This Week in Geek (1-7/06/15)


A new of DVDs found their way onto my shelf this week, including The Wild, Game of Thrones Season 4, Foxcatcher, and John Wick. And a book too: As a fan of @MYSADCAT on Twitter, I couldn't resist getting Tom Cox's The Good the Bad and the Furry.


At the movies: Tomorrowland is pitched a bit younger than I would have liked, not because it feels like a throwback to Disney live action films of my youth (where Kurt Russell was inevitably a teen scientist), but because it's so obvious about its ecological/peace message (essentially: Yes, kids, you can and should make a difference). That lack of subtlety almost falls into preachiness at the end. What redeems it? Three things, really. First, engaging stars. Second, neat effects and image-making. Third, it has something to say about the dystopian vibe in today's science fiction, though it can't exactly refute the forces that push our imagineers to those conclusions. Its optimistic futurism is contrasted with today's dystopian corporate selfishness; it doesn't avoid the issue by simply showing optimism. That's interesting, but I didn't feel it had the depth I would require from a true SF classic.

DVDs: Continuum Season 2 continued the good work it started in Season 1, except with 3 more episodes (making 13) and time travel factions multiplying. It's a common trope in genre TV, that kind of unfolding conspiracy, but as long as the level of acting, action, twists and turns remain engaging and entertaining, I don't see why I should complain. Finally, we're starting to see how the present connects to the future, and fairly innocuous characters start to take on much greater importance, the whole thing leading to a sort of quadruple cliffhanger that will make it that much harder for me to wait for Season 3's DVD set to go down in price before I press that Buy button. Well done--holy crap, that's the Headstones/Hard Core Logo's front man as the mysterious Mr. Escher!!! Ok, calm down, Siskoid. The DVD has many more extras than Season 1's had, with fun cast and crew commentaries on all but two episodes, and about an episode's worth of featurettes, looking at various aspects (even from Season 1), the convention circuit, etc.

I felt kind of guilty watching The Grand Seduction, an English-language remake of a Quebec film I haven't seen. Normally, I would watch the original and rant about the relevance of a new, near-scriptperfect, version in the more "mainstream" language (especially since French is my mother tongue). But see, I dislike Quebec cinema on the best of days, and this had a lot of Anglo-Canadian actors I like and an Atlantic Canadian location (Newfoundland) so... The story wasn't anything new when Quebec did it, mind you. A small town is saved from economic ruin by a masterful hoax. The Newfoundland location will most remind viewers of Waking Ned Devine, probably. The result is quirky and funny, and full of local charm (it's a script that could be adapted to any economically depressed region of the world). It's funny to me that the doctor they try to trick into moving to their tiny hamlet also played John Carter of Mars (it's a kind of typecasting, after all), and though Brenden Gleeson is an eminently likeable lead (as head trickster), Gordon Pinsent unsurprisingly steals the show whenever he's on screen. I won't call it perfect though. The ending does come off as a cheesy, with a bit that looks like a Harper government jobs ad. Thankfully, everything before that is plenty of critical of big business, so it's just a weird hiccup. The DVD has a commentary track shared between two of the stars - lots of humor there - plus some short featurette interviews.

Hadn't watched a Shaw Bros. flick in a long, long time. Thought I was due, even if I didn't pick the most winning item still on my unwatched shelf. 1972's Thunderbolt Fist features a classic (and bloody) confrontation between Chinese rebels and demonized Japanese gangsters who have taken over a town. Not a great cast - all the men seemed to vain to have their 70s sideburns shaved - though the hero, who seems to meld the powers of several much more iconic martial arts heroes, does have a unique look and some attitude despite not being cut from the usual mold. It's really the female lead, the Robin Hoodesque character of Sister Die, who's the real attraction here. The lack of interesting fight choreography is the real shame here, though director Il-ho Jang makes up for it with visceral camera work and interesting transitions. But yeah, hard to make the title signature move look like anything but a cartoon haymaker...

My i-MUST-CheckMovies 2015 Project took me to Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro this week, an obvious companion piece to the later Spirited Away. In this charming and touching tale, little girls encounter magic after they move to the countryside, and there's a delightful ambiguity as to whether it's all in their imagination or if it's happening for real, supported by their parents encouraging them in their fantasies. Miyazaki's own imagination is, of course, second to none, and the pastoral realism of the country is contrasted with such maverick insanity as the cat-bus. Audiences more used to his later fantasies may find the image-making relatively timid, but this is more about children's imagination, finding the magical in the every day, and even sharing the illusion. Creating a believable "every day" is key. The film is melancholy, but it's not sad (watch the end credits for the comforting ending), like your own memories of simpler days.

Now for a trio of genre films I'd seen at the theater... I really liked last year's Godzilla movie, but as a DVD, it suffers from being way too dark, to the point where you can't really see the giant monster action in many scenes, including the climax. If I watch it again, I really need to up the brightness considerably on my TV set, and I've read others have had this problem. Damning evidence: The extras on the supplementary disc show these scenes with no such problem! The film still has a fairly strong grasp of its themes. To that of family, which I spelled out in my earlier review, we can add a constant bait and switch - the monster we first see isn't Godzilla, just as the stars we first encounter aren't the actual leads of the film, etc. - and the anxieties of modern warfare which foreground the human story (just as the original Gojira represented Hiroshima to the Japanese). Where it lags is in the second half when its human hero ceases to interact with anyone of consequence, divorcing the audience from its identifier. The extras include in-universe documents about Monarch and the monsters (making sense of the opening credits, for example), as well as a fairly long making of.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (original review here) is really a spy-level Avengers and - you know what? - one of my very favorite Marvel Studios films. I'd forgotten half of the cool action scenes in this flick, not because they're not memorable, but because there are just so many. I realize it has that plot I hate to see in every freaking Mission Impossible movie, where an evil faction takes over the "good" agency, but what can you do. On the War Machine vs. Falcon debate, I fall squarely on Falcon's side, a much better character in my eyes. Redford still "meh" as a villain; Garry Shandling steals the show with a single short scene basically. Man, I love movie Cap, I wish he wasn't considered the runt of the litter behind Iron Man and Thor. Few extras on Marvel's DVDs... Winter Soldier has a deleted scene, and a brief featurette about what's in his little "to experience" notebook and how it was changed for different markets. Neat!

Thor: The Dark World (original review here), I thought was one of the weaker films in the series, but no, it's much better than the original Thor. It should really be called Loki: The Dark World, and I'm not sure it would have sold less if it had been. Loki gets the best dialog - though on second viewing, Odin gets the very best lines - but Thor does get his cocky, badass moments. For some reason, my mind kept going to J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, probably because Elves in spaceships is rather close to Romulans in spaceships, and his Nero wasn't all that far from Dark World's Malekith. Neither had much of a personality (sadly). The DVD's extras are even lamer that Cap's. A deleted scene too, but the featurette is an exclusive look at... Winter Soldier. Well, at least I got a Cap featurette on ONE of these releases...


Madeley said...

Actually really glad to hear that other people had trouble with the Godzilla DVD. I genuinely thought the contrast was failing on my aging TV when I couldn't see a damn thing happening in the finale.

Siskoid said...

According to my research, that happened to everyone who didn't have Brightness way up on their sets. Shame.

snell said...

The biggest problem with Tommorowland (no spoilers) was the script's structure. They spent too long (and too many crises) getting from point A to point B, and when we got there zero time was spent developing point B. Frustrating, because what they give us is well done...but we could have done with 1 or 2 fewer action sequences on the front end and a little more explanation/world-building on the back half...


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