Tuesday, June 02, 2020

These Weeks in (Virtual) Tickets: 18 May 2020 - 31 May 2020

Putting a ticket to a ballgame that wasn't played in because I'd like to see the page broken up a little and to remind me later that all of this doing nothing wasn't entirely a choice. I might very well have been weak given the option.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

I got a late start actually watching movies a couple weeks ago because I wanted to spend evenings writing up the really good movies I'd seen the week before, and I try not to write and watch at the same time. Heck, I may still have been writing when I decided to grab The Great Wall off the shelf. It's still one of the most bizarre productions I can remember seeing, like nobody between Universal and Legendary and the Chinese co-producers and the cast was on the same page. The next night I pulled Night Train to Munich off the "unseen recent arrivals" shelf, figuring that maybe I'd to a Charters & Caldicott binge, only to discover that I had seen it before, although I certainly appreciated bits of it more this time around, even if I do find a long stretch rough.

The rest of the weekend wound up being 3-D stuff, with Saturday's show being one that I thought I might have seen - Tsui Hark's The Taking of Tiger Mountain. Not only had I not seen it, but I grumbled about not having the chance to see it during its tiny North American release, and while five years later I'm probably a little more leery about this sort of Chinese "main melody" movie, I really would have liked to see Tsui Hark doing these big action-adventure things on the big screen. Then on Saturday afternoon, L.A. 3-D SPACE had another Online 3-D Movie Festival, with a much more solid line-up of movies than the one from three weeks earlier. Afterward, I followed up with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, mostly for a little bit more 3D although as I was starting it clicked that the spelunking documentary short was my favorite part of the earlier program.

A couple days later, I started dipping back into the local theaters' offerings with Lucky Grandma, a nifty little bag-of-money movie that feels different with an elderly woman at its center rather than the usual hapless young men. Then on Thursday, I finally got around to watching Up from the Streets on its last day streaming via the Coolidge, and wished I'd enjoyed it a little more.

Friday… Well, Friday was a crazy day in America and after refreshing Twitter and news feeds all day, and that wasn't great, so I capped it off with Mad Max: Fury Road, which really never fails to hit the spot, and then I pretty much spent the weekend on crossword puzzles and more scrolling social media to see what insanity was happening.

Gonna try not to do that this week, with some things planned and some things likely to show up on my Letterboxd page on a whim.

The Great Wall

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-ray)

As I mentioned above, and in my original review, this thing feels like nobody outside of Zhang Yimou really had a handle on what sort of movie they were making, with much of the cast either trying to be too serious or mailing it in because it was a silly thing, while Zhang just has a blast, using that Hollywood special effects money as best he can, never really to elevate or add extra weight to a script that hits all the marks but never really finds good moments in between them. Nobody on set seems to have the heart to tell Matt Damon that his ability to do an accent ranges from Somerville to Southie and his British is weird.

But it's still a lot of fun, in part because it is so utterly absurd, with the Chinese half of the cast taking it completely in stride while the westerners are freaking out, although William's impossible skill with a bow puts him in the same movie. The visual effects that were a little rough in 2016-2017 haven't necessarily aged better than others from that era, but there's just enough creativity and artistry to how they're used that what they're getting across still looks great.

One thing that's kind of funny about rewatching it for me is that the score is one that has been on my tablet and cloud music selections for the past three years, to the point where seeing action with familiar motifs is kind of strange. It's also fairly clear watching it that some bits of action were clearly built for 3D, to the point where I may order a disc of that sort from Hong Kong should it drop below $15 or so.

Full review from 2017

Night Train to Munich

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 23 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-ray)

Night Train to Munich is not quite so good as The Lady Vanishes, but on third viewing, it has some awfully impressive pieces. I really love the first half of this movie, with miniatures and matte paintings that give the adventure a sense of scale that it might not otherwise have had. One also can't help but be impressed by the filmmakers' visceral revulsion at the Nazis, which seems to go well past the party line. The final action bit is genuinely nifty as well, drawn out and built out of the heroes being much better shots than the villains though it may be. They cut it together exceptionally.

Unfortunately, there's a lull in the second half that swaps a little too much tension for comedy, too confidently playing the spy game like a game. That very much includes Charters & Caldicott - the reason why this movie will forever be compared to Hitchcock's; they were fun oddball bits of an ensemble in their first appearance but too active here, perhaps the first in a long line of characters who were so well-liked at first that they were subsequently given bigger parts than they deserved.

What I thought way back in 2004

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 3D Blu-ray)

What I said back in 2011 still holds; this is a documentary that earns both its extra length over the typical science-museum fare and its third dimension for how it really brings out the shape of the cave and its walls. It's a film full of honest wonder that doesn't need further embellishment, and sometimes it almost seems to throw director Wener Herzog - there's not that much to look at from an odd perspective, really, and trying to be more philosophical can get into a strangely abstract position.

Still, just look at it. It's not quite the only tour you can have of one of the world's most ancient cultural artifacts (I saw an amazing reproduction at the Montreal Science Museum once), but it's certainly the most accessible and most impactful

What I thought way back in 2011

Up from the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Room, internet)

It sometimes feels a bit like missing the point to review a documentary like one is grading an English paper, but somewhere about two-thirds the way through Up From the Streets, I noticed that a half-dozen people had referred to "Mardi Gras Indians" as an influence on various musicians but aside from the occasional cut-away, the filmmakers never get into what that group's deal is. It's even stranger when you consider that this 105-minute movie has at least 18 chapter titles, so maybe there would have been a spot for that. I get it - it's a thing that comes across as tacky and appropriating i contrast to the rest of the movie - but it's also an indication that writer/director Michael Murphy could have done much better in drawing up his plans for how to cover so much history in so little time.

Instead, those 18 chapters are each only able to give a quick look at some particular aspect or figure from New Orleans's musical history, and it creates this odd sensation of a high-level overview that you still have to be somewhat familiar with the material to appreciate. It's pleasant enough to watch - it's still New Orleans and it's still great music, even if there aren't showstopping numbers to highlight how great this is.
There's probably a terrific Ken Burns-style miniseries to be made from this material (if Burns's Jazz isn't NOLA-specific enough), but at 105 minutes, very little gets enough spotlight to fire the imagination, or even make one fall in love.

Mad Max: Fury Road

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 29 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-ray)

I've purchased this movie on disc twice (one 3D, one 4K) but may not have actually watched it at home yet because it's had enough repertory screenings and re-releases to scratch the itch on a big screen; in a number of ways. Still, none of that's happening right now and the events of the day put me in the mood.

It's a little odd to see something that you'd seen exclusively in theaters alone at home; Fury Road being a crowd-pleaser and something that builds up ambient emotion has become so much a part of how I've experienced it (along with the soundtrack as part of a rotation as mentioned with The Great Wall) that having it all to myself seems a little strange. It's still flat-out great, but seeing it like this makes one focus a little more on how it's precise and planned, rather than just getting caught up in it. One does still get caught up - it's that good - and marvel at just how well it stick together.

The 4K disc looks incredible, as much for the HDR colors as the actual resolution (it's an upconvert from a 2K source/intermediate). As much as I found the "black & chrome" version fun and a nifty way to re-experience the movie, it will probably never be my preferred version; the color is so beautiful in this movie that I can't really treat it like an afterthought. I do kind of wish that the 3D and flat versions would use alternate shots/renders in some cases, though; for as gorgeous as this disc looks, there are some bits that mostly seem built for 3D. They don't all quite look odd flattened - some show off extreme foreground/background well, like the flares - but a few don't quite the format and are distracting.

What I wrote in 2015

The Great Wall
Night Train to Munich
The Taking of Tiger Mountain
L.A. 3-D SPACE Online Festival
Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Lucky Grandma
Up From the Streets
Mad Max: Fury Road

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