This Week in Geek (7-13/11/16)

Buys

Found the Codex Seraphinianus - a crazy art book, look it up - for, like, 60+ dollars off, so I had to get it. Also, The Congress on DVD (no relation).

"Accomplishments"

At the movies: The Dressmaker is an Australian revenge western where they've replaced the gunslingers with seamstresses, and it had me at the opening sequence where the Outback seen from above looks like textile. Kate Winslet plays the eponymous character, in 1951 returned to her very small hometown after having been sent to an institution as a child for a crime she doesn't now remember committing. Her return heralds trouble for the town of loonies, though jury's out at first if she'll bring them to her side or destroy their world. It's a relationship that's mirrored in her mad mother, played by an unusually hilarious Judy Davis, really at the heart of the story. Funny, sad, strange, relatable, gorgeous, ugly... the film can seem all over the place at times, but even its delve into melodrama at the pivot between 2nd and 3rd act is eventually justified. Might make a fun double bill with The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Just sayin'.

Yaadikoone is a 22-minute short made by a Frenchman in Senegal that just got its North American premiere in my town's film festival. As the "opening act" of a film I was going to see, well, I got to see it too, and I didn't think it was a bad use of my time. Yaadikoone is a young boy living in a poor Dakar suburb, somehow the one always holding the bag when something bad happens. When his football crashes through his grandmother's already damaged tin roof, just before rain season, he vows to make it right, in equal parts inspired by his dead mother and a famous rebel who shares his name. While the resolution could have used a few more minutes devoted to it and I'm sure I don't get all the cultural subtleties, the film acts as a snapshot of life in Senegal, with a real sense of place, and a charismatic young actor at its center. It sometimes feels like cinema has done it all, but the increase in tales from the African continent of late is tapping a rich new vein for me.

When Studio Ghibli calls you and wants to distribute your animated short AND give you money and expertise to make a feature film, you say yes. Such was the fate of Michael Dudok de Wit; the result is The Red Turtle, a heart-breaking fairy tale with shades of The Little Mermaid, in which a castaway finds himself on a deserted island with little more than some absolutely adorable (though realistic) crabs, his attempts at escape stymied by a large red turtle who becomes his nemesis until he realizes what it really wants from him. A moving film without any dialog, it never can explain its conceits directly, but makes them clear poetically, several times through dream sequences that manifest the character's emotional state. It is a film about our connection with nature, and our place in it, both for the good and the bad, but I can't claim to have cracked its code in a single sitting. I can only urge you to see it.

DVDs: Grave of the Fireflies is an early Ghibli classic, uncharacterstically down to earth, about a teenager who is forced to take care of his kid sister in the wake of the U.S.'s fire-bombing his town during World War II. The sensitive semi-biographical account of civilian life in the final days of the war in Japan strongly reminded me of another - Barefoot Gen, made five years earlier and also about a pair of siblings in that era. Gen was at Hiroshima, which means that film was more of a horror show, but Grave of the Fireflies is no less sad and shocking, and by a certain measure more thoughtful in its treatment. Presented as a ghostly memory that takes on more meaning on second viewing, we accompany Seita on his tragic journey to keep his family safe while he waits for a father who may never come back. Today considered the high water mark among anime studios, Ghibli started off strong indeed. Takahata's film was released in 1988, two years after Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky and the same year as My Neighbor Totoro.

Porco Rosso - the Crimson Pig - a post-WWI fantasy about an Italian pig fighting air pilots in the Adriatic, is a fun, romantic romp, completely charming while also paying tribute to the fallen at the end of that war. Miyazaki's worlds are presented without explanation, and feel completely consistent. Despite the imagination and humor on show, the period is well represented, and the pig element left enigmatic. In the end, its role is to keep two lovers apart, and is simply a manifestation of Porco self-loathing. The ending is perfectly pitched so that different audiences can come to different conclusions as to his fate, but though he is the eponymous hero of this tale, it's just as much Fio's. She's a precocious and brilliant engineer who goes on Porco's adventure, quite against his wishes, and softens him, perhaps enough to make all the difference. An underrated piece by anime's great master.

Netflix: Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg go undercover in a Mexican drug cartel operation in 2 Guns, a movie that tries to dazzle by making every character lying about who they really are to motivate some fun reveals, but never quite feels like something original. Everyone correctly says the best part of the movie is the chemistry and banter between the two leads, but it's not a chemistry or dynamic we haven't seen several times in other movies, and not even characters we've never seen from these two actors, who might as well be on auto-pilot, affably playing their usual screen personas. I don't normally ask much from action flicks, just a good time and at least one sequence or character I've never seen before. 2 Guns could be pleasant if you don't watch this kind of thing much; for me, it was okay, but not memorable.

Games: Apologies are in order. Because we live an hour ahead of the East coast, U.S. election results were going to start a little late. So we decided to play a game of Fiasco Election Night while we waited. The scenario tends to provide campaign staffers, journos, lobbyists, etc., but not candidates, so we foolishly decided to tell an untold/darkest timeline story about Trump and Clinton. And we made Trump win after Hilary's campaign was sabotaged by a turncoat speech writer - me, but I got my comeuppance when I died in a car bomb explosion with the new POTUS, though not before the U.S. was turned into Mad Max or something - a result that was mirrored in America's real-life Fiasco hours later. Well, it's all fun and games until someone puts out an eye, so I want to give shout-outs to my fellow players - DJ Nath as a Canadian speech writer working without a green card, Shotgun as a TV journalist caught in a same-sex tryst with a Trump supporter (Amy) to the shock of the latter's husband (Zack, who wins the MVP award for being the funniest dumbass agent provocateur). Written in 2014, the playset has some frightfully prescient options, but next time, let's not choose a playset that's so close to reality, ok? I have one that takes place on a space station, guys.

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