This Week in Geek (27/06-03/07/21)


In theaters: If F9 (The Secret Origin of Dom Toretto) frustrates through the first couple acts is that its forgets the franchise thrives on whack driving action. There's way too much exposition and plot in this chapter of the "Saga". I appreciate the flashbacks to Dom's youth to set up an unknown brother played by John Cena, but when they also have to introduce a MacGuffin, explain why Han is back from the dead, and indulge an obsession with establishing the unfairly unloved Tokyo Drift into the core story (gotta admit, I didn't readily recognize F3's cast), it's a lot of downtime between car brawls. And since plot logic and dialog are NOT among the franchise's strengths, it's a bit heavy-going. That said, the third act is so insane, you walk out of the theater with the kind of buzz that makes you want to tear out of the parking lot like a bat out of hell. First, it fulfills a dream of mine, something I've been calling for the last couple entries, and it does it in the silliest possible way. Second, that last sequence with the magnet cars is total superhero action and I am there for it.


At home: Someone recently asked me what I thought of Seinfeld as they caught me watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and I wasn't sure how to answer. The sitcom was iconic (how many phrases from that show have made it into the vernacular?). The stand-up is much too traditional for me. The person... I guess CICGC is where you get a sense of that. Anyone who knows me will know I don't respond to car fetishism, so I don't connect with him on that score. I was watching the show to hear comedians talk about process (which didn't always happen, but often enough), not cars. What I appreciate about Seinfeld in the show is his apparent honesty which seems to make him more grounded than other celebrities - he's not phased about showing up in public, there's no false humility in his smug persona - but at the same time, he's a rich prick (however much he leans into it) and that can be problematic. The notion that everything should be taken as a joke, and that comedy makes you a jerk on some level, isn't lost on me. I've been working on the field (as an improviser) for so long, I know exactly what that is. Replace the word "comedian" on the show with "improviser" and it's exactly the same thing. My wit's gotten me in trouble often enough, and I may be a "Seinfeld" in my field (heck, I also have an interview show where I only talk to others of "my kind", just not in cars, coffee optional). Doesn't mean I agree with everything he (or a guest) says, but there's usually enough humor to get me through, and if there isn't (not everyone is as funny in life as on stage), I know we're out of there by the 20-minute mark.

Though Fear Street is R.L. Stine's horror books starring older teens and therefore less tame, writer-director Leigh Janiak has probably gone much further with it. Part One of a trilogy released weekly, "1994", has some surprisingly gory moments. She's kept the Shadyside setting and woven something new, new but also a tribute to the era in which the story takes place. The obvious riff is Scream with which it shares several elements and yet doesn't retell. There's a clever evocation of Pulp Fiction (1994) in there as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if audiences who remember the mid-90s well found other inspirations. I was graduating from university that year, so the movie basically had the soundtrack of my life. Great music, and can't wait to hear the hits from 1978 and 1666. With this rich a setting, Fear Street could become an ongoing thing (a slasher-type American Horror Story) if Janiak wanted to oversee one. But then we might find that Part Three has given us all the closure we need. For now, all I'll say is that "1994" was a lot of fun, bordering on being "my jam".

Jill Sprecher's Clockwatchers begins with a perfect moment of clockwatching, then proceeds to introduce us to a cast of office temps who are all watching the clock, not just at work, but in their lives. Life as office tedium, and shot with an eye towards geometry, with off-centered characters waiting in blocks of pale, inoffensive color. The screen as a cubicle. Office politics, injustice and rebellion eventually lead the cast to split up (these are temporary jobs, after all) and it's a shame that despite a certain expressionistic vision, realism makes characters leave before they can get as much closure as Toni Collette's wall flower character. But as watchable as roustabout Parker Posey is, this is Collette's story, and it's her awakening that is the true movement forward of the film. Since the comparison is inevitable, let me make it: I like this better than the better-known Office Space. Not only did it come out two years before, but the use of temps makes its existentialism crisper, and it doesn't resort to extreme caricature to create its world.

50 Years of SF/2017: What if every time you tried to commit suicide, a time loop brought you back? That part of Groundhog Day is explored in 3 Foot Ball and Souls when four strangers make a suicide pact online, but find one of their number is a teenager who has her whole life ahead of her. As the moment of decision is extended through the loop, we learn everyone's reasons and start to grasp what they must do to stop from being reset. Some black comedy at the start, to be sure, but I found the emotional climax quite effective and I more or less wept through the last reel, sappy sentimental coda included. Despair, second chances... hope? Suicide movies are generally going to have the same message, but the structure gives this one some surprises. Just the kind of lo-fi, small-budget indie SF I'm interested in, and I'd say this one is much better than the average in this category.
Also from that year: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, War for the Planet of the Apes, Blade Runner 2049, The Last Jedi, Logan, Okja

2018: Mirage (Durante la tormenta, which actually means During the Storm) is a Spanish film in which two points in time are connected (1989 and today) for the length of an electromagnetic storm during which a woman makes contact with a young boy and prevents his death. When she wakes up the next day, her life is completely changed. Can she get her life back without the boy needing to die again? There's a lot of intrigue here, and while some twists seem entirely guessable, they hide even twistier twists you don't see coming. Oriol Paulo usually directs crime films (hmm, I'm interested) so there's a grisly crime at the heart of 1989's events, which also offers surprises. As a time travel buff, it was fun to get played in various ways, clich├ęs and flaws in logic yielding answers that only exposed the audience's lack of context.
Also from that year: A Quiet Place, Sorry to Bother You, Annihilation, Solo, Bumblebee, Pacific Rim: Uprising


2019: While I read Jhonen Vasquez's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac in the 90s, his Invader ZIM stuff on Nickolodeon was not something I'd ever seen. But as Enter the Florpus comes out 20 years later, I expected a recap to catch me up. I got it, but it was still like getting thrown into the deep end of the pool, and if you were NOT a ZIM fan from way back, i.e. absent the nostalgia, a lot of it is going to be "well, I guess that was a thing in the cartoon". There are some good gags, both visual and in a dialog, and the third act is a lot of fun, but for me, without any attachment to the material, the movie was heavy going. I found the gross-out humor dumb and the endless shouting obnoxious. Fans are probably warranted in telling me my criticism is NOT SCIENTIFICALLY POSSIBLE!!!, but fans don't need my silly review to decide whether they want to watch it or not. This one's for the rest of humanity.
Actual best from that year: Ad Astra

2020: The Korean take on Frequency or The Lake House is The Call, in which two young women, living in the same house, make contact across 20 years. The lines must have gotten crossed. Each of them has tragedy in their lives which might be alleviated through friendship and historical manipulation, and the temptation not to use future knowledge is too great. What the present-day character can't know is that her counterpart from the past is deeply disturbed and dangerous, turning their relationship toxic with deadly consequences. Looper-like physics are always going to seem, well, LOOPY, but the movie does a good job of ramping up the tension and both women have to be very clever to navigate the gulf between them. I don't think I like the last scare element tagged at the end (because it's really not clear what we should take away from it), but otherwise, some great twists and turns.
Also from that year: Palm Springs, Tenet, The Invisible Man, Possessor

And that's the end of 50 Years of SF, but seeing as we're there... BONUS 2021!


In Boss Level, we get the high-octane action film version of Groundhog Day, and because we know the drill by now, it starts dozens of loops into it. No waiting! We'll get there eventually via flashbacks. We've been getting a LOT of time loop movies recently - I wonder if being trapped in the darkest timeline, or being stuck at home under quarantine, has anything to do with this zeitgeist mod - but I tend to enjoy them. Frank Grillo isn't the smartest time looped here, but the film acknowledges that, and he's funnier than I would have thought. The title and the graphics throughout evoke video games, but that's thematically tied to an important thing in his life, so it's more than just about a sense of fun, though it's that too. This movie is a lot of fun. A bit over-narrated, but (give or take the needless ambiguity of the final seconds) fun. And while I could do without ever having to watch Mel Gibson on screen, the movie makes up for it with plenty of people I DO want to watch - Michell Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Naomi Watts... so yeah, a big junk-food thumbs up from me.
Actual best from that year (to date): The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Oh and one more... I'm seeing a lot of people trashing The Tomorrow War and while I totally see the flaws, I couldn't help but enjoy. I like the cast, I liked the light touch some of the characters were able to bring, and I like the central metaphor, which has today's adults go and literally fight for the future, with an ode to science as the way to go. You say aliens, I saw climate change, let's call the whole thing off. I realize the budget would put it somewhere else, but I often like trashy B-movies. and this is well-made B-movie trash. Its wonky fourth act does lay it on a bit thick in terms of "the common man will prevail", but it leads to a fine final set piece, so I'm not really complaining. It's not gonna win any scriptwriting contests, or acting awards for that matter, but it's fine as a PG-rated reverse-Terminator. Just seeing Yvonne Strahovski in an action role again made me happy, so I wasn't being too difficult.

Ok, NOW we're done. I can certainly attest to the fact that science-fiction has been a big part of my diet all my life, or else some of the choices I made for the project would have been much better, probably. When you've seen everything, you're left with whatever you can get. Still, there were some nice surprises, among them The Fury, Repo Man, Earth Girls Are Easy, Until the End of the World, Blast from the Past, Slither, 3 Foot Ball and Souls, and Mirage. Watch this space! In a couple weeks, I'll be announcing ANOTHER "50 Years" viewing project. What genre? You'll just have to wait to find out.


Charles Izemie said…
And there's still more!

I couldn't find mentions of Quintet, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, or Biggles: Adventures in Time anywhere, and those might very much be up your proverbial alley SF-wise. Unless of course you've seen them years ago...