This Week in Geek (18-24/09/17)

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: Darren Aronofsky's mother! sells itself as a creepy, indie horror-thriller, and for a while, that's what it is. By the time you realize it's an allegory, that allegory doesn't so much fall apart as blow its wad, and that's where it will lose audiences. For those not tapping into the metaphor, it just becomes nonsense (going by the very chatty reaction when the lights came on). For those who do, it's too on the nose and robs the film of its interesting ambiguities (some linger, mind you). Still, as a "worst house guests ever" story, it works very well, consistently increasing the main character's malaise, and since Aronofsky keeps the camera with her, the film keeps an emotional immediacy to what is a somewhat intellectual pursuit, and manages a strange and necessary unknowability to the other characters. I think the film also works as a study of creation - motherly, artistic, divine - and the pitfalls of fame, if we allow the allegory to double back on itself once it's revealed. It's gotten a lot of flack, I think in part due to audiences being unready for it (not having the right cultural baggage, hyped by the gossip side-show, expectations set out by the trailer, and/or having difficulty with the abuse heaped on Jennifer Lawrence's character - we had some late walk-outs), but I liked it. I'm just the kind of artsy-fartsy pretentious git who likes this sort of thing. If anything, I wanted it to be more opaque.

The National Theatre Live presentation of Yerma, a play by 1930s writer Federico García Lorca, re-imagined for contemporary London by Simon Stone, with Billie Piper in the title role was... funny, vicious, uncomfortable, totally modern, tragic, and powerful. Yerma is about a woman desperate to have a child, and after years of trying with no result, goes mad. In a very real sense, though trying to be a creator, she is essentially a destroyer, of her own life, of her relationships. A brutally honest blogger in this adaptation, she puts her darkest thoughts on the internet and breaks her intimacy contract with her husband. Similarly, the play is staged in a giant glass box so that we, the audience, are just as much voyeurs as her readers are. The play jump-cuts through days, weeks, months, even years, often in the middle of a moment, and yet keeps us hooked, even as big slides set to cacophonous music gives scenes titles and time lapses (used to cover set changes and actors entering or exiting the box under cover of darkness). I did wonder how this worked in the theater itself, might even call it distracting, but ultimately, you're on this semi-poetic ride with a great performance (a number of great performances, let's be honest) and I quickly came to understand the in-theater editing as part of the theme - Yerma and John's incapacity to give birth to anything fully. Yet another NTL production that has me wondering if they'll ever release these things on DVD.

At home: Black Mirror is a science fiction anthology series about the dark side of technology (so REAL sf then, though some are so near in the future, they're really thrillers), kind of a Twilight Zone for the 21st Century, and just, flippin', AMAZING. I mean, I just chugged the 13 available episodes, and kept wanting more despite there being no continuing stories or characters (pleasantly, the series does have a couple of recurring leitmotifs however). Each has the feel of one of those direct-to-Netflix SF idea pictures (a few are even feature-length), but are mostly better! It helps that Black Mirror has gotten some of the UK's best actors (and in the later half, strong American ones too), but more than that, the show feels at once prescient about where our current tech and society are going, and yet amplifications of what's already happening. The show consistently made me squirm in my seat, gave me fears that used to only be doubts, much scarier, in the current context, than any number of jumpy horror flicks. Some favorite episodes include "Fifteen Million Merits", "The Entire History of You", "White Christmas", and "Nosedive".

Pitch Perfect creates a ridiculous collegiate a cappella singing group subculture, and kind of sets you up for a spoof on "underdogs go to the championships" stories - especially with the two absurd announcers who seem to be in another movie - but like the films it wants to mock, it quickly becomes an excuse for stringing musical numbers together, and even runs head first into the clichés it pointedly attacked minutes before. And in a way, that's fine. The humor falls a bit flat (projectile vomiting jokes? really?), but Anna Kendrick is watchable enough to carry the picture. It's just unfortunate that the group leader won't listen to her ideas and that the movie makes us wait and wait and wait for a musical number that actually works, at least from the heroines. I suppose that's the pitfall of an underdog story, but this isn't a baseball movie. When musical numbers are a big part of the entertainment, withholding becomes a problem.

The original Jack Reacher was a nice surprise - interesting mystery, strong action, etc. - and at the time, it made me say I was interested in a sequel. Unfortunately, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (the title comes with a built-in warning) is anything BUT a surprise. Its plot about military contractors killing army personnel who stumbled on their illegal shenanigans was predictable as can be, and to make matters worse, the character is straddled with clichéed partners he must work with and protect - a competent military police officer in Cobie Smulders and a teenage thief who, get this, might be his daughter. While Jack Reacher 2: Reach For Less is perfectly watchable, it doesn't have anything new to offer. Fleeting moments of badassery are smothered in generic plotting, characters, and music. Oh well.

Doctor Who Titles: 1953's Rock Hudson vehicle, Sea Devils, has one big problem (let's just say I forgive the terrible and almost continuous day-for-night filming) - it's not telling the right story. Because Hudson's Napoleonic-era smuggler is not the hero of this tale; we're much more interested in Yvonne De Carlo's British spy, posing as a countess in France to ferret out military secrets. That's where all the tension lives. But while we spend a considerable amount of time on that section, the film frustratingly returns again and again to Hudson as he helps or impedes the spy mission, or else acts as a cookie-cutter love interest for the heroine. So it's not just that we don't care about his story (which has no arc to it, he just provides grease for the actual story), it's that he actively impedes on it. Get off the screen, Rock Hudson!
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The first Doctor and Susan land in France and become embroiled (not for the last time) in Napoleon's business. There's even a chance the smuggler character would be side-lined!

5 comments:

Brian said...

Not to be that guy, but any update on when we might expect a return to the DCAU reviews? I was really looking forward, given what you had had to say about previous series (and other false starts), what you’d say abou5 JUSTICE LEAGUE when you got to it!

Siskoid said...

I've got some writing commitments to take care of before I can get back into it, but thanks for the interest.

Brian said...

You’re welcome. I’ve liked all the rewatches (it was actually your Doctor Who rewatches, which I started perusing simply as a fan of your writing, that got me to finally go back and watch the series for the first time in the thirties!), but I especially connected to the DCAU simply because of how close I’ve been to them since the beginning of each.

Siskoid said...

As you can imagine, people are currently on my ass about Star Trek Discovery.

Brian said...

Institute a policy of shoot first as soon as they approach?

 

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