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The Hell and The Light, The Water and The Ocean

My non-consecutive moviegoing double feature this weekend involved opposite ends of the current indie film spectrum. Both visits were at two different MJR (‘Movies Just Right”) locations relatively near my house; MJR has become my favorite cinema chain to support in metro Detroit thanks to its catchy jingle “it’s more fun at MJR” along with a tangibly LOCAL focus of its business, as the company is headquartered right here in Michigan and thus seems more committed to its constituents than AMC or some other chain.

FIMG_3689irst up was a visit to the 20-plex in Sterling Heights, which follows a template established in other MJR complexes but seems to do it especially well at this location, even though the surrounding area leaves a lot to be desired. In short, this complex has become my “destination movie” location of choice, even though it’s around 20 miles away from my house. The film I chose, Hell or High Water, has drawn considerable critical praise as a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale summer movie season, and it was easy to see why; the film mostly lived up to the hype for me.

From the very first scene (a long wraparound shot of a Texas town that has clearly seen better days) it is clear that the story will be told in a distinct way. We follow two brothers, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, as they approach and perform several bank robberies in similarly desperate looking towns. But as the nuances continue to unfold for the film itself, it’s clear that the story will not be a simple or action packed revenge tale. Audience allegiance seems to shift constantly between the two brothers, although Pine is ultimately presented as the more sympathetic character. Add in a veteran sheriff portrayed by Jeff Bridges at his most grizzled and muffled (with an overdone Texas accent) and the recipe is in place for a slow-burning character study.

The film benefits from a constantly shifting moral compass that doesn’t settle in one place. Although the ultimate outcome for one character appears without much surprise, the way in which it’s reached continues the impression of being willing to go the extra mile (literally) and not choose the easy route for any outcome. This trend continues as the film reaches its ultimate (and surprisingly non hyper violent) conclusion, as the emphasis is placed on the humanity as much as it can be.

The following evening brought a trip to MJR’s complex in Chesterfield, which I’d previously experienced at an awkward transition moment early this year when they were in the process of converting to increasingly customary reclining and reserved seating. This time, the dust had settled and the cinema was moderately busy. (I was amused that the evening ticket price is 50 cents less than the complexes closer to Detroit, reflecting its location in the farther ‘burbs.)

Not really sure why I chose to catch The Light Between the Oceans aside from an appreciation for location based period drama and the work of the central acting trio: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz. Weisz in particular seems to just get better and better with each film I see her perform in. Amusingly, this film also put Weisz and Vikander face to face; the last two Bourne female leads facing off in a different universe.

Although I walked in with a retrospective appreciation for director Derek Cianfrance’s earlier work – seen in films Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines – after the film started I was quickly reminded of the overwrought subtext and directorial choices present in those films … and they reappeared here on an even larger scale. It was difficult to get invested in the character and emotion of the story – though undoubtedly lushly filmed and acted with high commitment – when everything is heavily telegraphed in the narrative. An epilogue scene was particularly awkward, both in its hastiness and tidying up of the plot.

My response may also be due to this film falling victim to the “most of the story is telegraphed in the trailer” increasingly common problem among films these days, so that the story’s unfolding was less of a WHAT is going to happen and more of a WHEN is this going to happen. I ought to have just come in for the second hour of the film as it was, but at least the story was told well and with obvious gusto.

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Film Flashback: First Contact

Why not continue with what is clearly a theme for this week?

First ContactStar Trek: First Contact celebrates the 18th anniversary of its release tomorrow. Something about seeing that movie on the big screen must have been a formative experience for me (the first time I ever rushed out to see a movie on opening night, perhaps?) as I have continued to recall its anniversary on this day of the year. Last year, of course, it shared the date with the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination.

I thought I had written an earlier LiveJournal flashback entry about seeing First Contact on the big screen, but I can’t find it. So I will attempt to recount the experience here.

I was very eager to discuss the movie throughout that Friday of 7th grade, and various Trek fans sites of the time – probably message boards and magazines – had been counting down to the release for a while. Once evening rolled around, my dad, a close friend and I traveled to the Showcase Cinemas in Woburn, intending to catch First Contact. But (in this pre online and mobile ticketing era) it was SOLD OUT for the night! I was pleased that all signs seemed to indicate it would be a hit, but it wasn’t feasible for us to stay for the late show. Since we were there… we ended up at the premiere screening of the weekend’s other new release, Jingle All The Way, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad playing dueling fathers in the holiday shopping season. We drove back home to the North Shore with a slight sense of disappointment.

The next day, my dad and I traveled along with some family friends to the General CInema in Burlington to again attempt to catch First Contact. Unfortunately my friend who had come along the previous evening was not able to join us.. We succeeded in catching a matinee of the film along with a sold-out crowd at Burlington’s largest screen, cinema 5, right in the middle of the complex. I remember appreciating the synchronicity of seeing it there, as we’d seen the first trailer for First Contact when catching Independence Day at that same cinema during the summer of 1996.

My dad and I enjoyed the film so much we saw it again just a week later back at Woburn, and for a third time at the General Cinema in Framingham on a snowy night in early January 1997. In fact, I realize that “threepeat” viewing set a pattern that I followed for the subsequent two Next Generation films in 1998 and 2002… perhaps those can be “film flashbacks” in a few weeks.

The film was the perfect adrenaline rush for a die – hard Next Generation fan like myself. Its PG-13 rating signified that Trek had embraced a new edge, where all previous films had been rated PG, except the first one with an odd G rating. The Next Generation crew were solidly on their own in this adventure, and weren’t afraid to kick some ass with their longtime Borg arch-nemeses. My favorite character, Data, got a whole story arc of his own as a captive of the Borg Queen, and also got to assert himself as the film reached a climax. The music score showed veteran composer Jerry Goldsmith returning to the series with gusto, contributing a refreshed rendition of his title theme and many additional atmospheric and memorable cues. The special effects was very much au currant for 1996, most notably seen in an extended sequence on the new Enterprise’s deflector dish. Perhaps most importantly, each member of the Enterprise crew was given at least one moment to shine or show off a particular character trait, with results showing their range from devastating drama (Picard: “the line must be drawn HERE!”) to broad comedy (Troi: : “I don’t have the time… what was I saying?”) and with the sure hand of cast member Jonathan Frakes guiding them in his cinematic directorial debut, the sky was the limit and anything was possible in Star Trek’s 30th anniversary year.