This Week in Geek (14-20/08/17)


In theaters: With Detroit, Kathryn Bigelow brings the same deft ability to juggle complex, true (but inconclusively proven) historical events she did in Zero Dark Thirty, though I found this film more engaging than her previous effort. The film takes place during the 1967 Detroit riots and culminates in an almost unbearable real-time account of the infamous raid on the Algiers Motel that left several black kids dead at the hands of white police officers. Elsewhere, it is less sure-footed, with a condescending contextualizing sequence, recreations of the riot's events that, at the time, seem more interesting than where the film is actually going (though I concede it provides good emotional set-up), and too much epilogue. The core of the film (the raid and ensuing court case) is gripping, and the level of injustice would be unbelievable if the audience wasn't well aware this kind of thing was still happening in the Western world today. It's a horror show, but sadly, one we've yet to close the curtain on.

I'm sure Girls Trip will be called the "black Bridesmaids", as it certainly is that type of film and story. I'm not really a fan of raunchy comedies, but I AM a fan of heart, and Girls Trip has that in spades (I don't know why I'm making card puns). The humor is character-driven and the cast has great chemistry. I laughed a lot, but I was also touched, even if the plot's comedy mechanics were fairly standard. Much props to the four friends who made the movie click. My crush on Regina Hall was satiated by her being at the center of the story, a famous author at a crossroads in her career. Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah are extremely reliable as well. But it's Tiffany Haddish, who I didn't know, who was the principal revelation. These movies usually need a boorish, extreme character and she's it. Normally, that's not my favorite character, but I do love a good comedy ranter, and she really brings that to the table as well. The New Orleans location is well used too. Some say this is too long (at a touch over 2 hours), and I don't necessarily disagree, but this is a comedy about friendship, and to believe in that friendship, we've got to be able to get to know these characters, and drink in the atmosphere with them.

At home: Daredevil's second season hasn't fixed the first's biggest problem for me, its murky over-saturated look. It's one thing to create an atmosphere, or Noir, but when facial expressions and even action beats are undecipherable, it's gone too far. But plot-wise, I think I may have enjoyed this season more than the first. Wilson Fisk may have been a stand-out character, but the pacing here is just so much better. The show introduces (or re-introduces) an antagonist every 4 episodes, two of which are heroes used to highlight the difficulty Daredevil has chosen to work with (non-lethal means). In the process, we get a Punisher that is richer and more complex than those of the films (and I might argue, than the Punisher comics I've read). As for Elektra, I don't think Matt's passion for her is earned, and I never cared about the ninja stuff Frank Miller inserted into the book, so that's far from my favorite story strand here. Still, I liked her more than I thought I would. Fans of the Kingpin's are well served too, as he returns with a promise to turn a future season into "Rebirth". The costume is finally cool too. Shame about the lighting.

Travelers mixes Continuum with Quantum Leap, with a touch of 12 Monkeys thrown in. We follow a team of time travelers permanently beamed into the heads of people about to die, with a split focus on missions to change history and save the future, and the group dealing with the lives they've taken over. The show is very cagey about revealing its mythology - what the future is like, for example - but creates its mythology slowly over the course of the first season. I resented it at first, but while it's not always clear what the "Director"'s agenda is, up-time, it's a frustration the characters themselves share, and I came to appreciate the slower world building. The "resistance cell" conceit certainly makes it harder to guess where the show is going. Travelers does share Netflix programming's over-saturated shadows (a problem I had with Daredevil), making the screen sometimes too murky for watching in daylight, though that gets better over time. A new season premieres in the Fall, and I'll be watching...

Samurai Jack's fourth season was it last before a long break, with the hopes of finishing the story some day. As such, it's not all that different from its third, which isn't a bad thing at all. This is a show that has no shame at all about most of its episodes being long fight sequences with a minimum of plot, but always with interesting opponents and environments to get new gags out of it. The season attempts giant robot, film noir and space opera genres, has a great big duel between Jack and Aku, tells stories in unusual structures, and even offers a tale of Li'l Jack on his training quest. Everything you want from this show. The DVD includes a fully animated deleted scene, some rockin' promos, and a backyard round table discussion between creator Genndy Tartakovsky and his staff taking stock of the entire series.

Johnnie To's Yesterday Once More is sold as a romcom, but since the two stars - Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng - are also playing jewel thieves, we're not THAT far from To's usual material. The story: A thieving couple breaks up over sharing their loot, and a couple years later, get back together when their scores align, as the woman tries to figure out just why the man left her. It's a relationship played out with schemes and cons, and that's fun and interesting, but despite Lau and Cheng apparently having been coupled a number of times on screen in more standard fare, there's something bemusedly removed about them that short-circuits the necessary chemistry. As a heist picture, it's amusing. As a romance, I don't think we care for these two to get back together again.

Troilus & Cressida is a play that was apparently never produced at the Globe in Shakespeare's day. It IS atypical, a comedy for the first half, a tragedy in the second, and a history of the last days of the Trojan War besides. Intriguingly, the Bard seems to have read Homer (or more likely, Chaucer) and come out of it wanting to send the whole thing up. So this is rather a clever, deconstructionist satire on heroes, both military and romantic. The great Greek and Trojan heroes of myth are here lazy, stupid, uncommitted and/or treat the war as an inconvenience. The chorus is a grotesque clown who hates everyone, in the BBC production, somewhat offensively played as a flamboyant drag queen (and certainly not the only character played for camp value). That, and the distracting use of Renaissance costumes, are the production's flaws. What still shines through is Shakespeare's amazing text, the foolishness of glory in love and war hard-coded into verses filled to the brim with delicious puns. The plot is less certain, in his experimentalism Shakespeare neglecting to explain the characters' often contradictory decisions. A less than satisfying final act results, but perhaps that's part of the point.

Doctor Who Titles: The Savages tracks two siblings - Laura Liney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, so we're in good hands - having to deal with putting their estranged father, in the grips of dementia, into a nursing home. The script takes no prisoners, and in no prettifies the process, something that extends to the leads' lives being a mess, and the set dressing as disordered and naturalistic as the rest. And yet, it finds humor in the situation too. A good primer for those who might have to experience something similar, as well as a reminder that we're all heading in that direction. Thematically, everything points to it, with age, decay and disability always lurking in the story's details.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 10th Doctor and Martha have to be in the periphery, posing as nursing home staff to defeat some alien threat or other, but Lenny Savage's dementia is ruled as natural. Some things, even the Doctor can't help.

Books: In Running Through Corridors vol.2, sometime-Doctor Who writer Rob Shearman and humorist Toby Hadoke continue their Doctor Who-watching diary through the 1970s stories - the UNIT era, the Hinchcliffe-Holmes era, the budget pinch that would come later, and the two most long-lasting Doctors - a book that was a long time coming even if it was written now many years ago, right on the heels of the 1960s volume (here's hoping the '80s will be out sooner than later). And it really is a "diary", with the two writers' lives intruding into Shearman's fine critical theories and Hadoke's behind-the-scenes trivia (not to say that's all each of them do, but they ARE their respective bags), and I love the more personal approach. And to their credit, they always try to find the positive even in the ropiest of stories (gonna be useful going into the next decade), but aren't afraid to talk about their disappointments either. Rob likes to troll Toby by including some obscure apocrypha as well, always fun. The pages flew by, I'm ready for more.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I thought DD Season 2 was good, though the general consensus seems to be that it sucked compared to Season 1. Punisher was definitely more complex than he was in the comics ... I'm looking forward to the Punisher solo show.

I'm preparing to binge-watch Defenders right now (I've seen the first episode, which is all set-up), and I think the Marvel Netflix shows have been good overall, despite all the criticism.

Mike W.

Siskoid said...

Expect more Netflix Marvel reviews. I'm watching Luke Cage now, and am heading for Defenders.


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