This Week in Geek (18-24/06/18)


After watching the second Detective Dee film, I decided to get the first Judge Dee book, The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (as translated from the Chinese by Robert van Gulik).


In theaters: Ocean's Eight is a good successor to the Ocean's legacy, but not a great one (so perhaps on par with Twelve), and it really comes down to the direction. When you compare it to Soderbergh's Eleven, it lacks pace and style. The editing is ordinary instead of fun, and the music doesn't have the same drive. So it's down to the cast to keep it alive through the mechanics of a fairly original caper, and for the most part, they succeed, especially on the basis of comedy. Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham-Carter are hilarious, and I wish Awkwafina and Mindy Kaling had a little more to do, cuz they're fun too. Rihanna's got a pretty good character. Unfortunately it's the leads who are too thinly written. Cate Blanchett is a rockin' biker chick, but little more than Sandra Bullock's right hand woman. And Bullock is fine, but she should be more than fine to lead such a company. When the movie's good, it's quite good, but it takes too many shortcuts (the bit with 9-Ball's sister, what?) and at times barely motivates its characters. A bit of fun, but I wanted better for these actresses.

At home: Columbus is a slow-paced and quiet film that uses the modern architecture of Columbus, Indiana, as a metaphor for absence. Modernism, and its link to the zen aesthetic also evoked, uses a balance of presence and void that mirrors the characters' situations. John Cho is the son of an architecture professor in town to see his dying father, a man we never see beyond a silhouette. He befriends a Haley Lu Richardson, a young woman with an unknown future before her and undependable mother the camera never wants to linger on. Geometric cinematography and lyrical sound design support a slew of conversations between them, and suggest things and people missing from their lives. Each building used has meaning, much of the foreground text is elliptical. The acting is great. It's a character study, well served by all these elements, even if the plot, such as it is, may leave one wanting more. And certainly, I would have spent more time with these characters. And as an aside, I'm stoked that John Cho is breaking barriers for Asian actors being leads in American films (here and in the upcoming Searching).

How do you approach the third act of you life when the second was singularly focused on taking care of other people (a spouse, a child) who have since move on or passed away? The Meddler is a cute, mostly inoffensive, and sometimes touching answer to that question. Whatever familiarity its plot offers, Susan Serandon's performance as a recent widow and smothering mother makes the film a worthwhile one (well supported by Rose Byrne and J.K. Simmons). Sarandon's Marnie has too much time on her hands and transfers her attention to whoever will take it, keeping busy to stave off the grief she still feels for her dead husband, and faintly hurt by her daughter's frustration with her. You would imagine such a person would be annoying, and you'd be right, but you can't help but be sympathetic. While there's an omnipresent sadness there, the movie also has some funny and charming moments. Making Byrne's character a sitcom writer who uses her life as inspiration might have led to something metatextually clever, but it doesn't really. If the film is itself based on writer-director Lorene Scafaria's experience, then the way those scenes play out may be an apology. In any case, I predict mother and daughters who have difficult relationships will find a lot to relate to.

A Perfect Getaway, by writer-director David Twohy (the various Chronicles of Riddick), is an initially paranoid thriller about vacationing couples out for a big adventure in the wilds of Hawaii, among them the likes of  Milla Jovovich, Steve Zahn, Timothy Olyphant (who is especially good) and Chris Hemsworth. The hiccup is that once couple among them may be murdering maniacs who are killing honeymooning couples on the islands. The eventual reveal is a little underwhelming, perhaps because by that point you've suspected everyone at least once (it only thinks it's priming you for its big twist, while it may actually telegraph or at least deflate it), but I quite like the atmosphere of before that, and the action beats AFTER it. A fun and somewhat undemanding flick that nevertheless has a lot of twists and turns right up to the end.

An early Stephen Chow comedy (in fact, the first he co-directed), From Beijing with Love starts with a card telling us any resemblance to James Bond is purely coincidental, then proceeds to spoof the Roger Moore era at every turn. There's a lot of Naked Gun-type silliness, and I think the humor works best when it's absurd or subtle, less so when it goes broad, but to me, its best feature is that it still works as a super-spy story. It's not just gags, there's a story, some fun action, and a cute romance between Chow and his would-be assassin played by Anita Yuen. The problem is tonal. While it's overtly a light parody, the level of violence is at times egregious and sadistic, something not unique to this film in the Hong Kong canon by any means. The bloodshed is mostly played for laughs and works on that level, but there's at least one instance where an innocent gets it in the worst way. Manage expectations, but From Beijing is still more coherent than Naked Gun, more effective than Moonraker, and way ahead of Johnny English in the realm of 007 parody. (Yes, I know what I did there.)

I am not particularly familiar with the bande dessinée, but Luc Besson's film adaptation of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec definitely has a Franco-Belgian comics look and feel, filled with inept policemen and politicians, caricatured make-up, and a flighty blend of humor and adventure. Adèle sits at the crossroads of Indiana Jones, the 90s Mummy films, and Tintin (indeed there are several sly references to the latter's adventures in this), but with an extra dose of whimsy that lets you believe anything can happen in this bonkers story (as you should). Much of the film is carried by Louise Bourgoin's fiery, dry-witted, turn-of-the-20th-Century Lara Croft, even if we spend a lot of time setting up the various other characters in the tale (it does pay off, even if it doesn't always seem necessary). You only know you're in B-movie land in a couple of places where the CG fails the production, but it's nevertheless a bit of fun. How else are you going to get mummies AND pterodactyls in Paris?

1958's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof famously doesn't respect Tennessee Williams' play, but that hardly matters to me. Fact is, the text shines through anyway, and the characters exit the story with more grace as a result of its less cynical bent. I'd even call it poignant. And it's extremely well staged and acted. It's hard not to get drawn into Elizabeth Taylor's Maggie, wanting all the things the play tells her NOT to want, including kids even though she's attacked on all fronts by her sister-in-law's monstrous progeny. Or Paul Newman's Brick, a man used to leaning on crutches. Or Burl Ives' toxically funny Big Daddy, the dying manifestation of a prototypical "Decaying South", having laid his foundations on swamp land to prepare for an uncertain future. These three carry the film, but special mention goes Madeleine Sherwood's sycophantic gossip; you want to slap her, but that's how you know she's so good.


snell said...

The real structural weakness of Ocean's 8 is that there is no villain, as a heist film works best when the audience has someone to root against, which makes it easier to root for the criminals. Sadly, the "revenge on the ex-boyfriend" doesn't cover it, as he's too thinly drawn, and such a non-threat, that he barely registers.

Ryan Blake said...

Well i went out and purchased Adele after readng this!

Anonymous said...

Adele was fantastic and I wish there were sequels but.. umm.. you know.

Siskoid said...

I do?


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