Tuesday, July 07, 2020

This Week in (Virtual) Tickets: 29 June 2020 - 5 July 2020

Holidays are weird in general right now, but this one seems like it was just set up mess with me.

This Week in Tickets

So, the actual holiday is on a Saturday, so my employer gives us Friday off, and then has an early end-of-day on Thursday, but it all feels like a long regular weekend because all the stuff that would usually go with the Fourth aren't happening because nobody is crowding onto the Esplanade yet. I don't know to what extent a lot of people are for a "USA, yeah!" festival given how we're kind of not in great shape right now and the reasons for that.

That early day on Thursday without necessarily needing to get up the next morning gave me plenty of time that evening to go for a double feature I'd been planning for a while: City Without Baseball & Dealer/Healer, just under the wire before the Red Sox started their "summer camp". It turned out not to be a particularly clever one - though they share a director, he's not exactly an auteur, as likely as not just brought in to be a steady hand for rookie filmmaker Scud. It's interesting, at least.

Friday evening's movie was part of the "don't let it even make it to the 'unwatched' shelf" effort, in this case the new Blu-ray of Narrow Margin, which I hadn't seen for years but quite liked when I first saw it on video in high school or college. I may have only just watched the original version for the first time about eight months ago (and am somewhat shocked to see that the only way to purchase a physical copy is a discontinued noir box set), but they turn out to be a nice pair, both high-quality examples of b-movies for their period.

That gets us to Saturday and the Fourth of July, and obviously that night's movie is going to be Jaws. Normally, the Brattle would be building a week of "nightmare vacation" movies around showing it on 35mm film, but that's obviously out the window. Which means that, yeah, watching a movie about people dying because the government insisted on opening the economy in the face of an obvious threat would be kind of on the nose even if there wasn't video coming in from the UK of the pubs being open and crowded because their Prime Minister has said the mayor is the real hero of that movie and apparently decided to emulate him. But, counterpoint, there is never actually a bad time to watch Jaws.

The week then wrapped with Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, since I'd finished the third series earlier in the week (on one of those blank days) in anticipation of this arriving in the mail. Kind of a disappointment - setting sail for new locales means leaving behind all the things in the show's Melbourne setting that allow it to run smoothly, and the filmmakers don't find adequate substitutes - but it's still another couple episode's worth of the frisky/cozy series, which can't be a complete loss.

I would have been leaving for Montreal this Thursday if not for all this (gestures at everything), so I won't be putting my Letterboxd page under quite the strain I might have otherwise, though hopefully it will get a few more entries than normal..

Narrow Margin

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

I'm not sure why, exactly, this one grabbed me when I pulled it off a shelf of a video store when it was a relatively new release; maybe as a 20-year-old I just hadn't seen a whole lot of movies that were pitched to adults and turned out to be relatively low-key. Heck, seeing the Carolco logo on something that wasn't blockbuster-style threw me a bit - they were the studio of things like Terminator 2, Total Recall, and Cutthroat Island, not this sort of modest thriller!

Revisiting it for the first time in a while (and having seen the film it remade recently), I can see that it is, in fact, good. Not great, but like its predecessor, awfully darn solid, a bit better than expected in every area, from the terrific group of character actors that writer/director/cinematographer Peter Hyams surrounds Gene Hackman with to stunt/green screen work that is awfully convincing for 1990, really only leaving a moment or two when one clearly sees a seam during the climax - the sort of movie where one might say, yeah, folks are pretty clearly being doubled here, but the stunt work itself is exceptional. Hyams was clever in remaking a B-movie that demonstrated a strong foundation but hadn't quite attained classic status, and not quite keeping it at the same scale but doing the late-80s equivalent and dialing it up a notch or two. Gene Hackman is Gene Hackman, just exactly what the movie needs.

Seeing it close to The Narrow Margin, I almost think that this is the platonic idea of what a remake should be - upgraded but not wiping out the feel of the original, remixing the original ideas in such a way that it has a surprise or two for fans who know the story but doesn't sell things out, feeling of its time. If studios are going to raid the vaults for new takes on proven material, this is the way to go about it.


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

This is, somehow, Steven Spielberg's second theatrical feature, despite being ridiculously assured in a way that seems like it would suggest a veteran. Instead, Spielberg and a great cast take something that could be little more than a B-movie and make it a classic through sheer force of doing everything right even when the actual shark is clearly not able to pull its weight. The resources poured into that shark and the shooting on the open sea probably keep it from ever being a real "B", but after a number of times re-watching this film, you don't necessarily discover new layers so much as you see just how well the layer it has is put together, with neither cut corners nor waste.

Part of that is John Williams, of course; I've spent a fair amount of the past half-year pointing out how Williams's work inspires a knee-jerk reaction by now, but unless his disaster-movie scores have penetrated the public consciousness more than I realized, this is his first one that really just wormed its way into the general public's heads enough to really have meaning and trigger something for almost anybody who hears it. On the day I write/post this, we're mourning the loss of Ennio Morricone, and there's probably nobody else who fits quite the same slot as Williams in terms of how their collaborations have become iconic in this way.

It sounds good coming out of the new 4K UltraHD disc that Universal released last month, although the picture for me is the part that is really eye-popping. It's distractingly good, like something this high-quality really shouldn't be shrunk down to fit in one's living room without compromise, a reminder of just how great an image 35mm film could capture and how home formats are still lagging behind even after several waves of new formats that have amazed people in just how good these films they'd only seen in some lesser way could look.

What I thought back in 2012

City Without Baseball & Dealer/Healer
Narrow Margin
Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears

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