Tuesday, October 29, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 21 October 2019 - 27 October 2019

Hurrah for finally seeing things which everybody almost certainly would assume I've seen already!

This Week in Tickets

That probably doesn't include Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which had more 3D screenings at Boston Common than I would have expected from how they've moved away from the format around here; hopefully that's a sign of things to come. The movie itself isn't exactly great, but like the first, it's kind of interesting in that the filmmakers seem to be pursuing darker, more mature themes than the original Sleeping Beauty and the general trend in these photocopies of Disney's animated classics. I think this particular movie needs to horrify children more, but I suppose that's a tough argument to make with the folks at the entertainment megacorporation that are putting you in charge of a budget in the $150M range as you're showing them various cuts.

A week of working and watching the World Series later - I find myself rooting for the Nationals despite kind of resenting them for no longer being the Expos, even if I don't have a leg to stand on there because the moves which put the Expos on the path to becoming the Nats also gave us the current Red Sox ownership and most of the people I know in Montreal would probably be all "is that some sort of sportsball thing?" if I brought it up, because the Astros had a demonstration of why they're one of the less-cool ownership groups in baseball a few days before - and I'm feeling lazy on the weekend. Plan A was to catch the movie being four-walled at the Regent, but I trusted Google Maps's "bus delayed" info too much, so I detoured to Boston Common to see Black and Blue, a pretty decent dirty-cop movie with a cast I like. It kind of amused me that it was showing all the way New Orleans was a mess while my brother and his wife were flying back home to Chicago from having a fine time as tourists there.

After getting kind of damp doing the grocery shopping the next morning, I hid out at home a little more than I'd planned before heading out to the Somerville Theatre for one of their Halloween Hullabaloo double features. I had never actually seen A Nightmare on Elm Street, because I wasn't really watching many R-rated movies as a teenager and didn't really get into horror until that genre was plugging a lot of holes at Fantasia and the late, lamented-mainly-by-me Boston Fantastic Film Festival, and found myself liking it quite a bit for what it is. The back half skipped most of the rest of the sequels to go straight to Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which I remember coming out while I was working at the Showcase Cinema in downtown Worcester (and, you know, going to college). I don't recall it being a particularly big deal there, although I was kind of intrigued by reviews saying Wes Craven had made the first postmodern horror movie. Like the best of Craven's work, it's interestingly ambitious, and if nothing else, it's neat to see how everybody was maturing in the ten years since the original.

Hopefully the next week's updates to my Letterboxd page will be evenly split between IFFBoston Fall Focus stuff and the movies I'm trying to cram in before/around it, but it's entirely possible I spend another week getting held up at work and not wanting to hang around for later shows..

Black and Blue

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 October 2019 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, DCP)

Writer Peter Dowling and Deon Taylor seem to have a heck of a strong inspiration for their movie in the opening minutes as they zero in on how completely broken the trust between the police and the communities that they are supposed to protect is, especially among African-Americans. It's a topic that often feels too big and weighty for the action movie that they were looking to make, especially when the film is in the home stretch and people must very earnestly explain their values, even as the whole thing has been diluted by introducing gangsters and not exactly having the room to play with how this situation lets them run wild and also fill a void.

It's not that ambitious, but it's not bad at all within the bounds it sets for itself. The opening act does a very impressive job of setting things up, both in terms of establishing its setting (the neglected, less-touristy parts of New Orleans) and both pushing things into place for its rookie police officer to capture her colleagues executing a drug dealer the do business with and starting up the chase. There are wobbly moments, but they're the kind that mostly work in-story, playing on the villains' arrogance and how the good guys are kind of stumbling through new territory. Everybody gets a bit too clever later, so it's not quite as convincing, but it's still executed fairly well.

There's a nice cast, too, even if everybody does seem about five years too old given that Alicia West is supposed to be a rookie and others are supposed to be her contemporaries, even if she has been in Afghanistan for two tours. Nevertheless, Naomie Harris is very strong at the center of the movie; she gives the sense of someone who has grabbed onto her idealism hard without necessarily kidding herself to do so. Tyrese Gibson is interestingly against type opposite her, free of the bluster he often brings to a role and feeling a bit shrunken and beaten as a result. Frank Grillo and Mike Colter are familiar villain types, but they're pros - Grillo seems born to play this sort of scuzz with just enough badass sheen, while Colter seems to go from intimidating to slick with a part, and here he's the big, intimidating banger who's more fearless than clever. He's a stock character where you can see the entire story.

And a movie like Black and Blue needs those if it doesn't have bigger ambitions. It's only going to be an action movie, and maybe not a great one, but it's got the chops to sell what it's got.

A Nightmare On Elm Street

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Halloween Hullabaloo, 35mm)

People talk about Wes Craven cribbing from art-house cinema for Last House on the Left, but you can see him doing something similar during the first act of A Nightmare on Elm Street - there's an ugly nightmare feel to the opening, but that doesn't mean it's not also a dream, and it's got an ethereal vibe to it, just giving the audience Amanda Wyss's Tina and asking them to catch up, kind of leveraging the fact that he doesn't have a huge budget to make things feel a little out of joint, rather than truly phantasmagorical at first.

I wonder if Craven had that relatively tight budget in mind when making sure that everything he could do on the page held together or if he's just a solid filmmaker. There's a really solid coming-of-age film underneath the horror as Nancy learns to rely on herself and figure out how to solve problems, and it's buttressed by a lot of things - most of the kids come from broken homes, and it's not out of the question that the initial murder of Fred Krueger had a large part in breaking them, although Craven doesn't completely connect those dots, just leaving enough hints that this has all come full circle that the movie holds together so well that the whys and hows of Freddy being able to come at these kids through dreams doesn't matter, and neither does the fact that a lot of acting is kind of iffy at best, albeit in a "believably unpolished kid" way. It's the sort of thing that likely makes Craven underappreciated outside of horror circles - he knows what he's got to work with and can squeeze the absolute most out of it.

And in some cases, he's got pretty good material. The nightmares, for instance, are pretty darn fantastic, even when the effects work is rubbery or fake, and it's easy to see how Robert Englund's Freddy became an icon even if he did have to become meme-able to really take off - there's some genuine rage in there, and even when the movie gets to the point where Nancy is able to kind of beat the crap out of him because bullies aren't so much when their victim stands up, he doesn't entirely become neutered. Craven is even able to work in some genuinely good jokes, too; the bit with the coffee mugs and coffee maker is broad and goofy, but it's got a little sting to it. Even as you laugh, you feel Nancy's desperation, which is something that a lot of Craven's successors can't quite do - they're always shifting gears from one thing to another, while he's tying it all together.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 October 2019 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Halloween Hullabaloo, 35mm)

I'm not sure that there was anything quite like Wes Craven's New Nightmare when it came out; the idea wasn't necessarily new, but how often does something that had been a genuine phenomenon like the Elm Street series get used for this sort of meta-movie, rather than a stand-in? I can't imagine fans of the series, as much as they'd want more, were really looking for a fourth-wall-breaking take on the material that seems to think little of the intervening five movies (of which he was only involved in one). It almost feels like taunting.

It's not that deep, but there's an interesting idea or two in there. It is, at its heart, a defense of the horror story, positing that these stories trap evil, but hints that this trapping becomes less effective when those stories are diluted - say, by making Freddy a wisecracking monster whose horrific origins are downplayed, mugging for the audience at a talk show, connecting these ideas to primal monsters under the covers and eventually sending its scream queen to hell to rescue her son and confront the devil on his own turf. There are lots of other threads that don't necessarily come together - he's not quite so adroit at making every bit of the film buttress the other as he was with Elm Street - but every once in a while, Craven does something really clever, like having the audience go "hey, wait a second" the first time someone who really should know better calls actress Heather Lagenkamp by her character's name before making that line good and blurry.

Seeing it right after the first highlights how, in some ways, everybody has raised their game - Lagenkamp is solid, Craven gets things a little tighter in spots, and he's got a little more to work with. It's fun to see him remix memorable scenes from the first film, although the 1994-vintage CGI isn't always quite so impressive as the practical effects from 1984. It's maybe not quite the revelation it might have been twenty-five years ago (which had Craven's Scream movies among others), and not quite so brilliant as the one which introduced Freddy, but it's still good, smart horror.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Black and Blue
A Nightmare On Elm Street

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