A few books came in the mail this week, including Chicks Dig Time Lords (what are these creatures called female Whovians?), Incredible Change-Bots Two (yes!), and Code of the Krillitanes (a "quick read" Doctor Who book).
DVDs: On the premise that Steven Moffat can do no wrong, I watched all four series of his Coupling despite my general disinterest in sitcoms. The truth of the premise held. Though superficially following the Friends model (3 boys, 3 girls, a sofa facing the audience), the show's engine is completely different. As Moffat himself says, Coupling is farce-based as opposed to joke-based, but more than that, his skill with narrative structure makes for at least a couple of cleverly crafted episodes per series. So unlike American 18-minute sitcoms, these full 30-minute eps can toy around with structure to great effect, reprising entire scenes from other points of view, for example, or letting key misunderstandings reveal themselves through flashbacks and flashforwards. Oh yeah, and I genuinely found it funny and in the end, kind of touching. The middle series have commentaries with Moffat usually sitting in (but watch for nasty spoilers to the next season), while the last has a good making of documentary. Otherwise, there are interviews with everyone, outtakes, and deleted scenes (though these are really outtakes on series 3).
Chang Cheh's The Deadly Duo was on tap for Kung Fu Friday, an old Shaw Brothers' movie with rather relentless action and gore, and I mean "relentless" in a pejorative way. The plot involves rescuing a prince from an enemy stronghold, but though played straight, that plot is often ridiculous. Still, there are exciting beats, and you can always count on director Chang to create new weapons and fighting tactics (the River Dragon's disassembling of rafts, the Fire Demon's explosives and those cool fighting cymbals, for example). And you can forgive a lot of the film's problems because the majority of it is filmed outside, giving it a lot more scope than most Shaw productions. The DVD also includes interviews with the two stars, David Chiang and Ti Lung, about their careers, though The Deadly Duo is not actually mentioned.
Long weekend AND computer problems, so I sat down in front of the tv and watched some bare bones DVDs (why is the widescreen version on the "B"-side? what was wrong with people at the dawn of the DVD age?) First was Richard Linklater's romantic Before Sunrise, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, a young couple who meet on a train and decide to spend a night in Vienna before parting ways forever. Linklater's interest in philosophical conversation in on show, but spinning all sorts of bull, bouncing off another person, all that is so very much part of my own "courting" experience, that I can't help but love it. However, I'd forgotten just how much of it was a full-on romance between two well-realized characters.
And it's in Before Sunset, made 9 years later, that you realize just how well those characters WERE drawn. Jesse and Céline meet up again in Paris for another "timed visit", perhaps to pick up where they left off. Again, my memory of the film was that of sparkling conversation, but once more it's the romantic elements that struck me. More than a progressing document about a couple (and actors) at a different place in their lives, the film also addresses how that night 9 years ago affected them profoundly. And it ends as ambiguously as the Sunrise, but maybe more satisfyingly. This time, the DVD has a short, but worthwhile documentary that discusses the making of the film by the director and two leads, who all wrote it together.
Another old favorite that still hasn't gotten a stellar DVD treatment is David Fincher's often forgotten The Game. It's a very well made thriller in which Michael Douglas (always at his best as a hard-put-upon business man) signs up for a "game" (for the man who has everything) and finds it's more than he bargained for. I wasn't sure it'd be as good if I already knew the twist(s), but The Game is made well enough that I still found it engrossing and clever. When you look at Fincher's other films, even a failure like Alien3, there does seem to be more of a vision at work, and I can understand why The Game would have been lost in-between Se7en and Fight Club, but it's still worth your attention.
The two Doctor Who stories part of the "Mara Tales" feature the 5th Doctor in easily some of his best stories. Up first was Kinda, an almost surreal Buddhist mediation of a story, though it really doesn't work as an allegory, and I think its detractors are wrong to look at it from that angle. Kinda creates an odd world that is more allusive than allegorical, and relates as much to the Garden of Eden as Pandora's Box and The Heart of Darkness. It has its problems, including a silly giant snake (though there's a new CGI sequence that fixes this convincingly), but it rewards second and third viewings where you get more and more out of it, has expansive sets, an excellent guest cast, and the best Doctor Who madman of all time. The DVD has a good making of that doesn't skimp on the disagreements between the writer and the more literal director (though both do good work, even if they work AGAINST one another), and there's also a retrospective on director Peter Grimwade's career, and 14 minutes of very interesting deleted scenes.
The sequel, Snakedance, likewise creates a tangible world in which the Mara tries to escape, but instead of literally dwelling in the highly symbolic, it turns symbol into myth - myth no one believes. Writer Christopher Bailey once again is on solid thematic ground, though he now understands better how to fit his ideas into the Doctor Who format. And again, we have an excellent cast and surprisingly expansive sets that add to the story's value. So while there are set pieces in Kinda I like to revisit a lot more, Snakedance is the more cohesive story. The making of is a direct sequel to Kinda's - both of these a respite from over-negative cast commentary tracks on both DVDs - and you'll also find a deleted epilogue cut for time, rather comical studio recordings as effects don't work as expected, and Peter Davison's only mildly interesting visit to Saturday Superstore.
Audios: I was stoked when I heard Nicholas Farrell's voice on Time Reef by Marc Platt, a 5th Doctor, Nyssa and Brewster Doctor Who story set in a most unusual environment. It was fun to hear Doc5 so unusually cross (his TARDIS had been stolen and parts sold off, after all) and there were a lot of zany characters, but it never quite gelled into a whole for me. Remains a clever and interesting audio, but the parts are better than the whole. The second story, A Perfect World by Jonathan Morris, explores the effects of more time meddling by Brewster, and being a simpler tale, it is a better one. However, I'm not sure I buy the premise, so I consequently have trouble buying the bit. Still, the production team gets points for making Brewster a more interesting nuisance than, say, Turlough.
The Brotherhood of the Daleks by Alan Barnes, featuring the 6th Doctor and Charley is most definitely in danger of collapsing under the weight of its continuity references (from Spiridons to Thaleks to Mechanoids to other, non-Dalek, non-6th Doctor audios), but manages to stay afloat thanks to lots of twists and turns. Of course, your enjoyment of this one may depend on what you think of Communist Daleks (although who can argue with a Red Dalek?). The star of the audio, however, is the relationship between Charley and the Doctor, and her keeping secrets from him. That Doctor-companion team-up is a twist unto itself and it's still got juice.
New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 3 new cards, leaving me only 5 slots to go before I finish Reality Unbound.
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Classics Illustrated
II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - French Rock Opera