This Week in Geek (30/05-05/06/16)


The Gamera Legacy Collection is a snug little collection of every Gamera film ever made except for the latest (2006) one. I got me it because daikaiju turtle.


At the movies: I haven't seen the original Neighbors, but aside from one or two jokes that might require more context, Neighbors 2 - Sorority Rising, didn't ask me to. Dumb comedies like this aren't normally my jam, especially if there's going to be drug humor in it, but the movie completely sold me by being much smarter than anything in this genre usually tries to be. There's a sweetness to Seth Rogan, Rose Byrne and foe-turned-friend Zac Efron that takes the sting out jokes and gags that might, in lesser hands, have turned nasty. And if the first movie (I'm guessing) was about a couple realizing they were grown-ups who didn't connect with college kids anymore, despite being pretty childish themselves (as they still are in the second movie), the second builds on that idea, making them struggle more as parents, AND adds a fun feminist layer with the sorority that moves in next door. There are no villains in this movie, only clashing generations whose "good" agendas are at cross-purposes. Final test: Did I laugh? Yes, tons.

DVDs: Deliverance is the gold standard in hicksploitaton film-making, or so I thought going in. Truth is, it's more of a survival film, with four friends going down a dangerous river before the habitat is destroyed by a dam, but it's the bits with the "hillbillies" that are most memorable. And so even after all these years, the film still confounds expectations. First, the hero isn't the one you think. Second, it's less urbanite vs. hillbilly than it is man against nature, with the mountain men a manifestation of nature's ire. And third, despite it's seemingly simple action plot, Deliverance is really about something, or about many things. It's about extreme nature reverting men to their animal instincts. In some ways, about what it means to be a man, with all its gender-normative specificity. And it has a lot more psychological depth than you would expect, especially in the final act. Plus, no better banjo duel in the whole of cinematic history. The DVD includes a strong retrospective making of documentary, a vintage featurette, and the director's commentary.

On this, Godzilla's 61st birthday, I present the following review... Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster AKA Ebirah - Horror of the Deep (1966) is a campy delight in which Godzilla eventually fights a giant lobster, a fight that at times includes some beach volley-ball and a dance-off. I say eventually, because both he and ally Mothra sleep through most of the movie. More than usual I mean. I suppose it must be a hibernation period for the King of Monsters, because after his first bout, he falls asleep again. He's really, really groggy. And I think Mothra wakes up with, like 9 minutes left or something. But as usual, while these films must include kaiju fights, they're about people doing things in the monsters' paths. In this one, our hero crashes a dance-off (oh there are like 5 or 6 dance moments in the flick) to win a boat so he can go looking for his brother, lost at sea, and currently being held, along with Mothra-ite island folk by the Red Bamboo criminal army, who of course, must be crushed by monsters by the end. He teams up with a couple of dancers, a criminal on the run, and an island girl, and to my surprise, they have a lot more agency than humans usually do in these things. It's not the best Godzilla movie by any stretch, but you could do a lot worse if you're just looking for a fun time watching young adults run around Star Trek sets. The DVD unfortunately includes the English opening titles, but also the Japanese trailer, which subtitles the monsters' screams with actual dialog. Hilarious.

Netflix: I'm not a big fan of rape narratives in superhero comics. It's become this ugly cliché to give superheroines something like it in their backgrounds. However, if you're going to do it, do it right, by asking questions about the nature of consent, and exploring the real trauma that comes with lack of control. Jessica Jones Season 1 does this and is entirely more successful than most comics that have attempted this, and than Daredevil, the first entry in Netflix's Marvel shows. Face it, the Purple Man - or the less silly Killgrave, if you prefer - is a terrifying villain who can control everyone around him, and it's rendered excessively well (has Jessica Jones, in fact, punctured Preacher's balloon before it ever got off the ground?). But more than a seasonal villain, he's made into a supervillainous stalker and date rapist, highlighting terribly common-place behavior in a heightened way that actually builds on a theme. And as much as David Tennant's villain is a key ingredient in the season, he doesn't have to stick around forever like the Kingpin does in Daredevil, so the show doesn't feel like it's movie as slowly, and has more satisfying resolutions. It also helps that Jessica Jones has a more expansive and interesting cast, with Luke Cage playing an important role and easily selling us, I think, on his own upcoming series. As good as you heard. Let's hope they can keep that standard up across all the Marvel shows.

Books: China Miéville's Railsea is a clever genre mash-up, part diesel punk, part adventure on the high seas, that's all about moving forward, even if the path isn't straight, but more of a hampersand, which is used throughout to make the read faster, give the writing an old-timeyness, and as an emblem of the way this world works. It's Moby Dick, if the ocean was a web of criss-crossing train tracks, the whales giant moles, and Ishmael, a kid who really wanted to be in Treasure Island instead. A fully-realized world that's at once completely alien and absurd, and yet efficiently comes across in the reader's imagination. Miévile has espoused a love of role-playing games, and you could easily see this book adapted as a Savage Worlds setting without all that much work from the adapter's part. I liked his Dial H comic, but I didn't really know what to expect from his prose writing. The genre frenzy, clever writing, interesting settings, and bold momentum in this book have made me discover a new favorite writer.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

To expand on my comments a few weeks back... Sea Monster was my least favorite Kaiju film of the Showa era, until it was my favorite. :-) The cinematography was striking, to me- the giant claw emerging from the sea, the underwater battle... and for that, I love it. The giant condor has the dubious distinction (to me) of being the most random and pathetic adversary in any Kaiju film. And of course, Godzilla's tendency to sleep a lot, pick up native women, throw lots of boulders, and be energized by lightning are all tip-offs that this was a script written (and rejected) for King Kong; while they went on to write King Kongs Escapes as the big ape's final Japanese adventure, this was was just Find>Replaced into a Godzilla script.

Yet for all that, it's still kinda great.

Siskoid said...

Since it was GZ's birthday, I watched a couple more films. Can't wait to see your comments come next This Week.

Madeley said...

I can't recommend Mieville's "The City and the City" highly enough, it's one of my favourite books of the past ten years.

Siskoid said...

As you can see from the left-hand column, that's the one I'm reading (actually, devouring) right now!

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Looking forward to seeing what you chose! (My wife and I have just embarked on a rewatch of the Heisei era (80s/90s) films ourselves.

I'm curious- are you watching these English dubbed or Japanese-with-subtitles?

Siskoid said...

Those are the ones I know next to nothing about.

Japanese with subtitles, always. Although some of these have hilarious dubs, the second Godzilla movie in particular (introducing Anguirus), where the subplots are totally changed in dialog and one of the voices narrates what's on the screen as if it were assistance for blind audiences.

I think I have most of the Showa era on my shelf, and at this point (and with the two I'm covering Sunday), have watched them all. I haven't touched Hensei and beyond, except for the Gareth Edwards films.

Also on my shelf now, the first 11 Gamera films, so that's likely next. Also, if you like daikaiju, please come back on Thursday for something special.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Ah, I could wax poetic about the Heisei era. :-) They are, in many ways, a return to Godzilla-as-pure-antagonist (save for the last few); in the Showa, though Godzilla is a menace, he also helps to defeat the more-evil monster oftentimes; in the Heisei, it is the either the other monster being the menace-but-helping-to-drive-him-off, or else the 'Wow, this dude's even worse than Godzilla, can we figure out a way to kill them both?' (Pfah- as if the military can do anything about Godzilla; will they never learn?) While there's an inherent silliness to the very concept of daikaiju, the Heisei films are far more 'serious' in tone; the human-plots tend to be more emotional, and either sci-fi-based or past-trauma drama; there is one recurring character that creates an arc through the films (and indeed, they are somewhat serialized and inter-referential). They are also the era of beam-weapons; everyone is shooting multi-colored rays or lasers or lightning- even Mothra gets tiny little lightning-rays out of her antennae. :-) They're less about wrestling and more about powerful energy; not that the fights are purely shootouts, but a larger, bulkier, more tank-like Godzilla is not running and jumping and karate-chopping anymore. Godzilla is treated a little more like the 'terrifying force of nature' from the original film, at least in terms of people's reactions to him- though obviously, the depth of post-war destruction is traded for cities being casually demolished in giant monster brawls, as is standard to nearly every post-Gojira installment. I have deep affection for the era- particularly the second, vs. Biollante.

I've seen all the G-films in English, but am only now going back to watch them in Japanese with the subtitles. I find that I quite prefer the increased fidelity to the original storyline... and as a bonus, in the newer films, the soundtrack is remastered- whereas the VHS-era English-dubs do not match current standards.

Ah, Gamera. That is... an interesting experience. :-) The quality certainly... ranges. (His Heisei trilogy is also excellent; hitting those up on blu-ray is what made us decide to go back to Godzilla). In sci-fi terms, I think he's the Doctor Who to Godzilla's Star Trek; the one that sometimes shoots younger (but also, surprisingly, much darker at times), and isn't afraid to do living mannequins and killer snowmen rather than 'serious' villains. :-) I will be very interested to hear your takes on those (and whichever 2 G-films are up next week-in-review!).


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