This Week in Geek (21-27/09/15)

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Time Lapse is an indie film about a camera that takes pictures of the future. The characters stumble on it after the untimely death of their scientist neighbor and go on to change their lives, simply making sure the next pic of their living room is exactly as the camera "foretells" it. But have they surrendered free will? Or are they willing their future? Just how much control do they have? Time Lapse is a tight little thriller, filmed with little means, but able to keep your interest despite it taking place mostly between the same four walls. It's a bit of a puzzle movie, but doesn't feel like it. John Rhys-Davies has a strange bit part, but the only other "name" star is Danielle Panabaker, currently starring on The Flash. Nothing groundbreaking, especially stylistically, but a well-constructed "Twilight Zone" type flick that'll have you asking questions. The DVD includes two commentary tracks by the director and producer, one more anecdotal, the other more technical; both are fun and interesting. The making of is also worthwhile. The deleted scenes restore much of Rhys-Davies role, and come with optional commentary.

Tim's Vermeer is the most fun I've had watching paint dry (I bet every reviewer ever made that joke). This documentary signed Penn & Teller follows their friend, Video Toaster inventor Tim Jenison, as he tries to deduce how the Dutch master Vermeer painted his luminous works, and attempts to recreate it without any painting experience and with only tools available in the 17th century. It sounds like a movie about forging a painting, but really, it puts into question assumptions about how the great masters worked, and whether art and technology are mutually exclusive (having worked in the fine arts community, I can tell you they are not, but the layman may well think so). The insane lengths at which Jenison goes to achieve his goal carry you through the first part of the film, but it's the painstaking process of painting the work I found really riveting, where a man starts to lose himself in obsession, and in the soul-numbing work of the man-machine. The DVD includes a commentary track with the filmmakers and Tim, a Q&A session, and some extended/deleted scenes (almost a couple hours' worth), all of which add to our understanding of Vermeer, the optical techniques he might have used, and Tim's challenges.

Family Plot was Hitchcock's last film before he became too ill to work, and it's a cheeky romp of a thriller about a "psychic" who promises to find a rich woman's lost heir, her con man boyfriend who actually does the work, and a couple of kidnappers, one of which is that heir. In other words, the heir has many reasons NOT to be found, and no inkling they just want to hand him a fortune, rich ground on which to sow the seeds of misunderstandings and suspense. It's not serious enough to be one of the greats I suppose, but there's lots to love, especially the crazy car chase at the center of the film. As exciting as it is ridiculous. The DVD includes the customary making of, full of great stories about the production, a photo gallery, and production notes.

Family Plot completed my commitment to the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection, a boxed set that contained 14 of his best films (I'd say North by Northwest was the great omission here). I'd complained earlier that The Bird and Pyscho didn't have nearly as many extras as they should have, but I should have checked out the extra disc earlier. Their making ofs were so long and involved, they were related to that other disc. Ah! Well, it was fun to revisit those seminal films once more. The making of material in the Collection were all outstanding. This extra disc also includes a vintage 70s television interview with Hitchcock (circa Frenzy), and his getting honored with an award; he gives a great speech. The handsome velvet box also includes a gorgeous booklet, but it essentially just gives you a piece of trivia or two on each film, along with plenty of pictures. It's pretty, but not altogether useful.

Now turning to my almost completed I-MUST-CheckMovies 2015 project... I watched To Kill a Mockingbird this week, a film I'd never entirely seen, probably on account of the OTHER English class in school having covered it while we got, I think it was Who Has Seen the Wind? (I think we lost in the exchange). Though strictly speaking the story of a black man (always up for some Brock Peters!) falsely accused of rape and battery on a white woman in the South of the 1930s, or rather, of the white lawyer who dared to represent him, the book and film's twist is that it's experienced through the eyes of the lawyer's children. So while the trial is the central event, the movie takes its time getting to it and continues beyond it to give a more complete picture of what this world is like, who Gregory Peck's character is, and how, in the end, good people may or may not be punished for their acts of kindness. Many childhood stories are about loss of innocence, and though it's not explicit in Scout's story, there's a reason for her adult self to tell it - the realization that the world isn't fair is what all these threads lead to, and that if it's a sin to kill a mockingbird, nevertheless mockingbirds ARE killed. As strong as I'd heard it was, and a great use of a limited perspective to tell a story.

Another book about youth turned into beloved film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, was next on my list. Probably a film that works best on teen audiences who are going through these things, it nonetheless had interesting things to say to this adult. Considering I was a teenager in the era represented (just a couple years younger than the characters, judging by the music they love), I should have connected to it more, but it just seemed so urbane to me. Maybe I just wasn't one of the rich kids. Or it's a case of looking at it from this era's perspective, with today's sensitivity towards mental health issues especially. Stephen Chbosky who wrote the book also made the film and probably lived this life; I don't dispute its reality. I do wish he'd relied less on narration, a trope I often find dull and unnecessary, but that often comes up in book adaptations. Maybe he had difficulty letting go of the book's details. This kind of reads as a negative review, but it's not. The movie had plenty of great moments, a good soundtrack, many things that rang true... I'm just struggling to explain my general ambivalence. I came out of the experience calling it "cute", and that's nowhere near what I wanted to feel from it.

5 comments:

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Brock Peters is the man. I'd go as far as saying he's a better Darth Vader than James Earl Jones.

Siskoid said...

Star Wars being the "Franchise I Never Talk About": Where did he play Vader?

Jeremy Patrick said...

The first two films you talk about sound really interesting, and I'll add them to my queue.

I really dug The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I think part of it is Emma Watson, who is fantastic, part of it is the "living room routine" she and her brother do at the dance (how much fun is that!), and part of it is the great soundtrack (which I've now purchased separately). And, at least for me, I can identify with being the incredibly shy guy who meets the incredibly quirky and out-going girl and gets drawn out of his shell (though for me it was in college, not high school).

Siskoid said...

Like I said, there's some truth there, but like you, I would have had those moments in college. I was a late bloomer, and as it turns out a quick fader.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Third try's the charm. Lousy typos... :-)

Siskoid, he appeared in the NPR Radio Drama adaptations of Star Wars. ANH and ESB came out in 1983 (just in time to prepare for ROTJ theatrically), and featured Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels (and in the latte,r Billy Dee Williams) reprising their roles, but the rest were new castings. In 1996 or so, they elected to finally finish the saga- though this time, only Anthony Daniels returned. (Interestingly, John Lithgow was Yoda and Ed Asner was Jabba the Hutt!) All three featured Brock Peters as Vader, and while he had a different take on the character, the new lines and expanded scenes made for a fantastic character.

(Obviously, many of the exchanges are more wordy by the nature of audio drama; to wit, in the Wampa's cave, Luke frantically meditates aloud- "The Jedi and his lightsaber; the lightsaber and the Jedi. The two are one. The Force calls my lightsaber to me. The force calls my lightsaber TO ME!" (the latter shouted as it flies into his hands, seconds before the Wampa's claws can reach him). The style's not for everyone, but to me, it's gold. And with 29 total half-hour episodes for the saga, it allows a lot more depth and attachment to character than the original films do.)

In many ways, those dramas were my intro to Star Wars before even the films, and remain my favorite aspect of Star Wars. When the Emperor shouts "Vader! Put me down- I am your master!" and Peters as Vader triumphantly shouts "Darth Vader's master- but NOT ANAKIN SKYWALKER'S!" before hurling him to his death... well, I got chills just typing it.

 

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