This Week in Geek (25/02-02/03/24)


In theaters: The internet is dead wrong about Drive-Away Dolls. It's a great time at the movies! Maybe people don't want to forgive the Coen brothers for parting ways, but the lesbian crime caper feels of a piece with their brotherly oeuvre. It has fun characters even in bit parts (JUSTICE FOR CURLY!), some of which are filled by big name performers for extra memorability, and is probably the most raucously funny Coen film since Burn After Reading. I giggled often and sincerely. Two girls take a road trip to Tallahassee in a drive-away car belonging to some criminal types who are none too happy not to have their "best guys" on it. Irresponsibility ensues, and then a fiasco of ridiculous proportions. Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan are great as the lead odd couple, and their friendship is actually rather sweet as they navigate the problems caused by, well, their own character flaws, as well as the illicit cargo they eventually discover they're carrying. Tonally, it's crossing the Coen caper film with a sex comedy (very sex positive). Good music, a fine use of the 1999 time period without calling attention to it, and plenty of crazy twists. This is the kind of movie you don't want spoiled. Thoroughly entertaining.

At home: A film about unintended consequences, Riders of Justice starts with a little girl wanting a blue bike and causes the death of Mads Mikklesen's wife in a train wreck. He's a stoic old soldier now left to raise a teenage daughter he doesn't really know, but when a bunch of broken statisticians and computer security nerds shows up at his door with their research into the incident pointing to foul play by a biker gang, they make cathartic plans to take revenge on the criminals. They also become a kind of kooky family from which a lot of comedy is derived. The invisible lines between cause and effect continually haunt what in lesser hands would be a straight revenge picture. Strong philosophical underpinnings aside, the acting is very strong across the whole cast and the action quite tense. It's an exploration of coping mechanisms, with each character bringing a different outlook based on who they are. But it's also a Christmas story of sorts and comes off as rather touching as well. The father-daughter stuff - a "consequence" of the marriage - is well-developed in a way these kinds of films rarely manage.

The Salvation is a western revenge story - nothing new - from the point of view of a Danish immigrant  - a little new - Mads Mikkelsen who loses his family as soon as they come over to a dead end part of the West to join him. There are a lot of clichés, like the outlaw bullies who think they can do anything they like, the cowardly mayor who does what he's told, and so forth, but some intriguing original elements too. Eva Green is an ambiguous figure as the scarred and mute "Princess" on the villains' side, for example. The burned-out town HQ. The modern idea that the bad guys' land grab has to do with oil. Otherwise, this is really about watching a stoic Mads deal with the lawless monsters who took everything away from him, with extreme prejudice. And I'm there for it. He's in a number of revenge picture - which I rather want to call PUNISHMENT pictures because the killing is usually righteous - but they tend to be more interesting and thoughtful than Liam Neeson's similar flicks.

A French redress of a German story, Michael Kohlhass might be a recognizable name in central Europe - he's a folk hero that's halfway between Robin Hood and Braveheart - but not here, so of course they saddled it with an overwrought title: Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas. Yeah, that's not gonna turn it into a hit, guys. One thing I've learned looking at Mads Mikkelsen's career is that the last character you want to be in his films is his wife. He plays a horse trader who gets cheated by the new baron, refuses to back down, and that costs him his wife. It's a great little story of injustice, with Mads as usual extremely watchable. Unfortunately, the peasant revolt Kohlhass leads is the boring part. The action beats are good, but there seems to be too much going on behind the scenes and we're often following characters we don't rightly know. Is there a longer version where these people's scenes make sense? Your attention wanders just when you should feel roused. But then, this is bound to be a downer, unless the aristocracy was taken down in the 16th Century and our history books are wrong. Special mention of Denis Lavant as a priest who really embodies how religion was keeping the citizenry under control then (as perhaps, now).

Based on the webcomic, Polar's obnoxious direction and hyper-HD look doesn't capture what was visually interesting in the source material - the black and white and orange color palette, the lack of dialog - and too often looks like a music video. Not surprisingly, director Jonas Åkerlund's main credits are music videos, music docs and filmed pop shows. This story of an assassin trying to survive to retirement (the "company" doesn't like it when you get your pension) fails whenever it tries to be oh-so-edgy with its gratuitous nudity, extended sex scenes and splatter violence. Åkerlund's idea of a "comic book movie" is right out of the early 90s, hair and costume design are especially garish. Somehow, Mads Mikkelsen makes it work when HE'S on screen, though the gulf between his reality and Matt Lucas' cartoon villain (he's just AWFUL in this) might just swallow the film whole. The only thing Mads can't save is the comedy scene with the school children. But when he's on screen, it generally works and the action scenes are good. Lots to annoy otherwise, include the sequel bait ending.

In Arctic, Mads Mikkelsen is surviving alone at the North Pole after a plane crash in what seems like the end of a survival movie. But rescue proves problematic so off he goes to try and reach "civilization". Pure procedural, without the benefit of flashbacks or any character building that's not about the crisis at hand. No narration and very little dialog/monologue. It's just him, bleak white wilderness, and the problems of survival. Does Mikkelsen even need to act? He's there, in the arctic wastes (well, Iceland), he's suffering and miserable. But he's not strictly alone and he's hopefully not in the same danger, so the moments of despair have to be acted, and they're strong moments. The movie does cheat on some points - no goggles to prevent snow blindness, for example, so we can see Mads' face - but generally, it's about one man's resourcefulness and determination to survive the many harsh challenges of the environment. The closest comparison I can make is Robert Redford in All Is Lost.

Habitual Mads Mikkelsen collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen creates something very weird with Men & Chicken, the tale of two brothers who discover they have a biological father they knew nothing about, a geneticist apparently living on a small island with, as it turns out, more of their bulbous-nosed brothers. In Riders of Justice (5 years later), Jensen would give Mads a bunch of comic neurotics to deal with. In this one, Mads IS one of the comic neurotics. With what I've just detailed about the story, you might guess as the big twist, but trust me, it's even more insane than that. Black comedy with some bizarre revelations. It's well made, with memorable if grotesque characters, and you can't really be sure where it's going. But the grotesque part of it could well put some audiences off. Is there a character here one can really latch onto? The one sensible brother (David Dencik), perhaps, but he's not necessarily the nicest man either. Let that go and enjoy the surprises as they come. Or do you just want to see movies where everything is familiar formula?

An enlightened foreign queen, a childish ineffectual king, attempts at moving a country forward from the Middle Ages stymied by religious hypocrites, and plenty of infidelity. Though it's never been acknowledged, I wouldn't be surprised if the events of A Royal Affair (if not this film's interpretation of them itself) were as much the basis of the Elle Fanning series The Great as the lives of Russia's Catherine, Peter, etc. The "kept queen" story recurs a lot in history, so similarities might just be a coincidence. This page from Danish history is played straight, of course, with tragedy in the offing on a personal and national scale. Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen are pretty pair, but I was more invested in the politics than the romance. King Christian VII is easy to manipulate and we see how two sides - our heroic reformers and the duplicitous status quo - run the country their way, no matter his wishes. Well made, well acted, but I'd probably be more invested if I were Danish.

And the week's Companion Film, this one starring Maureen O'Brien (Vicki) in a small role... A Royal Scandal's narration sounds like it was pulled from some arch epistolary novel of the day, but no, it's a modern confection (which gives it a weird docu-drama style). A lot of the dialog is however pulled from historical sources, so there is an epistolary basis for it. In the 18th Century, the Prince of Wales (and eventual George IV) married a princess who would be loved by the people, while he preferred his mistresses. The "scandal" is hers though, as she was put on trial for infidelity so that she would never be crowned queen. A true story that finds echoes in the Prince Charles/Lady Di drama of the mid-90s - this came out not long before her death - so we can see why this was of interest at the time. The past is painted unromantically, but amusingly. You can tell people stink under their perfumes. Great comic acting from a host of recognizable faces, not least of them Richard E. Grant and Susan Lynch as the battling royals.

Books: Collecting issues #232-240, Fantastic Four Visionaries: John Byrne Vol. 1 shows just how much Byrne owed to the original Jack Kirby-Stan Lee run. He was, in many ways, reinterpreting it for a new audience, and turning the book into a hit again. The hit of MY generation, actually. But I started on it late (She-Hulk was on the team), so this is new to me. Well, almost new. Byrne was repeating memes, yes  - the classic beats are almost synchronized issue to issue, as I'm finding reading the original run concurrently with this one - but he was also making big moves (like moving the Inhumans to the Moon) that then became FF/Marvel history I took for granted by the time I came to American comics. I don't think the storytelling is as sharp as it would become - there's an over-reliance on narration and exposition that sticks with Byrne through the 80s, but here you sometimes feel like it's replacing missing pages. In this batch of issues, you get Ego the Living Planet, the Puppet Master, Frankie Raye as a possible fifth member, Aunt Petunia, a H.E.R.B.I.E. of sorts (Reed invents the Furby, I'm not kidding), a new look for the Thing (I hate it), and, of course, Doctor Doom. But like the OF run and like Ryan North's current series, Byrne is really playing in the realm of the Twilight Zone/Outer Limits, making me think that playing the FF as standard superheroes is a mistake lesser runs have made.