It would be a great end-of-episode sting to set up the next week's big vampire story)

Hellboy

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Guillermo del Toro, 35mm)

I think I'd read roughly one single issue of Hellboy when this movie came out nearly a decade ago; now it (and BPRD and Abe Sapien and Lobster Johnson) is a regular part of my pull list largely thanks to this movie. So, if nothing else, it's one heck of a sales job. Well, Mike Mignola and his artists obviously deserve some of the credit, too.

If the movie has a weakness, it's that it is sort of a sales job - there's an audience viewpoint character that the movie doesn't really need (the second film realized that Jeffrey Tambor was all it needed on that count), it crams a lot of specific things into the movie, and while I love that they bring out Lovecraftian monsters for the finale, that's kind of a specific thing that doesn't get a lot of explanation in-film. It's awesome, like so much of the movie, but I kind of wonder if its the sort of thing that seemed off-putting to audiences.

Still, I like the heck out of this movie, and want more.

2004 review on eFilmCritic that pretty much holds up.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Guillermo del Toro, 2K DCP)

Hellboy II, by comparison, feels much more relaxed - no need for introductions, the filmmakers feel like they can just let the characters be characters rather than power sets and odd visuals. It just sets things up and goes, giving the guys a new mission, some new characters, and a chance for everyone in the cast to shine.

It does, I think, suffer more from the "hidden world" problem - where in the first Hellboy, the occult world was arcane, extraordinary, and mostly bestial, here there are whole species and nations of intelligent supernatural beings, so that hiding doesn't seem strictly necessary, certainly not for thousands of years. But in a lot of ways, a plot that makes complete sense isn't necessarily the most important thing here; the team behind these movies and these comics have created a world and group of characters that the audience would like to visit regularly, and this ties a pretty good story to a chance to revisit everything one likes about the series.

It's been five years, but here's hoping that the talk during the production and roll-out of Pacific Rim that the folks behind Legendary would like to do at least one more of these to complete a trilogy has something to it. As much as I have come to love the comics, the bright colors and high adventure of the movie series have been somewhat left behind by the current Hellboy in Hell and BPRD: Hell on Earth runs (I mean, just look at the names). These are fun characters, and I think that sometimes del Toro realizes that better than Mignola does.


The Body
Last Vegas
Krrish 3
Cronos
Mimic
Pan's Labyrinth
Blade II
Hellboy & Hellboy II

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