Monday, December 10, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 3 December 2018 - 9 December 2018

I had use-it-or-lose it vacation time, so I took Friday off, but you'd never be able to tell.

This Week in Tickets

The Brattle and Harvard archaeology departments don't necessarily show Raiders of the Lost Ark absolutely every fall, but it can seem like they do, and why not? I'm actually kind of mildly surprised it was just the one show; it was a packed house and I know people got turned away on Friday because Fandango had it listed then for some unknown reason. Anyway, they show it often enough that I'm not quite sure why I have it on disc, aside from it being in a box set.

I came down with something right around then, so I didn't really feel up to getting out to Kendall for the last local screenings of A Private War (that I know of; I'm kind of hoping it may pop up in Lexington or as part of next year's Bright Lights or something). Had me not really wanting to leave the house beyond doing laundry on Friday, so I drilled down the DVR a while before starting to work on the latest batch of Blu-rays, this one from Twilight Time, starting in on the pile with Don't Bother to Knock, a weird Marilyn Monroe thriller from before when she really became Marilyn Monroe, if you get my meaning.

Same kind of went for the next day, though I opted for the 3D disc in the package, Space Pirate Captain Harlock, which being just 5 years old is an odd choice for that distributor, but hey, it's only 2D and apparently dubbed on Amazon Prime Video. Not great. I went with my other unwatched Twilight Time 3D disc, Gun Fury after that. A better movie, although the dialogue being in English made the fact that 3D Blu-rays are especially prone to getting the audio sync messed up particularly annoying; I kept trying to adjust but never quite getting it. I'm wondering if maybe having one wire going to the TV and one to the receiver is the issue, and maybe a new receiver would do it. Don't really feel the need to upgrade, though.

Sunday, I got out, trying to do some Christmas shopping, and, folks, the holiday craft fair scene seems really slow this year. Also, I'm beginning to suspect that one of the holes in my comic collection (Spider-Gwen #34) never actually came out. Got me to the Coolidge in plenty of time for The Favourite, which I'd hoped would be more fun than it turned out to be. Left me kind of disappointed, enough that instead of going straight home, I stopped at Boston Common for Anna and the Apocalypse, which I think I might have liked even more than when I saw it at Fantasia - or at least, it didn't suffer for being seen with a different, smaller audience.

Anyway, follow the Letterboxd page if you want; that's where most of this page's entries came from..

Raiders of the Lost Ark

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 4 December 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (special presentation, 35mm)

Usually I don't have a lot new to say about this movie, but I'll confess something that makes me feel pretty stupid: I hadn't realized that Belloq was taking the position of the rabbi in the climactic sequence, which is kind of ridiculous on my part, but now I'm wondering just exactly which shade of twisted Spielberg/Lucas/Kasdan were going for: Is Belloq Jewish and so obsessed he's willing to work with Nazis or just so megalomaniacal and certain of how he deserves the contents of the Ark? Either way, even better villain that I thought, and I've thought he was a great villain for a long time.

Nice print, at least, although it kind of looks like it's from a restoration that's been inside of a computer.

Full review at EFC from 2013

Don't Bother to Knock

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 December 2018 in Jay's Living Room (recent acquisitions, Blu-ray)

I'm not sure whether Don't Bother to Knock uses Marilyn Monroe's breathy, seductive innocence poorly or if it's just odd to see her in something like a dramatic role, but it's kind of rough going at times; she was a better actress than she appeared but even someone genuinely great might have trouble navigating the space between lurid and sympathetic that this reluctant babysitter requires. She's okay and maybe a bit better, but caught in the middle of a movie that requires something genuinely great or something totally deranged. The latter would be a terrible movie, but a more memorable one.

This actual movie is kind of a well-cast B-movie; besides Monroe, it's got Richard Widmark, Anne Bancroft, and Elisha Cook Jr., all turning in solid-enough performances (although Bancroft's singing being dubbed drove me nuts as my BD player can have lip-sync issues at the best of times), at the very least good enough to provoke reactions. Though broad and simple, Cook's well-meaning obliviousness to his niece's issues, Widmark's growing conscience, and Bancroft's genuine reactions to the man he is at the start and end of the movie all click. Smaller parts are iffier, but mostly need to be functional anyway.

It's the plot that lets things down a bit; it plays like someone intended to make a pulpy thriller about a crazy woman and then found themselves sympathetic to what Monroe's Nell had gone through. It makes the whole thing feel muted but not exactly serious, trapping the film somewhere between thriller and drama.

Kyaputen Hârokku (Space Pirate Captain Harlock)

* * (out of four)
Seen 8 December 2018 in Jay's Living Room (recent acquisitions, 3D Blu-ray)

So this is what it looks like when manga adaptations go full CGI - a world filled with characters that don't have the expressiveness either freehand drawing or live action can bring except in the most deliberate, mannered way, and the original manga-ka's style gets lost in a mess of photorealism and rigid scaling, everything just a little bit off from pacing to design. It's a high price to pay for some admittedly spiffy 3D space battles and action.

Maybe if I were a fan of some previous version, this would work better; it's the sort of adaptation that throws a whole lot of exposition at the audience and has room for multiple Biggest Weapons Ever that the manga would have spent months building to. Still, it also spends a lot of time telling the audience that Captain Harlock is amazing but spending a lot more time with other characters until the end, when it finally gives Harlock some backstory. The movie never really develops a rhythm, getting bigger and bigger until the sheer size is meaningless, scaling up another piece of melodrama to match but making it look foolish as a result.

The movie admittedly often looks great - the skull-festooned everything may be more kewl than cool, but there's something about the way Harlock's ship Arcadia just bashes its way through things that almost gives it some personality. The action is creatively conceived and lovingly rendered in 3D, although the relative realism of the rendering makes the violence a bit harder to swallow. It's the sort of space opera that can feel pretty nihilistic as the sheer scale of the carnage sinks in, and the lack of a hero who actually abhors the violence itself doesn't give the audience an outlet.

I still kind of wish I'd had a chance to see this in 3D on a big screen; I bet it looked amazing. It still wouldn't have been an actual good movie, but a Fantasia or other otaku crowd getting into it sure would have made the experience more fun than watching it at home.

Gun Fury

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 8 December 2018 in Jay's Living Room (recent acquisitions, 3D Blu-ray)

3D westerns from the 1950s are a ton of fun to watch; there's a ViewMaster-like look to the lay of the land with bits of scrub popping out randomly, and foregrounded bits that seem like they must have been composited in, except it's 1953 and doing that in 3D would have been a nightmare, so, yeah, they just shot to have extreme foregrounding happen. Directors have fun breaking the pane of the screen with guns, throwing things at the camera, or placing the audience right behind a team of horses going over uneven ground. It's simultaneously very traditional and very showy.

The glee in shooting a movie like this is most of what makes Gun Fury kind of nifty now that it's old enough to collect social security checks; it's otherwise kind of a basic revenge story about a bland rancher (Rock Hudson) trying to rescue his pleasant-enough fiancee (Donna Reed) from an "unreconstructed Confederate" bandit (Phil Carey). The film refers to the Civil War in various platitudes that tend toward the noble lost cause, which is too bad - both in and of itself and because there's something in the hollow gentility that Carey gives his villain that seems like it could get more interesting as their paths cross with Mexicans and Indians (including Thurman Lee Haas aka Pat Hogan, who is uncredited despite having a pretty important role). America wasn't really confronting that part of its history in popcorn films at the time, so what could have made Slayton one of the great villains just makes him generic.

The script tends to unravel as the film goes along; the writers have a knack for finding interesting situations but not milking them before getting to the next bit of action or obvious hammering on the theme. It is kind of fun to see Lee Marvin show up in a minor role - he's not a star yet, but you can sort of see the fully-formed persona even in a bit role that will let him become one.

The Favourite

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 December 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

I'm not sure whether this is better than expected because I generally wind up disliking Yorgos Lanthimos on balance or worse than expected because the trailers were entertaining and they suggested a more entertaining movie. It looks like the guys editing the previews condensed all of the enjoyable black comedy into three minutes and the rest was less fun.

And, sure, maybe "fun" is the wrong thing to expect from a Lanthimos movie about these particular figures, but someone is amplifying the absurdity, but it often seems like Lanthimos and writers Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara are less trying for laughs than smirks, and that leaves everything too abstract. There's a good story in here about Emma Stone's Abigail shedding a skin of innocence and kindness (whether real or performed) to get to where she feels safe and powerful, and one about a queen who is probably a good person beneath the royal isolation, privilege, and ill health (I don't remember if the British royal family was inbred to Hapsburgian levels at this period, but the aristocracy is often shown as freaky-enough-looking to suggest it), and maybe even one for Rachel Weisz's Sarah, but she's the key to what makes this movie kind of pointlessly cruel: Nobody believes in anything for any particular reason beyond power, and while there's intrigue in watching these women maneuver and some illicit delight in bad behavior where one might expect propriety, it's eventually hollow.

The Favourite winds up feeling like someone went in mistaking cruelty for depth, sarcasm for subversion, and fisheye lenses for being visually interesting. It's the sort of movie that feels clever because we often confuse being cynical for being perceptive (as can all too often be the case), but is blandly assuming the worst and showing it with flagrant detachment a useful way to talk about things? I'm not sure what point it makes other than that the person doing so considers themselves above something.

(As a personally annoying aside, consider the end credits. Yes, they look very much like how something would have been printed in the seventeenth century, but they're hard to read, a case of filmmakers prioritizing showing off over actual communication. I was kind of afraid I wouldn't see whether the harpsicord version of "Skyline Pigeon" was Elton John or a cover amid the excessive style, and what's the point of that?)

Anna and the Apocalypse

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 9 December 2018 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

After The Favourite, which was less engaging than it seemed like it should be, I felt like this would make a good chaser, because it seems to be the opposite: Something that could have been cynical and self-aware in an obnoxious way but which instead manages to be sincere and earnestly entertaining. I think I may have liked it a bit better the second time around, outside the festival environment. It's an odd thing - sometimes seeing something like this with a bunch of other genre fans and a young, self-deprecating director geeking out while he does the Q&A can make you think of it as a small film that gets a lot out of a little, but seeing it in your local multiplex with a more conventional crowd can highlight that, hey, this is also pretty slick and professionally done.

It's a genuinely good movie, and I kind of hope it finds an audience. It probably got all the release it could expect, but I think folks would go for it if it was a bit higher profile.

Full review at EFC from Fantasia

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Don't Bother to Knock
Space Pirate Captain Harlock
Gun Fury
The Favourite
Anna and the Apocalypse

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