Wednesday, January 03, 2024

This Week in Tickets: 25 December 2023 - 31 December 2023 (Holiday Week!)

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and can you believe it, I got one of these written and posted every week, give or take a few trips out of town where I wasn't lugging the scanner or the big laptop!

(Note: The reader's checking the veracity of this statement would be personally hurtful to me.)

This Week in Tickets
I kid, but, once again, the state of the blog is sort of a slow acknowledgment that my Letterboxd account does a lot of what I started this blog to do, and it sometimes feels like it does so better, as my phone will buzz with a like a couple times a day, there are stats, and the indexing and searching is better.

But, as I said last year, I like revising what I put down on the ride home a bit, especially if more comes to mind, and I'm ever more cognizant of how what you put on someone else's site can go away in an instant. The visual is fun. Occasionally I'll apparently be the only person writing about an Asian movie in English and get hundreds rather than dozens of views.

So the plan next year is to accept that more people are going to read what I put down on Letterboxd than will here, not worry so much about expanding things into full 6-or-7-paragraph reviews (even for festival films), and use couple hours I might use on expanding a review to see more movies, making for more "Film Rolls" entries. Maybe start a "This Week" entry on Monday and update it as the week goes by, popping stuff out when I'm going long.

But that's the future! For the recent past, we start on Christmas, as I came back home from Maine early, since most of my gift-exchanging and such happened on Christmas Eve to accommodate my nieces' schedules. Not as early as I might have liked, since I failed to not that there would be no 11:45am train and wound up hanging around the station for a couple hours with all the other folks who didn't find out how reduced service would be. Still, got home in time to head down to the Somerville for Ferrari on screen #1.

The next day, I was surprised to see that, much as I'd been expecting Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom to sort of tank, I was surprised to see it losing showtimes already, including the Imax 3D one I'd planned on seeing at Boston Common, so I headed down to Assembly Row to see it there, and be kind of shocked that it's actually kind of good. Then I got home and decided to make some progress on unwatched discs, giving Who Framed Roger Rabbit? a rewatch.

Having taken the week off with the idea of watching a lot of movies, I wound up staying in on Wednesday because it was rainy and I didn't even want to walk to the subway station and then, well, there's an email list that sends you enough crosswords to wreck a whole day, every day. Thursday, I headed to Causeway Street for a double feature of Saltburn and Endless Journey, although the area was swarmed enough with Celtics fans that I couldn't find a place to sit down for dinner. And while I had waited a bit to see that Chinese movie, I grabbed a ticket for The Goldfinger right quick.

Saturday and Sunday were other dreary days, so I wrapped the year watching For a Few Dollars More, again on 4K.

So there's the last week of 2023. I'm anticipating a busy-ish start to 2024, but with something posted very-late-Sunday/very-early-Monday. And now, the actual reviews…


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 25 December 2023 in Somerville Theatre #1 (first-run, laser DCP)

It's a sign of just how good Michael Mann and company are at the nuts & bolts of making a movie that even though Ferrari really kicks into high gear with the big race, it never actually feels like it's killing time or anything until then. Instead, it feels like a solid movie filling in all the various stakes up until the Big Race, when the FX and editing challenges seem to grab the filmmakers in a way that the biographical material maybe didn't, as they on the one hand are really into depicting how all this auto racing stuff works, especially after Enzo has had a big speech about what being an aggressive racer means, while also using it to heighten what's going on off the road, with dramatic turning points all over.

The whole thing moves well enough that there seems to be plenty of time for a third act that the movie just doesn't have.

I suppose that if we're going to have a movie that, as I like to say, doesn't so much end as stop, there are worse places to do that, and real life doesn't necessarily match the shape of a movie. That's not so much a problem - one can get too invested in recalling high school English class and saying "what was the theme of this story? how did Enzo Ferrari change over the course of the film?" and act like it's bad for not following instructions rather than seeing what sort of reaction it evokes - but it can make the movie and a viewer's reaction to it a bit harder to shape. The script by the late Troy Kennedy Martin (with Mann and others credited as contributing "additional screenplay material") can be quite scattered, spending a lot of time walking through details and subplots that ultimately don't matter a lot and hitting the audience with a deus ex machina toward the end that on the one hand is executed well but on the other feels like it should be in flux with what else is going on; had Fiat been mentioned before, to give us a sense of whether the phone call was a hole card Enzo was waiting to play or if working with them was eating crow? It certainly seems like this might have been a more formative experience to include than the silent-movie-era race that starts the film (though the style on that is delightful). Nobody ever seems to crack what's going to hook the audience, and a feature film doesn't have the room to examine everything.

Maybe the cast does, a little; Penélope Cruz suggests this whole offscreen life story for Laura as the woman who was passionate and fun until she had to continue being the responsible one even through devastating grief, while Adam Driver's Enzo is always more interesting than what he's doing on screen, possessed of a self-awareness that doesn't mitigate his ego and selfishness. You can see that there's a great movie about these two here - their scenes together crackle even beyond the melodrama - and even apart, Enzo and Laura are both at their most interesting when the absent other is seemingly looming over them, but it's almost like Mann couldn't stretch the story in such a way as to keep them at the center, or make Shailene Woodley's mistress interesting enough to cheat on Penélope Cruz with her. There's probably a neat movie about the daredevil racers to be unlocked as well.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 February 2023 in AMC Assembly Row #1 (first-run, 3D Imax Laser)

Ain't it always the way - Warner Brothers decides to scrap the generally-lackluster DC movie universe and start over, but they wind up sending it off with what may be the best flick in the franchise. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom may not be for everyone, perhaps, but it's a big adventure where everyone knows what they're supposed to do and does it pretty competently.

Granted, you've got to love a fairly specific sort of big, pulpy adventure that can have freer reign in comics where the threshold for success is lower and the context is different than it would be for a mainstream movie that needs multiple millions for its audience. Going for the sort of hybrid adventure James Wan and company do means that there is something to make you grin in most frames, especially once they get to the villains' super-submarine that mashes up Captain Nemo, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and Planet of the Vampires. Wan may tend to gravitate toward horror in most of his work, but he's in pure Saturday Serial mode here, keeping things grand but simple, throwing everything he can at the audience, but mostly keeping action clear (and fun in 3D), even during the inevitable CGI-overload finale.

It isn't deep, granted, by design; Jason Momoa plays Arthur as a straightforward scrapper and the movie doesn't aim to push him out of that comfort zone. The basic bits of the story reinforce each other nicely, at least, decent futility of vengeance/sibling rivalry/environmental/anti-xenophobic themes, and they smartly avoid mentioning other characters so one doesn't give much thought to how having the phone number of a guy who could fly over an island and find the secret base with his x-ray vision would be helpful. There are some snags - the King of Atlantis is shown spending a lot of time on dry land early on and comments about it don't go anywhere, they don't really sell the need to bring back Patrick Wilson's King Orm that well, and everybody involved works really hard to minimize Amber Heard's presence in the movie for off-the-screen reasons. It works okay for something intentionally simplified and reliant on tropes, but that sets a ceiling.

Still, in the end, this is a lot more fun than I remember the first Aquaman movie being. Wan et al really hit the sweet spot between superhero action and fantasy adventure where this particular character works best, even if Momoa's semi-comic performance can feel like they're sending up two genres which don't always mix or work in a world that's recognizably close to our own. Still, if you do look at colorfully-costumed men punching pirates before raiding a mad scientist's lair inside a volcano before fighting zombies in a lost Antarctic city and go "heck yeah comics!", this does a pretty good job of throwing all those types of pulp fiction together.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 26 December 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-ray)

It's apparently been ten years since I last saw this - too long! - and while part of the intent was to check out how the new 4K disc looks (pretty good if not the sort of disc that hits you upside the head with how great it is), my main reaction this time is to note just what a solidly-constructed movie it is: It does exactly what it sets out to do at every step, somehow managing to obey the rules of cartoons and film noir simultaneously without giving itself the out of winking at the audience. Funny as heck and made with love for every genre involved.

And, boy, do the effects hold up - there are blessed few moments when the combination of practical work, traditional animation, and digital coloring doesn't look completely believable. There is something to the way Zemeckis puts it together that works wonders not so much because it's analog but because it's crafted. Zemeckis shoots with intention in a way that I feel that a lot of today's filmmakers who are less fascinated by the nuts and bolts of it don't, like he wants to build a perfect thing rather than subcontract it out.

What I wrote in 2013.


* * (out of four)
Seen 28 December 2023 in the AMC Causeway #10 (first-run, laser DCP)

There's a credit for a "maze designer" on this, which almost makes me wonder if the shape of the labyrinth in the titular estate has meaning, although I'm not watching it again to see if that's the case. For a movie with all this excess, it's quite dull, after all, like Emerald Fennell couldn't be bothered to make her characters interesting on top of grotesque.

(Which means there was probably not much thought given to the maze's significance, just that it looked properly like the sort of thing an aristocratic family would have.)

I can't even really say the movie's badness is all that frustrating, because you'd have to see a glimmer of something interesting to be frustrated. Apart from some tacky bits, this is a movie that never deviates from expectations, with the most half-hearted twists one can imagine, and no apparent desire on the part of the filmmakers to do something interesting with the situations it creates. Fennell's previous film, Promising Young Woman, at least seemed like it had an interesting idea, even if it wound up silly, but this is a filmmaker deciding to make a movie that started from a generic plot of someone insinuating himself into a rich family and trusting she could shock with the details, but they're never twisted enough. They're occasionally icky and gross, but seldom surprising or revealing.

Oh, and it actually shows people wearing masks when it would be appropriate, probably its most genuinely unusual choice.

Per qualche dollaro in più (For a Few Dollars More)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 31 December 2023 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 4K Blu-ray)

Considering that the plot is B-movie simple despite the film being half-again as long as that sort of thing traditionally runs, the pacing of For a Few Dollars More is really exquisite. Sergio Leone often goes quite a while without doing much more than demonstrating that Eastwood's Man With No Name and Van Cleef's Mortimer are exceptionally competent bounty killers, too good to ever be in any real peril, and that lack of risk could kill the movie. Instead, there's a genuinely fantastic combination of relaxed and efficient storytelling, with just enough gunfighting and surprisingly funny moments to keep things going. In terms of craft, the whole thing is gorgeously shot and features an unmistakable Ennio Morricone score that alternates between playfulness and high drama.

It is, perhaps, so simple that it starts to falter a bit toward the end, when we are reminded that there are like a dozen people in the gang, but none stand out once you get past Klaus Kinski's hunchback, and it would b e one thing if they were just cannon fodder, but Leone goes for a little intrigue at this point and the viewer is expected to have some interest in how they turn on each other, and are maybe wise to their hunters after all, and hasn't necessarily laid the groundwork. It's like Leone felt like he needed a big gang for the primary heist (or needed it to seem like he did) and to establish his villain as an alpha, but then has to clean house to get to that nice, clean, three person confrontation at the end.

It lands, though, a spaghetti western that gets the job done with a minimum of fuss.

Ferrari Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Saltburn Endless Journey The Goldfinger For a Few Dollars More

No comments: