Tuesday, January 30, 2018

This Week In Tickets: 22 January 2018 - 28 January 2018

Some late-ish nights at work, so no moviegoing during the week, but even if I were particularlly worried about falling behind my movie-a-day pace for the new year - which I'm not, really, at least not enough to binge if I start falling behind - I knew that there would be a busy weekend ahead

This Week in Tickets

Busy week writing code for medical reproting systems; funny how things that fail quickly early in the day run for a long time once three or four o'clock rolls around. It gives the resulting weekend a weird sort of purity, though, as it meant that everything I saw this week was on film, which is always a fun week, because film looks terrific.

Things started out at the Brattle with the first double feature of the Brattle's "Who's That Cutting My Film?" series on woman editors, and it was a pretty impressive start: Martin Scorsese's feature debut Who's That Knocking at My Door (edited by Thelma Schoonmaker) and Steven Spielberg's first theatrical feature The Sugarland Express (co-edited by Verna Fields). I found myself more impressed by the Spielberg, naturally - the man's just a natural storyteller and he's got more going on than it appears, even if Scorsese is kind of more obviously arty.

I didn't go home after that, instead, taking the Red Line to South Station so that I could take the 2:15am Greyhound to New York for Grady Hendrix's Hong-Kong-a-Thon. At first, it looked like I would get on an earlier bus and make it in well in time to get a good seat, but instead... Well, follow the link for transportation nightmares, sleep deprivation, and six crazy movies from 1980s and 1990s Hong Kong.

I got a little sleep on the ride home, and then, when I couldn't get into Padmaavat at Fenway (sold out all day!), I continued down the Green Line to catch Phantom Thread on 70mm film at the Coolidge. I may have to catch it again in 35mm, because I may have still have been a little woozy.

As always, quicker updates on my Letterboxd page, for those that like first drafts.

Who's That Knocking on My Door?

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 26 January 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Who's That Cutting My Film?, 35mm)

Huh, movie-fan know-it-alls have been a certain kind of obnoxious since would before the dawn of the internet and social media; it's hard not to cringe watching Harvey Keitel's J.R. pushing his talk of The Searchers and John Wayne on a girl who's just trying to read her French magazine in peace at the start. You're supposed to; he's a guy who thinks folks are interested in his opinion and attention by default, especially women, but he's got the shirt of smile that's just friendly and sincere enough to want to like him, at least enough to feel the frustration his girlfriend feels at the end.

Getting to that end, though... It's a bit of a struggle. Martin Scorsese builds his movie out of lords of little vignettes and images, seldom meant as events that change the direction of their characters, but examples, and it is very easy to feel the point had been made, and one more image of guys assuming control, gravitating to violence, or hypocritically enjoying sex and exploitation while expecting purity may just be too much.

The film screened in a "woman editors" series (on a crisp 35mm black-and-white print), and the importance of Thelma Schoonmaker's contribution is immediately apparent as she lets various scenes play out, inter-cuts J.R. meeting the girl with his hanging out with the boys, and makes the centerpiece flashback disjointed and panic-inducing. Some scenes are put together in a way that's clearly just meant to put a thought in the audience's head, and are at least interesting even if they don't push forward. It was the start of a long, fruitful collaboration, and it elevates what is often a short film's worth of material and an installations worth of artistic ambition to a feature worth watching all the way through.

The Sugarland Express

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 26 January 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Who's That Cutting My Film?, 35mm)

It's almost unfair how natural Spielberg is as a filmmaker from the very start. He'd done some fine work in television (including a TV-movie good enough to get a theatrical release overseas in Duel), but from the start of this one, he's quickly seeing up a precise atmosphere and whipping stars Goldie Hawn and William Atherton around to show the audience how this whole movie is going to alternate between crazed and dazed. He's coming up with ways to communicate right away and making it look so obvious that it looks like anyone can do it.

The funny thing is, it's sneakily a subversive, satirical film. A 1970s car- crash movie where the "heroes" are kind of morons, it also has plenty of time to snark at the excesses of American gun and instant-celebrity culture that are still terribly relevant for and a half decades later, and not just in a broad way that's so general as to be universal. Its jokes are pointed and sharp, and the firm, trustworthy authority figures are almost lost amid the insanity and impulsiveness of the rest of the cast. There are moments of sentimentality and sensibility, but they often seem lost or misguided. There's a woman who sincerely tells Lou Jean not to let anyone take her baby in a way that communicates personal experience, but the fugitive is far from a fit mother, and it makes one wonder about the woman who identifies with her.

And then, of course, there's everything else Spielberg does well: Carefully designed and perfectly executed action, striking visuals including crane shots that present what's going on with clarity, characters who are sympathetic if not always perfect. It's very much a 1970s film of the type he's often described as killing, with jumbled, overlapping dialogue, grainy film, and a quiet self-awareness, and it's maybe a little longer than it needs to be (those car chase movies it evokes were about twenty minutes shorter). It's still an impressive start to a great career, even if it's also something of an anomaly in that career.

Phantom Thread

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 28 January 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 70mm)

Impeccably produced, wonderfully acted, clear in its ideas... and, maybe, not really fascinating until it doesn't really have time to play it out. Daniel Day-Lewis's Reynolds Woodcock is a perfect distillation of male arrogance and how pervasive it can be even when placed in a fussy, feminine-seeming vessel, but filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson spends a great deal of time showing this before having Vicki Krieps's Alma start pushing back in interesting ways, and there just doesn't seem like enough time to explore that.

Maybe it's just me being groggy from the rest of the weekend's movie-going adventures, and a second viewing will set me right. I enjoyed Phantom Thread as it is (though i suspect the 70mm print outs not much better than a 35mm one would be), but suspect there could be greatness of it were more tug-of-war than setup.

Who's That Knocking on My Door? & The Sugarland Express
Phantom Thread

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