This Week in Geek (2-08/04/18)


In theaters: Tomb Raider is a fairly satisfying action-adventure film in the Indiana Jones mold, with an engaging lead (and indeed, a strong cast overall), that keeps its video game roots mostly in the background, until it (sadly?) becomes more overt in the third act. In other words, I was more interested in Lara Croft's story before she raided the tomb. Now, I've never played the game (does it have blue, red and yellow power-ups? because the movie seems to wink at that), but I know OF it, and have seen Angelina Jolie in the role in Cradle of Life. I wasn't expecting anything more than Lara jumping, climbing, fighting and solving puzzles, and that's what I got. And those elements were well made and exciting enough. There are plot holes, but action flicks often have them; I don't much care. There's too much in the way of flashbacks to earlier scenes as if the movie doesn't trust the audience to follow it, which I did mind. Just a bit of fun, really, but I'm still waiting for Alicia Vikander to get an action franchise that connects with audiences enough for a second film to get made. Like Man from UNCLE (which I loved), I'm not hearing anything too good about Tomb Raider's prospects moving forward from this straightforward origin story. (And yet I would go see another.)

At home: One of the better movies based on a video game out there (probably because of the game's backstory), Resident Evil is also a much better vehicle for Milla Jovovich than Underworld is for Kate Beckinsale (its closest cousin, as a multi-movie fantasy/sf franchise starring an action chick). In this first installment, "Alice" goes down the rabbit hole into the Hive, a super-secret facility where a zombie (boring)/monster (ah, better)-making virus has been loosed, and it's full of crazy traps in addition to the infected. As an example of that basic movie model, it works. It's fairly tense and exciting. But there's a twist. Alice starts the movie with amnesia, which is actually a pretty clever way to reproduce a video game narrative where you're discovering your back story as you go. Now, I have no real expectation that further movies in the franchise are really gonna be good, but I'm at least interested, which is more than I can say for Underworld.

Joe Wright is best known as a maker of historical drama, but in 2011, he teamed up with a 16-year-old Saoirse Ronan to make Hanna, an artful and often quirky action picture about a teenage girl trained in the wilderness by her father to be the perfect assassin. It sounds trite, but far from it, though there's some nice, crazy action involved, much of the film is about her discovery that you can't understand what the real world is like from books alone. More importantly, the unusual locales and artistic cinematography give the story the feel of a fairy tale, a modern take on the old "child on a quest in which she discovers she's more than she thought she was" motif. The cast is as international as the venues, with Eric Bana as the father on the run, and Cate Blanchett as the evil queen--sorry, I mean, the CIA agent who is after them. Certainly not like Ronan's other coming of age movies!

After 10 Cloverfield Lane, I was stoked for another installment in the pseudo-franchise. The Cloverfield Paradox is not as successful as the films it follows, however. It could have been. It's certainly got a good, recognizable cast (headed by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and including, among others, Daniel Brühl, David Oyelowo, Zhang Ziyi, and Chris O'Dowd), and as every Cloverfield film has been in a different genre, making it a science-fiction/horror flick is fine. Unfortunately, while it would have you believe the science is sound, there's too little explained, especially when it comes to some of the body horror elements. Physics has gone mad, fine, but it's just one damn thing after another, and much of it feels like random craziness. And here's the other problem: Red Robot decided to annex the film into the Cloverfield universe during production, which may have worked fine in 10 Cloverfield Lane because of its structure, but you can FEEL it here. It's not a great "origin" for the alien invasion, and the scenes added to make the connections are ill-fitting. And no one on the station actually calls it Cloverfield? It just feels weird. It's certainly watchable and moderately exciting, but I don't like it as a Cloverfield movie. Of course, it could be argued (successfully) that not as many people who have seen it if it hadn't been marketed as one.

The Baroness Von Sketch Show is the brainchild of Canadian comediennes Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen (two of them former writers on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the other two with strong improv backgrounds), two seasons of which just dropped on Netflix Canada. More wry than belly laughter-inducing, at least for me, its episodes feature longer (but never very long) sketches punctuated by one-off jokes, and structurally feel like an old episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus might. The show's humor is mainly concerned with social anxieties and awkwardness, and feminist and queer issues, and is usually pretty clever in the way it tackles that material. While I have enough women in my life to properly "get it", I think the quirky comedy will speak to women more than it does to men, for whom this may be more about discovery ("oh, is that how that feels?"). The proof is in the pudding though: I binged all 13 episodes in one day.

Jesus Christ Superstar was Live in Concert on NBC Easter night, starring John Legend as Jesus, though I agree with most everyone that the truly great performances belong to Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas, and Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene (with Alice Cooper making a brief, fun appearance as King Herod). Legend is just too limited as an actor to really shine in a role that's enigmatic to begin with. Of course, I might also say that the real star is the staging. Very, very demanding choreography and special effects for a live event, and somehow, the camera follow it pretty impeccably. The weakest part of this version of the rock opera is the sound, a complaint that sounds worse than it is. It takes a couple of commercial breaks before they get the mix right, the music a bit too loud over the voices initially, the crowd doesn't know when to cheer (or rather, when NOT to cheer), and there are a couple of cut-outs where - I imagine? - somebody screamed an obscenity. This is what's going to prevent this show from coming out on DVD, probably. Of course, there's a properly recorded album available, but it won't include the lively visuals.

Spy Kids is very much a movie FOR kids, and some of us may resent the fact that Robert Rodriguez gave so much of his career over to making such things, though I do find it interesting that, as a parent, he wanted to make them. Somehow, it still features a version of Machete (for when his kids grow up and can watch violent action films?), which makes me a little disappointed Antonio Banderas isn't playing a version of El Mariachi. There's a lot of mad science and cartoon villains in this spy story, so it has more in common with Austin Powers than James Bond, but I can't say it's not imaginative. To adult eyes, it all seems very silly, and some of the humor is quite juvenile. But it's Rodriguez. His action scenes are vivacious and exciting, and the more subtle gags should elicit a smile from adults. I just wish the bad guys weren't such caricatures and ciphers is all, might have given the "adult world" in this a bit more menace.

Mamoru Hosoda's The Boy and the Beast is a beautifully produced anime (no surprise from the creator of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) about a runaway boy from modern-day Japan who crosses over into the magical world of beasts and becomes a wolf-man's apprentice. He is an unlikely prospect, but is the beast isn't the best teacher either. One might think they know where the film is going, but one would be wrong, at least on the plot side of things. There are twists and turns that will conspire to tear the boy apart, caught between his destiny and his nature, and an unexpected exploration of humanity's dark side via Moby Dick references. Psychologically and emotionally, the film is more predictable, but that doesn't take away from its charm and beauty. An interesting mix of fantasy and mundanity, which is pretty much the director's brand.

Stephen Chow (Royal Tramp, Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer) made a big splash in China a couple years ago with The Mermaid (couldn't help myself), a crazy romantic comedy about a mermaid trying to kill a polluting businessman and falling in love with him instead. It starts out rough. The prologue has nothing to do with the story, and the business dealings set up after that make for a strange and even off-putting dip in a very strange pool (again, sorry). But stick to it, because once the mermaid shows up, there are plenty of laughs, and when you're not laughing, you're admiring how sincerely weird it all is. Despite the slapstick and cartoonishness of the characters (don't expect psychological portraiture here), the movie can be fairly violent at times. It may be Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, but the damage looks real and painful. This is, after all, an ecological fable, and rather blunt about its message. Insert third aquatic pun here; I've learned how to resist my darker impulses.

The Defender, AKA The Bodyguard from Beijing, is a Jet Li vehicle directed by Corey Yuen, who can't help but shoot it in a vivacious way. But it's definitely in the shadow of Jackie Chan's police stories, with comedy performances, fights at the mall, and Jet playing a cop from the mainland in Hong Kong. He's there to protect a valuable witness, one that invariably falls in love with him. Bully for her, he's playing his traditional chaste monk persona (in a blazer). There's also an annoying kid, if that's an issue for you, and the music and sound design are pretty cheesy. Considering the strange editing, I would tend to blame the American "revised" edit for at least some of the problems. Question is: Is it a good action movie? Well, it's entertaining enough, but gun fu isn't Jet Li's greatest strength. He uses a lot of nice movement in those sequences, so it's not too bad, but you might get impatient for some hand-to-hand fighting, which finally happens in the climax. It's a very good fight too, tense, ferocious and imaginative. Too bad what precedes it is only okay.

Doctor Who Titles: Tried my best, but couldn't secure a copy of Snowmen. So on to the next one on the list.

Cold War looks like it's meant to be this decade's Infernal Affairs, seeing as it's looking like it'll be a trilogy. But though it tries, it's not quite at that level, either stylistically or in terms of character richness. Aside from the cheesy opener and even cheesier last scene between the two leads, what we have here is a solid crime drama with an important difference - it's really from the point of view of the cops' administrative level rather than the detective on the street. The power struggle between two would-be deputy commissioners, public relations during a crisis, and the investigation into their behavior when things go pear-shaped. It's quite interesting without being too exciting. Not to say there aren't some pieces of action, and well-crafted ones too (mostly car stuff), but though the trailer wants you to think it's wall-to-wall action, the truth is something very different. An intelligent crime thriller that plays things close to the vest, and I'm intrigued by the prospect of future chapters (Cold War 2 is, in fact, on Netflix). The DVD includes making of featurettes, with a focus on the action set pieces.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 11th Doctor, Amy and Rory go to Hong Kong and help the police figure out where their missing policemen are.


Anonymous said...

I think the issue with "Spy Kids" is, it really wasn't made for us. It was made for kids, and they didn't put much effort into adding other layers for adults. I'm okay with that. I actually saw it in the theater with a three-year-old, who found it scary at times -- that's fine, he was more the target audience than I was.

Siskoid said...

And everyone I know who saw it as a kid loved it to bits.


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