Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This That Week In Tickets: 17 November 2014 - 23 November 2014

The goal for next year: Use a lot more vacation while it is warm out so that I'm not scrambling to use it at the end of the year and kind of enjoying my vacation less because it's so cold.

This Week in Tickets

This year, I was trying to save a bit of money and opted to spend a few days in New York, a pretty easy bus ride from Boston. I didn't go terribly nuts with photos, since a touchscreen phone means taking your hands out of your gloves and my point-and-shoot only wants to work for a month or so at a time, and I got my month this summer.

It was a fun trip, though there are some things I'd do differently. For instance, I would find a way to ditch my backpack before going into the American Museum of Natural History because I have time to kill before I can check into my room (itself a tiny space in a Bronx building whose "front desk" is located in the basement). The museum is fantastic, although given how much certain rooms puff up Teddy Roosevelt, it's easy to joke about how TR killed all the dinosaurs himself ("then why aren't they stuffed like the other animals?" / "Because dinosaur meat was delicious!"), and now I kind of want to find an artist and start a Kickstarter for a comic about Roosevelt on the island from Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.

Still, dinosaurs! I hope that I am never too old to grin like a nine-year-old when I visit a museum that has dinosaur skeletons, meteorites, space stuff, etc. I'm not necessarily sure about the taxidermy; I kind of get that this was the best way for people to get a sense of animals from far away a hundred years ago, but it comes off as more than a bit weird today. Highly recommended, although I must admit that the ticket above isn't mine, but one I picked up off the floor when I found I had lost my own. Sadly, that meant I didn't get to see the pterosaur exhibit I paid for.

Tuesday's outing was to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I wouldn't mind coming back sometime when it's warm and I can reserve tickets to the crown (apparently, that's got to be booked months in advance, rather than day-of). That ferry was cold, as was the walk around the island itself.

Funny thing about the statue: You stand outside it, and it's big and impressive, but in today's world of skyscrapers and other massive engineering achievements, it's not really amazing until you get into the museum part of it and see what sort of crazy effort went into funding, designing, building, and transporting the thing, and then the 1980s restoration work. That, at least for me, is when the achievement suddenly becomes amazing.

The next stop on the ferry was Ellis Island, which was a bit of a disappointment - there is a large complex there but the Immigration Museum is confined to one building, and its openness, while pleasing, sort of works against giving one an understanding of what arriving there was like, with the crush of people all speaking different languages, being quarantined, etc. The mix of exhibits and recreations doesn't feel quite right, and that so many things were damaged or removed during Hurricane Sandy and still have not been restored means that there are big, empty spaces.

I joke about how you know it's a gift from France and Paris because it's a public monument that involves climbing a bunch of stairs, even without going to the crown, but I think the funniest/saddest thing is that, in order to see Lady Liberty, you have to go through airport-style security twice: Once at the ferry, and once at the entrance to the pedestal. The irony is sour in itself, but I sort of wonder what sort of weapon they think I've picked up on the boat. Post-9/11 paranoia is a sad, crazy thing, so it's kind of good to see that the memorial - a simple black-colored hole that represents a void left over after the attacks - is not overstated. Granted, I didn't get into the museum (too late in the day), but at least the building isn't horrifically ostentatious.

Speaking of stupidly increased security, they don't have lockers at the bus station(s) any more, which means I had to track down a place that wanted $25 to hold my backpack for the day after I checked out of my room on Wednesday. For comparison, a days rental of a locker costs a twonie in Montreal's bus station.

But, hey, it was arguably worth it to not have to carry the extra weight around while exploring The Metropolitan Museum of Art - especially after having chosen the wrong subway station to get off and having to walk roughly a third the length of Central Park to get there. It's a good way to spend the afternoon, though, even if you're like me and not much of a fine-arts type. There's a reconstructed Egyptian tomb and temple, a very nifty exhibit of musical instruments from around the world and history, armor and weapons... You can wear yourself out there.

I kind of did, but I still had some time to kill before my overnight bus home, so I poked around in Forbidden Planet (I didn't realize that the venerable UK comic shop had a New York location) and the Strand bookstore, buying a copy of Jo Nesbo's The Bat both because I have meant to read his Harry Hole novels ever since liking the non-Harry movies made from his books and because that bookstore was a good place to hide from the cold for long enough, at least, to get hungry for some authentic New York pizza and then catch one last movie before heading to the Port Authority and sit in semi-sketchy surroundings waiting for the bus to Boston.

And, oh yeah, the movies. I went to one each night, figuring they wouldn't play Boston in two cases and not in a certain format in another. I wound up catching Goodbye to Language, Interstellar, and Mea Culpa respectively at the IFC Center (in Dolby 3D), Ziegfield (in 70mm), and AMC Empire 25 (plain ol' DCP). Even the one I didn't really like was a neat experience, so that was a win. I will mention that it was kind of difficult to get MoviePass to work right, and it's almost funny - a few months ago, one of my annoyances with the program was that the phone app would forget my location what seemed like daily, adding an extra step to finding the theaters I wanted to use. Now, it's pretty locked into Cambridge, and getting it to work on those NYC theaters meant standing right outside, telling it to use the current location, and then quickly making selections before it reverted back to my home base. Fortunately, it worked eventually, which is good because as you can see, those are some expensive tickets.

I got home safely, crashed for much of Thursday, and then used having Friday off to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 on opening day before the truly crazy crowds got there. On Saturday, I took the bus out to West Newton to see The Two Faces of January, which I had missed during its closer runs (although I kind of like heading to West Newton anyway). Pretty good, both of them.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 November 2014 in AMC Boston Common #18 (first-run, DCP)

A couple years ago, I spent a lot of words talking about how The Hunger Games was not a patch on Battle Royale, and I stand by that statement - the first movie in this series really isn't very good and would be a complete disaster without Jennifer Lawrence. Something happened as the series strayed from those roots, though - it got interesting.

And as it keeps straying, it keeps getting more interesting. The second movie's exploration of how the next generation has an almost instinctive, twenty-first century knowledge of how to use the media is expanded on here, but it becomes much darker and cynical, as the revolutionaries are massaging their message nearly as much as the corrupt government, making Katniss as much a manufactured symbol as a genuine hero. It actually plays into one of my complaints from the previous films - that Katniss seldom actually does anything, because the idea here is that she doesn't need to - the media machine will make her into whatever they need.

And so, a great deal of what's interesting in this one is watching Julianne Moore as the "President" of underground District 13 who spars with a spin doctor played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The former is kind of a monster, and so is the latter, and that always takes us by surprise, at least a little bit - the revelation at the end of Catching Fire that he was a traitor to the Capital has the audience inclined to see him as idealistic, and his somewhat ruthless pragmatism is a little shocking. It's different from that of Woody Harrelson's Haymitch, unhappily sober, cutting through the crap, but still knowing Katniss's point of view. The switch in settings also (finally) gives Elizabeth Banks something interesting to do as Effie Trinket, as her absurdity is made even more obvious but also shows hints of an interesting person underneath.

Lawrence is still pretty great, although I suspect that the crassness of splitting this final book in the series in half has deprived her of having much action in this part beyond righteous anger. There's some goofy science fiction toward the end that also may get explored in next year's second half, but overall, this movie impresses a heck of a lot more than it was reasonable to expect back in March of 2012, and I wouldn't be surprised if the series as a whole winds up with a respectable showing in the top X sci-fi movie series among people who make lists in coming years.

The Two Faces of January

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2014 in Weston Newton Cinema #4 (second-run, DCP)

It sometimes seems as though Patricia Highsmith's novels have been constant fodder for classy thrillers, but believe it or not, there weren't very many English-language film adaptations of her work between Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley almost fifty years later at all. And yet, Hossein Amini's adaptation of The Two Faces of January is recognizable almost immediately - the murky morality, the people detached from ordinary life, the class tensions just under the surface. Of course, there have been other adaptations from around the globe, because Highsmith is just that important a figure in suspense.

And this latest movie based on her work is a nifty one. It gives us Viggo Mortensen Kirsten Dunst as an American couple in post-WWII Greece and Oscar Isaac as the American expatriate who becomes their guide and accomplice when the situation they are in deteriorates - and naturally finds himself attracted to Dunst's Colette. It's a situation that gets more tense by degrees after the first murder; Amini pumps things up slowly enough that the straw that broke the camel's back comes quietly. Part of it is the way we get immersed in the environment; part is just how well-directed it is, even with an ending that perhaps disappoints those who have become invested in one aspect of the story.

A lot comes from the impressive cast. Isaac finds the spot where conniving inersects with over-his-head, making Rydal one of the more interesting gray characters I've seen recently. Viggo Mortensen plays more solidly creepy, but not necessarily villainous. They contrast nicely. And as usual, I'm not sure why Kirsten Dunst isn't a big star; her role is more a fulcrum for others to play off, but she gets us caught in the middle as thoroughly as her character is..

The Two Faces of January isn't my favorite Highsmith movie, and has some flaws. But it's a cool little thriller of a type that doesn't show up nearly as often as it should.

American Museum of Natural HistoryGoodbye to LanguageLiberty & Ellis Islands70mm InterstellarMetropolitan Museum of ArtMea CulpaThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1The Two Faces of January

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