This Week in Geek (18-24/04/16)


At the movies: Disney's new live action Jungle Book is as charming as it is beautiful, with some of the most convincing talking animals I've ever seen this side of the new Planet of the Apes movies. Sher Khan and Baloo (played by an obviously ad libbing Bill Murray) are triumphs. The kid is perfect. The effects incredible. Stay to the very end for the Locations credits for more amazement, and in any case, the end credits are among some of the most fun I've seen in a great while. Now here's my one complaint: There's one unmotivated musical number in this I found jarring. I get Disney wanting to trade on the best songs from their animated classic, but they should have restrained themselves. Characters can't break spontaneously into song exactly once in a film unless it's a very specific kind of film. Oh, and the movie doesn't end where the animated one did, which I think may be to leave it open to sequels. I wouldn't be adverse to that. Maybe something with more Kaa in it?

DVDs: If I never really rated Raising Arizona as highly as I did other Coen Bros. efforts, it may because it's such a screechy film. There is a LOT of comedy screaming, which I find annoying. But it's motivated by the fact the story is about stealing a baby, and in true Coens fashion, the themes run to that. It's no coincidence that John Goodman's escape convict bursts out of the muddy ground screaming, and keeps screaming as he pulls his "brother" out of the hole feet first. He's a big baby, one Nick Cage and Holly Hunter's new parents inherit at the same time as their perfect angel. They have disrupted the natural order and all hell breaks loose as a result. Dumb criminals, strange happenings, quirky characters, perfect shots... it's a Coen picture; I can't be too irritated by it no matter the volume level.

It's no secret I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about the first Hellboy movie. It was... okay. Hellboy II: The Golden Army still doesn't make me crave more entries in the franchise, but I do think it's the superior adventure. Now that all the characters and concepts have been introduced, director Guillermo del Toro can just let loose and the film really is just one crazy thing after another, and there's real variety while still following a linear plot about an albino elf trying to get his hands on an army of clockwork men to take over the world. Visually grand, del Toro creates a whole universe here, and as usual takes a great deal of care with the production design. Where I think he lacks is in properly motivating his characters at key points. For example, there's one character in the piece who basically turns on a dime, and the only explanation is, well, "I'll tell you in the next movie". Almost literally that. When such moments occur, I long for this visual director to let at least some dialog support the images. The DVD includes one of del Toro's trademark dense commentary tracks (also on the deleted scenes), a tour of the Troll Market (which has corners left unexplored in the film), behind the scenes footage, and an irrelevant motion comic (at the very least, have Mignola draw it, no?).

The Last Samurai is meant to be a grand historical epic set at the end an era for Japan, when the samurai were being outlawed and Western values were adopted. I say "meant to be" because while it's well shot, acted, researched and designed, it never really rises to the upper level of cinema. It's simply "presentational", and does not dabble in theme or ambiguity in a truly artistic way. The overuse of slow-motion bothered me, certainly. And then there's the ending, which came off as trite and cheeseball - the danger of writing a fictional story set in historical events, I suppose. The DVD offers featurettes on every aspect of the film-making process, from the initial idea to the film premiere, as well as a somewhat lame episode of History vs. Hollywood, deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage commented by the director, and the director's commentary track. Expect the Tom Cruise idolatry on these extras which seems to be required by contract.

The Man with the Iron Fists 2 leaves the outrageous Grindhouse values of the original behind in favor of a more traditional kung fu story and treatment, and there's really nothing wrong with that. The RZA's character leaves Jungle Village and finds a whole new cast of characters to interact with, including a proud miner who has left the martial world behind, an evil boss of the Beetle Clan (in fact, it's all insect totems in this thing), and a vampiric ghost(?) draining young women of their Chi. The fighting is good, the story better than I expected, and the cool soundtrack allows for a hip-hop swagger that is these films' trademark. Don't go in expecting excellent acting or even on-point casting, but it's not too bad either. After seeing Roel Reiné's Dead in Tombstone, I despaired to find the directorial reigns of this movie had been handed to him, but this is a vastly superior effort. The DVD includes deleted scenes (restoring some comic relief I'm rather glad wasn't in the film), a commentary track shared by Reiné and the RZA, and a brief making of featurette.

It's not so long ago that I saw and reviewed Avengers: Age of Ultron on here. My opinion hasn't really changed on watching it on DVD. But the reason I DID want to watch it was in context with Batman v Superman, because that picture's defenders often tell me that Age of Ultron was just as "bloated", and nobody bitches and moans about THAT movie. First of all, they do complain about the bloat in Age of Ultron, I believe I did myself if you read my original review. Second, and after watching AoU again it's very clear to me, you really have no business comparing the two movies' bloats as if they were equivalent. For one thing, while I would do away with the visions (hey, in BvS too!), what some consider bloating, i.e. the party scene, the farmhouse, are the best parts of the film for me. Because at this point, I'm invested in these characters and their personal moments are more important to me than the action beats. I can't say that about the deep end of the pool that is BvS. And speaking of action beats, AoU is actually well balanced, with a natural rhythm of action and non-action scenes alternating, while BvS has no flow to it, setting things up for what seems like forever, then exhausting its audience in the last act with non-stop action. So while AoU is far from the best Marvel film (I again lay a lot of that at Ultron's feet, I think he would have been a lot more terrifying if he hadn't had Tony Stark's humor programming), in no way is it in the same class as DC's most recent. Sorry to turn this into a backdoor review of BvS, but that was the context in which I watched it. The DVD has a featurette about the various locations used in the film.

So I finally finished The Flash Season 1. While I'm a fan of the Berlanti shows (this and Arrow and Supergirl), and of the way they bring the comic book experience to life pretty unashamedly, I do think they are "dumbed-down" television, by which I mean shows where the characters keep repeating information we already know because it doesn't trust the audience to pay attention. And to me, Flash is the worst offender, perhaps because it must juggle so many high concepts (Barry's origin and quest, who the Reverse Flash is, how the villains got their powers, the romantic triangles, Firestorm, yada yada yada). Watched on a weekly basis, I would notice it and nothing more, perhaps, but on DVD, even in fits and starts, it became distracting. Still, a likeable cast (only the world's worst liar Caitlin Snow fails on that level), a very strong arc villain, and a bold comic book approach throwing all sorts of new threats at our hero on a weekly basis. While I expect I won't like how the time paradox from the finale is fixed (I'm demanding when it comes to time travel), I'm primed for Season 2! The DVD includes a commentary track on the pilot episode, a featurette on the Trickster's return, a hefty making of, a feature on the special effects (probably the best part), a Comic-Con appearance, deleted scenes, and a gag reel.

Somehow, all these entries share a theme, can you guess what it is?


Marty said...

I love The Last Samurai. It is actually very historically accurate with nice themes that manage to completly avoid "the white savior" complex. I love the little moments in this film as opposed to the bombastic battles.

Marty said...

The only big thing that bothered me is how they said the samurai were unwilling to use guns? Samurai clan were using guns for like 200-300 years at that point.

Siskoid said...

I wondered about that too, but thought maybe this clan had dedicated itself to the sword? Dunno.

Marty said...

The actual clan revolt used swords because they ran out of gunpowder once the empire blocked trade with them.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Yeah, don't expect much from the paradox, or time travel in general on the Flash. They make... anti-sense.

As far as I can tell, getting 'erased from time' seems to entail ceasing to exist at that exact moment in time, with everything he ever did up to that point, and everyone's memories of him, completely intact. So Barry's mom was still killed by a man that never could have existed in the first place... and season 2 basically doesn't even address this, either- they just kind of act like everything makes perfect sense, and no one is even asking these questions. The few times they do try to address time travel and questions of paradox, the explanations and whiteboard diagrams actually make things more confusing.

The best guess I've been able to formulate from various scattered references - and this is never spelled out on the show, at least as far as I can tell - is that the speed force acts as a sort of insulator. Once you travel through it, the you that comes out the other end is a remnant or separate entity from the timeline surrounding you - that any changes to the timeline don't ripple back to you because the speed force acts as a buffer holding them back. Honestly, I don't even know if that makes any sense, but it seems to kind of be what they're going with...

Michael May said...

Raising Arizona was my first Coen Bros. movie. I was talked into going to it by a friend and pretty much started the movie with my arms crossed, thinking, "Okay, what you got?" By halfway through I was literally on the floor of the theater in laughter. I'd never seen anything like that before. Still has a special place for me and I can still quote most of it.

I really feel like I should take a guess at the theme, but there are a few of these that I haven't seen yet. Very curious to hear the connection though!

Siskoid said...

I can't believe no one guessed it yet!


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