This Week in Geek (3-09/07/17)

Buys'n'Gifts
My moratorium on buying things should be lifted now that my birthday's passed, but I still want to thank the following people for sending the following gifts my way: Ryan Daly (the City on the Edge of Forever Teleplay comics adaptation and a bunch of loose comics, mostly Charlton romance), Isabel and Nath (Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 13 and Camel Cup Cards), Josée (a framed, silver origami unicorn and an apple pie with a TARDIS cut into the crust), and Elyse (Jenny Parks' very cute picture book Star Trek Cats)!

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: The premise of Beatriz at Dinner - a Mexican-born therapist is stranded at a dinner party with ruthless business mogul - could have gone one of two ways. It could have been a punch-the-air triumph of liberalism movie, but that would be too easy. Instead, a more realistic naturalism is invoked, while still managing an elliptical ending tinged with both despair and hope. Salma Hayek and John Lithgow are both excellent in their roles, at least sincere in their extremism, while the rest of the cast are purposely vapid and superficial, which makes me hate them more than I would the greedy Conservative of the story. The film plays on that ambivalence, presenting two characters who I would never be friends with in real life - despite having my heart within seconds, Hayek's Beatriz is too loopy and mystical for me - neither of which I can totally agree with, and yet both endearing in their own way. So without a firm win on either side, what we get is a study in awkwardness, an image of the Lib/Con divide that currently has its grip on Western society and makes people unable to communicate or empathize. It's beautifully shot, edited and scored too. I wasn't sure what to think, coming out of the theater, but the more I think about the film's deep ambivalence, which goes even beyond the story itself and into its uncertain future, I think I appreciate it more and more.

Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is my favorite 20th-Century play, so I couldn't pass up the chance to see as part of the National Theatre Live initiative. Unusually, it has a British cast, but it avails itself quite well. It stars Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill as Martha and George (or as the kids know them, Umbridge and Varys), both powerful personalities on stage, starting at a high level of intensity and somehow going on from there. Luke Treadaway as Nick is a bit less convincing, while Imogen Poots as Honey may well steal your heart. The set design subtly reminds one of a boxing ring, which is perfectly appropriate in a world where everyone is already punch drunk, the comedy comes through well, and I was fascinated to find Hill's George more sympathetic than the 1966 film's Richard Burton, which only makes me want to watch that again to compare. Hardly noticed more than three hours went by...

DVDs: Heroes Two (AKA Kung Fu Invaders) brings two Chinese folk heroes together, Shaolin rebels Hung Hsi-kuan and Fang Shih-yu, in an underrated Chang Cheh classic from 1974, with fanciful moves and an insane and seemingly interminable final fight (choreographed by Lau Kar-Leung), but also some of director Chang's trademark experimentalism (in this case, he uses color filters as punctuation, which is pretty cool. The plot concerns the two Shaolin escapees running circles around Manchu cronies, until they are tricked into facing one another. After that, it's about making amends and discovering a brotherhood that should have been implicit, and coming to gether in revolt. A good mix of ingredients - humor, drama, violence, feeling - gives the film momentum, though yes, it does flag towards the end when one of those overwhelms the rest. The DVD includes the intro demonstration of Hung styles, which I found fascinating and actually helped me get more out of the film, as well as a contemporary interview with star Kuan Tai Chen (who comes off as arrogant, like most Chinese stars in these things), and some stills and trailers.

Doctor Who Titles: The 2007 Marco Polo TV movie banks on its China locations and "exoticism", but... Brian Dennehy playing the Khan in yellow face? In 2007?! Are you kidding me?! It's not even one of his great performances, nor can it be, in a script that follows the historical beats without truly getting at the heart of what makes the characters tick, and opposite Vampire Diaries' Ian Somerhalder's non-performance as Marco - I just realized this is the guy who does the horrendous, blasé introductions on some CW superhero DVDs' ComiCon panels - whose character has to be helped along with voice-over because it's just not onscreen. Ugh. This 131-minute monster is also structurally flawed, with one orphaned bookend too many, and jumps in time not quite sold by the aging make-up. The autotranslated characters from all over the world and mismatched accents are the least of its problems.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... and this time it's the 10th Doctor and Martha that get stuck in Kublai Khan's court, except much earlier in Marco's career. They mostly act as go-betweens between him and the woman of his dreams, and prevent a massacre when the Khan means to stamp out a rebellion.
Book: Macbeth #killingit is yet another offering in the OMG Shakespeare line, in which classics have been turned into emoji-filled texts and chats. I've enjoyed them all as the amusing - and very pretty - fluff pieces they're meant to be, but I think Macbeth was the funniest of the lot. Maybe it's because I'm less attached to this play than most of the Bard's output adapted for this series - Macbeth is a very difficult play to stage effectively, even in one's mind - but more than that, writer Courtney Carbone, having already done all the emoji jokes in srsly Hamlet, can move on to character and situation-based humor, and it works very well. Carbone's are probably my two favorites in the line. Here's hoping *I* never get a dark text no one else can see...

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