Thursday, October 29, 2015

These Weeks In Tickets: 11 October 2015 - 24 October 2015

Folks, I saw a bunch of movies over the last couple of weeks, writing about many:

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

First things first: Getting The Walk in before it left Imax screens, because that's what it was designed for and if you see it on NetFlix six months or so from now, you're not really seeing it. This was also an opportunity to see something at the recently upgraded Imax theater at Jordan's Furniture in Reading. Initially, it doesn't look like much has changed: The concession stand is the same, the prices are maybe a buck more after staying basically the same for years, and the seats are still Tempurpedic material with individual "buttkicker" subwoofers underneath, although now covered in waterproof fabric (I envision them hosing the whole theater down at the end of the day). Even the music playing while waiting for the show to start (Brian Setzer & Delbert McClinton) is the same.

The presentation has been nicely upgraded, though - Imax-branded digital projection has been 2K, for the most part, but this is 4K laser projection, which I gather is sharper because the beam doesn't diffuse so much between the projector and the screen. Mention was made during the pre-show introduction that there were speakers directly overhead, but the mix for The Walk didn't take advantage of that much (nor the buttkickers, really). It's all about the 3D, and that's where this upgraded room really shines - rather than the polarized glasses most screens use, it's now using Dolby dichroic projection, which seems to drop a lot less light than most polarized systems (heck, less than the active-shutter system they use at the Fantasia Festival). It's definitely going to be my go-to place for 3D movies from now on.

Getting out there for an 11:30am show meant starting early, though, not just meaning there wasn't a lot of time to kill before catching Lady in the Lake at the Harvard Film Archive, but that I was kind of wiped out by the time the proto-noir Marlene Dietrich double feature of The Devil Is a Woman & Shanghai Express at the Brattle was going, so I drifted in and out a bit.

Monday was initially a tough decision - The Conversation at the Harvard Film Archive or a double feature of The Thin Man and The Kennel Murder Case at the Brattle, all on 35mm - but when The Kennel Murder Case was canceled, I opted for The Conversation, having never seen it before. It was a good choice.

After that, it was the Brattle for the next two nights - I skipped the first half of a Sylvia Sidney double feature on Tuesday to just check out You and Me, while Wednesday's single feature was They Drive By Night. That polished off proto-noir; hopefully the next leg of the 75th anniversary series will be just as much fun (and come soon).

Thursday was one of those long last night in Boston cross-town double features with strongly mixed results: Hindi thriller Jazbaa was very bad; Coming Home was extremely good. Better that order than the other way around, I suspect.

The Somerville Theater opened two movies by filmmakers I love on Friday, with MoviePass's silly 24-hour rule dictating the order I saw them: Crimson Peak by Guillermo del Toro was decent and very pretty but not one of his best; Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies could also be said not to be one of his best, but that still makes it better than most people are capable of on their best days.

Sunday, I saw the only Mad Max movie I hadn't seen yet, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and since that was bart of a marathon at the Brattle, it meant the next thing playing was Mad Max: Fury Road, and, man, if they're going to show Fury Road on the big screen and all you have to do is stay there, you do that.

After that run, staying home on Monday was pretty nice, and then I caught Beasts of No Nation on Tuesday. As you might expect for something getting a same-day debut on Netflix, attendance was pretty darn sparse. Kind of a shame, as it looks and sounds great, and really should be seen on the big screen.

The MBTA screwed up my Thursday plans, but Friday wound up a nifty double feature: Animated Edgar Allan Poe Anthology Extraordinary Tales wasn't playing a full schedule at Boston Common, but is surprisingly good, and it made for a pretty easy trip down the Green Line to catch Attack on Titan: End of the World at the Coolidge's midnight show.

Kind of surprised I was up in time to get to Victoria Saturday afternoon after finally getting into bed at about 3am, but I did, and it was good. Can't say I was quite as fond of The Algerian, but it's at least interesting and had surprise Q&A.

Next up: IFFBoston 2015½!

The Walk

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 11 October 2015 in Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, Imax digital 3D)

I hope that the staggered Imax/regular theater release for The Walk is what hurt it at the box office by having people confused about whether it was playing or not, rather than any lack of interest or, worse, willingness to defer until it's on home video or blanket disdain of paying extra for 3D or for giant-screen experiences. This is a movie where format matters, where a large part of its raison d'ĂȘtre is to put the audience on the wire that Philippe Petit strung between the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center. Writer/director Robert Zemeckis has spent much of his later career approaching movies as technical challenges as much as storytelling opportunities, and there can be little argument that his work on this challenge is spellbinding.. It induces honest vertigo which provides an intriguing contrast to Petit's seeming calm.

He's not bad at the storytelling, either. The Walk cannot help but be compared to Man on Wire, the very charming documentary about the same adventure from a few years back - one guy I know online seemingly couldn't let a mention of this movie pass without chiming in on how redundant it was - and if it doesn't necessarily exceed that film in many ways until the last-act showstopper, it's still quite satisfying for what it is. Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne don't over-complicate a good caper story but don't leave it dry, and the cast - Joseph Gordno-Levitt as Petit, Charlotte Le Bon as his girlfriend, Ben Kingsley as a mentor - is comfortable and entertaining. Zemeckis inserts a bit too much narration, most obvious when Gordon-Levitt speaks over a scene of his character talking to tell the audience what he was saying, but that's so obvious that it seems more a near-miss on something interesting (perhaps how Petit valued retelling this story as much as the experience itself) than it being a mistake.

Then again, maybe The Walk came and went quickly because people knew exactly what it was and didn't want to pay fifteen bucks to experience remarkably authentic acrophobia. Fair enough, I guess, but one of the joys of film is experiencing dangerous things in a safe environment, and while Zemeckis may not have made a great movie, he did create a fantastic experience.

The Conversation

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 12 October 2015 in the Harvard Film Archive (Furious and Furiouser, 35mm)

The Conversation is a great movie that circumstances have almost forced to be recognized less for itself than in relation to the fame of other films - directed by Francis Ford Coppola during the same burst of productivity that also produced the Godfather films, actually being nominated for Best Picture the same year as the second. That's a heck of a shadow to be in, especially since there's a group of us that would probably like it more than the more rapidly-acknowledged classics.

After all, we get Harry Caul - brilliant, technically-minded, proud of the work he does but both unable to boast due to its secretive nature and his own natural paranoia. Gene Hackman invests him with a perfect combination of pride and shame, keeping him brusque but interesting, so that the moments when he does open up just a crack to deal with other people on friendly terms or act as something other than an amoral professional are big deals but not entirely unexpected. A great many characters are torn between their particular genius and their morality, but it's impressive to watch Caul fight that battle off to the side as Coppola always makes sure that there is something else to watch while Hackman gives both facets his full attention.

Indeed, one can almost forget that there's an A-story here until Coppola dives back into it, although it's far from a step back to straight genre storytelling. He keeps certain things ambiguous as long as possible and then, rather than pausing to explain to the audience, expects it to keep up with Caul. This, despite the fact that things on screen are getting more surreal as his perspective unravels, meaning that like Caul, the audience is faced with the challenging task of separating the sanity from the madness, especially since the techniques Coppola is using in the last act means it is entirely possible that, as we followed along with Caul's obsessive examination of his surveillance recordings, we've been fed bad information, hearing something that wasn't there in the same way Caul may be.

It's brilliant, one of the great 1970s films that has thankfully become acknowledged more in recent years as the issues it raises became more relevant to our everyday life. That it's probably my favorite Coppola movie maybe says as much about my personal tastes and less-than-ideal experience seeing The Godfather as anything else, but I suspect that it will become a more common position as time goes by.

(Fun but not really important: There's a moment during the opening credits that has Teri Garr and Harrison Ford sharing a screen rather than getting it to themselves because they're minor characters/not well known as Frederic Forrest, which amused the audience, especially when Ford actually showed up. Along those lines, I was very happy to see that another character was in fact played by Robert Duvall and I wasn't going crazy despite him going uncredited.)

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 October 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (The Mad Max Saga, 35mm)

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is not a weak movie by any means, but it's the only one in the series that doesn't feel like a reinvention: Where Mad Max felt unique for taking place at what seemed like the final moment before societal collapse, Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) pushed the character into a garish hellscape almost disconnected from the world that came before, and Fury Road would recast Max and put a detailed twenty-first century stamp on the aesthetics, Thunderdome feels like George Miller giving the audience more of what they liked with The Road Warrior. Tina Turner is on hand and on the soundtrack to make it an easier sale to the audiences who liked Mel Gibson, now a big star, but weren't sure about the pulpy sci-fi strangeness of the series.

Of course, even doing that sort of sequel, Miller and his collaborators (co-writer Terry Hayes, co-director George Ogilvie, and all the folks building Max's crazy world) are not exactly holding back - Thunderdome itself and the denizens of Bartertown may clearly be the product of the same world that produced The Lord Humungous, but there is intricacy to their realization despite the grunginess. If Max's time with the lost children becomes an extended riff on how the past and present are sinking quickly into legend even as the survivors are quickly going to need something more substantial than fairy stories - the pregnant girl seems to be grasping this instinctively - because the previous film ended with the character passing into myth, it's at least filled out this time around.

Seeing this after Fury Road makes it feel like this one takes a while to get to the chase scene that has become the series's signature, but that will skew anything. The one this has is pretty spiffy itself, and the way a character flips from bondage-geared "Master" to a train conductor almost out of a children's book. Of course, seeing it thirty years late means I can't help but see the "Thunderdome" sequence in terms of how it was reused in Babe: Pig in the City, rather than vice versa.

Mad Max: Fury Road

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 18 October 2015 in the Brattle Theatre (The Mad Max Saga, DCP)

In a weird bit of timing, the third time I see this movie in a theater is the first time I wind up writing about it. But it feels like I've got very little that I can add to what a lot of people have said about it. It's fantastic, one of the most amazing action movies to come out in years, a masterpiece of telling the story through action rather than exposition. Nux is probably the greatest example of it - very little is done to explain what makes him and other war boys like him tick, but we get the guy through how he acts and what he does.

The development time for this movie was infamously protracted, but I suspect that it's hard to think of a case where that helped more. How early, for instance, did Miller have the idea of Max as "blood bag" to go along with the lactating women and more obvious bits of objectification to put him in the unfamiliar-for-men position of being valued for his body rather than anything he can actually do. Miller has talked about how, with seemingly endless pre-production time, they refined the props and elements to give them backstory and meaning (some of which wound up in the sadly redundant comics), and one of the unexpected end results is how different Fury Road looks from its predecessors. Rather than bondage gear designed to shock, there's a practical logic to these characters' wardrobes, a creepy pallor to the War Boys, a synthetic mythology built to control that makes sense.

Miller and cinematographer John Seale shot it digitally, and rather than trying to recreate the battered look of the previous [two] movies, there's sharpness and a forbidding beauty to the desert that the previous entries didn't allow themselves. I wonder, idly, if there's meaning to this - if the Mel Gibson movies were about civilization falling and people trying to eke out an existence any way they can, maybe the Tom Hardy ones will be about the people who rebuild, with the still-dangerous but more sunny visuals symbolizing hope and a new day.

So long as it means more amazing chases and action like this, I'm down for that. That Fury Road is a modern action masterpiece is no longer surprising the third time through, but it doesn't lose its ability to thrill.

The WalkLady in the LakeThe Devil Is a Woman / Shanghai ExpressThe ConversationYou and MeThey Drive By NightComing HomeJazbaaCrimson PeakBridge of Spies

Mad Max 3/4Beasts of No NationAttack on Titan: End of the WorldExtraordinary TalesVictoriaThe Algerian

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