This Week in Geek (6-12/05/19)


In theaters: Long Shot can't escape its romcom structure, but I do like all the actors involved, and Canadian National Treasure Seth Rogan and World Treasure Charleze Theron have a lot of chemistry. Plus, if you take away the drug stuff and the lucky romance, I've kind of BEEN Rogan's character, the intensely-integrious speech writer/coms officer who blows up at his boss for betraying their values and moreover, the OFFICE'S values. This movie wears its politics on its sleeve and I appreciate that. It also has a pretty fun recurring gag about Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau (under a different name, but still), and some pretty adult, serious relationship moments. And it somehow manages to present a real political story while also taking place in a slightly ridiculous world (but absurdly, it's not that far off reality). At over two hours, it sometimes lags, but far less than I expected. Like most of Rogan's comedy, it has a lot of heart, and I'm always forgiving of the stuff I don't think works very well when there's a lot of heart.

At home: The Misfits is both Marilyn Munroe and Clark Gable's last completed film, and it's hard not to get a pang of sadness when they toast to living forever in one particular scene. When I first saw it in Film History class, it was sold to us as the "last western", chronicling the end of a cinematic era as tastes changed going into the 1960s. But it says goodbye to more than that. It's a farewell to the man's man represented by Gable's aging cowboy, now living in a world where divorce and independent women are possible. A kinder, more empathetic world where his way of life is overtly brutal, cruel, and pointless, and where his rugged charm fails him, he and his sidekick (Eli Wallach) bristling at the thought of being emasculated by the situation. But it'S Marilyn you care about, a woman trying to disentangle herself from the simple role of love interest, and giving such a melancholy performance, your heart goes out to her, and your tears follow it right out of your eyes. Her own screen persona is examined, and behind it we find a sad woman, rejecting what has gone before. Last western? It signals the end of a lot more film tropes than those of that one genre, sometimes with nostalgia, sometimes with necessary modernity.

The Harder They Fall starts with really tense music, and I was wondering what the urgency was all about. Well, this film noir/boxing movie hybrid is extremely suspenseful all the way through, and the opener is priming us for it. In this, Humphrey Bogart's last film, he plays a down-on-his-luck sports writer hired as a press agent by a crooked fight promoter to make a lumbering, talentless, and naive giant a star. So the question becomes: Who is the title referring to? Bogie who has already fallen, rises again and sets himself up for a fall? The promoter sitting on ill-gotten millions? Or the poor fighter, who surely will meet a boxer who won't take a dive at SOME point? And therein lies the tension, the last act replete with moments where you fear for the characters (the ones not part of the mob anyway). Everyone needs money in this picture, but the biggest fight isn't in the boxing ring, it's capitalism vs. integrity. Does the latter even have a chance? In there is a comment about fighting as a sport and how we take care of the people we send into the grinder. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

Monster Brawl is what you get when you remake Orgy of the Dead, but replace the stripteases with wrestling matches. Had to watch it because local celebrity Robert Maillet's in it, and though the wrestling event pastiche is, by its nature, pretty plotless, there are still some funny jokes, cool fight moves, and shock-gore moments. Basically, you're watching an event as it would be presented on TV, the only sanctuary from the ring the "pre-taped vignettes" that introduce each fighter and shows how they were recruited to fight either for the Creatures or Undead conferences. Kid in the Hall Dave Foley and Art Hindle act as commentators and are frequently amusing, though you get the sense very few actors worked more than a day or two on the picture. Lance Henriksen is the Mortal Kombat "Voice of God". I enjoyed it for what it was, but there's also a lot of dead air, in part because the movie can't afford a crowd of onlookers so fighter intros fall pretty flat. The last fight is over-long and by that time, we've seen what the finalists bring to the table already and there are fewer surprises. Probably more fun for wrestling fans than common mortals.

You know when you watch a movie for Shirley MacLaine and she really isn't in it enough? Well, that's the case with Some Came Running, and it hurts even more because she's the best thing in the film. Maybe even the only thing. She's so natural and sincere. Truth is, this Sinatra-led melodrama feels impossibly dated by its rampant 1950s-style misogyny. I waited and waited for the film to show that it was aware of itself, and maybe at the end, it means to say so, but I'm not sure it does. It's a whole lot of toxic masculinity, men behaving badly towards women and never truly feeling the consequences. The men are such shitbirds, it makes every romantic entanglement feel foolish and undeserved. The women in the picture try to decide their own fates, but the world they live in doesn't want them to, and if the story had been told more from their point of view, the indictment of the patriarchy might have worked. But this is also a story where it is overtly said that "great men" should be forgiven their trespasses. Women are just willing victims, paying for men's sins. So I don't know. It might be trying to only show society and let the audience judge, but it's damn hard to watch.

Radius has a great Twilight Zone premise. A man wakes up with amnesia and finds people and animals die in proximity to him, within a certain (all together now) radius. As he struggles to figure out what's happening, how it's happening, and how he can keep himself from killing anyone, he meets someone who seems immune to his abilities. The mystery deepens. This Canadian cheapie shot in Manitoba (but sadly not played AS Manitoba, does the American market really NEED this to be set on the East Coast which looks nothing like that?!) is extremely intriguing, until the third act when the plot definitely goes pear-shaped. While the twist does, in a way, link to the situation in a metaphorical way - which I want - it feels more than a little hackneyed. Mileage may vary, so I won't spoil it. I'm just saying the answers aren't half as interesting as the questions. Oh well. Good try though. Very nearly satisfying.

After really digging John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix, I was keen on seeing The Gypsy Moths, which replaces Formula 1 drivers with daredevil skydivers. Their lives, their loves, an attempt at discerning what makes such men tick, and difficult-to-capture, done-for-real stunts. Yes, we get all that, but it's not quite as exciting as that previous film was. For one thing, it's top heavy. We start with an aerial stunt, but then spend more than an hour on their personal lives before finally getting to air show, which becomes a montage of jumps practically to the end. The show is neat, but the film never attempts to balance its ups and downs and is mostly stuck in the down position. Part of the problem is that everyone in this is so sad, except for Gene Hackman's character. Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr's From Here to Eternity reunion is lifeless despite the surprise nudity because their characters are so dour. There's a weird tension between them, as if they knew each other already, that's intriguing, but never justified or explored. Scott Wilson as the melancholy younger member of the trio has a good role, but lacks expression. Oh look, Bonnie Bedelia long before Die Hard! Sorry, got distracted there. I wish The Gypsy Moths had been a bit more exhilarating, but it's really kind of a downer.

Take the start of The Time Machine, where H.G. Wells invites friends to dinner so he can show them his time machine, but imagine Jack the Ripper is among his guests and makes a quick getaway to the future (which in this case is 1979). That's Time After Time. A mixed bag of a film, it spends a lot of time on fish-out-of-water material with Malcolm MacDowell's Wells running around modern San Francisco, chasing after his former friend (played by David Warner). Kind of takes some of the urgency out of it, but on a plot level, it all makes sense, and Wells isn't as stupid as a lot of other "fishes" in similar stories. One of the things that makes it interesting is that Wells and Jack know each other, there's a relationship there that gives the chase more resonance. And though I'm not sure the climax is entirely earned, it's that relationship that motivates Jack's final pangs of humanity. Maybe. Mary Steenburgen is also good as the liberated woman Wells falls for; she has more agency than expected. Really, aside from some pacing issues, the only things the movie doesn't succeed at are the special effects (not a surprise or any real problem) and the awkward mechanics of how the time machine operates (which telegraph the villain's defeat).

Set time machine to Victorian London. Keywords: Jack the Ripper. Sherlock Holmes references. 1979 release.

Murder by Decree has Sherlock Holmes and Watson investigate the Jack the Ripper murders in a film that, aside from its impressive cast, could have been made for television in terms of visuals and sound (I find the score particularly sappy and generic). Still, the high concept is a natural, and the film knows its Ripperology, choosing one of the more complex and popular solutions (totally telegraphed by the title, sadly). If you don't know much about the events, it might surprise you. If you do, you're just waiting for Holmes to catch up. (All I know about the Ripper I probably learned from Alan Moore's From Hell series, especially the extensive notes at the back, so that's quite a lot actually.) While James Mason makes a good Watson, Christopher Plummer's Holmes is a rather more human figure than in the stories and most adaptations. Without saying so, the film takes the approach that Watson probably exaggerated in Strand Magazine, and the deductions aren't as fanciful, Holmes himself is a lot more empathetic. Or perhaps it had to be that way so he couldn't stop history from happening. I didn't mind it, but the portrayal comes dangerously close to being Sherlock Holmes only by name.

Books: A sidequel to Perdido Street Station, China Miéville's The Scar sends us on a grand sea adventure, once again creating a whole world and a fantastical city in Armada, a group of ships tied together and following the oceanic currents in search of booty. Seeing as linguist Bellis Coldwine, our POV figure and only one of many, many memorable characters, is press-ganged into service there, it's adventure under duress, but her keen mind helps us understand the underlying schemes that are taking Armada... where, exactly? Those who call it an anti-epic have hit upon something; I like it. Miéville's incredible imagination opens up all the possibilities. I'm wondering if he's not using the elements are basic themes for each of his Bas-Lag novels. Perdido was all about flight, and thus, air. This is water. (I haven't read Iron Council, but it might be earth or even fire.) And the book really is about fluidity - of direction, of identity, of agenda, of understanding, or probability. And like the ocean, everything and everyone has depths to be plumbed, though many remain mysterious. Like Perdido, it's on the long side, but if there's meandering, it certainly fits the theme.


Anonymous said...

I saw "Time After Time" in the theater. I was still young enough to frown upon the hero sleeping with a woman he wasn't wedded to, ah early religious training. Which makes me think about this: we've probably come as far from 1979, sexual dynamics-wise, as 1979 was from Victorian England. To be sure, the years up to 1979 offered a lot more legal rights to women and took the stigma out of premarital sex and divorce, but our collective understanding of what is genuinely fair (beyond technical legal equality) has advanced in all sorts of ways since then. Note that I'm not saying we've achieved genuine fairness, but we at least have a much better idea of what fairness looks like.

I seem to recall Steenburgen telling MacDonald that she was "practically raping him", LULZ! That line would never fly these days, and what's more, a woman initiating l'amour is pretty normal.

Siskoid said...

Victorian gentlemen already knew about consent, so that's nice.


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