Tuesday, February 25, 2020

These Weeks in Tickets: 3 February 2020 - 16 February 2020

The Oscars now landing smack in the middle of the Sci-Fi Film Festival can make for some crazy time, especially when there's other stuff too.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

With the Oscars just days away, I barely had time to catch the Nominated Live-Action Shorts before the ceremony, and it was a pretty darn entertaining selection compared to the previous year's resolutely grim group. A couple days later, with a busy weekend coming up, I figured it would be a good idea to check out Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, which didn't quite feel like my thing at the time, but I was starting to feel a bit under the weather after what had just felt like a "you shouldn't eat the whole pizza" bellyache, so who knows?

Anyway, after that it was time for the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival, which I basically decided to attack on a film-by-film basis this year, rather than buying a pass and trying to hit everything. Although, surprise, the first weekend was full of good stuff - Eva Green in Proxima on opening night; the not-great Dustwalker, the new Moorhead/Benson film Synchronic, and Sea Fever on Saturday; and then Mattie Do with her new film The Long Walk first thing Sunday.

There was more at the festival that day, but I wanted to catch Downhill as part of the Hitchcock Silents series, and… Hmm, kind of problematic, although the HFA people would talk about how it's not so much Hitchcock being misogynistic, as much as a kind of messed up play star Ivor Novello wrote. That let me out just in time to get home, order a pizza, and watch the ceremony. It was fun to watch Parasite do well! I don't think anybody saw that coming, even those of us who really like Bong Joon-Ho and Korean films in general.

After that, man, my stomach just rebelled in a way I couldn't remember since whatever made me miserable after the flight home from Hong Kong last year, like my stomach was going to burst. I wound up going into CVS to buy some Pepto-Bismol but looked at how it is meant to treat nausea and diarrhea and thought, wait a minute, those things feel like they would relieve some pressure - would this make things worse? So I didn't take it and was better a day or two later. Weird.

I got out of work late-ish on Friday, so only got to the late show, Dead Dicks, which I'd missed at Fantasia, but liked well enough here. Saturday at the festival had a few that looked interesting and wound up different kinds of good enough in Volition, I Am REN, and Blood Quantum.

The next day would have been the Sci-Fi Marathon in previous years, but I opted out this year, instead opting to head to Causeway Street, which seemed to be the last place Uncut Gems was playing at non-ridiculous times. It didn't really do all that much for me, which is a shame, because I'd really liked Good Time and other movies where Adam Sandler actually made an effort. There was a framing thing meant to lead into a Q&A, but it's a long movie and I just wasn't in the mood for more Safdies & Sandler at the moment, so I hopped the Green Line to hit Donnie Yen in Enter the Fat Dragon, and I'm not gonna lie, I probably had more fun with that, even taking into account that Gems isn't really about "fun".

That brings us up to a week ago, with a couple things on my Letterboxd page since.

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 February 2020 in the ArcLight Boston #15 (first-run, DCP Wide Screen/Dolby Atmos)

Harley Quinn is a part of the DC universe that I've always liked more for the creative teams she got more than the character herself, and the current takes on her are kind of a lot more frantic than my favorites. The movie is like that too, a lot more mean-spirited and murderous than the animated series that spawned her, or the upbeat team comic that supplies this film's title and supporting cast.

That's not exactly bad, it just makes this movie much less my thing than it is others'. There's an awful lot to like about it, especially the dueling lunacy from Margot Robbie and Ewan McGregor; they turbocharge any scene they're in with Robbie able to actually make something of this impulsive, mentally unstable lady, even if the moments where the script remembers that she was a talented psychotherapist feel right on the border of being the wrong kind of forced. Robbie doesn't quite suck all of the air out of the room herself, but making the movie from Harley's point of view means the rest of the talented cast is going to have to wait for the sequel to really shine.

On the other hand, the action is poppy and fun, especially compared to the other recent DC movies that have been digital overloads even when not dour. The getting there is an issue - a pretty great sequence of Harley busting someone out of a police station starts too aburptly, to the point where it takes a couple minutes to appreciate the colorful mayhem being served up. It's second-tier superheroes done well enough that you don't need a lot going in, more than enough to work for a couple hours.

Downhill '27

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2020 in the Harvard Film Archive (Silent Hitchcock, 35mm accompanied by Bertrand & Susan Laurence)

In this film, Ivor Novello is sent further and further down the social ladder by a series of deceptive, scheming women but is eventually returned home by a group of people of color - though he doesn't actually stick around long enough to thank them - and is able to reclaim the only thing this upper-class wastrel can conceive of as important: the right to represent his school in the oldboys' rugby game.

I kid, a bit, but Roddy Berwick's journey is the sort that a certain sort of man imagines himself as being subject to, punished for being honorable or at worst flirtatious, and you kind of wonder what Novello and co-writer Constance Collier were thinking when they wrote it (heck, what does this thing look like without a woman working on it?). Novello slips into the role easily and brings plenty of charm to bear, and that's a big part of the film's charm: He starts the film with charming ne'er-do-well energy and brings a lot of charm to a part that could be nobly self-flagellating, but that's more or less saved for the last possible moment. There's some classist garbage in a lot of the early films Hitchcock made, and he never quite escaped that worldview, but this is one that looks especially ugly in retrospect, in quite a different way from how it was originally conceived of as being dark.

On the bright side, the accompaniment by the Laurences was a real highlight, bouncy and exciting to start with and able to make the roller coaster work.

Uncut Gems

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 16 February 2020 in ArcLight Boston #5 (first-run, DCP)

Uncut Gems contains a genuinely great performance by Adam Sandler in the middle of a movie that brought me irritation far more often than the promised tension. It's a strange thing, perhaps bred in part due to expectations generated externally after a few months of both pre- and post-release coverage, but watching this movie, I could see all the things that seem like they should be raising my blood pressure and how the Safdie brothers are setting it all up, but it just didn't click the way it did in Good Time. Maybe it would help if there were some visible amount of good intentions to Sandler's Howard Ratner or something other than selfishness and self-destruction, but he's just a guy one wants to get away from.

Which is good work on Sandler's part - he inhabits this guy completely, using little bits of his screen persona to grab the viewer a little more quickly without ever seeming to coast or force him into a different mold. It's not easy to create a character that does frighteningly stupid and dangerous things and make him feel genuine, and I absolutely believed in him even as he kept digging his hole. There's not a member of the cast around him that ever feels off, whether it be non-actors in heightened versions of their own personae or solid supporting types getting the reactions to Howard just right so that one can see how he's stayed afloat and maybe had some success.

It's just a lot, and maybe I'm just fortunate in not having been close enough to this particular sort of dysfunction for the film to resonate with me. I spent a lot more time wanting the film to end than caught up in it, and when the pre-recorded post-film Q&A was about to start, I bolted for something else rather than stick around for more of this.

Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
Boston Sci-Fi: Proxima
Boston Sci-Fi: The Dustwalker, Synchronic, Sea Fever
Boston Sci-Fi: The Long Walk

Boston Sci-Fi: Dead Dicks
Boston Sci-Fi: Volition
Boston Sci-Fi: I Am REN
Boston Sci-Fi: Blood Quantum
Uncut Gems
Enter the Fat Dragon '20

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