This Week in Geek (24-30/07/17)

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: Dunkirk is a resounding technical success. Obviously, the story of British and French soldiers trapped on a beach, waiting for an evacuation that may never come, then arrives from surprising quarters is well choreographed and shot. The structure is also intriguing, with the beach action taking place over a week, the fishermen's tale over a day, and the air force story over an hour, cutting back and forth through the time frames creating a fair bit of suspense and mystery as events converge. Most incredible is the sound design, filled with driving percussive beats that continually evoke alarms and ticking clocks, or else gives the scenes loud immediacy. Dunkirk is a resounding technical success, but while its thin character work is probably meant to signal how cheap life is in war, it also tends to leave the audience cold. For the most part, I did not feel particularly engaged emotionally, though I know some of my viewing mates cried their eyes out. I respect the film as a sometimes clever recreation of historical events (though historians will be quick to bark at every inaccuracy, I just don't care about that), but did not find it as moving as some.

DVD: Show Me a Hero is a less-known HBO mini-series from David Simon (The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill, Treme), starring Oscar Isaac (passed master at playing defeated protagonists) as the sometime mayor of Yonkers, New York, who got caught up a housing crisis during his terms on the City Council in the late 80s and early 90s. Basically, the town initially refused to approve public housing in an affluent neighborhood despite a court order, which manifested as an ugly civil rights battle much closer in time than most (at least until we get to the even uglier 2010s). As with any Simon script, the city is the main character and so we follow not just the mayor but several poor women who will one day have to move to the public housing. There's an irritating imbalance in Show Me a Hero. The front half has a clear focus in municipal politics, so the women's stories seem to barge in, irrelevant. In the back half, the table turns, and you resent the pathetic former mayor and want to see more of the women and their struggle to integrate in an antagonistic neighborhood. I don't suppose there was any other way to tell the story, but regardless, it does end on a powerful note. The DVD also includes a short, promotional making of.

When I first saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in theaters and reviewed it here, I was almost entirely positive, taken in by the bold action and only too happy to return one more time to Middle-Earth. A couple of years later, revisiting it with the Extended Edition, I'm forced to make a 180 on that opinion. Without the benefit of having JUST watched the previous installment, Smaug's dispatch within 10 minutes feels like a huge anti-climax, after which everything that's interesting or potentially touching is lost in scene after CG scene of fighting gags. While the extended cut has some of my favorite such bits (its triumph across the trilogy is developing all the dwarves so well), adding more fighting really doesn't fix the problem. Unlike many, I don't mind the expansion of a few pages into a whole film, but it gets to be too much of the same thing, and comes out as tedious. The DVD, with a writer/director commentary track and some 10 hours or making of (like the rest of set, achieves a touching finality even if the film doesn't, as the cast and crew come to terms with the end of 15-year journey.

Doctor Who Titles: Arthur "Bonnie & Clyde" Penn's 1966 escaped convict film The Chase defies expectation - and probably tests its audience's patience - by focusing on the effect the escape has on a small town where everyone knows everyone else (including the fugitive), rather than the manhunt. There are some great performances here from the likes of Marlon Brando, Jane Fonda, Robert Redford, Angie Dickinson and Robert Duvall, several of them in smaller, early roles. The driving force behind the film is the mystery of just what "Bubber" Reeves' relationship to all these characters is, and whether or not he's actually guilty, but you don't always know that's what you're supposed to be thinking about so the film's point is at times muddled. Still, a good and textured ensemble movie worth a second look.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 2nd Doctor, Jamie, Polly and Ben land in the town and try to calm people down before they riot, perhaps even intercede on the part of Bubber, but it's all for naught, and the TARDISeers learn a depressing lesson about mob mentality.

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