Monday, September 09, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 2 September 2019 - 8 September 2019

You may see a lot of empty white space on these pages; I see the weekend that I finally reached the bottom of the stack of comics that's been growing since I went to London for vacation.

This Week in Tickets

(And, good gravy, is DC a disaster right now. It seems like they always are, but "Year of the Villain" is currently in the "re-reading the same beats in every series" stage, seemingly every idea Brian Bendis has for Superman is wrong-headed, the whole thing with Bane and Flashpoint Batman in Batman is awful. Who looked at these pitches and said "this will be fun and worth $4/issue"?)

It was, at least, a good week for baseball, or at least the two games I had tickets to. Wednesday was the result of me ordering in a kind of dumb manner - I didn't reallize that the ticket I got in a four-pack was also the Peanuts bobblehead game, so I bought a separate ticket for that, and then couldn't unload my original. A bummer, but I had a really nice seat for a game in which Mookie Betts hit the first two pitches he saw over the Monster (which also got me to the line-free King's Hawaiian barbecue concession stand during the game and out at the end with little fuss). Friday had me nervous - bullpen game against the seemingly-unstoppable-no-matter-who-gets-hurt Yankees - but they wound up winning 6-1.

But I digress from the entry on my movie blog that lists the movies I've seen in a given week. Those were seen on Sunday's excursion to Brookline, where I spent most of the day at the Coolidge. It started with Balloon, a German film that played Canadian theaters while I was in Montreal for Fantasia but which I didn't have time for. I'd sort of pegged it as a family movie at the time - it was rated G in Quebec - but it's not exactly that. There was apparently an earlier version (Night Crossing) made by Disney, but it wasn't well-remembered, and the makers of this one had to spend years negotiating with that company to get the rights to the story back (I'm guessing what the prominent thanks to Roland Emmerich in the credits refer to). After that, there was still a lot of convincing necessary, especially since the director was from Bavaria rather than the former East German and more known for comedy than thrillers. The film doesn't quite get to how, after reunification, some of the escapees were able to get their old house back and move back in, but that's neat.

(Aside: Thomas Krestschmann has played so many Nazis in international films despite being a tremendously charismatic guy that it's almost funny that he goes home and gets cast as Stasi.)

It wasn't a long wait after that for Official Secrets, which is pretty decent but not something I particularly regret missing at IFFBoston, even if there were some guests. It feels a bit like the filmmakers finding a story that makes a number of important points and seems dramatic enough but which only makes for a pretty-good movie rather than the great one you figure they'd gone for.

Hopefully a busier week for here and my Letterboxd page coming up, if only because there's a werid no-baseball Friday.

Ballon (Balloon)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 September 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Geothe-Institut German Film, DCP)

When I first saw the description of Balloon, I pegged it as a light family adventure, likely because the idea of fleeing a repressive society in a homemade hot-air balloon sounds fanciful, and the film didn't have enough red-flag content for the local ratings board to give it anything but the least restrictive rating. Of course, evading the Stasi while attempting to escape East Germany was no small matter, and that makes this movie a serious, no-nonsense thriller even if it doesn't have any harsh language or graphic violence. It's something of a throwback in that way, but that works for it.

It opens in 1979 on the day of the "Youth Dedication Ceremony" in the city of Possneck. Frank Strelzyk (Jonas Holdenrieder) is one of the graduating eighth-graders being honored as father Peter (Friedrich Mücke) mocks the presiding official to wife Doris (Karoline Schuch), despite the fact that they'll be giving neighbors Erik & Beate Baumann (Ronald Kukulies & Elisabeth Wasserscheid) a ride home, and Erik is a sort of mid-level bureaucrat with the Stasi. They don't intend to face the consequences, though, as the Strelzyks and their friends Günter & Petra Wetzel (David Kross & Alicia von Rittberg) have been working years on a hot-air balloon that will take them south, over the border to Bavaria, and the wind is right, even if the Wetzels have cold feet. The Strelzyks almost make it, but "almost" is a dangerous situation - it leaves enough clues behind for Lt. Col Seidel (Thomas Kretschmann) to pick up the scent, meaning they have to try again, except with weeks rather than months and the Stasi looking for them specifically.

Director and co-writer Michael Bully Herbig gets to that point, where the real meat of the film begins, fairly quickly, dispensing with a lot of what might be treated as important establishment of motivation. You don't really need to be told why anybody might want to flee East Germany, let alone why it's important for this specific group, so Herbig throws that in as details at the point where characters might actually mention it. Similarly, since this story involves the families doing a lot of things twice, it makes a lot of sense to just skip over the first time as much as possible rather than later feel like the filmmakers are spinning wheels or diminishing something's importance by doing a montage or not showing it later. It's a smart approach to this specific story and also just good storytelling in general - there's never a sense of anything important being left out or a filmmaker obviously trying to shape a story.

Full review at eFIlmCritic

Official Secrets

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 September 2019 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #2 (first-run, DCP)

Gavin Hood hasn't dedicated his entire directorial career to making films about the crimes and compromises behind the twenty-first century's Middle Eastern wars, but at three and counting, he's probably done more dramatic features on the subject than all but a few. If they ever become history people look back on rather than things that are still going on, those films will at the very least be an interesting set of commentary on the times as a group, even if some (like Official Secrets) are better as commentary than thrilling narrative.

The Official Secrets Act is the United Kingdom's primary law meant to protect national security, and in February 2004, Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) went on trial for the events of nearly a year earlier, when as a translator of signals intelligence, she was forwarded a memo asking that any information that could be used to leverage United Nations delegates into supporting action in Iraq on rather flimsy pretexts. She gave a copy to a friend in the anti-war movement, via whom it eventually made its way to reporter Martin Bright (Matt Smith) of the Observer, a paper that had until that point been editorializing in favor of the war. Bright, Peter Beaumont (Matthew Goode), and Washington correspondent Ed Vulliamy (Rhys Ifans) must be careful running the information down - it's hard to prove the sender even exists - and when the story breaks and Katharine is discovered, her Kurdish husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) becomes a target and lawyer Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) is hamstrung in what he can do to defend her.

There are times when Official Secrets seems almost too reserved and British for its own good, avoiding direct confrontation, short-circuiting a suspenseful stretch by having Katharine spontaneously confess, and making a lot of effort to repeat the details of what seems a convoluted legal strategy. But that's sort of the point; the film is about how institutions can smother people attempting to do right and how those in power arrange those institutions to make it more difficult. One of the most telling lines is almost tossed off, referencing how the law Katharine Gun has run afoul of was specifically amended when someone had successfully opposed corruption before. It's about crimes whose effects are devastating but diffuse, almost impossible to witness and report by design.

Full review at eFIlmCritic

Red Sox 6, Twins 2
Red Sox 6, Yankees 1
Official Secrets

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