This Week in Geek (17-23/07/17)

Buys'n'Gifts

Having finished Perdido Street Station (see below), I immediately ordered Miéville's other two "Bas-Lag" novels, Iron Council and The Scar. Gifts? Yeah, oHOTmu or NOT's Amelie went antiquing and brought me the tiniest Tarot deck, fun vintage supernaturalia.

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (she's played by the delightful Zoe Kazan) put their story to the big screen in The Big Sick, an indie romcom based on true events about a Pakistani stand-up who dares fall in love with a white girl, who spends much of the movie in a medically-induced coma due to a mysterious infection while Kumail is forced to deal with her parents. To say this is a comedy with heart is obvious, but better than that, it's a comedy with TRUTH. In fact, the comedy almost never feels artificial and "written"; it's what happens when funny people (and natural straight men and women) interact, delivered naturalistically, in a plot that also feels very real. I dare say Ray Romano (as Emily's dad) has never been in anything this good, though Holly Hunter (as her mom) is great in this too. Lots of laughs in the audience, and none of them for anything stupid. I see a lot of comedians doing autobiographical movies lately, and if they're going to be this smart, funny, charming and relevant, I'm going to be a booster for the subgenre.

DVD: Ash vs. Evil Dead is a great idea for a belated sequel to a cult favorite, picking up Ash's story 25 years after the end of Army of Darkness, haphazardly building a team to fight the Deadites he inadvertently released while on a bender. Sam Raimi directs the first episode (and produces the show) setting the weird tone for the horror comedy filled with madcap action, vivid colors, quick pacing, and disgusting gore so abundant and insane, it comes across as cartoonish (I mean that in a good way, anything else might be disturbing). It's just silly FUN. And for Evil Dead fans, it certainly expands on the world, with the first season going back to the cabin from Evil Dead II, perfectly recreated and yet still able to surprise. The DVD includes cast commentary on every episode, with the producers joining them on the first episode to tell the show's genesis. A making of looks at every ep, and there are a couple of short fluff pieces (Internet promotion?) in the mix.

Given the latest Doctor Who announcement, I decided not to wait any longer and plop Broadchurch Season 2 into the DVD player. I'd thought the first season was an involving, well-acted and shot drama, but that the solution to the mystery let it down - it was a complete left-turn cheat. And I wondered if, somehow, ridiculously, something horrendous would happen every season in the small seaside town of Broadchurch to keep the show alive. Thankfully, that doesn't happen. Rather, we get to deal with an ugly trial, as the town's people would, and D.I. Hardy (David Tennant) reopens the investigation on the case that ruined his career, which led him to Broadchurch in the first place. So at the risk of feeling like an extended Law & Order episode, it's still the same continuing story. And while less lurid, leads to a more satisfying pair of endings. The DVD includes some 30 minutes of deleted scenes - many deserving to have been included - a making of, shorter bits/interviews expanding from the making of (which does mean there's some repetition here), and Tennant and Coleman having fun doing I.D.s for different countries.

Netflix: Emma Stone can do no wrong, so I checked out Easy A, one of those "diary" type teen movies, this one heavily inspired by - and riffing off of - John Hughes movies. It's the story of Olive Penderghast who, faced with a false rumor about her being a "slut" decides to embrace and exploit it, at first for the benefit of others, but things eventually go pear-shaped. Narration in films tends to irk me, but Olive is at least witty, and surrounded by at least SOME quirky and interesting characters (her Liberal parents, played by Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, are worth the price of admission), though the Evangelicals at the school are easy caricatures (satire's good, but a little obvious at times). If you're going to do John Hughes movies, you could do a lot worse than Easy A, and one can easily see how it was Emma Stone's breakthrough role as the lead.

Doctor Who Titles: The Rescue is a teenage action movie in which kids living on a military base in South Korea infiltrate North Korea to break their Navy SEAL dads out of prison before they're executed. Ludicrous? Only if they make it too easy, which for the most part, they don't. The North Korean army seems a bit under staffed and foolish at times, but the kids earn their successes with clever ploys and by flying under the radar (who'd believe kids would undertake the mission the government refuses to send men on?). While violent in an 80s kind of way (shooting and chases), The Rescue is nonetheless a bloodless entertainment, well suited to a lazy Sunday afternoon in the family room. In the days before instant media access, when we had to watch whatever was on TV, a recommendation would make complete sense. Today, there's hundreds of better options for family viewing.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 7th Doctor and Ace land on the wrong side of the Korean border, and without robbing the kids of agency, help them save their dads and return safely home. Ace gets to blow stuff up. The SEALs were probably captured by Sea Devils though.

Books: China Miéville's Perdido Street Station is the story of a scientist who studies flight to restore it to a maimed bird man, and inadvertently releases something monstrous on the fantasy/steampunk city of New Crobuzon, with lots of wild and interesting characters and elements besides, including his insectoid artist girlfriend, a mechanical intelligence, and a poetic interdimensional spider. Ultimately, the book is about intersections and transitions, about the point where things meet, merge, become other and/or are forced to evolve. Miéville, in his breakout novel, has a firm grasp of theme to go with his immense imagination, altogether with a brazen audacity to dump it all into his world-building without feeling he needs to explain everything. It makes for exciting writing and memorable characters. It's no wonder he revisited this world a couple more times - there's so much teased and left unexplored even after 710 pages.

The Crying of Lot 49 is Thomas Pynchon's shortest book at 150 pages, a bouncy satirical novella about Oedipa Maas, a woman who, surprised to be named executor of her ex's will, becomes obsessed with the mystery of secret underground dueling messenger services. On the back of the book, a critic calls Pynchon the American James Joyce, which is overstating the case, but it's true to say everything feels "coded". Still, whether or not you're "missing" something (and with satire written elsewhere and elsewhen, in this case, 1960s California, you're bound to regardless), the intellectual mystery is intriguing and the dialogue genuinely funny. But what is the book ABOUT? Hard to say. Pynchon has an incest motif going, not sexual, but rather in a pop-will-eat-itself, ouroboros kind of way, systems feeding on themselves, an image of... America's auto-cannibalism? An Empire of futility? Things (and history) tend to loop back on themselves in the narrative, right up to the last punch line and beyond... One to read if you wonder whether or not Pynchon is for you.

2 comments:

American Hawkman said...

The bit about the adventurers in Perdido Street Station is extraordinarily memorable. That said, the impossibly dark ending was enough to make me never read another of the author's works until Dial H came around. I have no doubt I'll try him again... but to date, my mood just hasn't went there.

Siskoid said...

I started with Railsea, then The City & the City, then Embassytown, all of which end o more positive notes, so the downer ending isn't a feature of all his work. I recommend all three books more than I would PSS.

 

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