Sunday, November 02, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 13 October 2014 - 19 October 2014

Some people claim Columbus Day is a real holiday, but the MBTA didn't even mess with my commute on Canadian Thanksgiving.

This Week in Tickets

Actually, the somewhat lower number of people heading to their reflective offices did make the system somewhat quicker, showing things enough that I won't be recording Monday's trip to Coolidge Corner to see One Chance in my ongoing "66 bus or C Line - which is the best route from Alewife?" experiment. It wound up an enjoyable little movie, although a tiny booking for one which was pretty heavily trailered earlier in the year.

Tuesday's selection, Art and Craft, was another true story, this one told as a documentary, although I kind of wondered what kind of a fictionalized feature you could get out of it. It's a good movie, but also one that clearly focused on the part of the story that the filmmakers had the most access to.

I got some silent movies mixed up in my head on Wednesday, thinking that the King Vidor film playing at the Harvard Film Archive as part of the VES curriculum (to which the general audience is invited) was the same one I missed at the Somerville a week and a half earlier, giving me a second chance. Not quite; it was The Big Parade rather than The Crowd, which is about an hour longer in addition to having very different subject matter. Kind of a long sit, to be honest.

Speaking of long sits, The Golden Era on Friday was just about three hours long, but worth it. I'm kind of enjoying this new situation where Chinese movies play mainstream theaters and people show up, to the point where it's actually crowded. Didn't even feel the need to do violence to the guy who kept checking his phone two seats away. Much. I was back in the same place early the next morning for The Book of Life, a fairly charming animated feature that pulls from Mexican mythology.

The weekend wrapped up with a fairly enjoyable double feature at the Somerville - Gone Girl on the big screen followed by Fury on the next-biggest. That's a pretty good afternoon there, even including a bit of the projectionist mocking David Fincher's love of digital. They are really looking forward to getting actual 35mm for Interstellar over there.

The Big Parade

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2014 in the Harvard Film Archive (VES, 35mm with live accompaniment)

King Vidor was a filmmaker who strove to make serious films within a studio system that wanted crowd-pleasers, likely even harder in the silent era with the Academy Awards still in the future and film criticism still in its infancy. The Big Parade exemplifies that in a lot of ways, wrapping an earnest war movie up in something that wants to make the audience smile.

It opens in 1918, just as the United States is about to enter the Great War. We're quickly introduced to three young men in and around New York City - "Slim" Johnson (Karl Dane), a construction worker building skyscrapers; "Bull" O'Hara (Tom O'Brien), who tends bar in an establishment with a suspicious clientele; and James Apperson (John Gilbert), the layabout son of a mill owner. All three enlist, with James's fiancee Justyn (Claire Adams) expecting he'll look so smart in an officer's uniform, but he winds up a private (Bull makes sergeant). The three become fast friends as they wait for action in Champillon, even if all three do find their eyes drawn to farmer's daughter Melisande (Renée Adorée).

Given how the opening makes no small effort to give this trio very different backgrounds, it's interesting how quickly the filmmakers apparently decide that it isn't important. The idea, perhaps, might be that war flattens social classes, but if that's the case, it's not something the filmmakers go into specifically. This doesn't make the cast of characters completely interchangeable - Bull is going to tend toward the wiseacre and Slim is quite the well-meaning lunkhead, though James becomes much more of an a average Joe than an upper-class twit fairly quickly - but it's odd to see something that appeared to be set up with intent set aside without even an "all men are brothers on the front line". The cast works fairly well together - John Gilbert slides into the leading man's space without making James too square-jawed or noble, while Karl Dane contributes a very good yokel sidekick - so it mostly works out all right.

The somewhat odd thing is that for much of the movie, what they're doing well is comedy. The characters arrive in rural France and face wacky language barriers, uncomfortable but not truly miserable sleeping accommodations, mix-ups with the mail, and a shared interest in Melisande that never exactly scream that war is hell. This material is light enough and occupies a large enough portion of a long movie (as projected at this screening, The Big Parade was about two and a half hours long) that a contemporary viewer may wonder if they are in the right place. Even in 1925, audiences may still have been thrown by how quickly the flirtation of James and Melisande becomes heart-clutching melodrama when he is sent to the front.

(Or not; many in the audience were likely young veterans who had been through something like that.)

That sequence may seem a little drawn-out or overwrought, but there's no question that, from that point on, this is a pretty serious war movie, and a good one. Vidor and company pull out to show the massive march of the title, and suddenly the the film not only has gravity but scale, and when it soon returns its focus to the main trio, the audience's familiarity with them does make sequences that are already fairly intense even more so. It's not exactly the trench warfare that has come to represent World War I in the years since but it's still tense and gets across just how terrifying and horrific the new method of warfare is.

There's even time given to the postwar experience, although the urge to make the something more easily digestible results in an epilogue that seems overlong and tacked-on. To be fair, this is an early film, so the elements that seem drawn out and out of balance here would be refined and pared-down to this very day (I would see some of the elements of this movie in Fury a few days later). So, while The Big Parade may be imperfect and frustrating to a modern audience, it's also foundational.

(Previously at EFC)

Gone Girl

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 October 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

Gone Girl is probably David Fincher's best movie since Fight Club, and I suspect that part of the reason for that is from an interview he gave while promoting that movie, where he said that initially, he felt like the only one who realized that Fight Club was a comedy. Gone Girl isn't a comedy, but it does have a vein of dark humor that most of his best movies feature, and while making the audience laugh is far from this movie's primary goal, it actually does kind of get funnier as it goes along, from nervous-making bits of tension to satirical jabs to some outright jokes when we see the missing-presumed-dead Amy Dunne's side of the story rather than that of her husband and presumed killer Nick. The trick is that Fincher knows exactly how far to push things to not undercut the noirish story, keeping things in the realm of the thriller and the guilty laugh.

The other thing that works really well is the cast; there's been a lot of talk about how Ben Affleck works really well here because the public perception of him is in line with Nick - nothing truly objectionable about the guy but something about him just rubs people the wrong way and makes them think the absolute worst. Still, I think that that's less unique than a great example of how nobody in the entire cast of characters, save perhaps Nick's twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon) is particularly warm, but everyone in the cast finds ways around that to get across what the character is feeling. Affleck is particularly great as the guy who is acknowledged as not always coming off right, but all around him are very good performances as people react to a disappearance/murder with less than the outright hysteria - David Clennon & Lisa Barnes as Amy's parents, Neil Patrick Harris as an old boyfriend, and Tyler Perry as the lawyer hired to defend him in court and the media. This sort of thriller is just generally more fun when characters can jump in any direction, as opposed to being revealed as playing against type.


Of course, I think that what makes Gone Girl great is that rather than teasing the audience for the entire two and a half hours, it switches things up at around the halfway mark, putting the focus on Rosamund Pike's Amy, how she engineered the whole thing, and how she reacts to watching her plan in action. It's the sort of thing that could derail the movie, but Rosamund Pike gets what is probably the best role she's ever had. I like her, but she's often in rather bland roles because she's pretty in a very smooth, unblemished way, and I kind of love the way the movie plays on that before revealing that this persona, even with a bitter and sarcastic edge to it, is a crazy person pretending to be normal, and, surprise, Ms. Pike winds up playing this sort of sociopath really well. There's this fantastic glee to her as she watches her husband twist from afar or relays how much she really despises the people around her that lets the audience join in a bit.

The way the end twists is at times a little out there, making the movie a metaphor for how an insane person like Amy thinks marriage works. But while the filmmakers put it right out there, the fact that Amy is nuts keeps it from being an overbearing equivalence; it works as a dark, ironic end to a thriller that keeps the audience in a scary place all the way out the door, which is pretty great.


OneChanceArt and CraftThe Big ParadeThe Golden EraThe Book of LifeGone GirlFury

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