Tuesday, January 17, 2023

This Week in Tickets: 2 January 2023 - 15 January 2023 (Being Also a Reassessment of This Blog's Purpose Going Forward)

Holy crap, have I really not done one of these since mid-2020, when it was all virtual tickets because of the pandemic? That's crazy! But also not - I've been logging on Letterboxd pretty constantly since March 2017, and that's easy. I can do it on my phone while on the train back from the theater, without dinking around too much with HTML formatting or image maps or the like. People occasionally like my reviews, for a little fun feedback.

Whereas this blog, well, it's been languishing. The pandemic did a number on moviegoing, my ability to concentrate, the structure of my day and life. None of that is actually from the virus, really, but over that period also became pretty clear that this blog isn't going to lead to anything more than it has: Nobody's going to pay me to write movie reviews, eFilmCritic went off-line with a server crash back in March and now looks even more dead with the URLs directing to some new place. A friend asked last year if I'd be interested in doing an episode of his podcast, and because I'm terrible I haven't responded (I wanted to clear some other projects off first, but…). I can't imagine setting up my own podcast or substack or what have you. There's a really good argument that this blog only still exists so that I can apply for a press pass at Fantasia.

(Which, don't get me wrong, is a great reason to do a blog! I'd buy one if the option was available, to be honest, because I've got a pretty decent day job as far as being able to afford movie stuff goes.)

So, why have I pulled this out of the mothballs? Because it's fun to look at. Because I have been buying calendars for the past few years and taping movie tickets into them, and because my mother getting me a travel scrapbook for Christmas has reminded me that people do enjoy that sort of artifact. Because, dang it, I like structure, and I like doing a second draft of the stuff I write on Letterboxd after I've had a little more time to think it over.

As for the blog in general, I'm going to try and take inspiration for the name that friend I mentioned earlier had for his seldom-updated (and now likely forgotten) blog, which was along the lines of "Adventures in Moviegoing". There will be Film Rolls, because that is fun and random. There will be the times I go to a new theater and check it out, or the times I go to something that is out of my comfort zone or whose booking seems random enough to be interesting. One thing I've realized over the past few years is that the world doesn't really need another middle-aged white guy breaking down Marvel stuff - there are dozens of those, and many good enough to get paid for it. I'm not going to get paid, I'm not going to get famous enough to be a popular podcast guest, so I can just see new stuff and maybe have something to say about what I got from it.

Anyway, that's what I want this blog to be: A place for me to occasionally go long, reconsider, and write about watching a lot of movies, with no worries that it will lead to anything else.

So, now that that's done, it's on to the diary!

This Week in Tickets
This Week in Tickets
Not a terribly busy first week of the year, my first venture out of the house was for Bones and All, a pretty-looking movie that didn't seem to know what to do with its main premise. After that, there were a couple things for Film Rolls, and I'm going to save my writing for the for when I've caught up, X Y & Zee and A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die!. I won't be writing much about them for This Week in Tickets while I'm trying to catch up, but they will be getting full posts later.

Friday night, I headed up to Fresh Pond for The Old Way, a Nicolas Cage western that seemed to be getting a four-walled release and didn't deserve much more. Saturday's matinee was Battle on Buka Street, which is, I think, my first Nollywood movie and part of the whole "adventures in moviegoing" deal, the sort of global-mainstream thing that gets me kind of excited to put something in the blog.

Saturday night, I did a Film Rolls double feature because both The Girl Most Likely to… and The Mobfathers were short. After that, it was off to Texas for a week of "P.I. Planning", which sadly does not involve private investigators of any sort but attempting to figure out when you're going to be doing all your work for the next fiscal quarter. It's not quite futile, but it's not far off in my case, but I did get to meet a few colleagues I'd only talked to over the phone and sketch stuff on a whiteboard for an hour with one, which was probably worth the last six months of Teams meetings.

Once back home, I headed to the Somerville for the Brattle's special presentation of RRR, which is a heck of a movie. I started a Film Rolls watch of Coffin Homes too late, which means I'll probably need to rewatch it when I catch up to it in the review-writing, as I did with Project A and Wicked City on Sunday, with a trip downtown for Babylon in between.

Funny thing about that trip - though the Green Line Extension should, theoretically, get me right to the Boylston station and the Boston Common theater, on Sunday it only got me as far as Lechmere, where another car was stopped in front of us, which we all moved to and then waited a bit for that one to take us to North Station, where we got on shuttle buses for Government Center because a building was being demolished. From there I figured hoofing it to the theater would get me there faster than waiting for another train, and I still needed every bit of AMC's 20 minutes of trailers to almost make it to the start of the movie on time (apparently, I missed an elephant taking a huge dump). Not exactly what I was hoping for from this new route, although I do think slightly worn out is the right way to see that movie, albeit with a little room for it to wear you out further.

So, that's the first two weeks of the year! As always, you can follow me on Letterboxd for first drafts with all the spelling errors you'd expect from someone used to a proper keyboard swiping their phone on the subway!

Bones and All

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2023 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

Bones and All is the sort of movie where you can see pretty clearly why the cast would jump all over the script - there's good stuff for an actor to work with, and one would think Luca Guadagnino would provide strong direction - but the final film feels like the filmmakers were counting on the premise and the talent being enough to maintain the audience's interest. It's close, but the fact that this group has some sort of cannibalistic mutation almost feels unimportant most of the time. The most notable thing about the movie is barely in the background, even though it's too big a deal to treat like a minor detail.

It's not quite a dull slog - the cast is too good. Taylor Russell's Maren is always compelling, a believably confused adolescent who is going to come into her own even despite that, while Timothée Chalamet plays the other eater she meets as a likably tortured sort of cool. Even poor Mark Rylance as the most clichéd monster of the group. It's very nice-looking in a way that's not flashy, embracing the way rural America can give this sort of dark secret a place to hide without fetishizing or looking down on the places. Title cards show their journey but also highlight just how anonymous the interior of the country may seem.

Still, despite the occasional grisly reminder of how the eaters' appetites can only be satisfied with murder, it's a movie that never seems to have an answer for Maren's questions about how people who eat other people are supposed to live with themselves. Too often, it is just the wrong combination of active and slack in its background building, raising questions that are just too potentially interesting to be abandoned as they are. In at least one case, almost unforgivable clumsy, tripping up when Maren and Lee encounter another outsider of a different sort. It's too big a premise for as little as the filmmakers do beyond having its two kids go on a road trip.


X Y & Zee (aka Zee and Co.)

Seen 3 January 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

I will expand upon this more when I get to this point with the Film Rolls posts, but two things struck me:

(1) Susanna York's Stella is just too good to have to put up with either of the other characters' nonsense, and I don't see why she's so readily seduced. She can do so much better than Michael Caine's obvious cad!

(2) Speaking of Michael Caine being an obvious cad, what was the point, in the 50 years since this film came out, did he stop taking roles where he was clearly a nasty piece of work from the start? He'll occasionally play a guy who is revealed to be a villain, but even then he's still kind of avuncular and charming. Maybe it's just how he aged, but there was something thrilling about how vitally hard-edged he could be


Una ragione per vivere e una per morire (A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die)

Seen 4 January 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

Speaking of enjoyably hard-edged leading men, James Coburn will always be one of my favorites; he always feels like he's enjoying himself in these spaghetti westerns in a way that the anti-heroes played by, say, Clint Eastwood don't.


The Girl Most Likely To…

Seen 7 January 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

It's always a bit weird to see folks one first encountered as supporting character actors in their middle age as young sex symbols, as with Stockard Channing here. It's especially the case given that her voice didn't really change afterward, and the Joan Rivers dialogue she's given never really sounds like it's coming from a young person, because I suspect that even when she was that age, Rivers had the soul of a veteran borscht belt comic.


Suen lo chor (The Mobfathers)

Seen 7 January 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

What an odd mix of personalities this has - Chapman To is capable of playing a ruthless gangster (he's terrifically fierce in G Affairs), but it never seems to come naturally to him, so this film always feels like it's going to veer off into a comedic direction, and Herman Yau's direction is pure B-movie get-a-good-enough-take-and-move-on, with the CGI blood making a movie that is serious at heard more comedic.


RRR (Rise Roar Revolt)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2023 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Some of the Best and Biggest of 2022, laser-projected DCP)

The folks making RRR know that it's going to be a big deal from the very first frames and never back down from it being that sort of grand, glorious bit-of-everything epic, and who would want it to ? It's so all-out that it almost has to be perfect to avoid falling on its face, but heck if it doesn't just about manage that. It's the biggest, most sincere bromance possible with the John Woo-i-est action you can get.

One doesn't make a comparison to Woo lightly, especially given that director S.S. Rajamouli's brand of action is much closer to a live-action cartoon than Woo's, but one gets the same feeling from it: The staging is noticeably better than average, and he's got the same ability to use melodrama as fuel. The film has three terrific set-pieces even before the main title, the sort that one might say are good enough to be another movie's grand finale, but that's not quite right; the quality is there, but they are each very much built to accomplish something very specific, part of the rhythm of the film rather than show-stoppers. It's the bit just before intermission that really feels climactic, especially considering how it calls back to the water/fire symbolism of the start in a way that feels full-circle even though there's half the film to go.

Did I flag a tiny bit in the second half? Maybe; the hard turn at the interval always seemed to open new and exciting directions in the previous Indian movies I've watched but mostly seemed like something to play out here. That's not necessarily a complaint; as much as I enjoyed the way the first half formed a nifty little knot while still leaving room to play, it's hard to complain about this being all the way in on all the things, and it does pay off in an absolutely crazy finale that maybe loses a bit in how the Brits are never in the same league as Bheem & Raju (watch this and tell me that people are growing tired of superheroes), but makes up for it with impressive "screw these guys" energy.

Anyway, someone please put this out on 3D and 4K discs, so I can have just a bit more excess and can watch it any time in its full glory. I know Indian films don't often get that, but this one is an exception, obviously!


Gwai tung nei jyu (Coffin Homes)

Seen 14 January 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

It's odd that my first encounter with Fruit Chan was the sleek, star-packed "Dumplings" short in Three… Extreme, a genuinely unnerving bit of horror, because he seems most at home when he's not just indie but nearly underground, and he doesn't quite get close enough to that vibe here. I'll need to give it another look when I come close to catching up, but he seems to have a hard time finding the vibe where satire is absurd and the horror is unsettling, let alone where these things can reinforce each other.


Babylon

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 January 2023 in AMC Boston Common #1 (first-run, DCP)

I almost feel like writer/director Damien Chazelle (and composer Justin Hurwitz) had a few bars of music pop into their heads and decided to build a movie to fit it. The result is often ungainly and unbalanced, with a couple subplots too many because Chazelle was all too well aware of how other movies about early Hollywood left folks out and wouldn't let it happen in his, even if it turns out to be too much.

It's supposed to be too much, though - making movies is fun and exhilarating and exhausting, with success depending as much on lucky breaks as genius, and the first couple acts are like that, an endless party and a first day on-set that is mad and glorious. It's funny when the film gets to how new technology and progress can reduce this joyous, improvisational experience to rote mark-hitting, a clear reference for how indie filmmakers get swallowed by the green-screened blockbusters they "move up" to as well as a representation of the switch to sound, probably the single funniest sequence that also shows the most care in the film. Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie are obvious but excellent casting as the earnest but hollow matinee idol and the self-destructive sexpot, and there are great bits of casting throughout, from Li Jun Li as a clear Anna May Wong surrogate to Olivia Hamilton as the director who quickly realizes that Robbie's Nellie is, in fact, a movie star (probably my favorite character, really) and on to the end.

I wonder about the last act. I've made the mistake of reading enough IMDB biographies of charismatic folks with seven-year careers in early Hollywood to have few illusions about how this story ends, but the film turns grotesque enough that I wonder if it's being drawn from specific bits of history or present day ugliness that Chazelle has encountered in Hollywood himself, or if the climax should be so dramatic or drawn-out. But, after a bit of thought, it's the flip side of the dark humor of the first half, where I laughed at some mean jokes that aren't quite so funny once you've spent three hours getting to know these people. I'm not sure it entirely lands - there's a thin line between sentimentality and tragedy that the last ten minutes or so doesn't quite walk - but it comes close enough to get a pass.

(I do enjoy seeing the credits roll with Tobey Maguire listed as an executive producer and imagining him saying his company will get behind the film if he gets to play the weird little freak)

Chazzelle doesn't quite get a big hit from his big swing, but there's a lot here that I personally love even if it won't play for everyone, and I thank the filmmakers for that, at least.

Bones and All X Y and Zee A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die The Old Way Battle on Buka Street The Girl Most Likely To… & The Mobfathers RRR Coffin Homes Project A Babylon The Wicked City

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