Thursday, July 11, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 17 June 2019 - 7 July 2019

So, about a year ago, Major League Baseball announced the Red Sox and Yankees would play a series in London, I registered to buy tickets as a season ticket-holder, got a chance to buy them in December, and then set my vacation time up. I didn't exactly go to London to see baseball, but it made for a good excuse.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

I wouldn't leave until Friday, and meant to catch a bunch of movies beforehand, but there was work to do to get ahead and preparations to make, so the only film I got to see was Late Night, which has Emma Thompson and is thus better than a lot of movies.

After that, I had a Red Sox ticket for Friday night, but booked by flight for 10pm, so that went to StubHub and I got on a plane. The sleeping aid don't work quite so well as I might have hoped, so I was kind of dragging through most of Saturday, but I was still alert enough to climb 300-odd stairs to snap pictures like this:

That's a view from the top of The Monument, not far from my hotel, something I stumbled upon when I visited back in 2012, and breezy enough that I'm glad I didn't climb it in December. I followed it up by my first dinner of fish and chips at a pub, which is honestly something I wish I could do more often at home, but there's actually not as many good chippies in the Boston area as you'd think.

Didn't have me straying far, revisiting the Tower of London, which is a really delightful place to walk around, a blast for being full of a thousand years of history but also right in the middle of the city, with skyscrapers and bridges and the like all around.

Monday was the all-but-inevitable trip to 221B Baker Street, because I am who I am and cannot resist. It's kind of a silly thing to do - fifteen pounds for something like twenty minutes - but fun and more than any other tourist thing in London, you're in there with people who love the same thing you do rather than people who think it's a classy, "good-for-you" thing, and they're from America, Britain, Korea, Russia, all over the place. Folks love Sherlock Holmes.

On Tuesday, I actually got on a tour bus and headed out to Stonehenge, going for the tour that was led by an archaeologist, who promised to kick anyone mentioning aliens off the bus, pointed out that this place had nothing to do with the Druids (despite neo-druidic types making stone circles part of their thing), and was basically very informative and on top of the latest research, which seems to be rapidly changing the impression of what early Britain was like.

I'd initially been somewhat disappointed that I was unable to book a tour that allowed us inside the stone circle, but you actually get much closer than I'd thought. Maybe next time I'll just be generally more prepared.

Part of the tour was Bath, and while the Roman Baths themselves are kind of an approximation above ground level, it's a nifty little city that does a nice job of blending the modern with its mostly-Georgian design.

Wednesday was the day that I'd carved out to see some theater, attending The Merry Wives of Windsor at Shakespeare's Globe, which is if nothing else a unique experience - a reminder of how plays were staged in Shakespeare's day, before artificial lighting and completely enclosed spaces. I did the tour the last time I was in London, but couldn't see a play because it was cold out.

Merry Wives is a great example of how these plays come alive when performed but can be hard to love when read - this particular staging was filled with slapstick, big performances that put emotion into words that otherwise might just sit on the page, etc. The staging seemed to transplant the story to 1920s Louisiana, which just gave it more personality.

I didn't actually take many pictures at the Edvard Munch exhibit at the British Museum on Thursday, but enjoy it, as well as the manga exhibition (where I saw this 1880 theater curtain) and everything else. The manga exhibit amused me in part because the nearby Cartoon Museum was closed and it kind of seemed like this one was picking up the slack. Great stuff in there, including some Osamu Tezuka original art, along with more modern stuff, though it excluded some of my favorites (although that would be rectified later).

The British Museum is one of those monster places that eats a whole day even if you've been there before and figure you can just hit the highlights because there is so dang much that it can come across as warehousing rather than exhibiting at times. It would likely be that way even if you sent everything back that had arrived in ways that would currently be frowned upon where it belonged, and my legs were kind of worn out by the end.

Friday was spent in Greenwich, seeing the Cutty Sark, Maritime Museum, and Observatory, with the Maritime Museum having an exhibit on recent astrophotography, and, yes, I am a complete sucker for a spot that combines boats and space and a nice park where a person could just sit down and read for a while. This part of London is a bunch of my favorite things and that the easiest way to get there was on a river line was pretty great too. That made me wonder why Boston doesn't have one, to be honest - for all that it was more expensive and a bit slower than taking the subway, there have certainly been days lately when I would absolutely choose it over the Red Line.

Saturday… Well, let me tell you a bit about how I vacation. I don't really like package tours and buses and cruises all that much, preferring to get a transit card and a guidebook, leaving room for what I find out about on the ground. I joked with a friend that riding the subway is an essential part of traveling, not just because it gives you a feel for the city but because that's where you see ads for museums, plays, and other things that are just too ephemeral to get written up where a tourist knows to look. It's how I found out about the Da Vinci exhibition at Buckingham Palace, and then saw that there was a Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum. Sadly, that required timed tickets that I was too late to find, but getting off the tube there also showed me that Japan House had an exhibit of the works of manga-ka Naoki Urasawa, one of my favorites who had been absent from the one at the British Museum. Total chance discovery but a very happy one.

After that, I had a little more time to kill than expected before the baseball, so I went to Kensington Palace, which is an awfully pretty building and has neat gardens, including this winding hedge "maze" that gets you to the tea-house that was a bit too classy for my t-shirt-and-cargo-shorts clad self. As much as I'm glad we tossed out the British royalty in America, visiting European capitals always reminds me that it's nice to have had a royal family, even if they seem like an anachronistic waste in the present.

And then, finally, it was time for the baseball that had served as my impetus to come. The games were unfortunate thrasings by the Yankees - a 17-13 loss on Saturday and a 12-8 game which strangely never felt as winnable on Sunday - but it was a lot of fun. They were crazy, anything-can-happen games, the European fans were into it, there were a bunch of food trucks to supplant the regular stadium fare around the concourse, and the folks who traveled like me clearly had a blast. I probably won't go back for Cubs-Cards next year, but it's tempting.

I just wish someone had told me that the 80m-high sculpture next to the stadium had an observation deck that you could descend from via lift, steps, or slide. I would definitely have bought the necessary timed tickets ahead of time, but, alas, that is something else to write down for the next trip, whenever that may be.

After that, it was back home, which took most of Monday, but I got to ease back into work, what with being let out early on Wednesday for a holiday on Thursday. I took advantage of that, catching an earlier-than-usual show of Midsommar on Wednesday. I liked it more than the director's previous film but it's still kind of a lot, especially when it's time to go full-on nuts.

I headed out early on Thursday because that was the only time to easily catch the reissue of Do the Right Thing, especially since I wanted to catch the 35mm print that the Coolidge got their hands on. It's a pretty terrific movie that I probably should have seen much earlier, but when I was young, I kind of suffered under the delusion that Spike Lee's movies weren't really for me, kind of reinforced by how, when I worked in a Worcester theater while in college, the extra security and Wednesday openings tended to reinforce the idea that films by/for/about African Americans were a niche thing to be accomodated rather than great on their own. I've got a fair amount of catching up to do.

Preferred format considerations played into me heading to Boston Common after to see Spider-Man: Far From Home in Imax 3D during the one time a day it played in that format. I don't think I'm getting Marvel fatigue yet - I enjoyed it a lot - but, boy, am I coming to take the fact that there will be well-cast, slickly-made, and generally pretty enjoyable takes on these characters every few months for granted.

With a bit of a time crunch to see things, I did a Kendall Square double-feature of The Spy Behind Home Plate and The Third Wife on Friday. I liked the second more than the first, but both are well worth seeing.

Saturday was spent up in Maine, where the whole family was together to meet my brother's future in-laws. I had the option to stay over, but didn't, though saying "I need Sunday free to go to the laundromat so that I can wear the clothes from the vacation I just returned from on the one I'm about to take" makes me sound like a couple types of jerk. On the other hand, if I'd stayed over, I probably would have wound up getting a ride back to Boston with my other brother, who got stuck in nasty traffic, missed his 7pm flight back to Chicago, and couldn't actually make it home until a 5:50am flight on Tuesday. I, meanwhile, got my laundry done, watched some baseball on TV, and then hit a 3D screening of Toy Story 4. That may be technically one film too many in the series, it still works awfully well.

And now, I'm on another bus, for the yearly three-week stat at summer movie camp that is the Fantasia Festival. I'll be doing my best to post daily updates, and to get the reaction to one movie onto my Letterboxd page while waiting in line for the next


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 July 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, DCP)

Like Ari Aster's previous film Hereditary, Midsommar is perhaps best appreciated in pieces: It is impeccably designed and photographed, the performance by Florence Pugh is as terrific (as we should more or less expect by now), and the basic engine driving it - a woman who has lost everything so desperate to belong that she soon accepts a community that offers it even though the warning signs should be impossible to ignore - is kind of great. Add a strong supporting cast and a pitch-black sense of humor and you should have something really special.

There's something a little too certain about it, though. It starts with the showy placement of mirrors in a bunch of early scenes, where the isolation of having people not seeming to look at each other as they talk or being positioned in a sort of cut-out is undercut by knowing cameras were digitally erased, or other trick shots, and goes on with a cult that has supposedly been going on for decades but always seems like weird bits stuck together rather than something which grew organically, though I suppose cults are generally weird bits put together in real life. The low-key distortion as folks get high on mushrooms in various ways calls distracting attention to itself, and character exits feel less unnerving and dangerous than like Aster couldn't be bothered with them any more, something of a side effect to how everything but the main story is meant to be sort of deliberately trivial in comparison to what Pugh's character. Plus, the thing is 145 minutes long, which is insanely indulgent, feeling like one of those indies where every painstaking thing the crew created gets left in no matter how pacing and storytelling suffers.

Midsommar is better than Hereditary - it doesn't squander a good human story for supernatural idiocy the way that one did - but all its good minutes don't add up the way they should.

Do the Right Thing

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 July 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (reissue, 35mm)

This was My first time seeing this, and I'd always been under the impression that the explosion came earlier, with a bigger chunk of the movie the resulting chaos, but that it doesn't is a sign of what makes Spike Lee brilliant. By the time the trash can goes through the window, he's managed to spend the previous two hours getting the audience to feel the heat and tension in an air-conditioned theater without resorting to people being overtly sweaty or some sort of visual distortion. He isn't subtle about highlighting all the ways people mistrust or push at each other, but it doesn't seem like an obvious powder keg in any one scene. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect is powerful, setting things up so that when it does blow up, one nods along, not approving but certainly having some idea of just how it gets to this point.

It's an impressively empathic bit of filmmaking in how it gets someone (like me) whose background is pretty far from the very specific environment that Lee channels to feel like I'm right there with his characters. Do the Right Thing is tricky but impressive as heck - as cacophonous as anything Lee would make later, but also a less-confrontational indie that can make the different seem familiar and the familiar seem new. I'm glad this got a chance to play theaters again to remind us that Lee has been one of the great directors right from the start.

Spider-Man: Far from Home

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 July 2019 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax 3D)

As much as the casting on this newest run of Spider-Movies has been top-notch and they look great, they do kind of demonstrate the downside of a shared universe, in that Spidey never feels like quite the big deal he was in the Raimi movies. You look at those, and even the "Amazing" flicks, and you see a guy figuring things out, wisecracking as a way of finally responding to those who have kept him down, and measuring himself against his own high expectations, as opposed to trying to be the next Iron Man. It's sometimes a small difference in terms of what actually happens, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man is never just a kid from Queens up against problems bigger than he thought he would ever face, but someone who has people ready to catch him when he falls.

This time around, he's up against Mysterio - who, like the Vulture before him, has been given an origin that relates to Tony Stark - and it's a weird script; I suspect that even the people who don't know him from the comics are going to be expecting a heel turn from the start. Fortunately, when that comes, it unleashes Jake Gyllenhaal to do the sort of mania he does best, and gives the filmmakers a chance to do some Ditko-style mania that is eye-popping even if it doesn't necessarily make complete sense given how his equipment is shown to work. Tom Holland is still a delightfully earnest Peter Parker, and even if I occasionally find myself shrugging off a lot of the high-school comedy material (it is just not a thing that gets me going), I loved the kids acting it out. I like that the "button" at the end was not just a vague tease this time, but a huge cliffhanger that hit with an extra wallop because it seemed like the unexpected cameo was going to be the payoff.

When it really gets going - which is often! - Far From Home is energetic and a lot of fun, and I suspect that it came out a little further from Endgame or Enter the Spider-Verse, both of which pushed the boundaries of what a superhero movie could be and had great Spidey material, I'd react with much less reservation. Marvel's just set the bar so high.

Toy Story 4

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 July 2019 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

I have to admit, I had this kind of dismissed ahead of time, because the series seemed pretty conclusively done after #3, despite the enjoyable specials done for TV. Well, now it's even more done, if not nearly so nearly, but there are some great parts to be found in this probable for-real finale.

I don't want to say too much, just because noting how it's not quite so well-constructed as its predecessors might take away from noting all the clever things it does have to say about subjects stretching from parenthood to retirement - and how it's more than a bit impressive that Pixar has made the toys go from feeling like kids to feeling like parents, and there's so much of that here in so many different forms, and not just Woody being challenged by "newborn" Forky. Gabby Gabby is arguably the series's most fascinating antagonist, motivated out of a complex sort of envy in how she wants to raise a child but never had the chance, trying to remedy that "medically" and going through a nerve-wracking (and often heartbreaking) adoption process to do so. I was surprised how invested I found myself in Woody and Bo Peep by the end, too; she had always seemed like the part of the movies that didn't really fit, the sort of girlfriend character jammed in so that the movie wouldn't be all boys, and I wonder if the filmmakers realized that, and made her story about making herself become more here as a bit of a comment on that. The themes of moving on are kind of interesting, too, considering that several of the people who had been with Pixar since early on left (voluntarily or not) during its production.

It's got some problems that the unambiguously brilliant forebears don't, though. There's not enough Mister Pricklepants, obviously - aside from "Timothy Dalton makes everything better", one can't help but notice that the toys that Bonnie brings on the road trip are mostly Andy's rather than her own, mostly because those are the ones the audience knows. There's something kind of off about how much the toys are able to affect the human world, too; it feels like it should be harder. And while I love Randy Newman - "You've Got a Friend in Me" has re-lodged itself in my head since seeing this one - the new song he contributes here seems awfully literal, even by the standards of the series.

The movie is impressive in a lot of ways - it's clever, gorgeous (check it out in 3D if you can), and big-hearted. It's also a fourth entry in a series, where the world starts to feel stretched and the filmmakers can't quite simultaneously push into new territory and deliver what the audience loves about the series with quite the same apparent ease at this point. Hopefully Disney and Pixar will heed their own message and find new horizons.

Late Night
The Monument
Tower of London

Baker Street
Shakespeare's Globe
The British Museum
Yakees 18, Red Sox 13
Yankees 12, Red Sox 8

Do the Right Thing
Spider-Man: Far from Home
The Spy Behind Home Plate
The Third Wife
Toy Story 4

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