This Week in Geek (26/01-01/02/15)


DVD-wise, I got The Fountain and The F Word. Book-wise, I got the 7th Doctor Sourcebook and American Comic Book Chronicles - the 1980s.


DVDs: I'm a fan of prison stories, not because of the shock moments of Grand Gignol which I could accuse Oz of, but because of the social engineering elements, the way human beings create a society in close confines, etc. Orange Is the New Black definitely delivers on the latter, and I found myself addicted, going to bed later and later to watch just another episode. With its fair share of (dark) comedy, Orange isn't a heavy melodrama, but rather a fish out of water story, as we follow its debutante protagonist into the harsh realities of the prison system. The structural twist is that we discover her and other women's stories through flashbacks which challenge our first impressions, illuminate personalities, make us connect with people who may or may not have gotten a fair shake, and in many cases, keeps mysteries for later episodes and seasons. The DVD includes a producer commentary track on the first and last episodes, a gag reel, and featurettes on different aspects of the show/life in prison where the actors, showrunner and the real Piper who wrote the book this is based on, get to weigh in.

In a similar, but entirely different vein is Girls Season 3, in which Lena Dunham pushes her characters into new combinations and situations, which is really business as usual for this show. Some develop and grow, others regret developing and growing, and a lot of that growing is about growing apart. At the heart of the comedy - and so you finding it funny may well be based on your ability to appreciate this - is the characters' self-involvement. It's definitely meant as a generational portrait, and has every chance of irritating its supposed audience. It's not necessarily meant to be viewed as a criticism though, and it's nice to see the girls (and boys) start calling each other out for their bull. As the cast "grow up", some of their shenanigans can no longer be considered cute, and Dunham knows that. And in any case, I would watch Adam Driver in anything at this point; such an interesting actor. The DVD includes cast and/or crew commentaries on half of its 12 episodes (mostly the back half), and a short making of for each one.

Years in the waiting for it, Arrested Development Season 4 is definitely a product of its broadcast platform. The show's comedy has always been dense, but when the audience can rip through the 15 episodes all in on go, you pack even more into it. The audience doesn't have time to lose the thread of it from week to week. So Season 4 isn't just a funny comedy that catches up with characters you enjoyed from half a dozen years earlier, it's also a huge puzzle of intersecting stories, strange moments explained episodes later because everything is really happening at once. Very cleverly done, though it does prevent the season from reaching some kind of crescendo at the end. I want to say Season 4 is actually better than the original series, though of course it rests entirely on that series' foundation. And they leave room for more, so I hope they DO more. The DVD has lots of featurettes to tell the story of the cast and crew's reunion and the making of the series, with interviews and behind the scenes footage aplenty.

How long does it take for an under-appreciated genre film to become a cult favorite? Well, the Wachowski Brothers' Speed Racer came out in 2008 and only now do I hear people sing its praises and try to polish its image publicly. So 4 or 5 years? So I watched it, and keep in mind I couldn't rub more than two memories together in my head about the anime classic (and one of those is the theme song). While I completely understand how shocking the visuals can be, especially the Brothers try to reproduce the film of an anime with blatant green screen juxtapositions and transitions, I have to declare myself a fan. Maybe I'd trim some sequences featuring the kid and the monkey, but these are part of the idea of bringing a cartoon to life. I don't really mind them. In exchange, we get some well-choreographed racing action that would be impossible in the real world. It's essentially super-heroes driving cars. The movie is a bit long at 135 minutes, but each racing sequence has its reason for being and distinct flavor. And the biggest surprise for me was that they actually made the stakes believable, tying corporate sponsorship into the fates of the corporations themselves. A colorful ride I would take again. The DVD puts the kid to work by making him host the making of as he gets into trouble and wanders around the studio lot. An in-universe featurette talks about each of the cars and how they were pimped up; amusing fluff.

This week's super-long heavy movie, as part of the New Year's resolution I call I-MUST-CheckMovies 2015, was Schindler's List. Again, these are movies that according to everyone has seen and favorited, but I've somehow skipped. In 1993's Oscar winner's case, I must give credit to an old (and now deceased) German professor of mine, with whom I had a discussion at the time and who convinced me not to go see it on principle. I'm not even sure what the issue was anymore, but going in and coming out of it, I felt a deep ambivalence for two such "principles". One was that the movie felt like it was making millions on the back of the Holocaust, which no amount of "awareness" could justify, and this is a criticism it doesn't really deserve because the movie ISN'T about the Holocaust per se, but is still about atrocities committed in German work camps. And I know I wouldn't be complaining if it wasn't a Steven "blockbuster" Spielberg picture. Like I said, ambivalence. My second problem is something I've come to in time and which bugs me no matter what, and that's the concept of the White Messiah in movies. It's like Hollywood wants to tell stories about downtrodden ethnic populations, but feels it can only do so by focusing on the one white person who overcomes their racism to become a positive force in the lives of a group of whatever ethnic people. The "good German" of Schindler's List, like say, Kevin Costner's track and field coach in McFarland USA, really did exist, and perhaps the stories are written by privileged white folk who get their books optioned, as opposed to the victims and "po' folks" who actually survived or achieved in that story, but it still puts my teeth on edge. So did I just compare Schindler's List to movies like Dangerous Minds? So be it. To review it without comparisons, I'll just say it's well acted, it's well made, it's not boring, it presents things that people should be aware about. It's just not the first or final word on the Holocaust, and is definitely not worthy of that reputation. Like many films I've been watching for this "project", it was fine, but nowhere near "where was this all my life?!" which is the rating I really want to give out.

Thought it would be funny to also watch Taken this week. You know, to get Liam Neeson's full range. As action revenge pictures go - and remember, I'm a big fan of Chinese cinema, so I've seen a lot of them - it's pretty good. We get to know the character as a sappy estranged father before his daughter is kidnapped, and there's initially a strong focus on investigation and tracking through Paris' underbelly. It kind of falls apart in the last act, however, when we start going from violent set piece to violent set piece, before concluding with a glib happy ending that rings quite false. Not to say the first two acts were perfect - there's entirely too much coincidence in the fact Neeson's worst fears come true minutes after his daughter comes off the plane, for example - but the movie at least features some well thought-out covert ops action until the mechanics of the climax take hold. Entertaining for the time it needs to be, then easily forgotten. I do not plan on seeing any other installments in the series.

On movie night, our girl Nath presented It's Kind of a Funny Story, seeing as there was just a national day of awareness about mental health. This small dramedy is about a depressed teenager who commits himself to a mental institution where he is a patient for five days. In those 5 days, he meets many people worse off than himself, has a positive influence on them, and they on him, and he comes out better for the experience. Beyond the cliché is, I think, Zach Galifianakis' character, who can be seen as an older version of young Craig, reminding the audience that there is no easy cure to depression and other mental health issues and that they are always a struggle. The lack of closure for Galifianakis is a strong, but subtle statement in that direction. The movie nevertheless keeps things light with various POV flights of fancy, but across the board lacks oomph. It's ALMOST really good, but is perhaps not edited sharply enough, lacks just a touch of intensity. At the end, I was left with the impression that it was "cute". Which isn't a bad place to start when discussing mental health with your kids, frankly, and I think the movie will work well with that age group.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. Duel and Deaths - BBC '80


snell said...

"I do not plan on seeing any other installments in the series."

A wise decision...

Tim Knight said...

Couldn't agree with you more on Speed Racer. Caught it on w him on TV at the end of last year having never really given it a thought before hand and having no connection to the original show (except for the Devo song). And thought it was fantastic.

Immediately rushed to Amazon and picked up a cheap Blu-Ray, so I could really get those lurid colours to pop in HD.

Couldn't believe this wasn't a cult favourite already!

Also agree with you wholeheartedly on Taken.

Jeffrywith1e said...

mark me down for fan of SpeedRacer. That film was nothing but fun.


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