This Week in Geek (19-25/01/15)


At the movies: P.T. Anderson's adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice stops being a chore as soon as you stop trying to keep the characters and clues of its P.I. mystery straight and just go with the flow and start appreciating its quirky characters and offbeat humor. It'll all make sense in the end regardless. Joaquin Phoenix is essentially the Dude from The Big Lebowski, a kind of "accidental detective" who stumbles upon clues, but also a perfect straight man in a world that thinks HE'S the freak, though it's everyone else who seems strange to the audience. Josh Brolin as Bigfoot the all-devouring cop is HILARIOUS. Great turns as well for Owen Wilson and Martin Short. Anderson creates an unapologetic 70s vibe filled with sex, drugs, cults and crime, and uses Pynchon's alternating literary and vulgar dialog. Inherent Vice is probably not for everyone - it will test some audiences' patience - but if you have an affinity for the absurd, it might well do the trick.

DVDs: Ever since we saw Grand Piano's trailer, we knew we had to watch it. How can you do Diehard in a piano as more than a 15-minute skit? Well, put me down in the convinced column. Granted, the premise is completely insane, but it's a case of "buy the premise, buy the bit" for me, and I bought it. Beyond the plot's permutations, this is a thriller about anxiety, and it does a very good job early on making everything the protagonist experiences stressful. Grand Piano's world is noisy and nervous and falling apart. Once Elijah Wood's concert pianist gets on stage, things don't get any more relaxed, as a crazy sniper threatens his life and his wife's if he doesn't play the perfect concert. In the Diehard mold, you can bet there's money involved, etc. Will this appeal to classical music experts? Only in the sense that there's some great music in it, but not if you care about Wood using the pedals. It's definitely a MOVIE, and not a realistic one.

The IT Crowd Season 2, or as showrunner Graham Linehan likes to call it, 2.0, could almost be called a reboot. The sets are slicker and more detailed, there's less winking at the camera, they change the boss (in-story, at least), and they're completely ignoring the previous season's cliffhanger (which is probably sound). The show is also getting closer to one of Linehan's admitted influences, Seinfeld, with characters leaving the office building more and more to go on dates and find themselves acting awkwardly cruel to people. Plenty of laughs still. As with Season 1, it's worth it letting the DVD menus run their course (and they're usually long courses). This set also includes Linehan's commentary on each of the six episodes - be warned, he's extremely hard on himself and finds fault with every script - outtakes and a making of showing how the show is recorded in front of a live audience.

Season 3 of the IT Crowd is the weakest of the first three, probably because it doesn't juggle its cast very well. Moss, the heart of the series, takes too much of a back seat in several episodes, for example. Then again, maybe I've just been infected by Graham Linehan's almost depressing, auto-flagellating commentary tracks. The DVD also includes an interview with Linehan, and a set tour, as well as deleted scenes, outtakes and the original title sequence animatic. Of course, the animated menus are loads of fun again, and again, I must stress you should only watch these when you've watched all the episodes; they're filled with spoilers and/or jokes you won't really get without that context.

Watched The Godfather Part II as part of my I-MUST-Check-Movies 2015 project (getting through all those films everyone's seen and liked, but somehow passed me by). While I'm quite happy to say The Godfather deserves its place in the list of greatest films ever made, surely Part II is over-rated! I like its basic structure, the rise of a Don (Vito as a young man played by Robert DeNiro) contrasted with his son trying to keep hold of his father's empire in changing times. However, it meanders way too much, especially in the first part. I thought there were some interesting ironies set up in the Cuban sequences, but Coppola never does anything with them. The case before Congress comes out of nowhere, even if it is one of the more interesting parts. Jokes about oranges (which were death's herald in the first film) come off as indulgent fourth-wall breakers. Didn't work for me.

Audios: Darren Jones' Death's Deal is the 10th Doctor story in Destiny of the Doctor, Big Finish/AudioGo's 50th anniversary project, giving each of the first 11 Doctors a chapter in an interlocking story. This particular chapter is narrated by Catherine "Donna" Tate, and I was really looking forward to her doing her old pal David Tennant. Alas, while Tate has a perfectly good reading voice, she fails to bring the Doctor's tones - or even Donna's - back to to life. Perhaps they were afraid it might sound like a comedy sketch if she pushed it too far, who knows. That said, Death's Deal has some evocative descriptions, the most dangerous planet in the universe rendered as some mad world out of Lovecraft, and the story stands up. Just wanted a little more oomph, you know?

And it all wraps up in The Time Machine by Matt Fitton, an 11th Doctor story read by Jenna Coleman, but - GASP! - which doesn't feature Clara Oswald!!? That seems a waste. As with Tate, Coleman has an excellent reading voice, but why isn't she allowed to play her TV companion? At the heart of this story is a huge paradox, a time machine that shouldn't exist, and the Doctor using time itself as a solution. It's very Moffat era. All through Destiny of the Doctor, Doc11 has been intersecting his past selves' lives and asking them to do things for him (all except the first, but its connection to the main thread is also explained), but I was happy to find The Time Machine wasn't all about making these connections. It works as a stand-alone release which, yes, references the other chapters, but isn't just about completing the series' structure. And despite Clara's conspicuous absence, it's one of the better ones.


Toby'c said...

The first Godfather isn't even in my top 100 favourite films, in part due to my general distaste for "rise and fall" gangster movies, as well as movies longer than 150 minutes (with plenty of exceptions). Part II isn't even in my top 500, for similar reasons to yours, while Part III wouldn't even be in my top 1000 if I ever made one.

Michael May said...

Glad you enjoyed Grand Piano! My reaction to it is the same as yours.


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