This Week in Geek (2-8/03/15)

Buys

Cubicle 7 sent me the 9th Doctor sourcebook pdf this week - yay! - and as far as DVDs go, I got Gone Girl, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 8, and Starhunter Season 1.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: When people talk about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, it's either to dwell on its technical conceit (all virtual sets, at a time when that wasn't done) or to remind us it was a bomb at the box office. It's no wonder I hadn't bothered to see it until now. What it actually is is a fun little film that throws all the 30s-40s pulp at the screen and acts as a tribute to everything from radio shows like Captain Midnight, to silent film SF like Metropolis, to King Kong and the Lost World, to the same matinée serials that inspired Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Of course the story is haphazard and silly! It's meant to be! It's the Rocketeer! It's Blackhawk! If you're any kind of fan of any of the source material, you'll find something to smile at. As for the technical achievement, it's fine, though a lot of tricks are used to keep it manageable, like a sepia color palette that suits the setting, but I admit makes the world a little boring over time, and a kind of soft focus filter over everything to hide the seams. It's a unique look based on the realities of the relatively low budget, and plays better now, I think, than it did when it was meant to be cutting edge. Much maligned, this one, but a pleasant afternoon's entertainment. The DVD features two commentary tracks - the producer, then the writer/director with some of the effects crew - more than an hour's making of, the original 6-minute short that became proof of concept, a couple of deleted scenes, and a gag reel.

Had an hour to kill, so I grabbed my "4 Film Favorites Martial Arts Collection" (which I'd gotten for Rumble in the Bronx and Bloodsport, of course) and watched the Dolph Lundgren/Brandon Lee B-movie samurai-cop flick Showdown in Little Tokyo. And when I say an hour, that's very close to the truth. When you take the front and back credits out, there's about 1h10 of story. And that story's pretty slim. A lot of mindless violence that even the characters think is akin to video games'. And yet, it's still pretty amusing. Dolph is a Dirty Harry whose parents were killed by the Yakuza and who dedicated himself to the Way of the Samurai, while Lee is a Valley Boy, trained in the arts, but completely disconnected from his culture. B-movie villainy must of course include uncomfortable misogyny, with a young Tia Carrere playing victim/love interest/bait, but the show at least manages to mix martial arts into the usual boring shoot-outs (it's just something I find incredibly dull in American action cinema). My advice is never thinking of police procedurals while watching this movie, because it's far afield of reality. Just like I won't question anyone thinking Lundgren is in any way a charismatic action star even though I find it completely baffling.

Ok, let's get into these various movie marathons I'm trying to complete, starting with the Bond-a-thon. This week, the last Brosnan flick I'd seen before giving up on his slice of the franchise, Tomorrow Never Dies. There are a lot of things to like about this one, including Michelle Yeoh as a super-competent Chinese agent, hot Teri Hatcher as a Bond girl, Brosnan's cool quips, several cool stunts, a scheme that's at once modern and retro (taking over the world by manipulating the media, yet no mention of the Internet), and oh look, young Hugh Bonneville in a one-line role. I'm less enthusiastic about Jonathan Pryce's cartoony villain - he's wayyy over the top - and the whole enterprise is lost in the final over-long sequence aboard the stealth boat, which is just a lot of shooting (as previously established, these put me to sleep, noise and all) and the death of the villains in the wrong order and with little to no irony. Failing in the last act as it does, it loses all the good will it had accumulated in the first two and I remembered it, justly, as a bust. The DVD from the Bond 50 set is disappointing. The two commentary tracks, one with producer+director, the other producer+2nd unit director, cover a lot of the same ground. I wish the Brosnan discs had had the same treatment the four other Bonds did, with montage commentaries that used experts and tons of people who worked on the films. The disc also has an isolated music track, which isn't something I normally enjoy, nor do I find the music in TND particularly interesting.

As for the I-MUST-CheckMovies-a-thon, did a double feature with Toy Story 3 and Shutter Island. Obviously, I'd seen and loved the first two Toy Stories, and the third installment simply reaffirmed the fact that the franchise is the absolute Gold Standard of Pixar (and Pixar-like) movies. This one is about what happens to toys when you outgrow them. Will they go in the trash (the horror, the horror)? In the attic? Be given away to the local daycare? That it turns into a prison movie for the length of an act means it's got a darker undercurrent than most Pixar films, which I think is why the franchise IS so golden. The film dares its audience not to cry over the possible (and then revealed) fate of these toys, which some nice new additions to the cast in Barbie and Ken. Fun, but also resonant stuff that lasts well into the credits sequence.

Shutter Island is also a prison movie of sorts, so it makes sense to have shotgunned these two back to back, but I really didn't know anything about this picture going in. On the surface of it, it's about a 1950s U.S. marshal who goes to what we might call Arkham Island (in the Batman sense, not the Lovecraft sense) to find an escaped patient, but winds up stumbling on a government conspiracy. In essence, it's Scorsese trying to do Fincher, and it's an awkward fit. Impeccably filmed, great shots and everything, but it's really two movies. The one before the giant twist (which either twists too far or not far enough) is immersive and intriguing. And I like the ramifications of the twist, thinking about how the strangeness of the pre-twist movie can be explained, etc. But I still hate the twist. Maybe the movie should have left us right there, reeling, but it keeps going, over-explains itself, and feels quite limp in the end. There are two movies I might like in Shutter Island, but neither is satisfying when grafted on the other.

Another strange thriller filled with "errors" made on purpose for artistic effect is Vertigo, ALSO in that I-MUST-Check list, but equally next in my Hitchcock-a-thon. What a trip. This one too hinges on a twist that I'm not sure I like, but the exploration of themes and leitmotifs goes a long way with me, and Vertigo has that in spades and it may very well be Hitchcock's artistic peak. If you don't know it, the movie is initially about a former cop who is asked to trail a man's wife whom he believes is possessed by the ghost of a long-dead woman. There's a bold fantastical element in this, and time travel becomes a theme even through the twists and the turns. Jimmy Stewart's character is a man who tries to travel back in time himself, by the end, and is doomed to relive his traumas. Spirals and concentric shapes act as a recurring motif that pile up on rewatching, and these are connected, perhaps, to the sense of falling back through time (prefiguring the time vortex of Doctor Who). Kim Novak is also fascinating as two triple women (so six), an effect also present in Stewart's gal pal Midge (who sadly disappears from the film, though that's another "error" that has artistic coherence). It's a bizarre notion that ties into Hitchcock's interest in the complexities of relationships. The women in the film are at once themselves, what they present as their identities, and what a man would make of them. Vertigo is definitely one of those films that will deepen every time you watch it. The DVD is the first in the boxed set to include a commentary track, a satisfying montage of experts, cast and crew. Like the (otherwise strong) making of, it's a little too interested in the restoration process. The package also includes the "villainy gets its comeuppance" European ending, which is a throwaway, but at least fixes the too abrupt ending of the North American theatrical release; plenty of pictures, posters and sketches; and a featurette just on the restoration.

Audios: Starting an intriguing cycle of the 7th Doctor/Ace/Hex Big Finish audio adventures that promises to explain the mystery of the black and white TARDISes AND must act as Doctor-lite episodes while McCoy was off doing The Hobbit, Protect and Survive by Jonathan Morris is a tight, claustrophobic and disturbing tale of nuclear holocaust, leaving Ace, Hex and their guest stars in a hopeless situation, underscored by real-life Cold War survival manuals. Harrowing. At least until the inevitable sci-fi twist, which STILL leaves Ace and Hex in most desperate circumstances. The Doctor's bits are short, but you don't miss him because Ace and Hex really are among the best of Big Finish's companions, and have a great dynamic. And how it connects to a larger story isn't obvious at first, but makes perfect sense by the end. Top notch.

Black and White by Matt Fitton brings two sets of companions together, with the Doctor again in the background somewhere: Ace and Hex in the White TARDIS, and Sally (from House of Blue Fire) and Lysandra Aristedes (from the "Project" series) in the Black TARDIS as the Doc's masterplan starts to become visible. Well, obviously, all those companions are rather frustrated with him and his secrets. The story is, at times, a little hard to follow, because it takes place in different time frames and the transitions aren't always evident. Still, quite fun to have the TARDIS crews interacting with (and causing) the legend of Beowulf, which ties into Nordic lore in a way that makes the title a reference to more than one thing, in fact, and heralds the coming of an old foe in the third audio in the series, which I'll only get to next time...

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. Duel and Deaths - Tennant (2009)

4 comments:

Toby'c said...

Toy Story 3 is one of my top five favourite films of all time. Probably helps that I saw the original as a six-year-old and the third as a university student. Not sure how I feel about a fourth movie, but I've been loving the TV specials.

Vertigo is one of my top five or six Hitchcocks, and it's definitely due for a rewatch.

I'm a lot more favourable to Tomorrow Never Dies, including Jonathan Pryce's performance and the climax. I do take issue with the distractingly inaccurate countdown, though.

Not a fan of Scorsese, but Shutter Island doesn't fall under any of my usual complaints. A top-fiver, I guess.

CalvinPitt said...

My dad and I saw Sky Captain in theaters, but I can't remember having any strong reaction to it. I didn't hate it, but I definitely didn't like it as much as The Rocketeer, for example. But I haven't seen it since then, so I probably ought to give it another watch.

Wriphe said...

I've been a huge SKY CAPTAIN fan since it came out, and I've never really understood why this film seems to garner so much hate. Maybe because I'm a fan of the classics it homages to see clearly, I can't see its flaws. Glad to see that someone with fresh eyes can find a way to enjoy it.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Sky Captain is pure childhood joy and excitement to me; it's the only film I've seen in the theaters five times. It's a perfect tribute to its source material, with some fun innovations (like the travel-map sequences). I, too, don't get why people were so down on it.

 

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