Tuesday, February 20, 2024

This Week in Tickets: 12 February 2024 - 18 February 2024 (Getting Ready)

Quite the odd week for movie-watching; not so much a deliberate attempt to slow down after the previous week, although it worked out that way.
This Week in Tickets
The week splits into two parts easily enough. During the week, I was getting ready for a couple of Part IIs. First up was streaming Pegasus, shockingly very available ahead of the sequel arriving in theaters for the Lunar New Year. This never happens with Chinese movies - as I mentioned when looking at If You Are the One 3 a month ago, I wasn't able to see the first before either one!

Not that it was necessarily easy; it was streaming on Amazon Prime, but the search made it hard enough to find at the time that I had to get there via JustWatch, and then opted to rent rather than use the stream included with Prime because the rental was $2 and adding ad-free streaming would be $3, and I didn't feel like giving them the satisfaction. The movie itself didn't quite put me off seeing the sequel - I'll probably be doing that in the next day or so - but it is a bit of a head-scratcher that it led to a sequel that seems to be doing pretty well.

On Thursday, I gave Dune a rewatch ahead of Part 2 coming out. Because I dawdled, the only place left showing it was the Majestic 7 out in Watertown, although I didn't much mind that - I was kind of surprised that I hadn't yet found an excuse to get out there in the roughly five years (minus a plague) that it's been open! I figured it would make the bus out to Best Buy or the big Target worth it, but that hasn't actually happened yet, and on top of that, I used to go by that place every day on the 70A bus when I lived in Cambridge and worked in Waltham, so there's a timeline where I'm not renovicted and my employers don't move where I'm seeing a movie there practically every night.

Nice little multiplex, though. I should do a thing where I visit every theater you can get to via the T, sort of look at the state of Boston moviegoing. Maybe when the Coolidge opens its expansion. I'm sure someone will announce they're reopening Fenway just as I finish.

Anyway, it was a quiet couple days after that, and then I opted to do a cruddy-movie twin bill on Sunday. The first part was a brunch screening of Argylle at the Seaport Alamo and, eh, I don't think I'll be doing that again. Certain parts of their menu are the sort of thing that makes me really anxious in restaurants - the burger, for instance, that has half a dozen toppings when I really just want cheese and bacon, and I don't want to be trying to pick out what I don't want in a darkened theater - and all three of the items on the special brunch menu are like that. On top of that, all the beverages were alcoholic, which meant there was a mimosa on the menu but not "glass of orange juice".

(Look, I know I'm a picky eater upon whom your carefully-constructed medley of flavors is wasted, but I don't like it when a menu makes me feel like that, y'know? Just offer the ability to build up from plain rather than deal with all the hassles of subtracting!)

Anyway, after that I killed a bit of time shopping and headed to the Common for Madame Webb on the Imax screen, and, eh, I've seen worse. I kind of feel like Sony will sort of quietly not greenlight any more of these Spider-adjacent movies after Venom 3 comes out this fall. It wasn't the worst idea given that Sony had rights to a roster of more characters than they could possibly use given how long movies take to make, but if Kraven flops, I think you've just got to look at Venom as an anomaly.

More coming on my Letterboxd account, then here.

Dune '21

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2024 in Majestic Arsenal Yards #2 (return engagement, laser DCP)
Available to rent/purchase digitally on Prime or elsewhere, and to purchase on DVD/Blu-ray/3D/4K at Amazon

I liked this a bit more on my third go-through, and sort of half-wonder if that's at all a function of this being the first time I saw it in "normal" fashion - my first viewing was in 3D, which isn't particularly missed even though there are stereo guys beyond conversion in the credits; my second was on the Omnimax dome at the Museum of Science from way too close; and this was on a regular 2D screen. Amusingly, I'll probably see the sequel on 70mm film, and wonder if there's any other way to do this. Are there D-Box screenings anywhere in New England?

Still, I'm not sure that this is a great movie or adaptation, although it's been long enough since I've read the books (I was way too young/ignorant to know half of what Frank Herbert was trying to get at) that I couldn't really say on the latter. It's very much half a movie, still, but a good half-movie, impeccably staged with a pretty terrific cast doing everything they can to turn Herbert's words into something that at least feels like human beings might say them. You still only sort of start to get the shape of what the filmmakers are getting at here, but it certainly seems to lay a strong foundation for what's coming next week.

Letterboxd post from October 2021


* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2024 in Alamo Seaport #8 (first-run, DCP)

Silly question: Do you think Samuel L. Jackson told director/producer Matthew Vaughn "look, MFer, I'm gonna take your money for three days of work in the south of France, but are you seriously giving her the same damn makeover?" when he saw the script or, given that he was probably only on set for a few days, after the premiere?

Even if you don't immediately recognize the movie I'm not being particularly coy about(*), I suspect that most folks will feel like Argylle was copied from something. It's got all the pieces of a twisty movie plot that has worked in the past, a terrific cast that should be able to make them work again, but none of the inspiration. Writer Jason Fuchs has come up with this story that could be a fun meta-commentary on James Bond-style espionage versus actual spy work, or what actually makes someone who they are, or whether attachments that have been manufactured in this way can be real, but there's no emotion behind it except in fairly rare instances - Bryce Dallas Howard does a few perfectly believable freak-outs, but Fuchs and Vaghn never seem to recognize that this could be interesting and dig in a bit; it's just time to pull the next reversal

All these folks should be able to get something out of the material, but the moments when they do are few and far between. Why do you even have Bryan Cranston playing his part if he's not going to do something interesting with it? It's funny/ironic, I suppose, that Bruce Dallas Howard's character is a spy-fi writer said to be beloved by actual spies for getting things right when the script is kind of precise but hollow; you might think that this sort of a script written by a guy who has spent a lot of time as an actor might have something to say about disappearing into a character, but it doesn't.

It's pretty, occasionally, but the sort of pretty where one can see the action being pushed to the image rather than the two fitting together. I also kind of wonder how much better the film would be if you switched Henry Cavill's role with John Cena's, because even if they aren't in the film much, there's something about Cavill that makes his scenes land with a thud in the gap between fun spy stuff and an enjoyably deadpan spoof of them. Make pro-wrestler Cena the cartoonish super-spy and Cavill the surprisingly-nerdy partner, and they probably click into place easily


(*) I refer, of course, the The Long Kiss Goodnight, and how when Howard's Elly is revealed to actually be "Rachel Gylle"(**), she is given the same short haircut/platinum-blonde dye job that Geena Davis got in that movie when she regained her memories, Unfortunately, it makes her look disturbingly like Amy Schumer as opposed to someone folks would think was a super-spy.

(**) Man, this feels like a place where filmmakers who were actually trying would come up with some sort of silly anagram, especially with spelling of "Argylle", but I'm not seeing one.


Madame Web

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2024 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax Xenon)

Meh. Folks have been pumping this up as some sort of disaster all week when it's only below average, and even that in a way that highlights how much we expect more from these movies than we used to than any sort of fundamental misguidedness. The pieces of a decent mid-tier superhero movie are here, but it's like the filmmakers hit a wall when they have to put those pieces together in a way that makes it click for the audience, and wind up flailing. Just when the movie should be getting into a groove, gliding forward with a head of steam behind it, it keeps hitting bump where the audience wonders why you'd do that.

And it really should have that, because the circular nature of the story that involves folks seeing the future could be cool! Paramedic Cassandra Webb (Dakota Johnson) can't do that when the audience first meets her in 2003, at least not until her partner Ben Parker (Adam Scott) restarts her heart after she falls in the Hudson River, but Ezekial Sims (Tahar Ramin), who shot Cassandra's mother when they were seeking a semi-mythical super-power-bestowing spider in Peru thirty years earlier can, and he's tormented by the fact that three young women with spider-like abilities (Isabela Merced, Celeste O'Connor, Sydney Sweeney) will kill him at some point in the future. So he figures out how to find them, but they all wind up on the same train as Cassandra, and she has a vision of him about to attack…

Add a bit in where the girls only get their powers because Ezekial is trying to kill them - that would be a logical way for them to get the magic spider-bites - and that would be kind of clever, or could be, if the five credited writers were taking more care to have all this stuff nailed down. Instead, there's a weird sort of tug of war between when they come up with something weird and screwy but in such a way that it feels like something an awkward person not used to superhero-related stuff would do and stuff that is just dumb. Sometimes the former seems to cause the latter, in that Cassandra and the girls have so little reason to make the leap to spider-powers that you've got to do something crazy to get them to the right exposition.

There's actually a little bit of weird relatable charm to Dakota Johnson's bafflement, at least, right up to the point where the need for explanation gets painful; there's something genuinely abnormal about how there's a bit of "what do you mean, natal trauma and a lifetime without roots has messed me up, I'm fine!" to pretty much everything she does. The cast is really not bad at all - I'd watch more movies with the Spider-Girls, while Adam Scott and Emma Roberts are quite likable as folks named Parker you can buy into. Tahar Rahim's Ezekial is more underwritten than anything. The action isn't massively-scaled, but works, and if the "hey, let's include something in a shot that's kind of like a spiderweb" stuff is trying too hard, it's in a way that usually feels like it would make a good comic panel. This would be pretty decent, if it came out 25 years ago, just before its 2003 setting.

Unfortunately, it comes out in 2024, with a studio throwing every lesser Spider-character they have at the wall in hoping something sticks as well as Venom, but in this case with nobody behind the scenes seeming to have the affinity for the genre that the MCU guys do or the Tom Hardy insanity that somehow worked. Perhaps most importantly, though, Ezekiel and the Spider-Girl characters are all close enough to Spider-Man in design and abilities that they remind the viewer that Sam Raimi and the Marvel Studios folks made a half-dozen Spider-Man movies better than this, and having them all exist before Spidey seems to make him incompatible with these movies, and who wants that?

Pegasus Dune Argylle Madame Web

No comments: