This Week in Geek (18-24/07/16)


When I finished a book mid-week, I really needed more books. Screw the ones I have unread on my shelf since the 90s! Gots to have new books! And so... China Miéville's Three Moments of an Explosion and This Census-Taker.


At the movies: The new Ghostbusters movie is plenty funny (that Jaws joke alone was worth the price of admission, but Chris Hemsworth's ridiculous mimbo is a nice surprise too), has some cool action scenes, and features fun cameos for most of the original cast, but it's the characters that make this worthy of the franchise, past and future. The template is recognizably, if broadly, that of the 1984 original. Where it wins me over is that the characters are not analogs of the original cast, and it's a loser's game to try and pin Venkman, Ray, Egon and Winston (or anyone else) on them. They have their own comic personalities and functions in the story, which helps create the twists necessary to make this new entry stand on its own. It does what A Force Awakens did - create new characters I want to see in more films, even though the story was very familiar - but a bit better; I wasn't sure WHERE this one was going a lot of the time. And there's an extra level of fun to the fact that the film acknowledges the unfortunate misogynist backlash of the last year, and gives it the finger. Great fun, and as you'll see, it sort of inspired much of what's to follow in these capsule reviews in one way or another.

(DVD) Oscar Pool Stash Forced Watch: The original Ghost Busters of course still stands up, and for movie buffs, there's nothing quite like seeing those original old school effects. I think they're part of the fun, and though we can do a lot more today, that doesn't necessarily means we can do better. Still quite good, I must say. It's in some ways a purer film than the new one, not just because it's not built on the bones of the past, but because the characters a more clearly archetypal. Brain - Heart - Mouth - I wonder what Eddie Murphy's version of Winston would have been like, given an expanded role. But as it is, it's iconic, and eminently watchable. The DVD includes a director and writer commentary track, both vintage and new making of featurettes, special effects comparisons, picture galleries (all with Photoshop filter for some insane reason) and storyboards, as well as a good number of deleted scenes.
#OscarPoolResult: It was always going to stay in my collection.

Netflix: Giving Paul Feig some love, I watched Bridesmaids, which I'd always feared doing because I equated it with The Hangover (which I hate with a passion). No doubt, the thought of Melissa McCarthy pooping in a sink is what put that fear in me. Rather, it's the story of two bridesmaids jealous of each other and the other's relationship to the bride, as well as a sweet romcom for Kristen Wiig's protagonist. Those two stories make the film over-long and oddly paced, but while no gutbuster, it still had an appreciable emotional truth that made me warm to it early (the Wiig-Rudolph friendship felt very real to me) and made me want to allow myself to be touched in the third act. It wants to be a raucous comedy, I think, but should settle for amusing and heartwarming. There's really nothing wrong with that.

The Heat is very much the prototype for Feig's brand of genre film comedy, as better realized in Spy and Ghostbusters, but ultimately, its only real innovation is casting female stars in typically male roles. Otherwise, it's your standard buddy cop comedy, in the mold of, say, the original Bad Boys. Sandra Bullock more or less plays her character from Miss Congeniality, while Melissa McCarthy tips her usual screen persona more towards the angry slob end of the spectrum, but they're the cops on the edge that are always getting into trouble with their superiors yet get results, who hate working with one another until the film's crucible makes them bond. Played by males, I'd say we'd have seen it all. With women, there's a freshness there that moves the action and characterization in places it otherwise wouldn't. Fun an undemanding, not yet as crisp as Feig's later efforts would be.

Room 237 isn't so much a documentary about Kubrick's The Shining (though it has at least some elements of making of) as it is about critical theory and the people who like to peer into movies as art, sometimes too closely. If you don't have that mindset/training, the five theorists will all seem like loonies trying to justify continuity problems and grasping at straws. If you do have that mindset (and if you're one of my readers, you know I do), you will find some insightful and want to discount others (the guy who believes the film reveals the moon landing was faked - by Kubrick! - is really only there to push my buttons, I just wish he didn't make such convincing points!), and it will make you want to watch The Shining again (or alternatively, other Kubrick films, or films by other auteurs who lay in a lot of meaning in their films). I will say I appreciated the fact that while this was a talking heads movie, there were no talking heads. Instead, only movie clips are used (mostly from Kurbick's oeuvre), and sometimes cleverly. Cinephiles should definitely check it out.

The Ides of March is a good political thriller set during the Democratic Ohio primary, and in which we follow a brilliant idealistic political media consultant who, over the course of the film, faces disillusionment that will destroy him one way or another. The part is brilliantly played by Ryan Gosling - no surprise - with director/co-star George Clooney bouncing off him admirably. But also Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei... An excellent cast. Based on a play called "Farragut North", it kind of had to live or die based on the acting. And it lives. The political stuff is well researched, but this is first and foremost a character study, showing how politics have a nature that is ultimately corruptive.

People Places Things stars Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords) as comic book artist and single father trying to achieve closure with his ex-wife. Closure is a big theme, and the comics talk borrows liberally from Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics (it gets a credit), especially when it comes to that particular concept. As a performer, Jemaine has an inherent sadness that's well used here, but his character has more wit and more self-awareness than his Conchords persona. What comes across is a more mature comedy about this topic than we often get. It's not exactly the undiscovered country, but it has an honesty and thanks to the characters' niche interests, a freshness that elevates the material.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is a reverse romcom that quickly sets up a couple - Adam Samberg and co-writer Rashida Jones - that's been separated 6 months, yet are still best friends and hang out together all the time. Is it that simple? Well, no. Because humans, and feelings, and all that squishy stuff. When either of them is ready to move on, it causes problems for the other, and despite the evident comedy talent on screen, the movie soon heads into more dramatic territory. The characters are funny, but largely in the way normal people can be, and once the situation starts to weigh heavy, the movie is honest enough with itself to embrace the tone. Structurally, we do seem to leave one character or the other too long at times, but again, I'd call an honest interest in where the drama and comedy lie. As the divide between the characters grows, we must choose a point of view and the film does that for us.

Books: Douglas Coupland's Miss Wyoming is about his characters trying to gain control of their identities and make fresh starts, but questions whether such endeavors are actualizing or destructive. Our two protagonists are Susan Colgate, has-been TV star and former Miss lots of places, trying to get out from under her Hollywood mom's thumb, and John Johnson, a film producer who gave it all up to live as a bum for a year. Both try to void their lives and become other people, the scope of these attempts and motivations achieved through weaving narratives that catch up to them at different points in their lives, a device expertly juggled not to give away too much too soon nor become confusing. It's a comedy, and a good one, where grace is in no short supply. Often described as one of Coupland's lesser works, I wasn't expecting this level of enjoyment and richness of character, but I'm glad it's what I got.


American Hawkman said...

The original intent for Winston, I'm told, is that he was supposed to be ridiculously overqualified for the job, with Special Forces experience and three PhDs.

Anonymous said...

I'm still mad they didn't include a Harold Ramis cameo.

Siskoid said...

Anon: Then you missed it. He was the winking bust near Wiig's office.

Green Luthor said...

Winston was also originally supposed to be part of the team right from the start (and was the one who was to get the "He slimed me" bit). But the studio wanted to capitalize on Bill Murray's popularity more, so Ernie Hudson got shafted. (It's too bad; I would have liked for Winston to be a more fleshed-out character; the final product ends up having some unfortunate undertones that should have been avoided.)

(I mean, it's still a great, all-time classic; I just think it could and should have served Hudson better.) (And the cartoon didn't help...)

Brendoon said...

I'm rahter pleased you liked Ghostbusters.
Right this moment as I work (ahem, no, I'm NOT posting on blogs) my wife and kids have gone off to see the movie.
Moments before they left I perused IMDB and read dozens and dozens of disappointed reviews... I eventually gave up looking for a shiny review. I had to rationalise: "well, we've liked plenty of movies that others hated. Not enjoyed some that others loved, too."
Point in fact, watched "RED 2" this and loved it, reviews notwithstanding. Why did I wait so long just because of the REVIEWS?? I remember being plain embarrassed at Dumb and Dumber, though I've had kids since. Flatulence is funnier than it was at the time. The rest of the theatre was laughing at the bad wind while my brother and I were Po faced, then we were the only two who laughed at the more.... "cerebral" word plays.

HOWEVER, after the Ghost bustin' reviews I thought, dang, this might be one dud birthday celebration (youngest turns 11 today).
You've granted me some relief, at least until they get home.

Siskoid said...

If IMDB is where you get your reviews, then I can see where that might lead you astray, especially in this case where the misogynist squad went to town trying to destroy this film before it even came out.

As I hate spoilers, I do very little reading before seeing a film, but I find that the Rotten Tomatoes meter/"critics' consensus" is more than enough for me to know if I want to see something. I think it's a pretty good metric of what *I* will like, as I've got a critic's eye, more than a popcorn mentality.

LiamKav said...

Why didn't the cartoon help (assuming we're talking about The Real Ghostbusters)? I thought everyone was much more even there (him not having a PhD was far less relevant), although it's been a few years so I might have missed stuff.

And regarding IMDB, the film had a rating of 3.0 a week before it even came out and anyone had seen it. Mysterious, that...

Green Luthor said...

It's not that Real Ghostbusters didn't help Winston, it's that it didn't help Ernie Hudson. Hudson actually tried out for the role of Winston in the cartoon, and was apparently assured that the role would be his and that his auditioning was just a formality. And then they cast (a then-relatively-unknown) Arsenio Hall instead, and didn't even bother to tell Hudson he wouldn't be getting the part. (According to Maurice LaMarche (Brain from "Pinky & the Brain", and Real Ghostbuster's Egon), even Arsenio Hall himself figured Hudson was a lock for the role, for obvious reasons.)

LiamKav said...

I remember reading that the VAs were told NOT to sound like the original actors, for the same reason that they didn't look like them... some sort of complicated licencing thing. Of course, that's then messed up by LaMarche basically ignoring them and doing a Harold Ramis impression, and Lorenzo Music allegedly being replaced because Bill Murray later asked why his cartoon counterpart "sounded like Garfield".

Siskoid said...

Well THAT'S ironic.


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