This Week in Geek (5-11/06/17)

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: Wonder Woman had me teary-eyed for the first two acts, and sort of lost me with a nevertheless acceptable third act fight. Let me explain. The great thing about the film is that it completely gets Diana, n a way that's been rare even in the comics. Her strength is based on willfulness and compassion, and I loved just about everything that came out of her mouth. At the same time, this is the 21st-Century's only DC movie to actually allow its hero to be inspirational, none of that "humans back away from hero in fear" bullcrap. Gal Dadot is immediately Wonder Woman. Throw in some lighter comedic moments thanks to Chris Pine (whose comic timing is excellent) and Lucy Davis and the film balances the bleak war story well with fish out of water elements. Wonder Woman was the best thing about Batman v Superman, but BvS is the worst thing about Wonder Woman. That is to say, the house style established in Man of Steel, BvS, etc., with slow-mo, 3D-friendly fights/painted "panels" keeps reminding you this is the "Snyderverse" and, for me, threatens to grind the film to a standstill every time it's used. And it's used a LOT. So I wish Diana had really been up against the spectre of war as opposed to a fightable manifestation of it, because that's where the drama lay, in her coming up against the futility of trying to fix Man's World. But formulaic superhero plot aside, what we got was a definitive, powerful Wonder Woman that had all the ladies coming out of the theater "empowered" and swinging, and I hope the suits finally get it that female action heroes are just as engaging as male ones, and from novelty at this point, more so.

DVDs: Good Bye Lenin! is a German comedy mostly set after the fall of the Berlin Wall, as a son desperately tries to make his mother, fresh out of a coma and weak of heart, not find out Communism has fallen and the West has, for lack of a better term, invaded. Even for those of us who didn't live through the old regime, the film makes us live the nostalgia, and while the East had its bad side, there are things one might nevertheless miss. What Dianiel Brühl's Alex creates is a better version of East Germany, as a love letter to his mother, memories of whom  are inextricably linked to the GDR, and thus a love letter to her, and to the values she gave her children. The film is directed with flair and humor - I like the whole thematic thread of Alex idolizing a cosmonaut, playing into West Germany's other-worldliness, for example - and has real heart. The DVD includes a lot of deleted scenes, mostly to do with Alex's girlfriend, which would have detracted from that heart, with strong optional commentary from the director and editor, as well as two commentary tracks (one with the director, one with the actors), a special effects featurette, and a few shorter bits. All extras are in German with English subs.

1958's The Fly starts as an epilogue to the sci-fi horror story in order to build a mystery that will be explained over the course of the film. To my surprise, that "epilogue" lasts a good half-hour! And with the title monster really just appearing in the last 20 minutes, this one may come off as a little slow to modern audiences. Perhaps especially because the Twilight Zone ending is so iconic and well-known. There is nevertheless a certain joy to seeing the beats realized, and how each piece of the presented puzzle is revealed is a slowly unfolding drama. Intriguingly, the story takes place in Montreal (the accents are all over the place, mind you), and those kinds of quirks make the film more interesting than if it stuck to more often-seen details. Despite its overly familiar bits, still packs surprises for a new audience.

The Mummy splits Indiana Jones in two - action man Rick O'Connell and brainy archaeologist Evelyn Carnahan - to recreate a version of the pulp franchise for the 90s. It's a lot goofier than Raiders et al., even cartoony, with much of the action happening or resolving as a result of slapstick clumsiness. While still a fun enough adventure film, the tone struck often lacks tension, despite the death toll being fairly high. Of course, 90s CGI in such large quantities often takes me out of picture. I shouldn't say 90s, it's true of films made today that overuse CG, especially CG creatures, to the point where nothing looks real (though we have the capacity to create photo-real elements, too many strains the budget and reduces both quality and impact). The Mummy feels to me like the first of these over-CGed fantasy films, its success paving the way for less restrained and less watchable films. Set brain to off, fill mouth with popcorn, enjoy, repeat no more than every 15 years.

If I were doing 20-page essays instead of capsule reviews, I might be able to give Anna Biller's The Love Witch its due. There's just so much to unpack in terms of the gender politics at the heart of this retro-thriller-horror film that I haven't even come to terms with yet. Things will love-lust equivalency, what it means to own one's power, and whether or not the titular witch projects a sincere message or an ironic one. And how does the formalist experiment, i.e. making a contemporary film look like it was made in the 1960s (on 35mm, with rear projection, Technicolor vibrancy, and presentational acting) actually improve the experience? The Love Witch is the very definition of "thought-provoking". There's something cool about it - the look and fashions sparked their own discussions around the living room - but it also sometimes feels ridiculous and slips up tonally, only to get effortlessly back on the high wire. On a personal note, the Tarot stuff in the film is subtle and on point, probably the best use of the cards I've seen on film.

For China Beach's final season, its fourth, they "blew up the calendar", which is to say each episode moves back and forth between some time on China Beach (anything from MacMurphy's first day the Fall of Saigon) and the post-war era (ranging from the 70s up to 1988), which is risky, but perfectly in line with what the show has always done. The Vietnam experience is more than just what happened over there, it's also what happened to the veterans once they got back from participating in a conflict their country was now ashamed of. Another program might have provided a coda in the future as its series finale, but China Beach does a whole season of this, exploring the consequences of the war for its wide cast, not just at some end point, but across two decades. How they dealt with it, how it changed them, how they came to terms with it or didn't, over time. It's a bold and powerful way to end a series that is a high water mark in the television of the late 80s/early 90s. The DVD has extras similar to the other sets, including a couple of crew/cast interviews, a retrospective featurette, a couple of deleted scenes, and a not all that talkative commentary track on the final, double-length episode.

Netflix: Pawn Sacrifice stars Tobey Maguire as the Western world's most famous, I might even say notorious, chess player, enfant terrible Bobby Fischer, who, during the Cold War, went up against the Russian grandmasters and pretty much lost his mind. Today, we might recognize Fischer as hovering somewhere on the autism spectrum, his genius ability from a young age hampered by hypersensitivity to sound and other sensory distractions, but the film doesn't attempt a revisionist diagnostic. Instead, his descent into paranoia is part and parcel of the Cold War narrative (even if the film seems to promise a spy thriller at times that the true story fails to deliver), and the chess players are treated as petulant rock stars, giving the movie some necessary energy. I didn't feel like Pawn Sacrifice made the chess-playing come alive - Fischer's defeats and victories are largely abstract, though we're given just enough to know whatever the achievement is, it is an achievement - but that is perhaps unnecessary, so long as we understand the film as a portrait of a man overwhelmed by the possible moves he could make, more so in life than in the game.

6 comments:

American Hawkman said...

I'm a bigger fan of the Mummy than you, mostly because it's essentially a Hawkman film without flying. :)

Brendoon said...

The new Mummy looks like it might be more of a horror flick than the one you reviewed here. I'll leave you to find out if this is the case... there's a line between excitement and freak out that I don't dig on crossing.
Were Fraser and Cruise ever together in the same film? I wouldn't have minded that as a comedy action duo...

As fer Wonder Woman, loved it too. "Look! A Baby!" (though I still can't see a fault with the Snyderverse overall... Bats and Supes actually felt real to me.)
BUT, as with about every Hollywood flick since perhaps 1990, (including Peter Jackson) the last 20 minute special effects climax always loses me too.
I lose faith it when it happens in novels too (when the author starts describing explosions in detail and throws in great beams of power with the bad guy floating in the air cos he's so awesome???? FUHgeddaboutit.) I'd rather another 20 minutes of moving the plot forward and perhaps some more character development.

I DID wonder if there was a corny explanation why, after Diana was zapped by Ares through her roll of magic twine how she crashed to the ground with it neatly rolled up on her hip? I suppose it IS magic.

Brendoon said...

Incidentally, the CGI worked better in slow motion, I thought.
The leaping, bounding, climbing and hitting-really-fast in "real time" CGI characters still look really off... Though you can only use slo-mo a couple of times and get away with it.
I reckon the alternative can't be gotten away with at all. That's why Jackson's Fellowship of the Rings (slow motion Balrog and Cave Troll) was a CGI masterpiece and Two Towers was mediocre, even a failure in my book. (fast leaping/running Wargs, fake as anything. Didn't work at all.)

Wonder Woman running up the wall and jumping across the street in fast motion looked just wierd, while the slow motion fighting at least looked like it could have been real.

In fact, 70's SIX Million dollar man and 90's Flash on a treadmill and sped up to a blur still work better than the every-movement-crystal-clear high speed CGI does.
I think it has to do with visible detail and speed... In real life our brain doesn't have a chance to process things as fast as they happen. I was in a fight ONCE in my school days and I never saw the fist that gave me a bleeding nose. I only felt it!

Siskoid said...

AmHawk: That's not a bad comparison!

Brendon: I'm not planning on seeing the new Mummy picture, which is apparently terrible. Maybe in... how long did it take me to see the Fraser one? 18 years?

Brendoon said...

Harhar, then I shall never be in the know.
However, 'tis time to hear Nick and Benji on this week's Big Finish Podcast. Such fun!

Anonymous said...

I mostly liked Wonder Woman, but the biggest sticking point to me was that Diana was not allowed to carry her own film. Steve Trevor had just as large a character arc as she did.

--De

 

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