Sunday, June 09, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 20 May 2019 - 26 May 2019

Double features and a double-dip.

This Week in Tickets

I'm not entirely sure about the Somerville's plans to move the 70mm/widescreen fest to May; the prints were nice but they didn't have a whole lot of room to get creative. Maybe with a full year to prep the next one, they'll be in better shape. Nevertheless, Tuesday was a pretty great evening at the movies, with a 70mm blowup of The Remains of the Day that projectionist David Kornfeld figured hadn't run very often and was therefore all but pristine, followed by Dunkirk, which is just inspiringly gorgeous on the big screen. I know digital has a lot of advantages - I see a lot of movies that wouldn't be made or distributed in North America tools - but, honestly, it's tough to come up with a really good argument for doing big studio films on anything but large-format celluloid. It just looks too good.

Not that Friday afternoon's Aladdin looked bad; it just isn't nearly as sharp (heck, I remember how eye-melting an Imax blowup of the original was. It's enjoyable enough, though, and I can't say too much against it what with "A Friend Like Me" playing on repeat in my head five days later.

Got lazy over the holiday weekend - warm sunny days apparently make me sleepy - but headed out to the Brattle on Sunday for The Learning Tree and Crooklyn as part of their weekend double features. Really liked the first, knd of got worn down by the second.

Updating my Letterboxd page continues apace.

The Remains of the Day

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 70mm)

I only really remembered a couple of moments from when I saw this during its original release (at, if I recall correctly, Worcester's now-defunct Webster Square cinema), but they were good moments, and the film as a whole holds up around them. At the time, I was a college student who didn't necessarily get how it was an indictment of the entire aristocratic way of life as opposed to a tragic romance set against an interesting backdrop. Instead, it's much richer - Anthony Hopkins's Stevens isn't just repressed; he almost considers himself and the rest of the staff not quite human compared to those he serves, and it perhaps makes him a little in sync with his employer's views, which tend toward Germany rather than the Jews as Britain frantically tries to avoid becoming involved in World War II. It's a point of view that is hard to shake - even as Stevens enjoys being seen as upper-class and allows himself to acknowledge his fondness for Sarah Kenton, there's always the sense that he's more comfortable seeing the new owner of the Manor in familiar terms, rather than a sea change. The old guard almost had to screw up so badly that they would be rejected and die off.

It is kind of fascinating to watch as an artifact of its time, especially for the cast - Emma Thompson is, as always, terrific, but also anticipating the utter master she'd become in her later scenes. It's oddly difficulty to see the Anthony Hopkins of that era and not see Hannibal Lecter now; he's almost too lean. There's young Hugh Grant, even younger Lena Headey, and Christopher Reeve. It's a time capsule containing another now.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 21 May 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (70mm and Widescreen Festival, 70mm)

I've seen this theatrically at least twice since buying the 4K disc, and while I don't necessarily see this as becoming a thing like 2001, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Jaws where there's really no point because a local theater will be playing it on film soon enough, I'm starting to wonder if I may continue to get lucky on that count. It is still a terrific front-row watch, and I'm almost at the point where I can figure out the whole chronology and how the characters from the mole wind up on the boat.

That I can't entirely get there doesn't really matter, because it's not a puzzle to be solved but an attempt to communicate a thrilling but terrifying experience, and even on a third viewing, it never fails to be that. It's really quite masterfully put together, moving forward almost relentlessly, and just absolutely jaw-dropping to see and hear.

First viewing
Second viewing

The Learning Tree

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 May 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (reunion week, 35mm)

Tornadoes are a fact of life in Kansas, but in the movies they're linked forever to The Wizard of Oz, so that's where my brain went when one touched down in the opening minutes of this film - except that poor black folks in the 1920s didn't get whisked away to a colorful wonderland; they were just lucky to escape death. It's a comparison heightened by an opening song that doesn't really sound like "Over the Rainbow" but which is maybe not quite so far off as it may seem, either. Filmmaker Gordon Parks doesn't actually shoot that, but as a photographer he probably had a closer eye on cinematographer Burnett Guffey's work than some, so that opening where montage showing the seemingly idyllic landscape is his to an impressive extent (as he also wrote the music), and it brings the audience into Parks's beautiful but dangerous world completely but without a lot of fuss.

(How does he get that shot of the tornado in the late 1960s? Is it impressive optical work shooting smoke in a tank, stock footage, or putting the cast and crew into a bit of danger? It's even more impressive because the lighting seems right, which seems awful tough to do in the wide outdoor shots Parks is using early!)

Parks's film is semi-autobiographical, and sometimes you can feel the survivorship bias; on-screen avatar Newt Winger (Kyle Johnson) doesn't exactly coast through the story but does seem to have the best possible situation a black teenager can have in this time and place: Two parents, academically gifted enough for college, able to find the white guy who is not racist above the one who is. Parks seems aware of that, though, quietly contrasting how Marcus (Alex Clarke) doesn't have that, and where this leads him is made understandable even when not excused. That Newt is lucky is not storytelling weakness but a large part of the point, and though it sometimes makes the movie a bit too smooth, it's tough to know whether tweaking it so that he was a little more active would upset the film's delicate ability to smuggle a clear-eyed look at this time and place under the sort of nostalgic veneer that makes it more palatable.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 May 2019 at the Brattle Theatre (reunion week, 35mm)

Crooklyn is aggressive. It's not so much that Spike Lee is trying to make a point and is going to hammer at it until the audience has taken it in without chance of misinterpretation, which he has done on occasion, but that he seems to be depicting the sort of family and neighborhood where there's so much competition for attention that everybody is yelling and getting in everyone else's face all the time. It's like riding a crowded bus with a loud family yelling their conversation despite the fact that you are in the middle, and on top of that, someone has decided that headphones are for other people (who, to be fair, probably don't have such good taste in music). It's exhausting.

But that's probably a really fair portrayal of what it's like to grow up the only girl with four brothers, probably all born within five or six years, packed tight in the middle of a city where nobody else can afford room to spread out, and Lee is good enough to capture both how this lack of any sort of respite is a lot for the kids' mother (Alfre Woodard), who has to stand in the middle of it and try to steer it, especially since her husband (Delroy Lindo) is content to stand aside and do his own thing, even as he's also telling the story from the point of view of a kid who is a big sugar-fueled part of it. He actually gets an hour to an hour and a half out of just watching all this happen without worrying much about a plot or any goal other than enjoying the day or getting to the next.

He overextends himself a bit when Troy spends a few weeks with a cousin in Virginia - as much as it's kind of dead-on about being a kid dropped into someone else's drama and missing home while still being able to have fun and make new friends (and, in retrospect, having her parents hide something from her), its purpose doesn't quite click right away and Lee's choice to shoot it with a scope lens so that it's distorted when projected is a little much in a movie that's already a little much (it was the first movie where I remember theaters posting "it's supposed to be like that!" signs).

Like its double-feature-mate, Crooklyn is semi-autobiographical, and it's no surprise that this is the sort of environment that shaped Spike Lee, or that he's not about to dilute it when reminiscing about it. As overwhelming as that is, that's probably the way it should be.

The Remains of the Day
Dunkirk Aladdin '19 The Learning Tree & Crooklyn

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