Thursday, January 09, 2014

This These Weeks In Tickets: 23 December 2013 - 5 January 2014

I swear, during these two weeks I had a hard time keeping track of what day it was: Two days of vacation (but back home, to be used for Christmas shopping); Christmas; two days at work; weekend; two days at work; New Year's Day; two days working from home because of the storm; weekend... It's actually pretty good to get things back to normal!

23 December 2013 - 22 December 2013
30 December 2013 - 5 January 2014

This Week in Tickets

I did take a bit of a break from Christmas shopping on the 23rd to go see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 3D HFR at the Showcase SuperLux in Chestnut Hill, and since I actually sat in the SuperLux seats this time, I finally had felt like I had seen the place from enough angles to actually write up my thoughts on this theater, which is certainly relatively unique for the Boston area, along with the movie. I wound up liking the second Hobbit movie more than the first, and I think that both the high-frame-rate presentation and the creature-comfort focus of the theater are things that I can get used to, even if they do initially seem off to me.

No time for movies the rest of the week - Tuesday was a frantic day of finishing the shopping and trying to get stuff wrapped before my brother arrived to bring me up to Maine. Kind of a failure on both counts, as I discovered to my horror when finishing my wrapping at my brother's house that I'd forgotten to get something for a sister-in-law. I don't know why she actually got crossed off a list, but this just goes to show you that it's not a great idea to leave Christmas shopping to the last two days after a bunch of travel when you've got three married brothers and four nieces. Stuff goes wrong.

Still, a fair amount of stuff went right, too. My nieces remain the cutest nieces, especially since you've likely never seen a child as happy as a seven-year-old who got an indoor trampoline for Christmas. Little girls with their remote control cars are are a fairly close second. It was the first time in a while that I got to see my grandparents for the holiday, as well. Shame I had to leave to catch a 6pm bus back to Boston, but nearly two weeks away from the office (and a bunch of other people taking vacation) means no showing up late on Thursday.

I didn't get to any movies on Thursday or Friday; things didn't line up on Thursday and the film I wanted to see on Friday sold out right after I checked in with MoviePass, and the newest iteration doesn't respond well to backing out. There were issues on Saturday, too - I forget exactly what I was trying to see at 4pm, but when it balked I went for 47 Ronin, managed to get it to work for Mandela: Long Walk for Freedom, and then cashed in one of the readmission tickets I got for Machete Kills way back when for Dhoom: 3. Mandela was the best of them, although I certainly enjoyed Dhoom: 3. As for, 47 Ronin, it was pretty bad, but someone who worked on the effects was in the theater and thanked us for seeing it and seeing it in 3D, which was kind of cool.

Staying out until 1am watching the Bollywood movie means the next day starts slow, so I just went with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the Brattle. Nice new 2K restoration for the movie's 50th anniversary, and a movie that deserves its classic status, even if it can be hard to "hear: subtitles as singing.

47 Ronin

* * (out of four)
Seen 28 December 2013 at Regal Fenway #10 (first-run, RealD 3D)

I said this a few times during the run-up to its release as previews appeared, but it really feels like there wasn't nearly enough scorn for 47 Ronin. Oh, sure, there were people talking about how it ran late and over budget and was pretty clearly more than first-time director Carl Rinsch could handle, but that's just business; the person considering buying a ticket should have roughly zero concern about what sort of entry the production made in Universal's spreadsheets. That it takes a classic, quintessentially Japanese story and buries it with supernatural villains, a hapa viewpoint character, and other things that pervert its central character seems much more worthy of disdain.

That may be unfair, though - I have certainly read a number of manga that take similar approaches, and there is literally no counting how many World War II-set horror movies I've seen. I still think it's kind of sad that this will be the first exposure to the story by many who see it, but most of the decisions I don't like are less offensive than dumb.

Take Keanu Reeves's Kai. The character is everything wrong with the movie, from the studio's fear of making a movie about Japanese people in Japan without a white guy to act as audience surrogate, to being written whichever way is convenient for the moment at hand, to the need to stick a conventional romance and underdog story in the middle of a tale that hinges on the way a different sort of culture works. Plus, he's played by Reeves, who is pretty good within a certain range and, as his choosing to make Man of Tai Chi his directorial debut indicates, apparently genuinely fond of this sort of genre film and thus likely not looking down on the role. He's just all wrong for a samurai movie, though - as much as we think of samurai as stoic and not betraying their emotions, the great samurai stories have an abundance of passion pushing against the outer reserve until it's just about to break. Reeves doesn't do that, and it doesn't help that the make-up he wears to make him look roughly the same age as characters meant to be his contemporaries makes him even more bland.

On the other hand, though, you can't say that Rinsch and company don't get their money's worth. The movie is full of nifty monsters and other effects, rendered in fairly impressive 3D, with the digital appearing augmented by some impressive practical effects. The production values are top-notch, and while I suspect that very few people in the cast speak English as a first language, the film does not become a mess of rough accents and awkward emphasis. Tadanobu Asano and Rinko Kikuchi seem to be having a great deal of fun as the villains, while Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Jin Akanishi, Masayoshi Haneda, and more, are pretty good as Kai's allies.

I'm no expert on Japanese culture, so I guess it's silly for me to feel offended about this movie on their behalf. Heck, what relatively little I know probably worked against me, as I giggled a bit at the main character named "Oishi", which probably means something other than "delicious" in this context. Take that away, though, and it's still a pretty but clumsy movie.

This Week in Tickets

You'd think, with all the potential stuff to catch up on and time off, I'd be seeing more, but motivation's been a bit difficult. I know The Wolf of Wall Street and Her are probably going to hang around for a while, and while I'm not opposed to seeing Anchorman 2, I feel no urgency about it. Plus, weather - when though the monster storm we'd been warned about all week wasn't nearly as bad as you would think, it doesn't feel right to go out after working from home out of concern that I might not be able to get back from Burlington.

Still, the New Year's Eve-related stuff wasn't bad at all. The Gathr Previews show was on Monday - presumably because the Regent had some sort of part in Arlington's first night festivities - but was holiday-themed. Jump was actually pretty good, although it could be better. The next day, the employers let us out early which meant I was passing the Capitol Theatre early enough for a matinee of Grudge Match and took that decent (but nicely-cast) moive it. That, in turn had me in Harvard Square just in time for the Brattle's annual New Year's Eve screening of The Thin Man, and while I didn't stick around for After the Thin Man this year, you really cannot go wrong with the first.

Aside: In Jump, it seems like New Year's Eve is an occasion for "fancy-dress" parties in the UK. Mildly disappointed there weren't people in costumes in Cambridge the next night. Yeah, it makes me a hypocrite (I don't think I've worn a real Halloween costume since I was 11), but the folks who do like it seem to be having fun.

The next three days were snowy and about getting writing done, and then I had enough of a headache on Saturday that I didn't see anything that day. Sunday was a double-feature-worthy day, though, with the Brattle showing the pretty darn excellent A Touch of Sin followed by a quick trip two stops up the Red Line for American Hustle.

And now, close to caught up, although it looks like this weekend could throw a wrench into that.

The Thin Man

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 31 December 2013 at the Brattle Theatre (New Year's Eve, 35mm)

Rejoice! Another year has passed on the calendar without Johnny Depp's threatened remake directed by Rob Marshall coming to pass. For that alone, 2013 was a pretty good year at the movies.

As I said last year, The Thin Man is basically perfect, a tight little comedic murder mystery that could find any number of ways to not work, or not age well, but still does. You'd never write it this way today, with Nick Charles drinking like a fish and his wife Nora hardly a full partner in mystery-solving, but that's the glass-half-empty way of looking at it. Half full, Nick is a laid-back person who enjoys his liquor but never seems dependent as much as an overly-enthusiastic fan of good drink, while Nora is thoroughly in love with him but a full personality besides. It's rare to see a married couple on-screen that are so important to each other; usually a character like Nick with a wife like Nora will dominate the film, with the spouse only appearing occasionally. You don't get one without the other here, though.

Meanwhile, director W.S. Van Dyke and writers Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich let William Powell, Myrna Loy, and company hit just the right notes - some jokes here, something advancing the plot here, and let's keep that plot light without ever forgetting there's a murder or two to be solved. It's an astonishing alchemy, the likes of which one doesn't see too often.

American Hustle

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 December 2013 at Somerville Theatre #4 (first-run, 2K DCP)

Perhaps the first thing I thought during American Hustle? Christian Bale really has to get a handle on his eating disorder.

Soon after that, though, we get to the really fantastic thing about the movie: When Amy Adams's character looks at Bale's, says she's going to do X but make it look like Y, but then starts doing such a good job at it that the audience is starting to look at Y as a real possibility in almost no time flat. And while there are many good ways to run a movie about con artists, that may just be among the best. Writer/director David O. Russell is smart enough to make this the engine that drives the movie, and he is able to get a whole lot of mileage out of it.

That may seem like a risk, as doing so puts Amy Adams in the center of the movie and while every reasonable person loves Amy Adams and has since Junebug, it can be easy to think of her as someone who does the wide-eyed girl next door very well but not much else Thankfully, she pretty much crushes it - not just switching accents, but doing it in such a way that the imperfection at various points works as part of her character. She commands the screen, making her character both a clever, sexual mastermind and a vulnerable woman in love. She's also extraordinarily funny, as is the rest of the cast.

The whole group - Adams, Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K., and more - are hilarious, but also fully realized, well-rounded people that are utterly believable even as the series of events spins into stranger and stranger places. At a certain point, the movie does start to get a little extended, with scenes that seem more there to get an actor a good scene and the nagging suspicion that the climax was ten minutes ago.

But, man, is it rare for a movie to sustain the energy and set-up that American Hustle does for that long. David O. Russell doesn't always make great movies, but when he's at his best - and this one is right up there with Flirting with Disaster and Three Kings - he can be tough to match.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
47 Ronin
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Dhoom: 3
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Grudge Match
The Thin Man
A Touch of Sin
American Hustle

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