Tuesday, December 24, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 16 December 2019 - 22 December 2019

All that blank space? Totally going out to get presents for others, not just making my way through the new season of The Expanse at all.

This Week in Tickets

Still, The Expanse is pretty great, isn't it? I"ve been trying to make it last by just watching one every night or two, and I smile in genuine joy every time they remember some physics thing or some group of Martian punks forgets that Bobbi learned to fight in Earth gravity. My only small complaint is that we're now far enough from when it was on SyFy and they couldn't swear that they're comfortable just having Shoreh Aghdashloo let loose; it was maybe a bit more fun when she saved the f-bombs for special occasions.

I paired it with Too Old to Die Young most nights, finally getting through the end of that, and… Yikes. It's like they pitched it to Amazon with the part of the story starring Miles Teller, came up with almost nothing at all there, decided it would be more interesting to use that as an entry point for the stories of Jesus and Yaritza, and only came up with a bit more there, but still decided to make 9 episodes running about 75 minutes each and a half-hour epilogue that kind of goes nowhere. Much as I've loved Ed Brubaker's comics and a lot of Nicolas Winding Refn's movies, this really became a self-indulgent mess.

It was long enough to leave me looking for something with a relatively short running time Tuesday night, which is how I pulled Ghosts of the Abyss out of the pile of recent disc purchases just as something an hour long that isn't part of something bigger. As I was in the middle of playing with 3D stuff, it was pretty nifty to see all of that used well.

By the end of the week, I was the only person going into the office and probably could have ducked out early to see Star Wars or something, but instead wound up staying a bit late on Friday because I had some time to get to Only Cloud Knows, the new film from director Feng Xiaogang, which is kind of an odd one: Very pretty to look at, some nice bits, but really no story, because everything is happening to the characters as opposed to them doing anything. On the other hand, it's based on the writer's actual life, and sometimes it happens that way.

Saturday was the date for which I'd bought my ticket to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a couple of months ago, betting that the theater would have finished their upgrade to Imax Laser by then, but apparently not. I'm probably going to have to see it again to give it a full and proper review, but from a technical standpoint, it's really a shame Disney has more or less completely given up on releasing discs in 3D format and audiences have turned away from 3D in theaters, because the conversion jobs for the sequel trilogy have looked amazing, and if I didn't know better, I'd guess that the trailer for Black Widow that played before it was shot that way rather than converted.

The next day was spent going from one craft fair to another, because that's the most certain way to get unique and interesting gifts for people you don't see every day. Almost worn down enough at the end to skip my plan of going back to Boston Common for Sheep Without a Shepherd, which I'd kind of feared was having its showtimes sacrificed for bigger movies in the same was as Integrity earlier this year, but, no, it's actually really good.

Also worth noting: The two Chinese movies had trailers for Mokoto Shinkai's Weathering with You, which I just realized was the first time I'd actually seen a preview before seeing one of his movies, and it makes me a little sad, because there's a shot or two in there I'd have liked to be gobsmacked with without warning. Between them, there were also previews for that Portrait of a Lady on Fire movie that everybody's been talking up - and, yes, it looks pretty darn great - as well as Wendy, which I just heard of now but which looks amazing.

Next few days will be quiet on my Letterboxd page, since I'm writing this on a train to see my family for Christmas, but there's plenty I want to see after.

Ghosts of the Abyss

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 December 2019 in Jay's Living Room (watching discs, 3D Blu-ray)

Plucked from the pile of recent before-they're-gone 3D disc purchases because it's short, this nevertheless proved an excellent way to wind down for the evening, with cool science and nifty visuals and just the right amount of reverence to give potentially bland material a little oomph and just enough going wrong for a minor climax at the end. The late Bill Paxton makes excellent company as a regular guy who, by dint of being James Cameron's friend and frequent collaborator, is fortunate enough to have the chance to see something amazing; he sometimes struggles to find the words to really convey his awe in the same way most of us would, and doesn't take what he gets to be a part of for granted.

That awe is earned, though, as the footage they came back with is amazing, and James Cameron knows how to stitch an expedition that is not designed to have a plot into a movie. He's aware of the irony of bringing all of this cutting-edge technology (which remains cool 15 years later) to bear to explore something that became a cautionary tale, but isn't deterred. He's good with using visual effects and unusual editing to expand on what his submersibles can see of the sunken Titanic without diminishing it as the main show, which applies to showing off and explaining the tech itself.

Sometimes I wish he'd make more movies, especially as the second half of his career looks to be consumed by the Avatar series which, let's face it, has an uncertain pop-cultural footprint. On the other hand, this adventure is part of the reason why I'm very anxious to see what he comes up with there - that way that he will build a way to follow his passions in film and science is a level of commitment that few others in the industry can match, and always results in something that will make the viewer gasp at some point.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 21 December 2019 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax-branded 3D)

It's probably going to take me a second viewing to decide whether this movie is genuinely bad, with most of what I enjoyed being a Pavlovian reaction to John Williams's score, or just a decent movie that is nevertheless a massive letdown because it follows (and in some ways undermines) the series's best entry in 40 years, but I guess it says something that I'm willing to consider that second viewing It's Star Wars, and even the messiest and most flawed movies in the franchise have had something to impress.

This one's tough, though, because in a lot of ways, The Last Jedi felt like it was ending Star Wars as we knew it and starting something new, with a less dynastic center and some challenges to how things had always been done, whereas Abrams was charged with wrapping up a series that was built around the dynasty, and he has some interesting ideas for that. It's still often a big mess in the execution, though, covered up by the absolutely fantastic production values that Disney/Lucasfilm can throw at something with "Star Wars" in the title.

Like I said, it's gonna need a second viewing. Fortunately, I kind of want to check out the big screen at Causeway Street anyway.

Ghosts of the Abyss
Only Cloud Knows
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Sheep Without a Shepherd

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