This Week in Geek (12-18/08/19)


Decided to add about 10 books to my GURPS collection. Used and 2 for 1, even the World War II books that don't interest me much were worth the price. Grabbed a Glorkian Warrior graphic novel by James Kochalka while I was at it.


In theaters: Amblin throwbacks are big right now, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark definitely fits that subgenre. And it's a well put together movie too, if a bit low-contrast for most movie screens. It gets a little dark in the theater at times, especially early on. Trollhunter's André Øvredal lets himself be guided by producer Del Toro in the way the book's illustrations are referenced, giving some of the sequences an unreal look, but there are still plenty of thrill and chills regardless. This may be aimed at younger audiences (it's PG horror rather than R), it still has a good creep factor, coupled with compelling young leads involved in a ticking-clock investigation of what's happening to them. An adaptation of a volume of short stories could have had a cursory frame tale and felt like an anthology movie. Not the case. The stories written in blood are part of the plot - that item you pick up in Cabin in the Woods that sets everything in motion - with a stable cast of characters to care about even as the book's monsters come out of the woodwork to chase them. Nice themes going on as well, Nixon's 1968 election going on in the background relating to the secrets of the antagonist's family, for example.

At home: Commando may be full of action movie clichés, but it really helped popularize those clichés, so I think it's entitled. Really, the only one I could do without here is the Drafted Gal Friday, Rae Dawn Chong spending her time screaming and yet never leaving Arnie's side even when she has the chance. Now, there's one type of action I find absolutely boring, and that's when people shoot automatic weapons at each other and mostly miss. Thankfully, while that drains my interest towards the climax, Commando is more than a shoot'em up. There are many feats of strength - which I think is a must when Schwarzenegger is your action star (and this is his first legitimate action hero role, I think I'd put Conan in another category of film) - and hand-to-hand/melee fighting. Alyssa Milano is good as the little girl. Vernon Wells way over the top as the final boss. Overall, this is an entertaining flick filled with stunts, fights and death puns, often ridiculous, but in a way that screams 80s action, and Commando is one of the prototypical entries in the genre.

At the crossroads between The Matrix and Timecop is The One, an American Jet Li vehicle that I am hard-wired to like. A parallel worlds story. A famous Chinese action star (and correspondingly, some Hong Kong flair). Jason Statham. Carla Gugino (who I fell in love with way back in Quantum Leap). There's even an amusing cameo for Mark Borchardt from the documentary American Movie. I actually wish the plot had been more ambitious. Not that we don't catch glimpses of various parallel worlds, with a lot of background world-building, but I had several ideas for the ending that were better than the playbook version we got. Maybe they hoped to do something in a sequel that never came (I would have called it The Two). Alas. For what it is, it's a fun, high-concept sf/action flick, where martial artists have super-powers (in the traditional sense rather than wuxia type stuff), and good, dog-loving Jet Li fights evil, dog-kicking Jet Li. And that's pretty well realized, give or take a couple of rubbery early-2000s CG shots. I do have a problem with the soundtrack though. It's noisy and obnoxious, and misses an opportunity to change with the worlds visited. Sorry NuMetal fans! I hated it!

Die Hard on a phone! That's Cellular. Basically, Kim Basinger gets kidnapped by bad guy Jason Statham, who smashes the landline in the attic where she's kept prisoner (who keeps a phone in the attic?). She starts tapping wires together and gets young Chris Evans at random, so he of course must help her save her family from this dire situation while staying on the phone. As an action hero here, Evans has great situational awareness, which is my favorite action hero trait. With no resources but what's around you, what can you do? And then there's William H. Macy as the "comedy cop" who figures out what's going on (or part of it) from available clues so he's not as foolish as movie tropes would usually have it. Nor is Basinger a simple damsel in distress! She's got a lot of agency, so this is sort of a remote buddy action flick in a way, a reversal on "the guy in the chair" idea. Not half as ridiculous as most action films, it keeps the tension up throughout and even has the mystery of just what the bad guys are after to keep one's interest. Some pretty good humor, some nostalgia for when people TALKED on their cellphones, and fun action pieces. It's also a hoot to see Evans and Statham early in their careers, quite frankly. Much maligned, I know, but I really liked this one! FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

I've seen a lot of 30s-40s fluff pieces because Myrna Loy starred in there, and Third Finger, Left Hand is fluffy indeed. It's like Hollywood didn't care about plotting out romcoms in this era. Starts with a neat premise - Myrna has invented am estranged husband for herself so she doesn't get harassed or discriminated against at work. Then she meets Melvyn Douglas and the "husband" causes foreseeable complications on their date. Still, they have good chemistry, and he finds it difficult to extricate himself from the relationship and he figures it out. So he goes to her family home and embarrasses her by playing the part of the long-lost husband, a revenge I don't really care about but that acts as the second-act "won't they", until reconciliation must occur, at the expense of the third point of the romantic triangle, on a train in the last part. By this point, we've lost track of the characters' motivations and don't care about the "will they" anymore. If Loy's character has a defining trait, it's that she really good at spinning lies - surely a personality trait that makes her desirable as a partner - but while it leads to breezy comedy, it draws the focus away from whether or not we want the two of them to get together. Unfocused is probably the best one-word descriptor for this one.

Power of the Daleks has been entirely lost to us, but they did make an animated version of it, which I saw in theaters a couple years ago. The DVD came soon on its heels, and it actually provides three ways to watch Patrick Troughton's first Doctor Who story. There's a color version of what I saw in theaters, which actually looks pretty good; for purists, the animation is presented in black and white as well; and for super-purists, there's the standard reconstruction using stills from the actual broadcast (which make for a fun comparison). The color version includes a commentary track in which steady host Tobe Hadoke chats with various different groups (in addition to the normal group of actors and behind the scenes people, there are interviews conducted separately, the Dalek maestros of the new series, and people involved in the animation). This is where the good stuff is, as the making of is rather cursory. The photo gallery includes designs for the animation, and you'll also find animation test footage, clips of surviving footage, an original Dalek voice recording session, and a little more. If you're interested in my reviews of the episodes, well, you gotta go back to 2012 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6).

After a lost episode of The Underwater Menace was found in 2011, it took a while for it to be restored, but it finally made it to DVD. In this case, the two still-missing episodes weren't given the animation treatment. Understandable seeing as it's considered one of the worst Doctor Who stories of all time. It could still be considered fun camp, but I'd need to see episode 4 to make sure. Episodes 1 and 4 are shown with telesnaps and the original audio, but that's it. The commentary track plays it the same way, with archive interviews for those eps (including Troughton himself), and a cast of survivors for eps 3 and 4. The making is actually rather fun, with Rob Shearman making good points in the serial's favor, and some new fish people footage made on location special. Unrelated to the serial is the second part of the Davison-era cast walking through BBC Television Centre sharing memories (the first in The Visitation Special Edition DVD); a lot of people who worked there during the 80s add their stories, and it's quite a good extra. The photo gallery's a little brief. Two censored clips are also included as the only material recovered from the missing episodes. For my original reviews: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Best Believe I Watched Keanu 'n' Charlize
As promised watched Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey with friends. It isn't as funny as the first one, but it's a great deal WEIRDER. Well, Death is pretty funny. No review here since I already did the job some time ago. KeanuWatch continues!

I've read that Gus Van Sant combined three unfinished scripts to create My Own Private Idaho, and it shows. There's the story of male prostitutes (River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves) on the road. There's the modern adaptation of Henry IV with only slightly modified Shakespearean verse focusing on the Hal/Falstaff relationship on the streets of Portland. And there's the trip to Italy. This creates some important tonal shifts, with real male prostitutes telling horror stories for the camera, mixed in with Elizabethan delivery, beautifully real emotions, love scenes shot as erotic paintings, a musical number, and flights of surreal fancy. What brings it all together is Phoenix's character. A narcoleptic poet, he dreams of a mother figure and of a farm house in Idaho. This longing for a place to belong (ideally, someone's arms) is what drives the picture, and he keeps waking up in strange situations, having slept his life away. Because he sees the world in poetic terms, it justifies even the Shakespeare stuff. I don't think we're meant to see those scenes as fact, so much as his interpretation of them. It's a world view, filled with contradictions, stories told but not always believed, and moments preserved or lost in memory.

Then I ran into trouble. Providence should be up next, but I can't find it. This theatrically-released drama about a high school kid crashing Ivy League university classes has apparently never even had a video release. My third skip on the Keanu tour, then. I filled up the hole in my soul with the Paula Abdul video Rush Rush, as it stars Keanu in the James Dean role as the music video recreates various scenes from Rebel Without a Cause. Keanu was exploding in '91, so this isn't a case of "before they were stars" like Courtney Cox in Springstein's Dancing in the Dark or Levar Burton in Cameo's Word Up. It's "lets get this massive star to play another massive star who can match OUR massive star". Just using this moment to take stock here. In 5 years, Keanu has gone from TV Movies to bankable silver screen star. He's done comedy, drama, art house, genre, action, literary adaptation, and music video appearances for their own sake!

Saw (Coppola's) Bram Stoker’s Dracula in theaters back in the day, but all I remembered was the independent shadows (something it owes to Vampyr, I now realize) and Keanu Reeves getting bit in the junk. Oh, and that I didn't particular like it. Today, I can appreciate the closer adaptation of Stoker's book, but I still don't think it particularly works. I'll lay that down at the feet of three people. First, the Harkers (Winona Ryder and Keanu) struggling with their British accents is only a small part of their bad acting. They are miscast to say the least. And then there's Coppola himself, who uses far too much camera trickery. Sometimes it works, sometimes it really doesn't, but regardless, he pushes on that too hard, too early. There's no build-up, whatsoever. And while I understand the psycho-sexual underpinnings of vampire lore, this one goes to some distasteful extremes, whether it's Van Helsing humping a cowboy's leg or poor Lucy always shown with a breast uncovered and not a single Victorian trying to cover her up. Come on, now. I should like this a lot more. I mean, Mike Mignola and Jim Steranko worked on the look of it! I've loved other horror acid trips! But Coppola's Dracula feels overwrought and uneven, and while it did bring new iconography to Dracula's cinematic iconography, I have a very hard time enjoying it for any length of time.

Keanu Reeves (Ted) went on to great fame. Alex Winter (Bill) made his big follow-up to Bogus Journey, Freaked, which he co-wrote and co-directed, and which effectively put an end to his acting career. The proof seems to be in the pudding. Keanu is also in this, and took in a million dollars to play Ortiz the Dog Boy on the apparently condition he would not be credited (his agent was working over-time). He's one of several recognizable stars that were apparently roped into thinking this was the next Naked Gun or something. It really owes more to the Toxic Avenger. Winter plays a douchey TV star who gets zapped by carnie with goo that mutates people and is put into a freak show. Is it as bad as all that? No. It's got some funny gags, but also some dreadful ones. It's got some wacky animatronics, as well as characters that, surely, are the ancestors of the Minions. It's completely insane at times, but a lot of its comedy is of the MTV/You Can't Do That on Television, mild gross-out sort, or else a throwback to the Three Stooges. It's so bizarre, you can't quite hate it, but it was too stupid to get a laugh out of me.

Previously reviewed, Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing may not be Keanu's greatest role (Don Jon is one of the most underwritten villains in Shakespeare), and I wasn't sure if I needed to rewatch it, but downstairs neighbor wanted to see it, and it gave me an excuse. I kind of watch it once a year anyway. One of my very favorites.


Ryan Blake said...

You're a better man than me gunga din


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