This Week in Geek (20-26/06/16)

Buys
On DVD, got Big Trouble (not in Little China), but my best purchase was Xum Yukinori's Who's Who-related coffee cups. One has the full cover of his Xum's Who project, with lots of forgotten DC characters and comic-ized versions of some of my Fire & Water Podcast buddies. The other is the Lady Cop entry, which I knew I had to own. And so I do.
You can find Xum's stuff at Redbubble, check it out (open until June 29th 2016, I'm told).

"Accomplishments"

At the movies: Full disclosure, I wasn't a huge fan of Finding Nemo. It was fine, but I never felt the desire to see it again. I have similar feelings about Finding Dory, even though it had a worthy story and theme. I felt like it was pitched too young at times, despite its darker moments, over-explaining things to its audience, its flashbacks kind of clunky as a result. And Dory, for all the effort put into making her a banner character for children with special needs, was designed as an annoying (if endearing) comic relief character. Putting the story on her back, while it makes complete sense (her memory loss means she's looking for herself just as much as anyone searching for her, a kind of Memento for tropical fish). And while I respect the attempt to make this about the value of people with handicaps, both mental and physical (I think many parents will relate), the message is nearly undone by the running gag about sea lions forcing a "special needs sea lion" off their rock, which of course was the one thing the seal-like audience applauded most. Hm. That said, it's still a fine entertainment, especially once it becomes a crazy heist/prison escape action movie set at Sea World. Anything with the depressed octopus is great, but all the misunderstandings, blunders and missed connections pile up to create an exciting third act to the film.

DVDs (some actually Netflix): John Cusack's High Fidelity is a kind of reverse romcom, and in a number of ways too. First, it's strictly the male point of view, a full-on, honest play-by-play testimonial where the lead character isn't doing himself any favors by sharing what he does, a cleverly executed mix of self-loathing and self-love (and don't tell me this film wasn't one of the inspirations for How I Met Your Mother). Second, the character doesn't find romance in the movie sense so much as reject fantasy and accept reality. The usual structure of this genre is, in fact, upended, but I don't want to spoil it for you. Cusack's obsession with Top 5 lists is really a distraction until he figures out you really only need a #1. There are serious and truthful moments throughout, as Cusack's character reflects on his life in the wake of a torturous break-up, but plenty of comedy as well, often in relation to the record store location (surely an inspiration for Black Books) and its music nerds. And so of course, the movie has a cool soundtrack. And even cooler quotables.

Cool Hand Luke is a pretty overt transposition of the Gospels to the modern context of a chain gang in rural America. There is, in fact, no real reason why Luke decides to commit a crime that sends him to the work camp, but it is his manifest destiny to become the gang's unbreakable charismatic (Paul Newman is perfect for this) prophet of Will. It's not a perfect allegory, but rather a remix that evokes Scripture at every turn. Luke is a miracle worker, someone who gathers apostles, persecuted by the system, and who also questions his resolve and rejects the others' hero worship. Add to that much verisimilitude from the source book's autobiographical elements, and some gorgeous and at times innovative cinematography, and you quite rightly obtain a classic that's more than the sum of its parts. The DVD includes an expert's commentary track, and a good retrospective making of documentary.

The second Gamera movie, Gamera vs. Barugon, is as derivative as the first. For some reason, it echoes Godzilla's second film as well, with its Osaka setting, a pilot protagonist, and a four-legged kaiju opponent. AND kaiju experts everywhere will recognize that Barugon is, on the surface, something of a riff on the similarly-horned Baragon (from Toho's Frankenstein Conquers the World). But the buck stops there. Barugon is a crazier monster, based on a chameleon, with a chewing-gum tongue that can freeze things (Gamera spends an inordinate amount of time frozen solid, sadly) and a rainbow beam coming off its back that can destroy whole army units. The plot is completely whack, with an Indiana Jones hook, the monster being lured by a diamond's light, and other such non-science. The human elements nevertheless hold more excitement than usual, even though the acting is frequently subpar.

You'd think a comedy remake of a vintage TV show would be terrible - and many have been - but 21 Jump Street succeeds where most have failed, in large part by understanding the clichés of the genres involved (action flicks, buddy cop movies, and TV remakes) and playing on them in a knowing way. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments, plenty more smiles, and heart from the get-go as two nemeses in high school become friends at Police Academy and get to relive their high school years undercover as teens. But teens have changed since they were in school, and the slim but crucial generation gap offers even more opportunities for comedy, especially when the two heroes flip roles - it's true I would be cooler in high school now than I ever was. Or maybe that's a fantasy; I've got no illusions. You won't really get me with gross-out and drug humor, but it's there too if that's what tickles ya, and some fun action beats as well. Is 22 Jump Street as much fun? If so, I'm in.

The Danish film A Hijacking (Kapringen) is about Somali pirates boarding a vessel. The comparison to Captain Phillips stops there. A Hijacking is more of a procedural thriller, showing what that experience would be like for the crew, and for the people negotiating their release. The latter is the real innovation here, as the shipping company's CEO, a shark in the boardroom, decides to negotiate a deal himself. His abilities are tested to the limit, and he may not be dispassionate enough to succeed after all. Meanwhile, the ship's cook on the ship is our lifeline, a human fan to this terror attack. The film is evidently shot with little means, and much more stark and staid than any Hollywood equivalent, but that's part of its strengths, giving the story the solidity of a documentary, and thus the feeling that anything could happen.

Band of Robbers is a small indie caper movie that draws from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn stories, specifically the Murrell's Treasure plot, reimagined in the modern day with adult versions of the characters. Fun and quirky, it is perfect Fiasco à la Coen Bros. where the best laid plans of the hapless cast of characters are doomed to fail spectacularly. And hey, the always engaging Melissa Benoist is in it! A nice surprise. And a good comic performance from co-director Adam Nee in the Tom Sawyer role, misspeaking his way through the story, with Kyle Gallner's Huck its real soul.



Books: A Midsummer Night #nofilter is yet another Shakespeare play rewritten as if it were happening on cell phones via texting, email and social media (adapted by Brett Wright). The experiment continues to be an amusing palate cleanser in between novels (I've now read three out of the four available), though A Midsummer Night's Dream does offer some complications for the format. Since the play within the play (and its practice run) must occur in the real world, no in virtual reality, how can it be converted into electronic text? The solution is okay, if uninspired, not that I have anything better to suggest. There are some clever moments regardless (like how Titania falls in love with an ass in this version), and the love story between the four kids is perfect for a phone-centric update. I haven't read the original play in a little while, but I wonder, is there a reason Hippolyta is so concerned with her data usage, or is this just a recurring gag inspired by the woodsy location where, surely, wi-fi isn't easily available?

Chuck Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters is about disfigured models, pre-op transgender grifters, and how reinventing one's self can be both sacrifice and salvation. Told in Palahniuk's trademark anachronistic, hip-hop prose, the darkly humorous novel is companion to Fight Club in its examination of modern society's troubling values, and in its several revelations on the identities of the main characters, shockers whose clues were effectively hidden in plain sight. In a sense, it's the female equivalent of Fight Club's male perspective, attacking that gender's anxieties, while also muddying the waters of gender identification long before it was part of the mainstream public discourse (the book was published in 1999). You'll definitely recognize the author's best known book in this one, but the content is nevertheless different enough and clever enough to be worth the read.

3 comments:

Siskoid said...

My thanks to Green Luthor for making me fix a total spaz moment that shows I shouldn't be writing past midnight.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Sadly, vs. Barugon may be the highlight of the series unless you're watching for 'MST3K value.' There's some hilariously bad stuff upcoming, but in terms of serious storylines that don't focus on children, and have some semblance of a logical plot- sorry to say, you just passed the pinnacle. :-) The one thing there is still to look forward to is WEIRD antagonists. I'd say Barugon with his freeze-tongue and rainbow-ray is the weirdest of the bunch, but you haven't reached Guiron yet... ;-)

Siskoid said...

(Update, I watched vs. Gyaos last night.)

The Gamera films are on the one hand pitched to a younger audience, with kiddie protagonists saving the world, but also have some very adult human stories (either violent or deathly dull business stuff) and way more monster gore than most Godzilla films.

Fellow Lonely Heart Marty says they get better and better. We'll see which of you is more in line with my tastes. Regardless, I enjoy them for their silliness and spam a Facebook chat with snarky (or this is CRAZY!) comments for the duration.

 

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