Monday, December 15, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 10 November 2014 - 16 November 2014

A relatively not-busy week, but with a lot of love, even if some of it is my love of pancakes.

This Week in Tickets

For instance, Wednesday had me stopping at the Regent Theatre on the way home for the first time in a while. The movie was The Canal, an Irish horror movie with a bit of potential that was just destined to disappear among the hundreds of decent but not exceptional genre movies that one can find on the streaming/on-demand service of your choice at any given time. Someday, I should find a way to organize a Tuesday Night Thrills series there - it's a good-sized theater with a lot of open dates, and I figure there's got to be a way to get some of these fun movies on the big screen where they belong, barring a small distributor just renting the place for the night like this.

Thursday night involved killing some time until the relatively late start of The International Pancake Film Festival, as there was a somewhat more prestigious event earlier in the evening. And once the doors were open, there was the need to serve a pancake to everyone in the Brattle, and who wants to be the one to kick kids playing 8-bit videogames off a movie screen? As you might imagine, a good time was had by all.

Late buses, IIRC, delayed seeing the new Johnnie To movie until Saturday, but that still meant I got to see Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 at about the same time it came out in China, which is undeniably cool. I wound up looking it quite a bit until that stupid ending, and no amount of reading that it's a pointed jab at hyper-capitalist China is going to get that taste out of my mouth.

Sunday's double feature was fun, though, starting with the last film in the Somerville Theatre's "Silents, Please!" series, The Strong Man. Both Jeff and Dave talked about how Harry Langdon was a strange sort of aberration, a guy who was tremendously popular for a couple years of the silent era despite being a strangely minimalist performer but largely forgotten after. As Dave put it (I paraphrase greatly here), Charlie Chaplin would react to a strange situation with pathos, Buster Keaton would engineer his way out of it in dating fashion, Harold Lloyd would rise above it like a heroic underdog... And Langdon would do nothing. Dave said that in all his years projecting films, this was his first time projecting Langdon. So, a bit of an oddity, and Dave, Jeff, and Ian all said they'd be going for deep cuts again next year.

That was followed a little later by The Theory of Everything, a basic but enjoyable biography of Steven and Jane Hawking. Nice performances by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, and I'll probably never get tired of repeating the awed wonder 15-year-old me would feel at a theater not necessarily full of crazy sci-fi fans who got and laughed at the Doctor Who reference.

The International Pancake Film Festival 2014: Animation, Puppetry, and Pancakes

Seen 13 November 2014 in the Brattle Theatre (special event, 16mm & digital)

This is a profoundly silly event - really, one of the silliest you'll see that doesn't get very close to mockery, which is a good thing, because who wants to be making fun of pancakes? I don't know if I'd have them at the concession stand at my hypothetical theater, because this:

Mmm, pancakes!

... is just asking to get knocked onto the floor and have the syrup make a famously sticky surface even worse, let alone that it may involve people using knives in the dark, but it wasn't a bad change from the usual cinema snacks at all. I just wish I'd had time to go through the line twice, since this took a while:

Pancake video games

That there is a kid playing a custom video game based upon the Festival's previous postcards and posters on a piece of hardware older than he is. Well, more likely some sort of HTPC with a custom case mod, but whatever - it's playing pixel-y games on a screen built for much higher resolution, providing entertainment as kids with twitch reflexes much better than their elders tend to flop while folks ten-plus years older clear all three levels because they know the mechanics and expect to work in the crazy precision that old games require.

(There was talk of the game being online, but I have not been able to find it yet.)

There was one other bit before the festival program pepper, three 16mm (I think) shorts from some archive or other. They... Well, they were not exactly from major studios' animation departments, which meant that "Buck & Pepito's Pancake-Taking Cure" was just not that funny, especially when you consider that what was probably meant to be a fairly progressive spirit at the time, with American and Mexican kids as friends, still come across as kind of icky stereotypes, along with the jokes being weak. Chuck Jones was said to have figured out the precise length, to the frame, that every bit of a Roadrunner cartoon needed to be for maximum comic effect, while these guys have not. You can see what the slapstick is going for, and how it's just not making it. After a vintage Golden Griddle commercial, there was another cartoon with a relaxed pace, "The Emperor's Oblong Pancake", although that one worked a bit better for me. It's not quite "The Emperor's New Clothes" with pancakes, but it's in the neighborhood, and it has the sort of dry, lay-the-joke out sort of wit that I can see kids going for. It reminded me of stuff I saw and liked as a kid, and did so without making young-me look silly.

The stuff in the regular festival package was kind of a mixed bag, and I won't run down them individually because it is no fun saying that a couple young folks didn't make a great short film. You can look at the various entries below (where I can find links), but I will say that I looked "The Shrove Tuesday Speech", "Flapjack Smash!", and "Sea Battles" quite a bit (perhaps not coincidentally, these were the stop-motion entries), while "Mr. Bear Googles How to Make Pancakes... But Gets Drunk Instead" is exactly the low-fi literal spin on the title you'd expect and done well.

"Attack of the Evil Pancacke"
"Sea Battles"

The Strong Man (1926)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 16 November 2014 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please, 35mm)

When a modern film lover stumbles across The Strong Man, it is almost certainly as an early work of Frank Capra, with something between mild surprise and retroactive retroactive acknowledgment that his career extends back to the silent era. At the time, it would have been different, with Capra a relatively anonymous name directing the new one from top-five comedian Harry Langdon. Today, Langdon is all but forgotten, but the film itself is nifty to see, an entertaining and representative example of a body of work, no matter what direction you approach it from.

It starts during The Great War (in 1926, there would not yet be a reason to attach a Roman numeral), where Belgian infantryman Paul Bergot (Langdon) is kept going by letters from American pen-pal Mary Brown, although his defense of his position against a hulking German officer is more luck than skill. After the war, the pair come to America together, with Paul an assistant to strongman "Zandow the Great" (Arthur Thalasso), with Paul not quite realizing that his beloved has a very common name. After a few misadventures is New York City, the pair land a gig upstate, where the Prohibition-era "social club" that booked them is opposed by the abutting church's pastor "Holy Joe" (William V. Mong) and his pretty (but blind) daughter (Priscilla Bonner).

No points will be awarded to audience viewers who guess where this is going in the long or short term; Capra and the various writers tread paths that, even in the mid-twenties, were probably fairly predictable. That's okay, though; the material is in both Langdon's and Capra's wheelhouses. It's maybe not necessarily a natural mix - though his collaboration with Capra marked Langdon's greatest commercial successes - but Langdon's somewhat passive brand of physical comedy and Capra's fondness for moral crusaders who succeed in part because most people are decent (along with the belief that the Universe favors justice over the long term) kind of reinforce each other - things don't work out entirely without effort or setbacks, but there's a certain joy to the serendipity that drives both.

Full review at EFC.

The Cabin
International Pancake Film Festival
Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2
The Strong Man
The Theory of Everything

No comments: