This Week in Geek (16-22/03/20)

"Accomplishments"

At home: I enjoyed the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but now starting the original Swedish trilogy (as there's no hope for the Fincher trilogy), I understand the main criticism leveled at the remake. The films are largely the same, even in tone and look (and quality!), so Fincher's version IS a needless affair, except as a mercantile effort because American audiences notoriously feel disconnected from subtitled foreign films. Watching the original adaptation (of books I've never read), I find the leads quite engaging. Noomi Rapace's Lisbeth is perpetually angry, almost feral, and Michael Nyqvist's Blomkvist feels more natural and vulnerable than Daniel Craig's. They solve a complex mystery as a team, but I also think the film worked quite as well the emancipation and origin story of Lisbeth as an anti-hero, the two strands converging well, especially under the original Swedish title which translates as Men Who Hate Women. The English title is more iconic (and what Rapace's iconic portrayal deserves), but the original is a better thematic umbrella. Under any title, the first Millennium film is an engrossing, sometimes harrowing, cold case murder mystery story, well produced on every level.

The Girl Who Played with Fire makes many missteps, some of them from the book, and disappoints in comparison to the first film. Nyqvist and Rapace are as good as ever, but the story doesn't allow them to meet up until almost the end, and from their twin POVs, we now move to the villains as well and it breaks the spell. At the center of the mystery, which deals with the murder of journalists about to expose a human trafficking ring, is a giant whopping coincidence / contrivance that took me right out of the movie. And as far as resolutions go, it could have really used a little epilogue to wrap things up and draw lines between A and B and C one last time. I'm like, wait, how is this all actually connected? The basic look and feel, now that the franchise has changed directorial hands, suggests production made for TV despite the nudity and violence. The first film told a convoluted and bizarre story, but it was still pretty grounded. This one has supervillains. If you liked Dragon Tattoo, you'll find the same characters and continue liking them through the experience. You just won't find a lot of satisfaction.

The Millennium trilogy ends with The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest, following right on the heels of the second chapter which I did not like. So HERE are the resolutions the previous film owed us, but I still resent the fact that - and it's not the films' fault - Larrson essentially created a brilliant modern age Holmes and Watson that could have solved a different mystery every book (and thus, film), but instead chose to turn the narrative inward to "explain" Lisbeth. Instead of two more engrossing mysteries before he passed away, we instead got a two-part thriller, and in this case, a bit of court room drama. What I think is infuriating about this turn of events is that Lisbeth is a great investigator, but in this last chapter, aside from the final fight they allow her, she's basically a damsel in (medical, then judicial) distress for Blomkvist and his team(s) to rescue. It's just not what the first chapter promised, so the follow-ups were never going to be much good unless "Dragon Tattoo" were reimagined as a series/franchise that acted like only the first book happened. That said, Hornets's Nest is watchable if schizophrenic affair, the various elements good in and of themselves, but disconnected in genre or tone. I love the anticlimactic ending though, as sums up the leads' relationship perfectly.

I will always have a soft spot for Timecop because 1) JCVD and 2) time travel, but it has to be said that the time travel method they use in this one is wide, gaping plot holes. Check your brain at the door when it comes to the gonzo plot, as it doesn't feel the need to make sense, except in an action flick kind of way (right down to the gratuitous nudity and death puns). This is, after all, prime Van Damme, doing the split at a moment's notice and exhibiting his kickboxing skillz as a member of the Time Patrol, which is under threat from late 80s'-early '90s iconic slime, Ron Silver as a Senator who wants to abuse the technology and has a discourse that seems prescient of what's happening in American politics today (well, the brazenness of it, as it was clearly already going on). So a slightly goofy sf-action movie, where time is made of melted cheese, and the plot has a similar consistency. Just a bit of fun that I wish had better built up its core mythology.

In The Farewell, Lulu Wang tells a personal story with the always watchable Awkwafina as her stand-in, a story shades of which happened in her family, but is apparently pretty common in China. Basically, "Billi"'s grandmother is dying of cancer, but the family chooses not to tell her so as to smother up her spirits. A wedding is quickly organized (and it's still ambiguous to me if it's real or a put-on) as an excuse to see her one last time. This is an immigrant's story, as much about missing home and confronting how one's adoptive country can change a person, and of course, how immigration affects the larger family in spite of the opportunities it affords. It's also very specific about Chinese tradition, and uses Billi as a fish out of water through which differences can be explored (though this is perhaps less strange to Western audiences who've experienced a lot of Chinese cinema, as is my case), which does lead to some gentle comedy, as well as an important character turn. Feeling weepy through those chuckles is completely natural, and the film comes off as sensitive rather than flashy or clever, and that's no bad thing.

I want the kniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife... About all I remembered from The Golden Child, so I re-experienced the weirdness of what amounts to Beverly Hills Cop meets Big Trouble in Little China, and if you told me it took place in the same universe as the latter, I wouldn't just believe it, it might make the movie better. Eddie Murphy is a finder of lost children put on the trail of a Tibetan child with magical powers kidnapped by a demonic wizard played by Game of Thrones' Charles Dance. He's helped by Charlotte Lewis' kung fu-wielding Buddhist guide. Crazy special effects of the period ensue. I reread those words and I feel like I'm overselling the movie. Truth is, it's tonally challenged, its 80s music is plonky, and the jokes are only occasionally funny. And that "I want the kniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife" gag? Over time, I had made it better in my mind. Same joke, but I feel like we need to be closer in. A very specific criticism/personal experience, I realize, so to wider, The Golden Child is just about winsome thanks to its unusual story, but its 80s-ness (music, effects, humor, attitudes) nearly brings the whole enterprise down.

I've often thought that Coming to America was Eddie Murphy's best comedy, and this recent viewing did not disabuse me of that notion. Akeem, the prince who goes to Queens to find one that won't be a willing love slave, is a sweet character, and there's a lot of fun to be had with how vast his wealth and power is, especially in the reactions of ordinary New Yorkers. Really, it didn't need the thing that they apparently thought was hilarious at the time, but that I never cared for, the idea of having Eddie and Arsenio play a bunch of roles. These caricatures don't add very much to the movie and they're only occasionally funny. Movie fans might get a kick from seeing before-they-were-stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson (and I could swear Alfre Woodard was in a crowd scene, but I haven't found evidence of this anywhere), and the link to Trading Places (is there a Murphyverse?). It's also pretty obvious the people who cast The Lion King were fans of this movie. I have no idea what the proposed sequel will be like, but the original is an uneven charmer, but a charmer nonetheless.

Footloose makes me wonder if Kenny Loggins' only hits are movie-related. Well, are they? As the title tune, it plays three times in the 1984 classic, but the rest of the soundtrack should not be counted out. Though music of its day, 90s% of it is comprised of recognizable hits, and that's hard to do. How many 80s films are sunk by less-than-memorable soundtracks? And here, the music is very important. Footloose could have been very cheesy indeed. It's a movie in which Kevin Bacon must fight for his right to party--I mean dance--in a country town that seems stuck in the 50s, except that dancing is illegal. I DON'T consider it cheese, however. Its clever use of irony makes it better than it ought to be, showing youth misbehaving outrageously because their community is too strict (indeed, a lot of them appear to be closet dancers). And though John Lithgow's preacher is technically the antagonist, he's entirely too human and sympathetic to be the VILLAIN. Instead, it's just as much his story, that of an over-protective father who has, in fact, is getting the opposite results. I will never not be touched by Dianne Weist in a movie, and she plays his wiser wife. Also, look for before-they-were stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Penn as the best friends. Good music, fun gymnastic dancing, and real heart. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

If Dickens has any claim to have "written the whole of humanity", it's in books like David Copperfield we might find the proof. It's not his only "orphan grows up" novel, but it was apparently his favorite. Watching George Cukor's 1935 adaptation, we find several types of person delivered to us beautifully by great actors: Basil Rathbone as the harsh, unloving stepfather; W.C. Fields as the verbose and proud spendthrift; Roland Young as Uriah Heep, the slimiest of the literary slimes... Always happy to see Edna May Oliver, here tempering a cantankerousness with love for her young charge; and as ever, not so happy to see the queen of over-actors, Una O'Connor, though thankfully in a small role. The younger actors are kind of a wash, however. Young David is whiny and all the twentysomethings are breathless. There's always a sense with these kinds of books that movies can't do them justice, reducing them to incidents we have to jump to with as little connecting tissue as possible. And so we have the big special effects sequence of the tempest feeling like it's catering to a most adjacent subplot. But overall, this story of a boy whose success comes from being a good person with a sharp sensitivity to injustice, is well-juggled period melodrama. Now will someone tell me how much Christmas there is in the book, cuz the movie starts with Christmas music, but doesn't seem to really FEATURE Christmas at any point. Or is Dickens just synonymous with the Holidays thanks to a certain Carol?

It's a Wonderful World is pretty flighty for a movie that includes two warrantless murders. It starts like a Film Noir, and as soon as private eye Jimmy Stewart meets wide-eyed poetess Claudette Colbert, it's a screwball comedy and just one damn thing after another. Can't fault the film's pace, which respects the fact that Stewart's character is on the run from the police after trying to get a falsely-accused client out of a murder charge and being included as an accessory. It DOESN'T respect the police, however, as these guys not only get the wrong guy, but frustratingly keep missing the obvious, not listening to their betters, etc. Yes, by all means, screwball some misunderstandings into the plot, but sometimes our heroes aren't particularly clever because the coppers they're trying to play are idiots. As for the romance brewing between the two leads, it needs less of Stewart being an angry misogynist and more of those sweet lines they both come up with. But it's one of those old-fashioned romcoms where you only need to tell someone "marry me, you beautiful fool" to hear the wedding bells. I'm wasn't really expecting a lot and I got a fun, but not too memorable romp.

Tintin et le Lac aux Requins (and the Lake of Sharks) intrigued me as a kid. Not the film, the graphic novel. I had it, and it was this gorgeous artifact that used the background paintings of the animated film (which never ran on television along with the animated adaptations of comics-first stories), though looking at the movie now (in English-only on Amazon Prime Canada, like, how hard is it to be bilingual in this case, Amazon?!), the Hergé Studio redrew all the figures and edited the crap out of the story, removing most of the slapstick humor, thus increasing the pace of the story considerably. Oh, and it removes the kids' song, which is just awful, at least in English where their tone-deaf, screechy voices. It also looks 100% better and on-model, especially where the animators created their own characters NOT in Hergé's style. The adaptation recognizes that the action bits in the third act are the most interesting and extends those set pieces, which are also more fun on screen. See, Tintin is an adventure strip, not a humor strip, and while yes, there is quite a lot of slapstick in the original albums, it's the adventures that enchant. This one isn't signed Hergé. Greg did it, and he's best known for Achille Talon (Walter Melon) which IS principally a humor strip, but he still manages a good adventure behind all the silly nonsense, with strange inventions, underwater action, and Tintin's archenemy behind the nefarious plot. So by all means, check the comic album if you can find it, but avoid the original animated film.

Best Believe I Watched Keanu 'n' Charlize
Judy Greer tries her hand at directing and calls in a bunch of favors (judging by the large cast of well-known faces) with A Happening of Monumental Proportions, a dramatic comedy that never really gels, but has its moments. If it always kept up the vibe from Kumail Nanjiani and Keanu Reeves' scenes, it might have been a more memorable comedy, but unfortunately most of the humor falls flat. The father-child relationships could lay claim to being touching, but the relevant scenes would work better in a proper family film, which this isn't. I appreciate the contrast between the two locations, where something is not taken seriously enough at a school, while something is taken TOO seriously at a corporate office, but the film tries to juggle to many characters and subplots and never really completes the pass on any of them. Every story seems to have an unsatisfying non-resolution that's like life, I suppose, but the film isn't realistic enough to sell it. There's some emotional closure, but in terms of story, you may well wonder what the point was, as if you were catching a TV show cancelled midstream. Disappointing given its glimmers of amusing potential.

I have many questions about SPF-18, like what kind of title is that, why did visual artist Alex Israel feel this was a story that needed telling, and why does Goldie Hawn pointlessly act as narrator? I'll probably never get answers, and won't lose sleep over it. This vapid teeny-bopper flick about trendy kids learning to love and surf, with the obligatory, formulaic "let's put on a show!" (or in this case, video) plot is filmed like an episode of a show that only wishes it were The O.C., and led by pretty faces with all the acting artistry of driftwood. One of the redeeming values is the fun 80s soundtrack, but it seems completely disconnected from the generation presented on screen. The other redeeming value is Keanu Reeves whose punchline, though part of a barely motivated moment, gave me the giggles. If you're going to get through this, at least there's a piece of candy at the end. Keanu gets an assist from Pamela Anderson in mid-credits bit that explains their presence in this piece of cinematic (I shudder to use the word) of flotsam.

The Last Face is a lot like the other Sean Penn-directed movie I've seen, Into the Wild, in that lacks control over what it's trying to say, and ends up saying the wrong things. I've no doubt, Penn wanted to say something about the need for humanitarian intervention in the Third World here, but leaning hard into a romance between two doctors without borders(ish) relegates Africa to a background horror show that "fridges" a whole continent for the purpose of motivating a love affair. There were a couple moments where I thought we might get at something, namely when the physicians felt real despair that their actions were having no effect at all, and I did think Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem's characters were, in and of themselves, complex and interesting. Trying to define them by their romance adds absolutely nothing of value and feels particularly insulting as a focus given the ugly real-world drama going on around them. Never mind the pompous narration and the pointless, tension-draining achronology of the film. Very nice score by Hans Zimmer, however, though the acoustic instrumental version of "Otherside" only made me realize the Red Hot Chilli Peppers owe the Eurythmics a paycheck.

Next up for Charlize was Kubo and the Two-Strings, a rewatch for me (first reviewed HERE). Is a magical monkey the strangest role Charlize ever had?

2 comments:

Floyd Lawton said...

I think you meant to say, Game of Thrones featured The Golden Child's Charles Dance ;-)

This movie played so often on our second rate Pennsylvania only movie channel on cable as a kid that my brother I still maintain several inside jokes from Eddie's more notable laugh lines.

I have rewatched the movie in recent years a few times and your comments about the movie are correct, but to mangle a famous Roy Thomas line: the Golden Age of The Golden Child is eleven years old, which was when my overexposure occurred. Viva Nepal! Viva Nepal!

Toby'c said...

Regarding The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, my own preference is for Fincher's movie, and the main reason is because it keeps Mikael's daughter and her role in putting him on the right track with the Biblical references. I'm sure that sounds like a trivial reason, but when I watched the Swedish movie after finishing the book, I wasn't impressed that they'd worked around her by having Lisbeth continue to hack his computer for no reason, figure out the quotes and their connection with the unsolved murders while having little context for what he was actually there to investigate, and send him that information despite that he would inevitably realise he was being hacked (which he only figured out in the book due to a subtle clue in the report she wrote on him, a quote taken from a first draft of a statement that he never printed out). It makes Mikael look less competent as an investigative journalist, and it makes Lisbeth look stupidly reckless as a hacker.

 

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