This Week in Geek (26/02-04/03/18)


Got some oHOTmu or NOT swag, just a few shirts and a travel mug. Love 'em.


In theaters: Annihilation is, on the face of it, similar to Arrival - a female lead (in this case, a female ensemble), a hard sci-fi mystery (though not as procedural a result), unknowable aliens, a flashback structure, and powerful atonal music. In the story, a team of scientists enters a "shimmering" field in which DNA from one organism seems to infect organisms around it, and through by-turns beautiful and horrific encounters, hopes to make it to the center of the anomaly. The film's subtext is how we change throughout our lives, in particular how was are transformed by trauma. Different characters in the piece react differently, whether it's by facing, rejecting, denying, or embracing who they've become. Trauma and loss are at the forefront, so the cancer motif is not surprising. Director Alex Garland does not seek to explain things beyond the metaphorical grounding, and simply leaves what is unknowable as a sensory experience, and lets ambiguity do what it does best - make the audience ask questions and give the film a life of its own once the lights have come up. As with Arrival, I was intellectually engaged, but it kept me at a distance emotionally.

At home: Deborah Ellis' The Breadwinner comes to animated life in the Oscar-nominated film about a young girl in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan who must dress up as a boy if her family is to survive after her father is jailed by the authorities. It's an important portrait of Muslim women from that part of the world, sensitively portrayed, one that uses its protagonist's two lives to show crushing disparity between the sexes. One feels that Parvana having tasted male freedom, it wouldn't be so easy for her to go back. One element I sometimes find lacking in animated films but present here is that the emotions projected by the various characters are complex, like live action performances. Nothing needs be over-explained. And thanks to the mytho-personal story Parvana tells - in fun cut-out puppet animation style - The Breadwinner is not devoid of humor despite its heavy subject matter.

I've worked in a contemporary art gallery, and The Square, though its featured museum has a much higher profile, represents the self-importance of the culture very well. Just on that level, and as a wry satirical comedy, I was quite happy with it. But there's a lot more happening. The title's Square, a work of art creating a utopian safe space, is barely in it, but it throws the rest of the universe into contrast, a world where people are essentially shitty to one another. I.e OUR world. The protagonist at least tries to follow the Square's message, but he fumbles at best, and the film asks whether class, human nature, etc. can sincerely be overcome by a purer morality. At the same time, it is playful about the divide between art and not-art, performance and behavior, even fiction and documentary. The context in which we see something can turn the real, the mundane, the reprehensible into art, but where do we see the line, or frame? Pretty clever, but also subtly honest with its protagonist, and with itself as a piece of art. It's visually striking as well, which is a must for a film set in the world of fine art. In Swedish with a some bits in English thanks English-speaking actors like Elizabeth Moss (who is a hoot) and Dominic West.

Hungary's entry in this year's Oscar competition, On Body and Soul, hooks you in with its fabulistic premise - two co-workers share the same dreams where they are a pair of mated deer, and so embark on a real relationship - but I think the main interest here is that the woman (Alexandra Borbély) is autistic, and struggling with this possible new chapter in her life. The situation is sensitively played and presented, in what initially feels like a dry workplace comedy. Full warning to sensitive souls: It takes place in an abattoir and has graphic scenes of butchery. Interesting in that this romance doesn't take place in the usual quaint office environment, but if there's a message being conveyed here (as the characters see themselves as tranquil animals), it's not in focus, and indeed, the setting may at first PULL focus away from the story. But these are early elements soon dismissed from the proceedings, and ultimately, the film stands as a sweet romance between social outsiders.

Somewhere between Sherlock and Broadchurch is the 6-part police/mystery series River, about detective John River (played with presence by Stellan Skarsgård, but the casting will have you asking how a Swede can have that name) getting through case work while reeling from the murder of his partner, played by Nicola Walker (who I fell in love with in Spooks and would watch in anything). Cuz yeah, she's present. The twist in this tale is that River hallucinates the ghosts of victims, a sort of profiling that helps him uncover the truth. Of course, everyone thinks he's crazy because he actively talks to them. The show looks very slick, is well acted, and presents a complex mystery in the death of Walker's character - highlighting how other people are technically mysteries to us, absent any crime to solve - but as with any long-running mystery, there's always the danger of having a weak solution that frustrates the invested viewer and undoes a lot of the previous good. That happened in Broadchurch Season 1, and I think it happens here. Not as egregiously, but still. At least the mini-series has closure and on a psychological level, does have a satisfying ending.

Speaking of which... Broadchurch Season 3, while it does still feature some of the regulars from Seasons 1 and 2 exploring their grief in various ways, 3 years on, presents a different, but equally heinous, crime for Alec and Ellie to solve. This time, the small sea-side community is rocked by the news that what is essentially the lady who lives down the street has been brutally raped. It's a complicated case with many suspects, etc., but also a fine procedural, sensitively presented, showing just what victims go through, both with the police, and in their communities afterwards. Suspicion and paranoia, especially when sexual images are found (and they are very common in the world today), is rampant. And Olivier Colman, as usual, broke my heart with her performance. I was on the verge of tears almost every episode, sometimes not quite knowing why. And while I thought Broadchurch's first series ended on a cheat (and Series 2 was basically the immediate sequel), Series 3's solution can partly be deduced by the audience, and feels earned. So where other shows are often dwindling by their last season, I think this third season of Broadchurch is its best. The DVD includes some deleted scenes, a couple of short making of featurettes, and a longer retrospective one.

Doctor Who Titles: Some trouble finding films with titles matching the end of the Tennant era, I admit. There's a cheap Canadian action comedy called Turn Left, but I couldn't find it anywhere (and it's apparently terrible). Journey's End is a WWI picture with Paul Bettany, but it isn't out over here yet. Even the End of Time I found most applicable to this project, the German postapocalyptic flick Endzeit just isn't widely available, so I had to go with a documentary with that same title. At least it's on YouTube...

The End of Time is a pseudo-documentary about the nature of time. Unfortunately, it doesn't have much to say about it. We get scientists and artists and philosophers weighing in, without attribution (who are these people?), very occasionally, and with no real throughline. Instead, the film tries to make us FEEL time, by showing us clouds forming, lava coursing, trees swaying... I'm surprised there are no shots of paint drying, because that's sure what it felt like. I appreciate the attempt at making the medium be the message, and there's some great cinematography, but it's quite dull and uninteresting regardless.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The film maker is too preoccupied with image making to realize the 11th Doctor has given him the real answers.


Steven Flanagan said...

R C Sherriff's play "Journey's End" was filmed by James Whale in 1930. He had directed the premiere of the play in London, and the film version was successful enough to get him the "Frankenstein" gig, so it may be worth seeking out.


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