This Week in Geek (25/04-01/05/16)


Some DVDs this week, including Veep Season 4, but mostly, it's recent Hong Kong films, many starring Donnie Yen: Iceman, Ip Man 3, Special ID, Kung Fu Killer, Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon, Police Story: Lockdown, and all together in a Dragon Dynasty Collection, Born to Defense, The Defender, The Legend 2, Once Upon a Time in China and America, and From Beijing with Love.


DVDs: In Fargo's first season, they kept referring to "that business in '79". Obviously, that's where Fargo Season 2 had to go. This whole series is amazing, getting us invested in a whole new cast of characters (though headed by a younger Lou Solverson, and there might be a couple of other recurring characters) within moments of the opening. Set in the dying embers of the '70s, against President Carter's national malaise speech and Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign, the story is on one level that of the corporatization of organized crime, and to make room for it, the decade goes out with a bang. And whereas the first season had a look very much like the film's, this one takes changes visually. The film stock evokes the '70s, there are cool split screens to tie the action together, and even shifts in narrator and style that are very much in line with what the Coen Bros. have been known to do. There's even the intimation that these "true crime" stories might go back to the 19th Century. Is the show crazy enough to do that some day? I want it to go on long enough for it to try. The DVD includes a making of, a conversation with the two actors that have played Lou, a featurette on the framing device that may tie in all these stories together, Bruce Campbell playing Ronald Reagan recording commentary in-character on the Reagan film clips used on the show, and a fake commercial.

During my dark night without a computer, cut off from all humankind, I ended up watching the original Russian Solaris by Andrei Tartovsky, which could not have been more relevant to my plight. Now, I've used the term "glacial pacing" before, but I didn't know what it truly meant. Tartovsky's lingering on images borders on the photographic - or still life - and has a very unusual effect. The more you stare at an image, the more you start to figure out its meaning, and when that meaning is later evoked, the memory of the image is strong, not to say burned on your retina. It's not for everyone and every occasion, but I found it quite fascinating. If you've seen the Soderbergh/Clooney version, you'll have gotten something closer to Lem's original novel; Tarkovsky has other concerns, and makes this "anti-2001" about nostalgia. Nostalgia for Earth, for nature, for the people we have lost, and slyly perhaps, for pre-Soviet Russia. And I don't think enough commentators bring up Tartovsky's dry sense of humor, because it's definitely there, often deprecating his own inability to make a mainstream film. A must-see for film history buffs. The Criterion edition includes commentary by Tarkovsky experts, deleted and alternate scenes (yes, even at 2h45 it could have been longer it seems), interviews with the film's survivors (some great stories about the director and the filming), an excerpt from a documentary about Lem's reaction to the film, and the usual booklet of essays.

Bill Mason's Paddle to the Sea (1966) is a 30-minute live-action Canadian short based on a children's book about a piece of wood sculpted as an Indian chief in a canoe, that journeys from the streams feeding Lake Superior to the open sea. "Paddle" isn't an animated character, nor does the narrator-of-few-words humanize him in any way. He's an object that the filmmaker follows, nature documentary-style down to the St.Lawrence river and beyond. It's up to us to give Paddle his thoughts; he is an enigmatic figure, sometimes silent witness, sometimes victim to animals, humans who would pluck him out of the water, and natural barriers. His journey is dangerous and LOOKS dangerous to the camera crew as well, with equipment seeming to go down into Niagara Falls, for example. An unusual viewing experience, quietly thrilling in its way.

My history with Dirty Dancing could be summarized as the type of movie I wouldn't have deigned seeing when it came out, and that I perhaps mocked my sister and mother for liking. As I got older, I started to appreciate dance a whole lot more, and promised myself I would one day make the move. Friday was International Dance Day or whatever, so it gave us ample justification to put it in the DVD player. Good dance numbers, a sweet but hot romance, subplots that attacked the more(?) classist 1950s-60s era... I was sufficiently entertained, give or take one douche bag character that didn't get punished. But I do have to talk about the soundtrack a little bit. It's very odd, especially listening to it today. It's half the music of my mother's youth, and half the music of mine, with key numbers, exegetic and all, total anachronisms. Ok, perhaps not total; they squeak by tonally, but the drum machine pop beats make me wince. Still, I love a good Latin dance routine.

Treme's third season continues the good work of the first two, with an ever-growing focus on systemic corruption (showrunner David Simon's real talent), and with all due respect to the music scene subplots, that's what keeps the viewer coming back for more. The police force is completely out of control this season, reconstruction efforts are being leeched of their federal funding, and Chef Jeannette starts a new restaurant with the wrong partner. And yet, we also care about Antoine becoming a fatherly music teacher, the Lambreaux dealing with illness, and DJ Davis trying to get an R&B opera off the ground. These characters all live and breathe and it probably doesn't matter what they're up to, we want to watch them. The DVD includes one or two commentary tracks on each episode - on each, a music-specific one by local DJs which may cause you to scan ahead, and on about half, the cast and crew weigh in - a "music of Treme" feature that uses subtitles to give you discography information during each musical punctuation, a making of, and featurettes on the Neville Bros., the showrunner himself and how the show handles its fine cuisine element.


snell said...

I must have seen Paddle To The Sea a dozen times--it was one of the standard "show this to the kids in the gym when it's raining during recess" choices, Michigan being The Great Lake State and all.

Of course, me being me, I like to think that the toy's maker was an exiled Atlantean scientist, and when Paddle reached salt water he would transform into a raging sea beast wreaking havoc on the cursed surface dwellers...

Anonymous said...

Even I have seen "Paddle to the Sea" multiple times and I'm an Amernican. But I'm less than 15 miles from Lake Erie so I feel a bit of kinship with Canada, like the neighbor I don't much bump into but he seems pretty cool.

There are of course some narrative cheats in "PttS", such as "uh-oh! There's a fire way over there and if PttS floats towards it he'll be destroyed!" but then he just floats past. I guess one must do such things when one's protagonist has the acting skills of Lance Fuller.

About "Fargo", you saw it and you know it's exceptional and so do I. I wish they'd ended the season better; three things bug me:

1) Ted Danson's speech at the end had no real connection to the themes of the season: he felt that communication would make for peace, when in fact the turf war had virtually nothing to do with lack of communication. There was some deception and miscommunication, but even without that, there was still going to be a turf war.

2) Lou's conversation with Peggy at the end really didn't nail the semi-legitimacy of Peggy's grievances, even if I think they were trying to go there. Like when Lou was talking about how men are expected to sacrifice everything for their families, Peggy could have said: "well so are women, but the difference is, nobody gives them a medal for doing it every day of their lives". Boom, that would have fixed that. Speaking of Peggy ...

3) ... the flying saucers. We saw the flying saucers only a couple times -- when she hit Rhye and during the motel shootout -- and there is actually a good explanation for them, that the show didn't take. We know that this season of "Fargo" is based on accounts from the survivors of the massacre, as recorded in that book. I would bet anything that, when they interviewed Peggy, she said a whole bunch of nonsense about flying saucers, and it was recorded in the book, probably as footnotes of dubious veracity. Thus, they were depicted in the show. It fits particularly well when you consider Peggy's nonchalant reaction to the flying saucers at the motel: "and then there was a bright light and everyone looked up and saw a UFO! But I have studied UFOs so I wasn't freaked out at all, you betcha."

Siskoid said...

Snell: Amazing. I had never see Paddle to the Sea, personally, that I can remember.

Anon: There are a number of anticlimaxes in Paddle, which I think might be straight from the book.

As for Fargo, let's look at your points...

1) I disagree. As with many Coen-style "fiasco" stories, a small screw-up has wide-ranging consequences. Had the shootout in the diner been a solvable crime, events would not have been rocket-fueled. Had the event not happened at all, if the youngest son had not been sidelined or made his screw-up in the first place, the patriarch would not have had a stroke and things might have gone down very differently. But even if that isn't so, take it as an ironic counterpoint that in this series, no one ever has the full picture it seems, which is their tragic flaw. Neither does Danson's character, and so his conclusion is wrong and a false coda.

2) In the Coeniverse, characters' ambitions more often than not exceed their grasp. Peggy wants to "actualize", but simply can't get there with any kind of normalcy. And so we're left at the end with a failure of argument.

3) Ah yes, the elephant in the room. I knew I was forgetting something in my review. Yes, that would have been a nice way to fit the element in the framing device, I agree. I just applaud the UFOs as one of the craziest callbacks to a Coen film, i.e. the saucers in The Man Who Wasn't There. Many Coen films have a supernatural-ish element that is left unexplained, from Hell's biker in Raising Arizona and the Devil himself in Barton Fink to the time loop in Inside Llewyn Davis is the divine tornado in A Serious Man. So while these might be termed weaknesses in the script, they are quite correct I think if they are stylistic tributes to the Coen oeuvre.


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