This Week in Geek (23-29/04/18)


Got myself a couple of t-shirts from the Fire and Water Network Merch page - one from the One-and-Done Wonders Podcast, and the other from Punch Like a Girl.


In theaters: Wes Anderson's stop-motion homage to influential Japanese film-makers (so influential, you'll sometimes think he's referencing spaghetti westerns), Isle of Dogs (cute pun), is indeed a feast for the eyes. I'm not surprised that such a meticulous director who create something so rich in detail, a diorama come alive, with a great voice cast, juggling tragedy and comedy with a deft touch. I WAS surprised, however, that the film was so political, evoking the horrors of the past, present and hopefully not future in its use of propaganda, concentration camps, and genocide. I like the canine cast a lot - it delivers laughs, pathos and variety - while the humans have their own fun/tragic dramas going on. Isle of Dogs is clever and fun to look at, possibly touching, but most of all, it's charming as all get-out. Give your pet a cuddle when you come out of this one.

At home: As a teenage Douglas Adams fan, I of course read his Dirk Gently novels, but was disappointed at the time that they were so grounded, compared to Hitchhikers' Guide. Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, the television show, doesn't retread the books however. Rather, they happened in the past, and now Dirk is in America, teaming up with Elijah Wood and a cast of zanies on season-long (8-to-10-episode) holistic cases. Each season has a lot of energy and absurdist humor, but tends to end with a bad case of epiloguitis. Season 1 feels the need to explain its convoluted plot several time while shuffling its characters around. Season 2 doesn't do it as much, but it's bothersome that it does so at all, seeing as it sets up plot threads that will dangle forever. The show's not coming back. Too bad because even if I had problems with it from time to time - I do wonder if the secret government agency and attempt to explain "people like Dirk" was surplus to requirements - it was never not watchable. Bart the holistic assassin (played by Fiona Dourif - yes, of THOSE Dourifses) was a particular favorite. No idea how it compares to the short 2010 BBC Dirk Gently series, but this version was a fun mix of genres and insane, anything-could-happen, plotting.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle had enough innate charm for me to give Central Intelligence, in which Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart play similar characters, a chance. When they were in high school together, Hart was the most popular and accomplished kid in school; Johnson was "the fat kid", always getting bullied. In fact, the only person who was ever nice to him was Hart. Now it's 20 years later, and that fat kid has become The Rock, a CIA agent on the run who needs Hart's help with accountant stuff. The plot is nothing revolutionary, but the action beats are fun, and though Johnson maybe plays his character a bit broadly (Hart is the point of view character, really), there's still a lot of charm in the buddies' dynamic. The result is rather sweet and inoffensive, which is an odd thing to say about an action flick. So as an amusing if unambitious star vehicle, it's pleasant enough.

Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy may be in the shadow of Tim Burton's Batman movie - a highly designed comic book/strip pulp with a pretty similar climax - but it goes its own, I think. Rather than make something more realistic, which has been the trend in the last couple decades, it goes further into the comic strip aesthetic, and ends up looking gorgeous. It's a world that follows the rules of four-color comics, with a limited, but vibrant palette used in props, costumes, and lighting. Much of the all-star cast is covered in latex, according to the strip's caricatural style, but it's amazing who Beatty got to be in this movie considering! I'm a big fan of Stephen Sondheim, and he wrote all the songs for Breathless (no, I don't really mind Madonna in this, being in a noir and/or comics film allows for a limited performance, and she's better in this than in anything else I've seen her in). On a plot level, the film is nothing too special. A supercop must stop a gangland turf war and so on, with a love triangle and a kid that needs adoption. But it works as pastiche, the action is less important than the visuals, which give the project a sort subversive humor, and much of its charm.

Gamera vs. Zigra was the last Shōwa-era Gamera movie for 9 years (and 1980's Super Monster, which I'll force myself to watch next, is a big clip show), but it's not a bad one, I don't care WHAT you say. Maybe I'm just partial to any Gamera film that DOESN'T turn into a clip show. Granted, Gamera is Godzilla's cheap knock-off, and the production values and scripts are almost always inferior, but within its own canon, Zigra has some value. The monster starts life as a medium-sized creature living in a flying saucer (so smarter than usual) and only mutates into a giant shark later, and it's a monster that provides nice opportunities for crazy action, and that doesn't rely, as so many Gamera opponents have, on a large and unlikely variety of super-powers. There's some padding with showing animal tricks at Sea World, but also a good twist on the alien invasion formula, and a bit of an ecological fable. Some may draw the line at the totally camp moment that comes with Gamera's victory over Zigra, but I thought it was hilarious and would ask: "Wait, you were taking this series SERIOUSLY?!"

Stanley Kubrick's Lolita - and it is right to call it Kubrick's rather than Nabokov's, as it infamously doesn't follow the book nor Nabokov's screenplay - finds perhaps the only way to take the scandalous premise about a an older man who has an affair with  provocative teenage girl and turn it into a film in 1962, and that's to turn it into a black comedy that suggests a sexual relationship but never shows it or truly says it. And so we have James Mason as a pathetic university professor, at first awkward, then paranoid the young Lolita will find someone age-appropriate, or that he will be caught by neighbors or police (which gives the comedy thriller elements). And of course, there's Peter Sellers, prefiguring his work on Dr. Strangelove with a lively, multiple performance. I'm sure this was all very risqué at the time (Lolita's Sue Lyon who played this at 15 wasn't even old enough to go see it!), but seems very tame now. I still enjoy the game of innuendo the director is forced into and don't need it to go farther. For all the comic malaise, it still manages to find a more universal truth in its examination of desire and jealousy.

Doctor Who Titles: I'm very close to the end of the project (the Capaldi era), so I feel like escalating things to more than one film a week.

In 1962, Donald Pleasence won a Tony Award for his work on the Harold Pinter play "The Caretaker". In 1963, he reproduced that performance on film. He plays a homeless man who is invited into a one-room apartment by Robert Shaw, and soon told he can stay as caretaker. Shaw's sadistic brother played by Alan Bates also lives there as the homeless man will come to find out. This was my first exposure to Pinter and a bit of a shock. I had to read up to really process what I had just watched. The Caretaker (AKA The Guest) definitely has Pinter's trademark menace, a claustrophobic world (even when they open it up a little because it's a film) where everyone seems dangerous, at least verbally. There's certainly a touch of the absurd in the way people speak, often without really answering one another. Gave me a taste for more. In the end, I came to see this particular play as a treatise on our need to take care of one another, but inability (or unwillingness) to do so. It is a cruel and thus off-putting play, but in no way did it give up all its secrets and interpretations in a single viewing.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... Turns out the TARDIS inspired Aston to build that special shed, a temporally-induced madness part of his motivation. The 1st Doctor and Susan might feel at home in this story given its unsettling Ron Grainer score.

Dark Water, by the director of Ringu, follows a newly-divorced woman trying to hold on to the custody of her small daughter when she moves into a water-logged apartment building haunted by a dead girl. I wouldn't say there's much of a mystery - it's pretty obvious what might have happened, and we're usually many steps ahead of the characters. Though it gets a bit more monstery in the third act, I wouldn't exactly call it terrifying, so as a horror picture, it's a little tepid. But it does work as a supernatural drama/tragedy where the water has metaphorical ties to placental fluids, about a vulnerable woman afraid of losing her daughter to a cold, antagonistic ex-husband. Or perhaps she must realize her own anxiety and depression are actually what puts her daughter at risk. While some people will indeed find it scary, perhaps in a more profound way, I am content with it being an atmospheric, hallucinatory family drama.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 8th Doctor (with Fitz and Anji) are in their element investigating a manifestation of sentient water in urban Japan. Surprisingly, his 10th incarnation never mentions it while running around on Mars later.


De said...

I nearly walked out of Isle of Dogs 5 minutes into the film. I’ll avoid spoilers here, but you can probably figure out what I’m referring. However, I’m glad I stuck with it. One of the best films of 2018 for me.


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