This Week in Geek (12-18/06/17)


Two DVDs have slid onto my shelf this week: Godzilla 1984 AKA The Return of Godzilla AKA Godzilla 1985, and Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks (saw it in theaters, but oooh, in addition to the many extras, there's a color version!).


In theaters: I'm not sure it does It Comes At Night credit to be marketed as a horror film - some will avoid it based on that false premise - but judging by the title, that may be part of the game writer-director Trey Edward Shults wants to play. What we get is a taut paranoid thriller that often feels like a zombie picture, but is really about an apocalyptic plague and the resulting fear. We follow a survivalist family living in the woods who feels obligated to help another, or rather, and this helps with the paranoia, we follow the family's teenage son, whose perceptions are partial at best. As are everyone's. The film revels in the not-quite-seen and the ambiguity of characters' motivations. Are we seeing what we think we're seeing, or is our imagination getting the better of us. It Comes at Night puts us in the characters' heads better than most films do, pushing our own paranoid buttons through neo-Gothic imagery, vivid nightmares, and the withholding of crucial information.

DVDs: 1975's Rollerball is a dystopian SF classic that for some reason doesn't get the same respect other 70s flicks in the genre do. Maybe it's the level of violence, but this isn't violence for violence's sake like, say, Death Race 2000's. It's gladiatorial and creates a number of visceral action set pieces that represents the corporate rat race, in a future that seems more and more probable, where corporations have replaced nations. This new (though by then old) order, based on class, is maintained by the understanding that no one person is more important than the other, and the insane sport of Rollerball - a combination of roller derby, football, hockey and motocross - is the great public example of team over individual. Until James Caan's champion (played against type, he's incredibly soft-spoken) becomes an international sensation, and suddenly the cult of personality threatens the bosses. Though it plays out in a bloody, chaotic game, this is a philosophical conflict, and though dark, it celebrates the freedom of the will

My Dinner with Andre is an amazing, layered piece of work. On the surface, just a conversation between Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory playing shades of themselves (which is also part of the conversation, dipping into postmodernism) in seeming real time, the more I think about it, the more those other layers manifest. Over the course of this dinner, the two diners discuss experimental theater, mysticism, science, love, living and dying, and as such is an obvious inspiration for such beloved films as Before Sunrise, though it does not appear any less fresh, and politically, still resonates today (1981 and 2017 have the same dystopian concerns). But when you reflect on the order those topics come in, and how Andre the Jodorowskian mystic (his vivid stories are so insane, you've got to laugh) goes on non-stop for the first two thirds or more of the film, another story unveils itself, that of the human race. In Andre's zen experimentalism, I felt the inertia of the ancient world and its ritualistic superstitions - there's a reason his first story is about non-verbal men and women in the woods - and in Wally's anxious humanism, arriving late to defend the comforts of home and the ambitions of individualism, we have the modern man, rejecting the unproven and finding purpose in the little things, crashing into the conversation in a panic, admitting to nagging ties to superstition, and fearful of Andre's nihilistic contentment. The conversation ends with death, as great stories must. Two people sitting, talking and very occasionally eating, and yet it feels like an epic philosophical struggle. Pay attention to the sound design for more layers. Feels like something one should revisit at different times in one's life, if only to see with which character one most agrees - Wally? Andre? Or the waiter?

Johnnie To's Fulltime Killer stars Andy Lau and Takashi Sorimachi as rival hitmen, rival in their work and for the love of video store clerk/housekeeper Kelly Lin, who has layers they can only guess at. The film throws in Simon Yam as an Interpol agent obsessed with catching either of the assassins, two white whales for the price of one. Based on a novel, the film has a novelistic approach that switches between these four people's points of view, and since To is directing, you can expect gorgeous visuals and lyrical editing and camera work. By the nature of his character, Lau mostly steals the show. His is the crazy, by-the-seat-of-his-pants assassin who consistently references American action movies in his assassinations, while Takashi's killer is more steadfast, serious, and attentive to the need for contingency plans. But which will win? My one caveat is how some actors are forced to speak English, which just doesn't sit well in their mouths (the subtitles drop off, but maybe shouldn't); I'm sure all but Takashi's Japanese is just as bad. The DVD includes a making of featurette that covers all aspects of the film, and one of those pretty useless raw behind the scenes assemblies, especially without any subs to give context to the actors' hijinks.

YouTube (Rental): Monkey Kung Fu, AKA Stroke of Death, not to be confused with Monkey Fist, Floating Snake, has a lot of incident, but a very flimsy plot overall... It's mostly one excuse after another for acrobatic fights, not that there's anything wrong with that per se. And though it doesn't feature the best editing by Shaw Bros. standards, there's quite a lot to like as far as the comedic action goes. Unfortunately, the protagonist has few redeeming qualities, a roguish jerk who doesn't mind slapping prostitutes around probably won't charm you with his slapstick comedy. Worse, the motivations of both the heroes - escaped convicts who find a secret kung fu manual - and villains - who want revenge on the clan that produced the manual(?) - are extremely poorly drawn. The English dub available on most services (the DVD is out of print) doesn't do it any favors either. But for the pure martial arts sequences and a relatively early role for actor/action director/stuntman Siu-Tung Ching (A Chinese Ghost Story, Hero, House of Flying Daggers), it may be worth checking out. But not the best example of the genre if you're just starting out.


Anonymous said...

You might enjoy another play by Wallace Shawn, "The Designated Mourner":

If you ever meet Wallace Shawn, don't tell him you loved his work in "The Princess Bride"; he will die a little bit inside. Talk about his plays and how, every time you watch them, you find new levels to process.

Siskoid said...

There's very little chance of that happening, but I'm really more prone to kill him with talk of Grand Nagus Zek.


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