This Week in Geek (19-25/06/17)

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, the French musical now forever linked to La-La Land as inspiration, has some memorable melodies, even if it often avoids the easy rhyme, and its wall-to-wall singing can come off as silly in the more mundane moments (though they do wring some humor out of it, that poor mailman). What most people will pick up on is the look of the film, which is so vibrantly colorful and stylized that it's the proverbial feast for the eyes. More than that, the colors mean something. The four lovers in this unusually-structured romance are either in stark contrast - when they're love is free to manifest itself - or melt into the background - when something (doubt, others, circumstance) creates an obstacle - or else go to earthen brown - when the person isn't an object of affection - with transitions between them possible at crisis moments. The vivacious mother, for her part, is more ambivalent, surrounded by stripes that both match and contrast her colors. I think a whole essay could be written just on the use of color, which isn't to say I didn't like the music. As for the story, it moves from teenage naiveté towards a pragmatic, adult finale that's at once bittersweet, glorious and true to life.

Jesus Christ Superstar takes Judas' side, and I couldn't be more thrilled. I know it's a weird thing to say, but I frankly feel the Gospels are consistently misread on his account. And yet, the subversive rock opera also shows us a man who ultimately lacked faith, a pragmatist who didn't believe enough in the cause to carry it to term, his betrayal one of love, but also of fear. Carl Anderson makes him more engaging than Ted Neeley's inscrutable Jesus, though the Christ becomes more interesting once you realize he's filled with doubt himself. We know the story by heart, so it totally makes sense for there to be no spoken dialog, only songs, and memorable ones too (the music is in fact recognizably influential to one of my favorite scores of all time, Bear McCreary's Battlestar Galactica), somewhere between 70s funk and pop gospel.

The Legend (of Fong Sai Yuk) II has Jet Li reprise his role of one of China's premiere folk heroes, you know the one that looks like Wong Fei Hung, but is younger, funnier and more naive. Caught between three women - his fiancée, his wife and his mother (Josephine Siao once again stealing the show with her comedy chops) - Fong Sai Yuk is embroiled in a plot to destroy the rebel society he just joined, from the inside. Fun ad charming like the original, the last act turns things to a more desperate, dramatic turn, but director Corey Yuen doesn't let up on the absurd action scenes (by which I mean they are fantastic and original). The fireworks fight, the cobblestone fight, the bamboo raft fight, Fong fighting with a dozen katanas, the precarious bench pyramid (love me some bench fu!)... Just amazing stuff, all of it extremely dynamic and immediate. Just makes me want to watch the first one again, but while I'm sure it's better, the sequel is still pretty great.

A lot of people had steered me away from DC's Legends of Tomorrow, or at least, its first season, but I don't think what's wrong with it that isn't also wrong with the rest of DC/CW's output - a lot of repetition (in case people are running to the bathroom during the show I guess), pretty but often limited actors, one step forward two steps back plots and subplots (the Hawks are a triple whammy on this front), and dumb plot holes (and with the show's iffy understanding of time travel, there are plenty) - but that's very much true of all the Berlanti stuff. If you can enjoy one, you can enjoy them all - for the cool hand to hand action, the fun comics references, and in this case, the program's ability to go to different eras and explore other parts of the DCU (case in point, there's a Jonah Hex western in Season 1). And I'm a sucker for time travel, so having Arthur Darville playing the Doctor - I mean Rip Hunter - is definitely in my wheelhouse. White Canary's great. Firestorm's constituent parts work well. Always good to see Brandon Routh's Atom. Captain Cold and Heat Wave are entertaining, though I'm at a loss when it comes to Snart's popularity... The niahhhhh sarcastic voice is repetitive camp to me. And I didn't mind the apparently loathed Hawkpeople, knowing full well they would go out with Vandal Savage given their inextricable link in the seasonal arc. Verdict: Fun and relatively varied fluff, perhaps better chugged in a couple days than on a weekly beat. The DVD includes a boring SDCC panel, outtakes, and a number of making of featurettes (general, the western episode, and designing the ship).

With Season 6, I would say FX's animated spy comedy... I would say "jumps the shark", but it doesn't do anything mold-breaking enough to be called that (not even the Fantastic Voyage spoof). It drops the ball, at the very least. Not that the episodes couldn't fit in any other season (give or take Lana's baby and the rekindled romance between her and Archer) - the show is still well put together, with the same jokes, action beats, etc., but I feel like perhaps those jokes have been played out. Aside from the aforementioned relationship, there's no character growth and at this point, nothing new to learn about the cast. The brain-damaged Cheryl is especially irritating this season, a caricature of I-don't-know-what-anymore. So the whole thing left me cold, despite some relatively high notes. Maybe I'm done, I dunno. The DVD includes a few extra skits on its last disc.

I've never really been attracted to The Merchant of Venice, mostly because the antisemitism crucial to the play is upsetting, but in 1980's BBC production, Warren Mitchell's ambiguous performance as Shylock I think reveals the Bard's true intentions. The play is really about religious hypocrisy, with so-called "good" Christians abusing a "villainous" Jew who, if he really is a villain and not trying to teach a lesson (the harshness of his revenge is scalable), has been radicalized by decades of this abuse. He seems justified. The mercantile concerns of the play overwhelm even if the "comedy"'s love story, and again put the lie to the characters' ideas of love and honor. I mean, if lending money is a sin, but borrowing money is not, one has to ask who this Christian God is and whether he looks like a golden calf. So to me, Portia is the villain of the play, not Shylock. She may be the cleverest character in the play, but she's no Rosalind or Viola, cross-dressing proclivities or not. She's a manipulator of men, ungracious to her Muslim suitor, and the ruiner of all. The final scenes in Belmont, necessary to resolve the comedic mode, leave a sour taste in your mouth, Shakespeare already experimenting with the genre. The BBC production is quite theatrical, with painted backdrops that work by virtue of making everything look like Renaissance illustrations. It improved my relationship with the play in a way that the more recent Al Pacino picture did not.

Oscar Pool Stash Forced Watch: Sometimes they make a kids animation movie that has content for adults. In the Shrek franchise's case, it's really the reverse. Kids will like the fun animation and fart jokes, but I've seen children's eyes glaze at the films' relationship concerns. There's a fair amount of casual violence in the first film as well, the Gingerbread Man's torture, for example, birds exploding, and frogs and snakes turned into dead-eyed balloons. I don't know that this is necessarily upsetting, but it is more adult content. But while I often question its tone, the movie is still an enjoyable topsy-turvy fairy tale, in which the hero and his love are monsters, and the wider world of Fables (so to speak) is readily available for joke-making. The action is strong, the characters filled with personality, the relationships dynamic, the soundtrack pleasant (if a bit over-played). The Special Edition DVD has 2 versions of the film - widescreen and the loathsome full screen - a filmmakers' commentary track, deleted scenes as storyboard presentations, music videos, technical goofs (animated bloopers), making of elements, an international dubbing featurette, and various (rather lame, and sometimes buggy) interactive games.
#OscarPoolResult: Yeah, sure, I'll keep it.

Books: I wrote an essay for Outside In Boldly Goes, but that still left me with 116 more by 116 other writers about 116 more original-cast Star Trek stories to read through. (Note that last phrase, the book includes essays for all of TOS and TAS, the movies both classic and Nu, and every story that features TOS alumni, including Relics, Unification, Trials and Tribble-ations, etc. as well as Galaxy Quest for good measure!) The mandate of the Outside In series is to give unusual takes on the material, whether in format or opinion, which I do admit sometimes tips the balance towards humor pieces that take down even beloved TOS episodes (the bad stories get taken down, and then the good stories might be taken down as an "alternate take"), but there are enough insightful essays to satisfy the hardcore don't-talk-shit-about-my-fandom Trekkie as well, and give them something to think about when they thought they'd had every possible thought already. Might even have saved The Motion Picture for me...

Comics: Obviously, I gravitated towards Weird Love's whacky romance comics reprints because of my first podcasting endeavor, The Lonely Hearts Romance Comics Podcast, and while you should definitely get the single issues when you see them, possibly the best way to experience the series is through its hardcover collections. Just finished volume 2, and the package, as for the rest of the series, is just beautiful. The pages are thick, almost cardboard, and the graphics match the old-timey coloring jobs which have crucially NOT been updated with computer coloring (I hate it when they do that anyway, but for something that trades on its vintage look, it would have been disastrous). You won't find anything supernatural in this volume (there's almost a mermaid though), but there's some gangland stuff, atypical messages to the young girls who would have made up the original audience, and practically modern body dysmorphia stories. The collection includes about 20 vintage stories originally reprinted in Weird Love #4-6, a selection of covers, and a very good essay by romance comics expert Michelle Nolan.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You might like season 8 of "Archer", which takes place entirely in Archer's head as he's in a coma. He's imagining himself as a noir detective and the other characters show up in assorted roles. This allows them to leverage the elements that work (the chemistry between characters, the running jokes) while putting it into a new and fresh setting.

The first half of "Jesus Christ Superstar" is mostly Judas's tale, the second half Jesus's, and I think it's a smart division. About Judas, the Bible lists two completely different ways that he died: either he hanged himself out of guilt, or he had a gardening mishap on some land he bought with his blood money. So, the Bible leaves his motivations pretty open-ended. I've read that much of Judas's role, as we know it today (the great betrayer), was crafted to address a PR question: how do you sell the Roman Empire on a religion where the Romans are the bad guys? Answer: you frame it so that the Romans were just trying to keep the peace and it was a filthy untrustworthy Jew who is to blame.

I like the 1970 recording, with Deep Purple's Ian Gillian as Jesus:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Azawb907Bjg&list=PLB0BD8CB2F0253772&index=9

Siskoid said...

Yes it's also why Pontius Pilate comes across as a figure sympathetic to Jesus.

The literary truth of it is that for us to be saved, Jesus had to be crucified, so Judas had to betray him. I like Borges' reading of the story, where Jesus' "Judas, you will betray me" and Judas' "No Lord!" back and forth, is not a prescient accusation, but an order. This was the plan, so it's ludicrous to hold Judas or the Jews as a group in contempt for the role they had to play.

The (again, literary) irony is that by killing himself before the resurrection, he was not saved. Regardless, hardly the act of a greedy traitor.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I love the first Shrek movie, but the sequels ... not so much. It seems like they were just made to exploit the success of the first movie, and feature a lot more of the "wink wink" jokes that only adults would get.

Season Two of Legends of Tomorrow is better; they basically abandon any attempt at logic and just have fun, which (I think) makes for a better show. Plus, it has stories revolving around George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien!

Mike W.

Toby'c said...

I liked Shrek 2 a little better than the original (both somewhere in my top 250) but the other two are okay at best and I haven't seen the Puss in Boots spin-off yet.

Anonymous said...

I rented "Pus in Boots" and I don't think they should be showing that to children. Also, I'm not trusting Alejandro's recommendations at the Dirty Old Man video store any longer.

John Hennings said...

I found, through some quick googling, several different hypotheses that reconcile the separate accounts of Judas's death in Matthew and Acts.

1) Both happened. Judah hanged himself, then due to body swelling and something breaking under the weight (rope or branch), his body fell and his guts burst out. A variant of this claims that the original manuscript never said "fell headlong." It said "swelled up," which is apparently only a slight transcription error away in Ancient Greek. Some early translations of Acts support this reading, as they actually say "swelled up." But those also could have been "corrections" by someone who assumed that there had been a transcription error, if the translator had the same theory.

Other theories depend on something else being mistranslated or misunderstood.

2) Matthew isn't saying he hanged himself; he's using a colloquial expression for an emotional reaction ("choked up" in English).

3) Acts isn't saying Judas fell headlong and spilled his guts, but the priest who purchased the field did. The confusion is caused by an abrupt subject change.

I grew up believing the first one, and it still seems plausible, but having read the others, the last one actually makes a lot of sense to me. I'd have to ask a Greek scholar if the original text supports it. If so, it seems almost too obvious.

Also, every attempt to blame one group or the other for the death of Jesus ignores the more important truth -- Jesus died to keep us from having to pay the penalty for our sins, so we are all to blame.

Finally, I agree that Judah's motives are not 100% clear in the Bible, although anonymous and Siskoid discuss some prominent theories. Regardless, his actions were both sins and essential elements of God's plan. This shouldn't be surprising. An omniscient being can easily account for the free will actions of others in His planning.

 

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