This Week in Geek (29/05-04/06/17)


A few indie/foreign films on DVD this week: Buzzard, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, Hard to Be a God, and Good Bye, Lenin!


Netflix: Train to Busan is the Snowpiercer of zombie flicks, and while I'm not generally partial to the zombie genre, Korean cinema provides just enough of a spin on old formulas to make it appealing. Indeed, despite the zombie mayhem, the film has a sensitive core about an absentee father and his young daughter, and thematically underscores their interrupted connection with questions of responsibility... for the plague, for others in times of crisis, and through a pregnant couple whose daughter is not yet born. As a horror flick, it is claustrophobic, taking place almost entirely aboard a train (with side-quests in train stations and yards), the characters trying to survive by figuring out the rules, and so on. It's a real nailbiter, and I found my heart rate increasing through the last two acts. Visually, it looks great, none of the obvious CGI you expect from squirming masses of attacking zombies, and despite the subject matter, isn't gore-porn. Two severed thumbs up!

Chugged Brooklyn Nine-Nine Seasons 3 and 4, and reviewing them as a unit because I find it a little difficult to say something interesting about the same sitcom twice. B99 basically continues its run from the past two seasons, with engaging characters and a strong mix of absurd comedy and police action. While there have always been continuing plot threads, there seems to be more continuity through these particular seasons, with guest characters sticking around longer and people dealing with consequences of previous episodes. Happy to see the Peralta-Santiago relationship isn't trapped in a will they/won't they/on and off loop and is just allowed to be, and also that Hitchcock and Scully are getting more to do. While B99 probably won't ever overtake Parks & Recs for my top comedy in this style, it's certainly doing its best to do so.

DVDs: Tango & Cash is one of the last crazy testosterone action films of the 80s and as such, is complete nonsense, featuring, among other things the world's worst prison, part Medieval dungeon, part industrial works, and cops who have access to their own version of Q, handing out gadgets and SUV tanks. There's a certain joy to be had in this kind of action film, but it misses the mark in a way that the much madder Double Team, for example, doesn't. There's something interesting about the way the two maverick cops are presented - the sophisticated Tango, an atypical role for Sly Stallone, and the messy and gutsy Cash, played by Kurt Russell - as characters who already have the reputations of movie cops with several films under their belts. Imagine a world where each of these guys had their own franchise and suddenly teamed-up. Odd couple/buddy cop movies are such a well-worn concept, we don't really need the background to make sense of them, of course. What doesn't quite work is that their differences are surface-level. Tango is just as much on the edge of police irresponsibility as Cash is, so all they really have to argue about is style and don't touch my sister (Teri Hatcher early in her career). They've also got a crazy good cast of villains, including Jack Palance, James Hong, and Marc "Gul Dukat" Alaimo, but they're mostly wasted, Blade Runner's Brion James getting the most play as the top henchman. Not unenjoyable, it's still fun enough, but it feels like they missed some opportunities.

Not a George Lucas, but perhaps his non-fantastical opus American Graffiti will redeem him in my eyes? Not quite. There are things to admire about this nostalgic greaser film, but I have a hard time connecting to the era in general (maybe it's because so much of it is about car culture?). The movie takes place in a single night, just before some of the characters are due to go off to college, and most of the action IS car-related. Thing is, there are threads I like very much - Paul Le Mat trapped in a car with a girl who's too young for him, for example, and there are some good bits in the nerd-bombshell love encounter - but I can't get into the Ron Howard-Cindy Williams relationship, and though Richard Dreyfuss' quest for the love of his life has a well-executed ending (and the best shot in the movie), it's derailed by shenanigans with a street gang. Well-made and obviously influential (everything from Richard Linklater's work to Happy Days owes it a large debt), but nostalgia only goes so far when you're not the target audience. For what it's worth, I liked at least 50% of it. It's perhaps entirely appropriate to say that mileage may vary.

(DVD) Oscar Pool Stash Forced Watch: Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I feel stagey and old-fashioned as far as musicals go, the only memorable songs ones that could be applied to many contexts. It works better as a culture clash comedy (despite the dated racial insensitivities of the casting), Yul Brynner having a grand old time as the petulant but open-to-being-open-minded King of Siam and bouncing well enough against Deborah Kerr's school teacher. By and large, it hasn't aged well, though one might wonder if the Thai opera of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the middle of the story (my favorite bit because of an interest in stagecraft) is meant to be some kind of meta commentary about cultural appropriation, but ultimately, the film appropriates more than comments on appropriation. Or rather, its comment is that it's a fine thing to do. Dated in several ways, then. The DVD includes select song tracks and a couple of vintage news reels that reference the film.
#OscarPoolResult: If you're new to the proceedings, I make a commitment to watch everything I win in our annual Oscar pool before the next, and to only put back the worst of the worst for someone else to "win" (and hopefully, destroy). In this case, of course I'm keeping The King and I. It wasn't ever going to be one of the worst of the worst.


rob! said...

Glad you liked Train to Busan!


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