This Week in Geek (1-07/05/17)


Free Comic Book Day yields... James Kochalka's The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza, and what is essentially fuel for one of my podcasts, Showcase Presents Young Love, and volumes 2-4 of the collected Weird Love. Did not grab any free comics, I don't much care about that and the line-ups were too long for the state of my back.


In theaters: Maudie is the true story of an arthritic early 20th-Century outsider artist from rural Nova Scotia who enjoyed surprising popularity, but never lived beyond her means, preferring the simple life style adopted by her curmudgeon of a husband, here played by Ethan Hawke. Obviously, the fact that it's set in Atlantic Canada (filmed in Newfoundland, though taking place near Digby) was part of the charm for me, but the real draw is Sally Hawkins as a woman consistently delighted by the world, smiling as much as her husband frowns. The trailer plays like this is a grand poetic romance, but Hawke is positively subverbal through most of the film. And yet, the relationship is at the heart of the story. But it is a naive approach to forging and maintaining a relationship, in the same way that Maud's approach to painting is naive. A lovely, well-acted drama about what's important in life; its only real sin is the unconvincing aging make-up kind of confusing the film's timeline (a lot more time passes than it appears).

DVDs: I'd heard a lot of good things about Shin Godzilla, but I'm sorry, while not a bad kaiju film, I think it's a pretty terrible GODZILLA film. On the one hand, I appreciate the procedural feel of the film, showing how Japan would react to such an emergency. The 1954 original was a lot like that too. And it updates the original metaphor (the atomic bomb) to resonate with more contemporary events, like nuclear meltdowns. HOWEVER. Its redesigned Godzilla is a beady-eyed, personality-less, overwrought monster, and I don't particular like the revelations about its life cycle which just gives us even uglier, stupider Godzillas. It's hard to care for any of the wide cast given the film's structure, but one is particularly irritating. Satomi Ishihara plays an American whose grandmother immigrated to the U.S. and who is on the fast track to become president some day, but her heavily-accented English tells a different story, not that her J-pop acting in any way redeems it. The one thing it does better than the latest American version is its use of the Godzilla and army themes from the classic films, but they're thrown in along with so many other styles that the movie really has no musical identity. I watched it with a near perpetual frown, and that's just no fun.

Romeo & Juliet on New York's streets, West Side Story, is one of the great classic musicals, and watching it for the first time, I kept thinking "THAT song is in THIS movie?!", the mark of a truly iconic film. Of course, I don't really care about Mariah, not when Rita Moreno is heating up the screen with sass and style. Now, obviously, I'm a Shakespeare nut, but I'm also a big fan of Stephen Sondheim, and though limited because he didn't do the music (Leonard Bernstein is a bit too bombastic for my tastes), we still find his knack for uncovering the paradox in any situation, where it's both good and bad to be in America for a Puerto Rican, and where white boys make fun of the excuses that are likely to get them out of jail if caught by the cops. In other words, the film is just as topical today as it was in 1961. I quite enjoyed the choreography of the long dance sequences (even if they initially made me think the gang warfare would be pretty toothless) and the various effects Bob Wise uses to give the film an expressionistic, theatrical vibe. One to revisit every so often, I can feel it.

The Maltese Falcon is all about Bogart. His slick take on Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade is the essence of cool, a fast talker who never lets anyone see him sweat even when his chips are down. He's not just delivering cracking lines either, he's having FUN doing it. It's his smile during the dangerous bits that makes him so great in the role. And it's a film filled with interesting roles. The villains are all quirky, interesting and even funny - memorable! - though I had some issues with Mary Astor as a bad girl, I dunno. As for the plot, a hunt for cinema's most famous MacGuffin, it hardly seems important except to get all these characters into conflict with one another. And it really doesn't matter. Who knew Noir could be so joyfully fun?

Jack Black was basically born to play his character in School of Rock, a movie that turns the Dangerous Minds formula on its head by giving us a deadbeat teacher turning an elementary class full of overachievers into a rock band for his own purposes, and learning a lesson and vocation in the process. The kids are great and the movie has a lot of charm in spite of its formulaic structure, but it wouldn't work without good music, and happily, it delivers on that front. Director Richard Linklater can be trusted to assemble a good soundtrack, of course, but the songs written within the film are fun too, and the final performance well worth the wait. And like Sing Street, it does manage to give non-musicians a sense of how songs come together in band practice. A good double bill with Sing Street?

Jerry Maguire lives in the shadow of corporate success movies like Wall Street, as its protagonist tries to recover that kind of success after being fired from a top athlete representation agency, only to realize what true success is, but as the epiphany only comes along WITH actual financial success, I'm afraid the theme gets lost in the schmaltz. Oh, it's not that cheesy, only kind of became so because many of its lines became famous. In actuality, the romance between Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger works and is an adult one. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the one client who sticks with Jerry, but gives him a hard time because of his huge personality. In the end, I wish the film were tighter. The romance and sports stories distract from one another (and perhaps that's the point), and the thing Jerry does to get fired, treated like it's the film's real message, is never clearly said. Didn't QUITE have me at hello.

Netflix: Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh and Rosie Perez are terrific as a trio of grifters looking to con the Aztecs out of their gold in The Road to El Dorado, one of the better Dreamworks animated movies, and pitched a little older than these things usually are, with the threat of real violence and even some not-at-all-hard-to-catch sexual innuendo. And that's fine. I love con men types, and Kline & Branagh are very funny as Spanish rogues Tulio & Miguel, and Perez is more than a match for them and for a drawring, impossibly sexy. The animal sidekicks are fun (so the makers of Tangled totally ripped this off, right?). Aztec culture is brought to life well, using period art as inspiration, and with a certain humor and humanity. The action sequences are exciting. The songs are good if not entirely memorable. The animation, especially on the character acting, is great. It more or less had me at hola ;-).
Some more MST3K movies, regardless of comedy commentary... The not aptly named Jack Frost (the mythical figure only appears in the third arc) AKA Frosty AKA Father Frost (1964), a convoluted Russian fairy tale that will feel quite random to Western audiences plays to the kids and lacks any real character depth. The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956) is a giant monster movie crossed with a western, where a dinosaur attacks cowboys in Mexico; let's just say the stop motion is more primitive than the monster, and the amalgam would be more worthy if the beast appeared earlier. Laserblast (1978) is a turgid werewolf movie if the wolf were a zombie with a laser arm; the open-shirted hero underacts while every one else over-acts, removing the amateurish longueurs might produce a 45-minute edit, and the only halfway-interesting thing is the turtlish stop-motion aliens who appear far too infrequently. Starcrash (1978) is an unintentionally hilarious and shameless Star Wars rip-off that's perfect for shouting jokes at the screen with friends. Merlin’s Shop Of Mystical Wonders (1996) looks like 2½ episodes of a light horror TV anthology made for kids that failed and was awkwardly edited into a framing sequence so it could be sold in convenience stores; I would have pulled the plug on that show after the second horrific pet death. And Pod People, AKA Extra Terrestrial Visitors (1983), was evidently a horror/sf film before E.T. came out and they decided to insert a cutesy alien and a kid in it; the drab result is a total mess with at least three tonally-different plots, none of which you care to follow.


Anonymous said...

Cool song about "The Maltese Falcon" and old movies in general:

The Maltese Cupcake:

I wish I could like "The School of Rock", as I'm a Jack Black fan as well as a Joan Cusack fan. But I can't get past the fraud and abuse of authority. And at the end everything's okay because the black parents are happy their daughter can soul-sing and the Asian dad is all "me rikey your son tarented", and yes I'm being racist as heck but I'm doing so to put a focus on the movie going there first.

Patton Oswalt has an anecdote about "Jerry Maguire":

About "Father Frost", you almost wouldn't recognize her, but the old witch is almost certainly supposed to be Baba Yaga:

snell said...

I'm told that Shin Godzilla plays better in Japan, because in large part it functions as a vicious satire of current Japanese government and bureaucracy. Perhaps true, but it's mostly lost on this gaijin.

Siskoid said...

Anon: The white blue collar father also does a 180 after the show, which is part of the movie's formulaic structure; I personally didn't see this as racist, it's just how these types of movies end.

And yes, I recognized Baba Yaga, I even think her name is said in the film.

Snell: That would explain how they defer to the Americans, I guess. I really didn't take issue with the procedural stuff; it's the monster that didn't work for me. Certainly not as a Godzilla reboot.

CalvinPitt said...

Yeah, I'm kind of lukewarm on Mary Astor in Maltese Falcon as well. As she plays the character, she doesn't really seem clever enough to have tricked and manipulated all the people she has (although how easily Spade sees through a lot of her crap plays into that perception). But I still love that movie.

I watched it with some coworkers a couple of years ago, most of whom are several years younger and not familiar with it, and they all loved Sydney Greenstreet's Gutman character. His mannerisms, that "oh ho ho" chuckle he does, all that, which amused me.


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