This Week in Geek (19-25/09/16)


At the movies: Bridget Jones's Baby was a pleasant surprise, doing away with the thing I didn't care for in the original (the preposterous weight issue, the unbelievable love interest represented by Hugh Grant) and telling a story I actually haven't already seen told in this style (by the time I saw the original, I thought the awkward British romcom genre had had better entries). We're 15 years on, and while Bridget is still prone to gaffes, she's made a success of herself, and the romantic triangle/who's the daddy story features two viable mates and a take on relationships that is adult without preventing the characters from also acting childish. The acerbic doctor played by Emma Thompson was a highlight. I also want to highlight what Hot or Not's DJ Nath (also in attendance) called a "live studio audience", a room full of people who wanted to laugh, gasp and awww eagerly, which heightened the experience rather than distracted from it, with specific rows seeming to respond best to either the slapstick, the relationship humor, or the satire. Guess which row I was in. And that's a wrap on Bridget Jones, I think that's a character and story well arced.

DVDs: All That Jazz is Bob Fosse's semi-autobiographical film about a musical theater director/choreographer whose lifestyle may finally kill him, and it is a triumph of elliptical editing, working on several levels simultaneously - musical, biopic, deathbed confession, surreal fantasy - at once funny and tragic, and like all its characters, brutally honest. The names have been changed, but even the protagonist's ultimate end prefigure Fosse's own 8 years later, so one can easily see the character's lack of virtue as Fosse's own. He treats himself with such snark, however, that it's hard to find the film a self-serving apology, and I personally loved the way hallucinations broke the fourth wall and revealed the fakery of the entertainment world, which the film itself is a part of. And it all ends on a dark punchline, setting tragedy to comic timing. And of course, some great dance numbers, that goes without saying. Not always easy to take in, but worth your time.

Netflix: ARQ is a bottled sci-fi thriller in which a couple (Firestorm and Patsy Walker--I mean Robbie Amell and Rachael Taylor) keep reliving the same day because of a time loop. Since it's a day where they are assailed by armed killers, it's one you want to repeat until you get out of trouble, and on every loop, they (and we) learn more about their complicated situation and the hidden agendas of the intruders. It's not a bad way to explore a limited cast and environment, and the characters on both sides of the moral divide are clever and act intelligently. My one complaint is the ending, which I won't spoil, but there seems to be a more satisfying and ironic ending in obvious reach they don't go for. Maybe they considered it and decided it was a cliché, but what they came up with instead felt a little dull.

Kon-Tiki is a Norwegian film recounting the 1947 expedition chronicled in an award-winning 1950 documentary that took ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl on a journey to prove the ancient South Americans sailed the currents of the Pacific on balsa wood rafts and settled Polynesia (instead of Asians from the West). It's a grand human adventure, watchable if only to see how they solved problems while on the open ocean (and beautifully shot ON the open ocean), which I imagine you get from the documentary as well. The drama allows the film to link Thor's fearless spirit of exploration to his youth, and to the irony that he didn't know how to swim. But there's not a lot of that, so it's mostly a procedural, which is fine, but doesn't necessarily elevate the material for me. Note that Netflix has the English version, not the original Norwegian, but it's not a dub, it's the scenes redone in English for the international market. One wonders if there are important differences in performance, but it doesn't seem to suffer because of the language change.

The Paramount Vault: The Chumscrubber is a very dark comedy about a Los Angeles suburb rocked by the suicide of a teenager. Though the protagonist is a teen himself, the dead boy's best friend, and there's a teen cast that gets involved in drug trafficking, kidnapping and knife play, it's really the parents who are the subject of the film's satire. All this drama is happening, but the adults are in their own petty bubbles, all acting busy so they don't realize they lead emotionally empty lives, and not noticing their kids are getting into trouble (or through parental permissiveness, allowing it). The parents each have their own thing going, and are represented by a superb cast that includes Allison Janney, Ralph Fiennes, Carrie-Anne Moss, and the heart-breaking Glenn Close. So what does the title refer to? It's a zombie hero character from a video game the teens play, and though thematically consistent in this over-medicated, apathetic, numbed world, perhaps an element too many. But I won't call the film messy or haphazard in its juggling of so many characters; I think it works.

Books: Purity is Jonathan Franzen's newest novel (and these bricks are few and far between), the story of Purity Taylor (called "Pip"), a girl raised by an isolationist mother and who never knew her father, and who gets involved with a charismatic professional Internet leaker... It's not an easy plot to describe, but it's less about the plot than the characters, each section essentially a character portrait linking to the others. And it's a quality of Franzen's always clever and astute prose that you actually resent the change from one protagonist to another, until the next one anyway. The book's title obviously evokes a theme, and all the characters want to remain "pure" in some way, although that purity takes on different forms. And yet, they also rebel against that purity. It's a very sexual book, using its characters' sexuality as an important brush stroke in its portraitures. Less obviously funny than his other books, it's nevertheless a gorgeous read. I can never get tired of Franzen's prose and rich characters; the story itself is perhaps secondary.



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