Wednesday, January 22, 2014

This Week In Tickets: 13 January 2014 - 19 January 2014

There are two types of movie catch-up going on at this time of the year: Trying to see Oscar nominees, and trying to see stuff for potential film-society nomination. Thankfully, they overlap some and it generally turns out all right.

This Week in Tickets

Stubless: Wolf Children, Monday, 9-ish, in the living room.

I'm not sure that Wolf Children will actually help me with the Chlotrudis nomination process, aside from giving me bulk (which, giving the group's rules, is a good thing to have in the nominating stage, which is all I really care much about). It should - it is a pretty darn great movie by a director (Mamoru Hosada) who deserves a heck of a lot more mainstream recognition than he has received outside his native Japan - but like most groups that present awards and best-of lists, we're not really equipped to deal with animation that well. And I'm not even sure it's eligible; it looks like it got an "a screening here and there" release as opposed to a proper qualifying run. Still, it's worth seeing.

Tuesday was the regular Gathr preview day, which had Kids for Cash, a decent-enough documentary about a recent scandal in northern Pennsylvania that could have worked as an excellent jumping-on point for a broader discussion of the juvenile justice system and incarceration industry, but gets a bit bogged down in a story that doesn't quite go in the directions that best illustrate the filmmakers' points. Not bad, although it did lead to this odd juxtaposition at the theater's entrance:

Posters photo IMAG0818_zps0258cf7c.jpg

Thursday morning Oscar nominations were announced, including a few for films I'd been meaning to see but hadn't, and since I was working from home, it was easy enough to get to a movie that was on the early side of the Kendall's inconvenient-for-me scheduling. Thus, Philomena. It somewhat encapsulates why doing this sort of catch-up frustrates me: It's a perfectly fine movie, but my reaction coming out was along the lines of "this took up spaces that could have gone to Inside Llewyn Davis?" But, hey, that's not close to the full-blown anger of paying money to see Chicago out of a misplaced sense of obligation.

Friday night I went for a new release, in this case, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Hey, someone had to write it up for EFC, right? It was surprisingly good, although the low expectations I sort of had weren't really fair (the blog post contains far more explanation than necessary about where my expectations for Tom Clancy and Kenneth Branagh are).

Spending Saturday afternoon catching up on some other stuff and trying to game the MoviePass system meant I wound up missing the thing I'd planned to watch then (I will see The Wolf of Wall Street eventually) and then heading back home because I stood no chance of getting to it or my Plan B without either being late or hanging around a lobby for a half-hour (I will see Her eventually). Not a total loss, though, because it meant I was able to get up early enough to see Gold during its one-off screening at the Coolidge the next morning, and while it may not have been an exceptional movie, it was a pretty good one, and how often does one get to see a German Western, anyway? The night's entertainment became Nebraska, which I found myself liking quite a bit.

And then the later night's entertainment was the start of the latest series of Sherlock, and I'm not sure why WGBH decided they needed to run a feature-length program at 10pm unless the BBC basically told them that they were releasing Blu-rays in mid-February and you'd best fit it into your schedule before then. My first reaction was actually that if they had to have both Downton Abbey and Sherlock running at the same time, they should have revived showing Mystery!, on Thursday, but that would have involved them running directly against Elementary (even if that does seem to be courteously airing reruns right now). Still, too late!, even with the buses running on a holiday schedule the next day.

(The show itself? Pretty good, although I'm not sure whether to be amused or annoyed that Moffatt & Gattis hedged on explaining last series's cliffhanger. It's great to have the show's undeniable energy back, though; "The Empty Hearse" may not quite have crammed the full season of twists that other episodes have featured, but it was certainly a fun adventure that didn't run out of steam.)

Philomena

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 January 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, 2K DCP)

I like Philomena well enough, though in a certain way I think it contains a bit of commentary on its own popularity and award-worthiness, as the conversations journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) has with his editor occasionally have them talking semi-cynically about how the tale that the title character (Judi Dench) is telling pulls a number of the right levers and just needs a proper conclusion to not only have people love the story but feel good for loving it. For a movie adaptation, you just need to add a much-loved actress obviously acting up a storm and folks will get even more excited.

Putting it that way doesn't mean I don't appreciate Judi Dench's performance; she does a fine job of taking a character who is meant to be broad and good-natured in a very simple way and playing that up when other performers might be inclined to find subtlety, and doing it without Philomena doesn't become a caricature. It makes her simple, working-class sincerity something Martin can be flummoxed by, and come to appreciate, but to which he does not have to aspire. Coogan, meanwhile, is somewhat toned down compared to his co-star with her accent and wide-eyed outlook that gives way to unexpected acceptance, but he makes a fine straight man and representative for the upper-class audience as a result.

It's also not hard to see why someone, both in-story and out, would want to tell this tale: Not only does it have a familiar but somewhat satisfying hook - the Catholic Church really was monsters here - but it goes to some unexpected places, and even if the movie's story seems a bit too good to be true or contrived, it does in fact work. Sometimes, you just have to appreciate a movie that lays things right out there, even if it does seem unsophisticated.

Nebraska

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2014 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, 2K DCP)

If Philomena is the awards season's ode to mothers, maybe Nebraska fills that same position for fathers. Well, maybe not, although they do both share a theme of reconnecting with one's family, be it close or extended, and discovering the whole other life that the people you love have that doesn't necessarily intersect with yours.

That may be why, for all the acclaim that Bruce Dern is getting as the old, frequently confused Woody (the plot involves him going to Lincoln to collect a sweepstakes prize he probably hasn't won), I kind of think that the job Will Forte does as his son David is being overlooked. Dern is impressive, there's no doubt about that, but there's something about the way David's resignation skips bitterness and goes to empathy and curiosity that makes him fun to watch through the entire movie, like there's something going on with him versus Woody's blank stare. The good work sneaks out of Dern and on-screen wife Jane Squibb, as familiar bits about cranky old folks (ha ha, gramma's swearing!) give way to moments of lucidity where a lifetime of experiences shows not by the lines on their face but the way they talk.

Also not getting enough mention: This is an incredibly funny movie; there's a sequence involving David and his brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) stealing something from a barn that may have resulted in the hardest I've laughed all year, and that's especially impressive since it doesn't do any damage to the more serious material director Alexander Payne and writer Bob Nelson surround it with. Another bit of fine balancing of tone is how they can include David's hilarious dimwit cousins as just one gradation of relatively unsophisticated small-town folks, while others are sweetly down-to-earth and still more somewhere in between.

I like the black-and-white photography Payne and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael use, as well. The movie doesn't need it, but it helps maintain the feel that not much has changed in Woody's Nebraska hometown since his family left for Billings, Montana decades ago by not having the other ensuing color palettes intrude. It gives the whole story about coming home the feel of a flashback without ever uprooting itself from the present, and looks nice as well.


Kids for Cash
Philomena
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Gold
Nebraska

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