This Week in Geek (31/07-06/08/17)


In theaters: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has a brilliant opening and an exciting climax, but it loses itself in the middle there, for reasons I will shortly disclose. Let it be said that far from a CG mess, Valerian is principally about evoking scope, a whole universe of detail one cannot apprehend in a single viewing, brilliant in its imagination, with a solid plot that's partway between mystery and action epic, with the comics series' liberalism at the core of its dilemmas. But it lacks rhythm. The pacing is so off as to take away its required sense of urgency, and the jokes fall as flat as a pancake. While tighter editing could be indicated, a large part of the fault lies at the lead actors' feet (at some of the guest stars as well - compare Ethan Hawke's lusty performance to Rihanna's flat reading, for the exception then the rule) who needed to be a lot better to get the space opera dialog and the humor to work. Valerian and Laureline's comics personalities are undersold so that when they actually come to the forefront, they seem to contradict what has gone before, and I'm afraid Cara Delevingne really has none of the charm of her comic book counterpart, instead playing the adventure as jaded and irritated. Even if you don't know the originals, this is, to be sure, the wrong attitude to get the audience on board. Valerian's first, and likely last, cinematic outing frustrates not because it is bad, but because it is ALMOST good.

Miyazaki brings all his tropes together in Kiki's Delivery Service - flight, cats, and a mythical Europe that never was - easily one of his most charming efforts, about a young witch who strikes out on her own in the big city, and starts a delivery service with her broom-flying skills and talking cat. (I love well done cat animation, and Jiji is an instant favorite.) This is a film without any real villains, but upbeat though its friendly characters make it, it's nevertheless about Kiki's loneliness and sense of isolation and disillusionment. When they rob her of her powers, an obvious metaphor takes root, Kiki's powerlessness one we've all felt at one point or another. I haven't mentioned the animation, but it's obviously great, especially the physics of flying. Just a joy to watch. And we're lucky enough to have these projected on the big screen once a month through 2017.

DVD: Henry IV Part 1 is more about the future Henry V than it is his father, and marks the first appearance of one of Shakespeare's most vibrant and famous creations, Sir John Falstaff. Anthony Quayle nails the role and doses the necessary wit with a big dollop of pathos, a rogue quite aware he's passed his prime, confused by drink, but too exuberant to hate. Though he steals the show, David Gwillim acquits himself quite well as Prince Hal, showing a darker side that presages his eventual and necessary rejection of the pack of thieves he calls friends, and the play sets up and tracks Hal moving from one father's gaze to the other, with the rebellious Hotspur as a kind of princely mirror. And I thought therein lay the BBC adaptation's most interesting element. In Tim Pigott-Smith, we get a Hotspur that's more interesting than what's often pulled off the page, not only active, but hyperactive, with a boyish humor that makes him more likable than he really has any right to. Director David Giles, in the opening of his trilogy, introduces a large cast of characters and makes them all interesting, which is a feat unto itself, even if the Bard did the lion's share of the work.

As the story goes, Queen Elizabeth so loved the character of Falstaff that she ordered a comedy about the paunchy knight in love. The Merry Wives of Windsor is the result, and a rare example of Shakespeare phoning it in with this prosaic farce. Don't get me wrong, even his lesser work has flashes of brilliance, but at this point in his career, there were no lesser works. Except this one. At least Anthony Quayle is not forced to return as this pale shadow of Falstaff (the play was filmed years later), Richard Griffiths does the honors, producing an unremarkable Falstaff who has little of the usual wit and fighting spirit of the Histories. That said, the BBC's Shakespeare Collection must try to do its best, and there are some vivacious turns by the likes of Prunella Scales, Elizabeth Spriggs, Judy Davis and, as a caricature of the jealous husband, Ben Kingsley. While some characters introduced here will show up in Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V, it's hard to see this comedy, whose sole intent seems to be the humiliation of Falstaff for no better reason than to tell the Queen to be careful what she wishes for (Falstaff doesn't actually fall in love though), as part of the same continuity as the Histories. A sort of wild dream then, no more real than its fairy sequence, not unamusing, but lacking the Bard's usual poetry. The casting and production design elevate it somewhat in this adaptation.

Henry IV Part 2 is a truer sequel for Falstaff than The Merry Wives of Windsor, as it seems that separated from Prince Hal, his considerable wit has been let loose to take greater shape. In Part 1, he was a merry companion who stole the show. In Part 2, he IS the show, and Shakespeare knows it, his asides to the audience pithier and more frequent. Between a greater role for the Henry IV, dying even as civil war rages, and Falstaff's shenanigans, using the war to make money, Hal almost seems to disappear. This is the moving joint between Henrys IV and V, with Hal playing both the trickster of the earlier play, and ultimately rejecting his former life - and Anthony Quayle's once again (not to say "even more") terrific Falstaff - to take up the responsibilities of the monarchy. The BBC production is of a piece with its bookends, and it's clear the director sees the first parts as foreshadowing to pay off in Henry V, well done.

The BBC's version of Henry V doesn't have the big battles of Olivier's or Branagh's, but that makes it truer to the original stage productions, doesn't it? In a way, this is a mirror image of Henry IV Part 1, with a now kingly Hal who nevertheless uses mischief on friend and foe alike. One might expect the patriotic propaganda of this play to forget its hero's origins, but Shakespeare's characterization is actually consistent all the way through. Falstaff dies off-stage and Shakespeare is ruthless with his Eastcheap irregulars, as if to stave off another sequel he doesn't want to write, but the play makes up for it with some of Shakespeare's most famous lines and scenes. Seen here without any cuts, it makes me appreciate those edits other, bigger films have made, but watched in sequence with the other Henrys, one gets a fuller sense of how this is as much the commoner's story as it is the royals'. It's just that the Golden Age ushered in by Henry V has no place for the rascals of an earlier, more corrupt England.

Oscar Pool Stash Forced Watch: Though I have a used copy of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, the novel, on a shelf somewhere, I've never read it, and after learning of the author's distasteful politics and financial militancy, I didn't have a mind to. Same with the film except for the fact that I pledge to watch every DVD I win at our annual Oscar picks competition. So here we go. This really feels like it should have been science fiction's answer to Harry Potter, but it's too joyless a thing to really go to franchise. The plot is perfectly fine and the premise reasonably clever, it just moves too quickly, sacrificing character development to get to its various set piece. It is perhaps ironic that I felt at a distance from the film as a result (those who know the story will understand why I say that), and even more ironic, to get back to Card's hateful politics, is that he should heed his own story's message. The DVD includes deleted scenes with optional commentary, and two rather ordinary commentary tracks, one from the director, the other the producers.
#OscarPoolResult: A reasonable entertainment. My pledge also prevents me from foisting anything but the very worst dreck on next year's competition winner.

Doctor Who Titles: 2005's Ark is a computer-generated animated film out of Korea, in the anime style, and as far as "chosen one" stories go, isn't too bad. This sci-fi tale about warring people needing an ancient alien ark/mech to get them off their dying world, which can only be achieved through a certain bloodline seems to require a lot of narration upfront, but that's because the script is clumsy. It's not the only thing. It's the visuals that really let it down, and that's a mortal (or rather, a lethal) sin when it comes to animation. I can accept the computer game cut scene look of the thing, but the editing is just AWFUL. I'm guessing uncompleted shots have been glossed over with cross-fades, but whatever the problem, it undermines much of the action and sometimes even our comprehension of just what's happening. In the end, Ark is an ugly proof of concept movie for an effects house that didn't really prove its concept.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... Before picking up Rose Tyler, the 9th Doctor visits the planet Alcyone in 2204 A.D. and helps the daughter of a legendary priestess come into her own and save her people from extinction.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if "Henry V" is Shakespeare's commentary on how kings should rule. He sets up this young king who is clearly a humble man wrestling with right and wrong, who encounters one test of character after another, and at every turn demonstrates he's got the right motivations. Sure it flattered the dynasty then in power, but how do you watch "Henry V" and not say, "this is what all kings should aspire to"?

One scene in particular I'll mention: when Henry has uncovered the treason against him by three of his nobles, he's not angry that they're looking to depose him, he's angry that they plan to sell England into desolation. His own fate as a king is almost immaterial, but hurting the country and people of England is what he finds intolerable.

Anonymous said...

I was really hoping for Valerian to be great, but it wasn't for all the reasons you cited. Thank you for your intro to the source material in a previous entry. It spurred me to order the first two books from ComiXology, which I've really enjoyed.

Ender's Game was a very difficult novel to read in the first place because it was so joyless, despite the imaginative concepts within. Once Card's despicable politics were known to me, I had zero interest in seeing the movie upon its announcement. Thanks for taking one for the team. Now I know that I didn't miss anything.



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