This Week in Geek (3-09/04/17)

Buys

TWO new games on the shelf: Flick 'em Up! and Shakespeare. One new book: Running Through Corridors vol.2: The 70s, by Toby Hadoke and Robert Shearman.

"Accomplishments"

DVD: Shaft, the blaxploitation hit that rocked the world, is perhaps definitely a product of its time, and I'd love to see it with a 1971 audience (alas, I was born that year). While it hasn't exactly aged well, I don't think that's because of period details, but simply that its attitude and politics don't seem as shocking or groundbreaking today. So we're left with an exploitation movie done on the cheap, with bad dubbing and not as much action as you imagine. Still, Richard Roundtree's charisma in the lead role takes us a long way, the groovy production design is fun, the funky Isaac Hayes music is iconic, and the camera work is actually pretty cool in the first half of the film (but the tricks seem to evaporate in the second half as the complicated, unmemorable plot takes hold). Shaft will feel a little slow to today's audience, but you can tell why its insolence had an impact back in the day.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights is not one of Mel Brooks' best, but is an enjoyable parody/romp nonetheless, in spirit falling somewhere between The Princess Bride (especially given Cary Elwes' impeccable swashbuckling persona) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (some absurd bits feel more like vintage Python than Brooks). As I'm not a big fan of jokey anachronisms, those bits left me cold, but Men in Tights made up for it with gags that did make me chuckle, like the omnipresent fourth wall-breaking stuff (this movie really knows it's a movie) and some fine physical humor (the blind gags, the quarterstaff fight). Brooks lets a lot of the humor play out in the background, or doesn't feel the need to press hard on his set-ups - he's too mature a comedian for that - so even a movie that isn't one of his best will stay have good rewatchability. Enjoyable, even if it's largely a fluff piece.

Netflix: Richard Stark's Parker books got turned into a cookie-cutter Jason Statham movie in 2013, which represents a number of wasted opportunities. Statham is fine in the role of the thief with a code, trading on a persona he developed in such flicks as The Transporter and The Mechanic, but a number of things keep the movie from being unique enough to go to franchise. For one thing, its style isn't noir enough. There's the sense that only Jennifer Lopez is written in that mode, which make the character mannered and unbelievable, like she thinks she's a femme fatale, but really isn't. In fact, watch for your interest to take a dive once she comes on the scene. Then there's the inexplicable decision to use a very late novel in the series (2000's Flashfire), and including many long-established characters - we're just crashing the middle of a series - instead of some of the better-regarded books like The Score. And finally, if you're going to change things anyway, why not make the heist element more interesting by really having competing heists between Parker and the crew that betrayed him? That had more potential than the straight revenge story.

MI-5 AKA Spooks: The Greater Good returns to Britain's tense and literate anti-terrorism drama, with Harry Pearce one of the main characters (thankfully) and only a few recognizable faces besides (the way the show went through characters, it's no wonder), with the action role taken on by Jon Snow, an easy-to-manipulate former MI-5 agent who is the only man Harry can trust as there's a traitor in the upper echelons. If you were a fan of the MI-5/Spooks, this plays as a good movie-length stand-alone episode, with strong action, real suspense and the show's trademark flawed heroes. If you've never seen the show, it should still work as a spy thriller, as there are very few details that relate to Spooks history that can't be understood within the context of the film, but it probably won't resonate as much.

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