This Week in Geek (6-12/04/15)


This week, I got myself Jodorowsky's Dune (finally), Magic in the Moonlight, and Space Station 76 on DVD. Oh, and Jeffrey Brown's Incredible Change-Bots Two Point Something Something in the book section.


At the movies: Furious 7 brings the same kind of insane "superhero" action the last couple movies in the franchise did, but with a meta-poignancy that could only come from Paul Walker's tragic death mid-filming. Is it fair to praise the film for this? I say yes because it's actually part of the story. Since F7 chronologically takes place just after Tokyo Drift, the characters are all reeling from Han's death, and the funereal atmosphere that hovers over the proceedings serves both deaths - the fictional and the real - with Furious 7 ultimately serving as a tribute to Walker. Even divorced from this context, the franchise has been fun since they stopped making it about street racing. If Five was a heist movie, and 6 about a terrorist plot that needed to be stopped, then 7 is a revenge picture that takes no prisoners. Casting Jason Statham as the heavy is a brilliant move because it means it's essentially F&F vs. the Transporter, and that's a license not to take anything too seriously. And for me at least, the progressive move to martial arts action - and if you have Tony Jaa in the cast, you better - is a good one, even if it means everyone and their sister has become Jet Li. A fun time at the theater, with the occasional lump in your throat.

DVDs: What is it with New Zealand? Does it ONLY make Middle-Earth pictures and horror comedies? Yet another example of the latter is Housebound, about a truant girl sentenced to house arrest in her mother's apparently haunted house. What follows is a cheeky exercise in horror music and cinematography that, more often than not, leads to nothing sinister. It's a hilarious takedown of those easy "jump scare" tropes, like Scream, you could say, but done through style rather than dialog. Which is not to say there aren't monsters out there, and part of the fun is figuring out what's real and what's a red herring. There's a lot of character humor too, playing with the folksiness of small town people - the mother is a particular joy - without being condescending. Okay New Zealand, I'll let you make a few more like this.

The rest of the week was dedicated to my I-MUST-Check-Movies project, forcing me watch, over the course of 2015, the 52 films most checked and liked on that have somehow passed me by. Catching up with the rest of the world. And I say "forcing", because as you'll see, my tastes may differ from the general public considerably. But that's not really the case for Ratatouille, a pleasant enough animated feature about a rat with culinary prowess who helps a cook with absolutely none keep his job in a Paris restaurant kitchen. It was 19th on my list to watch, 105th on iCheck's most liked. While the necessary gag that the rat can control a human being by pulling on his hair, like some  kind of human mech, seems contrived, the Brad Bird script is more focused and coherent than some of the Pixar films I've had to watch lately, and I like how it doesn't dumb anything down - we're in France so there's untranslated French script everywhere, a character gets drunk, and the film doesn't shy away from showing dead rats. Between this and the nostalgic power of food, Ratatouille is, in fact, probably one of Disney's most adult films in this style. The critic's summation at the end makes it worth watching at the very least. The DVD includes two shorts as well. Lifted is a fun piece of fluff where an alien has its UFO-driving test and was shown before Ratatouille in theaters; Your Friend the Rat is a DVD extra where the characters from the film recount the history of the rat, which has some fun moments but is mostly educational filler.

Then we start getting in trouble. What the heck is Gran Torino doing so high on the list? Essentially Unforgiven in the suburbs, Clint Eastwood stars and directs himself as a grouchy, racist old widower besieged by the Asian community that has taken over his neighborhood. He becomes a hero to them after standing up to their homegrown gangbangers and forges a friendship with his immediate neighbors... There's really nothing here we've never seen before, either as a plot or in Eastwood's other characters. Okay, except perhaps the climax, which makes interesting use of white privilege, but again, isn't actually surprising. And then we're right back into cheesy movie clichés. The Hmong characters don't fare all that well, largely played by non (or new) actors, which lends some authenticity, but can make some scenes heavy-going. And the exposition! Ugh! I make it sound like it's terrible. It isn't. It's just okay and has lots of problems on almost every level. Which is why I'm a little outraged.

But the worst was yet to come... The Hangover. On iCheck, it's at #115, sandwiched between The Fifth Element and The King's Speech. I was expecting a stupid comedy, which maybe had some heart to explain its high standing. What I got was stupid yes, but no heart, and worst of all, remedial movie making. I could actually see gags failing because of editing choices! Thoroughly unfunny, with characters over-explaining everything and recapping the action 5 minutes after it happened, as if made for the absolutely densest audience possible. The Hangover throws away gags about sex offenders as if that were funny and absolutely wastes the talents involved. What we're left with is a clever premise, also wasted - but it plays well as a trailer - and two musical numbers/moments which are just about the only time I smiled or laughed (Ed Helms' What do tigers dream of, and the wedding singer bits). So I would put, at most, 2 minutes on You-Tube, and throw the rest on a bonfire and walk away. Just awful.

Audios: Mark Wright and Cavan Scott's "Project" series of Big Finish audios usually deal with the Forge, which is the audios' version of Torchwood, and though most are in the main range (with Doctors 6 and 7), Project: Nirvana is a Companion Chronicle shared by Sally and Lysandra, the 7th Doctor's "black TARDIS" companions, run in parallel with Ace and Hex in the "white TARDIS" during a particular storyline. It's a rather cool story about crossing one's timeline with two versions of Lysandra running around, resulting in both tension and humor. The "Project" titles feel so generic to me, I always seem to expect a boring story, but rarely get one. The last couple were certainly among the best audios I've listened to this year, and since these two companions have had a lot of untold adventures, I wouldn't mind hearing more from them in one format or other.

Nigel Fairs' The Child is a 4th Doctor/Leela Companion Chronicle that features Louise Jamison as the post-Doctor Leela, transformed at the end of The Time Vampire, here as the governess of a Victorian girl (just go with it) played by Anna Hawkes who shares the narration duties. Having Leela tell a story from her time with the Doctor, and having young Emily more or less "translate" it into a fairy tale she can tell her mother later (about the wizard and the warrior girl) puts it in the same imaginary space as a lot of Moffat's Doctor Who, and even the choir music, unusual for Big Finish, gives it that contemporary Doctor Who feel. As for the story that's told, it's not quite as good as the frame tale, with the Doctor seeking the map to the universe in a facility run by robots, but it has a certain poetry, especially in the hands of the characters telling it.

Matt Fitton's Luna Romana is a double-sized Companion Chronicle meant the star the two Romanas, except it needs to get around Mary Tamm's passing, and so casts Juliet Landau as a third Romana (from the Gallifrey audios) reminiscing about her first incarnation (Lalla Ward still tells her bits from 2nd Romana's point of view). It's an interesting workaround, and Landau is quite good, but more than that, the audio becomes a tribute to Tamm and to the Romana character generally. In Romana III's summation, this tribute is touching; in the plot itself, it's rather cheeky, Fitton having fun referencing and winking at the era's tropes. I'm more enthusiastic about the dialog and those little touches than I am the actually story. Facing off aginst recurring Time Lord villain Quadrigger Storn in two time frames (one per Romana), it only really picks up in the later chapters, but the double tale means it seems to climax every so often, with no end in sight. Not sure the structure works. Romana I's story thread, while well told, was like something out of the first Doctor's straight historicals at times (in Ancient Rome), more local flavor than plot. And perhaps it's my fault for not listening to the other Stoyn stories first, perhaps that reveal would have been more impactful. Still, I hope Landau's talents will continue to be used, either to tell Romana I stories or her own.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. Duel and Deaths - French Rock Opera


snell said...

The thing that bugged me most about Grand Torino is that it completely lacked the courage of its convictions. Eastwood and his friends were apparently racist only because they liked to tell the jokes--it's all very jolly and threatless, unlike dealing with actual racists. When the script (or director himself?) contrive to never let the star say the N-word, you know the film is proceeding from cowardice, rather than insight.

Andrew said...

I like the idea of Juliet Landau as Romana, and hope the show finds a way to bring her in at some point. Especially since that would make her, by my count, the third person to have appeared in both the Whoniverse and Buffy (the others, of course, being Anthony Head and James Marsters).


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