This Week in Geek (28/02-06/03/21)

Buys

I've started reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and tore through the first book (see below). Since I only had the first two books, I went and got the next two, Second Foundation and Foundation's Edge. Should keep me for the immediate future.

"Accomplishments"

 

In theaters: As a rape-revenge fantasy, Promising Young Woman is at once more playful and more distressing than the norm. At times, the movie has a lot of fun making you think something different is happening, and toying with romcom tropes (of all things), but it's also much more grounded than some of the extreme vigilante stuff that has marked the subgenre. It's a black comedy, if anything, and someone spit in it, but you're gonna drink it anyway. Yes, it can be quite blunt about the issue it's dealing with, even didactic, but the only real problem here is that these things still need to be said. And they do. We just saw them play out in recent U.S. Supreme Court appointments. The movie takes us through the entire process of men being the victims in a system that happily destroys women, with the wry satirical wit that also gave us the title. And it might not have worked without an engaging performance from Carey Mulligan, who you're able to root for, possibly even if she crosses the line. Great supporting cast too, especially Bo Burnham, who gets to be funny while you wait for the other shoe to drop (and it doesn't matter if it does, because the tension is all).

 

At home: The Spoiler Scare of 2021, WandaVision liberally took elements from John Byrne's West Coast Avengers run and the two Vision and the Scarlet Witch mini-series - even House of M - but added its own television-centric spin on those ideas, most of the episodes produced as if they were family sitcoms from the 50s through the 2000s (I found the earliest episodes the most charming/nostalgic, but clever regardless). Along the way, we'll get an origin story for Wanda, some intriguing turns, a secret villain, some old faces, an emotional finale, and the set-up for a couple movies (Captain Marvel II and Dr. Strange II, at the very least). Because it's serving so many masters, some of those elements don't really work in tandem with the main story, but that story is so strong, it hardly matters. I do have some alternative twists and reveals in my head that I think would have worked better than the ones they ended up with, but they're all based on my understanding of the world Multiverse in that Dr. Strange title. Wanda and Vision were important, but rather secondary members of the Avengers (in the movies, I mean), but this has really put meat on their bones and you damn well better believe they'll be back, and more beloved than ever. I hope this review has been of use while remaining relatively spoiler-free; mystery and surprise really are key elements to enjoying the series, though it will have replay value regardless.


I must've seen 1995's Copycat at some point because Holly Hunter's detective and Harry Connick Jr.'s demented killer seems extremely familiar, but none I remembered none of the details and so, watch or rewatch, it comes out the same. An effective thriller about a copycat killer doing a greatest hits of serial killers for the benefit of a traumatized, housebound psychologist (Sigourney Weaver), there's a nice streak of proceduralism here that takes the audience to be smart enough to follow along without too much exposition. As with any detective story, there must be SOME, but no one is treated as a cabbage head to whom things they should know need to be explained. Plotwise, there are times when you can see the strings, particularly in how they want to "arc" the two leads, but the story itself is as precise as its antagonist, and has just enough ambiguity to keep you wondering. Need it be said? Weaver and Hunt are of course excellent.


I don't much care for the title, but I Care a Lot is a great little black comedy, and the blacker they are, the more polarizing they seem to be. Rosamund Pike plays an unscrupulous professional "guardian" who bleeds elderly wards of the state dry in what I hope is less a documentary than it probably is. But when she, let's say it, kidnaps the wrong person, all hell breaks loose. As this is a comedy, the criminals can be pretty hapless so she has a shot, but she still needs to be extremely smart and is. Not that we root for her exactly. She's a terrible, if compelling, character, entirely driven by hubris. As are most people in the story. I Care a Lot is actually a heist movie, where the leads stake out the prize, get their hands on it, then realize they have a lot more work to do to get away with it. But unlike the fun gang of an Ocean's Eleven, Pike is destroying people's lives for profit. In a story where there are no real good guys, the point isn't to root for anyone anyway (except maybe righteous Fate). I think the ending could have benefited from extra irony, but yeah, I dug (and was sometimes horrified by) this unusual con job/heist flick.


Cat Grant really gives Kara Danvers a hard time in The Devil Wears Prada, but the world of haute-couture gophering (and the Mentalist) eventually threatens to lure her away from her relationship, her friends and her original life goals. All kidding aside, this movie has a great cast, a cool soundtrack, and fun editing, but it has no focus. Speeches about the importance of fashion don't really mean much to me when they're in the service of corporate profits, and lessons about work ethic (which are definitely in there) are undermined by how absurdly tyrannical, fickle and demanding they make Anne Hathaway's boss out to be. They want this to be about "having it all", but no, the fact she can't have a career AND a life is because the work requirements are impossible - how is this assistant position even salaried? Oh, the hipster boyfriend's not being supportive while she's only trying to help maintain his fancy cheese habit? Well, how could he be? He's seeing the person he loves get abused by a toxic employer. So I understand these "working girl" tropes, but they don't apply to the circumstances. The title writes a check it can't cash, by which I mean that it's really one of the few places the film makes any kind of judgment call on the situation. It even has the gall to try and make the boss sympathetic, but it's all smoke and mirrors (i.e. Meryl Streep). She's a monster (in Prada II, her twins would be in their 20s and bred to be monsters themselves), not important but self-important. And I'm extremely frustrated that the movie doesn't really know that. 2006 was a very different time, it seems.


In Flightplan, Jodie Foster's daughter disappears during a flight and everyone says she was just a figment of her imagination. Well, there are only two ways this can go, really. One is that it's true and makes a final punch impossible. The other is that she's being gaslit and with Peter Sarsgaard giving his best dead-eyed looks, it's not too hard to where we're headed. Even so, I have a thing for airplane thrillers, and I've never seen such a BIG plan in, well, anything before. A big double-decker and we see a LOT of it, every corner, even those we lowly passengers never get to see normally. So though the set-up is entirely different, it evolves into a Die Hard, and Foster is more than capable of handling herself given those tropes, a super-charged mamma bear protecting her (hopefully not imaginary) cub. A perfectly fine entry in the genre, even if it can't really hide the surprises it has in store for us.


Ok think quick, without checking, who did they replace Keanu Reeves with in Speed 2: Cruise Control? Exactly. Don't worry, generic Jason Patric isn't really plugged into a story written for Keanu, both he and Sandra Bullock have been plugged into a script that was meant to be Die Hard 3!!! In reality, if you're going to say the Speed franchise is about Annie, then please, get rid of the cop boyfriend. My eyes glazed over every time he was alone on screen. But that's not Speed 2's only problem. For example, I like Willem Dafoe on principle, and when I saw him pull out the leeches I thought we might be in for something special, but nothing interesting comes of it and by the third act, he's a ranting, illogical villain. A cruise ship is an interesting place for a Die Hard, but they never make me understand its geography, so I felt disconnected as we went from scene to scene and I didn't really know the relative position of anything (this is Die Hard 101!). They have a huge set piece reserved for the finale, but overload it with silly marina gags, playing everything for comedy suddenly (proof: the two obnoxious comic relief characters are driving at the time). Oh but wait, it's not over because the movie forgot all about Annie and there's a last minute rescue to be done, and they really overegg the pudding to try and prevent the tagged on fourth act from feeling anti-climactic. Again with the gags, and a major ecological disaster, very funny. Had this been tighter (and I mean, MUCH tighter), we might have had Speed on a plane to complete the trilogy. Alas.


The DVD release of Doctor Who's The Macra Terror offers the lost story in four formats. Count 'em, four (possibly five, depending on how you do so). There are two fully animated presentations, one in color and the other monochrome, and I have to say this is among my favorite animation they've done (closer to The Invasion's than, like, The Reign of Terror). However, and I see no reason for this, they've omitted the spa scenes (Polly even STARTS with her new hairdo) without comment. It's not the only change, but it's the one I consider egregious. They also include the reconstructions using telesnaps and old clips, and you can watch them with or without narration. The narration is by Anneke Wills, straight off the BBC CD release, and she was always one of my favorite voice actors for these. But wait, they also include the ORIGINAL cassette-tape audio version narrated by Colin Baker! He's got a pretty great voice too! Speaking of voices, the color presentation has a commentary track in which Toby Hadoke assembles all sorts from the cast and crew. In addition, a photo gallery, animatics, animation tests, the opening titles in various states of adaptation, the surviving footage all in a row, and narrated documentary film of the Shawcraft workshop that built (among other things) the Macra. They also attempt a comparison between the Macra attack as originally presented and as censored in Australia (which is why we have some of the clips we do), but since the footage is missing, it's a little abstract. Plus, 10 minutes of The Wheel in Space episode 1, animated as a promise of more to come. I love these animated presentations and hope they keep making them, but if they're gonna make changes, I'd rather they be additive rather than subtractive!

 

Tom Hardy plays an unassuming bartender in The Drop, and we should perhaps read some subtext into his choice of dog, a bruised puppy found in the garbage who will grow up to be a pit bull. Hardy is always good at playing hidden depths and I always believe his "unintelligent" characters. The crime plot - about crooks robbing the his bar the night the mob hide the night's winnings there - has nice convolutions to it, really thanks to the screenplay playing its cards close to the vest. The reveals are well paced, and we're not always looking the right way, distracted as we are by the dog subplot. A dog in danger really does create tension, doesn't it? In his last role, James Gandolfini is on par with himself, which is not a bad place to be. Noomi Rapace is interesting if unremarkable as the love interest. Matthias Schoenaerts fearsome as the dumb criminal who's gonna turn this into a fiasco. And I like John Ortiz playing Columbo too. For a crime thriller, it's pretty quiet, like its lead, but like its lead, there's something under the surface.


The original Insomnia is tight Nordic Noir in a land with no darkness. Can you commit crimes in the light of perpetual day, always sure to be exposed? It drives our main detective's insomnia - and Stellan Skarsgård certainly plays his growing fatigue well, to the point where he's essentially sleepwalking to the finale - a metaphor for guilt, both first and second-hand. How can you ever sleep seeing the things he sees? Or does. It's why the murder is shot like a nightmare. Director Erik Skjoldbjærg manages some disorientating shots without calling too much attention to them, indeed not unlike how the inciting situation resolves itself in the first act. More than a whodunit, Insomnia is also a howtogetawaywithit with several twists in the tale. If not entirely unpredictable, it proceeds at quick enough a pace that you're never too far ahead of it and it works. That's if you buy the detective's rather thin motivation, thrown out at the end, as it were. Did I? Just about, but it's something I wish they'd been more up front about instead of making it a reveal.


Books: I dare say everyone knows Peer Gynt, but through Grieg's music rather than Ibsen's play. You just can't live on Earth and not have heard Morning Mood or In the Hall of the Mountain King. So I was keen to read the play, which was always designed to be more of a dramatic poem, rather hard to stage with its many scene changes, and cast of dozens, many of them creatures of folklore. If I were still in university, I would be tempted to write a paper comparing Peer and Hamlet, both characters who delay their own deaths because of hubris, but Peer is the less noble. The enduring image I have of the play is that of a reindeer caught in a jump, but never landing. Such is life (and by the time we get to the last act, we find that's what Ibsen is in fact dramatizing, with unlimited scope). We're always kind of in the middle of it, and leave things unfinished. Peer is all ambition and no real result, and those results he gets, he dismisses. He's not the only character who contradicts himself at every turn (I found his mother quite funny and touching for it), but he spends much of the play saying he wants something, then renouncing it, lying about who he is and what he's done, but absolutely insisting he has been true to himself (on which I would hang my Hamlet connection). He's not a likable sort, and the first half of the play jumps around so much, it's hard to get your bearings. But it's all foregrounding for the final acts which are so profound, they can be read and reread and never give up the same meaning. So what IS truly being yourself? Don't ask me, I plan to argue with Death and the Devil too, when my reckoning comes.

 

A 12,000-year Galactic Empire is about to collapse, which will lead to 30,000 years of chaos and human misery. One man foresees it, a psychohistorian who can statistically map out the great social forces of the future. That's Isaac Asimov's Foundation, coming soon to a streaming service near you. Originally written as a number of connected short stories, the series jumps across decades at a time to the crisis points that will allow the terrible interregnum to be shortened to a mere 1000 years. Book 1 only gets through the first, I dunno, 125 years, over five stories and four casts. Each "chapter" has its heroes use the so-called soft sciences to figure out their next step towards a second great and bountiful human empire, and it's mostly done through conversation. And somehow, it's absorbing as all get-out. Part of why it's a page-turner is that, I've found - at least in my case - dialog reads a lot faster than description. But despite the cast changes, I was always in like Flynn, and wanted to see how, no, not the story, but the HISTORY plays out. One quirk of Asimov having written these in the 40s is that female characters seem to be almost entirely absent. One woman shows up very late in the book, and it's not exactly an enlightened one. As per the upcoming show's cast and trailer, they've feminized a number of characters, and I was very happy to change the pronouns in my head as a I read. Otherwise, what a sausage fest. But yeah, I'm heading directly into the second book.


Grant Morrison's 18 Days is a gorgeous-looking picture book with impressive art by Mukesh Singh, presenting the story bible and first three episodes' scripts for a never-made animated series about a war between super-warriors as told in Indian myth. It was an ambitious project, one that would have been near-impossible to produce according to their vision, and if producible, not particularly commercial in the Western World. As a book, the story bible is where it's at, as the backstory is more interesting and complete than the script pages turn out to be. This would have been a visual feast, and the scripted episodes feel pretty thin as a result. (And of course, it doesn't finish the story.) I was happy to return to the backstory elements on the last page as Singh takes over to explain some of his choices in the concept art. Could, in fact, have done with more of that, perhaps next to the images themselves. I'm almost a Morrison completist, but if you told me they were to come out with more script books to finish the story, I don't think I would make its purchase my priority.

5 comments:

Matthew E said...

My headcanon is that _Gravity_ is the real _Speed 2_.

Siskoid said...

I love that!

misterharry said...

Apparently, the reason for the omission of the scene from The Macra Terror amination is that it would have required additional figures to be created (Polly with long hair, the Doctor smartened up by the machine), and the budget wouldn't stretch to this. A great pity as it's a fun scene in an often overlooked story.

I'm avoiding reading your para on WandaVision as we're about to start watching it this very afternoon!

Siskoid said...

I've seen enough of these (and associated extras) to immediately know that was the case. I would have preferred it if they kept the audio and let the scene play out under a long shot of the colony and/or some reaction shots.

Tony Laplume said...

There’s a cartoon and a comic book based on 18 Days. I’m not sure it was completed. At any rate I lost track of it eventually. Someone else ends up writing the majority of it, based on Morrison’s ideas.

 

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