Friday, March 30, 2018

This Those Weeks In Tickets: 5 February 2018 - 18 March 2018

Well, I wasn't going to allow myself to fall behind like this, but festivals and vacations and such got us here, catching up on six weeks:

5 February - 11 February
12 February - 18 February
19 February - 25 February
26 February - 4 March
5 March - 11 March
12 March - 18 March

This Week in Tickets

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool was only in town for a week or so, and it got a little attention because it was expected to get some Oscar nominations for Annette Bening or at least Elvis Costello, and they both had an argument. Still, well worth a watch. It probably would have made sense to hit the sack immediately afterward, but instead I opted to put a pin in the first leg of my plans to watch all my discs of entries in series that I haven't finished with The Vanished Murderer, which... wasn't good. A real disappointment, honestly.

After that, it was time for the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, which was as always a mixed bag. The opening weekend included Junk Head & Ayla on Friday; Flora, The Gateway, and Andover on Saturday; and Kill Order on Sunday. That's not a festival schedule that entirely fills the weekend, but I also tried to catch all of the Oscar-nominated shorts. I missed the docs - you've really got to buy ahead of time when stuff's in the GoldScreen - but I did manage to catch the Animated Oscar Shorts as well as the Live Action Shorts.

This Week in Tickets

The next week was also pretty much all festival, with Beyond Skyline on Monday; Space Detective & Darken on Tuesday; Before We Vanish & Tangent Room on Wednesday; Division 19 & Paradoxical on Thursday; Framed on Friday; and Closer Than We Think, Muse, and Canaries on Saturday. That's a busy week, but one of the reasons I am kind of down on letting it eat an entire week is that we're starting to see a lot of Chinese New Year releases, and I was only able to get to two of the three that came out that weekend - The Monkey King 3 and Monster Hunt 2 - around the festival.

And then, after the "festival" part was over, it was time for the Marathon! As I say in the roundup, I kind of got to the point where I decided that the event probably wasn't for me anymore early this time around, because who wants to see movies with people who think they can make a Spielberg classic better with their call-outs, especially if so little is going to be on film? Supposedly, the Somerville Theatre will be playing a larger part next year, but we'll see how it's looking closer to the time. Anyway, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Time Machine '60, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, "Haley", The Lost World '25, Marjorie Prime, and Bride of Frankenstein got us to midnight...

This Week in Tickets

... and Shivers, Night of the Living Dead, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", World WIthout End, The Little Shop of Horrors, Yellow Submarine, Army of Darkness, 20 Million Miles to Earth, and Looper got us to noon or so.

I half-considered doing another movie during the afternoon, but figured I'd be better off doing laundry, packing, and such before heading out on vacation - at one point, I actually planned to get on a plane that evening and let the whole "being exhausted from being up 36 hours" help me sleep on the flight and beat jet lag, but I didn't go that route. Instead, I headed to New Orleans, which isn't entirely my bag - a lot of the cool tourist stuff is in the French Quarter, which is bigger on drinking and noise than I am. Pretty great food, though, and I had fun visiting Steamboat Natchez, The National WWII Museum, The Louisiana State Museum (well, the ones that were in NOLA and open: The Calibdo, The Presbytere, The 1850 House, and The Jazz Museum at the Old Mint), The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, a swamp tour, Preservation Hall, the Sculpture Garden, and jazz at Snug Harbor. A full week, and I ate beignets the way I eat poutine in Montreal, at a rate completely unsustainable if they were common in the Boston area.

And, yeah, I saw a couple movies while I was there, both because I'm not drinking after dark the way a lot of tourists are and because I was feeling kind of spoiler-averse. So I went to Black Panther on Wednesday and Annihilation on Friday. There was only really one cinema particularly close to the hotel, Regla's "Cinebarre Cafe", which charges premium prices (or at least, enough for MoviePass not to cover it) and has table service, but doesn't really feel that much like a fancy spot in the theaters. Decent enough, though, and the movies were pretty darn good.

Black Panther

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen on 21 March 2018 in Regal Canal Place #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Separate the Marvel stuff from this movie - and, believe it or not, you can do that fairly easily; you really don't need Captain America: Civil War even though important setup happened there - and you've still got something pretty terrific: An African-influenced bit of science fantasy that manages to balance two concepts extremely well. Black Panther's Afro-futuristic setting both asks us to imagine a world where Africa wasn't colonized and developed independently with all of its resources and, for those who would point out that this is a fantasy, it wrestles with the idea of what obligation the fortunate have to the less fortunate, and what the best course is when that good fortune comes after a lifetime of denial.

It's a non-DC superhero movie, so you can guess where it will land to a certain extent, but it's also a pretty great bit of pulp entertainment, with great big action that draws from both totemic fantasy and dizzying science fiction, set mainly against beautiful African (approximating) vistas but traveling enough to have fun set-pieces in London and Busan. Writer/director Ryan Coogler occasionally slows things down enough to both get some background out and let a character articulate his or her point of view, but it never becomes drab, and even the characters who supply a lot of the jokes are seldom played for fools. The movie never gets dumb to have fun.

It's also got a cast worth loving; Chadwick Boseman and Martin Freeman return from Civil War and both kick things up a notch as the title character and the token American ally (although, I must admit, as a fan of the comics I much prefer Everett K. Ross as a State Department liaison in way over his head than as a CIA operative), but Michael B. Jordan makes a pretty darn charismatic villain, the trio of Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright are great as the warrior women who have their king's back in different ways, and even the smaller roles are well-filled.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 23 March 2018 in Regal Canal Place #6 (first-run, DCP)

Right now, I think Annihilation is pretty darn good, and I'm only half-joking when I say that I want to see what I think of it after it's given me a few new varieties of nightmare. That is to say, it may wind up seeming even better.

And, make no mistake, it is pretty great as it sinks its audience into a situation that finds something more to disturb in every moment - a returning husband who is just demonstrably more shaken and traumatized in every moment until he starts shaking apart, a team of people who are not only all damaged goods but seemingly aware of it in the least reassuring way possible, chimera-like plants and animals that display a certain beauty despite verging on the unearthly... and then it starts in with the things that are more obviously horrific, split right down the middle between the familiar and the really terrible idea executed extremely well.

Then things get weird.

Much of this movie reminds me of Sunshine, the screenplay writer/director Alex Garland wrote for Danny Boyle, especially how both feature rational, capable people more or less destroyed by getting too close to something that they can't possibly grasp, whether it be the awesome power of the sun or an incursion onto Earth by a life form that not only may lack comprehensible motivation but which may be so different that the lecture Natalie Portman's Lena gives to her students about the cell being the basic building block of life may not apply. It's also got a nifty cast, an aesthetic that veers between practical and impossible while using piercing light to put the audience off-guard, and a last act that is visually stunning but also challenging in how it pushes into bizarre situations without much in the way of explanation at all.

Indeed, it's so willing to trust the audience to catch up then that it makes the blemish of its framing device a little more noticeable; maybe the flashbacks/forwards help the audience identify with Lena more because they see something in her relationship with her husband, but it both could have come out in conversation with the other characters and seems kind of small, conventional potatoes against the rest of what's going on. It's hardly a problem (though the film only going that far is apparently why some of the producers and its studio lost a certain amount of faith in it), especially when it's so great otherwise

This Week in Tickets

My flight back was fairly early on Tuesday morning, although I was soon headed back downtown because Federal Express wouldn't deliver a parcel with my Red Sox season ticket package while I was away, and that meant going halfway back to the airport. The FedEx facility is pretty near the seaport, but Icon was only open for the very early and very late shows that day, so I couldn't give it a look. Weird schedule. So I wound up headed to Boston Common to do a double feature of Game Night and Operation Red Sea, not yet aware that the latter would have a pretty impressive run there.

I mostly let go of scrambling to see all the Oscar nominees before the ceremony, because feeling like I was fulfilling an obligation would probably lead me to not actually enjoying Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name even if I wouldnormally go for them. I did wind up going for the Documentary Shorts, although their length and scheduling meant seeing the first three at the Coolidge on Thursday night and the last two at the ICA on Saturday, where they wound up playing in reverse order, confusing some of the folks there. I might have done that double feature, but I'd already purchased tickets for a different double feature a few weeks earlier, with the Alloy Orchestra accompanying The General and A Page of Madness at the Somerville Theatre.

Sunday would be Oscar Night, but instead of catch-up my matinees were a couple of foreign oddities. I got up early to take the T out to Brookline for the Goethe-Institut screening of Wild Mouse, which I might not have prioritized if the Wilde Maus roller coaster in Wiener Prater hadn't caught my eye when I was on vacation in Vienna last fall. That's probably not the best reason to see a movie, but, on the other hand, if that can be a reason for you to see a movie, you really should make the effort. After that, it was up the Green Line for Detective Chinatown 2, and then home for the Oscars. Which were fun; I like the positive vibe Kimmel brings to it and years where, even if one movie wins a lot, nothing really dominates.

The General (1926)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 3 March 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Alloy Orchestra, digital)

I know the Alloy Orchestra uses this to get people to come out for the back end of a double feature which is somewhat more esoteric, but it's nevertheless a great experience on its own - a fantastic movie and they've honed their propulsive score to perfection.

Other than that, what to add to the other times I've talked about this movie? It's a ton of fun, the choreography and stuntwork is fantastic, and even in an era where we probably want to be a little more conscious about presenting the Confederacy as heroes, there's something absurd enough about the way Buster Keaton presents them to make it go down a bit easier.

Full review at EFC (from 2004).

Kurutta ippêji (A Page of Madness)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 3 March 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Alloy Orchestra, digital)

Ever since learning about the Japanese tradition of narrated spent films, I've wondered if seeing something like A Page of Madness without a benshi is a bit off the original intent. It's a fascinating film to watch and the lack of intertitles makes it feel like a pure, abstracted silent, but maybe it wasn't meant to be quite so abstract.

It's intriguing nonetheless, spending most of its time in a mental hospital where a humble janitor seems to have more empathy for the patients than either the doctors or their visitors, particularly a woman who seems to have snapped after losing a child. It can sometimes straddle a fine line between gawking and sympathy in how the inmates are observed, and the story could occasionally use that narrator as it presents alternate outcomes.

It's often striking, though, especially for how willing the filmmakers are to muddle which side of the bars one is on from shot to shot. There will often be no visual signifier to distinguish looking out and looking in, which both makes it easier to see insanity consume the seemingly sane and to wonder about often this sort of commitment is less helpful than convenient, or if the cruelty toward the patients is more dangerous than their afflictions.

The Alloy Orchestra were quite good, as usual, even if certain bits of the score did seem a bit more awkwardly "oriental" than is comfortable from western performers, although that diminished the deeper one got into the film.

This Week in Tickets

The next week was a little more relaxed, starting with a sort of mini-theme that nobody involved would have planned: On Tuesday night, I hit the Brattle to see Skyfall on 35mm film as part of their series on Oscar nominated winning cinematographer Roger Deakins. It looked fantastic, obviously, but it also served as a bit of a contrast to Agent Mr. Chan the next night, which was a straight up James Bond spoof, something a little less relevant in an era that has already seen the "Bond Begins" of Casino Royale.

The weekend was about going to theaters I don't hit that often. Early Man was down to just matinee shows in the small room at Fresh Pond, and it's a bummer it didn't have more success here; it's quality work from Aardman, although I didn't realize that it had been a decade since Nick Park's last directing credit. Later that evening, I headed to the Seaport to catch Red Sparrow on their big "Icon-X" screen, and returned the next morning to see A Wrinkle in Time in 3D. The picture is extraordinary (for digital), although that's really not the place to go to see how kids are going to react to that movie.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 6 March 2018 in the Brattle Theatre #1 (Roger Deakins, 35mm)

There are a lot of reasons why Skyfall is an all- timer as far as James Bond movies are concerned, but it was playing the Brattle as part of a Roger Deakins series, so you'll forgive me for mainly focusing on how it looks amazing. It was on film, too, a pleasant surprise considering that it's not always a sure thing that actual prints exist when the movie is of such recent vintage.

I am, personally, very glad that this one in particular was good, because my second viewing was actually in London, at the Imax theater not far from Parliament where some of the action took place, the sort of thing that sticks a movie in one's head just a tiny bit more.

One thing that really struck me was how it disassembled both classic Bond and the newer pictures in order to ultimately arrive at a version of the franchise that is both traditional and very modern. It's an impressive balance that they couldn't really achieve again with Spectre, and I hope like heck that Danny Boyle can hit this spot for Daniel Craig's expected last go around.

This Week in Tickets

The next week would be pretty quiet - it snowed again, so I didn't mess around for a couple of days - but it led to a decent weekend: I caught Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story on Friday night, which I enjoyed, and then Tomb Raider on Saturday, heading out to South Bay because they had the cheapest 3D show. Probably won't be doing that much in the future; it's a hike and I like the way that the theaters are set up at other places a lot better than that spot.

Tomb Raider (2018)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen on 17 March 2018 in AMC South bay #6 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

I wouldn't say that Tomb Raider doesn't deserve Alicia Vikander; it's got the makings of a top-flight adventure series despite being a second run at something adapted from a video game and having someone like Vikander in the lead can only help. But it absolutely needs her; in an age where new big-screen pulp shows up every week and only a few have truly great action or effects, someone who can grab the audience between the running, jumping, and punching is a must.

Tomb Raider isn't one of the great ones; its story is one part lost-parent quest and one part vague, almost incidental conspiracy. The filmmakers show only the vaguest interest in the mythological story being chased down, the sort is moved forward by people doing something dumb just to make things happen, and it absolutely involves a collapsing floor that is apparently not a big deal on the way out of the trap-filled tomb. The action is fine but often uncreative; you'd think they would pick up some guys to help with that during a stop in Hong Kong.

There's no denying it's got all the pieces, though, with a star who always makes her scenes worth watching improving a film that, even if it seldom hits the highest heights, seldom screws things up. With a supporting cast for the first that includes Kristen Scott Thomas, Walton Goggins, Nick Frost, Dominic West, Daniel Wu, and Derek Jacobi, some of whom could come back, it's certainly well-placed to be a decent film series if the producers fine-tune it in the right ways.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
The Vanished Murderer
Junk Head & Ayla
Flora, The Gateway & Andover
Kill Order
Oscar Animated Shorts
Oscar Live-Action Shorts

Beyond Skyline
Space Detective & Darken
Before We Vanish & The Tangent Room
Division 19 & Paradoxical
The Monkey King 3
Closer Than We Think, Muse & Canaries
Monster Hunt 2
Sci-Fi Marathon

Sci-Fi Marathon
Black Panther
Steamboat Natchez
National WWII Museum
Louisiana State Museums
Preservation Hall

Snug Harbor
Game Night
Operation Red Sea
Oscar Documentary Shorts
Oscar Documentary Shorts
The General
A Page of Madness
Wild Mouse
Detective Chinatown 2

Agent Mr. Chan
Early Man
Red Sparrow
A Wrinkle in Time

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Tomb Raider

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