This Week in Geek (30/09-01/10/17)


The Sutherlands (of Warlord Worlds, et al.) went to a con and sent me a copy of Doctor Who: The Dave Gibbons Collection, signed by the man himself. How thoughtful! They're the best.


In theaters: Kingsman The Golden Circle takes two possible sequel tracks - it simultaneously blows the world up, and adds to it by creating an American "independent security service" called the Statesmen. Like the first film, it's a hoot, though it lacks the tonal surprise of the original because now we know what to expect. (If you haven't seen the original, then maybe the shock is there, but you might feel a little lost.) As with the first one, the action is insane, the agents can do incredible tricks, the villain is loopy, and the humor irreverent. Of all the new characters introduced, only Halle Berry grates on the nerves - her arc is a useless bit of plot - while Elton John has a surprisingly funny role as himself. While I will admit the movie suffers from playing out bits too close to the original's and is bloated at 2h21min, it's still an amusing trifle, and I for one would watch more Kingsman adventures.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a gorgeous, early Miyazaki, based on his own manga of the same name, and it stands right there with Princess Mononoke among my favorites. It shares a lot in common with that film, in fact - an imaginative world where human pollution has created monsters, a princess in the chosen one role, and a lot more violence than in later Miyazaki animations. Like the best anime of the 80s, it's a delight to look at, especially knowing computer assistance wasn't possible. Not only is this world fully imagined and realized, but the story really doesn't go where one expects, possibly because it's collapsing a much longer time line from the manga. There's something quite poignant about Japanese creators working in the shadow of Hiroshima, whether that's a giant monster movie like Godzilla, point-blank docu-drama animes like Barefoot Gen and Grave of the Fireflies, or postapocalyptic ecological fables like Nausicaä. The specter of war and environmental disaster is very much at the forefront here, and despite it all, the titular princess and her daring-do have an uplifting effect on the audience, just as they do her people. So glad I got to see it at the theater.

At home: American Vandal is billed as a satire or spoof of true-crime programs, with high school kids trying to solve the case of teachers' cars being vandalized, but beyond the rude ridiculousness of a story where 27 dicks were spray painted on 27 cars and the ensuing dissection of those events, I wouldn't call it a spoof at all. It uses that format (warts and all, I don't think this a Netflix show needs the same repetitive syntax you find on TLC or whatever), but actually presents an engaging mystery story. It can be funny, but it can also go dark, and methodically thinks through not just the crime, but the impact a student documentary series would have on its makers and the people around them. It's a mockumentary, and yet very honest. A quirky and memorable surprise, that in the later episodes, becomes compulsive watching.

As Time Goes By, the Judi Dench/Geoffrey Palmer sitcom is a sweet geriatric romance between two spiky souls who were separated by the Korean War and find each other very late in life, but not too late. A gentle comedy predicated on simply having real characters reacting to funny situations and to mostly guest-cast zanies (only the yuppie Alistair is part of the main cast), but while it coasts mainly on charm and sweetness, it also holds some laugh-out-loud moments. The Complete Series boxed set includes all 9 series (ranging from 4 to 10 episodes each, usually 6 or 7) broadcast between 1992 and 2001 (the so-called Reunion Special in 2005 is a disappointing clip show). At first it tracks the romance, and then settles into watchable sitcom stuff until you (and the actors, according to the interviews with half the cast included on the final DVD) realize it's sort of petered out and it's time to put a final act into motion. Touching and full of truth, it's old-fashioned time well spent.

Diamond Tongues in a Canadian indie picture about Edith, a very bad actress looking for work and proving she's an even worse person, motivated by jealousy, and completely deluded as to her own skill. I've been around enough theater people to recognize the type, so trust me when I say the character is actually credible. I don't buy the ending they have in store for her, however. Not one bit. But most audience members probably won't get that far, because the film struggles with a LOT of amateurish acting. That's not necessarily a turn off for me - I understand the limits inherent to making a small indie picture - but when the story is ABOUT a bad actress (and she does "act" badly in life, not just in whatever work she might occasionally find), the fact that everyone is a little stilted or seems to distractedly look at something off-set, is jarring. You're left wondering if ALL these people aren't exactly like Edith, and I'm sure that's not where the film's makers want us going. So I appreciated the portrait of a failed actress, but thought the execution was lacking. Perhaps normal for this group's first or second effort.

Man from Reno is a modern noir thriller with an atypical plot structure and three finely-acted leads. A small town sheriff (Pepe Serna) and a Japanese mystery writer (Ayako Fujitani) separately get on the trail of a mysterious man (Kazuki Kitamura) who's obviously involved in something, but what? It's less a whodunit than a what-did-he-do, one at once outrageous - in the best noir tradition, it can get fairly convoluted - and grounded in the real world. Fujitani is particularly excellent as a writer uncomfortable with her writing and with her secrets, her intersection with a real crime filled with paranoid moments. This is a quiet, character-driven piece, but it's not without its thrills. It probably could have done with a more interesting title, however.

Doctor Who Titles: The Portuguese film The Mutants (Os Mutantes) starts with an astonishing sustained shot that becomes a sort of leitmotif in a film full of astonishing sustained shots. Writer-director Teresa Villaverde manages to meld stark documentary realism and touching lyricism as her camera follows three teenage runaways, two boys and a girl - the latter's strand almost entirely separate from the former's and much more engaging - and their hardships in what is a tragedy in the making. One experiment early on feels strange, and the middle is a little flabby (and boy-heavy), but for the most part, the film captures a sense of these teens at once being free AND lost, tempest-tossed but refusing to come into the harbor.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... Sam and the 8th Doctor materialize in contemporary Lisbon and try to help a few kids in need, but they're in for a rude shock when they find real life is harsher than most of their adventures. Some people simply won't or can't be helped.


Jeffry Willis said...

Nausicaa is so wonderful!


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