Sunday, April 07, 2019

This Last Week in Tickets: 25 March 2019 -31 March 2019

Never fails - festivals and vacations force me into catch-up mode and then "screw it, I'll just pick up from last week".

This Week in Tickets

I was just coming off BUFF, so while I had some plans to do something Monday night, most everything was at weird times so I just hit the grocery store and went home. Still, stuff needed to be seen, so I stuck around work for a little while so that there was no stopping at home (or elsewhere) on the way to Ash Is Purest White on Tuesday, and then pointedly didn't stay late for Climax on Wednesday. Not huge crowds either night, and with Ash, it's kind of interesting to me that this film being released in the sort of traditional foreign-film pattern didn't get quite the same audience as the Chinese films getting day-and-date releases.

After that… it was opening day of the baseball season, but the Sox opened on the West Coast, which meant a lot of staying up late and then kind of staying at work late because I was dragging from that… It's a vicious cycle, especially with only one of those games a win and really worth staying up late for.

Sunday wound up being doppelganger day, entirely by coincidence, although isn't it just a little more satisfying when movies about doubles come in twos? It should be that way, right? Anyway, first up was Us, which I'm obviously behind the rest of the world on, to the point of trying to dodge spoilers on social media where you can't exactly mute every tweet with "us" in it.

After that, I would wind up here:

Jeff Rapsis has been doing occasional shows accompanying silents at the Aeronaut Brewery for a while, which is somewhere between tempting and not - Jeff's great and silent films are fun, but bars are horrible places full of noise, too many people, and beer, which smells bad, tastes worse, and makes people loud and stupid. Still, Mystery of the Eiffel Tower is not something you see all the time, arguably for good reason (it's kind of bloated for a silent). It's at least a neat-looking and unusual environment to see a movie, although I've got to wonder about the lady next to me who was looking at her phone through the first half of the movie. On the one hand, I kind of get that I'm in a bar and can't necessarily expect the same sort of focus, but, geez, it's a silent movie! If you're not looking at the screen, why did you pay $10 to sit in that part of the bar?

That one isn't on the Letterboxd page, because it's not in their database, but otherwise I try to update that page as rough drafts for this one.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2019 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, DCP)

Even more than with most horror movies, there's a lot going on just out of view in Us that would probably cause things to fall apart if they were actually explained - it almost feels like there should be another movie in the series and the feeling that this was a surprise sequel akin to Split and Unbreakable, and that movie would not make much sense. One only really notices because Jordan Peele has ambition enough for the audience to really want it to hold together as something brilliant.

It may not be that, but it is pretty darn good. Peele knows how to build this sort of movie, making it funny enough to keep the audience off their guards but not making it a joke, and how to play into the idea that there's something fundamentally wrong with the world while keeping a tight focus on the heroes. It's shot extremely well - Peele and cinematographer are good at getting the picture to sink into the screen and using the red of the doppelgangers' outfits to suggest something bloodier than what is being shown on-screen - and has an escalating tension that will likely be just as impressive on a second go-round.

Plus, it's got Lupita Nyong'o in the best of the film's many double roles, an exceptional combination of steadying and on-edge as Adelaide and smoldering rage as Red. Winston Duke threatens to steal every scene he's in as the earnestly dorky dad, but completely changes his body language to feel hulking and dangerous as Abraham. The whole cast is kind of great, making every bit that might not otherwise quite work impressively tense.

Le mystère de la tour Eiffel (The Mystery of the Eiffel Tower)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 March 2019 at the Aeronaut Brewery (Silent Film Club, projected DVD)

The intertitles on this (on a DVD of a French film made from a Flemish print subtitled in English) suggest that it was originally meant to be broken into two or more parts, whether as a serial or a feature with an intermission, and that seems like it would be a better way to experience it. 129 minutes is a whole lot of silent film, and this one spends a lot of time going back and forth, recapping prior action, kind of ignoring what happened a fifteen minutes ago. It feels like binge-watching a series that was absolutely not designed for that.

It also sometimes feels like two movies mashed together, in one of which a man who plays one half of a set of "Siamese Twins" in a local circus steals the identity of his unrelated "brother" to inherit a twenty-billion franc fortune (no idea how that translates to modern dollars), but as a result gets caught up in a mystery involving the "Ku-Klux-Eiffel", a mysterious European crime syndicate that broadcasts directives to its people from the Eiffel Tower. It's outright bonkers, bigger and pulpier than life and sometimes kind of weirdly abstract, like the French filmmakers involved don't know specifically why the KKK are monsters rather than just people in weird robes, or what exactly these villains are going for other than vanilla villainy.

It's got a heck of a climax, though, as everybody pursues each other up the Eiffel Tower, and while it's kind of chaotic, it's also genuinely exciting. Some of the shots in this film certainly seem to clearly be shot in a manner akin to Safety Last!, carefully choosing angles to make it look as if it was shot further away from the ground than it looked, but some certainly seems to be insanely dangerous, enough to feel a little dizzy. Pair that with the over-the-top pulp and you've got a heck of a finale, and it just would have been nice if it were a bit more compact.

Ash Is Purest White
Mystery of the Eiffel Tower

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