This Week in Geek (21-27/08/17)

Buys

A couple more Young Animal trades have hit my shelves - Shade the Changing Girl and Mother Panic - and I snatched up Stephen Sondheim's Look, I Made a Hat: Collected Lyrics (1981-2011) for a song.

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: Steven Soderbergh is back with Logan Lucky, a good ol' heist movie, but it feels more like Out of Sight (and thus, Elmore Leonard) than Ocean's Eleven, though that's in its DNA too. Filled to the brim with great actors playing dumb and perhaps not so dumb criminals, the shadow of an old family curse looms over the leads and dares their plans to turn into a fiasco. Far from the glitz of the Ocean's films, the plot has the film's "rednecks" try to rob from a NASCAR race track. Though the movie seems to drag its feet at times, I think it can be forgiven for setting the characters up as real people you might want to care about. Mostly, it's fun and funny, Soderbergh never shy about stopping the action to showcase amusing banter without forcing the car off the track, so to speak. A well-plotted heist picture with memorable characters and an unique location.

At home: Luke Cage's first season tracks the birth of a vigilante, someone who only wants to be left alone and lay low, but hears and heeds the call to do what the cops can't, and becoming a folk hero in the process. The Harlem setting is well used, with a cool R&B and hip-hop soundtrack integrated with style, and the theme of black self-determination comes across strongly in both Luke's journey, and that of his always interesting enemies, even if there's the sense that we trade down in that regard. The women of the show are especially great, whether that's the smart'n'sexy Misty Knight, the ruthless council woman played by Alfre Woodard, or Night Nurse in her biggest role yet. I also enjoyed the winks at the comics' Power Man and the overall tribute to blaxploitation heroes from which Luke sprang. This is one Netflix Marvel series that didn't feel like it was treading water at 13 episodes... I'm a big fan!

I'll tell you what's wrong with Netflix's Iron Fist. First, it fails to have its owns style the way Luke Cage did. It sticks too closely with the larger franchise's house style instead of tapping more directly into kung fu cinema. Even the opening theme fails to evoke the premise's Asian roots. With Danny Rand (a name they say so often, it could be a lethal drinking game) fighting the Hand (which Daredevil just did) and corrupt business people (Fisk, Cottonmouth, other shows have had them), there's just not enough there to give the show it's own identity. Worse, Arrow has been going down this road for years, and Rand feels like an inferior version of Oliver Queen. And Iron Fist is woefully miscast. The Knight of Flowers (Finn Jones, sorry) doesn't look anything like the comics' Danny Rand, but it's more than that. Crucially, he looks awkward doing martial arts, and Iron Fist never should. His characterization is also faulty, Danny acting like an impetuous, emotionally-stunted child, throwing tantrums and failing to understand almost everything that's thrown at him. And finally, Iron Fist just doesn't sit well with the other shows. In the other "Defenders", we have a disabled person, a woman, and a black man. Danny isn't just a straight white male, he's a privileged billionaire whose whining (or that of his childhood "friends", since the scripts apparently want us to care about them) is pretty much intolerable. More interesting characters like Colleen Wing (maybe, she does some irritating about-faces over the course of the season) and Madam Gao don't save the show from being just... okay. And that's a shame given my love of the character.

Police Story: Lockdown features an older, wiser Jackie Chan, and correspondingly, his Police Story protagonist is a negotiator more than a fighter. Indeed, Jackie didn't want to do any fights for this picture, but the director sort of tricked him into it. I wish he hadn't, or at least, not to that extent. Thing is, a lot of the actions seems shoehorned in, especially the red herrings shown in flashback. The film does depend on figuring out what the villain wants, but we waste too much time with irrelevant sequences doing so. Elsewhere, the editing is sometimes interesting, other times too frenetic and jumpy. The story clearly evokes, well, elements from the first four Die Hards, honestly, but the more you get into it, the more interesting things get. The set-up, with Jackie trapped in a massive disco with terrorists, trying to save his estranged daughter and other hostages is action 101, but the bad guy has a fairly complex motivation that does pay off, even if the plotting requires some willing suspension of disbelief. Trim 20-30 minutes out of it (and perhaps your expectations from a "Jackie Chan movie") and you've got a pretty good action cop flick. The DVD includes interviews with cast and director and some behind the scenes footage.

Jet Li's sole directorial credit, Born to Defense (1986) has more than its garbled nonsense of a title wrong with it, and the fight choreography isn't quite strong enough to save it. Jet stars as a WWII vet (though he plays him using his naive monk persona) who comes home from the war to find American Navy men bullying his villain's citizens. When he dares fight back, things take a turn for the worst, because Chinese films really do tend to pile on the evil. Born to Defense has less a plot than a collection of cruelties strung together. While it's interesting to find Americans in a role usually only afforded the Japanese (see any "Fist of" movie), they are pitifully acted. Oh the actors might be okay, but their voices have been dubbed over after the fact by people even worse than themselves. The slim chance of complexity is robbed of the film when a telegraphed turn for one bad guy fails to resolve itself and Jet finds no ally after all. And it's a tonal mess besides, with comic interludes that won't play well outside of China, and too harsh an outcome for some characters.

Shakespeare's Measure for Measure is a dark comedy that ends in several marriages, as the genre requires, but none of them necessarily bound with love. The Bard is still in the experimental phase he began with Troilus & Cressida, where he is less interested in following convention or, in fact, in revealing his characters to his audience (his greatest strength as a dramatist, surely). The story takes place in a very Italian Vienna, where the reigning Duke (Kenneth Colley who wags his head and finger entirely too much), finding the town out of control sex-wise, has left a more Puritan nobleman (Tim Piggot-Smith with a spare but strong performance) in charge to set things right, but in comedy fashion, he returns in disguise to see how things work out, and amuses himself with convoluted plots to save a man sentenced to death for impregnating a woman out of wedlock and exposing his proxy's hypocrisy for offering the man's life back if only his saintly sister (Kate Nelligan, the best part of this adaptation) would sleep with him. The BBC production of the play tries to explain some of the stranger motivations, but doesn't get to the heart of the "problem play" in any significant fashion, though I don't know what they could have done different. I've in fact found no critical commentary on the play that I've found convincing and that could have served to illuminate Shakespeare's meaning, but it works as a clash between a Puritanical state's rule of law and human nature. If the Duke's reinterpretation of the title's dictum is more in line with nature than it is law, that isn't clear. It's a good play that doesn't surrender itself immediately, but its ambiguities are perhaps stronger in the reading than in the staging.

Before 1993's Sleepless in Seattle, lovers were set to meet at the top of the Empire State building in 1957's An Affair to Remember, a straight remake of 1939's Love Affair, so it's very much a part of movie history. This influential romance between a French playboy and a nightclub singer is filled with the banter this era of Hollywood film-making is known and appreciated for, with Deborah Kerr a particular stand-out, impish, funny and endearing. I tend to find Cary Grant too glib, but he has his moments. Though mostly romance and comedy, there are melodramatic notes (and musical ones too) making for a rich experience that's fun to discover and rediscover in the details. It starts a little abruptly and has some airy padding along the way, but has enough charm you're hardly bothered by the faults. An ode to Bohemian freedom fighting back against loveless pragmatism. And isn't that the essence of the Romantic?

Doctor Who Titles: I so wanted to see 1947's The Smugglers (AKA The Man Within), which looked like a good pirate picture. It's not available anywhere, so I had to settle for 1968's The Smugglers, a TV movie, currently on YouTube, starring Shirley "Hazel" Booth as a woman who, along with her sexy stepdaughter, are manipulated into smuggling contraband across the Austria-Italy border a few times, without their ever realizing what they're actually involved in. Might be an amusing premise, and Booth has some spark, but the convoluted plot filled with murder doesn't mix well with it, and is still introducing new players at the midpoint. Result: A confusing, tonally corrupt mess shot on the Universal back lot.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... It's a big ol' comedy runaround in 1960s Austria and Italy, with the 2nd Doctor, Zoe and Jamie helping protect Hazel (or whatever her name is) and her stepdaughter from even noticing they're in a crime plot.

Comics: Throwing myself into the Young Animal imprint via trade paperbacks, I started with Doom Patrol vol. 1: Brick by Brick by Umbrella Academy's Gerard Way, with great art by Nick Derington, reprinting the first 6 issues of that series, which is essentially the time it takes to reassemble the team. While that's annoying structure most days of the week, there's a great deal of joy to derive from a DC series that acknowledges the past actually happened. Indeed, this volume of the series is built on the bones of Grant Morrison's run, with high weirdness at the forefront and several characters created for that series coming back (with winks to other versions of the team). Driving full force into this strange world is the new character of Space Case, who brings with her the idea that the DP are essentially the paramedics of the superhero set, an intriguing notion. I do have to wonder what Way's fascination with food is, because the villains' plot (and the next, judging by the tease at the end) is about cheap food. Regardless, while this DP may not be on the literary level of the series it riffs on, it's still got some wild and fun ideas, gorgeously presented. The trade includes many alternate covers, sketches, and retro Who's Who pages.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye vol.1: Going Underground, with story by John Rivera and Gerard Way, and art by Michael Avon Oeming isn't quite as strong, but it does live in that pre-New52 world, where the world's most famous Silver Age spelunker knows all of the Forgotten Heroes and remembers teaming up with Superman once. His wife has just died and he and his daughter get embroiled in a conspiracy that goes to the very bottom of the Earth's crust, with ancient gods and mutating monsters, also proposing to tell the story of the cybernetic eye Cave was shown to have in Resurrection Man. While it moves along at a good clip and has some very well designed layouts, the trade doesn't manage to resolve the first story (neither the battle with the alien god nor the secret of the eye); it goes on too long. The Earth's interior as final frontier could have yielded much more weirdness if they'd gone with shorter stories. The one they went with is just okay. However, the book is completely worth it to me for the Super-Powers back-up by Tom Scioli! It's a wonderful anything goes DCU remix nominally giving the Wonder Twins an origin, but full of weird jokes and superimpositions. I love it. Plus, alternate covers, sketches and retro Who's Who pages.

Horror manga artist Junji Ito makes the every day sinister in Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, true to life anecdotes about the two cats he was forced to live with when he moved in with his fiancée (color pictures prove they actually existed). By combining cute cat art and spooky imagery, the artist manages to evoke the love/hate relationship we have with our cats - at once cute furballs and creepy watchers, cuddly until they decide to pounce and shred your arm, annoying in their friendliness and in the way they ignore you. This is the journey of how he, not initially a "cat person", bonds with his new housemates. And I might even had shed a tear or two by the time it was over. The book is supplemented with text pieces answering reader questions and the like.

4 comments:

snell said...

Spot on on Iron Fist.

Another reason it really doesn't work is they build the audience expectations for K'un-L'un, but then essentially give us nothing. I actually like the conceit of not showing us anything initially, so the audience can react to Danny's insane story the same way the other characters do. But at some point you have to show, but the series is all tell. They can't even give us one scene inside K'un-L'un? All we get are ST:TOS level snow covered rock walls and a matte painting?

Plus, the characters' protestation of how important Rand Co was would play if we (or the writers) had the least clue about what the business actually did. It's one thing to hear Matt and Luke wax poetic about Hell's Kitchen and Harlem; Danny & the Meachum's bleatings about Rand come off as meaningless, and as you point out, privileged.

Anonymous said...

I was expecting Iron Fist to be absolutely terrible, given all the vitriol online, but it was just ... not as good as the other three shows. It did have its moments; Colleen was great (I'm hoping for a Daughters of the Dragon series) and the fight with the "Drunken Master" was a standout for me. If they ever do a Shang Chi series (and I hope they do) Lewis Tan would be perfect for the lead ... he's even got the British accent.

Mike W.

Anonymous said...

I hear Wild Dog is part of the cast of "Cave Carson"; they missed an opportunity to rename him "Cave Canem" and let him ditch the whole "Wild Dog" shtick. But I guess he's in "Arrow" so they need to play that up.

Siskoid said...

Snell: Even though Arrow's island was obviously the British Columbian back woods, it at least showed us something. In other words, PICTURES OR IT DIDN'T HAPPEN.

Mike: I understand that once they put Luke Cage in motion, they felt they needed Iron Fist, but The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu would have been a much better idea. It would have absolved them of cultural appropriation accusations, probably gotten a better fighter in the lead role, and it would have been easy to make Shang-Chi's evil father a finger of the Hand.

Anon: Yes, Wild Dog is, strangely, a member of Cave's team. I'm not entirely sure why.

 

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