Sunday, January 07, 2024

This Week in Tickets: 1 January 2024 - 7 January 2024 (Happy New Year!)

I do like a nice clean break between years on a thing like this. Figuring in the leap years, I think the next should be 2029!
This Week in Tickets
(At some point I'm going to have to replace my printer/scanner, because the A Town Called Panic stub isn't real, though I'd like to be able to copy them from my phone, print them, and tape them in.)

Starting the new year on a high note, and also making sure I got to see the big guy at actual size again, I hit Godzilla Minus One a second time, kind of surprised just how well it drew on a New Year's Day matinee. It also felt like there were a lot more folks of Japanese descent than I usually see for something otaku-adjacent, which is kind of interesting, since this is the first time I can recall something from Japan really getting a quick release the way Chinese, Indian, and some Korean movies do rather than having a distributor sit on it and calculate empty weeks and mid-week showcases. It certainly makes G-1 one of the year's most interesting box office stories.

(Of course, there was, also, one guy who was maybe hung over from New Year's Eve or something and was cheering like a sports fan at the start and finish and snoring during the middle.)

This interfered with my plan to be kind of cute with Letterboxd by starting the new year with A Fistful of Dollars after ending with For a Few Dollars More, but, oh well. Also, I thought I had accidentally moved backward with these over about a year but it turns out I watched the Kino Lorber 4K for The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly back in 2001. Yikes!

Tuesday, I headed down to the Seaport for the A Town Called Panic twin bill, which was a ton of fun, but, man, that place is weird right now. They're not sufficiently staffed or licensed or whatever for a full house, which means I'm always sitting further back than I want and the "sold-out" show has us all crammed into an area comprising a third of the theater. And, I suspect, there's a vicious circle where because this led to things selling out when the place first opened, people with the season pass plan are booking a lot of stuff they may or may not see early to avoid missing out, knowing they can cancel if they're not feeling it without penalty, but leading to a really-not-sold out show.

Wednesday was a night I couldn't get out of the apartment early enough for what I wanted to see, but somehow managed for 6pm shows the next couple of days: Thursday was a Scorsese double feature of GoodFellas and After Hours at the Brattle, filling in a blind spot and a half. I'm mildly amused that back when it came out, GoodFellas was considered a pretty expansive movie, but people don't notice 145 minutes that much these days. Friday was Noryang: Deadly Sea, the latest Korean blockbuster about Admiral Yi Sun-sin, with plenty of fine naval action.

Saturday was meant to be Anselm day, but my bus to Kendall Square just didn't come, so I put it off a day, catching it Sunday afternoon.

And that's the week! As usual, the plan is to update my Letterboxd account as I see more, but since I'm on a work trip through Thursday morning, who knows how well that will work out?

Gojira -1.0 (Godzilla Minus One)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 January 2024 in AMC Boston Common #4 (first-run, laser DCP)

Godzilla Minus One is a downright terrific Godzilla movie - you can split hairs over it being a remake, a prequel, or something else to the point where "Godzilla movie" is the best description - which finds a new angle on what to do with the material and creates what may be the most intense film of the series on a human level, making each appearance of its title monster a powerful punch in the gut apart from its great kaiju action. It may only touch on the atomic fears of the original and Shin Gojira, but the shell shock angle works terrifically. It is, in fact, a really fantastic way to use a kaiju in a movie, having him represent the overwhelming, towering guilt Koichi Shikishima (a terrific Ryunosuke Kamiki) feels; even if it's never stated, one easily comprehends the idea that Godzilla is following Koichi around, punishing him for his survival, daring him to die, or at least that this is the way it feels to him.

Some folks would have made that literal, but writer/director/effects head Takashi Yamazaki seems to respect both Koichi and Godzilla enough to reduce the giant monster to serving narrative needs for one character whose demons are not fundamentally different than those of nearly everyone around him. Godzilla resonates best when he represents something humanity must grapple with, yes, but he also must be Godzilla, a challenge that lifts the story out of the conventional.

On top of that, the film is also a lovingly-made period piece that does impressive work in recalling the image of mid-century Japan without making it seem ostentatious in either its detail or squalor, even as it does good work blending in modern effects. There are moments as people go about their lives in the devastated and rebuilding Tokyo that the movie feels like it could have been made in the fifties, maybe sharing sets and props with something by Ozu shooting next door, capturing the cultural memory of this time and place if nothing else. The filmmakers show restraint throughout that they cash in when it's time for grand spectacle or an emotional wallop.

The closest thing I've got to a complaint is that this isn't exactly my favorite Godzilla design; he's all armor plating on top of a beefy torso but not much personality (there's often a moment in these movies when he'll pause and create tension as to where he goes next, hinting at some sort of malice or connection with the Japanese people, but he's too much a force of nature for that here, aside from how it would tie him too closely to Koichi when the point is that Koichi isn't responsible for Godzilla). The action built around him is fantastic, though, highlighting the scale but giving humanity some agency. It's fitted into the story insmart ways, and Yamazaki does an especially nice job of building to the finale in a way that not-quite-quietly says "let's go". The filmmakers are also extremely well aware of the response certain music cues will get and deploy them at the exact right time.

It's just downright terrific, worth multiple trips to the theater and hopefully a spiffy 4k disc in a few months.

Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 1 January 2024 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-ray)

Heh, I had forgotten this was Yojimbo/Red Harvest at first. That's kind of the movie's issue - one doesn't necessarily make direct comparisons, but Clint Eastwood doesn't quite bring anything to match the mischievous cunning of Toshiro Mifune to this role yet (to the extent that The Man with No Name is truly a single role). He's good, of course, and it may just be that the film around him is a little unbalanced, focusing more on one of the two bosses than the other and making the gangs so big that there's not a whole lot of individual animus as they get gunned down. It doesn't quite feel like "Joe" is playing two gangs against each other, so much as deciding he wants to free the pretty girl from the Rojos and finding the Baxters kind of useful in doing so.

Still, one can easily see how it propelled Eastwood to stardom and shifted the style of the genre. The idea of his character isn't exactly fully formed in this first appearance, but Eastwood and director Sergio Leone know they want him to be kind of amoral but also quietly charismatic, likely to do the right thing when there's a right thing to do and people who deserve better. One can also see Leone injecting Italian pulp and style into this naturally American genre- there's a lot of blood shared between spaghetti westerns and gialli - with an eye that turns the dirty border town into something grandiose and mythic, though not the myths America tells about itself.

Leone and Eastwood, of course, would refine all of this to an incredible extent over the next two years - an amazingly rapid evolution when you look at it that way - but there's just enough here of what is to come to make a western that still holds up pretty well sixty years (and even more evolution) later.

"La bûche de Noël" ("The Christmas Log" aka "A Town Called Panic: Christmas Panic")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2024 in the Alamo Drafthouse Seaport #3 (special presentation, DCP)

As per usual, an enjoyably absurd vignette, even if it feels a little bit off from the last one of these I remember seeing: Horse seems unusually testy and the misbehavior of Cowboy & Indian a bit more malicious than usual, I think (it's been a while). It's still a fun, fast-moving cartoon that gets delightfully intricate during a daffy plan to heist a yule log and is just anarchic enough to avoid the obvious ironic ending.

One thing I did kind of like is just how self-explanatory and built-out the whole thing is. It has, as mentioned, been a while since I saw the feature (or even the latest special, "Summer Holidays"), and while some of the characters were old friends, some had been completely forgotten, but the filmmakers are absolutely able to acquaint (or reacquaint) a viewer with their world and all the folks in the orbit of Horse, Indian, and Cowboy, almost instantly so that one can roll along and let it get silly.

"La rentrée des classes" ("A Town Called Panic: Back to School Panic")

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 January 2024 in the Alamo Drafthouse Seaport #3 (special presentation, DCP)

"A Town Called Panic" is at its best when the creators max out the absurd impossibility of its slapstick, and this is some of their most genuinely peculiar work, climaxing in a surreal trip inside a classmate's brain to try and steal the answer to a test that packs enough weirdness and invention for a feature into, what, five minutes? It's even better because it follows up on some minimal bit perfectly precise animation as Pig studiously works a problem out.

Part of what's delightfully on display here is how they embrace the weird style they've established over the series's first 15 years and get weird or smash through it when it doesn't work. I don't think I'd noticed how the bases of the Cowboy and Indian figures kind of hang around near their feet when they sit or otherwise don't quite touch the ground before, for instance, and the school bus is very much retrofitted to work with the animation style. And while I suspect these have always had some CGI enhancement on top of compositing, it's generally seamless, and the growing/shrinking potions here really have to rely on that even more, even though it's just as invisible as ever.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 4 January 2024 in the Brattle Theatre (Warner Brothers in the 1980s: Enter the Blockbuster, 35mm)

Man, but does mafia stuff just bounce right off me, in a way that yakuza movies and British gangsters and a lot of triad movies generally don't. I'm not sure why that is, beyond the yakuza and triads being intriguingly foreign while the mafia seems establishment in some ways. It's so eager to present itself as respectable that even when Martin Scorsese is tearing that down - and this movie is all about screaming that these guys are amoral jackasses - it's drenched in nostalgia.

I can appreciate the craft here, don't get me wrong, and I suspect that I'd see it in a bit of a new light if I made myself sit through The Godfather and its first sequel without a heck of a cold battering my brain, because it almost seems like a response to those films, a reminder that the ugliness of the mob wasn't buried particularly deep. There's a story of someone maybe (or maybe not) realizing that the life he dreamed about as a kid was ultimately hollow, eventually, but the material itself, the stuff that gets Ray Liotta's Henry Hill to realize that the organization he loves will never love him back in the same way? Not interesting.

The execution, however, is legitimately terrific - it's a gorgeous-looking movie with a number of performances that rightly became iconic, and Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker are probably the best ever at making shocking, game-changing acts of violence feel repugnant rather than thrilling. It's talky to the point of just telling you what is about at points, though, and its great moments only scan as "pretty good" when you've absorbed them through the test of pop culture already, which I haven't found the case with other classics. Joe Pesci's character can't quite remain as far above being lampooned by a cartoon pigeon in the way that Casablanca still completely delivers even if one absorbs thirty different homages before seeing it.

This does have one of the all-time great "man, the casting director has a good eye" line-ups, though - check out early roles from Debi Mazar, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Imperioli, Illeana Douglas, and Samuel L. Jackson! Well, maybe not early-early for Jackson, as Spike Lee was already using him and he had more than a handful of other credits, but he hadn't really come up with the Sam Jackson delivery yet, either.

After Hours

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 4 January 2024 in the Brattle Theatre (Warner Brothers in the 1980s: Enter the Blockbuster, 35mm)

I don't know that I was expecting a whole lot from After Hours, especially not as part of a double feature with the much more heralded GoodFellas, but I wound up loving it for what it is: A fantastically weird odyssey that kind of doesn't hold together, but is a mess in the way that works, like narrative rules don't matter after 1am either. Or, maybe, its cockeyed script reflects how the city kind of shrinks then - with only so many people up, coincidences happen and the eccentrics are a bigger part of the population.

Whatever the case, this is an impressively funny movie whose shifts straddle the line between the filmmakers warning the audience what they're in for and going off in completely unexpected directions. There's something about Griffin Dunne's lead that seems even more fitting years later, like he doesn't quite have what it takes to be a leading man even though he superficially has all the traits, and as such sort of wanders this place in between days, never able to bend it to his will or stake out a space the way that, say, Tom Hanks or Michael Keaton might have been able to. He's relatable, but we kind of don't want him to be.

The itinerant nature of the story means we wind up getting a lot less Rosanna Arquette as the girl he meets in a coffee shop and can't initially resist than one might hope, which is really a shame because she's got terrific screwball chops: More than anyone else here, she absolutely nails the overlap between conventionally charismatic and downright peculiar. There's a shot of her winking at Dunne that says she'll be more trouble than her weird roommate, but you're hooked anyway. Director Martin Scorsese and writer Joseph Minion set up what feels like it should be a great hangout flick/romantic comedy, but these two screw it up. There's just an inch too much distance between her seeming cool and him being square, and the city will eat you up.

I don't make lists, but I'd be tempted to put this in my top 5 Scorsese movies if I did (though there are plenty of large gaps in what I've seen). I genuinely love how all the dark, mean humor that gives his dramas a sting is out front and ready to play here, and kind of wish he'd do straight comedy more often.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 7 January 2024 in Landmark Kendall Square #3 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

I don't usually react to a film with envy; I know full well on what side of the creator/audience divide on which I sit and I know just enough about the sort of work that goes into them and how it's not my thing that I don't identify enough with that sort of emotion. And yet, I've spent enough vacations over the last few years toting 3D cameras around, trying to capture sculpture gardens, statues, and other solid artifacts in such a way that I can revisit them as something closer to objects rather than just images but seldom quite feeling like I've succeeded that from the first few moments of the film, I found myself wishing I could do that. I spent a lot of time reminding myself that director Wim Wenders, cinematographer Franz Lustig, and stereographer Sebastian Cramer were using an enormously sophisticated camera rig and actually had the ability to put it where they wanted.

So, yes, if you are considering attending this movie as a fan of stereo photography, do so; it's really fantastic work as Wenders finds ways to keep the composition interesting despite how this medium works best on the thing right in front of you, moves about without making the audience nauseous, and doesn't just capture the obvious relation of things in space, but does so while also allowing the audience to focus on the texture of works, maybe enhancing it a bit so that even subtle ones are noticeable.

Of course, it does not hurt that Wenders is capturing the art of Anselm Kiefer, a German artist who moved from painting into sculpture and installations in the 1980s. Kiefer has spent much of the past thirty-odd years working at scale, often wrestling with what it means to be a German artist when the culture's folkloric language was so thoroughly tainted by association with the Nazis, knowing that he will never be able to completely reclaim it because he will always have to confront that use. There is violence in many of his works, both from the twisted, peculiar imagery itself and as an acknowledgment that even works inspired by the natural world must be created in the sort of former factories and facilities used for industry, including weapons production.

Which is not to say that the film is dour. There is, often, a sense of play as he walks around his massive atelier outside Paris, a warehouse where massive canvases sti on dollies that are pushed around and allowed to drift to their eventual place. Kiefer uses a bicycle to traverse from one end to another, and creates pocket worlds that are sometimes dark, but always grand, and occasionally whimsical. The viewer may not realize that he or she has wanted to see how one creates art using a flamethrower before, but will likely be glad that they have; it is unique.

One thing Wenders and Kiefer do not do to any great extent is to make the audience feel they know or understand the artist. There are recreations of moments in his youth and childhood, but the young Kiefer is mostly shown creating his art; the child is shown absorbing art, working in a sketchbook, and seeming confused by a world that contains the potential for beauty alongside actual cruelty, but not things like hanging out with friends or the ordinary times with family. There are recordings of interviews where a younger Kiefer defends his more provocative creations in the way artists often do, with arch words that don't necessarily connect with people who haven't studied the discipline. What commentary comes from the present-day Kiefer refuses to reconsider his youth and perhaps suggests that he cannot. If one wants to understand how much of the artist is in the art, this is not the film to lay it bare. Fortunately, what Wenders has done is so meticulously abstracted that it feels like a bargain that has been struck between him, Kiefer, and the audience, trading the ability to examine the work and the process closely enough that one can perhaps infer something about the artist's mind without necessarily entering his personal existence as a man.

It's a very specific way to approach this sort of film, and one that perhaps wouldn't satisfy if the high-resolution 3D images did not feel like more than what this sort of film generally offers. It's a detailed, close-up look, but also reminds one that all art, from the sculpture to the film about the sculpture, is made with intent and direction, omitting as much as it includes. Godzilla Minus One A Fistful of Dollars A Town Called Panic x2 GoodFellas After Hours Noryang: Deadly Sea Anselm

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