Wednesday, May 28, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 14 April 2014 - 20 April 2014

Yep, post-festival hangover was done and pre-festival cramming was in effect. Add some wacky-shaped tickets, and it was tough to fit everything in.

This Week in Tickets

Heck, I kind of feel like I'm missing something here, even though there aren't a whole lot of holes in the schedule. Things started out amiably enough with Draft Day, an enjoyable enough Kevin Costner movie that isn't quite up to his other sports-oriented movies, but it is merely about football rather than baseball or golf. I didn't see anything on Tuesday, but did go to the Brattle on Wednesday for Northern Borders, the latest by Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven, who was on hand to talk about the film. Thursday night was another trip to the Somerville for a 35mm film that was part of their centennial celebration, this time Raiders of the Lost Ark.

From there, the weekend got busy, because it was apparently a holiday. That means I got let out of work early enough to catch a late-afternoon/early-evening show of That Demon Within, which was pretty darn great - I'm kind of excited that another recent film directed by Dante Lam is playing at the MFA in a couple of weeks. I must have gone home to watch baseball, because that was a long break between Demon and The Devil's Express, which played the Coolidge at midnight, which is apparently past my bedtime.

Huh. Just looking at that there, I now wonder if this is why I typed "That Devil Within" about ninety times in writing the review.

Saturday afternoon was time for my second Red Sox game of the year, which was pretty good as well - the seemingly-rare efficient quality start by Felix Doubront, a home run from Big Papi, and Koji Uehara locking down the save. Afterward, I noted that the Sox were 2-0 when I was there, and maybe the team should comp me tickets for the rest of the home games. I also went to see Transcendence, which was what might generously be called a mistake. I hate it more every time I think about it.

Then on Sunday, it was a double feature of Dom Hemingway and Finding Vivian Maier, since I knew the next week and a half was going to be busy for the next week and a half. Both were pretty darn interesting, and well worth checking out if you can find them.

Next up: IFFBoston, which makes this look like nothing.

Draft Day

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 April 2014 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

I'm not sure exactly why Kevin Costner even has to have a comeback right now - it's not like he had a bomb that made him radioactive - but I'm enjoying it. It's funny; Costner was never a particular favorite of mine when he was popular, but now he's carving out a fun niche as a weathered, non-crap-taking alternative to the regular leading man. Draft Day is probably the least grumpy he's been in the four or so movies he's had come out in the last year, but it's still part of his charm.

The movie needs that charm, because it's about football, and more specifically, the NFL draft. The former isn't my game, and let's face it, sports drafts are kind of awful - I can't imagine entering the job market after school and being told that I had been drafted by Diebold and I could either go to Ohio and work on programming voting machines for less than my skills are worth on the open market or not work in my chosen field at all. And to be honest, making a game of it in this way doesn't exactly heighten the drama for much of the movie, where Costner's Sonny Weaver Jr. (General Manager of the Cleveland Browns) sort of plods through preparing for the draft, clashing with his coach (Dennis Leary), not generating nearly enough drama from finding out that his semi-clandestine relationship with the team's salary cap manager (Jennifer Garner) has her pregnant, and not doing a whole lot of anything with a subplot about how he fired his late father (the head coach). There are subplots about investigating the make-up of the main draft targets and the players they might replace that never feel like they will go anywhere but where you expect.

And they really don't, but give director Ivan Reitman and his cast credit: The movie kicks into high gear once the draft actually starts, and even though I've got severe doubts that events would actually play out the way they do in the script by Scott Rothman & Rajiv Joseph, the crazy gambles, reversals, and phone calls between GMs that at times take on an air of personal taunting do make for exciting drama. Somehow, all the stuff that maybe had the audience fidgeting earlier does in fact manage to let them develop a rooting interest in these characters, so that when things do start working out just the way one would hope, it's something the audience can feel pretty good about rather than nothing how expected it is cynically.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 17 April 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Centennial Celebration, 35mm)

It's finally happened: I've reached the point where I'm not sure I can write about how much I love Raiders of the Lost Ark without feeling like I'm repeating myself. Maybe if I'd been all caught up last month, there would have been room to talk about my specific reaction that night or the characteristics of the print (if I recall correctly, a bit older, coming from before the recent digital cleanup for Imax and Blu-ray and this looking a bit worn), but I'm actually not even totally sure that this was the screening where the kid behind me was absolutely sure that we weren't going to see a movie, but a play, because she had just been on the stage in theater #1 for "Annie" a couple weeks earlier. Admittedly, a live Raiders would have been kind of cool.

So, I'll just leave this link to how Raiders of the Lost Ark tops my "drop-everything" list and move on.

The Devil's Express (aka Gang Wars)

N/A (out of four)
Seen 18 April 2014 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (@fter Midnite Cult Cuts, 35mm)

As I mentioned above, perhaps the best definition of middle age is still wanting to see the nutty midnight movies but wishing that they were running at 8:30 or so instead. It's double-special stupid to try and make it through when the when the midnight movie in question is playing Friday night and you were at work all day. As you might guess, I was in and put off this movie and can't really give it a fair shake.

I'd like to do so at some later date, though, because entertaining for what it is. Like a lot of the best blaxploitation, it's flat-out nuts, with a plot that involves an ancient Chinese demon being brought to New York City, taking up residence in the subways, and committing bloody murders that the cops need the help of Harlem martial-arts master Luke (played by the awesomely-named War Hawk Tanzania) to solve before hostilities between black and Chinese gangs gets out of hand. The acting is weak - although the fights are sometimes far more capable than you might expect from this sort of C-movie - and it would probably look cheap even if the print wasn't beat up. That roughness, though, winds up being part of its charm: This never feels like a movie made as a stepping stone to greater things, or one that was put together because it wasn't hard to make a profit if you spent little enough. No, this feels like people pouring what they love into a movie and hoping other people love it too.

Someday I've got to track down and read/watch a good rundown of why 1970s African-American action cinema seemed to grab on to Hong Kong action in a way that the mainstream didn't. The Devil's Express is one of the most direct examples, but there are plenty of others, and it's part of why people tend to love blaxploitation even when it's not for them or very good: It's making movies with more color and energy than you're going to get from two guys in suits trading punches or gunshots.


* ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2014 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, DCP)

The odds that Transcendence was going to suck were pretty high once Johnny Depp's name was attached; for a guy who was once an exciting and daring young actor, he's certainly attached himself to a lot of material that is surprisingly boring for how hard it tries to disguise itself as quirky over the last decade or so. The real bummer, though, is seeing how sadly the previews' promise of lousy science fiction is fulfilled.

And when I say "lousy science fiction", I don't just have complaints about technical details or the filmmakers' familiarity with genre tradition. I mean that this is a movie with a profound lack of curiosity that casts its lot in with Luddite terrorists from its initial ill-advised flash-forward on, to the point where the only characters with any interest in the wonders and innovations the writers conjure are people too emotionally devastated to think straight. Part of that is just being dishonest - screenwriter Jack Paglen engages in the hack tradition of skipping the difficult parts of scientific and technological progress to make things more horribly disruptive - but the larger part is just not being creative. There's nothing wrong with science fiction being a cautionary tale - lots of great sci-fi stories have been built from that - but in a world where everyone and their grandmothers are using the internet, doing stories about eeeeevil computers seems passé.

Playing a ghost in the machine also gives Johnny Depp to turn in what may be his least engaged performance ever, and a number of other folks in the cast like Morgan Freeman are just showing up to pick up a paycheck as well. Thankfully, Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany (arguably the film's real stars) are not among them, making the movie a little more pleasant to watch than it might be. What's most obviously disappointing is that director Wally Pfister, who made his mark as a pretty decent cinematographer, as made a movie that isn't much fun to look at. I'd at least hoped for that, even if the imminent start of IFFBoston meant that it wasn't being booked at the Somerville in a 35mm print.

Draft DayThat Demon WithinThe Devil's ExpressNorthern BordersRed Sox 4, Orioles 2Raiders of the Lost ArkDom HemingwayFinding Vivian MaierTranscendence

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