Thursday, January 24, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 14 January 2019 - 20 January 2019

Ah, nuts, first lost ticket stub of the year.

This Week in Tickets

Short features are fantastic Take Monday, when I got to the Coolidge at 7pm for Detour, enjoy a nice 70-minute movie, leisurely bus ride to Harvard Square, with time to get a burrito before sitting down in the Brattle for a 9pm You Were Never Really Here. That one is 85 minutes long, which meant I could do a split double feature and be home in Davis Square by 11pm. It does not usually happen that way these days.

The rest of the week was devoted to catching up on M. Night Shyamalan's "Eastrail 117" series before catching the latest one. I started off on Tuesday with Unbreakable, which is still pretty darn amazing, although it was funny to see all the "check out Blu-ray, it's amazing" promos on this early disc, especially since Thursday's viewing of Split was on the format's 4K UltraHD successor. I was going to keep the two-day pattern going, but on Friday, the MBTA dropped me in Davis right on time for the 7:15pm show of Glass on the Somerville's big screen, so I went with that. It makes for a weird series, peaking early but never not interesting.

Saturday, then, was given to Friday's original Plan A, Stan & Ollie, which is genuinely delightful and deserves a bigger audience than it's likely to get now that it's been shut out of the Oscar nominations that it's release was designed to exploit. There would be no Oscar shut-out for Roma, of course, which was playing the Coolidge in 70mm, a good enough excuse to check out one of 2018's best.

Follow the Letterboxd page for the first look at the werewolf stuff at the Brattle, among other things.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Big Screen Classics; DCP)

Some of the folks who reflexively laugh at old movies because they're not as polished as something contemporary were present for this screening (not sure why), but I think they wound up getting this one right by accident: It is, eventually, darkly absurd, a comedy of errors that has turned deadly. It's ridiculous in how it plays out but so dead serious about it that one can't help but feel sympathy for its beleaguered hero.

Well, hero-in-quotes, perhaps. Tom Neal's Al Roberts narrates, and the story lets the audience wonder about him. He's almost certainly never lying, but both his actions and the way Neal always has him nervous and looking for a way out makes a person wonder if maybe there's something in his past that he's desperately holding onto or racing toward a lovely, innocent girlfriend lest he fall into some mire. Instead, he winds up saddled with Vera, with Ann Savage giving a snarling performance of pure malice, not just the one person he could have met that would know his sin but delighted to exploit it. Neither of them are given a lot of backstory to work with, but they don't need it; it's enough that he's kind of bad at being good and she's better at being bad (if not particularly geat at long-term planning).

You wonder, of course, just to what extent Al's downfall is a self-fulfilling prophecy; would a person who started out less cynical have kept a clear head and made it through? No way to tell; maybe he was trapped as soon as he was in Charles Haskell's orbit, too desperate and afraid to walk away from a bad situation no matter how it plays out. It's farce as murder drama either way, earning big laughs from its doom.

You Were Never Really Here

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2019 in the Brattle Theatre [(Some of} The Best of 2018, DCP]

And to think, looking at the description, I thought Lynne Ramsay was going to be doing something resembling a conventional thriller, but no chance of that! Instead, she gets into the damage necessary to become the sort of avenger at the center of one of those story, and it's just as uneasy as I should have expected. Ramsay tells the genre story - there's a missing girl, a bunch of thugs holding her, and a bigger conspiracy to uncover - but shuffles a lot of the action beats to the side or background, spending time on in-between moments. The scenes with Joe and his mother are probably closer to the true heart of the movie than the ones of him smashing pedophiles with a hammer; they're filled with decency but also a certain amount of doom: She's declining and isolated, and caring for her lets him do good without engaging with outsiders or opening up, with the final scenes involving her strange and sad, incredibly meaningful but indicating that there's no-one else to worry about her. It links to his mission in more ways than one, as we see in the flashbacks, via shared trauma

I don't know if it's necessarily a great performance by Joaquin Phoenix or if he's just got a sort of naturally-haunted face that works well in this sort of minimal-affect role, but it's certainly an effective one. The film's also got a nice way of moving from crisp exteriors to shady, uncomfortable spots where Joe feels at home and the creeps he hunts operate without being too showy about it; there's a definite forgotten-spaces vibe that she finds in various locations that cuts across the whole picture.

It's a tight little package; even in the most basic moments, there's at least the feeling that Ramsay is always doing two things at once, and she uses that efficiency to keep the film compact rather than have it sprawl in every direction. That's a good plan for a movie focused on intensity; two hours of this would have been far too much, since just 85 seems like it could push some to a breaking point.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2019 in Jay's Living Room (catching up, Blu-Ray)

Does watching Unbreakable for the first time in years (maybe not since its original release) help get a person excited for Glass? Yeah, absolutely - if nothing else, it highlights what a genuinely great director M. Night Shyamalan is when he's on. This movie is genuinely creepy at spots, but has plenty of room for a kid who desperately needs to believe in his father and a father who needs to prove himself. It builds little things up into a simple but effective origin story, and that it's taken 18 years for it to get a proper sequel is kind of madness.

What's kind of surprising to see is just how ahead of the curve Night was in some ways: This movie was winking and meta at points, from the twisted superfan villain that would later become popular to self-deprecating comments about ghost stories and twist endings . One thing I kind of love is how, at the time, it looks like someone taking superheroes seriously and realistically, but look at it - every "villain" Dunn encounters is wearing some bright, monochromatic outfit, and Elijah Price is in purple supervillain outfits throughout the whole movie, gaudiness just basely restrained; they even make his wheelchair and leg brace look like something in a tacky 1990s costume. It's right out there and a lot of us watching the movie at the time weren't really able to see it.

As much as I loved the first big "kitchen scene" when I first saw the film, the one toward the end seems just as powerful now; the desperation of Joseph Dunn to believe the best of his father, and to finally be proven right, is so central to this movie in retrospect, despite how at the time many saw him as a bit extraneous, a not-quite-Haley Joel Osment side character meant to create a certain comfort by emulating Shyamalan's first big hit.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 January 2019 in Jay's Living Room (catching up, 4K Blu-ray)

Split doesn't exactly become a different movie when you go in knowing it's part of a certain extended universe, but it's kind of difficult to treat it like a horror movie the way I did when I saw it in a theater as its own thing. It still works, and superhero universes contain horror stories, but it's a bit smaller and parallels in structure to Unbreakable start to show up now that you know to connect it to that specific part of M. NIght Shyamalan's history specifically.

It's still a decent little thriller, with nice work by James McAvoy and Anna Taylor-Joy (the producers had enough of a good eye for talent to cast Haley Lu Richardson, too). As a thriller, it could probably do with a little more going on - credit to Shyamalan for not being too prideful to do Blumhouse movies, but it can be an odd fit: The budget seems to constrain him, but in actual fact he's probably just doggedly going down the path that interests him, and if he's not meeting one's final-girl-fight expectations, that's not necessarily his fault.

Still, even knowing it's coming, the best Marvel-style button since The Avengers if not Iron Man counts for a fair amount in terms of leaving happy; Split may not have been a great movie, but a second viewing sure did have me ready for Glass.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 January 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, DCP)

What a bizarre way to end one of the most peculiar voyages in film, leaving me genuinely confused that he'd go this route for something that exists in large part because people were genuinely excited about a callback to a 15-year-old movie. Or maybe not - M. Night Shyamalan has been overambitious and yet oddly self-aware, so an out-of-nowhere ending that tries to do too much is the most him this finale could be.

To be fair, it's not as if he denies the audience the stuff that got the blood pumping at the end of Split; the opening sequence of Bruce Willis's "Overseer" from Unbreakable hunting the escaped supervillain from the second movie is a lot of fun, and when they do finally bust out of the asylum where most of the film takes place, it's a pretty nice brawl, if one on something of a Blumhouse budget. I also found myself weirdly delighted to see Spencer Treat Clark's name in the opening credits and see the kid desperate to believe his father a superhero had grown up to be a quarterbacking sidekick - the same guy, but not hemmed in by who he'd been as a child. There's also something delightfully goofy about the idea that Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah Price had made himself a supervillain outfit to be arrested in, which is the only reason why I can imagine for it to be in storage at the asylum.

But, boy, is the asylum boring. You can see what Shyamalan is going for by the end, but it's a situation that results in the characters not really doing anything for the longest time, and Sarah Paulson just doesn't seem to be the right person to anchor it. She just doesn't give off any sort of misguided idealism or malevolence as the doctor treating folks with delusions of superpowers, and with Jackson's title character mostly inert during this run, it feels like Shyamalan is just killing time until the climax. He's not - this is the meat of the movie - but it never feels exciting, and between the excess of characters and the static situation, the movie drags like heck here, putting way too much distance between the bits of fun on either end while not really doing enough to set up the overambitious twist ever further down the road.

It's definitely a weird one, that's for sure, a bit oddly unaware of how comics and superheroes have taken a more prominent spot in pop culture despite it being very likely that's why it exists at all and deflating at the end. I kind of wonder if this is just his first or second movie started with a release date in mind and as such could have used more tinkering, because there's so much in here that's good and has the potential to be better without major surgery. It's not there, though, and there's no way to tell whether this movie that follows up two that sprang from the filmmaker's strengths must have inevitably circled back around to his weaknesses..


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (first-run, 70mm)

I liked it back in October, and maybe I don't really need to say more than what I wrote out at the time. It was a treat to see it from the front row without having to crane my head around the head of the tall, big-haired guy with excellent posture who was sitting in front of me, not missing any subtitles at all. I did, somewhat amusingly, note that a lot of the things I picked up as Things Cuaron Did Differently aren't quite so universal as I thought (he has plenty of people moving left to right before the end).

One thing that I did notice was that it looks nice on the 70mm print, but not "huge upgrade" nice, like even seeing a 35mm movie blown up to 70mm. The Alexa 65 camera Cuaron used is nice, but it's still digital, and printing it on fine-grain film doesn't make it look like film. Which is not, I guess, bad in and of itself, but was not exactly what I was expecting from special 70mm shows.

You Were Never Really Here
Stan & Ollie

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