This Week in Geek (11-17/01/16)


DVDs: I'm a sucker for a well-made con man movie, and the Will Smith vehicle Focus is a pretty good entry in the genre, glamorous in a Rat Pack kind of way (and with Margot Robbie as the female lead, how could it not be), and yet often down to Earth in the way it presents the grifter's world. But that's part of the con it runs on the audience. It shows you a lot of "ordinary" grifting (so much so you'll never want to go out of the house again), but is really hiding some long cons that are hidden from Robbie's character, an up-and-coming grifter just learning the trade. But unlike the standard con movie which is all about the big job, Focus is more about the romantic relationship between the two leads and how difficult it would be to trust a partner in a world where lying is required and compulsive. Fun and well made without being groundbreaking, I think Focus is nevertheless a good entertainment that isn't telling the same old story the same old way. The DVD has deleted scenes and alternate takes/improv.

I understand why Bridget Jones' Diary was a big hit, and perhaps hindsight is confusing my senses because its formula has been adopted by later, more confident films, but Renee Zellweger's big star-making romcom did not work for me. Oh there are some good bits, and the actors are generally engaging (oh look, BSG's Baltar!), but it kept undoing what it was trying to do, I felt. So while on the one hand, the film is a feministisc statement that women should be comfortable as they are and not have to live up to some patriarchal standard of beauty, Bridget does her very best to live up to it, and in any case, it's that tired old movie trope where we all have to pretend a very pretty actress is actually unattractive. What bugger me most though is that because this is meant to be the Diary talking, the movie seemed to take fantastical turns, which surely, would have been all in her imagination (the boss she lusts after suddenly sending her dirty emails, and so on), but then these turn out to really happen, with very little motivation! And please, leave the "healing power of adultery" trope to Woody Allen, he's the only one who can make it work, frankly, and not even 100% of the time. So I didn't believe much of anything in this film, not its female empowerment, not its male characters certainly... It felt as contrived as Zellweger's British accent.

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino's Youth is a nearly perfect meditation on what growing old means for creative types, a wistful and extremely sad comedy where the subject matter is heavy, but the very oddness of the characters and situations nevertheless elicit laughter. The setting, a rejuvenation spa in the Swiss Alps, is host to musicians and film people whose professional lives are on the decline (whatever their actual age), with Michael Cane, Harvey Keitel and Rachel Weisz particularly strong. But what does it for me is the artful direction, the ironic editing, and the visuals One Perfect Shot(TM) after another. There are a couple of stumbles towards the end - Jane Fonda's final scene failed for me - but ultimately, the characters help each other come up with the satisfying final act of their lives out of the chaos and white noise that is their lives seen in hindsight. I think I've got another director whose work I must seek out now.



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