This Week in Geek (27/09-03/10/20)

"Accomplishments"

At home: It's time to save humanity's collective soul and fix the afterlife, yo. The Good Place Season 4, as has been true of the three previous seasons, manages to surprise and delight by never feeling too attached to its status quo. At several points, I thought "how can there be more episodes after this?", but there always were. Until the last, triple-sized chapter of the story, of course, which gave every character their final fate and gave off strong Six Feet Under vibes. That's a compliment. I bawled. What a strange series this was. Full of surreal imagery and silly jokes, and yet replete with legit philosophy and social commentary, continually pulling the rug out from under the characters and the audience and yet, still becoming a hit. Even more wondrous is the fact that it allowed itself to end on its own terms, and despite its success not eke out more seasons with ever diminishing returns. At 53 episodes, I believe this will will remain one of the most original and perfect little gems the half-hour sitcom format has ever given us. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

I've been a fan of Valiant Comics since the 90s, and if I were gonna start mining it for a movies, Bloodshot would probably be near the bottom of the list. Magnus Robot Fighter has more world building, X-O Manowar has a more intriguing protagonist, Archer and Armstrong, Ninjak, Immortal Warrior, Harbinger, Shadowman, Quantum & Woody... I find them all more interesting than Bloodshot. And the movie speaks for itself. Despite the superhero action beats, it's a fairly generic high-concept action flick with cardboard characters and plenty if clichés - even the characters comment on it! It stages a few cool fights, but they keep getting mired in slow motion, and as far as our main hero goes, I fear this is another example of Vin Diesel requiring that he be the macho-est of all macho boys, so he's essentially unstoppable even before the transformation into a super-soldier, and all the pearls his friends clutch about his final deactivation prove to be false stakes. Dead on arrival in terms of franchise-making as it's only ever okay.

Though the car culture stuff in The Wraith is straight out of the '50s, the movie is so '80s, it hurts. The crazy high concept - Charlie Sheen is killed and returns from the dead to take revenge as a guy who can turn into a killer car (Turbo Teen with sex'n'violence, basically) - should be enough to make this a quirky B-movie winner, it's missing a vital ingredient. That ingredient? Acting. No one, except maybe Sheriff Randy Quaid, acts in this. Sheen and his leading lady use no reactions or inflections and seem like dead puppets, and the bad guys chew up so much scenery, the movie has to take place in the desert. The Wraith certainly doesn't deserve its memorable '80s soundtrack, and even that potentially brilliant high concept isn't delivered very well. It's confusing. So what we have left is plenty of explosions and a couple of actually good car stunts. Oh, I laughed, but not where I was meant to. I feel like this would make a great MST3K episode, and I guess that's something.

If Ingrid Goes West (or Instagram: The Movie) is a comedy, then it's a very dark comedy, and its comedic upswing is its darkest moment and made me a little ambivalent actually. Between the satire of social media culture and O'Shea Jackson Jr.'s obsession with Batman, the movie seems to angle you towards a more expected personal growth story, and I maybe resent the wrong-think lesson the movie might present even if it's clear throughout that it means to say the opposite. Well done, then..? Aubrey Plaza actually stretches herself a bit as a girl dangerously obsessed with an Instagram influencer (Elizabeth Olsen), inserting herself into her life. The film explores how we willingly give up privacy, but also how our "brand" is also just a product and not completely representative of the truth (whether that's how we curate ourselves online or Bruce Wayne putting on a mask to deal with personal tragedy), something highlighted right on the title card with a visual fake-out. Not a feel-good movie, but a caustic snapshot of this time in our history.

October is Spooktober, so I'm also gonna watch one horror film a day, starting with... Carnival of Souls, a study in eerie cinematography, and a spooky story that at once happens and doesn't, folding even its technical mistakes or off acting into its ambiguity. Cinephiles noting that it was the work of industrial film makers might decide to call it an accidental masterpiece, but being indie outsiders who have mastered their craft works to the film's advantage. The use of previously never-filmed locations in Utah, and a documentarian's eye when dealing with extras and bit parts gives the film a freshness. The story? A church organ player climbs out of a fatal car crash into a muddy river and then tries to escape from her life and that trauma, only to be drawn to a strange, deserted carnival, even as a strange figure haunts her. Is Death after her for escaping his clutches? Are we in some nether space between life and death? Is it all in her head? To all of these questions, yes. Beautiful to look at, with a perfectly appropriate organ score, and odd sound design, Carnival of Souls, once a "forgotten classic", looks influential as hell.

Rosemary's Baby is still a classic, THE Satanic impregnation movie, you might say, and one of the reasons it keeps its place in the imagination is that while most "bad seed" movies are really post-partum tales, this one is PRE-partum. It isn't about not connecting to your child (quite the opposite), it's about the woman's loss of control and autonomy during the pregnancy (and in the '60s when it was made, as a part of marriage). Gaslighting is front and center, but when you watch movies of this era and before, scripts think nothing of having doctors break confidentiality with the mother's husband and giving her sedatives (and no information) as treatment. The film really starts off in Woody Allen's New York (pervert directors of a feather...), and could be one of those intellectual and neurotic comedies, with the nosy neighbors crashing into a young couple's first apartment. Then things start to feel strange and sinister, but there is a reading you can make of the film where it really is all in Rosemary's head... almost. The voodoo stuff that happens to secondary characters seems hard to explain if you decide there's no supernatural, but otherwise, check out when she stops feeling sick from her pregnancy. Did it turn into a hysterical pregnancy, is she being fed anti-depressants or anti-psychotics rather than vitamins, and is that climax - almost too on the nose - a fever dream caused because she stopped taking them? All made possible because they never tell her anything! It's there if you can accept a couple of coincidences at face value, but I don't think it's really what the movie wants you to think. I still thought it worth mentioning as part of the creepy ambiguity its tone actively encourages.

David Cronenberg's divorce film, The Brood, is a horror film with all the tropes, but also defies those tropes as often as it can, making for a very pleasurable experience. At the very weird center of the piece, a therapy movement based on role-playing has squishy consequences for participants' bodies (I did say Cronenberg), and a woman undergoing therapy at its retreat may be responsible for rage babies going and killing the people she feels wronged her, which puts her small daughter in danger, and it's quite clear trauma begets trauma. And it's Cronenberg (I did say that already, right?), so it's also full of whacked out disturbia, especially given the fact there's a child involved. Oliver Reed plays the psychiatrist/guru with smoldering intensity, and it's proper that the film starts on him. From there, we get a mix of over-reacting and under-reacting characters, as if everyone is in shock, each in their way. I sure hope the director's acrimonious divorce wasn't really like this, but it must have been EMOTIONALLY like this.

Books: Jim Mortimore's best quality as a Doctor Who writer is world-building, and like Lucifer Rising and Blood Heat, Parasite creates an intense and involved world, this one a giant cosmic "artifact" of null-grav atmosphere, strange creatures, and ball-like oceans. I'm not sure it has quite as good a story as those two first books though. Everything is really in service of the high-concept world and it has THE character arc, moreso than any human or humanish character. And while I like a scientific mystery as much as the next guy, and Mortimore does as good a job as he can in describing this totally alien environment, that's still a weakness. And the whole anti-grav thing means there's an awful lot of collision action, and characters very often drift away, drift into one another in different combinations, and it's to the point where I was always going "oh ok, I guess that person is there/not there". Given how big the "Artifact" is, this seems even stranger. I liked Parasite well enough, but it's a little bit like a long encyclopedia entry.

2 comments:

Ryan Blake said...

Great blog this week

Anonymous said...

I have to say, the end of "The Good Place" really, really didn't do it for me. The theme of the entire series was that we have a moral obligation to help one another, and the finale was all about people just quitting helping others and easing into comfortable retirement until the boredom makes them want to end it all. Except for Tahani, she became an architect so she could continue to help others.

The ending I would have preferred: Eleanor et al opt to be reincarnated so that they can maybe live influential, helpful lives again on earth. Now when they went through that doorway, it's true that they didn't know what would happen, and as it works out their positive natures did end up helping mankind. But what's important is that they didn't know any such thing would happen. They were content with oblivion, and not figuring out a new way to help others.

Yeah, I really could have gone for a shot of a reincarnated Eleanor and a reincarnated Chidi meeting one another -- maybe Chidi would be a man with his trademark glasses as s visual cue, and Eleanor likewise wearing some telltale accoutrement -- and a tiny speck of recognition. Maybe reincarnated-Eleanor working at a Get Out The Vote booth and reincarnated Chidi steps up to fill out papers, just something to indicate that they're both "in there" and there's still a flash of recognition.

 

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