This Week in Geek (7-13/02/21)


At home: Was there ever a more publicized kangaroo court than the one portrayed in Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7? The kind of film you watch to get frustrated (because things haven't changed much at all), between its great cast and ping-pong patter, it far exceeds expectations that come with court room procedurals. There are many moments I dearly hope are "as is" in the transcripts because they're too good not to be real. Now, Sorkin is my favorite utopist, usually showing us what we should strive to be like, but have fallen short of. In this case, a corrupt system is under attack (and after the year we've just had, we recognize it as our own), but what's exposed is the heart of the activist, a brand that isn't put up on a pedestal either. Sorkin explores their ethics too. And he has fun with it. As serious as the subject matter is, a guy like Abbie Hoffman was, quote-unquote, a character, and the editing is often clever. And it possibly wouldn't work without such a great cast, and they definitely deserve their curtain call, right down to the smallest role.

If you get all your information from American outlets, the Black Panthers movement only ever appears to be a domestic terrorist group. Thankfully, Agnès Varda crashed one of their peaceful demonstrations in 1968 and shot a short doc with a French eye. In terms of documentary film making, it's nothing too special. A couple of shots are interesting beyond the norm, I needed subtitles on some of that mono sound, and Varda's narration takes sides (which I don't mind). That's the form. In terms of content, it really lays out what the Black Panther party is really about, and has the same rousing revolutionary vibe found in, say, Malcolm X. The demonstration aims to have a party leader freed from jail, and inflames the destructive passions of cops (which in 2021, should be no surprise, sadly). Varda is political, but also an ethnologist, and interested in the culture behind the movement as well. Interesting, but at 20 minutes, merely a primer.

Éric Rohmer's L'amour l'après-midi (Love in the Afternoon, also sometimes called Chloe in the Afternoon) is the sixth of his Moral Tales and though it's sometimes as lackadaisical as the main character Frédéric's afternoons off work, it's really a quite complex character study. As with much of Rohmer, the interior monologue is particularly literate, and I loved some of the observations about physical attraction the film makes. Are we, in fact, attracted to people who remind us of the people we love, and might not there lay a trap for the likely adulterer, an incitement to love two people. The ending has an intriguing and poignant ambiguity as to Frédéric's wife, but we're squarely in his head the whole time, so even the grand seduction his old friend Chloe seems to be managing resists true understanding. We may look for mirroring between the two women, but is it a mirror only Frédéric is able to see? Rohmer really has a knack for creating riveting situations that in other hands would suffer from being slow and talky.

We're told Truffault was deep into Hitchcock when he made La peau douce (The Soft Skin) and it shows, but it's not "Truff doing Hitch". Rather, it's a subversion of Hitchcock's style and tropes, replacing murder with (pretty mundane) adultery. It's all there. The paranoia, the suspense, the obsessive attention to procedural detail, the sense that the protagonist's life is veering out of control despite his best-laid plans, intriguing mirroring... and you're never quite sure if and when the "thriller" will assert itself. It's pretty brilliant actually. Truffault doesn't lose Truffault in the process  either. La peau douce is still a great character study, a portrait of a weak man who can't quite figure out how to lead a double life and gets into situations because he can't say no, buoyed by a certain narcissism thanks to kind of celebrity you could only imagine of Europe (he's an expert on literature and the girls swoon!). The innocuous Jean Desailly is perfectly cast, and Françoise Dorléac - as usual a ringer for Catherine Deneuve, you can tell why Demy cast them as sisters in The Young Girls of Rocherfort - gives a rich performance as the woman he loves. If SHE had been the protagonist, I think we could have seen the same theme - of letting things get out of control - play out from her point of view.

Been picking away at The Mindy Project's six seasons for a little while, and I wouldn't have kept with it if I didn't think it was funny, often charming, and had some really impressive guest stars across the aboard (despite one of the most annoying theme songs in sitcom history). Though the show has memorable characters (and perhaps, initially, too many of them to see what would stick), it does become a bit repetitive over time. Almost every situation is caused by characters not being honest to one another, and they resolve the central will-they-won't-they way too soon forcing some groan-inducing melodrama to bring things back to some status quo. If it's called The Mindy Project (I gather they just kept the placeholder name like it's some kind of Jackie Chan movie?), it's because the Mindy character is a work in progress, but the show goes just a little too long so that once she hits her peak, she's back-peddled. By the time you get to her umpteenth bad decision, you're no longer rooting for that caricature of her. (For me, the last two seasons, the ones on Hulu where they curse and the product placement because extra obvious, are supported by two unlikely MVPs, Xosha Roquemore as Tamara, and Beth Grant as Beverly.) The show is also plagued by continuity issues (is the first season streaming out of order?!) and blatant retcons (how does Ed Weeks' character go from hospital Lothario to prissy English cartoon who can't muddle through a date, for example?). Like most American comedies of the 2000s, the characters become lampoons of themselves over time as writers hack what is funny about them, which is always more extreme when you're marathoning a series, but like I said, I wouldn't have gotten to the end point if the first three seasons hadn't gotten me invested.


I wasn't really aware of Ebony Films/Comedies before, but I'm certainly intrigued by minority film making and Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled is a fun enough black-cast silent, even though the film is very badly damaged. But that damage, with nitrate ghosts that the modern-day score (at least on the Criterion Channel version) seems to acknowledge with ghostly music, is strangely hypnotic. The problems are at the beginning and end, and that second time hit at the perfect point, as if they were meant to (although they make the very end really hard to grasp). I laughed several times as the ridiculousness of the premise is still intact - there seems to be a lot of call for mummies in this American town, so one enterprising fellow wraps his friend in bandages and sells him to a scientist, even as cultists converge on their location. It's extremely silly beyond just the slapstick, a living cartoon really. Had it been (more) intact, I would have upped its score.

Family Day Weekend is usually when we pick a franchise or theme and watch movies for an entire day or more. The pandemic put the kibosh on us getting together, but we could still do the marathon, so long as the movies were available on common platforms. The Girls all have a school crush on Brandon Fraser - I don't nor will I ever get it - so the choice was made to watch his Mummy franchise (and spin-offs, though only if they had a theatrical release). I won't review The Mummy (1999) again, as I already did HERE.

Is the franchise following the Indiana Jones guidebook? Because The Mummy Returns has Rick and Evie spawn a kid, and in annoying movie fashion, he's both the cause of all the problems, and magically, the solution. Not that I ever buy the two leads as parents. To try and outdo the first film (and in many ways it does), they find ways to stage action pieces in a greater variety of locales. Egypt has to be central, of course, but scenes in 1930s London, steep ravines and spontaneous jungles give us some diversity. The film's big weakness isn't even the kid - he's fine - but all the retcons they seem to have injected in the lore. If Evie was connected to the Mummy THAT way, wouldn't there have been mention of it in the first film? And it's way too late for people to find mystical tattoos on themselves. In comparison, Jonathan's migrating accent is a mere blip. As for the Scorpion King, well, I thought the Rock would be in this a lot more than he was, and for most of it, he's some of the most ridiculed CG in movie history. I can see how the director went from this to Van Helsing, but not how the character went on to lead his own film franchise (well, one film and a bunch of direct-to-DVD flicks). Did like the added lore though, and Imhotep has a better and more tragic story. Did I like this one more than the first? In some ways yes, in other ways no, so it comes out pretty even.

The fact that The Scorpion King is an Akkadian, and that I am an Acadian, means there's a very personal drinking game to be had in his first (and only theatrical) feature. It's just fun to hear the word. There's entirely too much that happens in this thing (the first 15 minutes alone!) and hardly any time to absorb the exposition, but even in this very early role, the Rock has enough charm to carry a romp. And that's what this is. It's TV level, perhaps, with an Ancient World where every realm is a couple days' walk away from the other, like in Xena or The Legendary Journeys, except it's got a little more star power with Kelly Hu particular beautiful, Michael Clarke Duncan as a badass warrior and Bernard Hill somewhat wasted as the kooky inventor. This may be junk, but it's my kind of junk. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I want my B-movies to go for broke and not take themselves seriously, and there's definitely an attempt here. The set pieces are wonderfully extreme, and of all the films in the Mummy franchise, this is the one that least relies on CGI, which is its Achilles' heel.


Despite the contempt it's bred, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is still about as good (or bad) as the other films in the series. The bad? Well, giving them a kid in the second film really was a poison pill, because now he's at least 20 and primary male lead. The characters have aged 20 years while the actors only aged 9 since the original, and despite three heroic female leads, it seems like the boys have to take over at every turn and steal their thunder. So it may be a good thing that Rachel Weisz skipped out on this one, but - nothing against her replacement per se - the old chemistry is completely lacking, and we're looking at a couple that needs a shot in the arm to get back to the sexy time that made the other films watchable. The film's other mistakes are giving us too short a fight between Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh (and allowing it to be directed by an American), and a series of MacGuffins that makes you kind of lose the plot at the end. The good? Well, several great Chinese actors, with the opening story particularly interesting (I felt like there was a great wuxia epic in there, if only it had been the whole of the film), and several cool and insane action sequences. When the yeti show up in Tibet, the story's gone off the rails and I'm laughing my ass off. To me, that's a feature, not a bug. The CG has rough spots (especially for 2008), but there are still some strong moments, like when they're doing the Jason and the Argonauts skeleton fight against terracotta soldiers. And China is a nice change from Egypt.


Charles Izemie said...

Given that Dorléac and Deneuve were actual sisters in real life, the resemblance is hardly surprising.

Oh, the endless fun you can have when reading old Akkadian in cuneiform! Tablets filled with laws and great deeds of King Abbazlezanglois...

Siskoid said...

While I'll be! I never knew that. Yes, it makes complete sense.

Anonymous said...

I really liked the Mindy / Danny relationship on "The Mindy Project", and Danny felt really well-fleshed-out to me. When their relationship tanked -- and implausibly (Danny insisted that Mindy become a stay-at-home mom?) -- the show lost me.

I get that, character-wise, Danny had a lot of Catholic notions in his mind. But he also demonstrated a lot of flexibility throughout the series, generally willing to compromise for the sake of a relationship that meant so much to him. Bah.

Siskoid said...

Like a lot of sitcoms, once the writers know what's funny about the characters, those characters become more and more extreme, caricatured versions of themselves and become less and less recognizable, flexibly human. I think that's what happened to Danny and Mindy (really, everyone). As an experiment, watch a 1st season episode of most any show, then immediately watch something from its 5th+ season. The characters will seem to have become insane.


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