June 30, 2011

Green Lantern

After Bad Teacher, we headed straight to Green Lantern on Screen 2 (AMC Loews 34th Street 14). Since it was post-converted to 3D, we were leaning towards seeing it in 2D. But after reading some positive words on twitter arguing that the 3D effects were impressive, we were okay with seeing either version. The timing for the 2D version worked in our favor, so that's what we saw.

Mike: The theater was about half full, but don't worry: despite all the empty seats, there were plenty nightmare moviegoers to go around. Most of the audience seemed disinterested with the film - it was as if they were there to pass time instead of watching a movie. Lots of talking, lots of LCD screen lighting, and lots of people leaving and re-entering the room. There were a few people with kids, but they paid little to the movie. Neither did their parents - they were mostly talking and doing stuff on their smartphones. As soon as the movie started, a bunch of patrons left to get concessions. After sitting there for all the commercials and previews. I can't understand what would drive someone to do that. I guess some people just go to the movies to hang out, relax, eat overpriced junk food and see some random action scenes in between texts.

Even after seeing the trailers and commercials with weird aliens, it didn't dawn on me until the movie started that this was pretty hard science fiction. This isn't a regular superhero movie - it takes place far out in space. I can't help but wonder how this movie got such a big budget. I realize that the comic is popular, but man, this is really, really sci-fi, with a deep mythology that I can't see appealing at all to regular joes. It reminded me of something like Stargate - the TV show, not the movie. I have never seen a single episode of that show, but I understand that it was on for years and years, and a small group of dedicated fans were really into it, but nobody else. Well, Green Lantern seems like that. The sci-fi elements are pretty out there.

Just about everything about the movie was terrible. The Green Lantern - Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds, and the villains (one of them played by Peter Sarsgaard), fight each other using their imaginations. Seriously. It looks so unbelievably silly.

There are a handful of villains. Peter Sarsgaard seemed to be enjoying himself, and his scenes are amusing to watch. The giant evil spider cloud, which appears midway and doesn't figure until the end of the film, is cringeworthy. I couldn't help but think to myself, Holy shit! This is not a joke. It's a giant evil spider cloud monster with eyes. Someone spending $300 million thought that this was okay.

So Sarsgaard's character is the only one that's remotely interesting, and you can tell from his performance that he knows what kind of a movie he's in. He knows the deal. That can't be said for the others. While I can take or leave Ryan Reynolds, I don't like anything about Blake Lively. I don't think she's talented or attractive with that mole on her face. Even in The Town, an otherwise outstanding film, I was unable to bear her. You don't see much of her in The Town, but Green Lantern offers her an awful lot of screen time. Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett also appear, with the sole purpose of adding familiar names to the credits.

Besides the spider cloud, the worst moment in the film occurs when Hal is trained to use his willpower. An alien voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan throws all sorts of objects at Hal to teach him how to use his powers. It exceeds any 80s sports movie training montage in sheer stupidity, and has to be seen to be believed.

Green Lantern should also be singled out for one of the most absurd marketing tie-ins. For the past month, the film has been used to promote the addition of avocado as a sandwich topping at Subway.

Years ago, it became politically incorrect to use the R-word, whether to describe someone who is mentally challenged or something that's really stupid. I agree. It's a nasty word, and we really ought to excise it from our vocabulary. But man, that word would be the perfect adjective to describe Green Lantern. The entire movie can be summed up with just that one word.

Erica: I think I agree with everything you said. Reynolds doesn't strike me as the superhero type and Lively is just really annoying and shows up far too much in the film. People are surprised that this film 'underperformed' at the box office, yet Warner Bros. just announced a sequel. Wow....so are we to expect a bumble bee cloud or mosquito cloud in the sequel? I guess that means more bratty kids, smartphone glares, and maybe introducing broccoli or asparagus at Subway?? Only time will tell....a lot of Americans have a short attention span but Warner Bros. can only hope it is short enough that people will forget how terrible the first one was...

June 29, 2011

Bad Teacher

We started our Saturday with the 10:30 AM showing of Bad Teacher at the AMC Loews 34th Street 14. We went into Theater 9 and we experienced an issue we have faced before: muffled sound on the commercials. It sounds like you are going deaf and everything is under water. We have experienced this sound issue in this room before, but thankfully it's only on the pre-show/commercials. Everything is okay once the trailers start. Maybe they should look into their sound system, because we just can't get enough of listening to Tom Hanks talk about his upcoming film Larry Crowne.

The crowd was being extra ghetto today, but that can be expected at the AMC Loews 34th Street 14. We went into the theatre, took our seats and once the commercials ended and the previews began (at a normal volume), the comments started flying. Everybody seemed to be hooting and hollering very loudly at the trailers. Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star....really people? Outside of not having very good taste in movies, the people in this room also had trouble behaving in a normal and considerate manner. As the movie began, a cell phone rang behind us and of course, not respecting any rules or having manners, the phone was answered and a conversation carried on as it were taking place at home on the couch.

Mike: Hollywood is wondering why admissions are down at theaters. They're thinking it might be 3D, DVD/home theater, higher ticket prices, the economy, crappier movies... those are all undoubtedly big factors, but I think the biggest reason, which is mostly being ignored, is that theaters have lost control of their audiences. Too many people nowadays don't know how to behave in public places, and as a result, a lot of people just don't think it's fun to go to the movies anymore. We go to the movies to relax and have fun or see something that interests us. Not to be annoyed and lose faith the in the general goodness of mankind. Hollywood needs to pressure theater owners to get their shit together and make moviegoing pleasant again.

But we really like seeing movies, so we keep going anyway. And Bad Teacher was one that we were really looking forward to. Despite all the hoo-haw at the 34th Street 14, the movie did not disappoint!

Erica: I was excited to see this film because I am a HUGE Jason Segel fan. I was delighted that this film was a mini Freaks and Geeks reunion. Not only does it feature Dave 'Gruber' Allen, it is directed by Jake Kasdan, who directed multiple episodes of the series, and we also saw Paul Feig in a brief cameo. Freaks and Geeks fanatics like me loved the nod to the amazing, short lived series.

I am not a big Cameron Diaz or Justin Timberlake fan but they both surprised me in the movie. They weren't their annoying, whiny selves. I went into this film thinking it was going to be a raunch fest.

Which it totally was. And it was pretty damn funny. But as raunchy as it was, there was nothing remotely as gross or disturbing as anything in Bridesmaids, which neither of us liked as much as this one. I normally don't care for Cameron Diaz, but she was really funny. It's a pretty nasty character, but Diaz dives in and delivers every line with full conviction and without shame. She's in nearly every frame of the film, front and center, and really pulls it off.

That said, not all of the gags are home runs, but the movie moved along fast enough that it didn't matter much. It's a quick 89 minutes - fun to go see at the movies or rent a few months from now.

We both enjoyed this film and I say you should definitely catch this movie but if you have lost all faith in the general public and would rather spend your time at home, rent it when it comes to DVD. It is definitely worth watching regardless of whether you like Diaz and Timberlake, they will surprise you in this film. Check your ghetto attitude at the door.

June 22, 2011

Meek's Cutoff

Last Thursday we walked over to Brooklyn Heights Cinema, a small 2-screen movie house that's just a few blocks away from us. It's a cool place that we go to from time to time. They generally show foreign and independent films a few weeks after they open in Manhattan. Seats are comfortable, they show 35mm prints (remember those?), tickets are $10 ($8 during the week this Summer) and they have cool, less-expensive concessions. And the theater doors are adorned in leopard print!  Sadly, the sound is pretty bad - it sounds as if something has blown out. Just a few months ago, it looked like the theater was going to shut its doors, but Kenn Lowy recently took it over and has some exciting changes in store. Hopefully that will include better sound equipment. The Brooklyn Paper has a rundown of Lowy's plans, as well as a history of the theater and its past owners.

Mike: Anyway, we checked out Meek's Cutoff, the latest from indie darling Kelly Reichardt who made her breakthrough with Old Joy a few years back. I really dug Old Joy, as well as Wendy & Lucy, her 2008 film starring Michelle Williams. It's interesting to see Reichardt's progression from film to film. After the ultra-low budget Old Joy, Reichardt gained a star for her next film. In Meek's Cutoff, she's gained a handful of well-known character actors as well as a budget, apparently. Meek's Cutoff has a similar quiet, observational feel to it as Old Joy and Wendy & Lucy, but it's a western - and perhaps one of the most realistic depictions of the glamorized old west I've ever seen. I'm curious to see what kind of a film will be next.

Meek's Cutoff follows a group of settlers crossing the plains in 1845 Oregon under the guidance of an overconfident mountain man (Bruce Greenwood, barely recognizable under a long mountain man beard, plays title character Stephen Meek) who promised them a shortcut. Of course, nothing goes as planned. What makes the film really interesting is its authenticity. You see them scrubbing their dishes in the river. You see them loading their muskets. You see the flies constantly buzzing around. And you even get a good sense of how boring and uneventful life on (or in this case, off) the trail was. I have never seen this before in a western - at least not to this degree. Films like Dances With Wolves and Lonesome Dove give you a good sense of what life in the old west was like, but never has a western really shown the sweat and the grime as well as Meek's Cutoff.

Erica: I agree with you as far as the look and feel of the film. To me, it was a very slow moving film with the first few minutes containing no dialogue, just the settlers crossing a river. It really seemed to show their struggles as you see them, like you said, rinsing off dishes and washing in the river. I found the movie a bit boring, it was probably the most accurate depiction of what actually goes on that I have ever seen. It was a very unglamorous look at the life of a settler. I thought it was good for a true to life western that had some memorable performances by the ensemble cast, fronted by Michelle Williams as the strong, caring female lead.

Yeah, the cast is really impressive. Aside from Williams and Greenwood, there are excellent performances by Zoe Kazan, Shirley Henderson and Will Patton. Paul Dano's in there, too, although you don't see much of him. Another stand-out is Rod Rondeaux as the Indian, who the settlers encounter along the way. The bar has been raised for Native Americans in films in recent years - those simplified portrayals we saw in the past aren't acceptable, and Rondeaux's unnamed character is given depth and purpose. I should also highlight the cinematography, which is excellent, but of course the beautiful locale makes it hard not to be.

The trend in westerns in recent years has been to be gritty and violent. Meek's Cutoff isn't terribly violent but it's very gritty. You see the characters struggle along in the heat without a change of clothes for weeks, and you can almost taste the stench coming from their armpits and nether regions. So yeah, it's that kind of gritty.

Kelly Reichardt's films are an acquired taste. They are very slow and minimalistic. They are not for everyone. That's simply the state of man's attention span in this day and age. With that in mind, we cautiously recommend this film.

June 20, 2011

E-Walk vs Empire - 6/24

It's not the Battle of Endor, but the Battle of Times Square. Regal's E-Walk 13 is located directly across the street from AMC's Empire 25. Directly. I always thought it was an interesting sight to see. Within a few feet, there are 38 screens! While us New Yorkers are used to this, it must seem pretty crazy to tourists walking down 42nd Street. Two big multiplexes, right across the street from each other.

While Erica and I are pretty loyal to AMC, that's only because we refuse to pay full price. The E-Walk is a nice theater with some great screens and very comfortable seats. But they rarely get our business because they don't have matinee pricing (AMC's $6 pre-Noon tickets are tough to beat) and they have a $1.50 Manhattan surcharge on their bulk tickets. Nonetheless, we find it fascinating to look at which movies are playing at which theater. Because they never, ever play the same film.

Some weeks, when there are two major releases, the AMC will get one and the Regal will get the other. Other times, Regal will get both and AMC gets none. And vice versa. There are times when one theater will get the major releases week after week after week and the other is playing mostly old crap. Sorry, but I find that stuff fascinating.

I have no idea what process is in place and how it is decided who gets what. I can imagine some board room where a representative from each chain pleads their case and begs for this or that film. But that's not how it goes. If anyone knows, I'd love to find out how it works. I'm going to try to keep tabs on who gets what and keep you posted on the major releases. Keep in mind that the Empire has more screens, and that they play way more foreign/independent fare than the E-Walk.

Something else to keep in mind: AMC has the 34th Street 14 half a mile directly South of these theaters, and they play every major release. Which is why you can find Erica and I at that spot a lot, too.

So far this Summer, The Regal E-Walk 13 has gotten Super 8, Bridesmaids and The Hangover Part II, while AMC Empire 25 benefited from Fast Five, Kung Fu Panda II, X-Men, Pirates IV and Thor. This past weekend, Empire got both Mr. Popper's Penguins and Green Lantern, and the E-Walk got zilch.

Next week:

Empire goes 0-2 with both Cars 2 and Bad Teacher playing the E-Walk. After that, E-Walk scores big with Transformers 3 for the four-day 4th of July weekend. No word yet on which side of the street Larry Crowne will park his scooter that week.

MovieTickets.com and Digital

It's interesting that MovieTickets.com uses this illustration  to note that a film is being projected digitally.

Super 8

Erica: Last Sunday we were in New Jersey to visit Mike's parents. We occasionally go to the AMC Clifton Commons 16 when we stay there because it's a short walk from their home. Overall, this is a nice theater with comfortable seats, good screen sizes and decent sound quality. It is basically what you can expect from an AMC theater. Also nice about this theater: The crowds aren't ghetto. Although we must admit that we've never gone her on a Friday or Saturday night. But it is nice to get out of the city and see a movie with fairly well behaved people. You don't hear a lot of cell phones or talking. On the other hand, there are a lot of kids. The theater has two party rooms, making it very convenient for kids' birthday parties. We've witnessed a lot of them here. But thankfully, the kids here are far better behaved then the children we have encountered in Manhattan. At Kips Bay for example, we have seen the most bratty kids with light up shoes do dance moves during the movie. We've had Gatorade spilled on us there, too. We are not saying the kids in Jersey aren't annoying, they are just better by comparison. It seems like their parents have a better handle on them and they have no problems telling them to shut up, sit still and watch the movie. In Manhattan, the rich nanny-raised kids are uber-entitled and do whatever they want. And the poorer kids tend to be ignored, too, to the same effect. So yeah, we definitely notice a difference between kids in Manhattan and this area of Jersey.

But while the children seem more well behaved here, a few members of the adult audience in this theater helped New Jersey live up to its reputation. The theater was about halfway full (or halfway empty if you're a pessimist) and during the trailers, two middle aged Jerseymen stormed in like a hurricane, one of them diving into the buffer seat next to me where I was holding my purse. Without even looking down or asking if anyone was sitting there, he crushed my bag and hand underneath him. He didn't even bother getting up to let me get my hand and bag out. No apologies, either. We quickly moved one seat to the side to reinstate our buffer. And boy are we glad we did: His friend got a big bag of popcorn that the two of them shared. But he forgot something important: napkins. We spotted the guy wiping his buttery hands - first on the re-established buffer seat, and then later on his legs. Gross!!

Now....onto the movie Super 8.

This flick has been shrouded in mystery since the beginning. The previews would show enough to get the audience intrigued but not enough to give away what the movie is about. They wanted you to know the bare minimum to get you to the theater. Hollywood wunderkind J.J. Abrams wrote, directed and somehow cajoled Spielberg into producing and bringing back his Amblin imprint. The movie plays like a greatest hits compilation, taking moments and tones from such films as Stand By Me, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goonies. And even Mac and Me if you're counting horrible alien design.

Mike: Fun fact: In college, I had a philosophy professor whose name was J.J. Abrams. Seriously. Spelled the same way. But a different person. Weird, huh?

That is really weird...

This movie panders to our nostalgic sensibilities, but I thought it worked. It's interesting how so many films this year tap into our love for the past. Which is understanding, since the present kind of sucks, we think. We're seeing remake after reboot after TV show adaptation, all of them hoping to tap into our misconception that things were better back in the day. X-Men: First Class tries to recapture that funky 60s James Bond film vibe. Our little blue friends from the 80s - The Smurfs - are coming back in a few weeks. And later this year, Jason Segel looks to recapture whatever we loved so much about the late 70s/early 80s Muppets and not what we hated so much about the 90s Muppets. Midnight in Paris had a very interesting take on this morbid fascination that we have, when Owen Wilson travels to the glamorized 1920s to find people traveling to the 1890s, which they thought were the glory days. Nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia. It's everywhere. But Super 8 takes the cake. It is structured so closely along the lines of the aforementioned Spielberg films, it pushes the limits. Nearly everything in this film is a derivative of something we already saw. But damn, it sort of worked. Super 8 is a fun film. It's not great, but a lot of fun.

The cast is pretty good, although some of the kids really weren't necessary. They could have done with three instead of five - a major weakness in the script. But I thought all of them were pretty good.  I also liked the adult cast. I never watched Kyle Chandler's TV shows but I dug him in King Kong and I dig him here. It was also nice to see Ron Eldard again.

Riley Griffiths is the fat kid. If he is lucky he will turn out like the fat kids from The Goonies or Stand By Me and lose all his weight and become either a successful lawyer or marry a supermodel. So Good Luck, Riley.

The film is called Super 8 yet the actual film reel the movie is named for plays a small, unimportant role. It is used in the setup but does not factor at all into the payoff. That being said, I throughly enjoyed this film because of the nostalgic feel. It made me feel like a kid again, bringing up memories of movies I adored as a kid. If you're a child of the 80's, I think you will really enjoy this blast from the past.

I should note that over the end credits, they play the finished Super8 film made by the kids. It's a total buzzkill. They should have kept this for the DVD bonus disc. Anyway, overall it's a fun, highly enjoyable film. All that mystery courtesy of JJ Abrams and company was completely unnecessary - what exactly were they trying to keep from us? There are no big surprises or revelations in the film. But go see it. I walked out of the movie feeling great, as if I was transported back to the 80s. And then very quickly I became sad, realizing how pathetic that is.

June 09, 2011

Midnight in Paris

After X-Men, we got lunch and headed back to the Empire for our second screening - Woody Allen’s latest time travel comedy, Midnight in Paris. Following the rowdy morning crowd, we had a more subdued audience to look forward to for the second go-round. People who go to see Woody Allen movies don’t tend to fuck around on their phone or talk to the screen. But we did get the obligatory old-person-who-hasn’t-completely-figured-out-how-their-phone-works moment halfway into the film. You know, it rings… rings… rings… they figure out it’s theirs, and it rings… rings… and they don‘t know how to turn it off. But that can only be expected when you’re in the midst of an older, more upscale crowd.
We saw this movie in theater #7 - one of the best screens at the Empire, and home to really comfortable leather seats. You might have seen these leather seats at other AMC theaters. I noticed them in at least one of the rooms at the 34th Street 14, but only a few rows of them. In Theater 7 at the Empire, every seat is like that. They're really nice. Anyway, what's also nice about this auditorium is that it's tucked away from the crowds in an intimate little area of the theater. You have to take a separate escalator in order to reach 7 and 8, and the area has its own separate set of bathrooms that are much quieter and cleaner than the rest. So it's a more relaxed vibe, which suits this film very well. But that's not to say that we didn't encounter anything odd.

Mike: Right when we got in, I was grossed out by an old lady who sat next to us eating a pint of ice cream and put her bare feet on the railing. But anyway, people are coming out in droves to see this. Is it because it makes those of us who paid attention in history class feel smart? That might be part of the appeal, or it could just be that this is another example of Woody Allen near the top of his game.
Erica:  It was a really good Woody Allen film. I was a bit surprised that Owen Wilson was able to carry the lead role very well as a struggling author who is in a loveless relationship with his fiancee who seems like he is craving more and needs bigger and better things. I think the trailer is what drove people to see this movie. The mysteriousness of the film and what exactly happens in Paris at midnight. I don't think this was really a matter of who paid attention in history class as most people (at least I hope) know who Picasso & Hemingway are.
It was more than just Picasso and Hemingway, though. The trailer was alright, but I think what's driving people to the theater is more than that. It's the buzz, the concept, and the exciting, beautiful setting. I can't imagine people leaving the theater disappointed, and I see this being a sleeper hit going well into the Summer. And deservedly so.
As far as the older crowd, I think that is just the audience of Allen's movies. I was intrigued by this film and think that people should definitely check this movie out. It was worth the admission.

June 08, 2011

AMC's ETX - An Enhanced Theatrical Experience, or an Excuse to Charge Extra?

When you go to see a movie at a multiplex, you usually don't know how it's going to play out in front of you. You don't know whether you'll end up in the smallest room or if you'll be in the biggest auditorium with a giant screen, leather seats, and a booming sound system.

Thankfully, Movietickets.com and Fandango have a bit more information now than they did in the past. 35mm or digital? Stadium seating? The listings are now starting to identify stuff like this. But other than those few clues, you don't know what room you'll be in and you don't know how it's going to turn out. Unless, of course, your local multiplex has an IMAX screen and you're willing to pony up a few extra dollars to make sure you're seeing it in the best way possible. IMAX ensured a superior experience that was worth the surcharge.

But as IMAX became widely known as the superior theatrical experience, the company lowered its standards and began to lend its well-established brand name to any theater with a fairly big screen and the ability to bring its screen, seating, sound system and projection booth up to IMAX specifications - and most importantly, enough money to pay for the license to use the prestigiuos IMAX brand name. Many filmgoers caught on. It's pretty well-known in New York City that the only true IMAX screen here is at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, and recently retrofitted screens at the AMC Loews 34th Street 14 and the AMC Empire 25 are often (and justly) referred to as faux IMAX. They're simply not up to snuff.

But not everyone caught on. The aforementioned Empire and 34th Street IMAX screens are packed in the weekends, with plenty of movie enthusiasts happy to pay extra for a better audio/visual experience. This probably led to AMC thinking We can do that ourselves! So in 2009, AMC launched ETX, which now can be found at 14 of its theaters. One of them being the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square, where they charge $17 - a surcharge of $4 per regular ticket. Erica and I went to check it out recently to view Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 3D. Here's our take.

Let's start with what AMC promises with their ETX - Enhanced Theatrical Experience.
  • Wall to Wall 20% Bigger Screen
  • Breathtaking Sound
  • Digital Projection
That's it?? Seriously, AMC... just 3 bullet points to justify this four dollar surcharge? And all three are really vague. Like, what does 'breathtaking' mean?

I'll start with that - the breathtaking sound. I don't know what kind of sound system the Empire's ETX auditorium is equipped with, and even if I did, it would mean nothing to me. While there are few things worse than seeing a film with a broken sound system, I'm generally not one to complain about sound at the movies. It's usually fine, and I'm also not one of those people who needs to feel the walls shake and the floor vibrate when there's an explosion. I'm there to watch a movie, not to get a cheap foot massage, and frankly I find it to be more of a distraction than anything else. There are no specifics about the 'breathtaking' sound on the AMC website, but a press release mentioned that ETX-equipped theaters have 'twice as many audio channels compared to typical auditoriums.' Other promotional materials have mentioned '11,000 watts.' For an auditorium of this size, 11,000 is not a remarkable number.

As for Digital Projection, is that really something special at the movies today? AMC has been very vigilant in their transition from 35mm to digital. I checked the movie listings for most of the AMC theaters in the New York City area, and had to go all the way to the AMC Loews Fresh Meadows in Fresh Meadows, NY, to find an AMC multiplex that wasn't all-digital. Which could just be an error on the site, for all I know.

The film we went to see was in 3D. I was hoping that the Enhanced Theatrical Experience would mean that it was projected a bit brighter than usual to overcompensate for the fact that we're essentially wearing sunglasses. Sadly, the 3D darkness in AMC's ETX was no different than I've experienced in other rooms, although Pirates of the Caribbean is a pretty dark film to begin with. Overall, the digital presentation was fine, but nothing to write home about and no better or worse than I've seen on the 24 other screens at the Empire.

Finally, we get to the screen size. It's supposed to be 20% bigger. Bigger than what? The average screen? If that's the case, 20% is a really insignificant number, as I can't imagine the average movie theater screen to be that big. I have seen films in Theater 6 before the ETX conversion and after, and I didn't notice a difference. This is one of the bigger auditoriums at the Empire, but I'm pretty sure that there are a few other screens there - aside from the IMAX screen - that are just as big.

Another complaint I must note is that the top right corner of the 20% bigger screen has an embarrassing obstruction. I don't know exactly what it is, but it looks like part of the movie screen is folded over. It's one of those things that you don't always notice right off the bat, but when you do, it's really distracting. I've encountered this at a handful of movie theaters - and it's pretty bad on one of the other screens at the Empire - but to see this on a premium screen is not acceptable.

Other than that, the screen is fine, and so is the seating. Personally, I'd rather sit in Theater 7, equipped with all-leather seats (and no premium). But I shouldn't complain. The AMC Empire has excellent, very comfortable seats in all 25 auditoriums, many of them with stadium seating.

In summary, ETX is not worth the surcharge. When it comes down to it, ETX is a knock-off. It isn't even to faux IMAX what faux IMAX is to IMAX. My advice: Unless you're going to see a movie that you've really been looking forward to and you want to make sure that you see it on a good screen and you don't mind paying more, avoid it.

Coming soon: We'll cross the street to the Regal E-Walk to try out the Regal Premium Experience. It'll probably be a copy/paste job.

Gen Art is Back

Gen Art, a so-called non-profit organization that put on hip events across the country - fashion shows, advance movie screenings, film festivals, parties, art galleries - shut its doors last year, just weeks after this sucker ponied up for a one-year membership. At that time, I didn't know about the behind-the-scenes drama, but maybe you did.
Anyway, I didn't get my money back, but how thrilled was I to learn that they're back from bankruptcy with another film festival this year, and that screwed former members can get a a total of five dollars off each thirty dollar movie ticket. Such savings.
I went to one of their screenings last year. About a quarter of the dolled-up audience left before the movie was over to rush to the after party.
Anyway, if you're interested in seeing the latest Scott Caan film or a movie that nobody liked at Sundance, check out the line-up at GenArt.org and use the code memtix11 to get a $5 discount. Some of the films look interesting, but I'll wait for another avenue to view them.

X-Men: First Class

Saturday morning started with us going to our go-to theatre, the AMC Empire on 42nd Street. Even though our first movie started at 10:05, it was already packed with a magnificent display of riff-raff, loudmouths, and bad parenting. People who can’t go fifteen minutes without illuminating the room to get an update on their social lives? Check (two seats away). Kids who keep asking questions? Check (three seats away). A typical day at the movies.

We were in Theatre 14, one of their better, bigger screens at the Empire. After coming really early to see Pirates two weeks earlier and walking into an empty room, we weren’t expecting it to be this busy. But we’re glad we went to see it early anyway - we could only imagine how bad it would have been later in the day.

X-Men: First Class, the fifth X-Men film and the second prequel of the series, was Erica’s introduction to the series. I guess you can’t really watch these films in order, because Erica left the screening entertained but with a lot of questions. So here is Mike’s take.

X-Men First Class has fun, clever moments and a handful of interesting characters, but is it enough to set itself apart from the run-of-the-mill comic book film? Barely. Michael Fassbender and Kevin Bacon stand out in the ensemble cast, and Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy are fine. But the rest of the peanut gallery of young mutants are either unremarkable or plain annoying, and their predictable character arcs (they all get to prove themselves!) come close to pushing this movie back to the average superhero action genre flick. I dug it, and while there’s a lot to like about it, it’s really just on the same level as the first two X-Men flicks. Which were okay, but lately have been elevated more than they should by the lackluster third film and the Wolverine prequel.

It’s decent Summer escape, and the 60s setting and groovy Bond vibe make it just slightly different from what we’re used to seeing. If you liked any of the first four, you’ll definitely like this one.

Coming up: Midnight in Paris

June 03, 2011

Surviving Attack the Block

Have you ever been to one of those Advanced Screenings, where you get a free pass for an upcoming movie and it turns out that they hand out way more passes than there are seats? That's how it goes the first time, and you learn that you have to get there a few hours beforehand. So the second time, you get there early enough, wait in line, watch the movie, and afterwards realize that it's totally not worth all this hassle.

That was our Wednesday night, except in this case, the movie was something we were really looking forward to that wasn't coming out until much later in the year. The movie was Attack the Block, a British sci-fi thriller about a group of kids who have to deal with an alien invasion in their neighborhood. It's the first film from Edgar Wright collaborator Joe Cornish, and Wright produced. Wright regular Nick Frost also appears. Wright? Frost? We had no choice but to go.
Erica: I arrived at the Clearview Chelsea - my favorite bedbug hotel - at around 3:30 for the 7 pm screening. There was already a line, consisting of one guy who got there at 7 am. He told me he was saving spots for five or six friends. Apparently they have a group that shares RSVP codes and tickets for these screenings, and they do several times a week. I thought that holding spots for five or six people was kind of pushing it but being that I was pretty confident that the theatre held more than ten seats, I knew I was fine. But then his friends started piling in. These were the types of people that go anywhere and everywhere for something just because it's free. They had gotten somewhere between fifty and seventy free Sobe juice drinks from a nearby giveaway spot, tapping them out completely between the half dozen of them. They also took a lot of their free T-shirts. Now, normally I wouldn't complain that someone showed up way after me and was standing in front of me in line, as I was saving a spot for Mike.

At 4:30, Mike arrived, and we were at least able to watch this unfold together. The screening was at 7pm and I was number 26 into the theatre. Yup, the '5 or 6 people' in front of me turned into 25. That wasn't even the entire group... a bunch more - equally unkempt - waited right behind me.

Mike: At one point, a middle-aged man who I thought looked pretty normal joined the group, and I thought to myself "hey, here's the first normal-looking guy." But then he stuck his hand down his underwear to adjust his himself. Nope... still a group of gross, sketchy people. He repeated the adjustment again a few minutes later, and I made sure to stay clear from him as much as possible.

Erica: What annoyed me the most about this was not so much the fact that 25 people didn't wait on line and cut in front of me (I was doing the same, albeit for just 2 people) was that all those people were there with zero interest in this movie whatsoever. Most were older and told me they only went because it was free and 'that's what they do.' It was the fact that there were a lot of people who really, truly wanted to see this movie that didn't get in due to some people who do this everyday, that's what bugged me about it. I tried telling the Sony Classics rep that they ought to get someone to keep things organized out there but they informed me that "we don't get there that early." They gave me tickets for VIP seats - intended for press - but we stayed in the seats we already got. Inside the theatre, the gang of cutters were saving seats using their shoes and socks. It was pretty gross, and I hope the theatre crew hosed down the seats once that movie was out. 

Thankfully, the movie was good. 

I thought Attack the Block was a really neat throwback to classic 80s films like Gremlins, Lost Boys and The Goonies, with some excellent characters. It's amazing how you really, really hate them at the beginning of the movie, and then slowly you go from rooting against them to rooting for them.

I agree. I went into this movie not knowing anything other than the fact that aliens were involved, it was produced by Edgar Wright and Nick Frost was in it (those reasons alone were enough for me).
Marketing this is going to be a challenge. No big stars, very British, contains violence towards children (which I think is risky but it made the movie stand out), and most importantly, it doesn't have an original idea, just a fresh take on the alien invasion concept that has been overused in Hollywood blockbusters.

Also, it's being praised to high heavens, and while it's a pretty damn good movie, one of the things it's got going for it is the fact that it's pretty simple. All this early hype will be helpful, but I can see the backlash coming from miles away. It's a fun, cool flick - very well made with some really interesting characters.  Just managing expectations...

Joe Cornish is very skillful director and I know we'll be hearing a lot more from him. The young actors in the film were all excellent, and while Nick Frost wasn't in the film very much, he was a blast. Another thing I liked was the design of the wolf-like aliens. They have a pretty simple design but nonetheless pretty menacing with massive fangs that light up. And very mysterious.

They were mysterious, and we don't learn much about them. I liked the light up fangs, I thought they were cool.

I thought the movie was a lot of fun and I think US audiences will enjoy it as well. I don't think there is a release date yet, but it should be coming out later in the year.

June 01, 2011

The Tree of Life

Mike's review:

I'm a die-hard Terrence Malick fan. The first film of his I saw was The Thin Red Line, which is one of my all-time favorites. Badlands and Days of Heaven are brilliant, and I put The New World as the best film of 2005. Hell, even when people try to imitate him (David Gordon Green, Andrew Dominik) the results are spectacular. The guy is a genuine movie god.
His reclusiveness was once fascinating, now distracting. Brad Pitt said at Cannes that he's really shy. But extremely shy people don't make movies. When a handful of fans spotted him at a restaurant in Cannes, he declined autographs and photos, instead offering to shake their hands. He goes to great lengths to maintain his privacy, but do other great directors really get bothered that much by anyone? Sometimes, those who seek privacy actually want attention - and that's what Malick is getting out of it, whether he wants it or not. The whole mystique surrounding him seems manufactured. Anecdotes about his love for the Ben Stiller movie Zoolander almost seem like schtick. Maybe he's carefully crafting his own legacy. Or maybe he just wants his films to speak for themselves. On one hand, that's exactly what he's accomplishing... but on the other hand, the Bigfoot-like reports of his whereabouts are turning him into a sideshow.
But, whatever. The guy's brilliant and he can do what he wants. Or so I thought. That seems to be the very problem with The Tree of Life. With his first four films, he spoiled me. And perhaps he too was spoiled, with his freedom and authority, surrounded by Yes-men with too much trust in his ability to deliver. I doubt that The Tree of Life as-is is anywhere near what he set out to make and the end-result seems not so much compromised as it does salvaged.
The Tree of Life is a poignantly hard-hitting, beautiful film. I'll be the umpteenth person to proclaim that, yes, every frame is a work of art. But in the Malick canon, it's still a misfire. In my opinion, the problem is in the prologue (evolution) and the epilogue (afterlife). The hour and a half in the middle - which involves a boy and his two brothers and their caring mother (Jessica Chastain) and domineering, sometimes abusive (albeit not unusually so for a '50s patriarch) father (Brad Pitt) - was great. I found it to be a wonderful warts-and-all portrait of growing up, expectations, unrealized ambitions, loss, and so on. And, of course, the struggle of how to go through life. I should also add that the framing device involving Sean Penn was effective. All the performances - especially Pitt and the eldest son - were outstanding.

While I liked the beginning, which shows us the Big Bang and evolution, I didn't find it necessary as part of the whole. It doesn't say anything that isn't already said in the main storyline, really. And while some of the imagery is stunning, not all the visual effects are up to par. On its own, it's a stunning montage, but as part of Malick's film, it puts the story it's telling in an outrageous context. While some might find it compelling and thought-provoking, it just didn't do much for me.
The same goes for the epilogue, which explores the afterlife. I found it to be unnecessary and ultimately just plain silly.
The film is emotionally powerful and definitely worth your time - both to see it and to process it. With Malick's previous films, I think I just saw him as a genius and accepted every choice he made with a strong trust in his moviegod talents. He is a master, after all. But with The Tree of Life, Malick's time spent in the editing room (over a year) is painfully obvious. He's notorious for filming tons of footage and stewing it in the editing room. In The Thin Red Line, significant characters were cut completely out of the film, while others saw their parts reduced to just minutes of screentime. It's clear that this was also the case with Sean Penn's character - as the grown-up eldest son in present times - in The Tree of Life. With the Thin Red Line, it worked out marvelously and the end result is a masterpiece. With Tree of Life, not quite...
The Tree of Life is good-but-not-great. Contemplative and stunning. While I can be happy with a good film, coming from Malick I'm disappointed that it's not great.