This Week in Geek (4-10/11/13)


A few DVDs this week: The Hobbit (extended), Mad Men Season 6, Before Midnight and Stories We Tell. It says something about me that I was most excited about the last two (already reviewed below).


DVDs: Didn't watch a Halloween movie for Halloween, so Young Frankenstein (one of the actually GOOD films I won in the last Oscar Pool) is a case of better late than never. And I hadn't seen it in decades. The thing about Mel Brooks' parodies is that unlike their modern equivalent - Scary Movie and the like - they're not just a collection of references, gags and clichés, they're telling their own story. So Young Frankenstein is at once a tribute to the old Frankenstein films - using similar cinematography, make-up and pacing, as well as some of the original props - a parody of the same, AND as a proper sequel! Yes, there are gags and even a hilarious musical number, but the story is also a poignant one about fathers and sons. Younger audiences might, I suppose, get impatient with the comedy because it's definitely not "laugh-a-minute", but I rather admire it because it ISN'T. Gene Wilder and company are pitch perfect, of course, and I've always had a crush on Teri Garr, and ooh, didn't realize Gene Hackman had a small part in it! The DVD includes a pretty good commentary track by Brooks, while the making omits him in favor of cast (well, just Wilder, really) and crew. Together, they tell a pretty complete story. You'll also find a couple of vintage interviews made for Mexican TV, some deleted scenes and outtakes and a huge collection of production stills.

Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell is an astonishing documentary in which she resurrects her mother through the memories of those who knew her, and in the process examines their unreliability, how each point of view adds but also confused to the larger picture, explores the territoriality we feel towards people and stories, and reveals Polley's own rather intimate origins as a child born of an illicit affair. It pulls no punches - her non-biological father at one point calling her a cruel director - and even includes opposition to and criticism of the documentary's premise and process. She even finds a way to make the audience question its own point-of-view. This is fascinating filmmaking, at times funny, at others poignant, even hard to watch, but always interesting. Which is amazing considering most of us kind of drift off in conversations about someone else's family and friends. This could have been completely irrelevant subject matter, but in the specifics, I think Polley finds the universal. Going on my list of best films I saw this year.

Before Sunrise is hugely important to me, and saw the first meeting of Jesse and Céline in Vienna. In Before Sunset nine years later, they crossed paths again in Paris, and the same spark was there, even though the things they were interested in had evolved. Nine years after that, we catch up with them again, this time in Greece, in Before Midnight. If the first two were romances, this one is closer to drama. Now past the 40-year-old mark, the characters are past romance and into "relationship", which makes this a very different film. It's still a film about a series of conversations about big ideas, but it's a more mature one that goes from big picture and philosophy to the nitty-gritty of the personal. If you're looking for Before Sunrise all over again, you'll be disappointed. If you're looking to revisit human characters who have aged with their writers/actors (and with me, I'm about the same age they are), touching and hurtful and real and beautifully acted? You'll find Before Midnight is not a case of diminishing returns. The main theme is still love, mind you, but love between people who know each other all too well. Director and co-writer Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy provide the commentary track, appear in the short making of, and participate in the longer Q&A and manage not to sound repetitive. It's rare I find a Q&A all that insightful, so this was a nice surprise.

Ben Affleck's The Town refers to a rough Boston neighborhood called Charlestown, which has apparently produced more bank robbers than any other place in the world, and Affleck uses real cases as fodder for this story of a tortured bank robber who wants out after falling for a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) one of his crew (the now ubiquitous Jeremy Renner) briefly took hostage. Meanwhile, the FBI (led by Don Draper--I mean Jon Hamm) is closing in. It's not an original story, but it's one that's well told. The action set pieces are exciting, the robbers are clever, and the drama is well acted. Affleck manages to get some big actors in small parts, but also use a lot of local color, casting the real people of Charlestown in bit parts so he could have authenticating experts on set. There are about 10 minutes of extras, including a small featurette on just that, and another that's making of 101 with too large a spoonful of sucking up to the director/star.

Homeland Season 2's big trick is making you believe in a new status quo before events force the quo out of the status in favor of yet another new paradigm. Traditional television could milk your average episode of Homeland for an entire season. At times, I wanted the season to slow down and explore a particular idea longer, but I certainly can't say it at any point rested on its laurels. And if that means jettisoning a bunch of characters, then it will do so. As with Season 1, the tension lies in watching smart people make stupid decisions, all brilliantly acted to boot. Damian Lewis in particular is doing an amazing job of playing TV's most conflicted character EVER. The DVD features a couple of focused making ofs (the episode shot in Israel, the season finale), a video diary shot on Super 8 and narrated by Lewis (a lot of shout-outs to crew members, really), a few deleted scenes, and a quick prologue to Season 3.

The only  way I would have accepted Ninja Assassin's title (surely competition for Doctor Who's The Deadly Assassin in the redundancy category) is if there were an assassin actually killing ninjas. DING! You win, Ninja Assassin. You win. Korean pop star Rain plays a fairly convincing martial arts master who has turned against his ninja clan and is killing them in the incredibly violent ways they taught him. Naomie Harris is the Europol analyst who starts to believe in ninjas, and finds herself in a position where she needs his protection. Lots of action with some imaginative gore gags and special ninja power eye candy, which I think is what you'd be looking for in this kind of movie (if you take your glasses off, you can just about imagine it as Wolverine flick). If you've started asking how ninja clans can possibly be a secret given their public action scenes during the course of the film, you're clearly thinking about it too hard. Just enjoy shirtless Rain and/or people getting chopped into bits (depending on your particular interests) and shut up. The DVD has a few deleted scenes that would have complicated, among other things, the Europol elements, but that's it.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week: Hamlet's Letter - Kline '90
Act IV Scene 4 - Tennant (2009)

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Strange Adventures to Super Friends.


snell said...

Try watching the blind man sequence in Bride Of Frankenstein with a straight face now, without cracking up over Gene Hackman. Can't be done. Damn you, Mel Brooks!!!

Siskoid said...

Challenge accepted!

CalvinPitt said...

The first time I saw an ad for Ninja Assassin, I thought it might actually be a Shang Chi movie, since the main character seemed to reject the destiny laid out for him, and was thus hounded by what I thought was his displeased father.

Siskoid said...

If it wasn't for the excessive violence and some specific ninja powers (like the super-healing and shadow-walking), this could totally have been a Shang-Chi movie. It's the same set-up.


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