This Week in Geek (6-12/02/17)

"Accomplishments"

At the movies: Lego Batman is a visual feast that had me laughing before even the first studio logo, and crying by the end with a message I personally responded to and that I found the perfect commentary to the dark vision of Batman we've been getting in live action. It's got something for everyone and pays tribute to every version of Batman. If you liked Batman '66, you'll like this movie. If you liked Christopher Nolan, you'll like this movie. If you liked Batman '89, you'll like this movie. If you like Batman comics (any era), you'll like this movie. If you liked the Super-Friends, you'll like this movie. If you liked the original Lego Movie, you'll like this movie. If you like the Lego video games, you'll like this movie. If you have a heart, you'll like this movie. No, strike that, you'll LOVE this movie. And it's got some great rewatch value - I know *I* certainly didn't catch every joke and reference! So yeah, my favorite Batman movie of all time.

Netflix: A Cat in Paris, the French animated film "La vie d'un chat", is less about the cat than the young girl and the cat burglar who share it on the day/night cycle, but there's a pun in there that makes the title work, if perhaps only in English. The girl's mother is a police detective who hopes to bring the mobster who killed her husband to justice, but must also deal with a rash of burglaries that have been happening in the city. By turns touching, amusing and exciting, it works mostly because we don't often see this kind of material in Western animation, because otherwise the script isn't spectacularly original. Where it shines, I think, is in the animation STYLE, which really is unusual, its pastel chalk shading giving it an old world look that complements its noir atmosphere well.

DVDs: I think I've said my peace on Batman Beyond by now, but let's talk about its Complete Series boxed set. It's aptly named because you don't get anything BUT the series. No Return of the Joker and not Justice League Unlimited's "Epilogue", which is the final story of the Beyond timeline (and yet, the extras spoil it for the unaware). The first two seasons produce a couple episodes' worth of commentary track, the third does not. Each season does have a retrospective panel with the production team talking about key episodes, with an extra disc revisiting the genesis of the character and world. In all of these, Bruce Timm and the others are brutally honest about what worked and what didn't, what their regrets were and what controversies sprang up during those three years of work. The bonus disc also includes Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, a 90-minute documentary that looks at DC from the 1930s to 2010, mostly useful because comics creators past and present use their own words and bring a personal perspective to the material. Make no mistake, this was produced in-house and is therefore a big long commercial for DC, marginalizing the bad and putting the good in the best possible light. But it's well constructed and it may contain anecdotes or insights you haven't heard yet from some of your favorite comics professionals. The box also comes complete with a lush booklet of concept art, pretty if unnecessary.

Oscar Pool Stash Forced Watch: When the week began, I still had eight movies in my Pool Stash, 8 flicks I won last year on Oscar Night and which I had to watch (with all DVD extras) before the next. I managed to watch six of them. They were not all good. This is their story...

On one podcast or other, I pushed back against a co-host who said Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome wasn't any good. Being my first, and on television at that, my impression was that it was fine. But I'll admit, what I really remembered was Tina Turner as a warlord, and probably more because of her music video than any real memories of the film. Revisiting it, yes, sure, it has structural problems - it feels too episodic, even if the first and second stories crash into each other in the third - but it's very much the template for Fury Road. You have George Miller's impeccable image making and world building, and though it's less high-octane (the fuel is methane, if you want to make your own disparaging review), it still has a crazy vehicle chase at the end. And for those who thought Max had little to no agency in Fury Road, that's also true of Thunderdome. He's a catalyst for the action, but he is more often than not subjected to the story rather than pushing it. And look, any film that gave us the iconic "Two men enter, one man leaves" has its place in the genre canon.
#OscarPoolResult: Of course I'm keeping it. Really should get my hands on the first two films.

"Like it or not, we're all in this!" And after 4 minutes: "I'm sick of this!" That's not me, that's the characters of Epic Movie accidentally commenting on this wretched parody movie from the makers of Scary Movie etc. The basic plot is The Chronicle of Narnia's, with random jokes from other "epic movies", which in this case includes such disparate films as X-Men, Pirates of the Carribean, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The DeVinci Code, and ... Nacho Libre? That's long been Friedberg and Seltzer's problem, you see:  They don't know how parody works. And so we're treated to bad sketch comedy that might work in 7-minutes bites on SNL, taking shots at things that are already parodies (Nacho Libre, Snakes on a Plane), with gratuitous hip hop video moments where buxom girls writhe around and more poop and pee jokes that I can count. There's low-hanging fruit, and then there's just picking up the fruit that's rotting on the ground. Truly aiming for the lowest common denominator audience, I just don't know who these films are for. To have a context for these patchwork monsters, you have to go see a LOT of movies, but if you're that much of a cinephile, you'll find the filmmaking crass, boring and execrable. The DVD includes a directors' commentary track in which they riff on an entirely different (and fictional) epic film, an unfunny joke that gets tedious REAL fast. If you knew Epic Movie wasn't worth talking about, don't bother with the extras guys. The package also includes a tour of the Chocolate Factory set, casting tapes, and your standard commercial featurette.
#OscarPoolResult: Going back in the pile so it can torture someone else, but not before I tape some of the Angel bashing for my OHOTMU or NOT podcast.

Disaster! is essentially a take-down of Armageddon (the film, not the Biblical event, though it may precipitate it) using stop motion puppets. The humor is adolescent at best, with lots of gory deaths for the characters, fart jokes aplenty, and sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, Disaster! keen on out-Team America-ing Team America. And that's where it fails, really. It's not unfunny, especially if, like me, you are derisive of Armageddon, but there's just much "ha, puppet porn!" you can enjoy, especially when it's this thoughtlessly misogynistic. It seems that even the most competent female character is a vessel for male characters' sperm, (gladly!) suffering more indignities than the males. It's annoying as hell. Especially since there are some good moments whenever the movie takes shots at sci-fi/disaster movie tropes, or when you notice some clever piece of set dressing in the background. And unlike Not Another Friedberg and Seltzer Movie(TM), there's actually an action story here. Shame the creators never outgrew their G.I. Joe/Barbie fanfic. The DVD also includes a few shorts of the same ilk (some are just a single joke, the ugly Trek sex one is the longest), directors' commentary, and a behind the scenes making of, which do hold some interest.
#OscarPoolResult: Curse my eyes, I'm keeping it. At least for its Trek connection. But I'm not endorsing it!

The Smurfs visit modern-day New York City and inadvertently help Neil Patrick Harris carry off an ad campaign and come to terms with his soon becoming a father while he helps them get back to the Village before Gargamel sweats the essence out of them in what was almost a sweet, not quite all ages comedy with CG characters running around. I don't think director Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3, Big Momma's House, Beverly Hills Chihuahua) actually understands story telling and tone enough to make that work. WHO IS THIS MOVIE FOR? The kiddies, obviously - I know my sister complained about her kids wanting to see it frequently when they were younger - but if that's who you're making it for, the Brokeback Mountain and Marilyn Munroe on an air vent jokes are at once impenetrable and inappropriate. And if that's the bit for adults so THEY can enjoy it too, I'm afraid you lost THAT audience's good will when you decided to picture Gargamel peeing in the middle of a restaurant. The moral of the story is out of focus and keeps changing, plots are set up then abandoned, and product placement takes over entire scenes (Smurfs playing Guitar Hero and somehow knowing Aerosmith songs by heart?). This thing has two whole commentary tracks, the director's remedial at best (he's a simple soul who thinks it's all great even when it's awful and likes to point out that the Smurfs are CG in each shot), the crew does better even if they introduce even more product placement, if you can believe it. There's also a spot-the-Smurf game that never worked right on my player, a musical montage, a couple of half-hearted CG bloopers, a couple of pretty good making of featurettes.
#OscarPoolResult: OUT OF MY HOUSE!

I'm not a fan of Quebecois films, especially comedies, and Ma Tante Aline's DVD cover made me think this would be terrible. It wasn't. While "Auntie Aline"'s plot isn't going to win any prizes for originality, it did have some fun flights of fancy, and despite some supporting characters playing unconvincing caricatures, the leads to develop into characters you care about. Sylvie Léonard (from international television hit "Un gars, une fille") is a straight-laced ad executive (a lot of that going around) with no family and commitment issues whose long lost aunt, a wild and wacky chanteuse (Béatrice Picard) loses her house and is sent to live with her niece until room in a retirement home can be found. If you think this is a set-up for Aline to fix her niece's love life and career, then you've seen other movies. But Ma Tante Aline does it well enough, using fun flashbacks with the present day actors taking roles in Aline's crepe paper memories, and addressing themes of old age and relevance that may strike a chord with certain demographics. Totally formulaic and perhaps offers too pat an ending, but it did surprise and charm me. The DVD has a sound director's commentary.
#OscarPoolResult: Thought for sure I would throw it back, but it survived.


12 Years a Slave is pretty much what you expect it to be. Like all slavery and Holocaust movies, it's a harrowing horror show, filled with injustice and indignities, building awareness about a shared dark history, but in this case, though it is a true story based on a book written by its protagonist in the mid-19th Century, a free black man kidnapped, taken South and sold into slavery, it's also a film about one man's endurance and tenacity. I do find problems with it, however. The leads are great, but their characters flatten out over time, with little nuance or evolution. Or perhaps this is the result of director Steve McQueen not tracking those 12 years very well. Events could indeed happen over just 2 or 3. Only the fact Solomon Northup's family members have aged and grown up by the time he rejoins them tells that tale. You don't feel it during the film. Smaller parts are even as well served, accents are all over the place, and what I imagine is dialog straight out of the book sounds stilted and strange. The story IS worthy of course, and where McQueen shows brilliance is in his images, editing and sound design. He creates beautiful atmospheres, uses interminable takes to put his point across, uses the landscape to contrast the horror... Strong film making. I just wish every other aspect did the subject matter justice as ably. The DVD has a couple of unimpressive featurettes.
#OscarPoolResult: This was probably the best film in the pile, objectively, so little doubt about whether I would keep it.

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