Thursday, December 12, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 2 December 2013 - 8 December 2013

Not shown: The episode of The Blacklist that aired Monday was the first half of a pretty darn good Joe Carnahan action movie. Shame someone else handled the back end.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Watching the Korean Oldboy on Blu-ray (Monday the 2nd) and the Hindi rip-off Zinda on DVD (Saturday the 7th), both later in the evening than may be strictly advisable.

Truth be told, I was planning to do the Oldboy mega-review without Zinda, initially thinking that it was not available, as one of the things I'd read about it mentioned that the production company was out of business, leaving the Korean lawyers who would very much like to take legal action nobody to sue. That proved not to be the case, as there were two entries for the DVD on Amazon, one of which cost $3.30. At that price, I couldn't not include it although that was a brutal experience - my HD-DVD player (shut up, it upscales standard DVDs pretty well) nearly choked on it, there was a massive ad package of Eros Entertainment stuff before the movie (making native English speakers expect porn for 25 years!), and the picture was so blue-tinted through much of the film that I wasn't sure whether it was a mastering error or a really terrible choice by the director and cinematographer. It appears to be the latter, and how!

I should use the home theater more often, since it was a week where heading to the cinema was a little more trouble than it should have been. The Tuesday night Gathr screening of Night Train to Lisbon was bumped to 9pm rather than its usual 7:30pm start time, meaning I had to go halfway back to work to see it. For that, I kind of wish it was a little better than it wound up being.

Then, with a relative paucity of new releases over the weekend, and the big screens being given over to The Hobbit #2 of a 3-film limited series this coming Friday, I figured Saturday would be a good time to head to the furniture store to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, what with them having used the big IMAX cameras for some scenes. So, figuring that by the time the MBTA got me there, it might be sold out, I bought a ticket online. My route to Jordan's in Reading is the 91 from Central to Sullivan, the Orange Line to Medford (or Oak Grove), and then the 137 to the store. It would have been kind of close, but the Orange Line ran just slow enough that I missed the bus at both Medford and Oak Grove - the latter, actually seeing it pull away as I ran to the bus stop. I was kind of ticked, as you might imagine; aside from paying $13 for a movie I didn't see, this sort of thing happens enough on the way to work that seeing it happen on the weekend feels like my daily routine invading my day off.

So, I wound up turning around and seeing Out of the Furnace a little earlier in the day than I'd planned. It turned out to be a draggy bummer, though one at least filled with decent acting; I think the most interesting thing to come out of it is a number of stories about co-star Casey Affleck wanting to revitalize the Harvard Square Theatre. I wouldn't mind that at all, but apparently it will take a lot of work to get it up to code.

I wound up trying Catching Fire again Sunday AM, this time not buying a ticket online, and the same thing only almost happened. The big surprise wound up being how good the movie was; based on how I thought The Hunger Games was a disappointing take on Battle Royale, I didn't expect much, but it actually wound up being a solid improvement, with a lot of the heft that the first left.

After that? Spike Lee's Oldboy at Fenway, bringing the week's moviegoing full circle.

Out of the Furnace

* * (out of four)
Seen 7 December 2013 at AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, 4K DCP)

How do you know that Christian Bale's character in Out of the Furnace is not just the movie's protagonist, but a good guy? He's always building stuff. Even when he goes to jail (only because he takes responsibility for an accident that doesn't necessarily seem to be his fault), he's welding, and as soon as he's out, he's sprucing up the family house. Then, back at work at the steel mill, building something else. This Russell Baze guy is constructive as heck, compared to Woody Harrelson's Harlan DeGroat, who opens the movie with unprovoked violence.

That's how simple and straightforward this movie is, even though it's packed full of serious actors playing their roles with grim intensity: It's a beautifully-shot pulp story set in a part of America that tends to be under-represented on film - the decaying industrial towns that are now even closer to the lawless fringes than they were a generation ago, even though neither has moved physically - but one which drains any potential exhilaration from that genre's stories. Instead, writer/director Scott Cooper fashions a machine that drives Russell to seek justice-slash-revenge for the brother who disappeared into those woods, making it clear the world has little else to offer him at every turn. The gears don't grind or squeal, just keeping a regular, dull rhythm.

It's unfair to call the movie pointless or boring, but I wonder if Cooper doesn't miss his own point with all that building: Russell, for all his work with a hammer and nail at home and commitment to a solid livelihood, is actually fairly irresponsible, with two or three separate cases of not looking before he leaps with potentially tragic consequences. Bale is playing him as a tragic hero per Cooper's direction, though, and as a result, something that could have been a story about a man learning true maturity rather than just doing the expected things is presented as a guy who is just getting crapped on by the world around him. Or there could have been some meaningful comparison between Russell, his brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), Police Chief Wesley Barnes (Forest Whitaker), or maybe even DeGroat. Instead, it's just a well-shot but not particularly interesting take on things we've seen more than a few times before.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 December 2013 in Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, digital Imax)

I would not be terribly surprised if, by the time this series finishes up, Catching Fire is easily the best of the Hunger Games movies. Maybe the final volume has something particularly brilliant that leaves this one in the dust, but I am not sure what sort of themes Mockingjay might have to become more than just playing the plot of this out to its conclusion in the same way that The Hunger Games winds up being the set-up.

A useful set-up, sure - it gets Katniss to where she needs to be for this one to work - but the first movie was pretty hollow when it was compared to Battle Royale, as many of us could not resist. It may have been set in a dystopian world, but it was young-adult wish-fulfillment; Katniss was brave, smart, skilled at something useful, had two hunky guys swooning over her, and because this is a twenty-first century story, instinctively media-savvy as well. When placed in a murder tournament, she managed to win without actually killing anyone in cold blood and able to save an ally's life to boot. She was exactly the sort of triumphant outcast the target audience wanted to be.

So when Catching Fire opens with her suffering a pretty nasty case of post-traumatic stress while also pointing out her limited ambitions, okay, that's interesting. It's something Jennifer Lawrence can work with. And it serves as a starting point for what winds up being a surprisingly meaty theme: Young people learning to embrace their inner activist. What's particularly impressive is the way that the movie handles the theme; it feels contemporary without being directly analogous to what's happening in the real world, and it neither excoriates adults nor portrays youth as spoiled and needing to embrace a previous generation's idealism. Katniss, Peeta, and company learn to hijack Panem's equivalent of social media and attack inequities with generosity and truth-telling rather than protests. It's a lot closer to Millennials' activism than Boomers'.

So that's surprisingly smart, and both Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are pretty great at pushing it across. They've got a nicely upgraded cast - Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, and Philip Seymour Hoffman join Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland, are a heck of a nice ensemble. You've got to feel kind of sorry for Elizabeth Banks, who is executing the shallow girl awakening to the worlds' injustices as well as one could hope for under a hundred pounds of make-up and costume, and maybe Liam Hemsworth, playing Katniss's true love and being given absolutely nothing to do for the second time in a row; it shouldn't be quite so easy to be on #TeamPeeta.

Aside from a tighter script that mixes its loftier themes in with the YA melodrama more ably, the production looks to be upgraded. Catching Fire never looks cheap the way The Hunger Games occasionally did, but the refurbishing is by and large carried out without calling attention to how small the first movie occasionally looked. It doesn't hurt that new director Francis Lawrence and cinematographer Jo Willems are much more willing to hold the camera still than Gary Ross & Tom Stern were last time, either. The use of large-format IMAX framing doesn't have quite the impact one might have hoped, though.

Catching Fire doesn't retroactively make The Hunger Games a better movie, but it has certainly left me more interested in the series that I was after last year's Battle Royale knock-off - in large part because this entry has some of the substance Battle Royale had that the first one lacked.

Night Train to LisbonOut of the FurnaceThe Hunger Games: Catching FireOldboy (2013)

No comments: