This Week in Geek (20-26/05/19)


In theaters: The third week since they killed John Wick's dog - Chapter 3: Parabellum - to my mind, should have been the end of the story, no matter how fun and successful these films are. The first film was a surprise cult hit, and a very efficient film. The second expanded the world in surprising ways while keeping everything very personal. The third just keeps things going, but doesn't make the big jump we saw between Chapters 1 and 2. Sure, we learn more about John's world and origins, but not that much, and I feel like the one important decision he makes is retrograde and goes against his character just to create a complication to justify this not being the last film. That said, it's still a heck of a great time at the movies, and as a self-professed lover of Hong Kong cinema, I will never be fed up with Keanu Reeves and company successfully bringing that style of action to American movies. Chapter 3 is wall-to-wall fights, and it certainly jumps the bar I set for every action movie I watch - does it show me something new? And it certainly does. The first few fights are quite novel and fun, while later, longer fights, while more traditional, have a visceral comic touch that provides respite from the relentless brutality. Beautiful choreographies, and an underdog motif that makes you care what happens.

At home: At first you think See You Yesterday is going to be Spy Kids with time travel, but there's an early F-bomb that sets you straight. Or you might notice Spike Lee is one of the Netflix Originals' producers, a designation it wears on its sleeve. After all, the event the kids try to undo by going back in time is the unlawful police shooting of a young black man. There's something of a clash between the bright colors and genius teenagers of the film and the strong language and bleak ripped-from-the-headlines nature of the plot, a combination that makes me ask "who is this FOR?!". It feels too Disney for older teenagers, and too dark for younger kids. It almost works, mind, and there's a message there about the sad inevitability (?) of these kinds of events in American culture. It falls apart in the last scene, because for the message to work (either as cynical statement or as hopeful message), we need closure one way or the other. It's not so much that the ending is ambivalent, but that it's missing a third act (or else has a unnecessary coda). Or are they planning on giving it a sequel? (Regardless, features an awesome cameo well worth catching.)

Set time machine to 2019 (uh-oh, darkest timelines intersecting!). Keywords: Running. Unavoidable death. References to 1980s sci-fi. Crazy cameos.

In The Running Man, Arnold Schwarzenegger is basically his screen persona as satirized in Last Action Hero. He has no real personality. He's just super-proficient at killing enemies, abnormally strong, always with the quips, and he says "I'll be back" at least once. In other words, sit back, relax, it's just dumb 80s action fun about game shows gone wrong as being used as the opium of the masses by a fascist America (so they got SOME things right). All jokes aside, the movie's idea of 2019 is oppressively 80s, back when we thought hair had to be big, and TV was the ultimate mind control. Even getting through this thing's opening credits is crazy, with the likes of Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa and Richard Dawson among the cast (plus a lot of wrestlers). Hey, maybe Arnie doesn't want to be shown up by better actors. (Sorry Arnie, you still have to act opposite Jim Brown.) Hey, it's not some kind of masterpiece, but it's pretty fun violent schlock (extra points for a killer hockey sequence).

A 1983 animated oddity from Lucasfilm (and completists should know Darth Vader and Indiana Jones both appear in live action), Twice Upon a Time is essentially an experiment. Or several. Not all of which result in gold. I do enjoy the visuals, a mix of watercolored cut-out animation, live action footage, and black and white photo-collage. The latter represents our (the real) world, under threat from the land of dreams, which the villain of the piece plans to flood with nightmares. The surreal characters and places, pictured as a cross between Terry-Toons and Monty Python, are entirely justified. Where I think the film goes wrong is the sound. The music is bad enough, with original songs that don't really fit the tone of the film, but the improvised banter and people talking over one another gives the soundtrack a messy feel that kept this viewer at a distance and frequently had me wonder what was happening. I liked it the more I watched it, but it's almost too imaginative for its own good and I can't give it higher than a passing grade.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... With all their Mara experience, the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa are ready to take on Synonamess Botch in the Land of Dreams, but will Turlough be lost when faced with a Trion nightmare specifically designed for him?

The Lonely Island Presents: The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience surprise-dropped on Netflix this week and billed as a visual poem is a collection of half-finished music videos supposedly pulled from disgraced baseball stars José Canseco and Mark McGwire's short rap career (played by Samberg and Kiv respectively). I love The Lonely Island, but I'm not exactly the target audience for the oddball (ha!) premise. And it certainly doesn't help that the songs don't feel complete - are longer videos for each going to follow? And well, there are no songs that immediately grabbed me the way past Lonely Island albums' have. Just junky 80s pop-rap parodies about living large and getting your bat stroked. Maybe if I listen to them again, but that really requires are record to be released. Or is it always going to be this one "concept" 30-minute short? I smiled here and there - Sterling K. Brown as a Sia avatar is... something, Maya Rudolph leading a girl gang... maybe there's more to this than I'm remembering. Maybe on repeat viewings, where I know what to expect, it'll feel like less of a head-scratcher.

Sidney Lumet's Deathtrap is a fairly amusing murder thriller initially about an over-the-hill playwright (Michael Caine) inviting his protégé (Christopher Reeve) to the house so he can kill him and steal his brilliant new play, and before long you realize it has a foot firmly planted in the con man genre. And while at first, the twists are kind of pleasant and well set up, this is eventually to the film's detriment as the "twist" becomes what you expect and there's little surprise behind it. When there IS a surprise, you're likely to say "enough already!". And perhaps part of the problem is that none of the characters are likeable. We like Caine and Reeve because they themselves are likeable screen presences, but we can't muster sympathy for either of them, nor are the female characters much better. Dyan Cannon as the playwright's wife is the character with the most moral depth, but she's a screaming ninny for most of her screen time and that's rather annoying. Deathtrap is a fun enough, plotty thing, but it lacks the heart to be any more than that.

A two-hour PSA about antisemitism, Gentleman's Agreement has its heart in the right place, but it really does feel like one of those short films they show in school about the evils of (smoking / spending / sexing / etc.), with the steady father figure explaining how the world works to his kids (Gregory Peck and tiny Dean Stockwell respectively), and the adult audience goes, yes, yes, we know. "Heavy-handed" doesn't even seem to cover it. "Stagey AF" also comes to mind. Still, the premise had some potential - Peck is a reporter who starts telling people he's Jewish (he's not) so he can study how people react and in the process uncovers (and this is where it's most interesting) the more casual, ingrained prejudice even "good people" have - and it doesn't really veer into White Messiah territory, but is instead a device to highlight what minorities would feel is everyday stuff. But it takes a half hour before Peck even HAS the idea for his article, during which time we're subjected to his budding romance (ok, that has a role to play in the film's subject matter) and his ill mother (which doesn't). It has its "woke" moments, and perhaps it had more impact in 1947 than it would today, but they are smothered in a dull sermon that's preaching to the converted, in my case.

Is Hot Millions the first movie about computer hacking? Peter Ustinov plays an embezzler/con man who, after a stint in prison after being caught by a computer, embarks on a grand scheme to use a company's computer system against itself. Of course, it's 1968 and the computer is a huge computer bank protected by a light bulb so it's all pretty goofy to modern eyes. And don't ask me to explain the scheme exactly, because I can't. Which is either a sign that the computer stuff is all quite correct for the era, or that it's complete nonsense. I can't tell. In any case, that's not really where the fun is at. Ustinov's performance is a lot of fun, and he's paired up with cockney, smarter-than-she-looks, Maggie Smith, who is an absolute joy (probably worth the price of admission all by herself), with weaselly Bob Newhart as the antagonist. You're never sure where the movie is going, or who has the upper hand on whom, and it's all very quirky and amusing. The tech may be outdated, but the comedy stills feels fresh.

Brian de Palma impersonates Alfred Hitchcock at least in the set up for Sisters, a demented thriller starring Margot Kidder as a set of now-separated conjoined twins, one sweet, the other murderous. Kidder is supposed to be French Canadian in this, and yes, I think her accented English is pretty on point. Nice! Of course, where she speaks actual French, you can tell she's neither a native speaker, nor doing any kind of Quebecker accent. Oh well. That's pretty typical for movies and TV. Anyway, though de Palma builds suspense in Hitchcockian ways, the material is more lurid and exploitative than anything Hitch has done outside of Frenzy, and time goes on, has rustlings of later de Palma disturbia. A sore point, I guess, is the reporter played by Jennifer Salt who is essentially our POV character. She's strident and quite clearly terrible at her job, and I just wanted something nasty to happen to her. Not saying if I get my wish, but the third act is so crazy, anything could happen. The movie really delves into the psychological/metaphorical symbolism of twinning for its plot, which makes it an underrated gem of 70s horror cinema.

15 years after The Passion of Joan of Arc, Dreyer returns to the concept of burning women at the stake in Day of Wrath, a talky, a talky but still awash with a silent cinema atmosphere, stark sets, expressionistic lighting, and faces and body language often telling more than the dialog. In Dreyer's world, God and the Devil are real forces, whether active entities, or merely symbols for virtue and sin, is something left ambiguous (and yet). The film opens and closes on verses from Revelations, but shows a more intimate Apocalypse, epic passages writ on the personal, individual level. In the wake of a witch being burned, the preacher's all-too-young wife falls in love with her husband's more vital son who has just returned home. So sin is definitely at play, but is she necessarily communing with the Evil One? Therein lies the suspense - fear of discovery, of accusation founded or unfounded, in a world where women especially can be murdered by a pointing finger - that makes the film so riveting despite being really rather quiet and introspective. If the staging sometimes feels old-fashioned, Dreyer captures subtle performances that demand examination. It's required if one is to make sense of so complex a study of the relationship between sin and guilt, which I think is at the heart of the matter - guilt defining what is virtuous or sinful. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK



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