Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Two at the Brattle: Jimmy P. & A Field in England

This bit of movie-watching advice is really just common sense, but, honestly, when you've worked a complete day that leaves you bleary-eyed from trying to find noteworthy discrepancies when comparing one 12,000 line database summary to another, the best thing to do might be to just go home and crash, as opposed to trying to do a triple feature at two different theaters because it looks like much of the weekend might be spoken for. I got through Jimmy P. without much trouble, but missed large swaths of A Field in England, and then hemmed and hawed about getting on the 66 bus to head to Coolidge Corner for Almost Human but finally went for it, finishing the last pepperoni pizza at Otto's before they closed at midnight. Then I slept until about 11am the next day, worked from home, and then gave A Field in England another try at 9:30pm.

I'll be totally honest: I think I might have missed a couple of minutes there. There's a big jump at around 2/3 the way through the movie that I might have just missed twice, but there's enough exposition afterwards that it would have seemed odd if Wheatley had actually showed it as well. I don't think I'll get to the movie a third time in theaters, but I'm certainly looking to give it another view on Blu-ray in a couple of months. At like 7pm, because I'm clearly old.

At any rate, both of these are good movies, and if you're in the Boston area, I'd recommend seeing them before they leave the Brattle after Thursday.

Jimmy P.

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

Early on in Jimmy P., a character apologizes for the way he talks, and it's a bit of an odd moment, as he's not the one whose manner of speech is likely to give a modern audience pause. Confronting that is what makes this movie a little more interesting than it might be - as much as we today attempt to respect different cultures, we often get uncomfortable with actually treating them as different. That is likely not quite the intent of the original work, but it's hard to watch the movie without thinking about it.

We are introduced to James Picard (Benicio Del Toro) as he works his sister's farm in Browning, Montana, in 1948. He is suffering debilitating pain and occasional spells of blindness, and has been since returning from the way. He is referred to Winter Hospital in Topeka, Kansas, where the doctors can find nothing physically wrong with him but are very hesitant to label him as schizophrenic based on his responses to the standard psychiatric tests. So one calls in an old friend, Dr. Georges Deveraux (Mathieu Amalric), an anthropologist whose work focuses on American Indians, although he is looking to learn as much as help.

The decision to call Deveraux is made after one of the doctors in residence says rather bluntly that they cannot tell whether Jimmy is mentally ill or just an Indian and this beyond their comprehension, and it's a comment that shapes how the movie engaged with Jimmy's culture in a challengingly honest way: At first, it seems awful, like Native Americans are not quite human, but it eventually proves to be both honest and useful. This tension between how most in the audience likely want to be respectful to Native peoples and how that respect often takes the form of depicting them as assimilated rather than "primitive" is a constant throughout the movie, whether expressed through Deveraux's note-taking, the drums on the soundtrack, or Jimmy's halting speech. It's a facet that one must sort of stand outside the movie to appreciate and which could easily rub a viewer the wrong way, but which turns out to be an interesting and crucial layer.

Full review at EFC

A Field in England

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 7, 8 March 2014 in the Brattle Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

Having an annual pass to the Brattle Theater means that it's no big deal to come back the next night when the attempt to see three movies after a full day in the office means that something gets napped through. That bit of zoning-out during my first attempt to watch A Field in England should not be laid at the movie's feet; after all, even knowing the end, I wanted to catch the whole thing the next day, and doing so cost it none of its strange appeal.

The audience is thrown right into its odd world as academically-inclined servant Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) pleads that he needs more time to complete his mission on the edge of a battle during the English Civil War. The man threatening him is killed, and he joins with the soldiers deserting and/or cut off from their armies - Cutler (Ryan Pope), Jacob (Peter Ferdinando), and Friend (Richard Glover) - to rest at a pub one knows. On the way, they stumble across Whitehead's quarry, but this O'Neil (Michael Smiley) appears to have some occult power as well as knowledge of a treasure hidden somewhere within the seemingly endless field.

Director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump have never been ones to waste much time getting the audience into a story and they don't start here, introducing their characters in rapid succession and having them tell each other what the audience needs to know to get an idea of the circumstances without it ever seeming like a targeted release of information. It's a snappy, often witty way to get the viewer into the picture, and it never feels nearly as aimless as some movies whose makers try that structure do (including, arguably, Wheatley's own Down Terrace). Which is good, because once O'Neil shows up, things start happening pretty quickly, and it wouldn't do for a movie that's already starting to get weird to leave the audience completely at sea.

Full review at EFC

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