This Week in Geek (20-26/06/21)

"Accomplishments"


In theaters: With a sequel in the works already, and given the sympathy built around the lead character, I'll call it now, there's every chance the Cruella saga will end with the original 101 Dalmatians timeline erased. I'm not precious at all about Disney's classics, and have foggy memories of them generally, so to me, Cruella was a better Joker movie (same basic premise, but ACTUALLY FUN) that played in two of my favorite genres - the heist and the revenge flick - and had a great cast, from the two Emmas (Stone as a totally awesome agent of chaos and Thompson as her mentor/agon) to the hilarious double act of Jasper and Horace, to the bit parts who were basically picked for their ability to do funny reaction shots. The fashions are insane and a lot of fun too - I'd rewatch this before you could sit me in front of The Devil Wears Prada again - and I really like the swinging London setting as well. Now obviously, it's a Disney movie and it's gonna be over-explaining things and for fans of the original source material, some of the call-backs are going to be a bit on the nose. I don't disagree. The music is great at setting the 60s and 70s stage, but the cues are over-obvious and lack subtlety (that distracted me, but I always came down on "but I really like this tune"). To my surprise, despite the Disneyphiles in my theater-going group, I was the most into it, maybe because I didn't have a Disney bias - if I have a bias, is that I'm drawn to movies where Emma Stone's eyes are so big they devour my soul. That might be it.

 

At home: So having just seen Cruella, I watched 1961's One Hundred and One Dalmatians (in all letters, that's how you tell them apart) to see how they connect, my memory of it probably more based on having the children's book adaptation at home growing up than ever actually seeing the film (with Disney films, it's hard to know because they played clips of all of them on The Wonderful World of Disney, so do I have memories of THAT, or have I ever seen the entire thing?). It's quite a slim story, actually. Around the 80-minute mark and still it feels like it's playing for time when it's fooling around with the Barking Chain. But it's charmingly animated, and there's a nice sense of jeopardy once the puppies are in actual danger. I'm all in by the time we get to the trek through the English countryside during a snowstorm (the black spots on white of the dogs thematically connected to prints on snow), with the villains pursuing. And never mind Cruella being made sympathetic in the new film, what about Jasper?! My Lord, that's the character you can hardly imagine becoming this nasty piece of animated villainy. And while it's a movie about killing puppies - with no real motivation for it, so the new movie had a lot of space to work with unless there are way more details in the sequels and/or live action remake with Glenn Close (none of which I'm interested in checking out) - the darkest moment is probably when they flirt with the idea of one of the pups being stillborn. Bonus points for creating that very real and effective moment in a movie for kids. I still say this timeline is undone if Disney keeps revisiting this world though.


The eponymous Portuguese football star in Diamantino is essentially a child, his brain empty of anything that would interfere with his zen-like mastery of the sport (cue giant fluffy puppies - it's gonna get weirder before it's over, folks - and everyone wants a piece of him. His evil twin sisters, law enforcement looking for his hidden riches, a fascist government parodying both Brexit and MAGA, and even a geneticist looking to reproduce his magic. Over the course of this already insane story, a secret agent (Cleo Tavares, the real star here, she's awesome) will pose as his adopted refugee son and perhaps fall under the charm of his innocence and naivete. Part political satire, part taboo (but somehow charming) love story, part black comedy, part gonzo science-fiction tale, Diamantino impresses by sheer originality. The climax is a bit abrupt, but I think that's a feeling born of my wanting the film to be longer. And I can't exactly raise a penalty flag on that.


In He Got Game, Spike Lee explores the so-called escape from the ghetto via sports stardom, and as is his wont, he uses a mix of real people from the basketball world and actors, makes social commentary on the cuff, and drops in some interesting directorial ideas along the way. A father and a son (Denzel Washington and actual NBA player Ray Allen) act as contrast, both talented, but one unable to escape the path society has traced for him, out of prison for a week to help the younger man - on a purer path - make his decision. There's a lot made of the fact that the kid is called Jesus (and not pronounced in Spanish either), which plays as a gag, but also with Biblical themes. The Father, angry, displaced, yet wise. The Son, strong in the face of overwhelming temptation, that week really like those days in the desert. But Lee pulls focus off that center with a subplot involving the father's relationship with the prostitute next door, and I'm not sure why. You've got Denzel, you want to do more with him, sure, but how does this enhance the story? My other problem with the film is the score, treating basketball like it's Cape Fear or something... I never got used to it. An important decision looms, it could mean the loss of a soul, danger of a certain kind on Coney Island... okay, but I don't think it quite works. The Public Enemy tracks are great though.


Essentially the fantasy version of Resident Evil, right down to the crazy matinee cliffhanger, Monster Hunter, also based on a video game (I don't know it, but it steals credit away from Paul W.S. Anderson, surely), whisks army ranger Milla Jovovich (of course) to an alternate dimension full of giant monsters. Not knowing the movie was based on a game, the participation of Toho had me hoping we'd see some of the studio's trademarked monsters, but no. Structurally, the film is a bit of a mess, and I kind of wish the heroine could have kept her original team. Instead, she has to fight with Tony Jaa until they trust each other, and then hooks up with HIS team. That needs some streamlining. But if we're watching this thing for giant monster action and crazy/borderline silly action scenes - and of course, that's exactly why we are - then it delivers on its promise. If you've seen the Resident Evil films, I'd say it's as good as the best of them. Whether you see this as a compliment or a criticism will decide if it's for you.


In 1984, Robert Altman staged and captured on film Philip Baker Hall's one-man play Secret Honor, in which he plays Nixon having a breakdown some time after his losing the presidency. We can only be glad he did. Though Altman brings his own mise en scène to it, with security cameras that evoke the hypersurveillance of the era and places us somewhere between a prison and Nixon's mind palace, the Baker Hall's performance is pretty much everything. He reflects on his life, on his triumphs, his mistakes. He finds excuses, invents(?) conspiracies, plays his own lawyer, and contemplates suicide. He's defiant, but pathetic. And Baker Hall does it with that stammering naturalism he does so well (or WOULD do so well, since this is the piece that actually put him on film makers' radars - including Paul Thomas Anderson's - so we have Secret Honor to thank for the capture of many memorable performances). The text is a fiction, of course, but rooted in various biographical details. The playwrights were basically trying to weave a tapestry that could hold up to both the events and the personality behind Tricky Dick, and they succeed.


50 Years of SF/2013: Mud, shit, snot, puke, blood, piss, spittle... If any film could practically make you smell it, it's Hard to Be a God. Especially the way it moves the camera into long, claustrophobic takes, among a throng of bodies. It's probably a good thing it's in black and white. This Russian film presents an Earth scientist living on a planet stuck in its Middle Ages, having set himself up as the descendant of God, we're told - but not clearly shown - that he's trying to prevent the world's knowledge from being lost due to anti-intellectual death squads. But it's a story that gets lost in the relentless spray of bodily fluids, more interested in what it might be like to go back in time (even if the culture is alien) than in what synopses would have you believe is the dilemma at the center of any given story. Truth be told, I had to watch this in three sittings because I couldn't stay interested. Anyone riffling through my reviews will find I have nothing against any of the following: Three-hour films, subtitles, opaque stories you have to reflect on to really get, disgusting imagery, nothing really happening, and art house sensibilities. Put them ALL in the same movie, however, and it seems you've broken me. At half the length I might have heralded this a hidden gem. So while I admire the commitment to its chosen aesthetic, I'm giving this movie a bad review because in the final analysis, I don't know anyone I'd recommend it to.
Actual best from that year: Her, The World's End, Snowpiercer, Gravity, Pacific Rim, The Purge

2014: Zoe Kazan can do no wrong, so I'm predisposed to like In Your Eyes no matter what. A boy and a girl are psychically connected and at some point in adulthood, that connection becomes conscious. It's the ultimate online relationship, if you like, though it draws stares and eventually trouble from the people around them. Get a fake bluetooth, kids. A bit slow to start, but we get to know each of the characters well enough that in terms of romcom dynamics, the love that blooms between them seems natural. Considering the alternative - she's a kept woman with a history of depression, he's an ex-con with former partners breathing down his neck - you might say the deck's been stacked, but they still have to accept the other person, flaws and all. So it's quite sweet, occasionally witty, and ultimately, cute.
Actual best from that year: Ex Machina, Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Predestination

 

2015: The conceit of Hardcore Henry is that the entire movie is shot as if from the POV of a just-awakened, mute cyborg, using the vocabulary, grammar and syntax of first-person shooter games to craft a non-stop action movie where YOU are the star. In theaters, this must have required a barf bag. On my television screen, it's fine. But giving the character no voice is ultimately the film's downfall because either he's doing action or he's being given exposition by other characters and give or take the odd flash of memory (very thin memories), that's not much of an in. He's a cipher given missions, GPS destinations, and henchmen to grind through. I would even say the twists and turns are fairly predictable as well, and the surprising elements kind of come out of nowhere (how is the main villain telekinetic, for example), though there's some fun to be had with the Jimmy character. Entertaining enough, and of visual interest, but the gimmick wears thin at around the halfway point and I don't think the movie truly recovers. Boppin' soundtrack though.
Actual best from that year: Mad Max Fury Road, The Martian

2016: Canadian directors Gillespie and Kostanski are better known for over-the-top horror comedies like Father's Day and Manborg, so The Void comes as a surprise from them. It has some moments of humor, mostly in the dialog, and certainly their trademark practical gore effects (absolutely insane gore effects), but is otherwise a tense cosmic horror piece. A small country hospital is surrounded by hooded cultists and haunted within by Things Man Was Not Meant to Know(TM) and all I'll say is: Don't go down to the basement. Part paranoid thriller, part Hellraiser, part Re-Animator, The Void should definitely be added to your Lovecraftian horror movie collection. For Canadians, there's also a nice mix of recognizable local actors, like Kenneth Welsh (Due South), Daniel Fathers (Pontypool) Ellen Wong (Knives in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and Art Hindle (everything).
Actual best from that year: Arrival, Star Trek Beyond, Rogue One, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Colossal


4 comments:

Jonathan Sargeant said...

I 'waded' my way through "Hard to be a God" a couple of years ago for a doctoral project. I was intrigued by it to the extent that I then watched the previous German version, "Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein" from 1989.

But that one doesn't match the visceral world building of the longer version...

I found it rewarding but you are the only other human being I've ever come across who's seen it!

Siskoid said...

Maybe it was made for non-humans.

"Waded" is a very appropriate word!

LondonKdS said...

The 101 Dalmatians film was based on the novel, not the other way around.

Siskoid said...

Yes, but what we had at home was the Disney storybook adaptation, not the original book.

 

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