This Week in Geek (23-29/03/20)

"Accomplishments"

At home: The Night Comes for Us is an Indonesian action flick in the style of The Raid (and even shares some actors), but the relentless, faceless hordes of assassins that come after the protagonist for daring to break ranks to save a young girl evokes a zombie picture. And indeed, the violence is so gory that all you need is a supernatural conceit to turn this into a horror film. So here's that conceit. The Jakarta of the film is a kind of afterlife. It's hell, or purgatory, or a waystation/battleground that decides where you'll go. You can either suffer or you can take your place as a demon that makes others suffer. Ito is one such demon, but he wants redemption, and tries to ferry a young innocent soul to heaven. The lower demons are really just zombies, but the "star" assassins are more powerful. One of them is so pale she might as well be a vampire, and if you're not convinced of my conceit, just look at how she turns a crucifix upside down before a fight. You can even use the conceit to explain why the protagonists don't bleed out by the end of the first reel. Honestly, I found the film a little tiring, and the motivations slim despite backgrounding flashbacks, but the action standard is high, and if there IS more going on under the surface, that's worth some bonus points.

I wasn't expecting too much from the director of Three the Hard Way, but Super Fly is one of the blaxploitation films most often mentioned, along with Shaft, Coffee, etc. as prime examples of the genre, so I still expected something. Frankly, I don't know whether to call it gritty and grounded, or amateurish (without the camp value afforded Dolemite), but the acting is often wooden, everything takes just a little too long, and the story meanders in a padding kind of way through the first two acts. And yet, there's definitely something there. Sometimes Gordon Parks Jr. doesn't seem to know what he's doing, and other times he has a lot of flair - the way cars move like phantoms at night, the bathtub love scene, the photo montage of the drug trade, the way he cuts from close-up to close-up... - there are things here my eyeballs (and eardrums, lets not count out the good B-tier funk) are really happy to have received. In the grit department, I have to admit I didn't know if this tale of a cocaine dealer trying to get out of the life would end triumphantly, naturalistically, or like Bad Lieutenant, so it maintained a kind of sufficient low-ebb intrigue, and then the third act was pretty satisfying, so I'm leaving the (virtual) theater on the whole happy.

Not gonna lie, I wanted to watch Across 110th Street to see if and how it used the song (re)made popular by Tarantino's Jackie Brown. QT's choice is actually more clever once you've seen the source, as one of the themes is people feeling old and being over the hill. Anthony Quinn (who also produced it) is an aging cop gasping for relevance in a world that doesn't appreciate his hard-knock methods, there's also an aging gangster who didn't rise very high up in the organization, and an ex-con who turns to theft as his only option given his status, medical condition, and yes, his age. Jackie Brown is also about last chances for people who are no longer spring chickens. Well done, Quentin. Across 110th Street stands on its own of course, as an edgy ensemble crime picture set in Harlem, with a mobile camera, shocking spurts of violence, and a naturalistic portrait of race relations in New York City. The ending is a little abrupt, but in line with what the film is trying to do. This only looks like blaxploitation, it's got a lot more to say than the genre's usual offerings (as much as I can enjoy them). FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

Though Bardem's commentary on fascist Spain in his Death of a Cyclist is definitely worthy of critical discussion, the film works, first and foremost, as a paranoid Noir about a couple having an affair involved in a hit and run, "and run" because they don't want their relationship to be discovered. Lucia Bosè is a gorgeous presence as the selfish fatale in this drama, with Alberto Closas giving a strong, subtle performance as a man whose guilt over the event might as well be about the Spanish Civil War. Fear of discovery, in a police state, is a natural motivator here, and then there's the creepy blackmailer Rafa played with oozing brilliance by Carlos Casaravilla, who I am calling the Spanish Peter Lorre even if he's more insidiously about-town as a character. The theme of unfair, unilateral decision-making innate of fascist regimes pops up in the university subplot, but surprisingly, Closas' professor is not a victim so much as a perpetrator. Camera, lighting and editing stylistic flourishes aside, the film lives in fascist Spain, and uses its inequities as its setting. So our protagonists are privileged elites who tread on common people's lives, no matter how sympathetic they may seem to be in the "romantic thriller" plot. The ending provides a cyclical resolution (or bicyclical if you're into puns), the interpretation of which may be based on your own level of cynicism. Bardem has a character criticize the over-use of symbolism at one point, and he does so knowing his film is rich with it (he really doesn't mind going a little meta where he can), as that's how the Spanish mind works, at least the generation that was convinced to take arms against its brothers FOR symbols. And yet, if you know nothing about the world it was made in and for, Death of a Cyclist is still a great little Noir with European Neo-Realist inspirations.

I admit I had trouble getting into Louis Malle's little Noir, Elevator to the Gallows, because it initially felt a little disjointed. We basically follow three connected strands: A man silently executes a plan to murder his boss/his mistress' husband, going through an elevator shaft; Jeanne Moreau, as the mistress, running around Paris despondently looking for him after she sees his car pass by (did he not go through with it?); and a young couple joyriding with the car and, as if possessed by the older couple's intent, killing a couple of tourists more or less by accident. It all turns into a massive fiasco for all characters involved as their twinned circumstances first confuse, then help the investigation into each murder. Miles Davis provides a cool, sad Noir score. I liked it, I just wish I were more of a fan, but I find the man's techie Mission: Impossible bits a rather dull cut-to, and Moreau's voice-over is out of psycho-drama or Goddard, and too melodramatic for the mostly naturalistic tone of the film.

Castaway in an airport, The Terminal has the gloss and feels of most any Stephen Spielberg movie, but what is it trying to say? Maybe it's an immigrant's story, with the terminal acting as a microcosm of America where the opportunities (the New York that's just out of reach) are curtailed by The Man. I can just about see it if I squint, but the character has no wish to settle in America, and the film is much more interested in charming shenanigans and a dead end romcom subplot to really get us there without work. As for the bureaucratic nightmare represented by cartoon villain Stanley Tucci, well, even he sort of gives up at the end, like he realizes his motivation isn't particularly believable. For science fiction nerds, this does offer Zoe Saldana playing a Trekkie being courted by Rogue One's Diego Luna, all before they became stars in Star franchises. But while ultimately watchable, The Terminal fails to complete a connection, even after it tardily brings out its "waiting" theme, ironic as that seems.

1942's I Married a Witch is a bit of a puff piece (I guess that's a pun based on how much time the witches spend in smoke form), but it's an amusing one where we quickly forgive and forget the murders, and the mythology is so close to that of Bewitched, my head canon is basically that this is how Samantha and Darren met. Did they ever tell that story on the show? If not, then this could be their origin with the names and numbers filed off (to protect the innocent, you know). A lot of people like Veronica Lake, but I think she's just okay as an actress. She's having fun here, but there isn't much to her character. Fredric March is likewise a non-value to me, just kind of generic as the politician who doesn't want to fall in love with the witch and is committed to his harpy of a fiancée. But I'm there for the talking bottles, the broomstick action, the Puritan vendor at the witch trial, the magical election interference, and all that silliness. Cute and inoffensive, but a streak of sexiness.

I don't think you wonder for very long whether the supernatural is real in the world of Seance on a Wet Afternoon, that's not where the intrigue lies. Rather, this is a thriller of Hitchcockian proportions about an mentally ill medium who believes (HAS to believe) her dead child speaks to her, and sets her and her long-suffering husband on an unhinged kidnapping plot so she can become one of those crime-solving mediums you read about. Kim Stanley is electric in the main role, somewhere at the crossroads of Dianne Wiest and Louise Fletcher, and Richard Attenborough is no less good as a devoted husband devoured by guilt and paranoia. This is practically a two-hander and could have been play, though it started life as a novel (I'm rather intrigued by the fact someone turned this into an opera in 2011), tight and intimate and claustrophobic. Bryan Forbes' direction is suspenseful and creepy, but above all sensitive and sympathetic, and uses the water metaphor of the title to good effect, as something that distorts and ultimately obscures vision. Lovely and sad.

I own four versions of Shada - the first DVD release with Tom Baker narrating the missing parts, the Big Finish-released audio that puts the 8th Doctor and President Romana in the lead roles and the flash animation webcast of it, and now the newest release with the missing bits animated and Tom showing up in a new coda (K9 made the time differential short, looks like). Obviously, I've reviewed each part as best I could when I was doing 4th Doctor reviews, but it feels quite different. For one, it's much smoother. For another, it's freaking long! Yes, yes, it's a six-parter, but without the episode breaks, the omnibus seems longer, it's a psychological thing. But THE way to experience this story. In terms of extras, Tony Hadoke does the Lord's work by providing a commentary track of interviews he conducted with the particulars, assembled after being told the release didn't have the budget for one. Hardest working podcaster on Earth, Toby. The first disc extras focus on the making of this new version, with video clips of Tom Baker's dialog recordings, behind the scenes footage of his reprise of the role in the TARDIS scene as well the model effects filming, and art and photo galleries from 1979 and 2017. There are a couple of deleted scenes too, pulled from the dialog recordings. The second disc is essentially the same as original release's - the 2003 webcast, the original making of and union action material and the look at locations then and now - plus 45 minutes of raw studio footage. The good news for owners of the previous DVD release is that THAT has the narrated release (not included here) and several featurettes that are not strictly Shada-related, including the documentary "30 Years in the TARDIS". Completists need not throw their old DVD away.

Best Believe I Watched Keanu 'n' Charlize
I might have smirked when I found out Siberia, in the film of the same name, was played by Manitoba, but otherwise, this Keanu Reeves-led thriller/romance/noir movie failed to get much of a rise out of me. It just feels too incomplete. There are elements here that had potential. For example, Keanu's never-seen foul-up partner in the diamond trade is an interesting conceit, but I'm not sure I understand the thriller plot all the way through, and most egregiously, it sets up a lot more than it's willing to pay off. If the third act had gone in the direction it seemed to, it could have saved the film, but ultimately, it all felt a bit pointless. When the diamond trader first goes to Siberia, the thriller plot is put on hold and it's early enough for the audience to think it's just background color for what is actually a romance. And I think that's ultimately what it is, albeit one with a lot of off-putting sex stuff. Unfortunately, the movie is unable to juggle these two genres, not even in a noirish capacity (I'd have to be pretty charitable to call this a proper Noir) and we're left with an unsatisfying feature.

Next up for Charlize was Atomic Blonde, which I previously reviewed HERE.

1 comments:

Brendoon said...

Thanks tons for the Shada review, Siskoid! I've only seen/heard a couple.
It's interesting about the psychological effect of length. I notice it too: I can binge on multiple episodes of a lot of things but half an hour into rewatching a movie I'm ready the quit.
Toby Hadoke IS truly amazing. I hope he catches a whiff of the appreciation for him!

 

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