This Week in Geek (30/01-05/02/17)

"Accomplishments"

At the movies: Based on true story, Lion follows an Indian child accidentally separated from his family who is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. In his twenties, a flash of memory puts him on an obsessive quest to find his real family. Brought to you by Google Earth(TM). All facetiousness aside, I do think this is a problematic film. The kid we follow in the first part, I could watch for the entire length, and the act brings the very real issue of child disappearances in that part of the world, and others, to terrifying life. But there's a big lull in the second half of the film as we veer into depressing melodrama, at least until the inevitable either feel-good or bittersweet denouement. Well-acted, but saddled with too many title cards telling us time is passing, and subplots that while part of the real story, can feel like distractions from the film's main thrust. I'm also unsure about the documentary elements tacked on at the end, crashing into an otherwise sensitive dramatization.

DVDs: Captain Fantastic stars Viggo Mortensen as a survivalist raising his kids outside the system, at least until their mother's death forces him to bring them into the so-called "real world", where he is made to question his decisions. The twist is that we've come to think of survivalists as extreme Right, probably religious gun nuts. This family is on the extreme Left, super-hippies who have abandoned our consumer society. The film does a good job of making us question whether it's good or bad to live outside the system, especially in terms of education, and just how much of home schooling includes indoctrination (and indeed whether the public or private school systems do too), but it's also a touching story about a father doing what he thinks is best for his children. Parents could do worse than to watch this with an open mind and contrast their own styles to "Captain Fantastic"'s.

Oscar Pool Stash Forced Watch: The Oscars are at the end of the month and I haven't tried to make good on my pledge to watch all the DVDs I won last year by guessing the results as well as I did. There are a dozen left, at least half plainly terrible, but I can do this! And may God have mercy on my soul.

Gothika is aptly named (though the director doesn't seem to realize why in his commentary), as it is a Gothic story told in the modern day, with its "is it supernatural or isn't it?" plot about a psychiatrist accused of killing her husband and admitted to a creepy asylum after encountering what could be a ghost on a dark and stormy night. The movie is fine so long as you don't know what's going on, and has some interesting effects to sustain its mood, but the solution to the mystery is, give or take a few details, pretty much what you figure it will be by the time you get there, the third act jumping feet together into a dumb high-concept television premise. Stylish, but ultimately silly. In addition to the ordinary commentary track, the DVD features a music video in which Hallie Berry participate in character. I guess she was hallucinating Limp Bisket too.
#OscarPoolResult: Not bad enough to throw back into the pond.

In a combo disc with the next film, both bad transfers with new titles mixed in with video and running times shortened (a mercy?), is Mesmerized AKA My Letter to George, the true story of a young woman (Jodie Foster) who allegedly poisoned her much older husband (John Lithgow) in 19th-Century New Zealand with the help of basic hypnotism techniques. A real drudge. While probably the victim of sticking to actual events, a lot of story beats don't really seem useful to the overall film, and the editing doesn't help it, jumping around confusingly in the first act. And though the film advertises the husband's strange sexual proclivities, unless he was killed for insisting his wife trim his nose hairs, the movie does a piss-poor job of selling him as an abusive boor. The acting is really very ordinary considering what the leads are normally capable of, and they certainly don't manage New Zealand accents. A boring, unfocused costume drama.

And on that same disc... Lovers & Liars AKA A Trip with Anita, an Italian romance starring Goldie Hawn and Giancarlo Giannini, on a road trip from Rome to Pisa, filled with witty banter, screwball comedy moments, and perhaps some heart thanks to a subplot about the seductive Italian's father dying. At least that seemed to have been the plan. And perhaps as Fellini's proposed follow-up to The Nights of Cabiria, with Sophia Loren and Gregory Peck, it might have worked. Not that find the two stars unwatchable, or that director Mario Monicelli isn't an Oscar favorite, but... You can definitely see the kernel of a good romantic comedy here. Some of the lines and moments, taken in isolation, are actually good. Quite good. Giannini isn't just lying to get into Hawn's pants, but feels embarrassed by his family and grief; there's something cultural there. Unfortunately, the American/VHS/DVD edit makes a mess of what is already a tonally mixed story, possibly what's robbing the romantic turns of their believability, and the dub on the Italian actors is terribly annoying. Fix that last element, and I think you have a genuinely charming romcom abroad. But the sound is so distracting as to derail the whole trip.
#OscarPoolResult for this combo: Throw it back! Throw it back! (Mostly Mesmerized's fault.)

Did they think Dragonball Evolution's remedial effects would make it an acceptable, if brain dead, entertainment in this day and age? Because other than the implicit promise of spectacle, all this adaptation of the popular anime series gives you is tons and tons and tons of exposition to introduce its many characters, genre tropes of all stripes, and epic back story. Result: At once impenetrable and boring. I'll freely admit I wasn't a Dragonball fan going in, but I hear fans weren't any more enchanted by it. What I've seen of the show seem decontracted to the point of showing two people screaming at each other before a fight for the length of an episode; by contrast, the movie tries to jam too much into its fewer than 90 minutes, jumping from one thing to the other as you progressively lose the plot. Want to extend the experience anyway? The DVD includes deleted scenes, outtakes, a music video, and a couple of featurettes produced by the Fox Movie Network, the best of which is an interview with the star that's actually pretty honest.
#OscarPoolResult: I think I can give it a better home by gifting it to a Dragonball fan, but I'm not sure they'll thank me.
Over the weekend, we also organized a quick John Hughes Marathon, just four key films he wrote and/or directed, starting with Pretty in Pink, which featured an ebullient Jon Cryer supporting Hughes muse Molly Ringwald as she set her sights on a rich kid from the other side of the tracks played by just about the only actor who didn't go on to become a household name in the whole production. A lot of crazy fashion, but sadly, the final pink dress looks terrible. We followed with Sixteen Candles which I'd forgotten had an R rating, and while there are some genuinely funny moments, it hasn't aged well at all. If it weren't for the date rape stuff, I'd be saying how the Asian caricature was the most offensive thing about it. And what's with Hughes always pairing Molly off with the most boring (or ONLY boring) character in the show? Then, The Breakfast Club, an undeniable classic and probably Hughes' best script, before we ended on, if not the best, then the biggest cult hit of the lot, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Carpe diem, everyone. Carpe freaking diem.

6 comments:

Mike W. said...

Breakfast Club is one of my favourite movies of all time, and it seems to get more relatable the older I get. I loved Ferris Bueller in my younger days, but now he just seems like a complete dick; no wonder his sister hates him. Sixteen Candles has some funny moments, but they're kind of overshadowed by the problematic stuff you mentioned (which I barely noticed as a kid ... I guess I'm more evolved now). Pretty in Pink is a lot of people's favourite, but I just don't care all that much about Andie or Blaine, so it takes something away from the movie for me. I much prefer another Hughes movie, Some Kind of Wonderful--which is basically a genderswapped Pretty in Pink with the "proper" ending.

Sphinx Magoo said...

Have you read Shirley Maclaine's "Above the Line"? I ask because the book is a diary about her experiences on a movie set. I kept thinking about it while reading your comments on the Jodie Foster and Goldie Hawn movies. Reading the book was the first time I finally got an idea of why so many actors seem to end up in poorly put-together movies. Sure, Shirley Maclaine allows herself to go on an metaphysical tangent once in a while, but it's more about the filmmaking business and the funny mystique films have that encourages people to make odd decisions just to be a part of that process.

LiamKav said...

Dragon Ball fans come in several shapes and sizes... some like the (often dirty) humour of the early manga, some like the big epic fights you get in Dragon Ball Z, some like the characters who change and grow, and some just like people throwing big fireballs at each other. All of them hate Dragon Ball Evolution. All of them.

(Personally, I love DBZ because it's a show that creates an evil alien race who go around planets wiping out the indigenous population and then selling those planets on to an evil space Hitler, and names every member of that race after a vegetable.)

Toby'c said...

I actually found Dragon Ball Evolution kind of a guilty pleasure. Which probably sounds kind of incongruous from someone whose most despised movie of all time is The Last Airbender, but, well, it entertained me, in ways that seemed to be intentional.

Michael May said...

I loved Captain Fantastic. It leaves a lot open about whether Viggo's character is "right" (and if he is, what about?), but that's not really what the movie's ultimately interested in. It's about his relationships with his kids and what he's willing to compromise for their benefit. That's the beautiful part of the movie to me.

Been thinking about John Hughes a lot lately myself. You're encouraging me even more to revisit about a dozen of his that I haven't seen in a while.

Siskoid said...

We're thinking of doing this annually, with different films.

 

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