This Week in Geek (22-28/08/16)


Got my physical copy of The Silurian Age, the dinosaurs & spaceships sourcebook for the Doctor Who RPG. Thanks Cubicle 7!


At the movies: Sausage Party is wild, offensive, or perhaps should I say outrageous, ride that draws at least some of its shock and awe from being visually packaged like a Pixar movie for kids. Take away exact brand of comedy, and you've got the usual tropes - world-building, social commentary, things that talk that normally wouldn't - it's Toy Story inside a grocery store. The jokes that are thrown at you like a hail of gunfire mostly hit their targets, but mileage will vary greatly. The use of racial stereotypes, by way of certain foods being certain regions of the world, can lead to clever puns, but also tends to fall flat until you realize it's done in much the same way Blazing Saddles' is. But some audiences might not get there and be left with the wrong impression (or worse, not get that that's the message). When Sausage Party is more interested in creating its world, sending up the human shoppers and staff, making food jokes, or being downright pornographic, that's when the belly laughs come (seeing it with an audience made for an infectious experience). And beyond the "what did I just see?!" feeling, there's also a philosophical core about questioning organized religion which you just don't expect from an animated sex comedy about wieners and buns. Put me in the "I thought it was pretty clever" column.

DVDs: I first saw Office Space about dozen years ago, when I was just starting a job, and its satirical look at wage slaves in the workplace didn't really register. 12 years later, at the same job, it's a whole other matter, though I admit I have it much better than the characters (the groans from around the room told me some of my friends weren't so lucky however). So the office send-up works, even after the flimsier crime plot kicks in, with a single caveat - the nevertheless necessary character of Milton. If director Mike Judge is to adapt his cartoons/comics, then he needs the character in the film, but it's a ridiculous version of the character, comic relief to the actual cast of characters. Tonally, I think he detracts from the action. But my take-away this time was enjoying the gangster rap soundtrack for what it really did, which was turn the cubicle layout into a veritable ghetto, divided from the upper class who got offices, and creating a world where you wouldn't necessarily survive the day.

Netflix: Turn Me On, Dammit! is a little indie Norwegian film about a disaffected teenage girl, Alma, struggling with a rather turbulent sexual awakening. This turns Alma into an outcast both at home and in school, but  the heaviness of the subject matter is tempered by its whimsical treatment. Without you noticing, the film slips into Alma's sexual fantasies, and then jars you back to reality using editing punchlines. It's a delight, and Alma goes through a satisfying arc more naturally than most movie characters. Growing up is, in itself, momentous enough without resorting to outlandish plot contrivances (you be the judge if the final scene is fantasy or reality, and if reality, if it falls into clichéd tropes however). Finally, the film really gets the boredom of living in a small town, especially for teens, and is worthy on that basis alone.

Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary that looks at four indie video game designers (covering three games) who already had some notoriety and examines their hardships, failures and successes. It's not a world  ever think about, as I'm not much of a gamer, but beyond my being intrigued by the topic, I found the film to have a strong theme. If the whole point of working in the indie market is to create games that are intensely personal, then reaction to success or failure becomes very personal too. The subjects react differently - angry, self-destructive, depressed, happy... the misunderstood artist - it's not all one color, but all of it comes from taking thing too personally, which the film presents as inevitable (and often destructive too). This is where the documentary rises above what it is in constant danger of becoming, i.e. an ad for these games - and I do want to play Braid, Meat Boy and even Fez after watching this - though mostly, it gave me new appreciation for what game designers do, especially at the non-corporatized level.

The Sapphires narrowly avoids the dreaded White Messiah trope, except on its marketing where Chris O'Dowd is so prominently featured, by making the four girls in the starring singing act such strong and self-possessed characters, especially the eldest sister played by Deborah Mailman (who I frankly fell in love with). Though in many ways your typical rags-to-success band story, the movie offers some innovations, first and foremost that the protagonists are Aborigine in the 1960s - a time of deep racism - the Vietnam war as background, and the fact it's based on a play written by the son of one of the women this is based on (the names have been changed, so I assume the personal stories are more or less fiction). Each character does have an arc, and between their portayals and the soulful soundtrack, The Sapphires provides lots of watchable charm.

'71 takes us the Belfast in the middle of Ireland's civil war, where a British soldier is cut off from his unit by a terror attack, and then becomes the object of pursuit by various factions on both sides. I don't know how much of this is based on true events, but the villains of the film are so convolutedly conspiratorial as to take away any bent of truth the movie otherwise has. The complicated thriller plot failed to wow me. Where the film actually shines is in the cinematography. The action is viscerally shot, the camera following the soldier in foot chases, and catching shocking moments of violence casually, as if it didn't know what to expect. And the color saturation is very 70s, giving this world a fine sense of place and time.

Zero Dark Thirty came under fire for not representing the exact details of the assassination of Bin Laden (man, I'm gonna have that Connor4Real song in my head all day now), for apparently glorifying torture, and for being pro-American propaganda. I don't think those are fair criticisms as 1) "based on" movies aren't documentaries; 2) in the case of the key piece of evidence, we don't see the torture or know how it was vetted; and 3) the Americans are neither completely heroes or villains in this. Leaving any political commentary aside, the film is the kind of procedural spy thriller I tend to enjoy, with a dark and confusing action piece serving as the third act, somewhat appropriate yet more unclear than ambiguous from my perspective. Most people tend to think the first two acts are slow and boring, and the third is terrific; I felt the opposite. I've always felt a certain ambivalence towards Jessica Chastain's performances, and while this is probably her best performance, I've not shaken the feeling completely here. In the end, Zero Dark Thirty is a well-made real-world thriller, but despite the important historical story it tells (just how important - or not - perhaps has yet to be determined), I somehow doubt it will be part of the canon of "great films" for long. Already, the cinematic details are slipping away from me...

Jean-Luc Goddard's Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage) really shouldn't be on Netflix. Not because it's an experimental art film, but because its main innovations have to do with its approach to 3D. Which can't be seen on Netflix. Goddard apparently Jerry-rigged makeshift 3D cameras and the broke all the rules, as far as superimposing images, screwing with depths of field, etc. go, do as to disorient the audience, which the film already does with its non-plot, jarring sound design, and weird filter changes. The language Goddard says goodbye to is that of traditional cinema, and at one point, the superimposition of media, coupled with a character or two on a smartphone, made me think the film was reaching for recreating how we absorb media today, one eye on the TV, the other on a computer screen, perhaps even two - a calculated media overload. But if that's really in there, I couldn't say. What it felt like to me was a bad artsy student film, with naked characters reciting pretentious philosophical dialogue, acting in the way Brecht would have made actors act, with shaky camera work using terrible equipment and juxtaposing disparate images. I'm certainly not unpretentious - that may be gleaned from what traces I've left around here somewhere - but this to me felt like old experiments, already seen and done and since adapted to perfume commercials. It felt like pastiche at this point, and I kept wondering why I was subjecting myself to it. If I were to sample its 3D tricks, I might find something at least technically interesting about it. Absent that feature, I don't see the attraction.

Books: Speaking of language... China Miéville's Embassytown has some great world-building, in the style of Ursula K. Le Guin (who I think not coincidentally, gets the cover quote), and supposes a planet where colonists deal with aliens who have a particularly odd language which does not use references, only pure referents. In other words, they cannot speak of things that do not exist in their world because their language isn't "symbolic" the way ours are. The novel takes us through a revolution for these beings and the humans who share their city, in effect building several versions of the world through linguistic upheavals, through the eyes (and tongue) of Avice, as sharp a protagonist as Miéville's ever written. "Things combined" becomes a pleasant leitmotif that offer solutions and pushes the action forward, speaking to something additive (not so say addictive) about life.


Toby'c said...

"especially the eldest sister played by Deborah Mailman (who I frankly fell in love with)"
If you can find it, I recommend a series called The Secret Life of Us. Her character was one of the two narrators and I think the only one to appear in every episode.


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