Monday, November 12, 2018


I joke often about feeling a weird sort of victory when I manage to see a Netflix film despite not having Netflix, but I've got to admit, hauling my butt out to Waltham to see something as so-so as Outlaw/King doesn't really feel like an accomplishment. Indeed, it doesn't even seem peculiar anymore, even though I used to pass near the Landmark Embassy every day on my way to work. Taking the 70 bus now has me curious about the changes along the way rather than feeling strong opinions on them - I notice there is no longer signage for an upcoming movie theater at the Arsenal Mall, although it may just be that they're starting construction on it.

Still, this bit's a bummer:

The Construction Zone and The Rail Yard were cool connected toy stores (with the Aisle 9 section kind of neat too) that closed down way before I could really shop for my Lego-loving nieces there, and the oldest of those girls is now 12; she's probably got some blocks I got there. Which is to say, it's been closed a long time, and I always get kind of mad when I pass places I liked that clearly haven't been replaced years later, wondering how many times the place just went under and how many times they were forced out/under by landlords who thought they were easily replaceable. It looks like this building is finally going to be torn down and replaced by mixed-use development in the near future, and maybe it'll include a neat toy store. Still, it seems like there's something wrong with a system that leads to this.

I must admit that I was a little surprised that the Embassy hadn't been renovated into a place with recliners and a bar like its sister cinema in Kendall Square; it's been a while since I've been there and sometimes I just assume that these upgrades are going on everywhere. Instead it still reminds me of the theaters I went to as a teenager and young adult: Six screens packed into a fairly small footprint, the freezer with the frozen treats an undisguised extension of the concession stand, just enough space in the lobby for people to move through but not sit around. There's oversized European posters of great art-house films on the wall, even though this place transitioned from boutique films to more mainstream bookings when the Circle Cinema shut down and it became the closest theater to a bunch of people.

And, now, the occasional Netflix movie, so that they can tell directors that their film opened in the major markets even though Waltham is, at best, "Boston Area". About ten of us took in the first matinee of the day, and at least three of us used MoviePass for it, burning one of our three tickets for something that we could already see at home. I noticed right away that the film had a 'scope aspect ration (about 2.39:1), and since it was projected on a common-height screen, it wound up kind of being the same sort of experience that you'd get at home. I'm not sure why Netflix is making movies shaped like this (I don't think Outlaw/King is an acquisition) - most every screen these movies will be shown on is 1.78:1, and you're wasting precious pixels this way, especially since there are a few scenes that could really use the height. This looks more respectable, though, and that seems to be the push for them right now, so long as they can do it without a lot of effort on their part.

Ah, well. At least I got a chance to see this one, which isn't always the case, before poking around an enjoyably overstuffed comic shop and seeing these signs in the window of the local art center:

Remind me to check that place out the next time "only way to see a Netflix movie on the big screen" pulls me out to Waltham.


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 November 2018 in Landmark Embassy #6 (first-run, DCP)

A local theater has a 70mm/widescreen festival that includes a lot of epics of the sort that Outlaw/King is looking to be, and though Charlton Heston seems like ridiculous casting for 75% of the ones he's in, I wonder what a Robert the Bruce picture with him in the lead would have been like, or at least one made to dazzle on a huge Cinemascope screen rather than one shot knowing that it will get 99.9% if its audience on Netflix. Maybe it had the same problems, but maybe it stands a chance of overpowering them with sheer theatricality and spectacle.

It opens in 1304; Scotland's recent rebellion has been quelled, but with no clear heir to the Scottish throne, King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane) has moved in to take control, insisting the Scottish lords pay tribute. Robert Bruce (Chris Pine) is one of them, and also soon betrothed to Elizabeth Burgh (Florence Pugh) in hopes of forging a tighter alliance. England squeezes Scotland for more than it can give, leading Robert to start to contemplate rebellion. In the way is John Comyn (Callan Mulvey), whose claim to the Scottish throne is roughly equal to Robert's own, and might improve if he betrays Robert to the king - and Robert kills him before that can happen. Even without that turn of events, Scotland is weary of war and his forces will face a much larger army led by the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle), a onetime friend of Robert's who has grown sadistic and merciless, flying the dragon flag to indicate that the rules of chivalry no longer apply.

Outlaw/King has all the pieces of a classic epic, with castles and tyrants and battles and reluctant but passionate romance, even if the weirdly-punctuated title sounds more self-consciously modern. Director and co-writer David Mackenzie makes a go of it here, and there are a few impressive pieces, most notable a nighttime sneak attack by English forces where the flaming arrows pop on screen and you get a sense of scale and clear purpose not always present in the others. It's Mackenzie's best action direction in a movie where the battles seem as obligatory as the moment early on where King Edwards launching a bomb at a castle because they spent three months building the trebuchet - you need clashes at certain points, but with the story being told (where the Scottish forces burn their own occupied castles to deny them to the English), it's hard to feel any sort of momentum and result from all those blobs of tarnished chainmail slashing at each other, especially when a large part of the finale is "kill the horses" (it's fortunate that there's been nice work on CGI and animatronic horses recently).

Full review at EFC.

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