This Week in Geek (14-20/11/16)


Stocked up on DC TV DVDs, with Supergirl Season 1, Flash Season 2, Gotham Season 2, Legends of Tomorrow Season 1, the Complete John Constantine, and iZombie Season 2. Also got Jorge Luis Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings.


At the movies: Arrival is equal parts Contact and Interstellar (if the latter wasn't so condescending), a first contact procedural starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, a linguist/scientist duo who must figure what what the truly alien visitors want. Adams is particularly strong as a woman haunted by the death of a child, a memory we often return to and which (sometimes mysteriously) holds clues to understanding the aliens. To its credit, the film's structure and the aliens' language have something in common, which is pleasantly thematic, but it also means the movie switches tracks in the third act and becomes something else. It does so intelligently, and it's not unearned, but I did come out of it with a certain measure of ambivalence. Perhaps I was more interested in the slow-paced, but nevertheless tense, procedural aspects of the story.

Hell or High Water tells the story of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing banks in West Texas small towns to save their family ranch before it's repossessed by the very bank they're stealing from. Jeff Bridges is the U.S. Marshal on the verge of retirement tracking them. Great performances all around, with some solid, authentic work from guest players who are obviously local people. A real sense of place inhabits the film despite being filmed in New Mexico (I was reminded of my time in Central Texas), as well as a sense of the times we live in, with a rundown economy and financial anxiety on everyone's lips. You care for the criminal protagonists not just because they have great chemistry, but because they are trying to break a cycle of poverty perpetrated by the real, and generally faceless, villains of the story. Because the cops are sympathetic too, and you definitely get where they're coming from. By turns funny and dramatic, definitely topical and yet universal, this is among my favorite films seen this year.

DVDs: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is an anime about about a 13-year-old girl who discovers, as many do at that age apparently, that she can leap back in time and change her fate. It. Is. Hilarious. In fact, I've rarely seen an anime where the physical and visual humor was so well done and had me giggling out loud. But then, this is about a girl who puts her powers to the most capricious uses. Don't want to have that awkward conversation? Jump through time! Don't like what's for dinner? Go back to Wednesday when mom made your favorite! The various repetitions of moments are mostly played for laughs, except that one bit that's at the dramatic core of the movie, and all are choreographed perfectly so they'll stick in your mind the first time, making them easy to spot on future run-throughs. The ending is a bit sadder, but not, you know, ANIME SAD, but like the realizations the eponymous Girl makes through her amending of history, it's really more about the journey than the destination you're trying to avoid.

Netflix: The Man Who Knew Infinity could not be a more formulaic biopic. Hot young star in the unlikely genius role? Check (Dev Patel). Great act-ore in the White Messiah/mentor role who actually learns something from his protégé by the end? Check (Jeremy Irons). And while I know very well that this happened - a genius mathematician from India (Ramanujan) gave up everything in the 1910s to go to Cambridge and publish, and if it's true it can't be a function of "formula" - the script and direction add very little to the biopic genre. Excuse the pun here, but it couldn't be more by the numbers. In Ramanujan's intuitive process and frustration with Academia's need for "proofs", there was ample opportunity to play with theme, which just doesn't happen. Watchable, in that the performances are sensitive, the math problems aren't dwelled on, and Patel is sympathetic as a man ripped from his own culture and beaten down by jealous, bigoted Anglos, but if you've watched any university-based films at all, you won't see anything you haven't before, and I could name three math movies I'd rather watch right now.

Books: Voilà pourquoi cette fille n'est pas ta mère Tome 3 (This Is Why This Girl Is Not Your Mother Tome 3) by real-life friend and colleague Justin Guitard - a teen series in which a father recounts his past loves to his child, and why they didn't end with them becoming that child's mother - pulls not one but several twists in its final story... which has left me, shall we say, ambivalent. As with Arrival, I'm not sure I agree with the direction taken, but I do respect it. After several more amusing short stories taking place in the father's screwball twenties, we meet the Mother in a more dramatic turn and in a single tale, Justin explains why the Father is telling these stories at all, and maybe even why he's used such a self-deprecating tone. The ending is perhaps necessarily too cheesy for my tastes, but I think the reason I might be ambivalent is that a twist at the end of a series of linked short stories kind of makes you forget the series' other stories! See how I didn't mention any of them? That aside, another good effort, certainly stronger than Tome 2, but Tome 1 and its more innocent stories is still my favorite. What are you writing next, Justin?


Green Luthor said...

Just some minor background information on "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" (a movie I also loved). The anime is a sort-of-adaptation, sort-of-sequel to a 1967 novel of the same name; the protagonist of the novel is Kazuko Yoshiyama, who in the film is the aunt of protagonist Makoto Konno. (Which is why Makoto's aunt knows so much about the time leaping and whatnot; from the context in the film, it's obvious Kazuko had a similar experience in her own past, but said experience is actually the original novel.) (But, obviously, the film stands on its own without needing to have any familiarity of the original; it's just some interesting additional context, for whatever it's worth.)


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