Thursday, January 23, 2020

This Week in Tickets: 13 January 2020 - 19 January 2020

Not a catch-up! What I actually saw this past week!

This Week in Tickets

Oscar nominations came out Monday, and though I probably should have done some catch-up - both for what was announced and what wasn't but might leave theaters quickly now that they aren't nominated for anything. But "I should" is tough and the new bus schedule combined with winter weather makes it trickier.

Still, Friday brought a new Makoto Shinkai movie to America, and Weathering with You is pretty darn good. Maybe not quite at the level of his best work, but if he's settling into a well-above-average groove, well, there's nothing wrong with that.

After a week of feeling kind of sluggish at work, I enjoyed some serious sleeping in over the weekend, mostly heading out to the Harvard Film Archive for the first couple programs in their "Silent Hitchcock" series: The Manxman and Champagne. Kind of liked the first, not so much the latter, looking forward to more this coming weekend.

The end of the second lined up nicely with getting back to Davis just in time to catch Little Women at the Somerville. I liked it well enough that I'm figuring that I'm going to have to go back and watch Lady Bird, even if it looked insufferable when it was out in theaters.

Probably not this week, but follow my Letterboxd page just in case.

The Manxman

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 January 2020 in the Harvard Film Archive (Silent Hitchcock, 35mm accompanied by Robert Humphreville)

There's a weird moment in Hitchcock's last full silent that demonstrates how relatively little silent films relied on their title cards, as characters' lips move a great deal and the audience fully comprehends that the lady is pregnant by way of a man other than her husband, but it appears to be something one does not say aloud in 1929. Hitch isn't dancing around it, eventually - maybe he thought he was being coy - but you see how he could.

That aside, it's a fine, simple melodrama that tails off a bit toward the end but manages plenty of sympathy for the whole cast of characters and never feels like it's rushing through a very thick book. Anny Ondra is sneaky impressive as the object of two men's affections, never losing Kate's inner clarity even as the film had her go from playful to shattered and miserable (she was also, I cannot help but note, extremely attractive and looks like she would fit in perfectly pulled ninety years into the future). There's not much to it that isn't predictable in some way or other aside from how Kate will sometimes quickly move in a straight line when you might expect a little more hemming and hawing, but those moments are sharply dramatic while the filmmakers have a wry but respectful handle on how to make the bits in between work.

Champagne

* * (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2020 in the Harvard Film Archive (Silent Hitchcock, 35mm accompanied by Martin Marks)

Well, I guess something's got to be Hitchcock's worst movie. I'm not entirely sure that this is it - there are films of his I still haven't seen and, of course, the one that's lost - but it seems likely. It's a screwball comedy plot that's never screwy or terribly sympathetic to the people caught up in that mania, acted out with a bunch of characters that may be recognizable 1920s types but just seem completely undefined a hundred years later. What, exactly, is the appeal of Jean Bradin's boy to Betty Balfour's girl, aside from him being fairly handsome, and what makes him so objectionable to her father (Gordon Harker)? Why should the older man she meets on a transatlantic crossing (Theo Von Alten) become more than just some random man?

There's probably a pretty good screwball farce to be found if one makes a bit of an attempt to answer those questions; Balfour is equally good at plowing through a scene with the momentum of the obliviously rich and pretty or pouting at being treated poorly by her lights, and the writers come up with some entertaining scenarios to drop her into. Hitchcock stages physical comedy as well as he does darker set pieces, and can wink at the audience as he does so: He knows that the audience knows he's shaking the camera to create the appearance of rough water, for instance, but that this knowledge makes both the people stumbling about and Betty able to walk through it in high heels like an old hand at sea travel even funnier. He knows how to use the big, multi-level set of a restaurant as a playground.

He and his co-writers just don't give themselves or their cast a lot to do with this skill. Hitchcock isn't bad at directing comedy - Mr. And Mrs. Smith is charming and his thrillers often contain big laughs - but he isn't the guy you want coming up with the jokes.

Little Women

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2020 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 35mm)

Not that I've got any idea what girls their age actually like, or if they've read the original book, but I'll bet that my nieces will eat this up. Mostly because they're smart, and it's a really good movie.

It is, from the start, vibrant in ways that both period pieces and adaptations of beloved novels often fail to be, energetic and funny and able to add details in every corner of something people are sure they know, from the ink stains on Jo's fingers to the precise but ramshackle design of every house in the film. It jumps back and forth between childhood and adulthood with grace and occasionally tries to overwhelm the audience with all of these people talking at once and never slowing down because, after all, they know each other so well.

And we do too. The four sisters are clearly family despite being very different, and the way Jo and Amy drive each other absolutely bananas seems very familiar, it not hurting one whit that Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are two of the most talented young actresses working today. The way that writer/director Greta Gerwig handles these two really impresses, because Jo is the obvious center of the movie and Amy can be a piece of work, but Gerwig lets it feel like regular sibling rivalry rather than something bigger than life. I love the way Timothée Chalamet seems to be right on the line between kind of entitled and worth liking, believably in love with the whole family and the individual girls.

And then there's Chris Cooper, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep… If there's any fault to the film, it's that it gets a little arch in some of tits last scenes, maybe just a bit too impressed with how cleverly it plays with the novel's ending to make it a little more modern. That is very clever, though, and there's joy to it that matches the energy that the movie has throughout.


Weathering with You
The Manxman
Champagne
Little Women

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