This Week in Geek (25/11-01/12/13)


A few DVD purchases from the indie vault this week: Crystal Fairy and Frances Ha (see below for the latter).


DVDs: The World's End is Edgar Wright's third film in the trilogy that started with Shawn of the Dead and continued in Hot Fuzz, and like both previous films flips a switch at the end of Act 1 that turns it into a genre movie, and explores the themes of conformity vs.individualism and the anxieties of growing up in a man-child permissive culture. I make it sound so intellectual, but it sort of is. On the surface, old friends now pushing 40 go on the pub crawl they weren't able to complete in their youth. Their home town seems strange and different and that's because it's been taken over by aliens robots in a John Wyndam/Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of way. Cue the best martial arts scenes ever films in the UK and lots of drunk alien-fighting gags. But it bears watching a second time once you know the story. Wright has inserted foreshadowing throughout the prologue and along the way, important color cues to tell you who has been or will be turned, and lots of Easter eggs besides. He's created a cohesive whole with a strong thematic foundation, and a metaphorical journey about recapturing one's youth and finding one's way back (of for the first time) to adulthood. Or you can just enjoy it as drinking game/SF action movie. The DVD I own has a commentary track shared by Wright and Simon Pegg, which mostly discusses the writing of it (Blu-Ray has two more tracks and more besides, but I haven't converted), and a making of that's more interested in the writing, casting and filming than technical concerns (and that's fine by me).

The Four is a 2012 superhero wuxia film (based on a Chinese novel) that is big on camera tricks, huge sets and superpower action sequences, but doesn't quite manage to breathe life into its characters. The opening is a bit confusing, and the plot about feuding constabularies, a counterfeiting conspiracy and the rise of an undead army is at least one element too much. Not to say The Four isn't entertaining, but it takes a while to get into it. The characters are fleshed out eventually. So it's mostly eye candy, with lots of power tricks (only a few in bad CG), a kitty and a puppy, and kind of a cool supervillain. I could stand watching it back with less tired eyes, but at no point did I feel an eagerness to see a sequel. The DVD includes 25 minutes of behind the scenes/making of material, well put together in web-friendly bites, and a few deleted scenes that were exactly the kind of character-driven stuff I wanted in the film proper (why would you ever cut a scene with the great Anthony Wong?), but it was already pushing two hours.

Frances Ha is a little black and white indie film by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), co-written by its star, Greta Gerwig, who plays a 27-year-old listless would-be dancer trying to make it in New York City. At its core, the film is a love story between Frances and not a boyfriend, but her best friend Sophie, a relationship that's put to the test by Frances' seeming inability to grow beyond the present moment. She only lives in the moment, and makes grandiose mistakes based on that moment's feeling. Structurally, the film follows that principle, jumping weeks, months, possibly years without onscreen notification or explanation, taking us to those defining moments. A comedy driven by its characters' wit and pathetic decisions - a type of comedy I admit being a fan of - it's not the move intensely "plotty" thing ever made, more of a portrait really, though we're definitely taken on a slow personal journey. You can fault its idleness (though it's the character's) or say it's entirely too derivative of Woody Allen's work (and by extension, of Lena Dunham's, perhaps the subject matter and generation pictured makes it inevitable), but the end of the film has such a perfect (and unusual) summation of its themes that all is forgiven. Worth staying 'til the end.

Audio: It's getting cold out there, so I've stopped reading while walking to and from work, and started listening to Big Finish Doctor Who audios instead, my hands firmly in my coat pockets for warmth. Find and Replace is pure Paul Magrs shenanigans, with Katy Manning playing BOTH Jo Grant AND Iris Wildthyme... It was bound to happen some day. The story has an older Jo meeting a Noveliser from Verbatim 6 who attaches himself to her and wishes to narrate her life (a cute way to use the Companion Chronicles format, but Magrs could have done a lot more with it), except his version of the story has Jo traveling with Iris, not the Doctor. Where did this corrupted history come from? The dual Katy Manning characters team up to track down the culprit in what turns out to be a fun comedy with a deft understanding of who the third Doctor and his relationship to Jo were.

The Sentinels of the New Dawn as an organization first appeared in Leviathan, a 6th Doctor Lost Story. The audio under that title came out later, but takes place earlier in the Doctor's time line, as Liz Shaw and the third Doctor are sent 30 some years into their future to a world where New Dawn has time travel capability and is doing terrible things to increase its power. Paul Finch's story is good if not too memorable, well-produced, has some good insights into the Doctor at this stage in his life, and Caroline John is always very good as narrator. It sounds like New Dawn is being developed as a recurring threat for the audio range, though they've yet to reappear since 2011. Maybe John passing away put a damper on those plans, though Sentinels doesn't really work if Liz met then again and again during her UNIT career. Still, an anti-UNIT would certainly be an interesting component of any future stories told by Jo Grant, Mike Yates and Sgt. Benton, which I guess are the era's sole survivors now.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Branagh '96

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Supergirl to Superman/Batman.


Tim Knight said...

Great review of The World's End, far more savvy than my own ramblings. To be honest I'd originally thought I'd wait for it to come on LoveFilm or even TV (the trailers for the movie hadn't exactly sold me), but at the last moment I picked it up as an impulse and was very pleased I did.

Siskoid said...

We're planning to watch the whole Cornetto trilogy in one go during the holidays, though I'm still pretty certain Hot Fuzz remains my favorite of the three. We'll see.

Somehow, I never saw any trailers for World's End, so while I knew it was going to turn apocalyptic at some point (it's not my first rodeo), I had no idea what the film was at all about, so the Blanks were a complete surprise. That's always fun.

Anonymous said...

I love "The World's End" with a passion that would earn me a life sentence in Victorian England. Well maybe not quite that much passion, but it's a great film.

For me, the Blanks are more or less incidental; I'm enjoying the interactions between the friends too much. And I love how they sort of did, and sort of didn't, do the cliche ending of "flawed protagonist learns his lesson and sets out to live his life better" -- honestly it's genius how they worked out a perfect ending.

Also: best Captain Kirk speech ever. You know the ones, where he gives omnipotent aliens a crash course in human morality, and they leave with new understanding of what it means to be human.

So I'm sure you noticed the landlady from "Spaced" as the bed-and-breakfast owner; didja notice Brian, working at one of the pubs? He's put on a few so he doesn't look like a starving artist any longer. But listen to the voice and you can almost hear Brian in there.

Siskoid said...

Yep, noticed both, I was practically waiting for Daisy and Twist to show up by that point.

Teebore said...

But it bears watching a second time once you know the story. Wright has inserted foreshadowing throughout the prologue and along the way, important color cues to tell you who has been or will be turned, and lots of Easter eggs besides.

Good to know. I thoroughly enjoyed the film the first time through (though like you, I think Hot Fuzz is still my favorite of the three, though the central relationship in this one really resonated for me), and will definitely watch it again. I'll have to keep my eye out for that stuff.


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