Thursday, June 05, 2014

This Those Weeks In Tickets: 21 April 2014 - 4 May 2014

IFFBoston stretched over two weeks, so we may as well run them together.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

Not to be all snobby or anything, but if you can possibly swing a badge at a film festival, do so! I think I saved a little bit of money by purchasing individual tickets instead of a Film badge (although not as much as remembering to get my request for accreditation in for a press pass, obviously), but being able to wait in fewer lines for less time during the inevitable spring mist is nice, but for me the big one is being able to change plans on the fly. It's very nice to be able to wait on the TBA slots without worrying about others selling out. Still, I can't say that I didn't have myself a pretty good festival:

23 April: Beneath the Harvest Sky
24 April: Trap Street, The Skeleton Twins
25 April: Big Significant Things, Palo Alto
26 April: Jon Imber's Left Hand, We Are the Best!, The Search for General Tso, Wild Canaries, A For Alex
27 April: 9-Man, Ayiti Toma, Fort Tilden, God Help the Girl
28 April: Dear White People, Wicker Kittens
29 April: The Trip to Italy, The Double

Amusing bit: It looked like Beth was just going to keep the ticket I presented her for Trap Street, but said, no, you're going to want to keep them.

The festival influenced a few things around it on the schedule, too - I went to Under the Skin at the Coolidge on Monday because I was worried about it being gone when the fest was over. I don't regret seeing it, but I'm not sure it was worth worrying about. I was going to go back to the Coolidge on Tuesday for the silent movie, but worries about fitting everything on a page not being able to get there from Burlington in time had me turning back to Harvard Square to catch the John Hubley Centennial shorts, and that was a good decision; many of those are fantastic.

On the other side of the festival, I had opted to skip the final day because I had foolishly bought Red Sox tickets during the winter without checking to see if the dates conflicted with film festivals (I've got two or three others like that; not clever this winter). Of course, it rained, and they actually called the game off early enough that I probably could have gone to Mood Indigo if I'd been willing to do the rush line (or had a badge). Ah, well. At least it was early enough that I could put in for time off the next day and see a grinding, 3.5-hour 2-1 loss. And the bobblehead I got wound up missing a piece!

Afterward, though, I had time to get to Brick Mansions, a kind of fun remake of District 13. I finally kind of collapsed and did non-movie stuff at home for a couple days after that (I think it was too rainy to make walking to a theater too appealing) before finally seeing Noah on Saturday. Great stuff; it would probably go on my best-of list at the end of the year if I did such things.

Sunday, I hit opposite ends of Somerville - first up, checking out the new Assembly Row theater with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on their Imax branded screen (these movies are starting to get me mad) and then checking out the original Godzilla at the Somerville. That was better!

Next up: A nifty week which included the end of the Somerville's 100th Anniversary celebration!

Under the Skin

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 April 2014 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

It's hard to argue with those impressed by Under the Skin as a pure art-house movie, but the hair on my back starts to spoke when they start to call it great science fiction, or use superlatives, as a number of posters and standees I've seen for this one were prone to do. I may even have heard someone blathering about it "transcending its genre" or having insight into "the human condition", and that latter one is when you know somebody's blowing smoke. It sounds profound, but it actually means nothing, the vaguest of vague generalities.

Which, in many ways, seems to be what the film version of Under the Skin aspires to: None of the characters are named, and while it certainly seems like Scarlet Johansson is playing an alien of some kind, her personal goals and those of her species are left utterly vague beyond a gore-soaked moment or two. In a way, what goes on as this visitor goes around, picking men up of the streets of Glasgow and the surrounding area and taking them back to a nondescript house where the shocking stuff happens, is pretty retrograde: It is straight-out fear of the unknown Other, who only becomes sympathetic as she assimilates and becomes more like us, turning her back on her own savage, inscrutable culture (although her dark, inhuman soul can still be seen underneath). There's also a pretty rich vein of fearing female sexuality - she just wants to trap poor men helpless at the sight of a pretty girl and then eviscerate them, - and while you can argue about how the climax of the movie plays into that, it's still fairly ugly. Honestly, the more I think about this movie's subtexts, the uglier I find it.

Conceptually, that is. On a sheer "just look at this thing" level, screenwriter/director Jonathan Glazer puts a great-looking movie on the screen, both from how he shots much of what's going on with cinema-verité immediacy and how things will suddenly take a turn for the fantastically trippy as the sci-fi/horror elements make themselves known. He does fall in enough love with a few bits of imagery that he simply repeats them a couple of times, but the documentary style shooting and the accompanying performance by Johansson - who is on a pretty amazing run between Her, Captain America, this, Chef, and hopefully Lucy - at times makes it feel like a twisted hidden-camera show. The music by Mica Levi is suitably unsettling in helping to establish the mood.

So the emperor isn't completely without clothes, and this movie certainly isn't the sort of abomination that Glazer's previous film Birth was. It's just the kind of movie that can look a lot more clever than it is by applying an artistic sheen to a rather hollow core.

The Hubley Centennial

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 22 April 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (Kids' Movies Not Just for Kids, 35mm)

The Hubleys are occasionally called America's First Family of Animation; John Hubley and his wife Faith produced a number of highly memorable animated shorts, often involving their kids, and while not all of those children have taken up the family business, Emily is still making animated shorts and I think there's a third generation active as well. The touring package that landed at the Brattle for this evening, assembled and restored from several sources, is quite cool indeed, both in the films selected and that they played in 35mm, an unfortunately rare occurrence. These films included:

"Windy Day": Speaking of Emily Hubley, she and her sister Georgia provided the voices for this 1968 short, although they may not have known it at the time: It certainly sounds like George & Faith recorded an afternoon of the pair playing and then animated to that. The result is predictably adorable, with costumes and settings in the backyard that change as quickly as a little girl's imagination.

"The Tender Game": The first of several in the package built around some great jazz, this short from 1958 has Ella Fitzgerald on the soundtrack and looks like watercolors on-screen in a soothing picture of city life.

"Urbanissimo": This 1967 project for the government of Ontario isn't quite so bullish on the city, depicting it as a sort of cast creature that both displaces and seduces a nearby farmer. It's a whimsical take on the idea that makes its point of how urban sprawl demands resources but consumed those who would provide them as well without necessarily having the knives out, functioning as a sort of animated editorial cartoon with a fun, jazzy score.

"Moonbird": It turns out "Windy Day" was not the only animated short that the Hubleys built around their kids' imaginary adventures; this one from 1959 follows songs Mark and Ray "Hampy" Hubley as they sneak out of their bedroom one night to capture the mythical bird of the title. It's a cute bit that does wind up stretched out a bit at ten minutes, although fun of the premise and the occasionally nifty ways that the animation shows them sneaking around in the deep dark certainly make it worth remembering.

"The Adventures of an *": Another bit of 1950s oddness, this one plays with moving typography to the music of frequent collaborator Benny Carter. It's a fun thing that may be long for an animated short at ten minutes, never feels it because of the constant motion.

"Eggs": This peculiar piece from 1971 blends fantastical and science-fictional takes on the threat of over-population, a threat people were just starting to grapple with at the time (and which, in the years since, we've more or less moved on to ignoring). Death and a fertility goddess share a car and both attempt to shape the landscape, a couple awaits information on whether they will get a pregnancy license in the lottery, and an ancient man describes his first organ transplant. It's a mishmash of ideas that at times seem to be tossed off too casually (although better that than characters acting shocked about the world they live in), but I do like the Hubleys' detachment where others might find shrill panic and outrage. A nifty score by Quincy Jones certainly does not hurt.

"Of Men & Demons": Another with a score by Quincy Jones, this one was commissioned by IBM and certainly feels like an advertisement for their services. That's a bit of a disappointment, because things like "Urbanissimo" certainly show that Hubley had the ability to use a light touch even when given the job of advancing someone else's agenda. It's an amusing short, at least, with plenty of energy.

"The Hat": Almost long enough to be a half-hour TV special at 18 minutes, this features the voices of Dizzy Gillespie and Diddley Moore as two soldiers guarding opposite sides of a border whose admirable relationship turns contentious when the wind blows one's hat into the other's territory. It's a commentary on the absurdity that crops up along borders, especially during the time of the Cold War, but it's also an enjoyably laid-back bit of banter, the sort of thing Moore often did with Peter Cook, with the apparent improvisation of the voice cast seemingly reflected in the animation. The Hubleys give the impression of the camera wandering and animals just hopping through randomly, even though the medium requires solid planning. It's the longest film in the program, but still enjoyably low-key, and continues the pattern of getting good music with Gillespie and Moore (famous as a pianist before taking up comedy and acting) adding good sound even when not talking.

The whole package ran a little more than an hour and if presumably available for other houses to book. With any luck, someone will be able to put together a DVD collection by the end of John Hubley's centennial year - he and his family made some nifty short films, and unlike many famous animators, Hubley experimented with a lot of different styles, enough so that this often feels more like an anthology than a career retrospective.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2014 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

I really wish I had managed to see this during its run in Imax theaters, because, wow, is Darren Aronofsky working on a big, eye-popping canvas with this one. Unfortunately, it premiered during BBUFF and only had the giant screens for a week before Captain America came out, and then I wound up putting it off because the scheduling wasn't right, or IFFBoston, or really not wanting to see it on Easter weekend around a bunch of Christians.

Especially since, as it turns out, they might have been complaining, since Noah not only takes even more liberties than is strictly necessary to turn a few paragraphs in Genesis into a two-hour-plus movie, but presents that story in such a way as to make the religious - especially the conservative and religious - uncomfortable: It links the pre-Flood state of the world with modern images of environmental cataclysm, specifically referencing deforestation and resource depletion due to mining. Noah is shown not as a kindly old man ostracized for his beliefs, but a fundamentalist who is incredibly callous toward those who do not share his convictions, and ultimately a doomsday cultist celebrating the End Times (a function of his interpreting the Creator's will to fit his own mind). He's a fusion of environmentalist hippie and evangelical extremist, and even with Ray Winstone's Tubal-Cain around, there is a real argument to be made that he's close to being the villain of the piece, and a reminder that if you believe in the literal truth of the Bible, you believe in some horrifying stuff.

Russell Crowe commits to this, and as a result creates the most interesting take on the figure that has likely ever been presented on the screen, about supported by the like of Jennifer Connelly, Emma Roberts, Logan Kerman, and Anthony Hopkins. And, odd course, in my favorite credit of the year, "Frank Langella as the voice of Og", Og being one of the stone Watchers who come to Noah's side, stone giants who were encased in earth when they fell to the planet to aid humanity rather than remain in the heavens, only to be betrayed by the children of Cain. They are awesome, asymmetrical creatures with the feel of being stop-motion even if they are digital, and they provide a stunning sense of scale and weight just standing there.

They don't just stand there, though, but get involved in some of the most eye-popping action sequences you'll see this year, and that's not all the visual amazement Aranofsky has in store. The history of the universe - retelling Genesis in one stunning montage that casually combines scripture and science - is beautiful, and the devastated landscape where the whole thing takes place is simple but devastating effective world-building. All of that is an important part of what makes Noah such an unusual grand-scale movie for anyone who oops too take it in - it stuns with spectacle, but all the while challenges the audience to look at a familiar story in a new way.

Gojira (1954)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 4 May 2014 in Somerville Theatre #5 (60th anniversary, DCP)

Every time I see the original 1954 Gojira, it changes a bit for me. Going into this viewing at the Somerville (not part of their own anniversary celebration, but in the spirit), I had been thinking of it as fairly somber and disconnected from the franchise it would latter spawn. And while you can certainly see it's serious roots, that really undersells what a remarkable fusion of genre this is: The pulp is unabashedly front-and-center, while much of the front half does play like the sort of intimate, unadorned Japanese drama one expects from Akira Kurosawa or Kenji Mizoguchi, and Ishiro Honda deserves a ton of credit for how well he reconciles all those tones.

After all, for all that Godzilla is a force of nature, it's easy to forget that he's got big, humanizing eyes here, something that both American versions have perhaps necessarily downplayed but which are probably an important part of why the beast's appeal has persisted for a half-century. It should make him look goofy, but it instead somehow adds just enough unreality to the movie to make its more serious-minded material palatable.

That material itself gets better on repeated viewings, too; though it probably marks me as slow on the uptake, I must admit that this was the first time I've really seen Serizawa's agonizing over whether to use the Oxygen Destroyer as analogous to Truman debating the use of the atomic bomb; it's always been buried under Emiko's decision to betray his trust and tell her father and lover about its existence (layers!). It's not a perfect equivalency, obviously, but it's close enough in many respects, which makes it seem like a ballsy way to go with the script, considering just how much the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hangs over the movie.

Anyway, the point is that Gojira just keeps getting better the more you look at it, and it's a rare movie that can say that.

Under the SkinThe Hubley CentennialBeneath the Harvest SkyTrap StreetThe Skeleton TwinsBig Significant ThingsPalo AltoJon Imber's Left HandWe Are the Best!The Search for General TsoWild CanariesA For Alex9-ManAyiti TomaFort TildenGod Help the Girl

Dear White PeopleWicker KittensThe Trip to ItalyThe DoublePedroia Bobblehead Night/Day!Brick MansionsNoahThe Amazing Spider-Man 2Gojira

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