Can you tell baseball season's over and the fall TV slate is uninspiring by the sheer volume of tickets on this page?
Stubless: Inside Llewyn Davis, Brattle Theatre, 7 November 2013, 7:30pm
Kind of busy. and that's using Wednesday to hit the comic shop. But I do kind of like the whole seven different venues thing going on.
The first stop was the Brattle Theatre on Monday, where I caught the tail end of the Guillermo del Toro program in Pacific Rim. I don't know if I'll actually wind up writing full reviews for the whole program like I intended, but I'm glad I got to this one in particular - I came in late and had a front-corner seat when I saw it at the furniture store, so I was very happy to see it head on from the start and with a bit more awareness of the audience. It plays well to a crowd, and should be a lot of fun at the sci-fi marathon when it inevitably arrives there.
I opted for the Regent/Gathr JFK doc instead of the one at the Brattle on Tuesday, and I don't know if that was a great choice. JFK: A President Betrayed wasn't bad, but didn't really hold my attention. The Q&A wasn't bad, although JFK is certainly a subject that brings the audience members who want to hear themselves talk out of the woodwork. I get the feeling Dan Fenn has reached the point of having zero patience with conspiracy theories, though, and while it was interesting to hear him say that the movie didn't get everything right, he didn't give a lot of detail on where it went off-base.
Thursday's show at the Brattle was an IFFBoston preview of Inside Llewyn Davis, the new Coen Brothers movie that will be hitting Boston in about a month (I think the NYC/LA date is 6 December). It's quite good, and I'm looking forward both to everyone else getting to see it and the retrospective the Brattle will be having during mid-December. Star Oscar Isaac was on hand, to - here's IFFBoston director Brian Tamm introducing him:
Then the weekend got kind of nutty. I'm thinking of doing a "why MoviePass's new policy is frustrating" piece later in the week, because it did impact the way I chose to see things last weekend in a frustrating way that I don't think they really considered when they changed the policy. At any rate, it was a mix of good an blah stuff. 12 Years a Slave was pretty good Friday night, although flawed, while Thor: The Dark World was actually a lot better than I'd been expecting Saturday morning. I couldn't muster up a whole lot of enthusiasm after either The Motel Life Saturday night or Kill Your Darlings Sunday evening.
Sunday afternoon, I decided to finally check out the fancy Showcase SuperLux in Chestnut Hill by re-watching a known quantity - Gravity. I was going to give the place it's own post, and I may do so again in a week or two, but it would be incomplete because I wasn't able to order food, which is half the point of this theater. Of course, I wasn't able to order food because the self-service ticket booths didn't work properly, sending me to the "concierge desk", where the host was polite and helpful, but he had to deal with an embarrassingly slow computer system. And, of course, he was being polite and helpful to folks in front of me as well, and the farther you get from the mainstream multiplexes, the more relaxed a pace customer service runs at.
Pity; I was actually pretty hungry by the time I sat down for the movie and would have liked a snack, but they don't serve "LuxLite" seats after the previews start. Well, not unless you raise a stink like the people to my left who dragged a server over so that another had to step in front of me a couple times during the first act.
* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 November 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (Guillermo del Toro, DCP)
I'd hoped to see this in theaters multiple times over the summer, joking that it wasn't so bad that I missed the first few minutes at Jordan's because that gave me a built-in excuse to go see it again. Unfortunately, I didn't get another chance before Fantasia started, and then it under-performed, pretty much moving out of Boston-area screens by the time I got back. I was kind of sad I wouldn't get to see the opening on the big screen for a while.
But then the Brattle started playing previews for it even before the Guillermo del Toro series was announced, and it says something both about the movie and the guys who cut the trailers that they made me just as giddy to see the movie as I had been when they first started showing up in the spring. It tickles something in the back of my brain directly, even if the fact that the movie didn't become a big hit reminds me of how back in '04, the previews for del Toro's Hellboy didn't get half the audience reaction that the Van Helsing ones did. I just don't get America sometimes.
It was a lot of fun to see Pacific Rim as the latest part of a Guillermo del Toro career retrospective (with his Simpsons intro as a pre-movie short, at that!) as opposed to being "one more big summer movie". As much as the Hellboy movies had a darkness underneath their cheerful goofiness, this one brings smiles in the midst of disaster, letting the audience cheer folks dying heroically and just enjoy the heck out of giant mechs and giant monsters beating the crap out of each other. From a good vantage point, the action is even better than I'd remembered, and even if it's not particularly deep, I'm not sure how much depth needs to be bolted onto guys making a last bold stand for the fate of the world when the sensible people are trying to hide. It's great escapist action that likes its entire cast, and I hope like heck that del Toro gets to have more big, upbeat fun like this soon.
What I said in July still holds up.
JFK: A President Betrayed
* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 5 November 2013 at the Regent Theatre (Gathr Previews Presents, digital)
History never was my best or favorite subject, for all that it's filled with fascinating stories and offers just as many practical lessons for the present as the old saw about how those who forget it are doomed to repeat it suggests. And among the history that never particularly captivated me, JFK is right up there, even if one can't help but acknowledge how he was the first example of how personal charisma became so central to the process of getting elected in the television era.
So, no, I wasn't hugely fascinated by this look at his "true" legacy - the quotation marks coming because this almost seems like a re-revision. Once upon a time, I remember, being told that his assassination made people conflate him with the 1960s peace movement, when he was in fact as hard-line a Cold Warrior as anybody. This movie makes the argument that he was more inclined to be conciliatory and compromising. It seems well-sourced enough, I guess, although it also occasionally seems like Boomers making a stretch to define history their way.
Who knows where the truth really falls? I'm more inclined to believe this side after seeing the movie, but it's not utterly persuasive, and it does suffer a bit from the dwindling number of direct witnesses to what the thinking was in the Oval Office fifty years ago. It's got pleasant Morgan Freeman translation, but it's also often so dry that it's not hard to zone out during the picture, at east for someone like me who isn't fascinated enough by the subject matter to get into the minutia.
12 Years a Slave
* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2013 at Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, 2K DCP)
There are a couple moments early on in 12 Years a Slave when I'm inclined to groan "enough already, I get it!" and just want director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley to quit it with the wallowing and move on with the story, but what makes this a better movie than it might be is that there's always something, direct or indirect, that says that no, in all likelihood, you don't get it, and no movie can really communicate enough that you do. McQueen is looking to kindle an emotional disgust at the very idea of slavery, and he does that fairly well.
That's why the movie is able to do a good job of overcoming its biggest weakness, that it doesn't really feel like twelve years pass during it. One or two, tops. That's still horrifying, but it doesn't really give Chiwetel Ejiofor the opportunity to show how this long odyssey ground Solomon Northup down. He does a fine job of showing other things - how one can take relatively good fortune for granted, or how easily a person can accept and grow used to powerlessness, and those are worth demonstrating as well. As a result, Ejiofor's Northup has the story the audience will remember, but maybe not the performance.
Those come from Michael Fassbender, playing a plantation owner far crueler than Solomon's first master, and Lupita Nyong'o as a slave woman who has sacrificed every bit of dignity she has for a position that is in no way worth the price. The dynamics of the Epps household becomes kind of fascinating, even if it's not always the most well-staged subplot - it reflects how the likes of Edwin Epps use power and position in every facet of their life and consider themselves so important that a bunch of moths is not about nature but them. It's a fascinating dynamic, and I wish Northup's experiences had the same visceral power.
Thor: The Dark World
* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 November 2013 at Regal Fenway #13 (first-run, 3D RPX DCP)
I liked Marvel's first Thor movie well enough, although it was kind of based on low expectations - how are they going to fit Thor into a Marvel Cinematic Universe that skews decidedly science-fictional? - and fondness for some of the people involved. It was a bit of a mess, with too much stuff to set up the Avengers at the expense of the title character's personal world. It also looked a bit cheap.
The sequel, at least, dispenses with the latter; Asgard looks cool and natural, rather than like a tilt-shifted 3D model. There are more creatures. And while some of the Thor-centric characters get pushed to the side - I think they had Tadanobu Asano for roughly a day - some others get used better; Renee Russo and Idris Elba actually have stuff to do this time around, even if Christopher Eccleston gets decidedly little to do as the villain. Marvel seems to emphasize one-movie villains less than the other studios, apparently feeling that a strong supporting cast (which is where Tom Hiddleston's Loki likely fits now) helps them more than highly variable antagonists.
The thing I liked most, though, was the level of anything-goes fun this movie has. Last time around, I was surprised that they went Kirby rather than a safer, more realistic Viking Mythology setting; this time, they push the Jack Kirby blending of sci-fi and mythology even further; just when the audience is getting used to Lord of the Rings, Star Wars will break out. And the Midgard-bound settings are enjoyable, too, with enjoyably quirky characters and a final battle that is surprisingly clear for the type of disjointed action it is and which has time for funny bits without undercutting the grandeur and threat.
I don't know that Thor is going to become a particular favorite franchise of mine (you won't see me adding it to my pull list at the Picnic), but I enjoyed The Dark World more than I expected, and may give it another view as a way to check out the fancy theater again.
* * * * (out of four)
Seen 10 November 2013 at Showcase SuperLux #1 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)
I took in Gravity for a second time in part because if I'm going to spend $20 mainly to check out a theater as opposed to the movie, It might as well be one I know I love. And, yes, I still do love the heck out of Gravity; a second viewing wasn't quite the giddy "nobody makes this sort of movie no matter how much I love it and I need to know what's going to happen next' experience, but it was still a fine-tune, lean, efficient thriller that puts amazing things on-screen.
One thing I did notice with more people in a smaller room was just how well Alfonso Cuaron is able to really hit the right emotional beats when he needs to. One of the most enjoyably empathetic moments I've had at the movies lately was how, when Bullock's Ryan Stone gives the speech that has her going from pessimistic to ready to try everything to survive, the audience was feeling it, and when she hits the button so that the lander's rockets go off, that moment of thrust is a fantastic exclamation point on how from here on out, she's going to be kicking butt.
It works, and it's wonderfully cinematic, probably worth another viewing or two before it leaves cinemas.
What I said last month.