This Week in Geek (6-12/11/17)


In theaters: Thor Ragnarok has some great jokes (and comedy cameos), amazing set pieces, and justifies my life-long love for the Hulk. It's also the best performance Chris Hemsworth has been allowed to give as Thor (both in terms of comedy and drama). But it's TOO funny for its own good. There are some important, epic and tragic things happening in this film, and in nearly every case, the punch to the gut I should have been feeling was undone by a great big joke slapped in front or in the middle of it. I could easily point to the second Guardians of the Galaxy for a film that gets that balance right. Similarly, the political satire many have been raving about, I feel is hidden under too much humor to register properly, the most indulgent of which comes from the character played by the director himself. Don't get me wrong, Ragnarok is hugely entertaining, but it ultimately lacks a stable emotional core.

At home: Over the last year, people have been ranting and raving about our finally getting a live action superheroine that embodies feminine strength perfectly, and how Gal Godot was born to play the part. In some ways, and on a TV budget, Melissa Benoist beat her to the punch with Supergirl. Though the show has the same weaknesses as Greg Berlanti's other CW shows - it's all pretty people frequently repeating information for viewers who don't pay attention - the sheer inspirational power of what could be the definitive Supergirl wins the day. The same way Arrow borrowed liberally from Batman, Supergirl steals villains and ideas left and right from Superman (who also exists, but is a respectfully distant presence) and that makes for some interesting reinventions. The action stuff is bold and pretty well realized, the engine for creating villains (an alien prison that dropped out of the Phantom Zone) has lots of potential, and the larger theme - finding your place in the world - shared by most of the characters (though perhaps Cat Grant is supposed to be an example of the end game, she's a terrific presence). Quickly became my favorite CW show. The DVD includes deleted scenes, an inevitable Comic-Con panel, a couple of featurettes (on a certain superhero ally and the design of Krypton), and a gag reel.

In the 70s, I guess they didn't have any other take on superheroes but outright camp, because Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze certainly is that. The main bad guy is somewhere between a Bond villain and Thurston Howell III, Doc and his crew (complete with useful piglet) pull tricks out of their metaphorical utility belts like Batman '66, and can apparently hear the sound effects indicating Doc is thinking. But I could forgive all that if it weren't for the silly circus and patriotic music that takes the stuffing out of the action scenes. It always feels like the movie is telling me not to take anything seriously even when I want to. It doesn't help that there are so many characters to get a handle on, and that Savage himself is rather characterless. That said, if you give yourself over to it, as you might, say, Buckaroo Banzai - another world that seems at once lived-in and opaque - the amusing madness may yet charm you.

Wes Craven's Swamp Thing really suffers from 80s-ness, specifically its early focus on ridiculous, Rambo-esque mercenary types shooting up the swamp. For the first two acts, it' basically a bad action movie with a Frankenstein twist. When the hero/monster shows up, it's hard not to see a poorly-realized rubber suit, and one can't help but think the changes made to Abby and Arcane robbed them of something more complex. It's not until the third act that the movie starts feeling like the pre-Moore Swamp Thing comic, but at least it does get there eventually - strange but sweet doomed romance, Swampy fighting another monster (though I question the design), and nice atmosphere. The South Carolina marshes are quite beautiful, Adrienne Barbeau is a strong take-charge Abby Cable, and Reggie Batts has a very funny turn as the kid in this story, so even if the screenplay and budget are problematic, Swamp Thing remains watchably quirky.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot takes war correspondent Kim Barker's experiences in the Middle East and distills a truthful dark comedy from it. The humor derives in part from the absurdity of military bureaucracy, the clash of Western and Muslim cultures, and the chaos of life in a war zone. It also carries through in the performances - Tina Fey,  Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Alfred Molina all do well with the material. But it's not in any way a send-up. Though you may smile or laugh over the course of the film, there's also jeopardy, and heart, and an examination of the kind of tunnel vision one gets while living in that kind of "bubble". It feels truthful to what it must be like to be a journalist in a hot spot, and truthful to the realities of that part of the world itself, both in the power one would be surprised to wield and one's powerlessness in the grand scheme of things.

Doctor Who Titles: 1953's Black Orchid is British mystery/thriller that starts out more or less defying formula, playing as a relationship drama - a woman is unhappy with her husband spending so much time at work with her sister - but once there's a murder to be solved, formula is all that really keeps the story going. Characters are required to be a little stupid, get into trouble, not be believed by the authorities, just so we can reach a movie finale. It helps that, clocking in at about an hour, the film moves at a brisk clip and can't overstay its welcome. As far as the mystery goes, it's constructed well enough, though hardly memorable.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The first Doctor and Susan befriend the scientist who is framed for the murder, so of course help his main squeeze find the real culprit.


Anonymous said...

When the "Supergirl" show came out, in the comics, Superman was riding around on a motorcycle, bad attitude on display as the masses hated and feared him. And we were getting ready for a movie where Superman and Batman would beat the crap out of each other for no reason.

How is it that "Supergirl" could so effortlessly get it right? for whatever flaws the shows had / has / always will have, one thing it does so well is make Kara a heroine who genuinely wants to help people, and brings out the best in others.

Here is the thing I will boast about to my dying day: I figured out that Hank Henshaw was actually J'onn J'onnz as of episode two, when someone asked if he had a family, and he got such a sad look on his face and said "not anymore". According to interviews, David Harewood didn't even know that there was a looming big reveal with Hank Henshaw when the show started, and found it frustrating that he couldn't get into the head of his character, who just seemed to be a jerk for no reason. Nevertheless he gave us such a perfect J'onn J'onnz moment that there was no disguising it.

Also, gotta give "Supergirl" credit for being willing to burn through its plot points. Unlike "Arrow", where they'll introduce a plot point early in the season and finally deal with it only at the end, "Supergirl" establishes its issues and then deals with them in just an episode or two.

Alex is the worst agent ever, though. Take a drink every time she does something unprofessional on the job, and don't blame me for the alcohol poisoning.

Mike W. said...

Yeah, I've liked Supergirl right from the start, and the quality has stayed high right up to the new episodes (though some people seem to loathe Mon-El, so your mileage may vary; I don't love his character, but I don't hate him either). One of the things I like is that the supporting characters get arcs of their own (notably Alex and J'onn)

Plus the guest-star casting is great: Helen Slater and Dean Cain as Kara's adoptive parents, Teri Hatcher, Lynda Carter ... great choices.

Brendoon said...

One o' these days I'd love to catch the Doc Savage flick. Totally agree about Ragnarok, it JUST kicked over the border into Excess. P'raps Waititi thought he might never get another shot! He did say the half hour of stuff he put back IN (after his leaner cut) was all jokes.
It's all down to editing choices, eh! I'm a silly man myself, so I appreciate a lack of reverence at the cost of drama, I'd like life itself to be more silly...
(Haha! "I'd NEVER call Kim Short and Fat!" classic comedy in the face of nuclear doom)

Roger Nowhere said...

I agree with your comments about Ragnarok. You're even too kind, in my opinion. The constant jokes and pranks ruined the film.
When I watch a Spider-man or Deadpool film, I don't mind there is humor. In fact, I expect it. But Thor? No way a movie about the fate of Asgard and the doom of Odin can be so clownish. I don't say it can't have jokes. I enjoyed some of them (like Doctor Strange Escher style house). But the pathetic Executioner make me grin my teeth like Skurge would have done. Also, Warrior Three are randomly killed... And Thor doesn't even mention it. Too busy trying to be cool, I suppose.
Hella is a waste. A goddess of death? A goddess of knife throwing, maybe. It's his only trick.
Perhaps I'm too harsh, but I went to the cinema with low expectations, and came out disapointed.

Kaiser The Great said...

YES, dead on about Ragnarok. All hope of drama was undercut by jokes. Asgard is being destroyed...RAGNAROK! and we got brick guy yukking it up. Who DIDN'T see Banners SPLAT! on the rainbow bridge coming a mile away by the time we get to that point in the movie? They missed no opportunity to insert a funny, and most weren't that good, or even seemed out of character. Little things like Thor fumbling with Doctor Strange's bottles...Starlord or Spider-Man yes...but Thor? God of Hammers? (Yeesh in it's own right...)


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