Tuesday, December 17, 2019

This Week in Tickets: 9 December 2019 - 15 December 2019

Enjoy my week of seeing movies and losing things!

This Week in Tickets

Like, start with the stub to Little Joe. Just not in my pocket when I got home, and I don't know that I was pulling things in and out of that pocket enough on the way home that it could have slipped out. Ah, well, I'll buy it on Blu-ray when it becomes available and have a more permanent souvenir because it's a really nifty little independent science fiction film with a bunch of people I like and an often-creepy feel despite also making its setting feel like a place where real people work as scientists.

On Tuesday, I did some playing with pictures from my 3D camera and also received a couple shipments of discs from various end-of-year sales, although the one I put on was from an earlier Amazon order where I bought 3D things before they went out of print and, well, that "The Secret Life of Cars" disc is kind of a rip-off. Not the low point of the week, though, which came when I somehow lost my Fargo toque at the comic shop the next night. It is too cold and snowy in Boston right now to go without a hat.

On Thursday, I extended my feature-films-directed-by-women streak to five with Black Christmas, which feels like it could have had a better build-up/mayhem balance, but I'm seeing a lot of posts online from women saying "yes, this!", so maybe I'm just missing something. The streak came to an end the next evening with a 3D screening of Jumanji: The Next Level, which isn't great, but I liked it better that the last one, which is something. Though it looks like I lost my state ID card between getting it out to show the ticket-taker and trying to get everything put away while handling my snacks. Honestly, AMC, why are you doing this? Do you really care if two people are sharing an A-List membership so long as they don't try to both use it at once and buy popcorn with each visit?

Avoiding the Red Line for the weekend took me to the new Arclight on Causeway street for Pain and Glory, which I really should have seen by now, but somehow hadn't. I probably won't do a full review of the place until I've seen something on its "Wide Screen", but they make a decent pretzel and the projection is decent. I didn't realize until going into the theater that there wasn't assigned seating for this show, which is unusual for a new, fancy theater.

That evening, I decided to make a bit more of an effort to watch my unwatched discs, and put on Manhunt. Not John Woo's best, but, like I say in the review, there's no gunfight like a John Woo gunfight. Sunday night, after an afternoon non finding as much as I'd like for Christmas gifts in the craft fairs, I went back to the shelf for The Invincible Dragon, and geez, someone get Max Zhang (or John Zhang, when he likes to be closer to his name of Zhang Jin) a good movie of his own. He's been a great opponent for the likes of Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa, but his best leading role was a spin-off of the Ip Man movies.

Maybe not so much on my Letterboxd page, as the new season of The Expanse has dropped and I'm trying to stretch it to Christmas with an episode per day and maybe trying to finish off Too Old to Die Young while my Roku is "tuned" to Prime.

"The Secret Life of Cars"

* * (out of four)
Seen 10 December 2019 in Jay's Living Room (watching discs, 3D Blu-ray)

I paid $25 for this not quite realizing that the short itself is two minutes long. Sure, you could pay $20 for the 2D version, although with maybe 10 minutes of content on the disc, including an ad for the word processing software that the people involved make that runs before the menu, I'm not sure why they had to make two separate releases with this one a two disc set. Even for those of us who like 3D and are trying to pick up as many discs as possible before they go out of print, that's not great value.

The short film itself? The animation is neat, I suppose, and I kind of dig the idea of making models out of graph paper so that it looks like a physical version of the wire-frame renders used for CGI pictures' first drafts (so to speak), but even accounting for how this is two minutes of stop-motion, nothing actually happens and none of the cars show any personality. It's a reasonably clever way to show off what you can do with your 3D camera but not much else.

Black Christmas '19

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 December 2019 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, DCP)

As great as it is to see Sophia Takal making a movie that gets a big wide mainstream release, and one which has its politics and heart in the right places, I got kind of fidgety at points during this version of Black Christmas. It it somewhat methodical in getting started, doing all it can to establish where its characters are coming from but giving exposition a fair berth, which means there's a lot of "what happened to you" and taking time to establish things that would be easier to just say. That would leave it a little more time to really dig into the swerve it goes for later on in really convincing fashion, because I think one of the most clever things that the script sort of buries is that, while it's clearly and obviously about the dangers women face, its big twist is about how men are indoctrinated and radicalized by the system. The ideas are good but the details don't quite fit.

At times, the whole movie can feel like the silly accent Cary Elwes goes with as Professor Gelson, which has a point - he's playing the exact sort of conservative bully who makes a show of erudition but drops the facade once he figures he's got women in his power - but it feels silly and affected in a way that the film as a whole hasn't quite tipped its hand to yet, so that buying into can be more effort than a viewer is going to put into watching a slasher movie.

There's a fun slasher underneath, though. Imogen Poots feels like a bit of a ringer in the cast (on top of the deal where it's weird to see her playing college age when I recognize her from "grown up and starting a family" roles), but she's got a great team of girls too cool to just be potential victims to lead, with Aleyse Shannon putting more life into Kris than "the group's activist" usually gets. Takal and co-writer April Wolfe know this material and make each horror scene play out as a bit better than rote. They're good enough that my biggest complaint may be that they show us potentially fun things that don't get enough space, like when a group of young women show up with improvised weapons and one's got a sled. As much as I appreciate the rest of what they're doing, I could go with more of that nameless character taking someone out with its runners and all the other lunacy that shot implies.

Dolor y gloria (Pain and Glory)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 December 2019 in ArcLight Boston #1 (first-run, DCP)

Pedro Almodóvar may have reached a point where he's been immersed in filmmaking and art for so long as to have trouble relating to much else, but he at least seems to sense that here There's a general melancholy and a sort of understanding of the absurdity of it, as he makes a semi-autobiographical film about a filmmaker (played by his most famous collaborator) making a semi-autobiographical work starring his most famous collaborator, before finally having the snake swallow its own tail. He doesn't quite wink until then, but he doesn't do much to hide what he's up to, either. Fortunately, it's a pretty gentle work.

That may also be the best way to describe Antonio Banderes's performance here, just a really beautiful demonstration of pain and insecurity filtered through the knowledge of his good fortune. He's seldom on the brink of tears - a lifetime of physical ailments has taught his character how to keep those in check, although a lot of little things that go from putting a pillow under his knee every time he needs to kneel to slightly stiff body language reinforce that there's believable chronic pain there beyond the early exposition. Banderas gets a chance or two to let an ego out, but he mostly comes off as kind and uncertain, extremely enjoyable to spend a couple hours with.

The film's also visually beautiful in small ways. The solid colors and memorable spaces that aren't quite as brash as those seen in the comedies of Almodovar's early career, but of a piece with them, like the frantic characters of those movies have aged and mellowed but still kind of have the same taste. The "cave" where the young Salvador lives seems like it inhabits the same place in Almodóvar's psyche as the silent-movie section of Talk to Her, while the machines in the hospital are frightening but reassuring. It's a movie that looks aging squarely in the eye and accepts it but doesn't allow it to overwhelm the people involved.

Little Joe
The Secret Life of Cars
Black Christmas '19
Jumanji: The Next Level
Pain and Glory
The Invincible Dragon

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