This Week in Geek (10-16/09/18)

Gifts

My friend Amelie (from oHOTmu or NOT, among other places) gave me a watercolor painting of a tuxedo cat podcasting, which I will show when I next post an oHOTmu episode, don't worry.

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: It's rare that we get a viable comedy thriller hybrid, but that's exactly what A Simple Favor is. Anna Kendrick's impeccable comedy timing sets the tone early on, as a vlogger mom (we're really getting a lot of computer-savvy movies this month, aren't we?) who befriends Blake Lively's femme fatale and gets into a thriller plot. And overall, it works as a dark comedy, breathing life into tired tropes. The two tones do gnaw at each other, with Kendrick's past drama pushing against her comic persona, but I'm sure thriller fans who don't get the joke will find the comedy a distraction. I certainly wasn't sure about the third act turn (a recurring problem in these kinds of stories), but it turned out well in the end. If the film isn't exactly flawless, Kendrick and Lively's chemistry as a deadly odd couple is enough to carry the picture, even if it didn't have help from lots of fun performances from day players. Great French music soundtrack.

At home: I probably didn't see Blue Thunder in theaters, because I was 12 and it has nudity, so I came to the police stealth combat helicopter concept through the short-lived television show the following year (Dana Carvey had the Daniel Stern role? Whaaaa?!) battling it out with Airwolf, which I also watched and which won and lasted three seasons. But I did see Blue Thunder: The Motion Picture on TV at some point. Watching it again for the first time in at least 30 years, it changes gears with every act. It starts as a specialized police procedural, then becomes a paranoid techno-thriller that's still current today (though I guess it would be drones now), and ends as a ridiculous action movie filled with chases and vehicular mayhem. Each tone has its value, but doesn't aside from the messy juxtaposition, tends to run with the most obvious cop movie clichés. Ultimately, it mostly coasts on Roy Scheider's immense charm.

I like the Don Quixote story, and I love the songs in its musical version, Man of La Mancha, so I was essentially hard-wired to like the 1972 film version, no matter its weaknesses. Mostly, these can be summed up as a lack of directorial facility with musical choreography - too many cuts make a mess of the action, or else characters just stand there like dead marionettes - and very stiff make-up on Peter O'Toole's Don Quixote make-up. Even so, O'Toole is touching as the old knight, and his Dulcinea is fiercely played by Sophia Loren. The production has fun going from the frame tale, with Cervantes putting on a show in prison, to his fantastical story, even if it takes a while to get going (did we need his arrest?). The dialog is filled with poetry. And that heartbreaking climax... It can't help but draw all the tears out of me. Had 45 minutes to kill before going to bed, so I sort of relived it by putting the Quantum Leap episode where Sam has to perform the musical into the DVD player. Like I said, I'm a complete sucker for Man of La Mancha. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

So Rainer Fassbinder made The Matrix in 1973? Wow. Made for German television as a two-parter, World on a Wire is long (and necessarily repeats information) and has little in the way of effects, but it's not boring. It goes the only route someone could go back then, head on into existentialism. Are we experiencing the real world, or a simulation for the amusement of others. In the film, a lab has built a computer that can run that simulation for a few thousand digital characters, but evidence mounts of a conspiracy to hide the truth - that they themselves may be living in a simulation. And yet, all these levels of reality are essentially the same, and the question we're meant to ask is whether irreality is actually a part of the real world. When we see people acting strangely, or having incomplete lives, or misremembering, how much of that is partial perception and how much might be a "computer glitch"? And even if our world is an echo of another, how far does it go? The ending/revelation isn't ambiguous, except it is. And Fassbinder's direction is as brilliant as it is off-putting, with a roaming, question camera, intriguing shots that evoke levels through mirrors and odd angles, and bright, oversaturated colors. It's a gorgeous piece that is worth looking at just for that reason even if one would find the intellectual puzzle a little too dry for one's tastes.

I love Mothra, but I'd never seen her without Godzilla. Her original stand-alone film is less Gojira than it is King Kong, with natives worshiping her as a god, etc. The twin pop star fairies are the ones kidnapped for entertainment purposes, so it's not Kong exactly, but it's definitely a remix. A charming one with mostly strong effects (toy cars flying around not withstanding), pitched younger than the original Gojira, tending towards the Gamera end of the scale with its juvenile slapstick and a child hero as part of the cast. It is odd, I admit, to see Mothra cause so much wanton destruction, seeing as she's usually very much the goody when she guests in Toho's other films, but GIVE HER BACK HER BEAUTIES! Weirdest of all is the introduction of Rolithica, a fictional country, neighbor to Japan, which is essentially the United States, which allows Mothra to attack New York City--I'm sorry, New KIRK City. Mothra is a monster with several stages of development (egg - caterpillar- cocoon - butterfly), so all her stories involve a lot of waiting around for that glorious, final form, but it's usually worth it. In the classic kaiju canon, Mothra is a relatively light offering, imaginative and cute, and mostly harmless (for a living hurricane anyway).

Every shot is a wonder in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, its film noir cinematography and inevitability supporting its theme of calumny (a character asks "what does it matter what we say about people", but it is the single most destructive thing someone can do in this film) and its oppressive claustrophobia pushing characters into the same frame just as Mexico and the U.S. are pushed together into frictive action in its border town setting. Everything pays off, from Grande's cigar suggestively sticking out toward Janet Leigh's face to the helpful reminder stuck on the hotel room door. Mexico is mostly shot at night, the U.S. mostly in the day (which only serves to expose corruption), creating the sense of two worlds. Welles is good, if shouty, as the corrupt detective, and Charlton Heston is fine though I always find it distracting when he gets to play a brown-skinned character, but it's Janet Leigh I want more of. She's really great in this, though doomed to go to the wrong motel and more or less get shuffled off screen (two years before Psycho, that is a very specific typecasting). Even so, it's the look of the film - not the actors, not the plot - that is the real star here.
Role-playing: Episode 2 of our BARD&D game has The Tragically Imps have to rescue their big outdoor show in Greenest (opening for Dash Monk, a two-faced electronica musician who uses fantasy deck pipes and amp stones to stage massive dance parties - she was played by our friend Joelle) when shenanigans at the hobbit farm that acts as venue make the show's main investor balk. The band investigates, gets to know a large cast, sleeps in miniature digs, promises to keep the chickens laying eggs with soft ballads, fixes bridges between neighbors through the power of music, and deals with the impish prankster before he strikes again. This mystery had more meat to it - indeed, a lot of clues were never uncovered... or needed, I guess - but less action. Maybe the pendulum can swing the other way next time...
Set list - Forget You (Camilla and the Chickens), Fiddler's Green (The Tragically Hip), Four Leaf Clover (The Old 97's), Superheroes (Daft Punk), Get Lucky (Daft Punk)

 

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