Friday, March 03, 2023

This Week in Tickets: 20 February 2023 - 26 February 2023 (Universal Horror 2023)

I was telling myself that I might hit the midnights at the Coolidge more often, but Friday night I really didn't want to be waiting for a cab outside the Coolidge after the Green Line or 66 stopped running - and, sure, maybe there would be a late one, but it was expected to be really cold. So there's some of what's not on this spread!
This Week in Tickets
Lets look at this a bit out of chronological order, just because it's more interesting that way: The week had two Film Rolls entries, with The Internecine Project on Tuesday and The Bad News Bears on Thursday, and might have had another once i decided I was staying in Friday night, but sometimes the player, basically being a computer, sometimes doesn't boot properly and needs a full unplug-and-wait reboot, but it's hard to reach back there.

On Wednesday, I headed downtown to pick some stuff up at Fenway and then headed to Boston Common on the way back for Knock at the Cabin. Three days later, I was in the Somerville for Cocaine Bear, and while both of them are pretty decent, what's kind of interesting is that they are both from Universal, which is spending the first half of 2023 dropping roughly one high-concept but mid-budget horror thing a month, which is an interesting strategy.

Saturday also featured the first entry in the Brattle's "Greenaway x4" series, The Draughtsman's Contract. The series is going to get its own write-up, but it was a good start, since I figured Greenaway would either be completely my thing or something I wanted to flee ten minutes in.

Then on Sunday, the week is finished with a couple things I had just not gotten around to before - The Amazing Maurice, which has had a pretty decent run at Fresh Pond for looking like a one-week four-wall a month ago, and Hidden Blade, which I'd planned to catch after Knock at the Cabin on Wednesday before seeing that it would be extended another week.

Pretty enjoyable. First drafts, as always, on my Letterboxd, if you're impatient and don't want to wait until it's almost Next Week to read what's going on This Week.

The Internecine Project

Seen 21 February 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

I don't necessarily know that I'll actually have a lot more than this to say when I do a Film Rolls write-up: It's a nifty premise for a movie, but the writers seemed so excited to build their perfect murder(s) that they forgot that the fun starts when something throws a wrench into the gears, and this movie is wrench-free for far too long.

Knock at the Cabin

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 February 2023 in AMC Boston Common #13 (first-run, DCP)

A preview that includes a shot or two from the last stretch of Knock at the Cabin kind of let the air out of the film for me a month ago because, as a rule, I find people torturing headstrong (or epileptic) girls with exorcism scary while girls possessed by demons are just silly made-up shit, and the same goes for apocalypse cults. The second it looked like the crew led by Dave Buatista's Leonard might be in the right, I'm rolling my eyes, and the film doesn't really give them a point to have or anything that resonates. The world will end unless there's an arbitrary sacrifice, and that's it. It's just a plot device, not something which has a pesky ring of truth, and the script can't balance giving it one and allowing for skepticism.

Aside from that (which is an admittedly large value of "that"), it's a darn solid movie. M. Night Shyamalan has settled into his groove as a horror guy making modest flicks over the last decade, but he still has great chops as a director that made his films an event during that early-aughts run, and it's a level of confidence others might not have. He gives the film a steady pace, using flashbacks to keep tension from snapping and having enough confidence to try and create memorable images of his own and cut away rather than focus on gore or do the sort of call-outs other genre filmmakers do. He wants violence to create sadness and torment, not an adrenaline rush, and he's able to do that without deflating the moments when he needs tension.

He gets very nice performances from his cast as well; he may encourage them to go a little big and odd - it's kind of hard to believe Leonard was actually a second-grade teacher before his calling - but that's not a bad thing. There's a sense of who they are and how this situation has pushed them from being who they usually are, even if they're destined for a quick exit. Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge get chances to carve out important differences despite coming across as the same sort of generically handsome young father, for instance; Abby Quinn, Rupert Grint, and Nikki Amuka-Bird all get a chance to present as normal people doing very abnormal things, while Bautista uses his size and quiet reserve to be both a steadying anchor and kind of unnerving. Shyamalan's been great working with children forever and has found someone terrific in Kristen Cui; she always feels like that kid rather than just a kid, and that lets the opening set the stage nicely.

If I didn't have that atheist's outlook toward supernatural horror, there's a fair chance I'd consider this one of Shyamalan's best. But I do, and this movie doesn't quite do what it needs to in order to get past that for me.

The Bad News Bears '76

Seen 23 February 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

This one, I suspect, I might go long on; it's one I never particularly avoided but also never sought out, even once I realized just how much I liked Walter Matthau. It's a kind of surprising classic, more than just the foul-mouthed underdog sports story it can get reduced to, but kind of a New Hollywood family comedy on the one hand and an unconventional love story on the other. Not a romance - mind out of the gutters! - but Buttermaker and Amanda want to be father and daughter the way romantic partners want to be together if not for circumstances, and the moments when that is right out front are just as great as all the stuff about youth sport parents being kind of awful

The Draughtsman's Contract

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2023 in the Brattle Theatre (Greenaway x 4, DCP)

A fine opening to a series because, within it, one can see a lot of the themes Peter Greenaway would pursue throughout the rest of the films, but it's fairly straightforward in its way even as it does get downright peculiar at times. I knew I was down for the other three, and while Greenaway would return to favored themes constantly, he doesn't exactly repeat himself.

I admit, I am very much the sort to look at this and say "there's a murder mystery here - solve it!", but also can't particularly find fault with him not doing so.

Cocaine Bear

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 February 2023 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, 4K laser DCP)

Cocaine Bear does what it says on the package, both from, yeah, having a bear that does cocaine and goes on a rampage and from how the filmmakers and audience are pretty much on the same wavelength about how silly a premise this is, with the folks on screen attacking it accordingly. Almost everybody in the cast goes big, the film is splashed in bright 1980s colors, and the songs on the soundtrack aren't always obvious but do feel like they're hitting a target. Heck, even the CGI bear not always looking quite right works; a creature feature being fun kind of depends on it not completely selling itself as authentic, and the star of Slither understands this just as well as anybody else who might be called on to direct such a film.

Is it all it could be? Not quite. The movie maybe coasts a bit on the gonzo story and having the right attitude, like the filmmakers know you were sold on it when you bought the ticket and just kind of have to maintain that initial buzz. Elizabeth Banks directs the film with energy, especially toward the start, and most of the characters come across as just oddball enough to work - Banks, writer Jimmy Warden, and the cast all get that a character in a comedy who is not funny in some way is contributing less than they should, and you can see how these folks are funny more or less as soon as they show up on-screen. There's a lot of them, though; even considering the need to have bodies drop on the regular, there are too many characters split up and bumping into each other randomly for the film to really flow. It often comes off as a collection of possibilities Warden came up with along with the title, and it's got the sort of finale where something is missing even if all the elements are there.

It works most of the time, at least, and nailing the vibe counts for a lot here.

The Internecine Project Knock at the Cabin The Bad News Bears The Draughtsman's Contract The Amazing Maurice Cocaine Bear Hidden Blade

No comments: