Monday, April 29, 2013
Matt’s Week in Dork! (4/21/13-4/27/13)
Not really much of a week for this dork. Did a bit of reading, a bit of watching, a bit of biking, and a bit of cooking. But nothing amazing on the nerdy front.
Oblivion: If you’re looking for a reinvention of the wheel, or a profound and transformative experience, you’ll be sadly disappointed. If you’re looking for a solid, slick, visually impressive science fiction adventure movie, this has plenty to offer. It has an epic quality, and draws on some of my favorite elements of the past, with robots, ultra-tech, and a hefty dose of post-apocalypse. There are a couple ‘twists’ that change the lead character’s journey, but don’t pivot the whole plot. Sadly, too much was (as is all to often the case) given away in the trailers. Still, the trailer didn’t give everything away or spoil every dramatic cue. This is the kind of movie I’d like to see being done on a more regular basis. This should be an average entry in the genre, but as it’s one of the rare entries, almost by default it’s one of the better. Though set on Earth, it creates a world unlike our own and doesn’t shy away from the weird ideas that were so common in the literature but commonly absent from film. Some aspects of the finale could have been handled better, but they weren’t so bad as to mar the overall film. As I mentioned, it’s visually striking, but also has a good electronica score, reminiscent of the director’s previous film, Tron: Legacy. And here’s the greatest part of the whole thing: No flippin’ shaky cam! I could tell what was happening throughout the movie. The camera stayed a respectable distance and didn’t jitter about to the point I felt sick. What a welcome change from so many recent movies.
Tron: Legacy: “You’re messin’ with my whole Zen thing, man.” Dang it, I don’t get tired of this movie. After watching Oblivion, I thought I’d throw the director’s first movie back in the DVD player. He has an excellent visual style and manages to meld computer and practical effects extremely well. If you ignore the fact that it’s supposed to take place inside a computer network, the world of the Grid would make for an excellent execution of one of those crazy ultra-future worlds you normally only read about in sci-fi novels. It reminds you that we have the capability of putting beautiful and powerful images on screen when there are artists at work. And dang, I love that score. I was going to just throw this in as background noise, but ended up getting sucked in once again. I’m still frustrated with America for not embracing this movie.
Django Unchained: “I’m not from the South.” Christoph Waltz is so devilishly charming in this movie. A gleefully civilized, deadly bounty hunter. When he teams up with Jamie Foxx, they make for a fascinating and compelling pair. The relationship that develops between the two is great, as is the montage type scene of them in the mountains during winter could have been the basis of an awesome movie in its own right. I could watch a whole movie about that winter. Every copy of Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind should come with a copy of this film. It’s a great inoculation against their BS. Dr. Scholtz’s horror at the madness of slavery and his righteous fury is beautiful to behold. Django is a stark fist of vengeance on a quest for his wife. And the blood is worthy of the craziest samurai film. Those aren’t squibs but hoses and bladders pumping and blasting like a gory water-balloon fight. And that Fred Williamson smile. Glorious.
Tokyo Joe: “We were over 18 when we were 15.” What a mess. Poor Joe. He ran a business in Tokyo, but then that danged war broke out. So he signed up with Uncle Sam and fought the good fight. Now he’s back in town, looking to pick up the pieces of his pre-War life in a post-War Japan. And things aren’t going well. It’s perfectly understandable why this isn’t one of those Bogart movies you hear people talk about. It’s enjoyable, but also forgettable. There are some hints of story, but not much really happens. It seems like the filmmakers were reaching for threads of Casablanca and some other War tie-in and/or Bogart movies. But it doesn’t come together. Still, it was nice to see Asian actors in the roles. And while forgettable, it’s not bad.
Dishonored Lady: “I got a rule about women. They ain’t breaking the law, let ‘em alone.” A tempting harlot (I think she even votes! For shame!) lures men by standing around and trying to do her job, sometimes even saying hello. Things go from bad to worse when every man around her can’t help but be completely seduced by her, even when she’s just having a drink or calling for a cab. But then the greatest, smoothest, sagest shrink ever to slick back his hair sets her on the straight and narrow by getting her to give up the high life, live in a dive, and paint. OK. It’s a weird thing for me to notice, but Hedy Lamarr’s outfits in this movie are kind of ridiculous. They look like adult versions of a little girl’s ‘pretty little princess’ kind of thing. She’s a beautiful woman, but she’s dressed like a child. It’s weird. The movie is melodramatic crap, really. But it’s watchable crap.
The Strange Woman: “A young man of fashion will be very popular in Bangor.” This time, Hedy Lamarr plays a dreadful child who grows up to be a dreadful woman in Hollywood’s version of my hometown; Bangor, Maine. She’s a danged devil. It’s bad when the creepy old perv who marries her seems somewhat sympathetic by comparison. Yet, somehow they weave in this story, as she’s pitting father against sun, about how she’s a philanthropist trying to clean up the rum-fueled lumberjack/whore riot that is Bangor. It’s like she’s got a good-evil switch, and some hyperactive kid won’t stop flicking it. When she’s not making sex-eyes at every strapping young sailor or lumberjack, she’s a tireless champion for the poor. When she’s not half praying for her older husband to die, she’s staying up with him all night trying to save him from a fever. She’s so crazy her crazy has crazy. She’s not the kind of woman your mother warned you about. She’s the kind of woman the kind of woman your mother warned you about would warn you about. Bangor looks like a frontier town from a Western. I think the house I grew up in would already have been standing when this movie took place. The movie is somewhat difficult to watch. Lamarr plays such a madwoman that the waves her character makes seem to disrupt everything about the film. You can’t root for anyone, and only feel those who die are lucky enough to be out of her dastardly clutches.
Emperor: In the aftermath of Japan’s defeat, an American general with pre-War ties is called upon to help with the occupation. The movie deals with a lot of cultural confusion, the clash of two very, very different world views. The cult of the Emperor, a tradition of duty and devotion going back into deep cultural time, being crushed by the an ideology of individualism and personal ambition. I find Japanese traditionalism to be as inscrutable as religious fundamentalism, for pretty much the same reasons. As one old soldier says in the film, the Japanese are a people of great selflessness, but also capable of shocking atrocities, and both stem from the same world view. This too puts me in mind of the deeply religious, who can be at once profoundly kind and appallingly evil. Matthew Fox has the look of a WWII vet, with his golly-gee good looks made a bit ragged and weathered by hardship. He puts me in mind of so many of those early 50s movies where the actors looked middle aged, but would only be 25 or 30. War, smoking, drinking, and hard living. It’ll get you.
The Shadow Whip: “If you don’t tell us, you’ll have to face our Serial Bombs.” The Martial Arts world was a difficult place. Even more prone to take offence and get the itch for trouble than the typical gunfighter of the Western, the kung fu warrior had to be on constant alert, because a fight could erupt at any moment. Woe to the innkeeper or clay pot salesman. I love the superpowers of martial arts masters, those little things that tip you off to their amazing skills. Walking on powdered snow without making imprints. Awesome. I like watching these movies that feature unusual weapons, but I have to admit, the whip doesn’t work all that well. When fighting large numbers of spearmen, it looks extremely awkward. It might just be a problem with fight choreography, but I think it’s more than that. The movie does feature one of my favorite martial arts tropes, the inability or unwillingness to use doors. Why use a door, when you can burst through a window? Why use the gate when you can leap over the wall? This film is fairly typical of the Shaw Bros. It’s well produced, action packed, perhaps a bit convoluted in plotting.
The Mind Snatchers: “I don’t care if you’re a girl. I’ll punch you right in the mouth.” Christopher Walken looks like he’s maybe 18 in this. The transfer on this DVD is appalling. It looks like something recorded off TV with a bad signal. The fashion and hair in this is shockingly ugly. Was this the look in Europe at the time? It makes the worst sins of the Mod movement and the Hippies look like child’s play. The music is also dreadful, sounding like something off a 70s sitcom. Walken plays such an insufferable jackass that I kept hoping one of the people he ticked off would just put a bullet in his head. It reminded me a bit of his performance in Communion, where he’s supposed to be the protagonist, but I kept wanting the aliens to stick a probe in his mouth instead of his ass. There’s also a hindsight issue with the movie. It’s basically an anti-science film based on early research on the brain. The film implies that conditions like schizophrenia are just part of being human, and that treating them is tantamount to removing a person’s humanity. It relies on the visceral horror of opening the skull and putting wires inside, which it assumes the viewer will be repulsed by. Of course, 40 years later, great strides have been made in the treatment of many brain related ailments, and yes, sometimes those include putting electrodes inside. I don’t think that very many of the people who once suffered from serious problems, nor those today who may soon be cured, would feel the same horror. For example, all those def people now able to hear thanks to cochlear implants.
Birthday Girl: “Thank you. I think that’s very fair.” A lonely dude in England breaks down and tries an online service to find a mail-order Russian bride. Maybe not a great idea. But he picks a winner. She’s pretty and sweet. Sure, she was supposed to be a non-smoker and speak English, but you can’t have everything, right? The awkwardness between them is painful but charming. The bits where they explore John’s kinks are weirdly cute. (The scene where she’s on the bed, playing with his tie? Not my cup of tea, but I’d be willing to try a different brew. Ya dig?). Maybe things aren’t so bad…then Vincent Cassel and his buddy arrive, and things go bad fast and hard. I have a weird thing about Nicole Kidman. Clearly, she’s a beautiful woman. And sometimes, in some rare movies, I find her very sexy. But usually, she makes me think of a porcelain doll, something pretty to put on a shelf, but avoid touching for fear of damage or smudge. This film falls on the sexy side. Maybe it’s the dark hair? Or just my natural inclination toward women I clearly know are trouble. It’s weird having two French guys and an Australian woman play Russians. But that’s the movies, I guess. Though it features none of the signature style, the plot of the film could have dropped right out of a classic Noir. John is the sap, Nadia the femme fatale. But in spite of everything, it manages to be a cute romance along with the dangerous crime caper. It also manages to capture some of the pain of being an everyman. The montage featuring John’s boss reading aloud from his employee review is crushingly accurate and painful. The corporate speak that manages to makes to make him feel like crap, even though it’s a positive review. Spot on.
Doctor Who: Ambassadors of Death: “Right! Cut it open!” It’s weird going back and watching stories from this era. The Doctor is trapped on Earth, with parts of the Tardis set up in a swanky lab. This story begins with a manned probe returning from Mars, running silent. What happened 12 hours after the men landed? Why haven’t the communicated? Who…or what is in the returning pod? As a conspiracy builds, you know you’re in for another invasion of Earth story (90% of Jon Pertwee’s stories). Another issue with many of the Pertwee stories is the color. It would probably look better in black and white. The color is uneven, bleeding, faded, and grainy. This story arc is extremely long. Seven episodes is long, even for an arc of Pertwee’s era, already frequently over-long. Even so, I somehow didn’t think it felt as bloated as some others. It wanders a bit, but remains fairly interesting.
“Shoot it? Major, that horror is made of people!” More Swamp Thing. I read the final two volumes of Alan Moore’s run on the series. Darn it, but that’s an interesting character, with a lot of potential. I’m curious to see what other authors have done with him. Like where did Rick Veitch go with his sci-fi bent?