This Week in Geek (6-12/10/14)


Wanting to get into Wodehouse for a while now, I grabbed a collection called The Most of P.G. Wodehouse. As for DVDs, I've gotten Veep Seasons 1 and 2, Republic of Doyle Season 5, and Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit.


At the Movies: David Fincher has become really very good at laying out mystery thrillers in between Zodiac and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl benefits from that growing expertise. I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't seen it or read the book, but it's about a woman's disappearance and possible murder for which her husband is implicated. Did he do it, and if so what exactly did he do? Or is he innocent and if so, whodunit? The film expertly opens up several possibilities, leads you down blind alleys, doubles back, keeping your interest through it's admittedly longish 2½ hours thanks to a good number of twists. Underrated Ben Affleck and justly high-rated Rosamund Pike are excellent at presenting the dysfunctional couple, and I'm a big fan of Tremé's Kim Dickens as the detective, but sadly, Neil Patrick Harris' casting seems a misstep to me. He's a good actor, and appropriate for the role he plays, but it's somehow too close to How I Met Your Mother's Barney not to get some laughs. At one point I thought THIS was how HIMYM really ended. Distracting. But a minor thing. In Gone Girl, Fincher not only creates a successful and twisted thriller, but if you're not a fan of the filthy, decaying look he usually gives his films, something a lot cleaner and prettier.

DVDs: So speaking of How I Met Your Mother, I finally saw Season 9 and the ending I was told would make me angry. Uhm, no. Maybe if you're into 'shipping and had your heart set on a particular outcome, but the way Ted told this story over 9 seasons, and based on the characterization of each character in the cast in that time, this was really the only way it could end (in fact, the kids' reaction had to have been filmed 9 years before; it was always going to be this). So I'm not upset. Any other ending would have been a cop-out that ignored the entire basis for the framing tale and left is as a long, and ultimately unrewarding joke. Proof is in the pudding - the DVD includes an alternate ending that (mostly) goes the way fans might have wanted it to go, and it's flat and slightly anti-climactic. But by all means, watch the finale with that option enabled if it's going to make you happy. There's a full season that precedes that ending of course, and it's a good one. Though we're focusing on a single weekend, we get a break from it through flashbacks, but more importantly, flash-forwards, so we can see what the relationship with the Mother was like, in essence giving us things that would have taken place in Seasons 10 through 25. Cristin Milioti is a lovely Mother; check out her charming audition on the DVD. The package also includes the creators' commentary tracks on a few key episodes, plenty of deleted scenes, some very funny outtakes, behind the scenes footage, and a 10-minute featurette on the finale.

Friend and neighbor Marty has been doing this thing where he watches one horror movie a day for the whole of October, and with hockey season starting and my roommate going a little bonkers over it, I've been sneaking downstairs for something a little less horrifying. Marty's selections are all things I've never heard of, mostly from the past 5 years, and none have been duds as yet. They're all at least interesting and feel original. American Mary is a film that was perhaps called Bloody Mary in the Soska Sisters' original draft (it would make more sense, but I like the ambiguity of the new title), and stars Canada's scream queen Katherine Isabelle as a medical student who, after a trauma, dives into the world of underground, even illegal, body modification. Though occasionally gory, and with its share of disturbia (like the rape revenge element), it's less exploitative than you might at first think. It's about a woman who distorts the bodies of others (sometimes because they ask her to) perhaps not noticing that it's distorting her own psyche. It's tragic more than it is scary. Isabelle is surprisingly good, but if the film as a weakness, it's in some of the other performances, written and delivered perhaps too eccentrically for the talent involved.

2012's Maniac is an art house remake of the 1980 original, about a serial killer who scalps women and puts them on mannequins. The art house twist: We're seeing everything from the killer's point of view, catching sight of Elijah Wood's Frank only when he catches sight of himself in the mirror, or in memories and such. The effect is actually quite interesting. Because we're so fully in his head, Maniac isn't about a monster, but about mental illness. We feel for Frank even we're repulsed by his acts of violence. We never accept his behavior as part of a traumatic childhood, but we understand how that trauma manifests itself in his deranged mind. Again, we're watching a tragedy, not normal slasher fare. There's also something satisfying about watching Elijah Wood essentially play Gollum.

Jim Jarmush takes on vampires in Only Lovers Left Alive, a film starring Tilda Swinton (Eve) and Tom Hiddleston (Adam) as an immortal couple, her a patron of the arts, and him a musician and engineer. They're vampires, sure, but the focus is really on what eternity might do to a loving relationship. Adam and Eve are fascinating people (who get great support from John Hurt as a vampiric Kit Marlowe) you're happy to spend time with as people, and Jarmush adds to vampire tradition with their skills and abilities in ways I haven't seen before. It's easily one of Jarmush's most beautiful films, slicker than his usual fare, and with some interesting locations like Tangiers and an almost post-apocalyptic Detroit, both of which have something to say about permanence and the transitory nature of all things. It's more a portrait than a plot, with many of its elements not necessarily getting closure, but as in an eternal relationship, things don't need to be tied up quickly. There will always be time. So like the "zombies" we are, we can never grasp a complete picture, because our mayfly experience might as well be a two-hour film in which not everything can happen.

Marty's "art house week" gets more obtuse after this, starting with Kill List, a British supernatural thriller that seems to want to be horror's answer to Primer. In other words, it bears rewatching or at least discussing before you can explain what you just saw. On the surface, Kill List is about two former soldiers of fortune, now hitmen, one of them married with a child and suffering from PTSD. They have a list of people to kill, all of which seem strangely happy to be murdered by the protagonist, and then things go completely loopy, with Pagan cultists in the woods racing after our guys and the whole thing ending on massive, disturbing irony. So what's really happening? That's the question. The film demands an answer from its audience, though I think no single answer needs be "correct", with plenty of leitmotifs, recurring images and lines, and strange behavior to support its mystery. For me, this is about a man who was something (Satan/Oberon/psychologically a killer), who lost himself, and created a new but ill-fitting identity (husband and father). Through "one last job", he is tested and forced to shed the trappings of this "false life" before taking his rightful place as whatever he used to be. It works in supernatural terms, but in psychological ones as well. I'd say theories that this is "all a dream" are a cop-out despite the "awakening" leitmotif, but if this dream works the same way magical realism does, then I agree to its legitimacy.

Lars von Trier's Antichrist is of the same ilk. In this relatively quiet creep show, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are a couple who through negligence lose their child - he fell to his death while they were having sex. Dafoe's character is a therapist and decides to treat his wife's trauma by making her face her fears, which she associates with nature. So off they go to a cabin in the woods, and if you know anything about horror films, nothing ever good can ever happen there. She goes crazy, attacks him, and so on. On first approach, the film presents a puzzle. The chapter titles, their associations with symbolic animals, and dark painterly tableaux force the audience to think in terms other than literal. And what they heck is the Antichrist in this movie? My first thought - and it's still legitimate, I think, if not a complete analysis - is that a child (let's call him the Antichrist) heralds a personal end of days for the couple. The three animals, called the three beggars in the film, are opposites of the three wise men, and so on. But I read up afterwards, and apparently, the director (he of the recent "I'm a Nazi" bad joke controversy) wanted to make a film about misogyny through history, which is why the word Antichrist is written with the Venus symbol as the "t". What the film then shows us is a woman (and Nature, which is a female principle) both representative of the misogynistic beliefs about women (a hysteric conniver who needs a man to "reason" her out of her emotions) and a victim of the various atrocities committed against women through history and still today (whether witches, adulterers, or just part of cultural taboos or mutilations). This is meant to make you squirm, clearly. The film definitely lives in the sexual realm, certainly, with moments that may shock in their pornographic (but disturbing rather than arousing) content. When it comes to horror, I'm not much interested in jump scares and the like, but films like this one and the previous four, which are rather thought-provoking and disturbing instead, have much more value to me.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Olivier '48


American Hawkman said...

Strangely, I've been revisiting Wodehouse lately... hope you discuss your progress here. :)

Siskoid said...

My ultimate goal is to be able to say something is Wodehousian (Doctor Who, the latest Woody Allen movie) without faking it.


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