Sunday, May 18, 2014
Matt’s Week in Dork! (5/4/14-5/10/14)
On Sunday morning, a friend and I headed to the outskirts of DC, where we ate at Ragtime, a nice little neighborhood pub. And then from there, we walked to Theodor Roosevelt Island, which is a park I like a lot, but boy has it fallen into disrepair. While packed with visitors, and obviously a popular destination, the statue of Teddy is looking pretty ratty, the pools are all dry, and the wooden walkways are sinking, rotting, and starting to look dangerous. Such a nice place, it’s a shame to see it falling apart.
Sunday night was the latest meeting of the graphic novel club, where we discussed Asterios Polyp. It got very mixed reviews, with some strong negative feelings and some fairly positive, while many people seemed to fall closer to the middle. I think everyone liked the interesting art and design of the book, even if folks weren’t all on board for the story.
Quai Des Orfevres: Paris in the 40s is the setting of this odd, and oddly paced film about troubled lovers, friends, theater, murder, and petty crime. It is much more of a character study than a mystery, with a surprising number of very interesting and fleshed out characters. The combative couple, the focal point of the film, are less interesting than their blonde friend, or the hang-dog ex-Legion cop (Louis Jouvet). In many ways, it feels like a classic Film Noir, yet in others it’s uniquely French. As I write this, having finished watching the film ten or fifteen minutes ago, I can’t say for sure that it’s a good or a great film. But it’s interesting and unusual enough, with very well crafted characters. I would recommend watching it, but my feelings are oddly mixed.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: I have a feeling that this is a movie one could very, very easily dismiss. It is, admittedly, saccharine and manipulative. It’s ‘aw, gee shucks’ kind of mindset is way the crap out of step with modern cinema. But darn it. I found myself enjoying the heck out of the film. It’s absolutely beautiful, and other than Casino Royale, is probably the best film in recent memory that makes travel seem totally awesome. There’s nothing very complex. You know what the film is trying to say from nearly the opening shot. There are no surprises. But it worked. Is it amazing? No. Is it going to stick with me? Probably not. But I really, really liked watching it while it was on. Like cotton candy for your eyes and brain.
I read a couple more comics, Silver Surfer #1, Velvet #1 and the Free Comic Book Day issue of Rocket Raccoon. Silver Surfer is…well, it’s just not what I want. Like the FF comic, and some others Marvel is putting out, it’s taking what could be a cool science fiction title and turning it in to Wacky Adventure Time!, which isn’t something I want to read. At least, not about a character like Silver Surfer, who I feel could be amazing, but like Wonder Woman, is rarely handled well. Speaking of Wacky Adventure Time!, there’s the Rocket Raccoon comic. OK, fine. Whatever. I like what Guardians of the Galaxy I’ve read (that Legacy trade from a few years back). But I tried to read Rocket’s original comic and it was flippin’ terrible. So, it’s not like there’s something for them to ruin here. And it’s OK. But again, it’s not something I want to read. It’s one thing to be humorous. It’s another to be a joke. Also in this comic is a Spider Man short, Space Oddities. It’s silly and not my cup of tea. The diamond in this rough was Velvet. From Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (who did the run of Captain America that made me give a crap about that character), this Cold War story feels like what Winter Soldier would have been like if it wasn’t saddled with the Marvel name. It’s James Bond at its darkest. What I like about Brubaker’s female lead (like his female lead in Fatale) is that she doesn’t just deliver snarky, ‘oh so clever’ dialog (a la Joss Whedon characters). I’m very interested in where this series might go. It’s the strongest first issue I’ve read in quite some time.
The Night Porter: This is, unfortunately, the movie I expected it to be. It has that very specific brand of 70s Euro-sleaze dripping all over an attempted ART! film, with a heavy dose of wannabe shock-factor. But like so many movies made to be shocking, times change, we movie on, and the shock wears off. What we’re left with are some very good performances from the leads and a potentially interesting idea that is lost in the shuffle of “stick poking a hornets’ nest” filmmaking. The idea of two people who were on opposite sides of something as horrible as the Holocaust, meeting by chance many years later, has the potential for some very interesting conflict, especially when a dangerous sort of sexual relationship had existed between the two. However, this film doesn’t manage to make it interesting, or explore it in any satisfying way. This has more of Caligula Reincarnated as Hitler (aka Last Orgy of the Third Reich) than something like Five Minutes of Heaven or In the Land of Blood and Honey. The scene, near the beginning, where Dirk Bogarde sees Charlotte Rampling is fantastic, and makes you think you’re going to watch a better film. You don’t.
Attack the Block: “Trust.” I love this Goonies meets Critters meets Harry Brown bit of wacky sci-fi horror from South London. A good cast of characters, including a lot of good kid/teen actors. Good music, and very simple, but coolly iconic creature design. Unlike all too many contemporary horror films, it features characters I like and I grow to care about. Young John Carpenter would be proud.
Godzilla: “Let them fight.” It took an awful long time, but they finally got it right. The director of Monsters, Gareth Edwards, took on Kaiju a few years ago, with a limited budget and low star-power, and made one of the better horror films of recent memory. Now, with Hollywood blockbuster bucks behind him, he managed to maintain the essence of the classic Godzilla films, while ramping up the effects and thrills. Putting Godzilla in his proper place, as an avatar of the Earth, a force of nature that becomes active when things get too far out of balance, made me very happy. For those expecting some kind of silly action movie, you’re likely to be disappointed. This isn’t Transformers. It’s not The Avengers. It’s Godzilla. It’s a slow build, like Alien or Jaws, taking its time to explore the characters and build dread. Even when stuff starts getting crazy, Godzilla is nowhere to be seen. This is actually in keeping with classic Godzilla films. He would often not show up until the final act, where he would drop his reptile hammer on whatever monsters or aliens or alien monsters might be messing with good ‘ol Planet Earth. My one complaint would be Aaron Taylor-Johnson. As much as I liked him in Kick-Ass, he’s since proved to be a pretty boring drone of an actor. Throughout the film, he looks at things with a bewildered expression, and had little function other than to be a set of eyes for us to see the madness through. I’d have preferred the film to focus more on Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins, or even Elizabeth Olsen. Good Godzilla films are made, in many ways, by a cast of interesting human characters. The humans in this one aren’t amazing, but they’re good enough to get the job done. Here’s hoping the film does good numbers and gets a follow-up. King Ghidorah! Gigan! Mothra! Come on. It’s got to happen.
Il Pianeta Errante (War Between the Planets): “Prepare to fix.” I like the production design and model work in this film. Unfortunately, it’s super, super boring. Really darned boring. Oh, my gosh. Boring. It keeps going. Potentially interesting scenarios become exercises in tedium.
Creation of the Humanoids: There’s some very cool stuff in this one. Unfortunately, the acting is super stiff. I like the exploration of ethics, in that way science fiction used to do more often. And not just anti-technology, like you typically find in contemporary films. Robots and humans trying to get along in the world after WWIII has decimated the planet. The sets and such are good. With a slightly better script and much better acting, this could have been a secret classic. As it is, it’s a good watch, and one I’m glad I’ve found. But it’s not as good as it could have been.
Godzilla 2000: The second re-launch of the Godzilla film franchise, this film tries to get on the CGI train, while also trying to be more cinematic than the Heisei era of the 80s and 90s. Some of the ideas are cool, and the action is certainly shot better. It also doesn’t look as cheap as the Heisei films. But it still doesn’t have the charm of the Showa era. Some of the fun seems to be missing. The moral of this story? Don’t let Godzilla go off in your mouth.
Baba Yaga: Much more pleasant a viewing than I was expecting, this 70s Euro-Sleaze has plenty of the expected bare breasts and awkward dubbing. But it didn’t feature the expected endurance test of violence directed toward woman you tend to get in Italian cinema. I like the pacing and the cinematography quite a bit. There’s a kind of object fetish, lingering shots on various old things (books, radios, knickknacks of all kinds), and a heavy dose of atmosphere that reminds me of some of what I love in Jean Rollin films (though there’s not nearly Rollin levels of nudity). The film is based on a comic I used to occasionally see bits from in Heavy Metal way back when. My memory of that comic was that it had a dreamy quality, and this film too has that. Is it great? No. But it’s better than the average 70s Italian film.
The Magic Flute: There’s nothing wrong with this movie. Ingmar Bergman’s direction is typically solid, the performances are good, the style is good, and the music is good. I simply never got into it. Mozart is a composer I can listen to, but seldom am moved by; and this adaptation of his work sort of sums up my relationship with him. All the pieces are there, but I’m left cold.
Godzilla VS. King Ghidorah: This film represents what the Heisei era is. The plot is nearly unintelligible, the effects are a mixed bag, the human characters aren’t especially interesting, and the acting is kinda awful (with a few exceptions). And the whole thing looks like it was shot for television. I like some of the bits, particularly the connections to WWII. But the terrible time travel (seriously, some of the worst time travel writing I’ve ever come across) and the rejiggering of Ghidorah’s origin…I can’t get behind that. A lot of cool(ish) creature designs come out of the Heisei films, but not a lot of good Godzilla storytelling.
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome: While often dismissed and frequently dissed, I love this film. It features more of the Odysseus-type journey than The Road Warrior (which is, absolutely, a much better film). I love the way the world has fallen and is trying to rebuild itself in a new image. I love the Lord of the Flies oasis Max discovers. I love the look and feel, and the wild music. I’m guessing I first saw this when I was about 10, and it had a profound effect on me and particularly on my early writing efforts. Watching it again for the first time in quite a while, I still love it. But, I have to admit, the third act is weak. Max and the kids return to Bartertown, and they recreate the final action climax from The Road Warrior. That could have been better. Perhaps Max helping the children in a siege of their village. Perhaps an exodus away from Bartertown. Maybe some other element. I don’t know. But while I still enjoy it, that last fifteen minutes or so are not as good as they could and should have been.
Good times had by all.