This Week in Geek (8-14/11/20)



At home: I told you before, and I'll tell you again. If you're going to make a dumb B-movie, you pull out all the stops, you go crazy, you make that B mean "balls out". I think Guns Akimbo succeeds at that. The high concept premise has streaming assassins bolt guns onto Daniel Radcliffe's hands for daring to troll them online, and force him to participate in a city-wide duel with Samara Weaving's current champion. From there, pretty much anything can happen in this undeniably stylish dark action-comedy, and that's what we want. Think Crank, but with more likeable protagonists (plus Rhys Darby, and I can't help but be happy when Rhys Darby shows up in ANYthing). After years of passive video game playing, the game becomes real and you crap your pants is basically the deal here. Adversity is the fire in which we are forged, yadda-yadda, but really it's about violent gags and quoting your favorite pieces of pop culture. I also like that it has fun with its soundtrack - referencing U Can't Touch This then cuing up Super Freak is amusingly clever, c'mon.

Continuing on from last week's experiment, I decided to watch one (as-yet-unreviewed) movie starring a different Star Trek: Deep Space Nine star this week...


There's a lot of wishful thinking behind a title like The Big Hit. Mark Wahlberg plays a milquetoast member of a professional hit squad (led by Avery Brooks, which raises a couple of eyebrows when other characters are called Cisco - sic - Smiley, and Keiko) who gets caught up in a kidnapping when everything goes wrong. There always seems to be something wrong when a Hong Kong director is 'ported over to the United States, and in this case, Crime Story's Kirk Wong bookends his movie with high-octane, interestingly shot and choreographed action which are completely at odds with the sitcom humor of the middle part, which looks like slick, bright, pop-tuned faux-McG. Tellingly, the editor never seems to know how to get out of those moments properly to get back to the Fiasco-level crime plot. More a comedy with a couple of crazy (and long) action scenes than the opposite, the balance is more than a bit off. A lot of the comedy falls flat as a result, but I will admit the various shticks do eventually pay off and I came out of the final sequences having had a fun time.

Patrick Wang's A Bread Factory Part One: For the Sake of Gold is a wonderful picture about a community arts center struggling to not see its slim financing go to a big, pretentious "for profit" facility that just opened up. And don't worry, it doesn't go the "let's put on a shooooowwwwww" route. It's not that kind of movie. Rather, while Tyne Daly and Elizabeth Henry are definitely the leads, running the Bread Factory, it's really about everyone who uses the arts center, from visiting artists (like Janeane Garofalo's caustic film maker) to local talent (Nana Visitor's insecure translator of Greek plays) to kids to the school and municipal authorities who hold its future in their hands. There's also a very valuable plot about the local newspaper woman and her high school intern. More deeply, it's about art's function in society, whether it's a passion, a curse, educational, experiential, a drain on funds, a place to belong, a trampoline to bigger things, an epiphany, a business, a mystery, etc. Having worked in the art world, I can tell you there's a lot of truth on show, even if many of the character types are humorous lampoons. To me, the film reaches several emotional peaks simply by showing how contact with art changes a person. And though a "Part One", it's a complete story.

A Bread Factory Part Two: Walk with Me a While is most definitely a "Part Two", and is probably mystifying without having seen the first film. And if you HAVE seen the first film, your mileage may vary. I really wanted to see it because I loved the characters in Part One and was intrigued by the mysteries it left open. Unfortunately, Walk with Me a While anticlimactically undoes some of the first film's developments, and doesn't really answer the questions I wanted it to, like a two-hour coda more than a second story. It instead spends a lot of time on "guest artist spots" and meta moments, which yes, were present in the film film, but here take too much room and feel trite. I could understand in For the Sake of Gold that corporatized art was pretentious and fakey. Here, all the spontaneous singing and tap dancing smell like they're making fun of low brow art (what with the main plot being about staging Euripides for a modern audience), but I can't tell for sure. There are some great moments, again with the notion of art's transformative power, something visibly "clicking" inside a character's head, but this is definitely the tragedy to Part One's comedy, and so something of a downer. I nowhere near liked it as much.

When it comes to martial arts movies, don't go American, and definitely don't go made-for-TV/Direct-to-video-market. Red Sun Rising is a yakuza flick with all the trimmings (I mean, clichés), in which Don Wilson does one move at a time before the camera cuts, fighting an assassin with all sorts of crazy ninja powers. And by fighting, I mean often stand there and take it without even a thought given to dodging (I shouted at the screen a lot). Terry Farrell plays the American cop who's case this crashes into and this being mid-DS9, plays it exactly like she plays Dax, except for the ugly racism, racism justified by just about the most stupidly melodramatic back story. And it's especially grating because it's not necessary. It's just a silly obstacle to their eventual and unsurprising movie romance, so it could have been anything. The presence of B-movie steadies Michael Ironside and Mako enliven things up, but this is strictly "failed TV pilot" in terms of quality.


21 Bridges was released just as a lot of the audience lost its stomach for hero cop narratives, but it's also of that era, since it's clear from the off that a lot of these policemen are corrupt, and even our hero - Chadwick Boseman being the main reason to watch this - is known to have an itchy trigger finger. It's the story of an impressive manhunt on Manhattan, and even if the coppers weren't crooked, their methods would still be pretty triggering. Whether being they can't abide cop killers or are covering their own crimes, they practically declare martial law without due process, and random violence is the order of the day. The particulars - Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons, Stephen James - all do an excellent job (I do wish Alexander Siddig would get better work as he's grown into a great screen presence, but his role here is short and shallow) and the scenes are exciting and tense when they need to be. It's just... we've seen it all before, haven't we? I mean in the movies, but you could take that another way, yeah.

While Con Air gets a bit cornball at times and features a terrible Southern accent from Nicolas Cage, it's a fun action flick, about as ridiculous as the Fast&Furious franchise (I'm saying this is a plus). It's essentially Die Hard on a plane full of convicts - Cage even wears a sleeveless shirt like John MacLane, John Cusack is the man on the ground, and Colm Meaney the authoritarian who won't listen and screws everything up - but it has enough new wrinkles, from the premise on up, to keep it fresh. The cons are an all-star cast of characters led by a mercurial John Malkovich, and most of them are interesting characters. When Con Air goes over the top, you cheer or laugh, and the villains' nastiness is balanced by humor, the film kind of winking at the audience and telling us not to take things too seriously. I spent the last 20+ years thinking this was a Michael Bay movie, essentially, but no, it's a lot more entertaining that that, where even the bad parts are at least laughably bad.

You'd expect a frontier wilderness movie like First Cow to use the widest screen ratio possible, but no, the wet, dingy Oregonian woods of the film are shot in so-called full screen, implying the characters are in some way trapped, and only hoping to bust out and live the American Dream. And full warning, this is one of those low contrast movies that will look murky on any given screen. The movie begins with a present-day mystery then sends us back to the forging of an unlikely, but easy friendship between a white would-be baker and a Chinese would-be entrepreneur. Unfortunately, their business plan involves a cow that doesn't belong to them, and therefore some tension amid the slow and simple lyricism (I can totally see this being the work of the same director as Meek's Cutoff). Pleasant and melancholy, even touching (and that cow sure is a looker), but it's the ending that got me. There are few moments that just suck the air out of the room, and this was one of them - I'll say no more. As an aside, this features one of René Auberjonois's last roles, and it's enigmatically small; I almost missed it.


Rutger Hauer brings the same kind of joyful, desperate menace in The Hitcher, a film that, if not for starring the Ponyboy from The Outsiders and Jennifer Jason Leigh looking like a teenager, does not easily betray its incep date of 1986. It has the gritty cinematography of the 70s (we can thank John Seale for that, you may also know him as the cinematographer for Fury Road, so... yeah!) and gives me 90s neo-noir vibes too. So a kid picks up a hitch-hiker in the desert and he turns out to be a psycho who wants to destroy or at least transform his life (it's noteworthy that the kid, Jim, wants to go to California to change his life). Is Hauer's character a madman? A force of nature? An evil spirit? Death itself? An alter ego of some kind? Roy Batty sent back through time? The ambiguity (coupled with its gorgeous look) is what gives the film its staying power. You really don't know where this hell ride is going, but man does it tap into every possible fear you might have of being on the road in strange country. (And for the purposes of this week's challenge, Armin Shimmerman has a small role in it.)

Having done at least some research on Canadian superheroes given my blog's predilections, up to and including reading reprints of the those old '40s Canadian Whites, I wasn't sure Lost Heroes, a documentary on the topic, would have something new to tell me. Comic book docs can be so cursory sometimes. But no, it did! The part about Canada's Golden Age comics was definitely the most relevant and useful (even finding a surviving artist to talk to), while later eras are a but thinner. I could, for example, name a few Canadian superheroes that followed in the wake of Captain Canuck's success that weren't mentioned at all (or from early, how about Mr. Monster who appears on the poster and many of the green screens behind people?), while we spend some time talking about Alpha Flight and Wolverine instead, nationality aside, American products. I still found the the discussion on why Canadian superheroes are a hard sell interesting, the economic reality obviously more convincing than any kind of argument based on temperament. Canadians don't see themselves as super or as heroes who punch people? Pfff. That's buying into our image abroad. Have these talking heads never tried to get a shopping mall parking spot during the holidays in Montreal?

Is Black and Blue just another hero cop trapped in a corrupt police force story, having to fight the system from within? Yes, and the inciting event is also right out of Cellular (I knew it seemed familiar). Expected over-familiarity aside, I still really wanted to see what Naomie Harris would do with it. She's an army veteran and rookie cop in New Orleans, who witnesses, and captures on body-cam (so there's your modern twist), cops executing drug dealers to cover their own tracks. After that, she's forced to hide in a neighborhood that simply loathes police officers. Clichés ensue, as you can imagine, though they manage to avoid a romance between her and the "one man who believes her" (Tyrese Gibson, the most serious I've ever seen him - I like it). Truthfully, I would have watched more of Harris as the fresh-faced beat cop more and more disappointed with small-time systemic corruption that we see in the first part of the movie. The thriller plot is, per force, much more by the numbers.

More Thelma & Louise than Bonnie & Clyde, and really more The Fugitive than Thelma & Louise, Queen & Slim has an inciting incident (sadly) ripped from the headlines - a couple on a failed date are pulled over for being black and the bad cop starts shooting. In this case, he winds up dead, and fearing the system wouldn't give them a fair shot, the two go on the run. It feels a bit cursory, to tell you the truth, but desperation fuels the action and the relationship, with a bit of media sensation thrown in as the characters become heroes to the black community, with many helping their escape. But I unfortunately felt pretty ambivalent about the whole thing, never too sure what it was saying about the situation. The bit with the kid might speak to the cycle of violence, or of ill-chosen heroes. The rather poetic dialog between Queen and Slim tries to elevate the love story element, but is at cross-purposes with the rest of the film. And it's definitely not how desperate situations turn people into criminals, except when it is, or is it merely a play on perception? We have images of freedom, of tragedy, of memory, of Black Lives Matter... and while I like these in silos, or in simpler combinations, I never felt like it gelled into the greater whole.

Role-playing: Time to get back in our Savage Worlds - Rippers game, and indeed, get the big arc going. Something about Professor Van Helsing's disappearance, his quest for the Pillars of Atlantis, and his first stop in a small town in Scotland. Our Lodge is on his heels and trying to find him (he's already moved on), and instead they meet an obsessive Scots groundskeeper (benign) and a cult of evil historians (a number of my players were also trained as historians, so this was funny to me), really corrupted Free Masons, who would rather summon a demon than speak with ya. The confrontation was actually hilarious as it started with our beefy tank, Dorcas, suddenly coming out of a staircase and scaring (critical Intimidation roll) the cultists into cowed submission, leaving only the horned devil to take care of, and it got the bitter end of an electric pistol, a gourd of holy water, and a Japanese nature spell. The clues lead all the way to Egypt, but that's gonna be a story for another day. Lockdown rules having relaxed, this was actually our first game in person, so they got to discover the joys of the Adventure Deck and my running soundtracks in the background, while I was surprised to find a few of them had been writing useful notebooks all this time!


Anonymous said...

True story: I learned everything I needed to know about how a clutch works, from watching "The Hitcher".


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