This Week in Geek (1-07/02/16)


A sale on Lego Dimensions Level Packs made me grab the two time travel ones - Doctor Who and Back to the Future.


DVDs: Mr. Robot AKA Fight Club the TV series... And I really don't mean that as a put-down, because I was a big fan of Fight Club, and remixing it with legit-seeming hacking and a touch of American Psycho, actually makes for a good show. It worked for Fargo, after all (though they had the actual brand). But the apathetic narration, the acidic color palette, the choice of music, the sense that we're not seeing reality as it is, and the plot about anarchists wanting to take down the credit card companies all scream Fight Club, and it may be a tribute too many for some. But see, the thing about Fight Club is that it was prescient; Mr. Robot's use of the same concepts is TIMELY instead. Mental health, the 99% vs 1%, Occupy Wall Street, all of that makes Mr. Robot resonate differently. And still, the show has its own identity, with alienating camera shots and soundscapes representing the protagonist's inability to connect to people quite well, and I love how they say the villainous corporation might as well be called Evil Corp, so everyone does call it that. The show was pretty immersive and I devoured Season 1, so no complaints from me. The DVD includes a few deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a fair making of.

Timbuktu delves into recent history, Jihadists' momentary takeover of several towns in northern Mali, painting the portrait of a way of life under siege. The way Islam spread during the Ottoman Empire was not to force religion on anyone, but through eventual assimilation, and that led to the faith being practiced in slightly different ways from region to region. The Jihadists, of course, take another way, and try to snuff a rich culture, part Islamic, part one of Africa's most ancient cultures. This background story is told through images and examples, with a large cast, central to which is a shepherd living outside the city, who nevertheless must know injustice and tragedy at the new regime's hands. A striking film because regardless of which branch of Islam the characters adhere to, they are, first and foremost, people. Find an indictment of extremism in it if you like, but the film is much more interested in the destructive clash of cultures than the atrocities mostly happening off-stage.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For came out an inexplicable 9 years after the first film - they even had to recast characters - an unsurprisingly bombed. But once we forgive its lack of box office momentum, do we have a good film. If you liked the first Sin City, it's more of the same, so yeah, but the striking visuals are no longer so surprising. The thing I didn't like about the first Sin City was that having read the comics, it gave me a big case of deja vu. I wasn't seeing anything new. For all its artistry, it was a motion comic I'd already "read". (It also gave Zack Snyder license to make copycat movies, so I may never forgive it.) The second film actually creates two original storylines, a really fun gambling tale starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, and a climax for long-dangling plot threads. So even if I could still remember A Dame to Kill For (which I didn't really, at this point), this movie would have been more interesting to me. A Dame to Kill For is nevertheless the stone on which the film is built and it's a good femme fatale story, though Eva Green is naked through so much of it, it actually became uncomfortable. I know the comic was exploitative, but sheesh. The DVD includes a fast-motion version of the film without the effects, character profiles/actor interviews, and a couple of featurettes (stunts and make-up) besides.

Disciples of Shaolin (which has almost nothing to do with its title) is a Chang Cheh classic starring Fu Sheng at his most "Bugs Bunny", a cocky but poor kung fu master who gets embroiled in a merchant war between two textile mills. The first half was rather low on action, even has pacing issues, and while insolence is a fun character trait, Fu Sheng's character could be termed unlikable, but it sets up what comes later. By the second half, I was much more invested and the finale doesn't actually go where you think it will. Still, there's a lot going on - betrayals and counter-betrayals - and I don't think they all pay off. The blaring 70s cop show soundtrack is also a little ridiculous. As for Chang Cheh's trademark experimentalism, I still can't quite explain why some key fights are presented in sepia tone. It looks great, but are those fights meant to be connected in some way, or is it just that the color prints were lost and this is what remains?

American Movie (subtitled The Making of Northwestern) is a documentary that could well pass itself off as a mockumentary. It follows aspiring filmmaker Mark Borchardt's attempts to make a serious film by first completing a low-budget horror short he's been hammering at for years, and presents a cast of comically sad "characters" who help Mark in his doomed endeavors. It's Ed Wood in the 1990s' northwestern United States. Not to say what Mark makes is bad, but the whole enterprise is fraught with problems, most of them due to inexperience and lack of resources. But the one resource he has plenty of is people who, often grumbling all the way, are ready to support his dream. They're just a little clueless, that's all. According to IMDB, appearing in this documentary helped Mark's career, but it didn't help it TOO much. Some interesting personalities to discover here.


Ke20 said...

I agree for most of the review of Mr Robot, except for when you say E-Corp is so evil everybody calls it Evil Corp. It does sound like that, but in the beginning of the first episode, Elliot says he hates it so much that every time he hears/see the name E-Corp, his minds automatically filters it to Evil Corp. Seeing that everybody calls it that is actually the first hint that we have to deal with an unreliable narrator and is one of the earliest time that the shows tells viewer to doubt if what they see is actually happening or if we're, instead, having a look inside Elliot's psyche.

Siskoid said...

Yes, that's what I was saying, I just wasn't clear about it.


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