This Week in Geek (8-14/04/19)

Gifts

Dr. G, Man of Nerdology, sent me the Doom Patrol sourcebook/adventure Moonshot for DC Heroes, one of the few pieces missing from my collection. Gee, thanks, G!

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: Full disclosure, I've never seen the original Pet Sematary movie nor read the book. I'm not much of a Stephen King guy. I did learn from friends that they switched around a couple things in the remake's plot, but I have no real basis for comparison, so I'm coming to this as if it were the story's first adaptation. I tells its story well enough, a tale of SOMEthing in the woods raising the dead, first pets, but what next? The principals, adults and children both (oh, and felines too), give good performances even if the movie could have stressed the pull of the Wendigo a bit more to explain their characters' motivations a bit more. Of course, there's the King trope of people getting creepy visions no matter what the supernatural element. Possibly why I'm not a King guy. The subject matter is unsettling on the surface of it, but it should be more so when you're killing and undead-ing pets and other loved ones. The movie doesn't seem to want to show any really distressing moment, as if going for a PG-13 rating (which it didn't get anyway). So it's fine, but it doesn't really add anything to the genre or to the canon of Stephen King adaptations. Without its jump scares, would I even have reacted strongly to anything?

At home: Show of hands. Who, when they first saw This Is Spinal Tap, thought it was a real documentary about a real band they'd never heard of? At least for a little while? At what point did you realize? I think that happened to me back in those days when maybe I didn't know all the actors on sight. Because the King of All Mockumentaries entirely nails the look and feel of what it is parodying, right down to the treatment of old video from the fictional band's previous incarnations and the way the live shows are filmed. A lot of the comedy percolates in the background and you might miss it on first watch (Spinal Pap, ha!), and I mean, the songs are bad, but no worse than what was on the radio in the early 1980s (or indeed, at any time in radio history). As Spinal Tap gets more and more humiliated, that it is a comedy (and not an accidental one) becomes more apparent, but it shows its heart by the end, so it works as a realistic story too. Still the mockumentary against which all others are measured.

How charming! 1951's Royal Wedding features (in the background of course) the real Princess Elizabeth's wedding as opposed to some fictional kingdom like Martovia! (It's fact, insert any consonants in the space provided in "Mar__via" and you get a ready-made Balkan country for your 1930s-1950s comedy/musical.) That lends it a real sense of occasion, even if it doesn't actually feature prominently in what is, like many Fred Astaire affairs, a mostly plotless contrivance to hang song and dance numbers (and romance) on. You can count on director Stanley Donen to work extra hard to create numbers we haven't seen before, and he supplies a couple of fun, even great, ones. The two numbers on gimbled sets are most impressive. Co-star Jane Powell is uneven, best when she's playing the comedy, but I'm not a big fan of the high-voice romance stuff. What makes me go as high as four stars, however, is that care was taken to craft all the smaller parts in the film. There's something quirky, amusing and memorable about all of them, so the talking scenes are good too.

How very weird! I was eventually completely sold on Pennies from Heaven (the 1981 feature version), but it took a while. What you're faced with: A period musical in which Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, among others, lipsynch to 1930s musical numbers (but... but... you had Bernadette Peters RIGHT THERE!!!), with ludicrous dance numbers (not a bad thing) going on in the characters' minds. And it's depressing as hell, contrasting the happy-ever-after escapism of musicals with the harsh reality of Depression-era Middle America. And once you realize that's what's going on, that it is essentially a deconstructionist piece, it starts to make sense and though a very black comedy, fun in its way. It takes the tropes of those old musical comedies and gives them a realistic spin, so the cad isn't so charming, the love affairs not so romantic, and the endings not so happy. In fact, everyone you would care for in a normal movie, you probably won't. Pennies From Heaven might even push the ugliness over the line, at times, but it has a way of getting its teeth into you.

The very first film adaptation of The Saint is RKO's The Saint in New York (1938) with Louis Hayward playing the lead role with murderous glee as he goes up against a list of New York crime lords on behalf of a city that hasn't been able to get rid of them legally. The Saint here is bloodthirsty, but in a fun, witty way, and though it's his first movie appearance, the character is mid-career and everyone knows who he is, providing a touch of world-building before he even makes it on screen. There's a LOT of incident in what is less than 70 minutes, enough that I wasn't always sure where we were in the plot, which made it feel like a serial, but it somehow lacked in the way of pacing. I can't help but wonder what it would have been like if Alfred Hitchcock had directed it as was originally discussed. As is, it's not a bad way to spend an hour and some change, it has a breezy atmosphere, mercilessly deadly action, sharp dialog, and even a couple of amusing henchmen (get them a dictionary, for Pete's sake!).

Odd Man Out is nominally about an IRA (in all but name) leader who, after getting separated from his crew during an operation, wanders the streets of Belfast wounded, exhausted, alone and with a murder on his conscience. I say "nominally" because while James Mason's Johnny McQueen is a sympathetic, tragic figure, the film is more concerned with the character of the city itself, or really, its population. At every turn, McQueen meets people in a position to help him, turn him away, or turn him in (among them a young William Hartnell). What will they choose? Though it sometimes feels more episodic than I'd want it to be, it does paint the picture of a world where the citizens may well side with the terrorists against the authorities. Though no overt mention is made of the IRA, or of the issues surrounding the conflict in Northern Ireland, it's in the mind of everyone we meet. I grew a little listless in the second act, but the third really brought it home. A memorable ending to say the least. This is from Carol Reed, the same director who gave us The Third Man, so I don't need to add that it has impeccable black and white cinematography, do I?

Given Jim Brown's participation as a town's first black sheriff in the Deep South, I thought ...Tick... Tick... Tick... was going to be the blaxploitation version of In the Heat of the Night, but it's played pretty straight, and is the better for it. Brown shares the hero duties with George Kennedy as the bitter sheriff who just lost the election to him, and he's really good in the picture. What the two men have in common is their dedication to the word of the law. Regardless of their relative level of privilege, they're not about protecting one community over the other, and they both suffer for it, from both sides. The events of the film are well designed to test the limits of the town folk's racist obstructionism for its own sake, and rather than go into lurid action material, the consequences shown felt pretty reasoned and realistic (even if it means the time bomb evoked by the title is perhaps overstated). The characters had families and back stories and weren't just empty avatars for the plot. Full props too to director Ralph Nelson who manages to sneak in some good visuals and sound design, making this a very nice surprise on all levels. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

1957's 3:10 to Yuma is a fairly tense western thriller in which one man (Van Heflin) does his duty and escorts an outlaw (Glenn Ford) to a train before his boys attack and free him. Heflin looks like an ordinary schmoe, trying to keep his head down until money is offered, but can the outlaw seduce him with even more? Ford, for his part, is sly and charming, and totally steals the show. He's more scoundrel than criminal, and the audience's sympathies may well lie with him. The film makers' too. Often compared to High Noon, it also plays a waiting game and requires its hero to be ethical when every instinct says that's neither practical nor healthy. It's not as suspenseful as that film, but it's perhaps more of a testing ground for its characters' morality, on both sides of the equation. In High Noon, there's evil by way of inaction. In 3:10, characters make choices that will either doom them or redeem them. We will know if the right choice was made by whether or not Helfin's rancher is graced with fortune or not.

Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time is a very cheap movie, the kind you might make with your friends over the span of several years, though you managed to get enough dough together to do a lot of CG effects (not good ones, but still), and pay a couple of name actors for a day each, like David Ogden Stiers and Walter Koenig (rather clever casting, that). Because that's exactly what it is. Director Rob Taylor plays both Neil Stryker AND the Tyrant of Time, but you can't really tell, in a super-agent going up against mad scientist who wants to mostly ruin Christmases past and present action comedy that's watchable despite the low production values. I'm less bothered by the cheap CG as I am the terrible fright wigs that make everything look like an SNL sketch. The film loses the plot a couple times, most notably in the goblins chapter (does Taylor know what he's pastiching anymore?), but the biggest problem is that, perhaps in trying to mock macho action flicks of an earlier era, the film often comes across as misogynistic. A lot of crazy stuff in here, but one thing it forgets to throw at us with the kitchen sink is a likable character or two. Everyone's a jerk, there's no heart, and so it IS a kind of extended sketch that can't sustain our amusement the whole way through.

Set time machine to the 1990s. Keywords: A hero and a villain sharing a face. Ridiculous explosions. A child in danger. An obvious link to the Archer animated series.

I don't know what it is about Hong Kong directors coming to Hollywood that doesn't resonate with me the way their Chinese-language work does, but Face/Off isn't as memorable an experience for me as it is for most action fans. I'm almost sure that if John Woo had made this face-changing movie with Chow Yun Fat and Andy Lau, with the same fireworks squibs, insane villainy, explosive boat chases, and riffs on the Mexican standoff, I'd have eaten it up. (Maybe cut the doves in a church bit, which just feels like a producer told Woo he could repeat himself because audiences likely hadn't seen his HK stuff.) Underwhelmed though I may be, I can't deny the film is often effective. There's real tension when the bad guy meets the good guy's family. Nicholas Cage is a good hero, and Travolta a good villain (though I don't think we get enough of Cage's antics as the villain to really make the switch sing). There are some fun action sequences - the prison break is likely underrated - and Woo knows how to spin a good leitmotif (pointing their guns at the mirror, for example). The more I think about it, the more virtues I find, but it's no Hard-Boiled or anything.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you're checking out mockumentaries, be sure to catch the original one, the Rutles:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Vt4ejyosn4

On the one hand, the Rutles are clearly a Beatles pastiche, and the humor is more obvious, in the direction of Monty Python exaggeration. On the other hand, they had Neil Innes write over a dozen really good Beatles songs, and Eric Idle even talks about the time George Harrison and Ringo Starr were sitting in with Innes and performing Rutles material (!):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1hpx-vHBm8

My personal favorite Rutles tune, see if you can detect any Beatles influences, any whatsoever:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qf8y7v0WIE

 

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