This Week in Geek (10-16/11/14)


December's daily indie SF film project is becoming more concrete with the purchase of Christmas on Mars. Because I need a film for that particular day. Other than that, Mighty Aphrodite and a Jim Henson three-fer, Labyrinth, Mirrormask and The Dark Crystal.


In theaters: Disney's new animated superhero film, Big Hero 6, has only a passing resemblance to the Marvel Comics property of the same name, but that's a good thing (and my warning to parents and friends who would go seeking the originals for fans of the movie). BH6 shares some characters with the book, but its selling point, Baymax as an adorable inflatable robot, is unique to the film, and its strongest selling point. From the marketing, you'd think it was all about him, but there's a whole cast of characters here, one that would be worthy of an actual serial. Between this and The Incredibles, one might wonder why animated superhero films in this style aren't more of a cottage industry. They look beautiful, they're exciting, and manage to perfect balance of laugh-out-loud funny and heart-achingly touching. BH6 has perhaps less to say than The Incredibles did, but it's just as much fun. And Baymax is, for lack of a better term, the new Groot. If you know what I mean. I also want to put my support behind the animated short shown before the main event, a story called "Feast" which looks at the most important time in a man's life entirely through his ravenous dog's point of view. Clever, funny and touching, just like the movie it precedes.

DVDs: Moving right along on my rediscovery of the Jack Ryan films, Patriot Games marks Harrison Ford's replacement of Alec Baldwin in the main role, which turned me off at the time and still does today. Baldwin's Jack Ryan was a slick CIA analyst, the smartest man in the room, and though able to handle himself, uncomfortable with the role of action man. Ford has a reputation for playing action men, and his attempt to play Ryan as clumsy and awkward doesn't quite sit right, especially when the film decides to turn the climax of the book into a facile action sequence. But perhaps it's less a matter of performance than it is of casting. An older man, Ford veers the franchise into family film territory, spending a lot of time with his wife and child, and actively placing them in danger. The trope is "this time, it's personal", which just feels contrived and manipulative. Even the film's cliffhanger is a family matter. As with The Hunt for Red October, we spend a lot of time with the villain, but like Jack Ryan, Sean Bean's Irish terrorist is a bit of bumbler. It's hard to be too afraid of him. The DVD is clearly part of the same series of releases Red October is, with a half-hour retrospective "making of" produced at the same time.

With Clear and Present Danger, the franchise puts the family in the background again, and Ryan in the center seat. A more central seat even, that of acting CIA director, so that he can act as the last honest man in Washington and go toe-to-toe with the President of the United States himself. I wonder what seems more dated today? The use of fax machines, beepers and dial-up; the so-called "computer duel"; or the Colombian cartel plot? The large cast is rather variable for me, with some villains sneering like it's a silent film while Willem Dafoe provides a sympathetic performance as a man who lives in the gray world of covert ops. He doesn't get nearly enough space to develop the role. Ryan is, by comparison, a clumsy schmoe, though I do embrace a return to more grounded action beats. According to the "making of", the sequence where the diplomatic cards are boxed in by the cartel's men is used in Secret Service training, and I agree it's as strong a set piece as any. Still, it's no Hunt for Red October. (I've published capsule reviews of four Jack Ryan films to date; let it be known I don't expect to see The Sum of All Fears anytime soon - I hear it's a real turkey.)

Always up for a con man movie, The Brothers Bloom is a lot fun, if tonally all over the place. It's quite clearly a comedy, with background gags and very fanciful characters, but it's also trying for psychological truth and a wistful, melancholy atmosphere. I don't mind the mix; it's quirky and manages to be both funny and sad. The story concerns the world's two greatest con men, played by Mark Rafallo and Adrian Brody. Of the Blooms, the latter wants out from this life, and the former wants him to leave it in style, and perhaps a little more. He chooses one last mark, an eccentric hermit of a girl played by Rachel Weitz. As this crazy story develops, the audience starts to wonder if she's really being conned, or if Brody's character is the real mark, since Rafallo's idea of a con is to give the mark exactly what he wanted after all. You should never trust what you're seeing in a con movie, because there's usually a con being played on the audience as well. I may have been more suspicious than I needed to be with this one, or you could say the movie could have done with a couple more twists. Or perhaps that's the twist. Or perhaps I shouldn't trust the ending. Hm. I should stop worrying and just give it my recommendation as a fun flick with enough surprises to fulfill its genre requirements.

While I was a bigger fan of Michael Palin's round-the-world journeys (in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle), there is still much value to his excursions in relatively smaller regions. One country that apparently never showed up on his itinerary is Brazil (unless we're talking about Gilliam's dystopian future, of course) and as the World Cup and Olympic Games loom (his time; for us, the first of these is past), a portrait of the country and its national identity is certainly worth attempting. Over the course of four episodes, we see a country both modern and ancient, wealthy and poor, wild nature and urban sprawl, a patchwork of cultures both native and imported. And this is true inside any given episode, i.e. region. And it's  probably Palin's sexiest episode, with lots of nudity, love hotels, etc. That's Brazil, I guess. Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon River... That's all we ever see. So it's very interesting to visit anything else and see how vibrant the entire country is.

From Brazil to Italy with The Italian Job - the original - a heist picture starring Michael Caine and a lot of comic talent, because despite a lot of action centered on car stunts, it's basically a comedy. My appreciation of Benny Hill's intrusions aside (turning small scenes into the kind of skits he was known for goes a bit overboard), it works rather well. Caine himself shows a real talent for creating fun, light moments, and his delivery is pitch perfect. Plus, who doesn't love the British mob kingpin holding court from prison? So an amusing affair well worth its reputation, which uses the Turin location well (in terms of car chase choreography - one of the great car chase movies in cinema history, surely), though perhaps the city's citizens might have a different opinion.

Finished up my Babylon 5-related viewing this week, so you know where to go to see what I thought of the story content (and it looks like my views tend towards the controversial among B5 fans!). So let's just talk about the DVD extras on these. Let's first say that these are not part of the B5 original release, which means they don't have all sorts of frustrating technical issues. That's a mercy. Crusade might have had more to offer if JMS hadn't trashed the network in one commentary track (apparently, it's on the original release, but not on subsequent printings). As it stands, only one episode has commentary on it, from the cast. It's pleasant enough. The package is complemented by making of featurettes, including one on the design of the Excalibur, both inside and out. The Legend of the Rangers has no extras. No respect for the runt of the litter. The Lost Tales have the best extras package, however, with more minutes on the disc devoted to them than to the actual episode content. There are interviews with JMS and his three main actors; tear-jerking tributes to fallen actors Richard Biggs and Andreas Katsulas; JMS' video diary, a collection of behind the scenes making of elements and a regrettable puppet show; and a featurette where JMS answers questions from fans.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Fodor (2007)


Toby'c said...

"let it be known I don't expect to see The Sum of All Fears anytime soon - I hear it's a real turkey."

It's really not, but then I had no problem liking Patriot Games, so take that as you will.

Siskoid said...

I'm probably just going on the few things I think I know about it,like people having a picnic on the White House lawn after an American city has been nuked.


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