This Week in Geek (19-25/02/18)


DVD sale, I got Atomic Blonde, La La Land, and Doctor Who Series 10. For the book shelf, Telling Lies for Fun & Profit by Lawrence Block (recommended to me by comics writer David Gallaher), and The Hobbit (because the only copy I ever had in the house was my sister's, and that's long gone).


In theaters: Marvel Cinematic continues its streak of superhero hits with Black Panther, a film that doesn't quite manage to shirk off superhero tropes, but still stands as an atypical story, more political and as many have called it, Shakespearean, with a jetset spy feel thrown in early on as well. It's the story of a young king, struggling with the sins of his father, an evolving world, and various antagonists hostile to his regime. The villains are entertaining (Klaw, M'Baku) or have complicated relationships with T'Challa (Killmonger and those who side with him), with shades of the Black Panther movement of the 70s providing rich subtext. Wakanda looks great too, awesome costumes and set designs, and extending the Panther's powers through vibranium makes sense and puts the hero on par with some of the bigger guns. A fun ride, a new world explored, an exciting cast of characters, meaningful themes... I can forgive the third act superhero battle that, especially when the Panthers went totally CG, reminded me of the Battle of Five Armies bloat (is Martin Freeman requiring them in his contract?).

At home: It seems that when you need someone to play a black icon these days, you call Chadwick Boseman. And I'm perfectly fine with that. He's as magnetic as usual in Marshall, where he plays the first African-American U.S. Supreme Justice working an early landmark case for the NAACP. Among the impediments he suffers is being forced to try the case by proxy, through an initially underqualified lawyer played by Josh Gad. They make a strong team, and the real-life conceit adds some tension and humor to what is nevertheless a pretty straightforward courtroom drama, well made, but old hat. It is somewhat unfortunate that the case may hinge on a false rape accusation, as politically-charged a topic as the wrongfully-accused black man concept. Similarly, some will chafe at the black lead being muzzled in favor of his white co-council. But generally, the film doesn't let the facts of the story sink the attempt, but rather finds ways to keep things properly dramatic and thematically consistent.

As a fan of Duncan Jones' first couple SF movies, I had high expectations for Mute. Alas, they were dashed. It's all a bit of a mess. Another Blade Runner riff visually (between this and Altered Carbon, did Netflix get the cityscapes wholesale?) even if it's Berlin. The noir thriller concerns a missing girl and the mute Luddite who loves her and tries to find her. Structurally, it keeps forgetting him in favor of Paul Rudd's AWOL American soldier/doctor involved with underworld types. It takes entirely too long to show us what might tie these two protagonists together, the latter seeming like a distraction, but still more interesting than Alexander Skarsgård's non-verbal hero. And then there's the icky story thread about a pedophile, that really isn't proven necessary. The resolution is all kinds of slapdash. By the end, you might even wonder if Mute needed its sci-fi setting. Or for its protagonist to be mute (diversity aside). Even its links to Moon seem indulgent. What happened there?

Like his previous project, Tangerine, Sean Baker's The Florida Project feels like a documentary, in large part because the kids feel so real - he just lets them be themselves, I imagine, rather than follow scripted dialogue. The film ably acts as a nearly plotless slice of life snapshot set in an unusual ghetto, a set of colorful motels near (but not too near) Disneyland, where most of the residents are living week to week, whole families to each room. While their circumstances aren't ideal - poverty, negligent parents - the kids nevertheless have fun, use their imaginations, and due to lack of supervision, get up to a lot of trouble. Adult struggles - represented by Bria Vinaite's irresponsible single mother and Willem Dafoe's paternalistic motel manager - don't really make a big splash in their perceived reality. This is just how it is, and the film, shot in vibrant color, puts the lie to the idea that a harsh environment necessarily leads to misery. And yet, there's tension between the image and the audience, as we're forced to imagine just what kind of people these children are becoming. Living on the outskirts of a magical kingdom, it seems unlikely they could ever escape to it, the soundtrack to their lives forever a noisy highway.

François Truffaut plays a shadow of himself, a French film director, in Day for Night, which in this age of DVD extras and common behind the scenes knowledge, has lost some of its spark, I'm sure. In 1973, it must have been at once a hoot and a revelation to see how a film was made, and what ridiculous on-set problems and solutions became part of the fabric of a movie. The love affairs that seem rife on the set of the fictional film are likewise now the province of tabloids. With a modern eye, it all feels a little quaint. But it still works as an acting showcase (Jacqueline Bisset is especially good) and a soft satire of the industry and the lunacy that results when cast and crew are thrown together into a certain microcosm. The characters' low-tech solutions and various compromises (some of them psychological) remain interesting, and I'm sure the film is full of Truffaut's real-life experiences (though one should be careful about seeing it as autobiography, as his own character is an idealized paternal director) and thus of interest to cinephiles.

Doctor Who Titles: 1939's Midnight is a screwball comedy starring Claudette Colbert as a showgirl who almost by accident, is mistaken for a member of Parisian high society. She goes with it, and is roped into trying to break up a love affair by her secret benefactor (John Barrymore). Don Ameche is the cab driver who falls for her, but is outraged at her behavior. This crazy set-up leads to several amusing set pieces before Colbert needs to turn back into a pumpkin, as it were. Midnight has a Billy Wilder screenplay, so the dialogue is quick, witty and honest. I do think it ends a bit abruptly, but if it's missing a shot, maybe it's just a single on to take us out on.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The first Doctor and Susan ably infiltrate high society and help Colbert to the right man's arms. I can definitely see the Doctor act as the divorce lawyer in the madcap courtroom scenes.

Oscar Pool Stash Forced Watch:  Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy's For Your Consideration adds another "behind the scenes" movie to their stable, if not necessarily another feather in their cap. "Behind the Scenes of a Movie" is perhaps too obvious an idea, like the genre devouring itself. They don't take the mockumentary road this time, but the result is the same - spoofy characters make fun of an entire industry. The twist is that the movie gets some Oscar buzz, and we see how rumors take on a life of their own. Though the narrative feels a bit lifeless at times - perhaps it's trying to hit too many targets at once - many of its elements, taken in isolation, are either quite funny (the Access Hollywood spoof) or tragic (Catherine O'Hara as the aging actress gives an amazing performance). The DVD includes a commentary track and about 30 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes, which are actually a lot of fun.
#OscarPoolResult: Still probably one of the better films I won last year, so will keep.

Hey, hey, hey, it's Fat Albert! I dreaded this one, in part because of Bill Cosby's fall from grace (he co-wrote it, has a scene in it as himself, and of course, originated the original cartoon), but also because I failed to see how this could be any good or even relevant. The fantasy premise is that a depressed teenager played by Kyla Pratt lets one of her tears drop on her remote control while watching Fat Albert, and it releases most of the cast into the live action world. Poor Kyla Pratt, who also inherited the Dr. Doolittle franchise in this era, and starred in a number of Veterinary School Student Doolittle releases that were just as dumb... From the start, you're wondering who this is for. The humor and plot are strictly Saturday afternoon kid fare, but the nostalgia required to want to see it belonged (in 2004) to 30 or 40 somethings. At its best, it seems to have worked out how cartoons would fare in our world. But it betrays its premise by making that real world just as cartoony. This is one of those movies that doesn't seem to know how the real world actually works, so no contrast is truly possible. It tries its hand at having some heart - I commend its light-hearted take and innocent protagonist - but it's definitely not funny, nor do any characters react in a believable way. The DVD has a deluded director's commentary, a making of featurette, and a few deleted scenes
#OscarPoolResult: It was always pegged with going back into the Oscar Pile for someone else to "win". But looking at 2017's stash, it's not necessarily any worse than The Mortal Instruments which I gave a begrudging pass to last week. So BOTH go back in the pile. And you know what? I think Fat Albert may still be the better of the two. And that is IT. Ready for the Oscars and whole a new cycle of bad DVDs to get through if I win any!


Brian said...

“I can forgive the third act superhero battle that, especially when the Panthers went totally CG, reminded me of the Battle of Five Armies bloat (is Martin Freeman requiring them in his contract?).”

When the two CGI Panthers were falling into the CGI Vibranium Cave, with the camera swinging wildly around them, I turned to my brother and whispered, “we have literally no frame of reference as viewers right now...” In a great and immersive film, those ten seconds took me straight out of it.

I wonder if, as a gamer, you had that same moment’s thought about Ross’s arrival in mysterious Wakanda that it so felt like it could have broken out into a D&D quest had Killmonger not shown up right then, as Fantasy King T’Challa sends the adventurer off on an exciting quest in exchange for healing.

Siskoid said...

I'm not really that kind of gamer. Sounds more like World of Warcraft to me! ;)


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