Saturday, November 22, 2014

Stuff seen in New York: Goodbye to Language, Interstellar (70mm), Mea Culpa

What do you do when you have eight days of vacation to use by the end of the year but really don't have a lot of money to spend? A few days in New York, checking out museums and monuments and then seeing movies in the evening.

I knew two of the ones I was going to see going in - Goodbye to Language is only playing 3D theaters, and while the overlap between those and boutique houses in the Boston area isn't quite one screen, it's close enough that if Kendall Square isn't playing it, you're going to New York. What you should probably not do is try to get to an 7:55pm show at the IFC Center, miss it by five minutes, and then just hang around in the cold for about an hour and a half, not doing much to keep warm other than buying a couple slices of pizza from Joe's around the corner. Pretty good pizza, but it was, as noted, cold outside.

The second one I went for was Interstellar. I'd already seen it in 35mm at the Somerville Theatre, but knew I'd be doing it again with large-format film. There were two 70mm places in New York; I went with the Ziegfield because it sounded a little more up-market.

Help a tourist out, guys - get the lighting even and have the marquee say something about the 70mm presentation!

The place was pretty nifty once you get inside, although it's clearly from a time before wheelchair-accessibility was a thing people cared about (I didn't really need more stairs after the Statue of Liberty!). Nice decoration in the lobby, and the single screen is a good size with a lot of seats in front of it, probably in the 700 range. I sat in the third row, and the rest of the audience was well behind me, which I've seen happen at big, premium screens all the time, and I don't get it. You're paying for extra millimeters and a bigger screen so that the picture looks even better - sit up front so that you get the full effect!

One thing I noticed while buying tickets was that the MoviePass app's behavior seems to have changed on me - where before it would forget my location every day, this week it did not want to look for theaters close to me at all - I'd have to say to do it twice, and stab the theater's name on the screen fast before it reverted to Cambridge. This happened twice - once for the Ziegfield and once for the AMC Empire on 42nd Street, where I saw Mea Culpa.

Why that one? Well, because I'm me, one of the things I did Monday evening after checking into the hotel was scan through which movies were playing that weren't likely to hit Boston. I almost went with the Katie Holmes thing, but I saw Mea Culpa playing the multiplexes, and took a look to see what it was. Oh, a French action thing. I liked Point Blank a couple of years ago. Same director? Fine, take my money while I grumble a bit about how not only is this not playing Boston, but I didn't know it existed..

Not the world's greatest movie-going experience, though. I had two separate groups of talkers behind me - the first just seemed to have chosen the movie at random and seemed to have decided that they didn't really feel like seeing a movie when they sat down in the theater, bailing after a few minutes. Then, a bit later, some theater hoppers come in, and keep up running Spanish chatter all the way through unless an action sequence is impressive enough to shut them up. In their lame half-defense, I was in the second row and kind of slouching, so maybe they thought they had the room to themselves.

Fortunately, I've gotten pretty decent about just looking ahead - part of the reason I sit toward the front is that it puts any phone-checking or other screwing around behind me - and even if one hasn't read stories about people getting violent when being told to shut up or having the ushers called on them, it's not like I was going to have another chance to see this in a theater. So I put up with it and then walked down to the Port Authority to catch an overnight bus back home.

Overall, a pretty successful trip from a movie-seeing perspective, as even the one I didn't much like was at times interesting, and who knows, I might like it more if I was in a less tired/brain-frozen state of mind. I'd play both French selections if I was somehow magically able to open the specialty miniplex of my dreams, hopefully saving some folks a potentially expensive trip for movies.

Adieu au Langage (Goodbye to Language)

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 November 2014 at IFC Center #2 (first-run, Dolby 3D)

My second impulse where Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language is concerned is to write nothing at all about it. That's in large part because my first is to cry that the emperor has no clothes, but I think I've got just enough awareness of what I know and what he's done that recognize that I'm in no position to make such a sweeping accusation. Still, he's made a film that seems to offer very little to those who do not look at cinema as a primarily academic pursuit.

There's a bit of a story, a woman leaving a violent husband and a dog wandering about, and plenty of time for characters to discus history, philosophy, and art. The film alternates between "Nature" and "Metaphor" segments, although they are not necessarily told in order, and much of the action happens off-screen. If you are coming to this film looking for a story, you are going to have to work for it, and likely come away disappointed.

But, I gather, nobody goes to Godard fims for that reason any more, nor have they had reason to do so for decades. Instead, the likes of Goodbye to Language are best approached as a sort of lecture, with Godard demonstrating different types of structure, speaking briefly about ideas that interest him, and experimenting with ways to shoot a scene that may, in their unconventional manner, tell the audience something not evident from a simple direct shot. Godard also cuts to clips of other works, archival footage, and home movies, creating something that while slow-moving, is undeniably dense with information.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 November 2014 at Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)
Seen 20 November 2014 at the Bow Tie Cinemas Ziegfield (first-run, 70mm)

When folks have asked me how this movie is, I say I liked it a lot, but it is a film made especially for me - reasonably hard sci-fi, a lot of actors I like, and it looks gorgeous to boot. I recommend seeing it in the highest gauge film presentation you can, as well, because that is clearly how Christopher Nolan made and wants it presented. Both times I've watched it, I've had moments where I get caught up, thinking that this is just so, so good.

And it really is. One thing that strikes me, having seen it on film both times, is that digital is going to have a hard time capturing some shots the way Nolan wanted them. There are scenes inside the cabin where the Cooper family lives where the lighting is so low as to almost look like candlelight, and it's something that seems rather rare in this (mostly) post-film world. It's technically a knockout in a number of other ways, too, from the miniature work to the absolutely insane detail put into rendering black holes, wormholes, and the like in order to figure out what they'd really look like.

Beyond that, Nolan keeps the story moving very well. It's not one of those where one says that a three-hour movie really flies, but I seldom felt fidgety, even though Interstellar does feel like a thing of size. Nolan does a neat trick where the film shifts pretty drastically a few times but seldom seems to split into sections. There's a truly fantastic score by Hans Zimmer (which, for some unknowable reason, is not available for purchase in its entirety) and an utterly jaw-dropping climax.

So why, then, do I say I like it a lot but don't love it? I think there's something about Nolan's work (and I'm including Christopher's screenwriter brother Jonathan here, too) - that's a little bit chilly at times. Like many of his non-Batman films, this is something of a puzzle-box of a movie that plays with time in interesting ways, and he almost approaches managing the emotion a bit like managing the science and effects: There's truly gut-punching tragedy in how the Cooper and Brand families combine and tear apart, and that it never quite overwhelms the thrill of discovery and sense of adventure is kind of amazing, as is a robot making HAL 9000 jokes. And yet, when Anne Hathaway has to talk about the power of love, it sounds terribly forced, as to the final few scenes. They are the only real blips in the movie, but they're jarring enough to keep it from seeming a masterpiece.

So it has to settle for being one of the best of the year, especially if you like hard science fiction. And that's pretty darn great.

Mea Culpa

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 November 2014 at AMC Empire #2 (first-run, DCP)

A couple years ago, French director Fred Cavayé garnered some attention from international action-movie fans with Point Blank, a fast-paced thriller that didn't break any new ground but did everything better than expected, adding up to a great little movie. His follow-up Mea Culpa is along the same lines - basic story, impressive action, a satisfying hour and a half.

Simon (Vincent Lindon) and Frank (Gilles Lellouche) were once partners on the police force, before a drink driving accident landed Simon in jail; now he works as a security guard and lets his ex-wife Alice (Nadine Labaki) and son Théo (Max Baissette de Malglaive) down. Frank, meanwhile, is investigating a series of execution-style underworld killings, the type that make sure to leave no witnesses - at least, not until Théo stumbles upon one.

You can guess where it goes from there without much trouble - the gangsters are going to try and eliminate the lose end, Simon and Frank aren't going to let the niceties of proper police procedure slow them down, and violence will ensue. Cavayé and co-writer Guillaume Lemans spend a bit of time on diversions early on - one of Simon's co-workers cruelly hazing the new hire, just enough background detail to give the audience a sense of the two leads - but they keep it very basic otherwise. It's the sort of movie where only one of a half-dozen adversaries is referred to by name, and I had to find a picture to be sure which one it was.

Full review at EFC.

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