Thursday, September 04, 2014

This Week In Tickets: 25 August 2014 - 31 August 2014

Spent more time than I'd like trying to have every ticket touch the day it was used, but then you can't and there's that big space in the corner...

This Week in Tickets

I wasn't going to do the Doctor Who season premiere in the theater, but then I saw it was remembered that Ben Wheatley was directing and figured, what's twelve bucks? The really crazy thing is that a lot of people seem to have done so; the 7pm show was expanded to two screens, which means about three or four hundred people decided to do the same at Boston Common, plus however many folks were at Fenway, Assembly Row, and the further suburbs. That's despite it being shown on free television a couple days earlier.

Crazy, really. I joke about how the stuff I loved as a kid is ridiculously popular now, and where were all the cute college girls in costumes paying cash money to watch this thing when I was a teenager?... But, really, it's kind of amazing.

Tuesday, I took the long train to Chestnut Hill, because if I'm going to pay 3D money for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, it may as well be at the fancy place. Just barely made it because I was hit with a couple of delays on the T, and it took until a couple minutes in to get the 3D properly turned on, but it's looked pretty good.

Then came a long weekend, and checking out four movies that hit the multiplexes but apparently had nobody reviewing them for eFilmCritic - The November Man on Thursday, As Above, So Below on Friday, Kundo: Age fo the Rampant on Saturday, and Raja Natwartal on Sunday. The big surprise among them was As Above, So Below, a pretty standard-looking found-footage film that benefits from having Perdita Weeks and just works in terms of getting the scares it wants.

That one was meant mostly to serve as a warm-up for the only midnight show I got to at the Somerville this summer, The 'Burbs, and at first it seemed like I was planning things right - have the soda at 10pm so that the caffeine is hitting the system around midnight, but it's amazing how quickly one can go from chugging along to just dragging. It lasted right into the next day, as I was feeling pretty sluggish while watching Kundo, although I arrived back from Revere just in time to catch the last screening of "Monty Python Live (Mostly)" in the Bright Screening Room at the Paramount. First time I've been there in a while, but then, they did stop having a regular film program, and I haven't yet made it to the "Bright Lights" series.

Another packed house for a thing I have liked since I was young, and I wonder if Emerson managed to get the late booking (most places, including ArtsEmerson screened this in late July/early August) for incoming students. I'm guessing that's who a lot of the folks in there were, including a couple with the weird habit of announcing everything they recognized. Did they have girlfriends who weren't fans or something? Even in that case, I'm not sure what calling out "The Parrot Sketch!" gets you.

Doctor Who: "Deep Breath"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 August 2014 in AMC Boston Common #14 (Fathom Events, digital)

I've been looking forward to the new series of Doctor Who in large part because of Peter Capaldi and once again having the actor playing the part be discernibly older than I am the part played as an eccentric uncle rather than a potential boyfriend, or at least closer to that ideal. Given that Capaldi is a life-long fan of the show, having things move toward the original series excited me.

Well, it's not a total throwback; even though I half-suspect that the BBC suggested that the producers not worry about cutting it too much so that they could have the feature-length episode for theaters, leaving it kind of air-filled at a few moments, it's still running at a pretty frantic pace - a nice feat for an episode that, when you get right down to it, is rather dedicated to making a case that shouldn't have to be made - we've seen enough regenerations to know that the initially-prickly new guy will eventually be revealed as kind of a softie underneath, and basically the same person you've been following for the last X episodes/years/decades. It even goes so far as to basically borrow plot and villains from an earlier new-series episode. Why not just run with it?

Still, it's a fun episode. It's got a dinosaur (two, if you count Lady Vastra)! Capaldi, in the midst of talking about who he is as the new Doctor, does a very nice job of establishing the character, and while it seems like Clara is being reconfigured just as much as the Doctor (this repeated characterization as a control freak seems like a break from the caretaker of series 7+), Jenna Coleman is making it work. And while this was never going to be a full-fledged Ben Wheatley movie - he and Amy Jump didn't write it and he is making it for a much broader audience than his usual - but it's got a moment or two that I don't think a standard TV director would have gone for, with some jumps over the filler bits (I wonder what this would have looked like cut down to a more-standard 50 minutes). Having seen "Into the Dalek" since, I'm curious how others will handle the other Missy appearances; how many other directors will go for straight "I don't care if you don't get it right now" instead of "interesting, right?"

Also worth noting: The cinematic presentation was in the a roughly 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but the television presentation was HD-standard 1.78. I wonder which one Wheatley was framing for.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 August 2014 in Showcase Cinemas SuperLux Chestnut Hill #3 (first-run, RealD)

Crazy, isn't it, that the sequel to a movie which was a huge deal ten years ago can become a "just another" movie, even though Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have still turned out something that looks and feels like nothing else out there aside from the first and Miller's The Spirit, and those weren't in 3D. But in that time, Zack Snyder has had picked up the "make it look exactly like the comics" ball, run with it, and moved on, which means that the gimmick isn't enough - to be as well-remembered as the first movie, it's going to have to be better.

And, unfair as it is, it's not. It's got some impressive pieces: Eva Green absolutely insists on grabbing the audience's attention, just leaning into the pulpiness of the material; if this is how Miller and the pulp authors he's emulating think of women, so be it, that's what she'll deliver. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Powers Boothe are good enough in their story that it's a bit of a shame they don't get to play off each other more. Rodriguez is one of the best at using 3D and he's at least enthusiastic where the pulp action is concerned. Rosario Dawson remains fantastic, even if she's in a role that's as ridiculous as her costume.

What's missing, then? Some sort of satisfaction, I think - not one of the four stories really has the "f--- yeah!" moment that makes the suffering that comes before - or the inevitable going down swinging - worth it. There are stabs, but they're not enough. Circumstances have hurt the cast, too: Dennis Haysbert replaces Michael Clarke Duncan, Josh Brolin takes Clive Owen's role (although that's got an in-story explanation), Brittany Murphy is gone, Bruce Willis is sidelined. Jessica Alba is a better actress than she was, but too much of the last act rests on her.

I'm a bit tempted to take out the old DVD of the first movie and see if it holds up, or if all the issues from the new one are there, but it was just different and exciting in 2005. But then, what good could come out of that?

The 'Burbs

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 August 2014 in Somerville Theatre #3 (Midnight Specials, 35mm)

Like a lot of folks who really like movies, I'm always a bit puzzled why Joe Dante hasn't had more mainstream success. He's certainly made movies that people love, and his film-nut tendencies don't tend to wedge themselves in to an extent where audience feel put off when they don't get the reference, even when he is clearly making movies about movies. All his movies tend to be genuinely funny or scary as need be, and he's got a knack for making silly work that few other filmmakers do.

And that latter part may almost work against him - he can make movies that, even if they aren't targeted entirely to kids, certainly play well for them, which means that when he makes something like The 'Burbs, which is not just for adults but actually kind of hostile in tone, people don't know what to make of it. Dante and writer Dana Olsen aren't coating this particular look at suburban isolation and paranoia with any sort of fondness, and even though there are some pretty great gags in it and a mystery worth unraveling, it's not hard to see audiences coming away from it feeling like they're being accused. This is in fact the case, but not many filmmakers do it quite so flagrantly.

It's a bit of a shame that it can be so off-putting, because Tom Hanks is kind of great in it, hinting at the edge he would have in some of his later roles at a time when he hadn't really moved far outside of the audience's comedic comfort zone yet. There's a fun ensemble around him, and Dante uses what theater manager Ian Judge described as a long-standing set on the Universal lot extremely well - its half-familiarity and the way the camera flits around it help with the movie's accusatory tone, making this a little more our neighborhood.

I must admit, I do enjoy the cheerful, friendly Joe Dante (or at least the one who doesn't mess around scaring the audience) a bit more than the guy who made this movie. I'm still pretty fond of it, but I wonder if this is what pushed him to the side in Hollywood more than anything else.

Monty Python Live (Mostly)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 30 August 2014 in the Paramount Theater's Bright Screening Room (special presentation, digital)

I've got the Monty Python Instant Record Collection buried in a pile of CDs somewhere, but I always considered it a bit of an oddity; my impression of the troupe always came from the Flying Circus and Holy Grail, and I never thought of them as the group that performed Eric Idle's funny songs as opposed to the sketch-comedy troupe led by John Cleese and Graham Chapman. This live special, though, leans pretty heavily on Idle's music, with plentiful use of a chorus line to cover changes between skits. On the one hand, that means fewer moments with the surviving members of the troupe (including Carol Cleveland) actually on stage, but on the other, I feel happy for the dancers - how often do they actually get to be funny in their job?

As to the material... There's something definitely odd about watching all these routines that a couple of generations of high school/college kids memorized only to see the performers stumbling on, because they're septugenarians and their repetition of the material was for the most part done forty-plus years ago. There are uncomfortable moments when it feels like we might be seeing the beginning of the end for John Cleese, as the oldest member of the group seemed to forget his lines the most, although in that case it certainly helps to be playing against partners with the same kind of sharp comic timing and just generally be able to turn it into a self-referential bit about how the audience knows the material anyway.

And, let's face it, the stuff is still funny, even if this isn't quite the best possible version of it (live performance is nice, but being able to get it right and edit the best bits of each take together doesn't hurt). The performers have all had intriguingly different and successful careers since Python, but they still seem to have a fair amount of affection for the material and each other - Terry Gilliam especially seems absolutely delighted to be working with his old friends again, even if Cleese sort of seems to have a "not going to let people see me excited" thing going on. I do think that the moments when they go off the script we all know are the ones I enjoyed the most, whether it be Michael Palin covering for Cleese's flubs or a video bit with Professors Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking that has fun with nitpicking the science of a silly song.

When the live reunion shows were first announced, I seriously considered a London vacation to see them, although the money wasn't quite there and, besides, they were smack in the middle of the Fantasia Festival. I kind of wish I had - given that I was born in 1973, this was pretty close to a literal once-in-a-lifetime event, and being there would have been an extra jolt. In the future, I'll watch the sketches off my trusty 16-DVD set, but it was certainly neat to see this once.

Doctor Who: Deep BreathSin City: A Dame to Kill ForRaja NatwarlalThe November ManAs Above, So BelowThe 'BurbsKundo: Age of the RampantMonty Python Live (Mostly)

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