Saturday, June 21, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 26 May 2014 - 1 June 2014

Hey, I remember this week - there was baseball and the Red Sox were winning! It was awesome!

This Week in Tickets
It started with my last (so far) trip to the Harvard Film Archive for the Mizoguchi restrospective, this time to see The Water Magician, aka White Threads of the Waterfall. I think that's the name that was actually on the 16mm print, although the introduction suggested this was preferred. Part of the fun was that it was a "benshi print": In Japan, silent films were usually presented with a benshi, or narrator, on stage, who would read the dialog (often using different character voices), elaborate on the intertitles, and often provide other commentary; they were so popular that the adoption of sound film was delayed there for a few years. The HFA had one perform for some silents a year and a half ago (it was fun!). In this case, a benshi performance was recorded and included on the print.

(Having seen some of these, I now kind of wonder if the Chaplin reissues with his non-stop narration were influenced by that. He didn't do it quite so well.)

I wound up having two Red Sox tickets later in the week, which was during that exciting period when the team won ten in a row and it looked like they might be shaking off the rust and disappointment from earlier in the year. Thursday night's game was an exciting game against the Braves that ended with Boston's young players getting the best of Atlanta's usually-invincible closer, including a walk-off by Xander Bogaerts. Sunday was a four-double game for Brock Holt with a solid pitching performance by Jon Lester. I wound up watching the games in between on TV, in one case because I showed up for one movie a week early and didn't feel like seeing anything else that was playing right about then. But, they were the David Ortiz v. David Price game and the Rubby de la Rosa debut.

In between, I caught the new one by Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Dance of Reality, and it was pretty good. I look forward to the inevitable double feature with Jodorowsky's Dune during the Brattle's next "Recent Raves" series.

After the game on Sunday, I had time to stop into Comicopia, where Greg Pak was signing his Kickstarted book "Code Monkey Save World" (which is apparently based on the songs of a nerd-musician of some sort, although I bought it for Pak working with Takashi Miyazawa). He's a good guy who has had great runs on The Hulk and Hercules since popping up at three different Boston events with his movie Robot Stories about ten years ago, and his current run on Action Comics with Aaron Kuder is probably the best thing DC has going for it right now.

After that, I kept walking to Boston Common to check out A Million Ways to Die in the West. It may not be one of the all-time great comedy westerns, but it's not bad. And even if one isn't particularly fond of it, give writer/director/star Seth MacFarlane credit for getting Fox to spend an hour on Neil Tyson explaining climate change that night, in the slot that usually goes to Family Guy.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

* * * (out of four)
Seen 1 June 2014 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, digital)

I must admit to being no big fan of Seth MacFarlane, to the point where it led to pretty heated arguments that time he hosted the Oscars. He can be tremendously funny, in large part because he will squeeze everything out of a joke, with the problem being that he will often squeeze "everything" out of something familiar but not particularly funny. There's actually a joke about that in here, where his character demands another character explain where the joke is, and it's tough to know if he appreciates the irony.

Fortunately, he's generally on much more solid ground here, starting from the idea that the old west that America has romanticized and mythologized was actually pretty horrible, leading to a bunch of off-beat but effective comedy about how a man with a modern sensibility like MacFarlane's Albert has a hard time less because he's weak than because he's not insane. It doesn't hurt that he's paired off with Charlize Theron, who seems to be having a lot of fun as the similarly-sane new girl in town. A fair number of laughs come from Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman as a sweet couple who try to be good Christians despite her job as a prostitute, and Neil Patrick Harris has a lot of good, smarmy moments as the local merchant of moustache maintenance supplies.

The movie doesn't always live up to its potential; it's worth noting, for instance, that a lot of the jokes along the lines of the title that appeared in the ads are actually much funnier without the R-rated punchlines that follow them in the film. MacFarlane and company don't really get all they can out of Liam Neeson as the villain or Amanda Seyfried as the shallow girl who dumps Albert, either. At least MacFarlane seldom falls into one of the other traps he's prone to, where an attempt at subtle satire is too-easily mistaken for the thing it's mocking. I do think he and his co-writers were onto something with the bit about people being afraid to smile in photographs for fear of looking insane. It winds up being a fairly light spoof and less than it could be, but still funny more often than not.

The Water Magician
Sox beat Braves
Sox beat Rays
The Dance of Reality
A Million Ways to Die in the West

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