This Week in Geek (25/06-01/07/18)


I thought I'd found my Holy Grail in a used book shop - Richard Burton's translation of the Arabian Nights - and would have pulled the trigger even though it was in a rare books cabinet, but it was another translation entirely, so I just nabbed a cheap copy of Letters to Star Trek, which might serve as research for a podcast I have.


In theaters: Not gonna lie, I don't think The Incredibles has aged all that well. Looking at it today, you can tell the animation is a little rough. Incredibles 2, though it has some of the same general structure, is the better-looking picture by far. I'd even say there's a discrepancy between the original characters' more basic looks and the models for anyone new. Generally, the level of detail, the textures, the crazy action, all are of a very high level. This is very much ElastiGirl's story, and if stretching has always seemed kind of a silly power in comics, it's the most badass thing ever in this movie (Fantastic Four movies, look upon this work and despair). All her scenes look great. Mr. Incredible is meanwhile mostly stuck at home taking care of the kids, a running subplot made fun and engaging by the explosion of powers from Jack-Jack and the revelation that supers might exhibit different powers until they "choose" one at some point. Really makes you want a third film to skip ahead in time to see just what happens there. Jack-Jack gains an archenemy too, so it'd be worth it. I don't think we'll have to wait 14 years for the next one, is what I'm saying.

Bao is Pixar's short film at the front of Incredibles 2, a sweet tearjerker without dialog about a Chinese-Canadian woman who brings a cute dumpling to life, raises it, and eventually must say goodbye to it. It's about family, obviously, and empty nest syndrome. Touching and beautiful debut work from animation director Domee Shi. Expect kids to ask for dumplings now. Shout-out to the theater patrons who laughed through the wrong bits (do you fear your own emotions?) and the monster who blurted out that he'd lost 5 minutes of his life (then proceeded to complain through any "family stuff" in the main feature, look at his phone, and twiddle with my friend's water bottle in the armrest... who DOES that?! A defective dumpling, I guess.

At home: Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused acts as a portrait of teenagers in mid-70s, following various boys and girls through one night, following the last day of school. For some, it's a coming of age. For others, just desserts. For others still, just another party (for good or ill). Linklater's trademark philosophical discussions are tuned to the age group and don't overwhelm the script. Not everyone at school would be so intellectual, and the snapshot is too real for that (give or take the apparent age of the actors). One reason to see it is to spot the crazy amount of recognizable actors at a very early stage in their careers - Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, Parker Posey, Anthony Rapp, Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, and in an uncredited bit part, Renée Zellweger! Overall, this will probably work better if you were a teenager in the 70s (I was not), but you should regardless enjoy the rockin' soundtrack even if you don't connect with the vibe of the times.

Horns has a premise I am definitely interested in, but doesn't quite deliver on its promises. Based on Joe Hill's novel, this is the story of Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) demonized after being wrongfully accused on murdering his girlfriend, and I choose that word carefully, because it actually does turn him into a horned devil and gives him certain powers related to exposing and using people's sins, which he uses to solve the murder himself. What starts out as the blackest of comedies with delicious magic realism thrown in eventually loses steam, in part because of extended flashbacks, but mostly because it devolves into slasher territory thanks to a thinly drawn villain right out of a Scream sequel. Worse, perhaps, the movie never really makes clear just how the devil metaphor works, despite early suggestions that Ig's been making monkey's paw trades all his life. Tonally, it's a bit of a mess, moving back and forth from epic romance to Amblin horror to caustic comedy to CW murder mystery without so much as a by-your-leave. I'm disappointed because I like movies with unusual premises, but Radcliffe is still good at least.

Time travel stories are normally sci-fi adventures, sometimes comedy, sometimes existential horror, but can the genre be used for pure romance? It seems Rachel McAdams has made it her purpose in life to prove it can, and while I haven't seen About Time yet, I don't think we can qualify The Time Traveler's Wife as a success. Part of the problem is that the film never chooses a point of view character, and whenever we're with McAdams' Clare or her time-traveling beau, Henry (Eric Bana), they're usually in a position to know the other's future (or even their own), which makes sure there's very little tension through the first two acts. And if everything is already decided and they have no free will, that's hardly touched on over the course of the movie. This is a romance that happens because of itself, and we're mostly going through the paces just as the characters must, with nary a twist not telegraphed from the future. At times, it does play with the idea of being in a relationship with someone unstuck in time, but outside of their predicament, we don't really know who they are or why they should love each other. Never mind scenes where a naked Bana appears to a little girl and imprints on his future wife. Brrr. I know The Time Traveler's Wife (at least the novel) came first, but I'd much rather be watching the Doctor and River Song if it's all the same to you.

A Fistful of Dollars' low budget can be seen in its worse-than-usual dub and ridiculous day-for-night, but it made stars out of Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, and Ennio Morricone. Rightly so. Leone manages to create a Wild West that is at once iconic and unique, using giant close-ups, violent action, and stark Spanish locations. Morricone's whistling score is the first of several that would become synonymous with the western. And Eastwood's poncho-wearing "Man with No Name" cuts a distinct figure and an ambiguous personality. In the first of a loose trilogy, he is a sort of trickster who plays two criminal factions against one another to make money, but also free a family enslaved by evil men. He's both selfish and altruistic, a con man and a gunfighter, a Coyote god and an arrogant man whose hubris will get him into trouble. There's something mythic about the story and the way it plays out, with strong action beats we haven't seen a hundred times. It's like Leone doesn't really know how thing are normally done, so his take remains fresh to this day.

For a Few Dollars More betters the original by solving some of its technical issues and budget problems, and adding Lee Van Cleef to the cast of actors. Van Cleef plays the "Man in Black", a bounty hunter competing with Eastwood's second turn as the "Man with No Name", both equally ambiguous, and after El Indio (Gian Maria Volontè), a mad, tortured outlaw. As with the first film in Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy, there's every sense that he (and to a similar extent, composer Ennio Morricone) is reinventing the western and yet serving an iconic take on the Mythic West. Again there are set pieces we're not expecting, and the script plays its cards close to the vest, revealing character motivations only when needed, making for a more satisfying picture. And yet, Leone's best and most visual work would be yet to come. A Fistful of Dollars worked as a brilliant esquisse; For a Few Dollars More perfected the concept. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly would take it to the next level and Once Upon a Time in the West be considered his masterpiece. But this, at least, is perhaps Eastwood's personal best in the line.

Seijun Suzuki is a rule-breaking Japanese director I really need to seek out more. 1966's Tokyo Drifter is considered his best work, a strange mash-up of Le Samouraï and Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, that sees a hitman for one Yakuza family try to leave the life after his boss is defeated, and becomes a target for assassination himself. A classic enough premise, but we're not ready for what follows. Nominally noir, this colorful film pushes the limits of diagetics to often resemble - in color, set design, and of course music - a classic musical. Suzuki takes a lot of chances every step of the way, and if all of them don't necessarily pay off (the plot is a bit confusing on first approach and some of the visual tricks are just that, tricks), most do. The more you watch, the more you're engrossed, and the finale is a wonderful blend of musical artifice and violent gunplay. And to think this is what Suzuki came up with after his studio told him to calm the f*** down!

Ripper Street's last two seasons have the same arc villain, so I might as well review them together. In a third act change to the status quo, Reid and Drake switch places as the former returns to Whitechapel after some time away, causing some friction at the police station. Reid's newfound daughter becomes an essentially part of the cast, but as we edge closer to the end, it becomes clear some characters will not outlive the series. While season 4 starts with some Gothic elements like vampires, werewolves and golems (as there's a strong Jewish immigrant story working itself out), it never veers into the actual supernatural, don't worry. By season 5, the show is really one continuing story, no longer concerned with individual cases. Don't expect much in the way of happy endings, folks. This is Whitechapel to the very end.


snell said...

"It's like Leone doesn't really know how thing are normally done, so his take remains fresh to this day."

It should be noted that A Fistful Of Dollars was pretty clearly an unofficial (almost frame-by-frame, at points) remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo, so much so that Toho and Kurosawa successfully sued for a fair chunk of the profits.

Siskoid said...

I'd heard that, and I've seen Yojimbo and rate it highly (though I love Sanjuro, the comedy version, more), but it never really felt that way while watching it. It's like Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai, I can enjoy both and find the "translation" adds enough to make the films separate and innovative in their own right.

Required field must be blank said...

"Akira Kurosawas scholar David Desser and critic Manny Farber, among others, state that Red Harvest was the inspiration for Kurosawa's film Yojimbo. Other scholars, such as Donald Richie, believe the similarities are coincidental." from the Wikipedia article on Red Harvest.

Required field must be blank said...

Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest. The novel is still entertaining.

Kurt "Welcome to Geektown" Onstad said...

I definitely recommend About Time. Although the romance angle is played up in the trailer, it's more about family than romance. And it's very well done.


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