This Week in Geek (24-30/12/12)


Couple of additions to my Kung Fu Friday collection: Cop on a Mission (because Eric Tsang), and Sukiyaki Western Django (feat. Quentin Tarantino, speaking of which, read on).


In theaters: I'm struggling with writing a review of Tarantino's Django Unchained. On the one hand, it's a terrific entertainment, violently rewriting history like Inglourious Basterds did, and on the other, it's a disturbingly difficult subject. Imagine if Basterds had taken place in a concentration camp, and you get the idea. It's slavery through a blaxploitation filter, a badass but brutal revenge western that threads the fine line between the comic and the horrific. Christoph Waltz once again steal the show as the German dentist/bounty hunter who takes Django (Jamie Foxx) as a partner. The weakest link is Samuel L. Jackson whose dialog feels anachronistic to me. At 165 minutes, the film feels a bit heavy, and keeps going after you think you've reached the last reel. Not sure what I'd cut out of it though. There's no scene that's not crucial to the plot, themes or tone. This isn't a negative or even a mitigated review, I really did love it (heck, I could have listened to the opening song for 2 hours). I guess I'm still not sure how to resolve its handling of race (the period and characters are unavoidably racist) as both comedy and drama, in relation to my feeling "entertained".

The next day, we went to see another very long film (4 minutes more), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (starstruck moment - well, not really, he's a local - Robert Maillet who you'll most readily recognize as the big French dude in Sherlock Holmes was sitting a few rows in front of us... I bet he thought he could have played the White Orc), the first chapter in a new Tolkien trilogy. I haven't read The Hobbit in 30 years and I've never been a Tolkien fan (indeed, the story is a series of unconnected events that end in deus ex machinae), but I AM a fan of Peter Jackson's take on the Middle-Earth. Jackson does seem to fix some of the plotting issues by making it a true prequel to Lord of the Rings, as the various dangers Bilbo and the company of dwarves face becomes a preface to the coming war. Why are trolls so far south, or orcs so far north, etc.? The prequel elements might have been the easiest to cut from the film, but for fans, it's a chance to see characters from the first films, and to connect The Hobbit's events more readily to the epic war against Sauron to come. There are some amazing flights of fancy in the film, including a number right out of a musical, but the film gives us permission to believe this is Bilbo's embellished telling of it. And for this Whovian, it makes me smile that by casting Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, this former (and often underrated) Doctor has been put on the same level as Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee. Structurally, like a lot of Tolkien's work, it probably doesn't hold up, but I was too glad to be back to this wondrous world. It just felt comfortable, like another episode of a favorite series. Martin Freeman was the perfect casting for the reluctant Bilbo, the dwarves are well differentiated, and in the end, the movie has a lot of heart. (Needless to say, mileage may vary if you go and see it with the different frame rate or in 3D, two innovations I'm boycotting, thanks.)

DVDs: Moonraker is what the Bond franchise delayed For Your Eyes Only for so it could jump on the Star Wars bandwagon. The easiest criticism one could make of the film is that it goes too far into science fiction, with space marines shooting lasers at space-suited henchmen around a space ark, but its problems are much greater than that. The comedy often takes you out of the movie, especially the whole Jaws in love subplot, not to mention his risible indestructibility. He almost ruins one of the most spectacular teaser stunts in Bond history. Lois Chiles as Dr. Goodhead get my vote for worst Bond girl of all time, or at least the worst actress to ever play such a role (I'm on Team Manuela in this one). The plot is essentially recycled from the previous one, The Spy Who Loved Me, with an outer space ark instead of an underwater one. We visit a lot of countries, Brazi looks especially nice, but Bond follows clues willy-nilly and none of it actually makes sense. Throw in entirely too much product placement, and you've easily got the worst of the 007 franchise (even the 2 commentary tracks are under par). That said, it still has entertainment value, and Ken Adam's impressive last sets.

I don't think I was ready for how surreal Walkabout was. Nominally a coming of age story about a girl (Jenny Agutter) and her young brother (director Nicholas Roeg's 6-year-old son Luc) lost in the Australian Outback who meet an Aboriginal boy (David Gulipil), it's really a layered visual poem about, depending on what filter you put on it, nascent sexuality, tradition vs. modernity, the corruption of the urban lifestyle, one's ability or inability to understand the Other's point of view, and nature in all its beauty and harshness. There's a case to be made that it is entirely allegorical, and as a proper story, it has a slow pace and difficult to understand Aboriginal concepts (as Westerners, we share the Girl's point of view). Tender hearts beware, there's an awful lot of onscreen animal killings, part of its documentary feel. Not an easy piece, but one that bears rewatching periodically, as even my exploration of the commentary track (with Agutter and Roeg separately telling production stories) revealed new meanings and images quite apart from what they were saying. The Criterion Collection booklet does attempt analysis, but doesn't really unlock the film's secrets, nor do the the DVD's other extras. There are some nice interviews with both Luc Roeg (all grown up) and Agutter, and a great little documentary on Gulipil, a most unusual actor who has straddled the world of movies and Aboriginal tradition all his life. It's made me want to discover more of his work.

Going 180 degrees the other way, I watched the original Total Recall (you tell me, is the remake at all necessary? I haven't seen it). Oddly, and ironically, I seem to have memories of scenes that aren't actually in the picture. My guess is that I've taken on board misleading copy from the trailers and tv ads and made it part of the film. Watching it today, it has all the Paul Verhoeven trademarks that make me squirm as a modern audience member: Extreme violence, gratuitous foul language, and borderline misogyny. In Robocop and the flawed Starship Troopers, it's obvious that it's satire, but here, such elements can often be in bad taste. Don't get me wrong, it's still an exciting action film, with plenty of iconic scenes and animatronic effects, but the 80s-ness of it does rankle. Another problem I caught is that to work, there shouldn't be any scenes where Quaid isn't present, and yet there are. Oops. The Special Edition package is a pretty good one, with a commentary track by Verhoeven and Schwarzebegger, a strong making of documentary, a photo and production design gallery, a short NASA featurette on the planet Mars, storyboard comparisons, and an odd little thing where you can choose one of three virtual vacations which turns into a 30-second video postcard on a loop. Doesn't quite work due to going to black in between each loop, though I appreciate the idea.

The Bodyguard AKA Dangerous Hero is a 2004 Thai action comedy shot in cheap video and featuring Petchtai Wongkamlao, Tony Jaa's sidekick in both Ong-Bak and The Protector, and it's not a good one, though it has its moments. It's a matter of understanding the comedy, really. Filled with non sequiturs, it's closer to Monty Python than The Naked Gun, but it doesn't really ease you into it. You start out watching a cheap gunplay film, and suddenly, there are ridiculous happenings, characters showing up for exactly one "humorous" scene with none of the main actors, and jokes you probably need to be Thai to understand. The film parodies the work of John Woo and Tsui Hark, and even the Tony Jaa stunt team's (Jaa as an action cameo that references Ong-Bak, for example), so it's possible I just didn't have the cultural background to get the other bits. By no means is that an excuse for the slow pace, characters constantly shouting, annoying tonal shifts, wooden romance, or dull cipher of a hero. It did eventually get some laughs out of us because even the strangest non sequiturs eventually pay off. Redeeming qualities include the Dance Fu, the bad guy's own bodyguards (including a fun character with Down's Syndrome), and the final credits sequence. The DVD includes a 15-minute making of that speaks to many of the stars, including Tony Jaa.

Comics: I got Jeff Lemire's The Underwater Welder the week in came out, but didn't manage to get to it right away. By reputation, I knew it could well make my 2012 Top 5, so I determined to read it before year's end. And yes, you'll see it in the Top 5 come January 1st (awards season is upon us). A deceptively simple ghost story, the graphic novel available from Top Shelf pleasantly plays with time, not only bringing the lead character forwards and backwards in time through the use of flashbacks and mind trips, but also creating a contrast between the worlds above and below the water. Above, tight claustrophobic panels or, if water is in sight, slim widescreen ones. Under the water, expansive ink-washed splash pages that give the sequences a decompressed timelessness. Lemire's story is one of guilt and one's ability to move on from tragedy, a tale of fathers and sons with three-dimensional characters, touchingly told. And on a personal level, it's a rare comic book story that takes place in Atlantic Canada. Lemire is to comics what the Rheostatics are to music. Which reminds me, I've really got to read Essex County...

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iv. The Closet Scene - French Rock Opera

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Dial H to Doom Patrol.



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