Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Welcome Back to Kendall Square: Save Yourselves! and On the Rocks

It was my birthday earlier this weekend, and since it's 2020, treating myself to a double feature seems like an extreme indulgence. Landmark Kendall Square opened around the same time as everyone else, with Tenet, and it seems to be doing better than most of the more mainstream multiplexes keeping interesting things on the marquee, if not necessarily getting more butts in seats: There were two other people there for Save Yourselves!, and I saw On the Rocks in their main theater alone. Unlike AMC, Regal, and Showcase, they seem to have made a conscious decision to not worry about windows right now: On the Rocks will be on Apple TV+ soon, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a Netflix movie, Time will be on Prime soon after it opens, and Save Yourselves! hit theaters four days before video. They've always been a bit more flexible on this than the other multiplex chains, but have clearly decided that now is not a great time to stand on principle if it gets butts in seats, and people desperate for a reason to get out may, semi-ironically, be happy to pay for things they would otherwise point out can be seen cheaper at home.

How wise/safe is that? Well, here's how the seating looked for screen #3:

As someone who never loved reserved seating at theaters, I find myself a bit annoyed when places don't have it these days, so that I can see what sort of crowd I'm getting into. In the lobby, the box office has been moved to the end of the concession stand and everything before barricaded off, since Massachusetts isn't allowing snacks in theaters right now, which means you've got no excuse to take your mask off during the show. The man at the box office mentioned that ushers would be performing mask checks during the show, but I didn't see them. But, then again, I sit up front so I don't see much of what's going on in the aisles.

It was Sunday, so I opted to walk. It takes roughly an hour to walk there from my apartment near Davis Square in Somerville, and it's a fairly pleasant walk - not particularly scenic, but level. I probably could have made it back home on foot, but the temperature had dropped a bit, so I took the T home (as you may recall from previous entries, I tend to feel more nervous about catching something during the 20-minute subway ride than the two-hour movie). It meant that I spotted this place as I was arriving:

It's a stupid thing, but I didn't get up to Montreal this summer and the poutine was a welcome birthday-ish treat. The gravy was relatively thin and the curds didn't quite make my teeth squeak compared to what I'm used to getting up north (still very good, with the fries just the right sort of crispiness to handle having that dumped on them). It's probably not going to be warm enough to sit outside and eat by the end of the month, but I suspect that I'll still stop there the next time I see a movie at the Kendall. There's a place that's opened up where the day care center used to be that sells ice cream, some mostly-vegetarian small plates, and booze, with orders placed via your phones and delivered to outdoor seating, and the set-up almost makes it feel like an outdoor concession stand, although I don't believe it and the theater are more than neighbors.

As always, it's hard not to note the paradoxes of going out to see movies right now, in that it's only really comfortable when there seemingly aren't enough people to make it a viable business, and because the state has probably put unfair restrictions on theaters: I'm not sure why restaurants and bars can have (limited) indoor food service but a movie theater can't sell sealed candies and drinks. I have no idea how much everyone pointed the same direction with taped-off seats keeping them separated mitigates possible spread rather than having folks facing each other and potentially eating off each other's plates helps, but it kind of feels like theaters are either getting a raw deal here or, alternately, are the only ones being held to sensible standards.

(It would be cool if theaters had signage or information on their website about whether they'd updated air circulation systems while they were closed or how safe they are, so folks could make more informed decisions. It's part of the things they talk about as part of their safety standards, but it's something that has been applied very unevenly!)

Anyway, I enjoyed seeing these two on the big screen, enjoyed my poutine, and hope I managed to be reasonably safe. Having now seen four movies in theaters in just over a week after just one over the previous six months, I worry that I'm talking myself into believing what I want in terms of safety rather than being sensible, but so long as it's just us die-hards who don't mind wearing a mask and not snacking, this probably isn't terribly high-risk.

Save Yourselves

* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 October 2020 in Landmark Kendall Square #3 (first-run, DCP)

Save Yourselves! is an enjoyable-enough bit of sci-fi-slash-millennial self parody that starts to run out of steam well before it hits the 90-minute "real feature" mark, but makes it there because of the on-screen pair being pretty likable despite being thin and basic types. A good high concept and a good idea of where one's target audience and the targets of one's jokes intersect can get a movie fairly far.

The pair are Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds), a Brooklyn couple starting to feel like they spend too much time scrolling separate devices in the same room. At an engagement party, they run into Jack's friend Raph (Ben Sinclair), who has chucked the rat race to do things like installing solar panels in South America and renovating his late grandfather's cabin upstate. The pair take him up on his offer to stay there a week, planning to turn off their phones for the duration - just as specks in the sky behind them start moving in an unnatural way.

The audience is in for an hour and a half with Sunita Mani and John Reynolds, and the good news is that they're enjoyable company. Filmmakers Alex Huston Fischer & Eleanor Wilson start from a familiar basis - Jack is the guy who is still kind of childish and hobby-obsessed in his mid-thirties, probably about ten years away from being the sitcom dad who just doesn't understand the things outside his wheelhouse, while Su is the sensible, focused partner who keeps him on track - but the filmmakers and cast are clever in how they go about it: Jack can't be nearly as dumb as he often looks, and Su's sensibility can easily become absurd in its own way. The pair play off each other extremely well, too - Reynolds gushes in a way that seems genuine rather than hammy, while Mani is able to counter that with withering looks and quick responses that hit even better because they are flailing and intense in their own way.

The movie works like that in general - take out the alien invasion, and there's a fairly decent "people in their thirties who haven't learned what used to be basic life skills yet" comedy there, and Wilson & Fischer have good instincts on when to let it roll as-is and when to add a little more kick by having something apocalyptic play out in the corner. By the time that stuff takes center stage, the audience likes these two enough to hope they somehow survive regardless, and seldom take any delight in them falling short. The lack of truly mean-spirited jokes makes the second half flow well, although not having some other element to push against makes things feel a little more random in the back half, like Fischer & Wilson don't quite have a place they want it to go.

Something that may seem small but which is the big thing that keeps it from falling apart is that the "pouffes" are the sort of thing that would have been good as classic Doctor Who villains, simple and practical but able to be threatening even when they should play as completely ridiculous. There's never a moment when the amount of CGI that this sort of independent film can afford becomes an impediment to believing what's on screen. Screw that up and it's a very different movie and a lot less fun.

But they don't, and while this isn't a movie that particularly has to worry about aging well - it's thoroughly contemporary, so who cares if it looks goofy in ten years? - it works very well in the current moment. Maybe it doesn't have any particular wisdom about that moment, but it's got plenty of jokes that hit without being cruel, and maybe you don't need a lot of wisdom when the world is often random and absurd anyway.

Also at eFilmCritic

On the Rocks

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 October 2020 in Landmark Kendall Square #1 (first-run, DCP)

The viewer can't help but wonder just how much of Sofia Coppola's relationship with her own larger than life father is in this movie, but maybe said viewer will also wonder just how much she (like other people who were born into the arts and a certain amount of money) don't know about everyday life outside it, especially when she tries to have a character talk about their job and business and it sounds like stuff she's picked up from other movies. That's not really the point of this movie, but there are more than a few moments while watching it when one might wonder just what Marlon Wayans's Dean does, or if parents today really have to drop their kids off at school individually, leading to chatting with the same person waiting in line every day. Does this ring true?

Not that it really matters; the movie is about a father and daughter whose relationship is mostly pretty good but where his history of infidelity has both of them looking over their shoulder at when the other shoe may drop, while he's still trying to figure out how he relates to women as family. For a while, one might also wonder why it's coming from the daughter's point of view when Bill Murray is doing the most interesting work as the father, finding different ways to be semi-blank for a shallow flirtiness and for not understanding how to function in certain sorts of relationships, but his being disconnected and unknowable is half the point. He's fun to examine but you've got to be a little worried that there's not more below the charming surface, whereas Rashida Jones does a nice enough job of bringing Laura to life that the performance is, for better or worse, invisible; there's not the same door into something unusual and specific as there is with Murray most of the time.

The movie's slight, but still pretty charming. There's a bit in the middle that's kind of a great car chase despite not really being one at all, and the whole thing often becomes surprisingly earnest without that being any sort of gotcha. She and cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd shoot on film and seem to capture the always-under-construction New York City better than most, finding neighborhoods and streets that look like people are moving in and out with stores opening, closing, and remodeling, and it makes the late-movie trip to Mexico hit different because it's all so manicured and finished aside from the brighter sun and sea colors.

In fun/weird credits: I've never seen an actor credited as having his own music supervisor before. What did Paul Schaeffer do here, advise Coppola on what sort of music an older but kind of hip guy like Murray's Felix would listen to or reference? Nice work to get your name into the main titles!

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