This Week in Geek (20-26/07/15)


A big week for getting DVDs: Outlander Season 1 vol.1, Doctor Who Series 8, the CBC's Newsroom Seasons 2 and 3, Ripper Street Season 3, Interstellar, and Kingsman The Secret Service.


At the movies: Ant-Man was a fun night at the movies, though one really can't help but wonder what might have been had Edgar Wright stayed on as director. You can plainly hear his script, but the pacing's off (Michael Douglas is probably the biggest victim, as I thought his sarcastic wit generally fell flat). And there are flights of directorial fancy, like the way Luis tells stories, but not enough of them. Nevertheless, I thought Ant-Man did a good job of creating a fairly large supporting cast, which is perhaps why some thought it akin to a TV pilot in some respects (though some, the villain in particular, kind of got short shrift), and loved how they gave the cinematic Marvel Universe more depth and history with a Cold War-era Ant-Man and Wasp operating before the Avengers ever got together, though I could certainly have done without an Avenger cameo (though it works and ties into the next film). As for the shrinking effects, they were pretty awesome. The shrunken world was interesting to look at, and the shrinkers' tricks were clever. That's why I love shrinking heroes in the first place, so I wasn't disappointed. Could have had more punch, but definitely one I won't mind revisiting.

DVDs: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was way better than the first film in the series - less of the horrid adoptive family, a more coherent story, a better villain - but still suffers from the same problems as the first's bloated, faithful adaptation. It's much too long at 2 hours 40 minutes (are you KIDDING me?!!), and you can easily see where they could have trimmed at least 40 minutes. For example, there's yet another Quiddich scene that isn't really integrated into the film's plot. It's just there because it's synonymous with Harry Potter. And it's not the only culprit. Kenneth Branagh's poser of a wizard has some good moments, though by now, I'm pretty sick of Santa Claus/Bumblebore's wispy voice and preferential treatment of certain students; I know it's sad the original actor died before the third film, but bring on Michael Gambon, he won't be such a caricature. Nevertheless, I'm warming to the series now that the world has been set up, but I'm nowhere near a place where you could make me say it's a good movie.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (actually part of my I-MUST-CheckMovies project, one of three Potter films that are) might be the best in the series, but then, I'm biased. I've always been very keen on strong directors. Potter 3's Alfonso Cuaron also made Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men and Gravity; he's a very visual and lyrical director. Chris Columbus who made the first two Potters has recently made... Pixels. So there you go. Azkaban is apparently one of the least faithful adaptations, and I'm happy about that. Movies have to stand on their own, and this one actually relates almost everything to its main plot (except maybe elements of Mundane world sequences - I'm sorry, I just don't want to say "Muggles", the hell?) including the inevitable Quiddich sequence. The acting has improved by virtue of the kids getting older, with Harry turning into an angry teen before our eyes, and the movie has a better look too. It's not just the muted colors or better special effects, it's that Cuaron doesn't feel the need to explain every little magical occurrence the way Columbus did. The magic becomes part of the world, often unmentioned, letting the visuals do the work. The way he changes seasons alone... It's not perfect, of course. Gary Oldman in the title role is really very boring, which takes away from the last act (though I'm always up for a bit of time travel). Emma Thompson's new teacher is much more fun, while the new Dumbledore is a complete re-imagining that still needs to grow on me (but then, the original never did). So now I have a little more motivation to finish the series, but as Cuaron only directed the one, I may stop dead in my tracks again.

I didn't dislike Hackers, but the one thing it really does badly is, ironically, hacking. Half the time, it looks fairly kosher, with Apple-style screens and menus. The other half is complete imaginarium, with a computer's innards represented as a Matrix city or the Sarah Jane Adventures' opening credits. Perhaps it's the clash between the two styles that's the problem. Or if they'd just let us believe all that was a cinematic "representation" of what was happening, but no, it appears on screens too. Otherwise, it's a fun, if silly, cyber-thriller about high school kids (including newbie Angelina Jolie in a Vulcan do) going up against an over-the-top corporate hacker looking to defraud the world with a money-gobbing worm. Director Iain Softley has some fun with the editing, and makes at least of the editing exciting and interesting (at least, until the visuals start to repeat themselves). But the writing is a little bizarre, and some characters are impossibly strange (Matthew Lillard is particularly obnoxious). Not a good film, by any means, but a fair entertainment for your throwback 90s pleasure.

Books: I enjoyed the HBO adaptation so much, I got the first three volumes of Alexander McCall Smith's The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency (which is also the title of the first). Those three books are where most of the stories and mysteries of the short-lived series were taken, but the novel still holds surprises for the television fan by going back into Botswana's premiere lady detective's past. Who her father was, how she grew up, and why she chose to open a detective agency are all delved into a lot more than on the show. This isn't an Agatha Christie-type mystery - with a single large mystery - but more of a Sherlock Holmes experience, with several small mysteries occupying Mma Ramotswe's time. The show reproduced the charm of the book quite well, with Africa as a central element, its landscapes, its people, its values and attitudes; the social commentary is gentle and loving. I'd have loved for some of the mysteries to be less clear in my mind before going in, but I'm already a ways into the second book. A nice, breezy read.

srsly Hamlet is Courtney Carbone's take on the greatest play ever written for "OMG Shakespeare". The premise: Shakespeare as filtered through social media, with all key characters txting each other, soliloquies in electronic post-it notes, emoticons up the wazoo, etc. It's an amusing experiment, one that shows good understanding of the play's themes and ironies, at its weakest when it does famous speeches and lines in modern/l33t English. That's really the problem with such adaptations. Once you remove Shakespeare's linguistic bounty, you're left with a melodramatic plot originally poached from some Italian source or something. Reducing Shakespeare to plot doesn't do much for me. What makes srsly Hamlet work despite it all, I think, is our own familiarity with the play. I'm not sure this would be anywhere near as interesting for someone who didn't know it inside and out.

Music: The "Weird Al" Yankovic Mandatory World Tour came to town last night, a fun evening of parody songs from the only artist of note in that game. Two hours with no intermission, and no time for much audience interaction except for the bits where Al came down into the crowd, but he did take several breaks to change costumes. There was perhaps too much energy spent on recreating music videos, especially when you can only do one song  in, say, the Fat suit, but to keep people entertained, they projected all sorts of material from Weird Al's career (from Al TV, for example, and collected clips from what must be every Weird Al reference and appearance in movies and TV ever). Early on, I was a little clipped out, so my favorite parts were definitely the medleys and arrangements that circumvented the need to appear "in character". Lots of energy and good humor, and judging from the crowd, for all ages.


Toby'c said...

For me, Prisoner of Azkaban was where I started losing confidence in the movies (at age 14), and it's mainly due to a frustrating lack of exposition in a couple of key scenes. For starters, notice that it's never made explicit who the Marauders responsible for the Map were. (Moony=Remus Lupin the werewolf, Wormtail=Peter the rat, Padfoot=Sirius the dog and Prongs=James Potter whose Animagus form was revealed at the end to be a stag, which is why Harry's Patronus took the form it did.)

The other point of frustration for me is the scene at The Three Broomsticks, which doesn't explain why everyone was so certain that Sirius was the traitor. (The Potters used the Fidelius Charm on him to keep their hiding place a secret - no one would have been able to find them unless he told them personally, and no one he told would be able to tell anyone else. However, Sirius persuaded them to switch to Peter later, figuring he (Sirius) would be the more obvious target, as a much closer friend to James.) Admittedly it's a pretty wordy chapter from an adaptation standpoint, but it's a spell that comes into play in later movies with no context.

Credit where it's due though - the time travel stuff is better executed than in the book, foreshadowing the Stable Time Loop a couple of times before Harry figures it out. And I agree with you that the acting and direction are generally improved.

Siskoid said...

My roommate is a big Potter fan and expressed similar frustrations. She HATES this movie. Which makes me want to like it even more, because I can be gleefully obnoxious like that.

I can understand where you and she are coming from, but when you explain it, it just sounds like gobbledegook pulled from books I haven't read and don't care to.

The Potter films are ALL too long, and if there's something unexplained or an inconsistency, it would probably take me a couple of viewings to spot them - the ending is just too far away from the beginning. And multiple viewings, that's something else that won't happen.

American Hawkman said...

The last thing I got to do with my best friend before he suddenly and shockingly died from a sinus infection that went insanely rogue was go to Weird Al's tour through our area. Wonderful experience, made bittersweet by it being the last time I saw my best friend of thirty years. Sounds like your visit had a lot of the same touches, despite being an album later, but it's definitely a great experience.

Siskoid said...

Sorry to hear about your friend. That's terrible.

But good on you for tying it into a positive memory.

Billy Weed said...

Yeah, Prisoner of Azkaban is generally considered the best book too, mainly because it introduces Remus and Sirius, both of whom are fan favorites. Unfortunately, Prisoner of Azkaban is also the point they started cutting lots of vital plot points from the books. They couldn't really help it as Prisoner of Azkaban was also when the books started getting too long to fit into two hours. That's one problem with book-to-movie adaptations: A book can take days to read while a movie only has 1 or 2 hours, tops.

Siskoid said...

Right. Which means they ought to be their own things. I personally don't need an adaptation to be faithful to the book, except in spirit. I'd much rather have a good film than a faithful one.

And that's something I'm going to revisit in the next batch of reviews.


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