This Week in Geek (26/03-01/04/18)

This is my 8000th post on Siskoid's Blog of Geekery. And it starts with me apologizing for yesterday's April Fool's joke. Now on to what SHOULD have run yesterday...

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: Pacific Rim Uprising is actually a good sequel to the original film, giving you more of the same but slightly different (daylight fights, new environments, etc.), and serving as a consequent outgrowth of the original's plot. It's not "let's do it again", it's "okay, 10 years later, what would be happening?". And it manages a number of surprising twists, leading you to believe you're watching one thing unfold, when actually it's something else. A couple times too. It also fixes the first film's problem by giving a couple of memorable heroes who can do humor (John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny). Del Toro did all the heavy lifting that comes with world-building, but strictly on plot and dialog, I may prefer this one. It was fun, despite being a little slow to reveal its stakes, and the ending calls for a third and final film that I really want to see. Somehow, Uprising is getting a lot of flack from both professional and armchair critics, but I'm in the other column.

Steven Soderbergh made Unsane with an iPhone (the technology's proof of concept assured by Sean Baker's Tangerine), which is very much a "medium is the message" idea, because the film is at least in part about the paranoia of being watched. Soderbergh might have shot the film more classically to prove the camera could do other things, but instead he makes it voyeuristic, like a device you don't know is on and filming you. In the film, a woman who believes she sees her stalker everywhere ends up institutionalized against her will, and her stalker may well be working there. Everything about this flick is designed to make you feel apprehensive and uneasy, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone who has mental health issues. It's just not going to reassure you or make you want to get the help you need. Wrapped up in this effective thriller is a commentary of how victims of stalking (or any man-on-woman crime, perhaps) are treated, this extreme case of gaslighting metaphorical ground for how one feels in such a situation. And this may be a trivial note, but stay for the entire credits. You'll understand why I said that once you have.

At home: I've been mostly charmed by Judd Apatow's output as a writer, director and producer, but his first couple films eluded me. They seemed like the kind of stupid sex/stoner comedy stuff I hate. And of course, there is some of that in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (the LGBT-themed jokes have dated horribly, if they weren't already dated in 2005), but Steve Carell pulls off a sweet romance with Catherine Keener (who I always like) as the title character, a nice enough guy for whom it never really happened and the longer he waited, the less important (and the scarier) it seemed. So while his bros are in charge of the obnoxious sex/stoner stuff, that's not at the center of the film. What I find interesting about Apatow's brand of comedy is that while its premises are rife with comic potential, it actually does explore the complex emotions that would (and do) result from those premises. Best part: The very ending as the credits come up.

Apatow's directorial follow-up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin is Knocked Up, about a one-night stand that results in a pregnancy. In other words, it's an upended romcom where the leads do the deed before getting to know each other, which creates stakes to whether or not they fall in love. Seth Rogen plays his usual lovable stoner and Katherine Heigl is the emotional center of the film without trying to BE funny and just believing the situations and the cast of loonies around her. It all comes out as a sweet feel-good comedy, though one with perhaps too many subplots for its own good. The stoner club trying to get a nudity-based website online, Paul Rudd as the absent husband of Heigl's sister, the internal politics at E!... Most of it pays off, most of it works in isolation, but as part of a larger structure, I'm not sure it all works in tandem with the A-plot. But at least it feels like the characters have lives outside of their romance.

Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday is a high achievement in screwball comedy, with its breakneck action and even speedier dialog. This is a film where the characters don't realize they've been fast-talked into doing something until it's too late. Rosalind Russell plays a reporter and Cary Grant is her editor, but they're also exes, and he can't understand why she should now want to marry an insurance salesman and get out of journalism. An explosion of wit ensues between these evenly matched characters. Terrific stuff. If there's a weakness here, it's the plot pulled from the play (and 1931 film) The Front Page, about a man not quite falsely accused of killing a "colored policeman" now unjustly(?) facing execution. Let's just say the politics of the film feel completely wrong-headed today, but we are warned at the top that this takes place in a different time. Shouldn't stop you from enjoying the cracking script and performances.

With The Prince of Egypt, Dreamworks made a 2D animated feature that is easily on par with Disney's best, certainly in terms of animation, managing CG assist a lot better than most films trying to do so in this era (or even later). Moses' story is made personal and psychologically consistent without sacrificing the harsh plot points of Exodus, taking us through his young adulthood as Ramses' brother through his release of the Hebrews (but not the journey to the promised land). It has several memorable songs and a pretty spectacular voice cast - you have to pass the 10th name mark on IMDB before you can't recognize a name on there. Val Kilmer is both Moses and God, Ralph Fiennes is Ramses, and the smaller parts are populated by the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Patrick Stewart, Helen Mirren, Steve Martin and Martin Short. Looks great, sounds great, adult yet not lacking in action... Should be on your Easter film list.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre, is an odd Shakespeare play in many ways. He didn't write the first two acts, and it shows, having fobbed it off to hanger-on George Wilkins, now recognized as a veritable hack. It's an attempt to put too much on stage, doomed Mediterranean travels in the style of The Odyssey (and consequently requires a sometimes-tedious chorus to cover the scene changes). It ends like a comedy, but isn't funny. Its hero thinks he's in a tragedy, but turns out he's wrong. We're in the Bard's experimental phase for sure. I do consider this examination of fortune's connection to virtue a failure, with too many plots and far too little motivation attributed to the characters. However, there are sequences I would not part with . The amazingly ribald scenes in the bordello, where Pericles' daughter Marina (the real, if late-coming - not a pun - hero of the piece) manages to keep her virginity are the closest we get to true comedy, for example. The BBC production looks good, but doesn't "fix" the play's problems. Pericles is a cipher, too much happens off-screen, while tedious dances and rituals are shown in real time. At 3 hours, Pericles may well test your patience.

Doctor Who Titles: I wish I could have liked The Power of Three, about three 50-year-old women looking to start over, a lot more. But like the movie the main protagonist (Toyah Willcox) is trying to get funded and made, its cheapness gets in the way. Its look is cheesy, the director is always sending us off into a musical montage, and the music often feels like it was pulled out of some rights-free file somewhere. And the acting and comedy are uneven. My countrywoman Robin Craig comes closest to well-pitched comedy with her slovenly lawyer, and South Africa's Brümilda van Rensburg has great screen presence, but Willcox's never-made-it director plays things broadly and inconsistently. The extended cast - which includes some older actresses, the film does what it preaches at least - features both naturalist and panto performances as well. Its heart is in the right place, but its ambitions are just beyond its means.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 11th Doctor, Amy and Rory make sure those douchey 3Fs can't stop Michelle from making her movie.
Some more classic MST3K movies (Netflix just added a dozen), regardless of comedy commentary... Time of the Apes is a kiddy-friendly Japanese rip-off of Planet of the Apes that takes place in a patchwork future of sets and costumes, mashing together fascist apes, flying saucers and 70s cars; it's dumb, but amusingly dumb. Fugitive Alien is another of these movies created in editing from Japanese TV shows, about a slightly-stronger-than-normal alien who joins Earth's space force and has episodic adventures; it's confusing and horribly acted. The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy is a goofy title with promise, but it's just a boring Mexican clip show, a story told more than shown, with a mad scientist and robot plot tacked on for bad measure. Devil Fish is too boring a Jaws rip-off considering it features movies' first Sharktopus; a lot of oceanographer types giving exposition in mix-and-match accents. Made behind the Iron Curtain, it's possible First Spaceship on Venus has value in its original form, but the Roger Corman dub/edit features loads and loads of dry exposition; I'm surprised the spaceship could even take off with all of that aboard. I am hardwired to like even bad giant monster films more than I should, but Gorgo - which gives London its own kaiju - is actually pretty good, all things considered, especially the scenes of destruction in the last act. And good thing for that last one, because I had trouble staying interested in the batch recently made available even with the comedy commentary.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder what sort of idiot is responsible for Netflix's MST3K offerings. Probably an electrician.

I find most of the Sci-Fi years are pretty solid; the list of "eh, skip it" movies is pretty short. Yet that's where I'd put "Devil Fish" and "Gorgo".

Go watch "Horror of Party Beach"; it doesn't get nearly enough love. It's about a water monster not in England or Italy (oops, I mean Florida) but in New Jersey.

Siskoid said...

To MST3K's credit, those episodes still had some fun in-between bits (the devil dogs etc.) but three of the movies were omnibi, and 4 out of 6 had too predominant dull exposition. Hopefully the next 6 have more tonal variety.

Michael May said...

I'm with you on Pacific Rim 2. I prefer it to the first one thanks to better characters and a lighter tone.

Siskoid said...

It's us versus the world, Michael!!!

Michael May said...

I can get us some mechs. :)

 

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