This Week in Geek (30/12/13-05/01/14)


Took a while to get here thanks to stormy weather and an unshoveled walkway, but got me some Justified Season 4 on DVD at last (see below).


At the movies: I'm a big fan of grifter movies, but where their characters often come off as smug as what you saw on screen is shown to be an elaborate game, American Hustle instead plays on their desperation as things go wrong and variables outside their control impinge on their plans. Based on true events, the film chronicles an FBI agent's corralling of two grifters to help him entrap corrupt politicians and mobsters in the 70s, and though it starts a little slow with dreaded narration, soon becomes an exciting showcase for the actors involved. Christian Bale has once again transformed his body for the role. Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper are uniformly excellent as well. But the real revelations are the film's more comical characters played by Jennifer Lawrence and, in a smaller but hilarious part, Louis C.K. It's not the best "con game" movie, but that's not what it's going for. As a character study, both fun and tragic, about flawed individuals you'll love even though you condemn them, it shines.

DVDs: I can't decide. Justified Season 4 is either the least memorable in the show's history, or does exactly what Justified should have been doing all along. I'll try to explain. Each of the previous seasons had a very clear story arc, with a seasonal villain and a fairly specific aspect of Harlan County's criminal enterprise to explore. Even so, the world built up a lot of characters and subplots over those three years, and Season 4 is about catering to those. There IS a central story arc, about a wanted man hiding under an assumed identity for 20 years, is a strange mystery that only becomes involving towards the end, but it's secondary to the various side-plots going on, including the Crowders trying to get rich so they can go legit, the troublesome case of a hooker who might know too much, a tentpole church stealing Boyd's business, Raylan's affair with a dangerous woman and dealing with his convicted father, and Boyd taking in a disgraced vet who becomes deputy Gutterson's opposite number. So as a whole, the season is all over the place, but not in terms of quality. It remains strong, and by now, these characters deserve the attention. The last few episodes bring the bigger story home anyway, and are pretty great. The DVD includes commentary on 10 of the 13 episodes, a making of a key episode which does repeat a lot of points made in the commentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes, and a couple of shorter featurettes on the vets' subplot and the introduction of Constable Bob, Patton Oswalt's hit character this season.

Though I've played the GTA IV missions based on The French Connection, I'd never seen the film until this week. Based on true events and people, this cinema vérité classic juggles procedural and action beats and gives Gene Hackman in particular the chance to play the ultimate cop on the edge, very much the Captain Ahab of crime drama. It's also, I found, a film about people following other people. Not so much a chase movie - though they did try to outdo Bullitt at some point - as it is a tail movie. There's a great tailing sequence between Hackman's Popeye Doyle and supposedly-French villain Alain Charnier (Spaniard Fernando Rey has a terrible accent, I'm sorry), and later, the iconic car-train chase sequence, with more besides. It all ends ambiguously, a tribute to both true events and a particular 70s bleakness. The DVD includes two commentary tracks, one with the director, the other pieced from interviews with Hackman and co-star Roy Scheider (this second one doesn't cover the entire running time, but you can easily navigate to each part). The second disc has two making of documentaries made circa 2000, one shown on the BBC that does a very good job of it, the other hosted by one of the real cops who lived it with plenty of remembrances from people involved in the case. You can watch the low-quality deleted scenes clean or with introductions and commentary from the director, and there's a stills gallery.

The Lone Wolf and Cub series ends with White Heaven in Hell, but I'm not entirely sure it ends it on a truly satisfying note. Lone Wolf destroys his enemy's bloodline and army, but it's up to you to decide if living with this is worse than dying. In any case, the film has the same intensity and visual flair as other chapters in the franchise, and is hampered by the same structural problems associated with adapting from the original manga. It seems rather episodic rather than a coherent whole. Still, some nice hellish imagery, especially as burrowing "undead-ish" assassins follow the heroes around, killing everyone. The climax set in a snowscape - extremely appropriate to the weather we've been having lately - is completely bananas, like some kind of nightmarish Bond sequence, with ski and sled ninjas dying by the dozens. I think I'll miss these characters now that it's over, though not the rapeyness of all but one installment.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Hamlet 2000

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Teen Titans to Time Warp.


Tim Knight said...

The French Connection is simply one of the greatest movies ever made (in my opinion).

As you mentioned, the bleak 70s-ness of it, combined with the fact that it is a true story, make it compelling viewing, while Popeye Doyle is wonderfully flawed protagonist.

(PS. my copy of The Raid turned up yesterday, so I hope to find time this week to watch it)

Siskoid said...

Let us know how you liked it!

Matt Celis said...

Can you imagine Hollywood casting someone with Gene Hackman's looks as a lead nowadays? Or Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, etc.? The '70s were, sadly, the pinnacle of American if you don't wax your chest, have a six-pack, and look like you belong in a "boy band," you sure can't play a gritty cop! What happened?

Check out the book the movie is based on, it's much better even than this excellent film.

Siskoid said...

I shy away from such generalizations. Though TFC has survived, there were plenty of cop movies at the time which were mainstream, formulaic stuff featuring what was hip and beautiful at the time. Just as today, an indie maverick film maker could cast outside the box, etc. I'm sure I could name exceptions on both ends of the scale if I put my mind to it.

Matt Celis said...

The difference is Hollywood studios put out these things as mainstream, wide-release films whereas now they would be indie and playing in a handful of theaters.

Siskoid said...

One of the reasons I consume far more film on DVD than on theaters.

American Hawkman said...

Personally, I think that Justified Season 4 is much better than season 3... but that could be the fact that I'm both an actual Kentuckian and very familiar with the true-life events that the central story arc of the season is based on.

Siskoid said...

You're probably right. Watching them a year apart tends to skew any comparison.

S4 was about the characters, first and foremost, not about setting up villains and seeing their plot through.

Toby'c said...

I'm kinda meh on The French Connection myself - I don't hate it, but I can name over 900 films I rate higher.

Really hoping American Hustle comes to my town.


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