This Week in Geek (6-12/07/15)

Buys

My purchases are mostly geared towards TV on DVD this week: The (Canadian) Newsroom Season 1, The Book of Negroes mini-series, Parks and Recreation Season 7, and House of Cards Season 3. I also got my physical copy of the 9th Doctor Sourcebook from Cubicle 7, and as a gift, I Am a Cat, a postmodern Japanese novel by Soseki Natsume, from the turn of the 20th century.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: It just happened that way, but once I saw the pattern, I went with it. I didn't go anywhere on my so-called vacation, but there was a road trip theme to almost everything I watched this week, starting with... Locke is an impressive Tom Hardy showpiece whose experimental conceit is that we never leave his character's car. It's all phone conversations. And it's brilliant. As a performance, Hardy modulates extremely well how we act differently with different people. Visually, it's not boring, and the chaos of the highway is the perfect counterpoint to the car interior where the protagonist is trying to create some kind of order. And as a story, it's layered and fascinating. For Hardy's character, two births are about to take place - that of his illegitimate child, and that of a concrete building he's been working on - both at great personal cost. Obviously, there's a metaphorical space between the two, rich in connections, which makes for a stimulating viewing experience. The DVD includes the writer-director's commentary, good, but they might have had fewer lulls if they'd had someone in the booth with him. The making of is quite good too, and it's fun to see the actors on the other side of the phone doing their thing in a hotel room.

Tracks is a woman's journey through the Australian desert with three camels and a dog, based on a true experience chronicled in National Geographic back in the 70s, which spun out into a book. It's important to say "based" because even the people who lived it (Robyn Davidson and the photographer Rick Smolan who met with her a few times during the journey) say it's an interpretation and they're quite fine with it. Obviously, on a thing like this, the cinematography has to be great, and it is. Everything else hangs on the few actors featured for any length of time, and Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver carry the film easily. But what struck me most is the outward pointlessness of Robyn's journey, simply a thing that had to be done for its own sake, transformative even though the point was not necessarily to be transformed, cleansing even though she did not need to be cleansed. The point is to start walking and never stop. It's about momentum, if anything. And along the way, that became poignant. The film's Robyn is painted as someone who doesn't think she feels comfortable with other people (perhaps the adaptation's key invention), but this is put to the test. A fine film about a unique journey, physically and spiritually. The DVD includes interviews with cast, crew and the real people it's based on, and a photo gallery.

In the same vein, Cheryl Strayed's 3-month hike up North America's spine-turned book, Wild, also became a film I rate highly. Here the point IS to cleanse and reinvent oneself, or rather, reboot oneself by undergoing a difficult physical and spiritual trial. Reese Witherspoon is good in the role, but the real star is the editing. Jean-Marc Vallée's vision for the story is very introspective, working in Cheryl's backstory as flashes of memory, but memory as it really works, a visually unfolding mystery of why she's making this journey, with a boisterous supporting performance from Laura Dern. I can't help but compare it to Into the Wild which I hated with the passionate heat of a billion suns (title, based on real story, over-educated protagonist goes hiking), but this is that idea done RIGHT. Wild really does show us who Cheryl is, was, and becomes. Sean Penn had none of Vallée's clarity or focus. The DVD includes a number of short featurettes about different production elements, many of them in the company of the real Cheryl Strayed. The director and producer commentary is fine, if unremarkable.

If I'd seen Smokey and the Bandit, I had no memory of it. Just dumb fun, with lots of car chases, crashes and jokes. This was the inspiration for The Dukes of Hazzard, wasn't it? The country music soundtrack written specifically for it, cars jumping over failed bridges, roguish good old boys chased by law enforcement officials no one respects or could respect... Not that the latter archetype is new to S&tB, mind you. James Bond had the similar Sheriff Pepper earlier in the 70s, and I don't like it much better here. But you know, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field are obviously having fun, so we do too. I bet everyone wanted to be a CB buddy when this came out. In fact, I remember all the kids getting CBs in the late 70s, myself included. I guess cell phones have killed that whole idea now... sigh. In no hurry to watch another Bandit film, but a fun piece of fluff that fit my week's theme.

Now for a couple of movies I already saw in theaters... My best take on Chef remains the one where I bookend it with Swingers. Same "malaise", 20 years on. And the war between Favreau's chef and Oliver Platt's critic (can I just say, this thing has an impressive and delightful cast?) is still one of my favorite things about the movie. But what impressed me most thing time was the film's ability to make uncinematic things come to life by calling on our other senses. Social media is certainly not cinematic, and the movie brings it to life with editing and special effects. More importantly, TASTE and SMELL cannot be directly conveyed by the medium, but damn if Chef doesn't give you cravings. The images and the music keep things so sensual, you brain thinks it's tasting and smelling these incredible dishes. And it's a sweet father-son story about reconnecting with the loves and passions of your life, of course.

Speaking of connecting with one's passions, that is what the title character of Inside Llewyn Davis seems unable to do. When I saw it originally, we had this big discussion about authenticity and sincerity, two traits Llewyn doesn't really have. Seeing it with that idea in mind from the get-go, it's clear that, while music is something he can do and do reasonably well, it's not something he loves. Case in point, every time someone else sings, he shows contempt. He's only interested in himself, and because he's a jerk, that interest wanes too and pushes him to quit the business. And it is a business for him, not a passion or vocation. And that's why he turns people off as much they turn him off. And yet, the music's great, even when Llewyn is at the guitar. The audience can feel sympathy for the character even if the world around him doesn't. The DVD includes a 40+ minute making of, a rarity for the Cohen Bros. who would rather troll you with false information than actually tell you how and why they made a movie (they still don't clear up ambiguities, which is good of them), which shows Oscar Isaac's evolution as a musician and speaks to various members of the cast and crew; good stuff.

All that travel... So what feels like home? I live in Canada, so how about a Canadian classic? In fact, how about WolfCop, which was filmed in Saskatchewan? I've never been to flat country, but it's a great stand-in for the American Midwest. And while this ridiculous take on both The Wolfman and The Wicker Man (and possibly Hot Fuzz by way of the latter) isn't on par with similarly recent horror comedies like Zombeavers - I can't recommend the acting, for example - it does have its moments, and definitely things you've never seen before. Don't go take the clothes out of the dryer when WolfCop walks into that bar bathroom, that's all I'll say. Very gory, with a gratuitous sex scene... It's another of those 80s horror (and in this case, action) tributes/parodies, with healthy dollop of gallows humor and a complex (but not complicated) plot that keeps things moving. Fun nonsense, and yes, there's a sequel planned, ladies.

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