This Week in Geek (16-22/05/11)


Bargain bin buys: The American President and Dave as a "flip-the-disc" two-pack. Seems like a natural double-feature.


At the movies: Finally went to see Thor this week (2D, thank you very much) and it's as good as any of the better Marvel movies of the last few years. Asgard was beautiful, the comedy worked as did the drama, and the story's structure was atypical, making one of the least predictable superhero movies I've seen. And that Destroyer armor, good golly, what a beautiful thing. For my tastes, the dialog could have been more literate, if only to motivate at least one "I say thee nay!", and the accents were all over the place, but these are relatively minor points. From reactions around me, it seems people don't know about Thor the Marvel Superhero very much, which may cause him problems with critics (if not at the box office). And yet, this world deserves a sequel (Enchantress! the Midgard Serpent! Surtur!) beyond its connection to Avengers next summer. I hope the franchise gets a chance to thrive.

DVDs: I hadn't seen The American President in quite a long while (and never with the strong language intact), so my revelation was how much of it Aaron Sorkin recycled for The West Wing. This politically savvy romance between a widower president (Michael Douglas) and a sassy lobbyist (Annette Bening) was in many ways the template for the hit television drama. Many of the same actors, characters (in all but name) and issues (for example, the virtue of proportional response) are on show. Fascinating to look at it post-West Wing, but of course, it's a charming and well-written piece in its own right, and a trademark Sorkin inspirational speech at the end. The DVD is an old one, with only the trailer and a few bits of info via text screens.

Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles collects all 100 episodes of the first 5 seasons of the popular web series crafted through the Halo game engine. More than that, it "remasters" the episodes to make them full widescreen, removing game information (like that little circle) and providing more resolution, as well as editing them into coherent films. Yeah, somebody totally had to recreate each of the early scenes in Halo PC. However, they didn't touch the sound, which I think is the boxed set's weakness. Sound is often too loud or too low or too distorted until about Season 3. Still, they look great, and drunk in one big gulp, the story and humor works quite well (with a noticeable lull in Season 2, when the epileptic plot gets to be too much, but gets exciting again with the time travel stuff that leads into and out of Halo 2). By the end, I was sorry to see the larger story end, and will miss the characters (until I get later seasons in which they star, of course). The DVD set has so many extras, there's no way to do them justice here. Each Season is accompanied by an entertaining commentary track (or two), as well as animated outtakes, deleted scenes, funny character files, and sketch PSAs that are often funnier than the actual episodes. The mini-series "Out of Mind" is included with Season 5. A bonus disc adds even more, from behind the scenes stories to fan art to the non-comedic mini-series "Recovery One". The latter's content is divided into Blue Base and Red Base, while the Command menu gives you chronological access to both Bases' features. Each disc fools around with how DVDs are structured, playing pranks with the menus, including silly options or putting up humorous cards up. Now if only the episodes had subtitles to counter the occasionally bad audio, this would be totally awesome instead of just pretty awesome.

The Man From Nowhere looks like it will be Korea's answer to Léon the Professional (pitched younger for both characters), but soon turns into a Bourne or, by the level of darkness and violence, rather a Punisher film. And an affecting one at that. The film keeps its action mostly off screen in the first half, only unleashing it when we're good and primed (about at the point where the bad guys get thoroughly despicable - Asian cinema really knows how to ramp up the evil, and that's a warning as much as it is a promise). If you can take the violence, I think you'll find this quite satisfying. The DVD's extras are strictly promotional, though the under-produced 15 minutes of behind the scenes footage does show how certain shots were done without a talking head explaining it. Valuable even if they're not really packaged in any coherent way.

Books: Chicks Dig Time Lords is a collection of essays by female Doctor Who fans and stakeholders put out by Mad Norwegian that offers a female perspective on Doctor Who and fandom in general. Most have tangible connections to the show, from running conventions to writing Who novels to acting on the show or in the audios. There's even an essay from John "Captain Jack" Barrowman's sister! The authors come from a variety of countries and backgrounds (Old School, New School, married into it, costume maker, fanfic writer, etc.) Content is as varied. Many pieces are basically testimonials and personal stories about how the writer connected to Doctor Who, became involved in fandom and were either embraced or ostracized by male fans, but there are also more scholarly examinations of female companions, feminist theories and how women connect differently to the program than men do. At times touchingly nostalgic, at others enthusiastic or illuminating, it makes a great companion to Mad Norwegian's Time Unincorporated book series.

Audios: I'm at the point in my Big Finish experience where they started doing story arcs across several releases, following the same Doctor in mini-seasons, instead of constantly alternating between Doctors. The Judgment of Isskar is the first part of the Key 2 Time, featuring the 5th Doctor and a new companion called Amy (played by Ciara Janson), who is a living segment tracker, and their quest to find certain pieces of the Key after the 4th Doctor scattered them in Season 16. Writer Simon Guerrier does an excellent job, I thought, of detailing pre-Ice Warrior Martian culture (and the other alien culture in the story). These worlds are pretty vividly painted, and the many new musical cues help a great deal as well. Is the music amortized over the entire arc? It adds a lot. This first part of the story is a bit "Doctor gets captured" happy (but that's Doctor Who all over), but has some strong sequences and builds a mystery that should sustain it through the next two parts. Doc5 is as good as ever, and Janson's Amy should be an interesting character - sweet and naive, but on the road to self-discovery - for the length of the arc (before the Doctor must rejoin Peri).

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. The Players - BBC '80


rob! said...

I enjoyed Thor as well. Its one of those cases where I think I'd be MORE excited for a sequel, because all the characters will have been established and you can just write a good Thor adventure story, and not have to get bogged down with the origin.

Anonymous said...

"Thor" rocked out loud. My only complaint was that, in that second battle between Thor and the Destroyer, the screen was too busy a lot of the time, and much of the kick-ass mjolnirfication was lost to on-screen chaos. But this is mitigated by the fact that, when Thor fights, a tornado may just spring up around him. You win, movie; you made my jaw drop.

Loki worked especially well as a villain whose motives you can at least appreciate.

Toby'c said...

I finally got to see the American President last night - riveting as I expected, though I found it very hard not to crack up at the "We have serious problems, and we need serious people to solve them," bit - thank you, Anthony Albanese.

Siskoid said...

Politicians could do worse than quote Sorkin. They'd do better if they actually acted like Sorkin's politicians though.


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