Monday, December 30, 2013

This These Weeks In Tickets: 9 December 2013 - 22 December 2013

Two weeks this time, because I didn't have a lot of time for writing while on vacation. Nor necessarily a lot of time for seeing movies, for that matter, but I saw a lot of other stuff.

9 December 2013 - 15 December 2013
16 December 2013 - 22 December 2013

This Week in Tickets

The first couple days of the week were spoken for before the week started, especially Monday. I gobbled up a ticket for Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 35mm a few weeks in advance, and while that Science on Screen presentation didn't completely sell out like I expected, it was a packed crowd.

That's Melissa Franklin, Physics Chair at Harvard University, delivering a talk before the movie about cartoon physics and her own work detecting the Higgs Boson. It was a discussion designed to give a person whiplash, moving in fairly rapid fashion from the "Cartoon Laws of Physics" that got emailed around back when people still emailed things around (I'm guessing it would be a listicle/slide-show now) and some fairly advanced particle physics, but only one kid in the audience seemed to actually get impatient.

Not pictured - because he stood up and sat down from his seat a couple rows behind me too quickly - is writer Gary K. Wolf, who wrote the original novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? that the film was adapted from. I think the guy is following me; though he lives in Brookline now, he was in Worcester when I was going to college there; supposedly the Acapulco had a drink called the "Toon Tonic", as seen in his less well-known (but actually very funny) follow-up, Who P-p-p-plugged Roger Rabbit?. Even back then, there was talk of a third book that he was sitting on until it could be released alongside a movie sequel; since that new movie looks unlikely to happen, as Bob Hoskins is unlikely to be up to it, he's finally decided to release it electronically; I'm looking forward to reading Who Wacked Roger Rabbit? soon.

Tuesday night's movie was also staked out ahead of time, as the latest in the Gathr preview series. Pretty Old isn't a bad movie, but it's a somewhat odd thing. As soon as somebody casually mentions what the participants in the Miss Senior Sweetheart beauty pageant pay for an all-inclusive package, it starts to sound more like a fantasy camp than a "legitimate" contest, but the movie plows on like it's the latter. It makes me wonder how much the movie is a documentary and how much it's an advertisement, making it hard to figure out what i think of its merits.

Much of the rest of the week was spent packing or otherwise getting ready, just squeezing in a quick screening of The Last Days on Mars on the afternoon I left for vacation. It was between that and The Hobbit, and while I didn't wind up seeing the better movie that day, it fit my schedule better and I wouldn't have had any other chances to see it on the big screen.

Then, that evening, after everything was all packed, I hauled my bags to Logan and flew to Paris's Orly airport by way of Heathrow, where I actually stepped through customs and back in order to pick up a Tep wireless internet device. Next time I visit Europe, I'll probably just pay for the shipping rather than do that; I left enough time between flights, but what if I hadn't or someone decided this activity was suspicious. At any rate, I made it, although my plan to sleep on the plan and arrive in Europe tired by with my clock adjusted didn't work out - there was a baby on the plane, and he or she did what babies do in an unfamiliar situation surrounded by strange people, and cried. So, when I got to the hotel at about 4pm local time, I dropped to the bed, took the sort of nap that leaves one awake but not particularly energetic when I re-awoke a few hours later, and then eventually dropped for long enough that I wouldn't have time to collect the Paris Pass/Paris Museum Pass during Sunday's crazy-short hours.

So, I figured, why not start at the Eiffel Tower.

... It's one of the things not covered by the passes, it didn't have short hours, so I could test my navigation skills inside and outside the Metro without stress, and, hey, no point in saving it for later. It actually took me two tickets to get up to the top - one for the stairs up to the second floor" (which is 622 steps up), and another for the elevator to the top. Quite well worth it for the view and further appreciating just how massive it is when viewed from the ground. Photos from there begin here on my Facebook page.

After that, I headed to my first movie shown in Paris, a subtitled screening of Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer. It was a bit of an adventure getting there - the various trains were tricky, the mall had three separate movie theaters (they love movies in Paris), and my debit card was strangely reluctant to be used any place but restaurants, but I got to see the new Bong movie on the big screen in the country of its source material's origin without it being cut, and that was pretty darn cool.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: The Arc de Triomphe (Monday the 16th), The Louvre (Wednesday the 18th), The Musee Rodin (Thursday the 19th), The Musee des Armes (Thursday the 19th), Notre Dame Cathedral (Friday the 20th), The Crypt at Notre Dame (Friday the 20th).

The Paris Museum Pass is a pretty good value; in fact, if planning a trip to Paris, I'd recommend getting one of those and not bothering with the Paris Pass - I didn't use the Red Bus, and I think the only thing I used the non-Museum Pass for was the Bateaux Parisiens. Most of the time, just showing the red museum pass (which folds out to become a brochure) got me waved into what I wanted to see without the need to log the date and receive a ticket.

Plus, maybe one of those could have been picked up/purchased without the hassle I went through that morning. Just giving my name and showing my voucher on my phone/tablet wasn't enough, they needed the printed voucher. So, back to the hotel, get that, return, pick up pass... And find out very little is open on Monday. Thus, the first stop is La Cinematheque Francaise.

It had a lot of "no photography" signs around, so the only picture I took was this one, of the spiffy-looking outside. Interestingly, most of the exhibits open to the public were from the early days of cinema, when people were still figuring out hardware standards; I don't know if it really got beyond the silent era before the exhibit on Jean Cocteau. There was also a pay exhibit on Pier Paolo Pasolini's Roma that I didn't take in which was keyed to a retrospective in their theater.

After a pretty darn good steak at Hippopotamus (a steakhouse near the Cinematheque that I later discovered was a chain; always kind of strange), I headed to the Champs-Elysees to take a look at the Arc de Triomphe (pictures start here). It's another spiffy monument with lots and lots of stairs which looks amazing lit up at night. So did the Champs-Elysees itself, although the camera on my phone didn't capture it very well.

Tuesday, I started out at La Musee des Arts et Metiers (pictures start here), literally "the museum of arts and crafts", although here it focuses on technology and inventions. It is full of nifty stuff, and while at a certain point I got a little fatigued, you get a second wind in a hurry once you get to l'Eglise, a former cathedral that has bunches of early planes and automobiles packed into it, along with Foucault's Pendulum. It's a seriously impressive room. There was also a little display with robots from various movies and a no-pictures-allowed exhibition - "Mecanhumanimal" - by comic book artist Enki Bilal. Never one of my particular favorites from Humanoids, but some of his newer stuff that was on display had me fairly interested.

After that, I did one of the boat tours of the Seine (pictures start here). I always like seeing a city from its river.

Wednesday was pretty much given over to the Louvre entirely. As with the British Museum last year, I made sure to choose the day when it would be open late, since I knew it was going to take a lot of time. That it did; this picture got taken before noon and my phone's battery crapped out before I was done at around eight-thirty. It's a place thoroughly worth an entire day's visit, with it always worth remembering to look up because something awesome may be on the ceiling. I was, admittedly, exhausted by the end, to the point where when my path took me through the German and Dutch paintings, I was kind of thinking "oh, huh, another nicely-painted portrait" and then when I got to the French sculptures, that was just warehousing. Still, an astonishing number of beautiful things.

Thursday I started off at the Musee Rodin (pictures!) on the advice of my sister-in-law Jen. It's a nifty little museum, with the bulk of the exhibits like The Thinker and The Gates of Hell actually outside in a garden. There was also a nice exhibit on Camille Claudel, a student and lover of Rodin's.

I didn't get pictures of a couple things I saw afterward - there was some sort of strike or protest going on right outside the museum when I was leaving, and then a couple blocks away there was the most nondescript gas station I've ever seen - a couple of pumps by the side of the road, and I couldn't see what they were connected to until the second or third time I walked past it and saw a tiny cubbyhole of a shop behind it.

The stop after that was nearby, l'Hotel des Invalides (pics). It is home to, among other things, the Musee d'Armes and the Tomb of Napoleon. The former was pretty cool, although I joked that the medieval section seemed to be warehousing suits of armor in case modern weaponry just stopped working. There was also a World War II section, an interesting contrast to similar exhibits in American museums because it pretty much only covers the war in Europe. As soon as the Nazis fall, it's "and then some other stuff happened in the Pacific".

Then came the Tomb of Napoleon, which is just as over-the-top and grandiose as one would hope. It really should be a set for a movie based around some sort of treasure hunt. This was followed by stopping in a burger place I came across, because there's something kind of fun about seeing how other places imitate the American diner experience.

Funny story about Friday: Ever since arriving in Paris, I've seen signs warning about pickpockets, and I kind of thought it was cute: Most places I've traveled, you get warned about being mugged, and pickpocketing is at least non-violent. Then I got to the spot where I took this picture, and couldn't find my wallet. Fortunately, it was back at the hotel, but, yeesh, that was a half-hour or so of panic I didn't need. Bummer, because I quickly grew to love Ile Saint-Louis and Ile de la Cite, where I saw Notre Dame. Astonishingly pretty church, although by the time I was halfway up the towers, I was really starting to wonder what the heck was up with this city and stairs. I must say, though, that the inside of the cathedral was kind of weird for me - aside from the constant bass hum, there are all these tourist things with price tags on them all around, and I wonder if they're covered up or moved out during services.

The Crypt isn't quite underneath Notre Dame, but the plaza next to it. It's pretty neat; not quite as impressive as the archaeological museum at Pointe-A-Calliere in Montreal, but the ruins (pictures!) are much older. Still cool, and left me enough time to look at the booksellers near Pont Neuf and even pop into a Bandes-Dessinees shop for some graphic novels I'll need to read with a dictionary open.

Saturday started with a trip to the Catacombs (pics), which is pretty darn impressive, and also creepy. I spent the rest of the day wandering through the city, stopping at various patisseries and boulangeries to try various baked goods. Highly recommended, that. I bounced around the city a bit looking at the Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Elysees, finishing up with a couple of movies at theaters across the street from each other, The Immigrant & Zulu.

After that? Getting back to the hotel, sleeping fast, and then making my way to Orly and back to Boston. Long day of flying, and when I got back to the house, I basically had time to turn the heat back on before dropping. Can't recommend the whole experience enough, though.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 9 December 2013 at Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sciene on Screen, 35mm)

When Who Framed Roger Rabbit? came out twenty-five years ago, a good amount of the hype came from how seamlessly the animated characters blended with the live actors and real-world environments. A generation later, it's not so amazing, and the seams show a little bit more - but that's okay; the border between the human world and the Toon world can be a bit ragged. It's not deliberate - director Robert Zemeckis has always been about pushing what film can do technically forward as opposed to exploiting its limitations - but it's a testament to how delightful a film he made that we're willing to try and ascribe greatness even to its imperfections.

Not that there are many of them. Zemeckis and his collaborators do something uncommon at the time - expending a lot of resources on a fairly goofy idea - and they almost unerringly hit the sweet spot where things can both be absurd but fit together just well enough to work as a detective story. Not a fair-play mystery, but a Dashiell Hammett-style pulp, albeit one whose rough edges have been sanded down to where audiences can get a thrill from grown-up material bumping up against cartoons rather than overwhelming them.

The reason I'm sad there was never a film sequel (and why I was grateful for original novelist Gary K. Wolf using the movie continuity for the later books) is that these are some genuinely fun characters. Bob Hoskins dives right into every gumshoe trope as Eddie Valiant but still makes him a guy we like and want to cheer up on his own, while Christopher Lloyd is note-perfect as Judge Doom. The main toons are pretty great, too - Roger Rabbit is a cheery, optimistic nut who wears his heart on his sleeve and could be quite annoying if played even a little bit the wrong way, but that doesn't happen. What was surprising on my first viewing in a while is just how great a character Jessica is; her face and Kathleen Turner's voice are more expressive than you likely remember, and as the movie goes on and we learn just how much truth there is in her claim that she's not bad, just drawn that way, she becomes a lot more than just a literally cartoonish bit of sex appeal.

I kind of fear what would happen if Disney were to do a sequel today; the sort of self-referentiality and packing in of details that made it a treat in 1988 is more common today, and the effects work would similarly be expected rather than a bit of a wonder. The original is still pretty amazing, though, maybe the peak of how Robert Zemeckis was once better than anyone at telling an entertaining story while rising to incredible technical challenges, and I'd love to see him do something like that again.

Pretty Old

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 December 2013 in the Regent Theatre (Gathr Previews, digital)

There's a moment somewhere in the middle of Pretty Old when Lenny "Low Price" Kaplan, the guy behind the Miss Senior Sweetheart beauty pageant, mentions that the contestants pay $625 for their week taking part in the event, and it's more disappointing to hear than it has any right to be. It's a bit of information that highlights just how much of a fantasy camp the whole thing is, even though it's presented as a contest.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, it's just an odd thing for them to downplay to the extent they do, in part because it means the rest of the movie has a bit of a hard time finding focus - it's not about the women in the 2009 edition being competitive or really going all-out to win, but it doesn't really build on the friendships that perhaps form between the women who do this every year. It's not quite an advertisement, and it's not close to being a pointed commentary on how these women who have lived full lives are worried about being called pretty. And while there's something to be said about just doing a survey of this odd little phenomenon, a documentary like this often winds up feeling like the director just wasn't able to find his story, or a point he wanted to make, either on the ground or in the editing room.

He does manage to meet a fairly nice group of ladies - the core four that director Walter Matteson follows range in age from 65 to 81, with hometowns scattered from Michigan to the Virgin Islands. They're pleasant folks, facing the mental and physical challenges that the elderly face, and even the ones who maybe have way too much invested in how they look are fairly easy to like. Interestingly, there aren't many in the contest that you'd say look ten or twenty years younger than they actually are; these are old ladies revisiting their youth, as opposed to women who still haven't let go of it.

As these things go, it's fairly entertaining - Matteson doesn't linger over dull parts, and gives everybody involved their due. He presents this eccentric little event without either overpraising it or looking down upon it, and finds a couple of moments - like when he cuts between the faces of the also-rans to show that second place never really starts to taste good - that are darn clever. It amuses, and I'm sure that the Fall River civic club that operates it as a fundraiser will happily put a link to it on their website to show what the pageant is about. It's just not the sort of documentary that tells a great story or illustrates a point surprisingly well.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?Pretty OldThe Last Days on MarsEiffel TowerSnowpiercer
La Cinematheque FrancaisMusee des Arts et MetiersBateaux ParisiensCatacombs de ParisThe ImmigrantZulu

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