Wednesday, October 23, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 14 October 2019 - 20 October 2019

You ever wind up running late for a movie, slinking home frustrated, and then feeling weirdly vindicated when you really need to go to the bathroom right smack in the middle of when the movie would be?

No, me neither.

This Week in Tickets

Moviegoing time was also curtailed a bit by the arrival of some large packages with shelves to assemble inside, and I've got to tell you - after spending Tuesday night unboxing and assembling a new set of Blu-ray shelves and then getting everything into its new place, it is downright weird to see so much empty space rather than random piles of discs all around me. Almost unnatural. Of course, after I got everything alphabetized and shelved on Tuesday, Wednesday sees the delivery of The Art of Self-Defense, and I was very lucky that the second row (out of 17) had a little extra space at the end.

After that, it was time for "Buff-O-Ween", the first of what I hope will be an annual "and-a-half" program midway between editions of the Boston Underground Film Festival. A fair amount of it was things I had seen at Fantasia this summer, but the first night was a thing I couldn't fit into the schedule in Montreal, so I was very glad to catch up with Extra Ordinary, which I recall everybody up north loving. It's as funny as advertised, and kind of a shame that it won't get much theatrical play. The good news is, BUFF and the Irish Film Festival won't be the same weekend next year.

I'd also seen the first thing Friday night, so it was tough dragging myself back out of the house for the back half. Then on Saturday, I had an ambitious day planned - Lucy in the Sky at Fenway, The Captain at Boston Common, and then back to Somerville for more Buff-O-Ween, but… Well, no matter what the app says or how it seems to be a more direct route, never plan on taking the 47 bus from Central to Fenway, because if it's not late, it just does not show up. Fortunately, I had bookshelves to build, and was able to spend a pretty relaxing day getting them up before heading back to the Somerville and the new, gore-enhanced restoration of Tammy and the T-Rex, which is a pretty bad movie on the merits but plays out like a giant-sized 48-hour-film-project thing with an utterly ridiculous prop and a Denise Richards performance that makes one wish she'd had more chances to do sexy comedies.

Sunday, I made to to Boston Common for The Captain, a pretty fair crowd-pleaser that seems less like overt propaganda than most of what got released for China's National Day this year. That was followed by The Laundromat, which kind of feels like it wants to be propaganda but which is a little too self-aware and cynical to really sell itself. I believe it's the first time this fall that I've paid $9 for something I could watch with a Netflix account, but I'm old and not going to change.

It's looking like another slow week, but there should be updates my Letterboxd page even if it's just finally looping back to Fantasia reviews..

Zhong guo ji zhang (The Captain '19 aka The Chinese Pilot)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 20 October 2019 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

As near as I can tell, The Captain has been the most popular of the three big releases meant to stoke national pride for the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, which is nice, because it is also the one that feels the least like obvious propaganda. Instead, it's the sort of solid tale of heroic competence that risks understating the extent to which its hero showed grace under pressure - or, in this case, incredibly low air pressure.

It dramatizes events of 14 May 2018, a day which started early for pilot Liu Changjian (Zhang Hanyu), getting up at 3am, promising his sleeping daughter that he'll be back for her sixth birthday party, giving eye drops to the rescue puppy that will be her present, and then heading to Chongqing's airport for a 6:30am flight to Lhasa. He will be joined in the cockpit by cocky co-pilot Xu Yichen (Ou Hao) and inveterate flirt Liang Dong (Du Jiang), with purser Bi Nan (Yuan Quan) overseeing a team of four young, single, and pretty flight attendants. At 7:12am, over the Tibetan plateau at 9400m above sea level, a crack appears in the windshield, and in almost no time after that, it has blown out, depressurizing the cockpit. Above 3000m, it is difficult to breathe without assistance, and the plateau is 4500m high, and on top of that, a storm has formed which will make it difficult to divert toward what would normally be the most convenient airport.

The very basic synopsis of this movie might get one to joke that it's the Chinese remake of Sully, but truth be told, it's set up to be a better movie than that from the start - what happened with Flight 3U8633, at least as is presented in Yu Yonggan's script, took place over more than the course of a couple minutes and therefore doesn't need nearly as much to pad it out to feature length the way the American film more or less manufactured a contentious investigation as a framing device. In fact, it is impressive how director Andrew Lau Wai-Keung (likely best known outside China for co-directing and shooting the Infernal Affairs movies and not to be confused with their co-star Andy Lau) and writer Yu Yonggan nip any excess melodrama in the bud. The audience is introduced to the crew and given a peek at what's going on with them, as well as a cross-section of the 119 passengers - it will not surprise you that there's a jerk in first class, a couple meeting cute, a couple scared kids and a few even more frightened adults, and a man returning his brother's ashes, and a sensible veteran - only to have them more or less serve as background color. Though it's an easy trap to fall into, Lau and Yu never make the personal affairs of any passenger bigger or more important than the potential disaster they are part of. Even a moment when Liu's thoughts turn to his daughter feels like a man dealing with more stress than he has oxygen to handle.

Full review at EFilmCritic

The Laundromat

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 20 October 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

I've read that one of the lawyers portrayed in The Laundromat is suing for defamation, and without looking it up, I'm going to guess it's not the one played with rakish charm by Antonio Banderas. Sure, he and Gary Oldman make an often-entertaining pair of fourth-wall-breaking narrators, but Banderas is the member of the star-studded cast that gets the most mileage out of how not quite disappearing into the role is half the point.

After all, the point here is not really to tell a story, but to try to educate the audience on the way shell companies and other ways to hide money and responsibility pervert our world, although even with Oldman & Banderas being the first to appear and each chapter of the movie titled as a lesson, it's still somewhat disappointing when it becomes clear that the story of Meryl Streep's confused, indignant widow is not actually going to lead anywhere. It's just one of several anecdotes that show what kind of fraud is going on connected to the Panamanian law firm of Mossack & Fonseca, and they don't really tie together. Eventually other stories show up, and they're neat little shorts on their own, but the script by Scott Z. Burns just shrugs and stops at a certain point.

It's enjoyable enough - Steven Soderbergh never really let his retirement take and this film splits the middle between his more and less conventional work, and the really exceptional cast means that it's a rare scene that's going to fall flat. Unfortunately, the film invites comparisons to The Big Short, and it's never quite the explainer nor the narrative that film is.

Extra Ordinary
Tammy and the T-Rex
The Captain
The Laundromat

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