Saturday, January 05, 2019

Those Weeks in Tickets: 17 December 2018 - 30 December 2018

Christmas smack in the middle of this period, so really no time to do a TWIT for the first week on its own.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

Another day off on Monday the 17th, and I pre-purchased tickets for They Shall Not Grow Old in 3D that afternoon so that I could make it to one of a couple 7pm options. That almost didn't work out, since the show started half an hour late and had hiccups enough to necessitate stopping for a moment to pick up a compensation ticket. From there, I caught the Red Line to Harvard Square to see Bombshell at the Brattle with Karina Longworth doing an introduction and slideshow from her book Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes's Hollywood. Made it just in time, fortunately, and it's still a very funny movie.

Back to work the next day, and I opted to watch something at home that evening, pulling Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins off the pile of Twilight Time discs. You can see why it's sort of the forgotten weird genre movie of the 1980s - it's just not weird enough to compete with the other crazy things.

The weekend got a bit shuffled from my original plans since both Thursday and Friday were late days at work. That led me to the Coolidge for Mary Queen of Scots on Friday night,and that is pretty darn good. After that, I got home and decided to take another off the Twilight Time pile - Devil in a Blue Dress - to watch while wrapping stuff to send to my brother in Chicago. That we didn't get a series of Easy Rawlins films is a real failure on Hollywood's part.

Saturday was a day poking around craft fairs and the like before arriving at Boston Common for the week's Chinese release, Airpocalypse, which isn't great; I assume the more impressive stuff is being held until after all the logjam in America clears up. Part of that logjam is Bumblebee, a surprisingly decent Transformers prequel/reboot.

Sunday was a lot of Christmas shopping until around 6pm, when I was just done and decided to go for Aquaman, which is pretty decent for a DC movie. Left me shopping and wrapping quite a bit on Christmas Eve before getting on a train for Portland and then out to the 'burbs to see parents, brothers, and nieces. It's a challenge to shop for them on the one hand, but on the other they enjoy building, reading, and solving puzzles, so when I do find something, it's fun.

Back home, I did work a couple days and then hit Kill Mobile on Friday night, and it was kind of not surprisingly not as good as the previous remake of the same source material seen just a month earlier. That gave me just enough time to get back to Cambridge for "Un Chien Andalou" and Army of Darkness at the Brattle. That was part of the "Keaton-esque" series,which led me back there the next day for a couple Jackie Chan pics, Rumble in the Bronx & Project A II.

Then it was almost the end of the year, and since Regal expires points, I went there to see Welcome to Marwen, which is not very good but is the most interesting thing one of my favorite filmmakers has done in years.

This more or less closes the book on 2018, as I'll probably go to the new calendar for 2019. Rough drafts will continue to be on the Letterboxd page.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 December 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (special presentation, 35mm)

My first few Jean Harlow movies had her really rubbing me the wrong way, but I've found myself enjoying the heck out of her in every visit to this often frantic Hollywood farce. It's a fast-paced, funny movie that makes Harlow's Lola Burns as silly and flighty as any of the rest of the characters, but also genuine and easy to like. There's something especially delightful about how Lola seems to subconsciously adopt different accents and characters as the situation develops or an idea enters her head, like being an actress is who she is well beyond her job, though she never sounds like a phony of any sort.

It's an interesting artifact as well as a delightful comedy, working as a sort of record of when movie stars were a strange combination of intensely-followed celebrities and clock-punching employees, with very little leverage in their negotiations. It's almost inconceivable in these days of stars being free agents, and I suspect you couldn't really remake Bombshell for the modern day without a fair amount of reconfiguration.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 December 2018 in Jay's Living Room (recent acquisitions, Blu-ray)

If this thing had even the barest whiff of an actual story, then maybe the adventure might have actually continued, and maybe have become a head-scratching franchise rather than just a misguided-seeming attempt at one. It feels like it should have a cult following, but coming out as it did right between Buckaroo Banzai and Big Trouble in Little China, it just never seemed strange enough to capture the imagination, nor slick enough to be the James Bond competitor it most obviously is trying to be.

There's potential here - scrappy Fred Ward, Joel Grey giving a performance that would be a lot more fun if it weren't yellowface (and how the heck was that every acceptable?), a bombastic score by Craig Safan, and that terrific Statue of Liberty sequence, one of a few times when the action seems big enough that the film seems to be embracing its absurdity rather than trying to play it straight-faced. It's not hard to see what the filmmakers are going for.

But, boy, is the plot utterly forgettable (something about a weapons manufacturer manufacturing weapons), and while the bits with Remo and Chiun are clearly where the film is at its best, it makes the movie something like 80% getting ready and 20% doing the thing. Secret agency CURE feels less mysterious than unimportant, and the great action bits feel like they're just dropped in randomly, not really accomplishing anything.

I don't know if Remo Williams is actually obscure, but it seems like it must have flopped. I remember seeing newspaper ads for it as a kid but never having it cross my path until now, and, honestly, that seems about the path it should have taken. There's just not enough there to make the effort to actually see it.

Devil in a Blue Dress

* * * (out of four)
Seen 21 December 2018 in Jay's Living Room (recent acquisitions, Blu-ray)

Between this and Inside Man, it really feels like we should have had a great Denzel Washington crime franchise well before the (questionably great) Equalizer movies. It's a crying shame, because characters like Ezekial "Easy" Rawlins fit him like a glove: Smart, sardonic, charming but also kind of devious. This one feels like The Big Sleep except that the powerful have no way to dip into the African-American community and thus need to hire an amateur like Easy, who himself pulls in his friend Mouse, which at the time introduced audiences to Don Cheadle, who gives this guy enough charm that you forget he's pretty much a thug.

It makes for pretty good noir, the sort of twisty mystery where the filmmakers (and original author Walter Mosley) sacrifice obviously clever construction for a feeling of even someone like Easy having illusions broken and the feeling of being sucked into a morass with no bottom to be found. It's crisp, looks and sounds good with its period detail, and raises an eyebrow or two as the plot twists into another direction. It's the promise of more of these movies with Washington and Cheadle that had me grinning when I first saw this twenty-odd years ago, though, enough that I kind of hope Mosley has been writing more Easy Rawlins novels in the meantime, and there's a producer who might want to give us a movie where they're older, wiser, and still getting into trouble..


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 December 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, Imax-branded 3D)

Write for DC Comics long enough, and you'll eventually be given the job of trying to prove that Aquaman is cool at some point; the most successful attempts have generally done so by taking him and his whole milieu not as a superhero comic, but high fantasy. That's what James Wan and company are going for here, with the extra challenge being that their main character was basically the comic relief in Justice League.

It works more often than it should. Jason Momoa's Arthur is the sort of lunkhead that makes you wonder why he's not the sidekick to Amber Heard's Mera rather than vice versa, but he's likable enough to make it work, and he and Heard make a good team. It amuses me that ultimately, the answer to the question of what he can do that she can't is the thing usually derided as what makes Aquaman lame. The pair are at their best when in Indiana Jones territory, swashbuckling through a pulpy quest rather than getting too deep into politics or trying to be superheroes. Truth be told, you could excise the most traditional supervillain (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II's Black Manta) and same him for another movie without a whole lot of trouble, and though Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, and Willem Dafoe are capable enough, the palace intrigue is mostly good for getting Arthur & Mera to hit the road.

Wan never runs out of entertaining things to throw at the screen, with fighting crab people, a trench in the ocean filled with savage mutants, and Arthur & Mera having to find an ancient tape deck because no current technology can play the old format that have. The film can get downright loopy when filled with IMAX 3D effects, although there's also the likes of Nicole Kidman fully committing herself to the silliest thing she's been a part of in her entire career. If it ever really slowed down, it would probably crash hard, but it doesn't, and while you won't mistake it for even a lesser Marvel movie (well, maybe it's on a par with Thor 2), it's enjoyable-enough entertainment, especially when projected big and in 3D.

"Un Chien Andalou

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 December 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Keaton-esque, 16mm?)

I know this is beloved and probably important for how it brought surrealism to the screen in the person of Salvador Dali, and, man, I tried to get something out of it, but it just never makes the leap from being grotesque and archly unstuck in time to actually doing something interesting with that, story-wise, but try as I might, my brain refused to spark to this. It's striking to look at, and probably disassembles well enough into good parts, but feels like a building block, with a couple artistes pushing some boundaries so that they've got more room to play in later.

Army of Darkness

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 December 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Keaton-esque, 35mm)

There was a time when I watched this every couple weeks, back in college and just after, a young dork obsessed with its slapstick absurdity and buffoonish lead performance by Bruce Campbell despite not really having seen the things that it was mashing up. I mostly wait for it to show up on 35mm now, but still genuinely love it today, now that I can see the audacity of taking a horror series and not just turning it comedic but mashing it up with Ray Harryhausen fantasy. It's clearly everything that director Sam Raimi loves, and the movie world could certainly do with him just throwing everything in the blender again.

Given how many people I know had this movie memorized at the time, I'd like to give the audience at the Brattle credit for not making it an annoying quote-along. I've generally been lucky in avoiding those aside from the sci-fi marathon, and I think most theaters do a good job of containing that to specific shows, but the threat is always there, lurking, waiting to ruin everybody else's good time.

Full review at EFC from a while ago

Hung fan kui (Rumble in the Bronx)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 29 December 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Keaton-esque, English-dubbed 35mm)

Not technically my first experience with Jackie Chan (I saw one of the Cannonball Run movies at the drive-in as a kid but mainly remembered Jamie Farr from M*A*S*H in it), but as with a lot of folks, this was the first time I saw just how nutty and amazing Hong Kong action could be. I don't know that I recognized it as something fundamentally different than American action movies at the time, but I'm pretty sure that when Hong Kong movies and stars started making their way to American screens after that, I tended to be pretty excited.

Does it hold up? More or less. It's just as cringeworthy and basic writing-wise and in terms of performance as I remembered, and I've got the experience to know that it's not just the dubbing any more. The most remarkable thing about the script, in some ways, is how what could be some really ugly, insensitive material comes back around - the Afro-Chinese wedding becomes really sweet and if Stanley Tong formed his idea of the Bronx more from other movies than experience, at least one of them was The Warriors. The fights and everything else not necessarily top-tier Jackie, but I'd never seen anything like it before, and I'm still kind of astounded by the things he pulls off in even some of his lesser movies. He takes more of a beating than usual here, enough to cut into the acrobatics and slapstick, but the action is solid all around.

And though the finale clearly shows signs of being reconfigured because of Chan's injury, it's also a little bit of everything and escalates impressively. Plus, I do kind of love the cops and every spring character getting together to run "White Tiger" down with the hovercraft for the basic reason of "screw that guy". It is not a thing people would ever do, but I suppose that's part of what made this a great introduction to Jackie Chan: It leaves no doubt that the action and mayhem is the point, and don't worry too much about anything else.

'A' gai wak 2 (Project A II)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 December 2018 in the Brattle Theatre (Keaton-esque, 35mm)

I could not begin to tell you who all the factions are in this movie, and that's got nothing to do with the fact that it's a sequel. Heck, you could argue that the material that is the most obviously held over from the first Project A is the easiest to process, while some of the subplots about rebellion, revolution, and royalty make a n interesting contrast with how that sort of material is handled today When this film was made in 1987 without much expectation of being seen outside Hong Kong and Taiwan, they just assumed the audience knew all this stuff; now that they seek an international audience and it doesn't hurt to frame it in the most patriotic way possible to play China, there's more explanation. Plus, the last act has Jackie and his character Dragon Ma bending over backwards to be apolitical, where he'd now probably wave a flag a bit.

On the other hand, even if I don't understand who all the various groups in opposition to each other are, it makes for a delightful bit of farce when they are all in the same apartment and hiding from each other. Chan and company follow that up with some top-quality slapstick, even before the great big action finale which absolutely earns a spot in this "Keaton-esque" lineup (and not just for the obvious Steamboat Bill, Jr. reference). That's enough for a fun Jackie Chan movie.

They Shall Not Grow OldBombshell Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins Mary Queen of Scots Devil in a Blue Dress Airpocalypse Bumblebee Aquaman

Kill Mobile Army of Darkness Rumble in the Bronx & Project A II Welcome to Marwen

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