This Week in Geek (30/04-06/05/18)


I got  The Kamandi Challenge hardcover; a couple of China Miéville novels, King Rat and The Last Days of New Paris; and the Star Trek Cookbook (the Neelix one), for research.


In theaters: Avengers Infinity War is, by necessity perhaps, very plotty. There's a lot of incident to get through, and a lot of characters to service, so while I could personally care less about the Children of Thanos as secondary antagonists for example, I'm not sure how you do the latter without them. And it's a plot that, while it has big stakes, is mostly something that can be (and must be) undone. So it lacked the emotional punch a lot of other MCU movies had, but it may play differently once Part 2 is released and we can look at this Avengers finale as one big story. One of the joys of the film is in seeing certain characters interact for the first time. Iron Man and Dr. Strange (this movie is a better ad for a Dr. Strange 2 than the first Dr. Strange was), Star-Lord and Thor (the Guardians with anyone from the main MCU really), the female heroes getting together, and so on. The unsung heroes are no doubt the editing team, because they know when to slow down for comedic beats, and manage to keep the momentum going in multiple third arc battle arenas without leaving you exhausted and bored. Infinity War is really Thanos' movie, he's the "hero", and that's really the only way to look at this as a complete movie. From the Avengers' perspective, it's a series of cool moments and super-powered battles. And because we're so invested in the characters from previous films, there's actually nothing wrong with that. A fun, if necessarily interrupted, ride.

(Cock) Blockers starts with a gender-reversed Superbad situation - teenagers plan to lose their virginity on prom night - but because the teen protagonists are girls, it's also about the parents trying to stop them from making what they view as a mistake. And don't worry, the double-standard isn't jut addressed, the film is ABOUT that double-standard. Any objections we might have had about the premise is indeed taken care of. Yes, there's dick jokes and gross-out comedy and very funny slapstick, but the movie is also respectful of young women, open-minded, heartwarming, and defies many of the expectations you might have built from the trailer and first act. A lot of people praise the adults, especially John Cena (who certainly has comedy chops), but I think the kids get a lot of funny things to say or do as well. It's an ensemble cast more than a three-hander. I shouldn't have been worried, this may be director Kay Cannon's first feature, but she was a director and producer on 30 Rock.

At home: The quickest way to describe Halt and Catch Fire is to say it's Mad Men for the 80s, with the computer boom replacing advertisement. I like it more though. In part because it doesn't dwell on the cultural differences between the era and today, and instead creates an exciting look at how the ubiquitous technology we have today evolved, while also getting us invested in the personal lives of its Jobs/Gates/Goldberg types. The people we follow are always on the bleeding edge - portable computers, online gaming, the internet... - and their stories adaptations of the challenges, reversals and backstabbing that are part of actual history. The first two seasons create a crisis every episode that must be overcome with cleverness, so are the most fun. The two latter seasons are more in service of the personal drama, but it's an investment that pays off by the end, whether you think the show sacrificed something fun to get there or not. A very nice surprised that left me more informed on the one hand, and teary-eyed on the other.

I have nothing against jukebox musicals, but Mamma Mia! only really triumphs because Abba songs are fun to sing. And it looks like the cast of this movie really WAS having fun. But I feel like getting big stars was more important to its makers than the actual singing and dancing. The two younger characters (Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper) can sing, but I can't even generously call the older set a mixed bag. Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård... not good singers, and I cringed every time they attempted a dance routine. Throw in some slapstick and naughty grandma sex talk for good measure. And the screwball comedy aspects don't even deliver structure-wise. The bit I really did like was the Greek chorus, making clever use of the setting to integrate a musical trope in a fun way. Wish it had been more consistent, actually. Because even there's a good number here and there, a good performance here and there, a good use of setting here and there, etc., the movie just doesn't complete the pass on any of it. It just feels like a half-assed lark for the cast and crew. I can see the appeal, but it was a bit unpolished for me.

Biopics are often a hard sell for me, even when I've made a point of seeing everything else a director has made, and Erin Brockovich is a good example why. I like them when they somehow transcend the material and tell a thematically coherent story. I don't care about them when they are inherently biographical and have a more informative value. Erin Brockovich has a worthy story about sticking it to a polluting corporation, and I guess we do learn about how class action suits work, but it also lacks focus by swinging back and forth between investigation/lawyer tactics and Erin's family life. I'm not entirely sure why we should care about the sacrifices this coarse single mother makes when her clients have much more powerful stories. Not to say this isn't well told. Soderbergh is a reliable director and Julia Roberts gives a good, if predictable, performance. Albert Finney as the lawyer is perhaps the highlight.

1980's Gamera: Super Monster has the dubious distinction of being the last kaiju movie of the Shōwa era (the first was 1954's Gojira), made almost a decade after the last Gamera film as a way to tave Daiei Studios out of debt. It didn't work. Using a framing tale about a trio of alien superheroines who depend on bad video effects and don't do a whole lot besides change in and out of costume, and - this is unclear - making it possible for a kid to use his imagination to turn a pet turtle into Gamera, the silly patchwork plot is an excuse to show clips of previous Gamera films, mostly final battles with the monsters. Hey, none of the Gamera films are especially strong, so as a "best of" you might show friends, it's less tedious than actually going through the giant turtle's filmography (or even a single one of its films). After a while, the bad effects, ridiculous plotting, and inane synth music (the superheroes use keyboards to work their technology) becomes a kind of camp delight. It's bad, but pleasantly so.

Doctor Who Titles: Before the Flood is Leonardo DiCaprio's response to being made United Nations envoy in matters relating to the environment. Like An Inconvenient Truth, it looks at climate change's effects all around the world, and spends a fair amount of time explaining the science and exposing the practices and policies that are making the situation worse every day. It's a depressing piece of film, of course, even more so 2 years after it was made, as any hope it gives seems to have been destroyed by the current U.S. regime's corporate agenda. The message is valuable, to be sure, but there's an important discrepancy between DiCaprio's written voice-over, which is good, and his onscreen presence where he's mostly stunned, repeating an expert's words to make sure he gets it, or lobbing soft questions at politicians. At least his high profile means more people might see this and start to believe climate change is real and, if addressed soon, eventually reversible.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 12th Doctor and Clara think climate change is caused by aliens, but no one listens cuz it turns out humanity is the real monster.

Heaven Sent (AKA Thank Heaven for Small Favors AKA Un drôle de paroissien - literally, A funny [or odd] parishioner) is an amusing French comedy from 1963 in which a pious aristocrat whose family is broke starts to steal from Parisian churches to rebuild their fortune. Look, they weren't born or taught to work! As his schemes become more and more ambitious, the police's church brigade executes a massive manhunt for the thief. Somehow, comedian Bourvil lends the character a naive sincerity that makes it impossible to see his actions as criminal or heretical, and the film's light heart engineers events so that no harm has truly been done by the end, not even to the rich slackers it sends up.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 1st Doctor and his crew investigate the church thefts to get their TARDIS out of the police impound.


De said...

I’ll give Blockers a look, thanks to your review. It may be a Netflix viewing, but I will watch it at some point.

Erin Brockovich is the movie I ended up seeing three times in the span of a week and a half. I’m not proud of this.

I’ll save the Avengers comments for the Fire & Water site.


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