This Week in Geek (27/07-02/08/15)


A few DVDs, this time around, including Louie Season 1, Chappie and Gorky Park. I also got a pretty good microphone for podcasting purposes. While I have the use of a radio studio for some things, I want to make myself independent from its schedule as much as possible going forward. What podcasts, Siskoid? Well, we're only a few weeks away from my being able to tell you more.


DVDs: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is - and I decided this during the pageantry of the ball - pretty much Hunger Games. Wizards from different schools must compare in a tournament composed of three magical challenges, and it may be death for any of them. Of course, this being Harry Potter, it's also got to be a conspiracy to kill Harry and/or resurrect Voltimort, which it is on both counts. That structure keeps the film coherent and allows for varied set pieces and for something important to actually happen. I thought we'd see more of David Tennant, but as this is before he became Doctor Who, I suppose the role is the right size (and we'll see him again, yes?). Best new guest-star goes to Brendan Gleeson as Moody, especially the Whiplash moment. Unfortunately, Hermione seems to be less and less well served by these adaptations. Are her subplots getting dropped, is that it? The film did have some trouble with pacing, however, with so much happening off-screen as to make it frustrating. Why build up the foreign students only to have their performances barely mentioned in voice-over? What happened to Harry's dragon? Hermione's breakdown at the dance also plays strangely, as if a scene were missing. On the plus side, no evil foster parents.

Otherwise, I was all about the i-MUST-CheckMovies 2015 Project, using iCheck's most-seen&favorited list as a benchmark for what I ought to have seen by now. Not that I necessarily agree with the results, of course. For example, Intouchables is a well-made French film that would cliché if it weren't based on a true story (which is perhaps why they needlessly pushed that issue in the closing moments). In it, a rich paraplegic befriends an ex-con hired to be his caretaker, and they get down to the heartwarming comedy of teaching each other a few things. Both members of this "odd couple" are well played, and there's hardly a dull moment, but true or not, it's a formula we're well used to. It didn't actually take me to a place where I would laugh or cry out loud, but I can see how it would work for most audiences.

In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman plays a listless college graduate whose very listlessness becomes the motivation for making mistakes, most prominently having an affair with an older woman (that's non-scandalous casting, he and Anne Bancroft only have a 6-year age difference) and then with her daughter. A less wealthy character might not have been able to afford any of this, but the film certainly remains relevant in our age of stay-at-home twentysomethings, and besides, Mike Nichols' direction is so slick, so peculiar, so ARRESTING, that it makes the movie seem entirely modern. I mean, I've seen well over 2000 thousand films in my life, and his direction still had a powerful revelatory effect on me. You know, like you might have felt the first time you saw a Tarantino picture and the camera was doing all sorts of things it shouldn't have been doing. Like that. Makes sense. This is a story about breaking rules. The director ought to break a few himself.

Zack Snyder is very good at image-making, but he wastes his talents on copying others'. That was the case with 300, and it's the case with Watchmen, a film I find entirely redundant, especially since the original comic was so cinematic. Some say making Watchmen was somehow a bold enterprise because the story is so rich and visually complex, that it's "unfilmable", but that's ridiculous. Dave Gibbons provided a damn BLUEPRINT on how to make the story. Where Snyder was free to add and adapt was in what comics can't give us, and that's where I think he most dismally fails as a director. Motion: Filling panel gutters with cheesy slow motion and gory action doesn't do much for me, but he's bad at hiding the true villain's identity in the very first scene, which is inexcusable. Sound: Full control of what the comic would sound like and he gives us cinema's most trite and obvious soundtrack (I couldn't help but roll my eyes at how intrusive and on-the-nose his song choices were, just awful), Ozymandias' pronounced lisp (Doc Manhattan's timid voice took some time to process as well, but could at least be motivated by his being an atomic age Christ figure), and some frankly silly sound effects at times. Where Synder changed the original story, I don't think he did it any favors. The new ending is more compact and efficient, certainly, but it's a lot more boring too. Now, it's not a complete wash. The Rorschach stuff works quite well, his brand of brutality well suited to the medium. In the Ultimate Cut, I though the integration of the Black Freighter animation created an interesting counterpoint to the story, a sort of descent into madness. The richness of the original visuals is achieved satisfactorily, though it's not quite as successful as the original. But yeah, I'd have been more interested in a slow-burn trilogy that added material over a couple decades and made the betrayals more shocking, than the slavish and unnecessary emulation we got.

Some Like It Hot stars Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Munroe in a cross-dressing farce that's a hoot and a half. It's very full narrative, with Prohibition era gangsters looking to kill two musicians who must therefore join an all-girl band to hide out. Both initially fall for Munroe's ditzy vamp, though only Curtis manages to entice her as a man, conning her into believing he's a yachting millionaire who needs her special brand of Viagra, while Lemmon must settle for an actual millionaire who's fallen for his/her gams... This is now an iconic film for the LGBT community, isn't it? It ought to be! Having been made in 1959, you'd think its gender politics would be just shy of black face, but not at all. The men respect their new genders (despite acting like lascivious teenagers) and the sapphic/homoerotic shenanigans are treated as harmless whimsy, not something to be disgusted by. The same can be said for the less-than-honest seduction scenes and the gangland killing. A very funny script by director Billy Wilder that had me chuckling frequently.

Books: The Quality Companion is TwoMorrows' almost very complete look at Quality Comics, "almost" in that it focuses much more on Quality's super and masked heroes, and not very much on its humor and straight adventure strips. That bias is normal and expected, seeing as only the superheroes (though far fewer of them) are still in the comics readers' consciousness. The book seems meticulously researched, and in the large section on characters, tries to make mention of as many stories as possible. It's not just a matter of retelling origins! Where the errors are easier to notice is in sections that mention or discuss non-Quality characters. The book does fine with the Quality characters themselves, even once published at DC, but I noted a number of mistakes when it came to the wider DCU. Several characters also see one vintage story reprinted in full color each, including Uncle Sam, Black Condor, Phantom Lady (with Spider Widow), and... Madam Fatal? Strangely perhaps, not Plastic Man, Doll Man or Blackhawk, three of Quality's biggest stars. In addition, the book features a complete history of Quality's publishing business and where its characters eventually moved to, profiles on every artist and writer known to have crafted stories for the company, interviews with the people who brought them back after the end of the Golden Age, and few tidbits more. If you've noticed me writing about Quality characters over the past few weeks, you totally have this book to thank (or blame).

Tears of the Giraffe is Alexander McCall Smith's second No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency novel, and as with the first, the mysteries facing the delightful Mma Ramotswe were used (you might say spoiled) by the short-lived HBO series. But as with the first book, it's in the personal lives of the characters that Tears gives the HBO-savvy reader new material. Precious' beloved mechanic J.L.B. Matekoni becomes a full-fledged character, very much the co-lead (just like he does in her life), and I was surprised to see him tested by a much more sinister maid than on the show, and the introduction of children he might adopt! Mma Makutsi, the Agency's frazzled secretary takes center stage in at least one mystery, just as she did on the show, but underwritten in the first book. All that to say that while I'll take a break to read something else, I'll soon want to return to this world, this Botswana, which is so pleasant and positive to read about.


Toby'c said...

" I thought we'd see more of David Tennant, but as this is before he became Doctor Who, I suppose the role is the right size (and we'll see him again, yes?"
As it happens, no, thanks to the cause of my first complaint - in the book, Barty Crouch Jr. was inadvertently executed by the Ministry via the Dementor's Kiss before he could testify about working for Voldemort, hence why... well, you'll see in Order of the Phoenix.

Moving on to issues that don't screw up future movies so much, you may have noticed the complete lack of explanation for how Barty Crouch escaped from Azkaban without attracting the same kind of attention as Sirius. In the book, he was smuggled out of prison by his parents, using Polyjuice Potion, and his mother (by then terminally ill) stayed behind to die in his place. His father kept him in their home as a prisoner for years under the Imperius Curse, until Voldemort and Wormtail were alerted to his existence via a captured ministry employee who'd found out, and they put their plan involving the Tournament into action after putting Crouch Sr. under their control and kidnapping Moody.

And then there's the issue of Harry and Voldemort's wands connecting and Dumbledore immediately recognising it as Priori incantatum and realising Harry saw his parents. In the book, there's a spell introduced early on to determine the last spell cast by another wand, which gets used on Harry's wand to prove it was used to cast Voldemort's mark in the sky. (This, for the record, was done by Crouch Jr, who'd been at the World Cup under an invisibility cloak, and he stole Harry's wand and cast the mark to scare off the former Voldemort supporters who'd started attacking the local muggles for laughs). The reason Harry and Voldemort's wands react to each other like that is because of their twin cores, both containing tail feathers from the same phoenix.

And I'm well aware why these kinds of infodump don't work well on screen compared to text, but you can see why it's so damn distracting.

There's some other stuff that I can't really complain about because Steve Kloves managed to work around it relatively well, but it will have consequences later.

"Unfortunately, Hermione seems to be less and less well served by these adaptations."
Actually most of us would argue the opposite. Remember in Prisoner of Azkaban when she tells Sirius that if he wants to kill Harry he'd have to go through him too? Originally it was Ron (in spite of his injured leg). Remember in the first one when Ron can't stop panicking while trapped in the giant plant and Hermione has to deal with it? Originally Hermione had to be reminded, by Ron, that she's a witch and can light a fire without firewood.

That being said, there is a subplot that's brought up and abruptly dropped where she tries to figure out how the muckraking journalist Rita Skeeter is getting her information. We eventually find out she's an unregistered animagus like the Marauders, who can turn into a beetle.

"Hermione's breakdown at the dance also plays strangely, as if a scene were missing."
As I recall, this one's more an issue of the acting, with Ron being a lot more viciously jealous in the book.

"On the plus side, no evil foster parents." Debatable, since the scene in the book where Mr Weasley uses floo powder to get in only to find the fireplace boarded up and an electric fire in his way was pretty hilarious.

American Hawkman said...

Love the Quality Companion... it is highly effective at showing us what made these characters so great.

LiamKav said...

I think this is also the point where Emma Watson's acting is at its worst. She over emphasises everything. It's a very self concious "I... am... acting... upset... but... overarticulating... all... my... words" thing. I found it very annoying. She improves from here on out though, if I recall correctly.


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