This Week in Geek (15-21/05/22)


In theaters: Romancing the Stone with more jokes, The Lost City is actually a pretty funny romcom/archaeological quest for treasure and certainly squeezes every last drop of mileage out of that glittery pink onesie. I think that's what I appreciate most about the movie - it doesn't settle for one joke when it could layer in another. And while there is what sounds like improvisational banter, by not having "comedy stars" but rather, FUNNY ACTORS in the lead roles, it's kept in check. Sandra Bullock hasn't been this effective, in fact, since Miss Congeniality, fully accepting that her character is just as awkward and clumsy as Channing Tatum's, converting all the action scenes you know so well into opportunities for well-crafted slapstick. Daniel Radcliffe, as usual, is a fun screen presence, here as a crazy billionaire villain. I caught a couple of editing flubs, but overall, The Lost City was more consequent in the nuts and bolts and characters department than expected. An amusing diversion, which is all it's trying to be.

At home: Not having watched The Kids in the Hall since it went off the air, their new 8-episode engagement nevertheless felt like slipping into a warm bath of nostalgia (not hot-hot, but better than lukewarm). Thank God they didn't change the theme by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. Plunging into their universe again gave me a better sense of their style of comedy, which is closer to Monty Python than anything made on this side of the Pond. Absurd situations taken as a given by the characters subjected to then, lots of cross-dressing, sketch trilogies, and so on. The Kids eschew the premise-gag-gag formula of most sketch shows by always taking weird left turns from the absurd premise into another, or pile the premises on top of one another, which I find quite pleasant. It's not all home runs, but there are some here. It's not all nostalgia and old characters, but there are some here too. It's when they went meta that I found them the funniest and the laughs came bursting out of me. I guess I have to chug through the old show now!

Seeing as Prime made Comedy Punks as a ramp-up and companion to the new season of The Kids in the Hall, it could have been much more cursory. Talking head documentaries are hardly interesting formally, but this one makes up for it by showcasing a LOT of archival and behind-the-scenes footage, much of it thanks to Paul Bellini (the Man in the Towel) having filmed a lot of the Kids' early stage shows and acting as the troupe's videographer. The doc also finally gives him a voice, and he's a well-spoken biographer who's been with them since the beginning. Split in two episodes, Comedy Punks tracks the formation of the group from disparate improv shows to the big time, through the rough break-up after the 5th season of the original show, and their coming back together to tour and produce more television. I came off understanding the particular rhythms, themes and chemistries better, and the interviews offered both laugh-out-loud moments and poignant tearjerkers. It wouldn't be true to say "they're back" at this moment because they've been working together again for two decades, but they ARE back on "television" and it feels like a good time to be a fan of their brand of outsider comedy.

Have you ever wanted an All the President's Men parody from Deep Throat's point of view, where Woodward and Bernstein are played by Will Farrell and Bruce McCulloch? Well, have I got a movie for you. Dick's premise is that Deep Throat was a couple of bubble-headed teenage girls (Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) who really didn't understand what was happening, but were somehow responsible for everything that happened around Watergate. It's actually more clever than it seems and has quite the comedy DNA - a couple of Kids in the Hall, Dan Hedaya, Terri Garr, Saul Rubinek, an unknown up-and-comer called Ryan Reynolds... Wait a minute. Was this American political comedy shot in Canada?! Haha. Despite Nixon being the villain of the piece, the comedy allows for one of the most sympathetic portrayals of the tricky American President, or maybe it's all down to Hedaya, an expert at playing endearing slimeballs (further proof: Nick Tortelli on Cheers). Bit of a forgotten charmer, this one.

Taking its cues from narratives like The Fugitive and Hitchcock's The Wrong Man and Saboteur, The Wrong Guy is a long-form Kids in the Hall sketch starring Dave Foley as a man on the run after the authorities think he's committed a horrible murder. Except they're not, but he's seen too many thrillers to trust that. Except he's kind of going in the real killer's direction, so the cops keep showing up anyway. It makes for a brilliant little Canadian movie, with lots of laughs catering to many tastes, and always finding an amusing quirk in every situation or main character to freshen up old tropes. Whether it's Foley's hapless milksop trying to be the big hero, or the narcoleptic Jennifer Tilly, or David Anthony Higgins as the cop who doesn't really to solve the crime but loves the perks that come with a nation-wide manhunt, there's a lot of clever gags, well-integrated into the plot. I'd rewatch this in a heartbeat.

Based on Canadian writer Barbara Gowdy's novel of the same name, Falling Angels, is set in 1969 Ontario close to and through the holidays (plus important flashbacks to the dad's nuclear shelter earlier), spending time with a family where three daughters struggle with their alcoholic parents, a temperamental father (Callum Keith Rennie) and a depressed mother (Miranda Richardson) whose pain stems from secrets they have a hard time keeping. Taught by example, the girls each keep their own secrets in turn, which is part of their tragedy, as it keeps them isolated and unsupported through their own troubles. Ginger Snaps' Katharine Isabelle is the most recognizable and headstrong, so she may seem like the main character, but the others actually have more momentous arcs, even though they somehow eschew melodrama (Monté Gagné especially as a repressed gay girl).

Guy Maddin is all about juxtaposition. It's in the editing. It's in the genre-bending. It's certainly in the way he makes films that seem to come from a bygone era, yet are also totally modern. Keyhole stars Jason Patric as a gangster who has returned to his family home with his gang and a psychic, trying to get forgiveness from his estranged wife (frequent Maddin collaboratrix Isabella Rossellini). The house is haunted, but the audience is warranted in asking who exactly is haunting who, because characters who seem alive may actually be dead, or perhaps vice-versa, and Maddin doesn't contradict any conclusions we might arrive at on that score. Highly expressionistic, even surreal, this Kafka-esque piece is also moody and tense, but again there's juxtaposition: It's also kind of a black comedy. Come to think of it, despite the bizarre imagery, one of the weirdest things about Keyhole might just be that Kevin MacDonald has a role in it!

Maddin really pushes the artifact nature of the look in The Saddest Music in the World, which could almost be an unrestored pre-Code film, with its grainy nitrate. It's the Depression in Canada, and Isabella Rossellini's rich beer heiress launches an international radio contest to find which country has the saddest music, the music most emblematic of the era. Competing for the jackpot are two brothers, one seemingly incapable of feeling sadness (Mark McKinney), the other sadness incarnate (Ross McMillan), both adopted by other countries (the U.S.A. and Serbia, respectively). From that musical premise perfectly at home in the 1930s, the film then hits up against Maddin's great themes, like questions of identity and memory, and his quirky humor. It's a heady blend of the bizarre, with strong musical numbers ridiculously commented on by people who look like the ancestors of the Pitch Perfect judges. Slip into a cool vat of suds and enjoy.

Completely dissimilar to, yet tackling the same themes as My Winnipeg, Brand Upon the Brain! is another instance of Guy Maddin putting a version of himself on film, and again reinventing his family and past. If we are the sum of our experiences, where do imagined experiences fit in? What happens to the part of us we deny or forget? Maddin's childhood is traduced through childhood fantasies that include horrible birth parents, experimentation on a orphanageful of kids on some secluded island (has Eggers seen this? I feel like The Lighthouse is just one island over), and young detectives summoned out of a book. Guy the character must come to terms with this lurid story, either accepting it or accepting its irreality, hard to say. Isabella Rossellini narrates as the "Interlocutor", a title that is in itself enigmatic. And of course, it's in Maddin's grainy retro style, here coming off as a dark dream that David Lynch would be envious of. You just never know what's going to happen next in this hellish lunacy.

Before Miloš Forman came to America, he was doing some lovely work as part of the Czech New Wave like Loves of a Blonde. Somehow hilarious AND heartbreaking, this comedy follows Andula's love life in a small factory town where there are 16 girls for every available man. Not great odds if you're looking for romance, even if the factory manager, with his heart in the right place, organizes socials where he hopes his girls can get their quota of cuddles. The film delivers on the contrast between the ideal - which is how the girls end up speaking about their awkward encounters - and the disappointing reality. This is a movie about desperation - everyone is, and no one's got game - and it culminates in a third act "date" that is essentially just an old couple bickering while the poor girl just sits there, funny by how extended the bit is, but also acting as a promise of what finding someone to marry will be like. So we cherish the sexy moment that feels like true connection, even if it's potential will likely be wasted.

Chantal Akerman, very first film was Saute ma ville (lit. Blow Up My Town), a 13-minute short that, despite its crudeness, seems to already prefigure Akerman's masterpiece, 7 years hence, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles. Here we have a woman (Akerman herself), trapped in routine and wanting to break free, and blowing up not her town so much as her life. Instead of a calculated drama, it's a chaotic (if dark) comedy, which Akerman herself calls "burlesque", but can also be seen as a youthful vs. mature reaction to the oppression of everyday life. The score, done my Akerman with mouth noises and humming, is actually pretty funny, and the invasively loud foley is part of the same device. It wouldn't be entirely ridiculous to put this at the front of Jeanne Dielman in a short/feature presentation, as it's not long enough for the "student film" aspects to discourage, and might provide an interesting contrast to Akerman then in full control of her powers.

When they announced that The Movies That Made Us would follow Toys, I was disappointed. I mean, what would I get from this that I couldn't from DVD extras? Three seasons later (including a longer third that goes out of its way to do Halloween and Christmas movies in time for those holidays), I finally decided to pull the trigger. What saves it from "just another making of" syndrome is it favors the very front end of pre-production. How did it come about, what was the original script like, how did it get green-lit, and what almost stopped it from making it to the silver screen? These are interesting stories on their own that don't get a whole lot of play in traditional making ofs. And yes, there are on-set stories, and we get to how the film was received, and so on. But the choice of films is pretty smart too, because while we can agree these are all "films that made us" (i.e. big/cult hits that everyone knows about, whether they've seen them or not), they are also Hollywood nightmares with plenty of "tell-all" potential. No smooth productions here. But of course, if you were irritated by The Toys That Made Us' irreverent mocking tone, that style still prevails, so...

Books: I rate David A. McIntee's Doctor Who New Adventures and his 1st Doctor novel The Eleventh Tiger quite highly, so I am especially disappointed by Bullet Time. What McIntee does best, normally, is throw the Doctor into a specific genre, and in The Eleventh Tiger, he showed he knew how do to kun fu. So a novel with a Matrixy title, set in Hong Kong as it's about to revert to Chinese leadership is gonna be a big HK action spectacular, right? An early stunt makes us think so, and there's a big sequence near the end, but no, that's now what this is. Rather, it plays as a sequel to McIntee's own First Frontier, though rights issues makes him cagey about saying so point-blank. But Gray aliens, UFOs and such don't really mix well with Triads and Hong Kong crime thriller tropes. In fact, the novel is a big mess that features too many characters that I'm not sure pay off (like the two detectives). Why does it even have to take place in Hong Kong?! Throw in the CIA and UNIT and a UNIT sub-group and you've hardly got room for the real star, the 7th Doc--no wait, it's actually Sarah Jane Smith's adventure and she doesn't know if she can trust the dark NA Doctor. Let's just say that it's also not my preference for Sarah, of all companions, to have a sex scene, even such a brief one, and if this is the ill-motivated note she goes out on, let's just say I found the puzzling ending maddening. Might just be the first McIntee novel I've disliked, so I'm not complaining about the episode "School Reunion" throwing its canonicity into question.

Nightwing's second Infinite Frontier era trade, Fear State, collecting issues #84-88 and the 2021 Annual, is disappointing given Tom Taylor's fresh start in vol.1. After setting up a bold new direction, a new villain, etc., the Batman offices force him (and Dick) to head back to Gotham to participate in a crossover for HALF the volume, with a different artist no less. While Robbi Rodriguez, and Tormey and HDR on the Annual, are good artists, their use of Redondo's techniques - ghost images of action and baton diagrams - are clunky. And though there are some good moments in Fear State, in particular the use of Nightwing's family (the Bat Family) as a support system, I still can't understand how DC's decided to fast track all the Future State stuff, which is supposed to happen years in the future, so that it all happens NOW. Gotham as a police state could have been ripped from the headlines, but instead feels like Batman's stepped into Robocop. In these three issues and the Annual's team-up with Red Hood, the best parts are those that flash back to earlier in the relationships. Taylor just makes all these relationships - even Dick and Jason as bona fide BROTHERS - work so well. If everyone seems to always be crashing Nightwing's title (the Titans, Superman, etc.), it's because he's FRIENDS with everyone, that's just his CHARACTER. And I love that. Thankfully, the collection ends with a couple issues of our boy back in Blüdhaven dealing with the fallout from his civilian identity's very public announcement before the "break", including an issue that's just one long panel, using Redondo's ability to work with ghost images, and that's what I want from this series. But as a high profile member of the Batman universe, Taylor's gonna have a heck of a time avoiding the pitfalls of crossover madness...

Role-playing: Moving our GURPS campaign to Deadlands: Weird West was a chance to do a bit of horror, not usually one of my stronger tools, but I spent a lot of time prepping a terrible town climbing the Fear Level ladder and I hope it pays dividends. I really very rarely do this, taking either a linear approach, or an improvisational one. Populating a setting and putting it on a schedule was more time-consuming, but now that the toy has been wound up, I can just let it do its thing. The players have their work cut out for them. They must 1, stop this ugly town from turning into a Deadland, which could infect their own. 2, Find the two former PCs who I want to have a role in the upcoming finale (these went out ahead, but are nowhere to be found). And 3, oh yeah, their archnemesis Jeremiah Dark is supposedly out here somewhere. And in Deadlands, the world itself is against you. People are edgier, faster to pull the trigger, and might not even care to ask questions later. Even so, the players have been running rampant for a while in campaign segments where being a rebel was a recognized value. Willie Jay throwing a stick of dynamite into a house with one innocent to defeat a Bone Fiend was thus not without consequence, and the session ended with Ace in hot water with the authorities. It remains to be seen if they can reverse the slippage into corruption in the next session, because getting a soiled dove's things from her old room doesn't seem to have much difference.