I got a few DVDs this week: Tim's Vermeer, Jupiter Ascending, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 2.
At the movies: Mr. Holmes catches up with Sherlock Holmes at the end of his life, as his once-great mind is beginning to go, and looking to solve one last mystery, one he should know the solution to, but has forgotten. He's investigating his own memory. Through his damaged memory, we really follow three tracks, each a mystery in its own way, but what happens to the master of facts when it becomes a struggle to remember those facts? Thematically, the film discusses just what you replace lost things with. Fact for fiction (with Sherlock played as "real" but "fictionalized"), transpositions between characters, and the reliability of memory as a "fact". Healed by his friendship with a young boy, Sherlock finds hope where only bitterness and despair live, leading to a satisfying, though somewhat sentimental ending. The performances are, of course, unimpeachable.
DVDs: In 1972's Frenzy, Hitchcock tries for a more lurid style, more violent and for the first time, with gratuitous nudity. It's a strange blend that starts off slow, gets rather disturbing, but eventually gets my up-vote. The plot focuses on a man set up, in the eyes of the audience as much as the law, to take the fall for a rash of rape-stranglings. Circumstances are always playing against the protagonist, though the real killer eventually takes a hand too. The first rape-murder we see is bizarre and upsetting, as it should be, but once the shock fades, Hitchcock softens the blow by refusing to show any more rapes, and with his trademark black comedy. He enlivens the investigatory exposition with the detective's gastronomic plight, and turning the focus to the killer, places him in situations where he's bound to make mistakes. That's Hitchcock all over - a comedy of errors where you find yourself tensing up for an evil, disturbed criminal. The DVD includes a making of that speaks to a lot of the cast and crew, a photo gallery that includes pics of unknown deleted scenes, and the customary, hilarious Hitch trailer.
Hadn't watched Labyrinth in years... Well, the 80sness of it can't be denied. Jim Henson's fantasy rock opera (pop opera?) isn't quite as good as I remembered. It's the 80s action synth score that does it, I think. It might be more at home if there were more David Bowie songs, or if Bowie had actually done ALL of the music, but it just seems to suck all the lyricism out of the film. Its Alice in Wonderland with puppets and a rock god is otherwise well made (give or take one badly rotoscoped dance number), with the Escher stairs sequence still the stand-out, though I loved rediscovering other moments, like the shaft of hands and the worm who knows the way to the castle but fails to tell. It's all a bit screechy at times, the acting is just okay (the puppets often outshining the humans), and Bowie's package is in your face way too much, but as a fantasy about a girl coming of age, accepting responsibility, but also the place imagination should still have in her life, makes it a universal tale. Terry Jones' script is a touch on the sketchy side, meaning you could remove several set pieces without really affecting the whole, but it still gives meaning to the proceedings. The DVD includes a good hour-long making of that shows you all the tricks.
Watched a couple of movies for my I-MUST-Checkmovies 2015 project (2 more down, 3 to go before I'm done), starting with... Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The musical puts two things at odds: My appreciation for Sondheim, and my intense dislike of the latter-day Tim Burton/Johnny Depp team. The result is that my expectations were met. Fell right in the middle. I neither loved it, nor hated it. I am resolutely ambivalent about it. I kept getting distracted by how all the actors worked together either in the Harry Potter films or Les Miserables (many of the plot elements are similar to the latter, you must agree), and I've never found either Depp or the equally Burton-ubiquitous Bonham-Carter engaging as singers, certainly not slurring their way through Cockney renditions of the songs (as correct as that might be). And while I'm always up for some Alan Rickman, I don't fancy him a great singing talent either. I works thanks to its outrageous story of love, slaughter, cannibalism and mistaken identities, a truly Shakespearean blend, but just okay for me.
What does it say about me or the film that I enjoyed the outtakes from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy more than the movie itself? It's this strange Bizarro animal that really is a feminist story, but since it focuses on the sexist douchebags that won't let Christina Applegate's anchorwoman into the boys' club, comes off as an "isn't sexism fun?" dumbass comedy, so exactly the opposite. It makes me squirm because I truly believe that fare like this (I soured on Mad Men as well), though meant as satire (very blunt satire in this case), is lost on literal-minded dudebros who go on to repeat the jokes and behavior they find so funny on screen. The relatively recent rise of extremist masculinism coincides with these entertainments, and I blame them in part for mainstreaming the ugly message. But perhaps that's not Anchorman's fault. I can find plenty of others, from the protagonist being a dull, badly acted caricature I would have found lacking in a 4-minute sketch on SNL, or the various non sequiturs that distract from whatever story they're trying to tell, like the News Team gang wars. Make this about Appelgate's character or even about journalism in the early 70s and you've got something that could be funny, biting and poignant. As is, everyone in the movie is way too dumb and fake to make any kind of impact on me. Left me cold.
Took no time at all to devour Brooklyn Nine-Nine's second season. Now THIS is funny. The characters are allowed to be both smart and stupid, each in their own way, and it's amazing how it actually works as a cop show as well as a sitcom. It's not reinventing the wheel as far as Family Guy PSSHHHT interruptions or soap opera elements go, but every episode had me giggling at least once. I love this show. Captain Holt is definitely the stand-out character for me, so his participation in the pull-at-your-heart-strings cliffhanger shows the production knows that full well. Like, noooooooooooooo!!! I will not spoil it further, but leave it up in the air like that. If you were a fan of Parks & Recs and haven't taken the plunge yet, this is the other AWESOME comedy about civil servants, and you don't want to miss a frame of it. The DVD is a bit sparse on extras, I must say; just a few deleted scenes, way less than you'd expect from a show like this.
My daily reviews of The X-Files' sixth season are running right now, so not far to go to find out what I thought. In brief, it was a season hampered by bad scheduling, putting too many comedies back to back, or likewise stories that were too similar, but many of its episodes were strong, and the mytharc bits were game changers. The DVD includes commentary tracks on a couple of episodes (gah, some spoilage), a good making of on the season as a whole, a Fox-made promotional featurette, all the TV spots for the season's episodes, 13 special effects sequences commented by the effects supervisor, the deleted scenes both branching out of the episodes and in sequence with commentary (gah, I wish I'd known, I hate using the needless branching feature), the usual other language clips, and the character profile on the Cigarette-Smoking Man which was included on European video releases. Biggest extras package yet, and I'm not complaining.
Books: Soseki Natsumi's I Am a Cat is a satirical Japanese novel from the turn of the last century, starring an unbelievably well-read cat who, through his observations of his master and the various pretentious intellectuals and nasty neighbors who visit him, covers the width and breadth of the human experience with, well, let's call it disdain. We are very stupid and full of ourselves, and Natsume takes no prisoners in the way his feline protagonists sees us (he even insults his own work, in a bit of metatextual brilliance). There's also dramatic irony aplenty, as the conversationalists often send themselves up without the kitten's help whatsoever, and he's not exempt from criticism himself, as even this clear-seeing cat has his species' faults. This is a cousin to Byron's Don Juan and Sterne's Tristram Shandy, a work of massive digression, which captures an interesting time in Japanese history, when the Western world is veritably crashing into local culture with new ideas and mores. It certainly helps the Western reader understand what the characters are talking about, though much of the material is universal to all cultures. I have to give a lot of credit to translators Aiko Ito and Graeme Wilson for making the world play and humor come across so well, no doubt creating new turns of phrase and puns so the English reader can enjoy it just as much as the original Japanese reader would have.