Sunday, March 23, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/16/14-3/22/14)

    This week is a bit of a blur.  In the aftermath of filming, I went into a slightly more funky funk, combined with some unrelated stress, and just didn’t have my mind on the Dork Life.  Still, there were bright points, to be sure.

Star Trek Into Darkness:  Upon second viewing, I find this film both better and worse.  On the one hand, I find a lot of things that I really enjoy.  Little bits of dialog, sequences, or production design.  But I’m also more bothered by how much better it not only could have been, but absolutely should have been.  Kirk is made into a horrible, sniveling, weak-willed little child.  Spock is a whiny a-hole.  Uhura has become a shrewish nag.  And the unnecessary villains are bordering on mentally enfeebled when it comes to plans and schemes.  At almost every turn, the writers had chances to make a very interesting movie, that continued to take the new timeline Trek on its own course.  Alas, at every turn, they made silly call-backs, rehashed old characters and plots, and on more than one occasion bent plot and story out of whack, just to do something stupid.  If Harrison wasn’t Khan?  Better film.  If Khan and Kirk teamed up, then went on their separate paths?  Better film.  If it had been a dilemma to solve, not a villain to punch?  Better film.  If Carol Marcus wasn’t involved?  Better film.  If the Klingons weren’t involved?  Better film.  And didn’t they already do the Admiral Robocop storyline in Star Trek VI?  I mean, why rip off both Star Trek II’s plot and Star Trek IV?  Anyway, this ultimately aggravating film has a ton of potential, but drops almost every ball it tries to juggle.  After such a good start to the re-launched series, this stumble feels catastrophic and probably terminal.  My interest in the franchise dropped down to the levels Star Wars has been enjoying for the last fifteen years.  And that ain’t good.

Alice Adams:  Katharine Hepburn plays a somewhat spoiled daughter of a struggling middle class family, who, along with her mother, is a bit obsessed with being perceived as part of the more sophisticated upper class.  What follows is an enjoyable light comedy of manors and misunderstandings.  Nothing too heavy.  One thing I find odd/interesting is the politics of race in the film.  You see racism, and there is certainly a character that seems like a racist archetype when you first see her.  But, it seems like the movie is lampooning racist assumptions and behaviors.  Or is it?  I’m removed enough from the time period that I’m not quite sure.  Was it subversively forward thinking, or am I giving them too much credit?  Overall, I really liked the movie, even though Fred MacMurray was the romantic lead.  Though his boring stiffness may have been to the benefit of the picture.

Dirty Harry:  One of the great pieces of 70s sleaze.  One of the best anti-hero cop films.  Dirty Harry is pretty much a rehash of Bullitt, but 100% more entertaining.  Clint Eastwood grimaces and sneers his way through life, hating the world and every piece of scum in it.  And when a giggling whack-job with a rifle starts picking people off, nothing is gonna stop Harry from getting his hands dirty, with punk blood.  No pointless romance sub-plot.  No great moral victory.  No personal growth.  Just hard, mean, ugly business.  A great score, fantastic footage of San Francisco, and some memorable lines help cement Dirty Harry as a landmark in cynical cinema.

    Because I’ve had a hard time focusing on reading lately, I paid a lot more attention to the music I had on during bus trips this week.  I really got into St. Vincent’s new, self titled CD.  After a few listens, I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.  Very good.

The Astronaut Farmer:  This is a great family movie, about a family working together to realize dreams.  In a lot of ways, it felt like a film from the earlier 1980s.  Another case of ‘they don’t make movies like this anymore.’  It’s heart warming, gentle, and seriously enjoyable.  It’s got plenty of ‘that guy’ actors and lots of solid character performances.  Heck, even the kid actors are good.  This is the kind of thing I can imagine inspiring little kids to reach for the stars, and we could certainly use more of that.  Matt’s Family Seal of Approval.

The Grapes of Wrath:  The Great Depression shot by John Ford?  Normally, that idea would not thrill me at all.  But this adaptation of the classic novel of one of America’s darkest times is engrossing, entertaining, and ultimately uplifting.  Though the end sugar coats the book’s message, I find its hope filled look off into the distance of time to be satisfying.  The movie looks great, with some excellent faces and the desperate human misery of displaced peoples in stark black & white.  The acting tends toward the theatrical, but as the film takes on an almost mythic cast, that’s not such a bad thing.  Watching it made me want to dip back into HBO’s Carnivalle and follow it up with Sullivan’s Travels.  I’ve got a week off coming up.  We’ll see.

    Thursday night I watched the first disk of The Waltons.  Man, I hated that show when I was a wee lad, but I find it charming and fun now.  It’s wholesome and perhaps a bit saccharine, but it’s also refreshing and pleasant.  I know that over the course of its near decade run (plus several movies) the characters grow and experience snippets of history (from the Depression through WWII), and I find that interesting.  I may be sitting down for a long haul, watching the entire show.

The Call of Cthulhu:  I still find myself enjoying this darned faithful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic story.  On a limited budget, they attempted to recreate the silent movie era, and for the most part, it works.  Not even close to my favorite Lovecraft tale, it’s still nice to see some of the author’s essential content make it onto the screen, something so rare in previous purported adaptations.  It makes me more and more hungry to see a faithful adaptation of The Shadow Out of Time or of course, At the Mountains of Madness.  Heck, a well made Shadow Over Innsmouth would still make me smile.

Legendary Weapons of China:  An excellent, probably way over-complicated martial arts adventure movie, Legendary Weapons of China is set in the latter days of the Boxer Rebellion (or just after).  It involved conflicted philosophies of martial arts and its place in society…and lots of fighting.  The tone is odd, with a good deal of goofing, but with some serious issues being discussed and fought over.  Yet, unlike some, it manages not to strike any notes too jarring for this viewer.  I enjoy hand to hand martial arts, but my preference is for weapon combat, and as the film’s name implies, this one features weapons.  Lots and lots of weapons.  Excellent.

    Saturday night was the latest meeting of the graphic novel club, where this month we discussed Brian K. Vaughn’s Pride of Bagdad.  The book left me cold upon reading it, but I did gain some appreciation for it, seeing it through some other readers’ eyes.  The art is nice, but it felt the most like when we read Get Jiro a while back; a bunch of potentially interesting ideas that didn’t go anywhere.

    I finally got back to and finished Philip Reeve’s Goblins.  It’s a fun children’s fantasy novel in the spirit of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain cycle (see…or don’t…Disney’s boring adaptation of The Black Cauldron).  The fact that it took so long from the time I started to the time I finished is not a statement about the book’s quality, but my own scatterbrained funk and lack of focus I’ve been suffering for some months.


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