Monday, December 21, 2015

That Week In Tickets: 6 December 2015 - 12 December 2015

Idea for next year - a movie-ticket Yahtzee game with other folks who have MoviePass or who just otherwise see a bunch of movies in a week. This week's tickets, for instance, would get me 25 points for a full house

This Week in Tickets

I knew something like this was in play from Sunday, when I got out of Tamasha - a Bollywood movie I liked a bit more than I was expecting despite always being up for something with Deepika Padukone - and into Krampus at a different theater and saw they were both screen #1s. Since I knew the Science on Screen presentations at the Coolidge were usually in the main auditorium, it was looking to be a good week for someone who enjoys word numeric coincidences!

(For what it's worth, Krampus is a lot of fun, whether you're in the Christmas spirit or not.)

And The Blob delivered the one as well as the usual entertaining and illuminating pre-show lecture. This one started with the Great Boston Molasses Disaster, which is a piece of Boston history that is both absurd and horrifying - people died, but it is hard not to laugh when you picture a wave of molasses suring up the streets of Boston's North End. This led to a discussion of how the viscosity of molasses makes swimming through it with standard symmetrical strokes almost impossible for something human-sized - length is the important variable here - so to escape you're best off trying to imitate microbes, whose dimensions make water even harder to swim through than molasses would be for humans, so they use asymmetrical motions with cilia and tails. Things you learn at this series.

A couple days off after that, and then on Thursday I went to the night-before show of The Danish Girl, which wasn't bad but was not exceptional in the way something built to be an awards contender has to be. Also, in a year where we've already seen Tangerine, it's not so big a deal. (It was in theater #5, so chances of five of a kind pretty much ended there.)

Friday night, I dropped into the Harvard Film Archive for one of the more rare screenings in their Orson Welles series, Too Much Johnson, which is less a film itself than an assembly of the footage Welles spot when bringing the play of the same name to the stage with the idea of these films bits of slapstick action being inserted at the appropriate time. The play never made it to Broadway and thus Welles never finished cutting the material, but it's kind of interesting to examine as the unfinished (and long-thought-lost) project that it is.

Saturday would prove long but not take me fat from home, as both things I went to see were in the Somerville Theatre. The afternoon was spent downstairs in the Micro-Cinema, where All Things Horror had what I think was their first event since the Boston Horror Show back in January with their annual presentation of Etheria Film Night. I wounds up liking the feature more than the short films, but even there, the only one I disliked was the one I had seen and hatred earlier, so I was steeled for it.

Then after a quick stop home for some food, I was back there for In the Heart of the Sea, which has to be put down as a fairly significant disappointment - it's got a very nice cast and Ron Howard at the helm, a guy who is a pretty fair storyteller even when faced with a challenging shoot, but it always seeks to remind the audience that these events inspired something better and never finds an angle that gives the film a theme beyond how the ocean is dangerous.

With that also on a screen #5, I scored a full house. Now, if only I we're actually competing with someone...

Up next - a vacation where I accomplished little beyond watching movies!

The Blob (1958)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 December 2015 in College Corner Theatre #1 (Science on Screen, DCP)

There's a Criterion Collection edition of The Blob, which might lead one to believe that this particular 1950s monster movie is a cut above its contemporaries - or maybe two, since being just one step up gets it to "not embarrassing" as opposed to actually good. That's not really the case; instead, this is a movie that represents its time and genre fairly well, and on top of that gains a little extra attention for putting some of the action in a theater full of its teenaged target audience watching horror movies. And, of course, for starring Steve McQueen before he was Steve McQueen.

That's more literally true in this case than many others, with the future star credited as "Steven McQueen". More importantly, though, the rugged masculinity that would later become his hallmark is still very much a work in progress; this movie's hero Steve Andrews may be introduced as a guy who drag races and goes through girlfriends fast enough that he can't be expected to remember the details of the one he's currently necking with, but McQueen plays him with an almost complete absence of swagger. Andrews may suddenly get the urge to run after a meteorite or insist he saw something horrible happen to the town doctor, but he's oddly hesitant much of the time, seemingly not certain or bright enough to insist or charismatic enough to convince. In a way, it's perhaps a more realistic portrayal of 1950s youth than the standard, in that he has ideas of taking charge of the situation but doesn't quite have the belief in himself to do so yet; he's still fairly deferential, despite the insistence by one of the local cops that all teenagers are back-talking hooligans. Maybe it makes his development into a leader by the end a little more honest and hard-won after seeing him jump because girlfriend Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut) is a step or two ahead of him at one point (sneaking back out to prove they really saw something may be his idea, but she's the one who commits to it more whole-heartedly).

The odd performance of its star aside, The Blob winds up being campy in a somewhat less mockable way than many other fifties B-movies. Its featureless monster may seem very silly in motion, no matter what sort of tricks the filmmakers pull to make it seem threatening, but there are a few surprisingly gruesome moments that let it feel like a real danger nevertheless, and a combination of simplicity and cleverness to getting it on screen that demands at least a little admiration. Make no mistake, the movie is frequently very dumb - the Blob bounces from place to place too easily, and there's a constant sense that nothing has to be nearly as flat as it is - and that's what ultimately frustrates in retrospect. It's always one moment of inspiration away from having its faults forgiven, but never able to get it.

Too Much Johnson

N/A (out of four)
Seen 11 December 2015 at the Harvard Film Archive (Orson Welles Part II, 35mm)

Has there ever been a video game built around silent comedy, at least recently? There's the old Atari 2600 Keystone Kapers game, and the Three Stooges game of the mid-1980s also comes to mind, but it seems like there would be something really fun about a game where your character was slightly klutzy, and correcting for the slight winnings of the controls was an important skill rather than a reason for frustration, and situations careened out of control in funny, non-lethal ways.

I ask because watching Too Much Johnson - or more accurately, the slapstick footage Orson Welles shot to use in a stage version of the William Gillette play of that name - can bring the sensation of a game to mind: The player (Welles, in this case) tries a bunch of different things, not always getting anywhere for reasons that may seem oblique, but sometimes it works, the level clears, and he tries to get his avatar (Joseph Cotton) through something similar but different. It can be kind of a chore to watch, especially with little storytelling context but you recognize the skill involved. That's also the nature of what is still halfway an assembly cut - the first of three to five silent-comedy sequences is mostly complete, but at least three-quarters of the footage that we see here would have been discarded, static shots cut into edited footage that tells a story rather than just showing the same thing over and over again.

There is still some pleasure in watching it, as the gags are mostly well-conceived and the folks involved are good at what they're doing. It would actually be kind of fascinating to have a bunch of filmmakers act as Welles's editor here, or make this an assignment for a film class. There's plenty of smiles and laughs in the material, and it's great to have it rediscovered, even if you can't really treat it like an actual movie.

(Although, seriously, there's a heck of a game to be made out of its wild rooftop chases with what seem like dangerously unstable ladders along with an appreciation for how dating some of this comedy was!)

TamashaKrampusThe BlobThe Danish girlToo Much JohnsonIn the Heart of the SeaEtheria Film Night 2015

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