This Week in Geek (3-09/11/14)


Got a lot of DVDs this week: Oculus (see below), Radio Free Albemuth, Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, Godzilla (2014), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition, Snowpiercer, and Mars. The Sixth Doctor Sourcebook, my favorite to date, has also come in from Cubicle 7.


In theaters: Nolan's Interstellar, clocking in at almost three hours, could have been shortened if he'd tamed his propensity for characters exposing his themes, but I was never bored, and do realize this is probably how he sells big budget thinking man's SF to mainstream audiences who can sustain them. The film posits a bleak near future and a space mission to find humanity a new home. It's told on both an epic and a personal scale, at its heart focusing on the relationship between Matthew McConaughey's astronaut and his daughter, a relationship that moves strangely through time due to relativistic effects. I wasn't sure the climax worked in the context of all the hard SF on show, but I think I'm okay with it. Nolan justly juxtaposes Earth and space action so that they mirror one another and keep you invested in both. Oh and awesome monolith robots, just one of the many references to 2001: A Space Odyssey (and 2010 for that matter). Nolan owes a lot to those films here.

Also went to see St. Vincent, the newest Bill Murray vehicle. He plays a grumpy old man who bonds with a bullied kid who just moved in next door. Laughs and tears ensue. Yes, there's a formula at work here, and we end up in pretty sentimental place (not that there's anything wrong with that, especially when the characters earn it, and these do). It takes some surprisingly dark turns though so if you're expecting the "return to comedy" touted by marketing, you'll be disappointed. It's much more balanced than that. Funniest character for my money: Chris O'Dowd as the kid's catechism teacher. All the best punchlines. The way the movie wins us over is with surrounding the two principals with quirky supporting characters, and resisting the urge to typecast comedic or dramatic actors as comic or dramatic characters. Not a must for the movie house, but will certainly provide a full movie experience at home, despite its formulaic elements.

DVDs: Oculus is what happens when Amy Pond doesn't travel with the Doctor ;-). Karen Gillen and her brother are pitted against a haunted mirror that plays with their perceptions in this 2013 supernatural thriller, a story told in two time frames - when they were children and today - time frames on a collision course through the magic of editing, a conceit that's very well realized. Will history repeat itself, or can they defeat the evil artifact that ruined their lives? It unfolds like a procedural at first, which tells you the rules of this "monster" so you can better understand how it or its foes are winning or losing the battle at any given moment. It's all quite well realized. And while the film makers are undoubtedly treating the events as real, the story itself remains ambiguous as to what is or isn't a delusion. Are the audience's perceptions as skewed as the characters'? It's not always cut and dry. The DVD includes a 10-minutes making of.

The Grand Budapest Hotel was great in theaters - and made me go back and watch every Wes Anderson film in existence - and that experience carried over on DVD. How could it not? Even knowing what was to come, the world and characters are so incredibly winning, Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H, in particular. I'm not sure I can add to my original review, so HERE IT IS. The DVD includes a talking heads featurette about the making of the film, the recipe of Mendel's confectionery (presented as an overhead cooking show, so you can really learn how to make them - I'm still not sure I'm up to it), and a still gallery that's mostly production design elements. I could do with more, but I like what's there.

I had won Joe versus the Volcano in one Oscar pool or other, and I'd more or less bought the collective opinion that it was a bad romantic comedy starring the frequent pair, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Well, yes, it's a bad romcom, because it isn't a romcom at all! Rather, it's an existential fable that's highly expressionistic in its production design, where Hanks plays an almost literal wage slave (that place of business is right out of Kafka) who, after being diagnosed with a terminal condition, agrees to throw himself into a volcano on a Polynesian-Jewish island. Meg Ryan plays every woman in his life. It's twisted and clever and completely out there. It's about selling your soul to the daily grind and needing to reconnect with life, and it doesn't conform to any naturalistic logic, while still being a genuinely funny and surprising adventure/romance. It's gotten a bad rap, folks. The film is simply waiting to be rediscovered by open-minded audiences. Fun and insightful. The DVD includes a short Hollywood-style making of, and a music video (Eric Burdon's Sixteen Tons - always loved that song no matter who sings it).

Castle Season 6... Now that the characters are (spoilers) together, we're heading for the big wedding, and a lot of episodes give their subplots over to this. It almost gets tedious. But the show does feature a lot of variety this season, with national security at stake while Becket is (initially) with the Feds, and more interestingly, when some of the supporting players (including Alexis) get more involved than usual in the mysteries. Plus, the big "Becket's mom" arc gets a major push forward this year, so that's pretty satisfying. The DVD includes commentary on a few episodes (including an amusing one where Esposito and Ryan, not their actors, spoof comment), many deleted scenes, a gag reel, a retrospective of best moments through all six seasons, and a surprisingly touching featurette where Stana Katic talks about her process and working on the show, a sort of intimate diary shot by a friend.

Books: Moving right along with TwoMorrows' American Comic Book Chronicles collection, I read John Wells' The 1960s, 1965-1969, completing this behemoth decade that had to be split into two fairly thick, illustrated volumes. From superhero proliferation to the caped bubble bursting; the advent of underground comix; and the rise of such stars as Neal Adams, Jim Shooter, Roy Thomas, Jim Steranko, and... the Archies? The author covers all genres and phenomenons, structuring each year in the chronology differently so no one company or genre is given undue importance. The prose could be a little tighter in places (look who's talking), but it's keeping my momentum up and is a great source of inspiration for this here blog. I've been with this since the 1950s volume, and I've already started on the 70s. I'm wondering when Roy Thomas will be done with the projected 1940s book...

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Hamlet 2000


JohnF said...

Joe Versus the Volcano is a wonderful movie. Everyone I've showed it to agrees.

Siskoid said...

I think only people who haven't seen it talk trash about it.


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