Tuesday, February 21, 2023

This Week in Tickets: 13 February 2023 - 19 February 2023 (A Couple of Classics)

It was a pretty good week for seeing movies on the big screen, new and old.
This Week in Tickets
I started off with the first of a couple Film Rolls things from South Korea - EXIT on Monday night and lucky Chan-Sil on Thursday, which are both relatively recent and at completely opposite ends of that country's film industry.

On Tuesday, I hit the night-before showing for Marlowe, which has a darn good pedigree - Sam Neill playing literature's second-greatest detective with Neil Jordan directing a script by William Monahan and a cast that includes Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, and Colm Meaney - but which is missing one important name in Raymond Chandler, alas.

It was back to the Common the next day for the new 3D rerelease of Titanic - I made a point to skip the Valentine's Day crowd for that one - and it's kind of mind-boggling that Cameron has only made a couple features (plus some documentary work) in a quarter-century since then, although all those movies are the sort of grand epic that few other people seem to have the ability to do.

Come the weekend, it was a couple days of noting how multiplexes seem to have grown even more hostile to folks catching two, especially if you're cutting across town. I happily caught Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on the big screen at the Coolidge - the schedule out from said "screening on digital and 35mm", although I didn't see where the 35mm times were, took the 66 back to Harvard Square to pick up the week's comics, and then wound up hanging around and grabbing a bite to eat at the Smoke Shop in Kendall Square so that I could make it to the 9:15pm show of Living, which was the most convenient time, since I'd dilly-dallied in seeing it.

And I don't just mean I'd waited until it was almost gone from local screens - I could have seen it in Dublin back in November, as that's when it was released there and in the UK, but apparently I had better things to do some evenings, though I can't imagine what.

Then, on Sunday, I'd kind of hoped to pair something else with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, but the 4pm showtimes for the Imax 3D presentations really don't lend to that. But that's okay; Sunday is crossword & grocery shopping day, after all.

The ticket kiosk ate my ticket, by the way, which is why all that stuff is written in on the page. Not as bad as Assembly Row just not having them, but, c'mon, your loyalty program's name is Stubs, and I need my stubs!

One disappointment aside, a fun week! This coming one looks interesting as well, so catch the first draft of this blog on my Letterboxd or wait around for me to consider things a bit.

Eksiteu (Exit)

Seen 13 February 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

I will, of course, go longer on this one when I reach it in the Film Rolls queue, but it's a thoroughly fun action/adventure that I could probably recommend to the family members with kids even if it's not specifically made for them. Fun, friendly, always moving forward and fairly non-violent once the inciting incident is over; I think I really would have enjoyed seeing it on the big screen, but it had it's miniature North American release right at the end of Fantasia and skipped Boston anyway. I'd feel kind of dumb if I could have seen it in Montreal, so I won't be looking that up.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2023 in AMC Boston Common #14 (25th anniversary, 3D Dolby Cinema DCP)

I'm not sure I've seen this since the original release, and might not have gone to an anniversary re-release without the 3D conversion because, like with Avatar, it is very easy to forget how effective James Cameron's movies are in the moment one you've got a little distance, seen them shrunk to the size of a television, and started to break them down into pieces. The man is a precision crafter of motion pictures, though, and knows how to make a classic story work for a broad audience as well as anybody.

Which is kind of funny - the spectacle has been the hook for Cameron since The Abyss in 1989, with story often considered secondary because he doesn't necessarily surprise or break new ground. And yet, for as much as the grandeur and obsessive detail of this movie's production design isn't nearly so overwhelming as it was 25 years ago, it never feels like it's been passed by. There's a command of the form and knowledge of what rings true here, taking a simple enough story that almost anyone can relate and finding the little details that make it feel alive. One never feels like he's switched over to "blockbuster mode" when the catastrophe and visual effects begin to take center stage, and he uses great action work and some horrific imagery to communicate the scale without changing the type of movie.

And, boy, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are great here, both at a spot to make a big leap after a few impressive parts and both exactly what the film needs, full of youthful energy, their characters more polished and rough around the edges than one might expect, and almost effortlessly in love. Cameron's going for simplicity here means they can't really work at explaining or justifying that - the audience just has to believe it - and they hit that mark. That they'd go on to excel in more cynical material enhances how perfect they were at this time, in a way; you can see them as newcomers who still have some illusions here. A special supporting cast shout out to Victor Garber, whose modest engineer is achingly tragic.

The conversion to 3D is nice, if mostly understated; I'm not sure if they did it anew with the upscale or if it's the one from the last re-release a decade ago. It shines a bit of a light on the rare digital effects that haven't aged as well as the rest throughout the film but impresses in the last act - the extra depth and mechanical structure is nice throughout, but when the stem is vertical and the camera looks down, one sees why they'd do this. The 4K upgrade is mostly impressive a swell, aside from a couple shots where it doesn't quite take; Paramount is going to sell some good looking discs later this year.

As they should. It's easy to forget just how great this is, because it hasn't really been imitated enough to be better than its imitators and romance as a genre doesn't get much respect. But it works like crazy, even when that's harder than it looks.

Chansilineun bokdo manhji (Lucky Chan-sil)

Seen 16 February 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Korean Blu-ray)

The idea of this movie that I had in my head - director Kim Cho-hee, who had spent much of her career as producer for Hong Sang-soo, making a feature about a producer who suddenly has the art-house figure she'd been working with drop dead - had more potential to be a satire that bites the hand that feeds it than Kim goes for. I'm not disappointed that she went the way she did, but no matter how warm and charming this film is, I kind of still want that other one.

As an aside, the Blu-ray edition is gorgeous from packaging to video, and the simple song over the end credits is weirdly catchy. I really wish there were more English-friendly releases like it.

Wo hu cang long (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2023 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (special engagement, DCP)

I just saw this a few years back (have we really been doing pandemic stuff for three years?), and I once again wonder if Ang Lee would have used flashbacks if the de-aging tech had been available when this came out, and what that would have been like. I think he can be trusted with it as much as anyone, but it's tough to imagine the movie being any better.

Indeed, this film is close enough to perfect that I really don't have that much to say about it: It's some of Michelle Yeoh's and Chow Yun-fat's best work, and what's kind of amazing about that is just how reserved the pair are and how much time they spend basically as sleuths working a case as opposed to would-be lovers totally focused on one another, just really beautiful jobs of revealing who they are through what they do.

And that's considering that what they do is often revealed through impossible action, with Lee and Yuen Woo-ping just making the fact that this group can run up walls and fly feel perfectly natural even though the way they stage it is telling: Chow's Li Mu Bai is a master, defying gravity casually; Zhang Ziyi's Jen is the prodigy, so even if it comes easy to her, she clearly likes to show off; Yeoh's Yu Shu Lien is not quite in the same refined air as Li, so you see her working at it, but always get the feeling that, among normal people, she's one of the best, and never actually looks bad next to the preternaturally gifted folks she meets.

Anyway, I love this movie, and am reminded why every time I see it. I don't know that the new restoration being touted is actually newer than the 4K disc I watched last time, but I have no problem with Sony coming up with a thin veneer of "look, we're going to cash in on Michelle's Oscar buzz". Hopefully they'll have a chance to do so with Chow and Zhang in the next few years.

What I wrote in April '20


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2023 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

Living is just an exquisitely constructed and photographed film from start to finish. The opening made me wonder why we don't present the main credits like that any more, and I want to know how they managed the trick where it looked like the photograph at the funeral was about to come to life, as if imbued with its subject's new found vitality. At the start, there is also a seamless transition from nostalgic grain to painfully sharp digital capture with rich dark shades, and a formal rigidity to the shots throughout that threatens to crush the viewer but only if they allow it.

There are folks who don't necessarily like to see the filmmaker's hand so clearly, but in some ways, that seems the whole point of the film - the characters need to see the forces that are pushing them into unfulfilling situations, not necessarily out of malice, but inertia, propriety, and fear of blame if something goes wrong. Director Oliver Hermanus and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro often seem to be tipping their hand so that the audience can recognize it applying to them as well. There are metaphors for this sort of control throughout; note, for instance, how Mr. Williams doesn't quite get the knack of the claw game, while the less set-in-her-ways Miss Harris is able to pull her rabbit out.

In the middle of all that, is Bill Nighy, his wiry figure and precise diction the perfect representation of a man who simply doesn't register, but it doesn't take much for him to become a version with a little joie de vivre, even if the flip side is palpable sorrow despite practicality about how much good it does. He's a perfect fit for the role, especially when he is seen as a template for almost every other male character in the movie, from Alex Sharp's newcomer who could choose not to go down the same road, to how the burlier figure and loud clothing Jamie Wilkes sports as Talbot marks him as Williams's opposite.

For a moment, it seems to go on a bit too long, but there's a certain self-awareness in that, as those left behind have to face how their memorable gesture may not last, and one must find new ways to keep oneself on a good path when the system is built to move one away from the daring. Yes, you may feel like it's time to coast out, but you don't really have that option.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2023 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon 3D)

People often fairly complain about how fake and weightless some of these movies are, but consider this: Maybe it's just because he's a good actor, but Michael Douglas looks like he's having the time of his life imagining what weird creatures will be digitally composited into his scenes and being a giant nerd about ants in this movie. Other guys with his resume would obviously be wondering how it came to this, but I'm not sure anybody is having quite as much fun as him, although Michelle Pfeiffer sure looks like she's going to enjoy getting to be a sci-fi badass as long as she can.

That aside, Quantumania is a pretty good Marvel movie, not breaking new ground but delivering the goods folks have ordered. By now, you've kind of got to meet these things where they are - yes, this will sacrifice some things that would make it a better individual film for the epic material; there's going to be a sky full of visual effects in the climax even if it maybe would have worked better with a tighter focus. But, the folks making it also know how to make a solid, entertaining adventure with enough danger to make you consider whether Paul Rudd is signed for more movies and enough wisecracking to grease the wheels without it quite becoming cringe material. It hits its marks and the guys doing creature work are clearly having as much of a blast as the folks at the top of this three-generation adventure.

Is it mostly solid, competent work built to look good on an Imax 3D screen? Yeah, and it probably only really transcends that when Jonathan Majors is putting in the work to establish Kang the Conqueror as a worthy foil for the next few years of Marvel material, tweaking what we've already seen on Loki for something more overtly villainous but the sort of confidence that feels human as well as formidable. I'm eager to see where he pops up next in these movies.

At a certain point, I imagine most folks get in a rut writing about Marvel movies, because they are unusually consistent and unambiguously commercial in their storytelling. I probably gave this an extra quarter-star because I like 3D goofiness, the way this particular Marvel crew seems to value kid-friendliness a bit more than the rest (really, this is probably a couple easily-replaced cusswords from being a straight PG), and, heck, I even still kind of like Bill Murray showing up and doing Bill Murray. These guys know what they're doing and don't screw it up. Exit Marlowe Titanic Lucky Chan-sil Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Living Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

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