Wednesday, January 01, 2020

This Week in Tickets: 23 December 2019 - 29 December 2019

Did we all have a great holiday? Here's hoping so, whether it involved movies or not!

This Week in Tickets

It was a bit of an odd schedule for me, as I took the day off work Monday and then spent a lot of time lying around rather than actually finishing my Christmas shopping, until ultimately I was in Cardullo's buying a hundred bucks worth of chocolate and cookies because everybody likes fancy chocolate and you can buy it again when you run out of ideas again next year. After that, I was up way too late wrapping presents, in part because I waited for a pizza to be delivered and then I had to finish this episode of The Expanse. The movie to watch while wrapping presents, obviously, was Anna and the Apocalypse, which is frustratingly not available on Blu-ray in the USA but did get a release on that format in Canada and a super-spiffy all-region special edition in the UK, which is the one I watched. It's kind of great. I apologize to my upstairs neighbors for having the soundtrack on a loop while I was working from home at the start of the month, but it's a delight.

After that, it was up on four hours of sleep to head to North Station and take the train to Portland on Christmas Eve. As I've been saying for the past decade or so, the family members with the awesome little girls dictate where and how the holidays are celebrated, and that goes double for when there are two brothers whose schedules with those girls don't always overlap, which meant we got together to open gifts on Tuesday (the ViewMaster reels from Dan's wedding went over well!), and then dropped that night.

So, not much Christmas for me on the day itself; although I did sit in a packed house for Ip Man 4: The Finale. There's a joke to be made about Chinese food and movies for Christmas somewhere, but it's not quite landing.

Thursday night, the Anna disc was still in the player, so I watched "Zombie Musical", the inspiration for the feature, and it's kind of rough but still just inspired enough that it's a shame that the original filmmaker didn't get to see or be involved in the feature he planted the seed for.

The new bus schedule had me too late for what I wanted to see Friday, so I watched the last episodes of The Mandalorian and The Expanse. One thing that struck me about these two big sci-fi shows from competing empires was that The Mandalorian stays fairly glued to the perspective of its title character, not much bothering with what's going on with supporting characters or villains until it's time for them to meet up with him once again, whereas there is a lot of wheel-spinning at times as The Expanse keeps checking in on Mars and Earth for stuff that will eventually connect but which, for right now, are kind of a distraction from the nifty stuff happening on Ilus. It's an example of how, while the Star Wars show is impeccably produced and canny in realizing that it can benefit from doing a fair amount practically, it's kind of comfortable, to the point where it can do some self-parodying bits, while The Expanse overcomes occasional bits where the effects work is obvious or the HD models don't quite scale to 4K by going big and dealing with sci-fi details that most TV/movies have grown so used to hand-waving away that people seldom think of them any more. I'm looking forward to the next season of The Mandalorian; I want the next season of The Expanse right now.

After a morning of errands on Saturday, I headed out to see Spies in Disguise, mostly because I'm a mark for 3D, but I wound up having a good time with it. Then I got home and decided to watch one of the discs that has been accumulating on the shelf for a while, because the "recent acquisitions, Hong Kong" and "recent acquisitions, other" sections that are on the same shelf but built from opposite directions were in danger of touching. So I watched The Detective, purchased during the recent Twilight Time sale. I was going to do it as a double feature with Die Hard, but opted against.

Didn't get to the theater on time on Sunday, so I headed back home and kept clearing off the shelf with an odd double feature: The Bar is a recent film by Alex de la Iglesia that doesn't seem to have a legit release in the United States, which seems weird - it's not like de la Iglesia is some obscure guy, but at some point he just dropped off the radar here. The nightcap was The Maze, a nifty-looking 3D "old dark house" movie that gets absolutely nuts when it reveals what's actually spooky there.

After that, back to work. my Letterboxd page is here, although I can't guarantee that I'll always update it before the blog. It's fluid.

Anna and the Apocalypse

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 23 December 2019 in Jay's Living Room (watching discs, UK Blu-ray)

This was the extended version from the UK Special Edition Blu-ray, which as near as I can tell adds one song to the version(s) I saw at Fantasia and in theaters. At least, I don't think it was in either version I saw (and it's not on the soundtrack album), though maybe it was in the one I saw at the festival. The film is okay with the song in, and it's okay with the song out. It adds a bit more background to what happened at the school, but the longer cut doesn't add enough to make that a major part of the movie. Editing is tough.

The film itself remains funny and a delightfully warped holiday treat, although difficult to use as background for wrapping gifts because of a fair number of fun background gags. One thing I've found as I listened to the soundtrack over and over again is that it becomes more charming the more Scottish it is. The singing that becomes a sort of neutral accent is nice, but having it be more specific enhances the school-play charm that the movie has and which carries it through the moments when the filmmakers don't have all the resources that they maybe might want.

Full review from last year's Fantasia Festival

"Zombie Musical"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 26 December 2019 in Jay's Living Room (watching discs, UK Blu-ray)

Some time, I'm going to have to go through the Anna and the Apocalypse special features to figure out just what kind of "what might have been" this represents. Writer/director Ryan McHenry died very young, unable to do the feature version of this short seven years later, and most of what he's made is viral videos. This, then, is what someone in his early twenties made, probably with friends, and it's exactly that DIY and underground but also something that shows ambition and sheer love of movies of every type.

You can see the rough outline of Anna in it - the first of the three musical numbers it fits into 15 minutes is awfully close to the best number in the feature - but you might also wonder whether some of the tone changes come from other people being brought in or McHenry maturing and refining the idea for a feature.

Darn shame we didn't get to see more of what this guy could do.

The Detective '68

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 December 2019 in Jay's Living Room (watching discs, Blu-ray)

I had intended to watch the The Detective a week earlier, as a double feature with Die Hard, doubling down on the gag of watching that at Christmas by following a connection that has been deliberately obscured (the original novel by Roderick Thorp spawned a sequel named "Nothing Lasts Forever" that would be modernized and adapted twenty years later, with Fox still contractually obligated to offer it to Frank Sinatra before going with Bruce Willis). It's a surprisingly interesting film even without that connection.

Sinatra stars as Detective Sergeant Joe Leland, called in to investigate the grisly murder of the gay son of a prominent businessman, and he may just be the best person for the job, in that he's probably much less homophobic than the rest of the force, though he doesn't quite move easily in the academic circles of his wife Karen (Lee Remick). He methodically follow the trail until he arrives at the man's lover Felix (Tony Musante), and is awarded with a promotion to lieutenant. Soon a widow (Jacqueline Bisset) tells him there is something suspicious about her husband's suicide, and tugging at that string leads him to a great deal more than he bargained for.

The actual crime stories aren't that big a deal here. Indeed, neither is large enough to span the entire film, to the extent that even when the stories tie together, they still feel more like a relay than a single unit. The film could split into two episodes of a television crime drama without much effort, and it would be an interesting show, equally focused on the legwork of solving crimes and the attempts to change police culture. A number of scenes built around cops closing ranks around an officer who shot a civilian remain remarkably relevant fifty years later, except that audiences might have a harder time believing that someone who grew up in the system like Leland would be so squarely on the side of the civil-rights attorneys. Director Gordon Douglas and screenwriter Abby Mann do a fair job of explaining the real-estate corruption Leland finds as well.

Full review at eFilmCritic

El Bar (The Bar)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 29 December 2019 in Jay's Living Room (watching discs, Blu-ray)

Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia never really became popular in the United States, the way some European filmmakers do, but there was a decade or so when you could reasonably expect his films to show up somewhere, if not necessarily in the big multiplexes: They'd be on the genre film festival circuit, sometimes making it into the more mainstream fests, get picked up by an indie distributor with the reach to get them into boutique and repertory theaters (if only for late shows) and then onto store shelves once they were on disc. Between the business and his output changing to different degrees, that's no longer the case, to the point where I had to import a copy of his 2017 film from overseas. It's a perfectly fine movie, if not as crazy as some of his earlier work, and it seems like it should be easier to see it.

It starts with snatches of phone conversations on the streets of Madrid that leads a few people to wind up in a somewhat rundown bar/cafe run by Amparo (Terele Pávez): Elena (Blanca Suárez) is trying to meet a first date, got lost, and has ducked in hoping to charge her phone; Sergio (Alejandro Awada) is a traveling salesman; Trini (Carmen Machi) is a regular who mostly plays the slot machines. Already there are bartender Sátur (Secun de la Rosa), retired policeman Andrés (Joaquín Climent), and Nacho (Mario Casas), headphones on and kind of oblivious to the world. Two people who don't look to be in great shape soon follow, one heading straight to the restroom and Israel (Jaime Ordóñez), homeless and possibly mentally ill, accepting a little charity from Amparo. There are a couple of others, but they're not really worth mentioning, as a sniper takes them out as soon as they leave. The street clears, the already-shoddy cellular service gets worse, and while everyone is panicking and diving for cover, the bodies disappear, leading everyone in the bar to wonder just what is going on and if any of the other people in this small room is so dangerous that it's worth shooting anyone who may have come in contact with them.

The answer to that is pretty clear from the opening credits, even if they don't specify the exact form of contagion that the group may have been exposed to. The script by de la Iglesia and regular collaborator Jorge Guerricaechevarría is, by and large, what it looks like on the surface - clues doled out early on tend to support the most obvious reading and attempts to hint at something else are usually not just red herrings, but often ones that come across as people acting suspicious more because the filmmakers need to draw things out a bit than anything else, and any satire or other commentary about the draconian methods of the authorities is hindered by the decision to stay inside the bar. There are hints of it, as well as of class issues, but de la Iglesia either rushes past them or lingers on the obvious.

Full review at eFilmCritic

The Maze (1953)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 December 2019 in Jay's Living Room (watching discs, Blu-ray)

Old dark house movies can be fun, but they can be thin, and when the filmmakers don't really seem to care if it all adds up, kind of frustrating. The Maze has the novelty of being in 3D to keep those watching it that way but still stretches to hit eighty minutes, and it makes me wonder just how much of a hatchet was taken to Maurice Sandoz's novel to get it down to that size, and what the explanations for some of the weirdness was that went out. As screwy as the big revelation is, I don't know that the sheer stress of living with it would have aged generations of men so badly.

It's kind of fun regardless, in large part thanks to leading lady Veronica Hurst as a finacée who just won't take no for an answer and just keeps plugging away at figuring out why her baronet would give up all this hotness to live in a drafty unmodernized castle, alone but for creepy servants. The movie keeps going due to Kitty's persistence and Hurst's light touch with it. Richard Carlson hits a nice note between tragic hero and potentially possessed/threatening lord of the manner as said fiancé, with Michael Pate a creepy servant.

William Cameron Menzies was the production designer as well as director, which is a nice combination to have for a 3D movie, creating some nice depth and eerie settings . The film ends by revealing a "monster" that is equal parts silly and weirdly effective, both visually and just in terms of what it is. It's kind of jaw-droppingly insane, but also kind of grand enough that one almost wishes it wasn't trapped in this sort of B-movie but something more ambitious. Which, in a way, makes the film itself more interestingly ambitious than it looks, if only for a few moments at the end.

Anna and the Apocalypse
Ip Man 4
Zombie Musical
Streaming sci-fi TV
Spies in Disguise
The Detective
The Bar
The Maze

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