This Week in Geek (28/09-04/10/15)


I got my copy of Outside In 2, featuring 125 authors talking about 125 episodes of New Who in new and unusual ways, and one of those authors... is me! I'll let you know what the 124 others did as soon as I can read it!


At the movies: Johnny Depp returns to a real life information in Black Mass, though unlike Donny Brasco, Whitey Bulger uses his FBI connection to make himself the most powerful crime lord in 1970s-80s Boston. It's not an uninteresting story, and Depp is quite restrained (I could even forget it was him under the bald head and blue eyes, which I didn't think could happen anymore), but it suffers from Scorsese envy. All real crime films seem to fall into a similar pattern, a rise and fall of incidents from whatever book strung together to shock or illuminate. Scorsese is the best of the best at this, somehow making his longish films seem worth it at the end, where he puts an inspired button on his film. Not so here. The film is well shot and creates a bleached out, stark and decaying South Boston, with some good, creepy moments for the villain, the ending is anti-climactic at best. I know it follows true events, but the way it's presented, it seems abrupt and flat. The theme of loyalty and betrayal is fairly obvious, but satisfyingly returns in different ways again and again, but why his FBI connection would BE so loyal to him isn't explored sufficiently. So mostly good, but probably not all that memorable in the long run.

DVDs: Speaking of Scorsese, he directed the last - yes LAST - entry in my I-MUST-CheckMovies 2015 Project, and he didn't do the thing I just said he was good at just now with it: Raging Bull. There's a lot to admire in this film. The performances, certainly. The direction, obviously. Scorsese somehow manages to give the film the look of films from the era it represents, the 40s and early 50s, in black and white with simple, precise film language, and yet allow himself experimentation like freeze frames, without them seeming out of place. Though outwardly a boxing film, it's really about "boxing" as a psychological state, La Motta's violence poisoning his marriage and friendships. I especially liked how artful the boxing sequences were, but that when he unleashes his fists on his wife and brother, the same action is raw, messy and visceral. Unfortunately, the film goes on too long with rather pointless scenes featuring La Motta's post-boxing days. Unnecessary tedium at the end of an otherwise strong film. So now that I've watched 50 films everyone but me had liked and enjoyed, what have I learned? Watch the blog. Later this week, I'll attempt a summation.

Unleashed stars Jet Li as a man raised as an attack dog (a martial artist dog) by a mobster, who escapes, is adopted by a music-loving family, and must eventually save them from his evil "uncle" who wants him to fight for money again. You know, classic kung fu stuff. Obviously, the fight scenes are stand-outs, but there aren't that many of them, with the bulk of the second act spent with Morgan Freeman and his adopted daughter as Jet's character learns to be human and do human things, like eat ice cream and love. If it sounds maudlin and trite, well, a little, but it's still watchable. Penned by Luc Besson, the film does seem to give itself airs, as if it were "about something" greater than its featured action. It carries itself with a certain self-importance that sometimes feels trite. The non-action highlight? How Bob Hoskins' decadent mob boss is abused in amusing and recurring ways. The Unrated/Extreme Edition can also be watched in an "Extended" cut I don't recommend. It basically replaces key fight scenes with longer versions of those fights, in an unfinished state (no sound effects, a video look). Takes the energy out of them and doesn't add a whole lot. The extras include three featurettes full of redundant material (watch the third and be done with it), and a couple of music videos.

And now for some Halloween fare to mark the month of OctHorror, starting with The Guest, a super-soldier gone bad thriller than really sings AS a thriller in the first half, but unfortunately devolves into an 80s action flick in the second. Ah well. Up front, Dan Stevens is extremely effective as a Iraq conflict veteran at once charming and sinister, who seduces his dead buddy's family members and embeds himself into their lives. The soundtrack is pretty great, by turns soothing and shocking, just like the main character is. But then we cut away to some military types, and it's suddenly not a thriller or a metaphor for your kid coming back from the war changed for both the better and the worse. It's just a lot of violence and horror/thriller clichés. The music is still good, just not as clever as it was in the first half.

The Boxtrolls is an incredibly weird stopmotion animation film, about a world where cheese is king - though make sure you don't get the "cheese fits", they're killer - and the citizens have become convinced the enemy is trolls that live in boxes. Throw in a cross-dressing villain and a boy who was raised by boxtrolls having to "white Messiah" them into action against a steampunk mech, and well, you see what I mean. If you embrace it, you'll have fun, and marvel at the artistry along the way. My favorite bits were the henchmen's philosophical discussions, and these actually inspired Laika Studios' usual "pull back the curtain" moment mid-credits, a rather wonderful sequence that pleasantly taps into the theme of free will and agency which is key to the film, AND metatextually reveals the truth of the puppets' existence. The DVD has an interesting commentary track that really brings to life what a project like this entails, and plenty of illustrative featurettes about various sequences and facets of that project.

The Battery, AKA Ben and Mickey vs. the Dead, was made for a meager estimated 6,000$, and you can see how - you hardly ever see a kill shot, windows are blocked so we don't see the zombies, etc. - but it doesn't mean it FEELS cheap. It's got an interesting, yellowed look, and the focus, in any case, is on showing what it would really be like if you were one of the few survivors of a zombie apocalypse. The boredom of it - the movie often invests in sequences shot and shown in real time - the emptiness, but also, the freedom. Like the two baseball players who are forced to stick together to survive, you might well go to your old girlfriend's house for bittersweet souvenirs, or start a list of zombie kills. Making the duo, a realist and a romantic, baseball players is perfect given that most of what they do is bounce off each other. This is a slow-moving flick with some amusingly unimpressive zombies, but the banter still clicks, and it has something to say about a tired genre.

Session 9 is also cheap at 1.5 M$, but looks cheaper still. The video look, variable acting and bad looping make this story about asbestos removers cracking up while working in a disused asylum - a great location that seemed to insist someone write a script about it and shoot a film there - difficult to get into at first. It's not unclever, however, with the killer perhaps obvious from the start, but many red herrings making you lose sight of him anyway. As an additional layer, one of the men becomes obsessed with tapes recorded during some creepy therapy sessions, which play in parallel to the contemporary story (and these are the most effective thing in the movie), and which may give you yet another interpretation at the end, one that's perhaps more far-fetched than you'd expect, but that nonetheless fits the facts. If you're into it, don't despair at the TV quality and enjoy it as an unfolding double mystery.


American Hawkman said...

To this day, nobody's offered an explanation for how Bulger corrupts the FBI other than "money" and "success was good for his career". It's a heck of a story.

Siskoid said...

If something as essential as motivation was still unknown, it may have been too early to tell it. I think the filmmakers were at least obligated to provide more of an answer under the terms of creative license.

Madeley said...

I think that's always an issue with gangster films. We can strive to make them seem cinematic, or operatic, or to reveal philosophical truth about the human condition, but ultimately motivation for some of the worst acts imaginable is "because it got me a lot of money".

Siskoid said...

Pretty much. That part of it is pretty clear, but the FBI guy's loyalty AFTER it all falls apart is strange, and all we get is some veiled allusion to something Bulger did to help him when they were kids. Tell me what that is, and it might all slot into place.


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