Saturday, December 07, 2013

This Week In Tickets: 25 November 2013 - 1 December 2013

Busy week, and I really didn't even get to everything I wanted.

This Week in Tickets

For instance, I had ideas about getting to Boston Common in time to catch something in the 7pm slot before the great big Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor 50th Anniversary Special at 10pm (for which I had purchased my ticket weeks ago, lucky that they decided to put late shows on after the 7:30pm ones sold out in a matter of hours). Didn't happen; work kept me late and it would have been a tight squeeze. Still, I'm tremendously glad I went to this. Yes, it was paying $18 for something I had sitting on my DVR from two days earlier, but it looked great on the big screen even beyond the 3D actually being quite good, and it was fantastic to see it in a theater filled with fellow enthusiasts. Not necessarily a lot of other "loved it since Tom Baker & Peter Davison" fans - fezzes outnumbered scarves by a healthy margin - but, hey, it was late. Although, man, where were all the cute girls who loved Doctor Who when I was fifteen?

That was a lot of fun; Tuesday's Gathr preview of Cold Turkey really wasn't. It's the sort of drama about a dysfunctional family where one wonders if there is any affection along any axis at all, and the details are not interesting enough for good drama (or funny enough for good black comedy). There was also a little bit of bait and switch there, as some of the advertising said "from Academy Award Winner Peter Bogdanovich", but he was just there as an actor, not writing or directing.

Real-life Thanksgiving caused the rest of the relatively unusual schedule: We were told to work from home on Wednesday because of a great big incoming storm, but between it being less of a big deal than reported and the usual email to knock off a couple hours early with the holiday coming up, I was able to catch the matinees of The Blue Dahlia & The Glass Key and still have time to get to the comic shop and knock off early for the earlier-than-necessary bus to Maine. I always forget that Dad's wife Barbara's family tends to arrive and eat late, so with my brothers all scattered to have Thanksgiving with their wives' folks, I could have gotten that extra couple hours of sleep.

Friday morning was actually spent on laundry, noteworthy because the washing machine in my basement up and died a couple weeks ago, and the landlord is still sort of plotting just how to get a new one into my basement (nobody seems to know how the one that's there was installed, even though the house is too old to have been built around it). So drag clothes a mile, wash (and sit around waiting), drag them back even though they're sodden and heavy because there's nothing wrong with my dryer. Still, I was able to get to Homefront - a Jason Statham action movie solidly in the "better than it could be but still kind of just average" range - and then hit Frozen at the same theater soon after. That one was pretty great, as was the short playing before it, Get a Horse!.

Saturday was another split, with It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Brattle followed by Black Nativity downtown. The former is a sort of quiet classic, while the latter didn't quite do it for me, though I might have enjoyed it more without a couple of twerps making me have to really concentrate on the movie rather than just watch it.

Sunday was meant to be another two-movie day, but after Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Brattle, I went back home, had a bit of a completely-unrelated headache, and just didn't feel like going out. It got kind of rainy, too, if I remember correctly.

Worrisome: No Christmas shopping was done amid all this, and I have a ton of brothers and nieces. I tell myself that I'll do it all on vacation and then fill in blanks later, but that didn't exactly work out well in London last year.

Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 November 2013 at AMC Boston Common #16 (Fathom Events, DCP)

Given how many of us showed up for this - Boston sold out six screenings that night, and the total box office take on relatively few screens nationwide was second to only Catching Fire - I've got to think the BBC will be doing this again. Maybe not in 3D, but why not make next year's Christmas Special or the rumored Dalek two-parter directed by Kevin Wheatley a cinema event? It would have my money, especially if it's as good as this one.

Not that Day of the Doctor is necessarily perfect; as it introduces the three separate strands being followed by three incarnations of the title character (John Hurt, David Tennant, and Matt Smith), it feels like it's trying too hard to give them equal time. What's going on with Smith and Jenna Coleman's Clara is current, what's going on with Hurt and Billie Piper's not-actually-Rose is obviously important, but what's happening with Tennant and Joanna Page's Elizabeth I really seems like filler, even as it does flow into the rest of the story. It's also, inevitably, fairly heavy on the recent history of the show despite being meant to celebrate a half-century.

But when it works, it does, and it's pretty clever about it. There's plenty of fun and humor in how Tennant and Smith play off each other, and John Hurt does a great job of making "missing" version of the character still unmistakably The Doctor, even if he is different enough that we can fully understand why the ensuing "regenerations" have tried to forget ever being him (The Doctor, for the uninitiated, appears human but is actually a time-traveling alien who can, when overtaken by age or injury, regenerate his body into a new form, which also changes his personality a bit). Writer Steven Moffatt uses this as an interesting way to comment on the difference between the show's current incarnation and the original run, and then uses the climax to quite possibly roll those changes back, hinting that the next few years could be old-school.

Plus, it's a big, fun adventure. Not for newbies, perhaps, but once one knows the concept, the story unfolds in clever (and surprisingly fair) ways. It's never overly solemn but often very funny, and the BBC spent a bit of money on it, making a movie that plays much bigger than the TV show without feeling unlike it. Director Nick Hurrian and d.p. Neville Kidd also do a very nice job of shooting in 3D; it's probably one of the best-looking 3D movies to come out this year, integrating it into the story without it seeming particularly gimmicky.

And, hey, any show that gets the audience to go absolutely nuts twice (at "All Thirteen!" and "The Curator") is certainly doing something right!

"Get a Horse!"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 November 2013 in Regal Fenway #3 (first-run, RealD DCP)

I could have sworn I'd read something about "Get a Horse" in one of the Fantagraphics collections of the Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse comic strips, but a quick flip through them doesn't turn anything up. Still, those collections are a big part of why I had a good time - although I suspect the likes of Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, and the like have shown up in Epic Mickey or other games, but the throwback characters making an appearance - and then jumping into the three-dimensional world as rips appear in the movie screen - was part of the fun.

Of course, the big fun is the way director Lauren MacMullen and company use the the third dimension to set up a non-stop stream of slapstick. But the three-dimensional stuff is also where the short hits a snag: The black-and-white, two-dimensional, traditionally animated footage looks so much better than the CGI animation; it feels unlimited and unbounded, while the three-dimensional versions of the characters seem to be using Nintendo-quality models. It's not quite as stiff as the digital Mickey that appeared as part of the Oscar broadcast a few years back, but still, when the screen gets completely torn away to reveal the fully three-dimensional, CGI world behind it... Well, if you read the whole thing as a sort of metaphor for the transition from traditional cel-based animation to digital, it doesn't exactly feel like progress, especially on the heels of Laika's The Boxtrolls trailer.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 November 2013 in Regal Fenway #3 (first-run, RealD DCP)

It's strange - Disney has been making princess-themed stories for young girls for about seventy-five years, and this is the first one that really seems to focus on sisterhood as a theme. I don't know if my brother and sister-in-law are still trying to avoid Disney Princess stuff for their girls, but even if they are, this is one I could see them being deemed okay. Sure, it doesn't pass the "no missing parents" test (though it looked like they were on the right track early), but it hits a lot of the right notes otherwise.

First off, it's a great, fun little movie; directors Jennifer Lee & Chris Buck do a great job of introducing the audience to princesses Elsa & Anna right off, and they sell us on Anna quickly: There's tragedy and hurt in her background, but she's still incredibly optimistic. Kristen Bell does great voice-acting work there, and throughout, making Anna a scatterbrained but charmingly determined girl. She plays off the rest of the characters well, whether it be Santino Fontana as the handsome prince, Jonathan Groff as the affable ice merchant she meets searching for her sister, Idina Menzel as Elsa herself, and Josh Gad as Olaf, the snowman who accidentally came to life when Elsa froze the kingdom.

What's great, though, is how the relation between Anna and Elsa forms the core of the movie. I bet there's a draft of the screenplay where Elsa's big song, "Let It Go", is the villain number, and even in the movie as it is, it threatens to go there, because don't most villains start out confused, fearful, and just feeling better not living by the rules and restrictions others have set for her? And that would be the easy way to go, but the filmmakers have a twist or two more in store, including a subversion of the usual Disney ending to a fairy tale story that made me want to stand up and cheer for their commitment to staying on the right message; I can't imagine how women and folks trying to raise independent girls will take it.

And even if that stuff doesn't register - the movie is downright gorgeous and funny from moment one, in the same style as Tangled. The animation is as flawless as you'd expect from Disney, and I daresay they're approaching DreamWorks territory in taking the mandate to make films in 3D and using it well. Characters like Olaf who could be annoying are endearing, and while it's not quite perfectly paced, it's never far from something really funny, beautiful, or endearing happening. I'm not sure it's quite my favorite of Disney's new wave - Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph were movies I absolutely loved - but then, I'm a 40-year-old male with no kids. The audience that it's made for, my two-to-seven-year-old nieces, will eat it up, and it's quite likely that they can do so without their parents worrying about the message sent so much.

(Says, again, the 40-year-old guy with no kids, whose thoughts on what's good for young girls are, at the best, speculative.)

Day of the DoctorCold TurkeyThe Blue Dahlia & The Glass KeyHomefrontFrozenIt's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad WorldBlack NativityRaiders of the Lost Ark

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