This Week in Geek (23-29/05/11)

Buys

Spring Splurge 2011 continues: I bought various DVDs, including Much Ado About Nothing (see below), Red vs. Blue Recollected (containing seasons 6 through 8), Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season 1 Part 1, Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol, and a couple films from Asia, Hana (Japan) and Daytime Drinking (Korea). And inspired by the approaching release of the Tintin film, I looked at my collection and noted I was only missing two albums, so I ordered and got those too (Les Bijoux de la Castafiore and Vol 714 pour Sydney).

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Miguel Sapochnik's Repo Men seems a (retroactive) precursor to the world of Blade Runner, and it's fairly easy to imagine Jude Law and Forest Whitaker's bio-tech repossessors as Deckard's, or the Union as Tyrel Corporation's. However, the noir is replaced by black comedy and the ambiguous mind-twist is far more obvious and explicit. While the premise and actors are strong, and the makers mostly resist the studio's manipulations, it still falls down, I think, because of its over-use of gore. I don't have a weak stomach by any means, but there's so much of it, it can still make you queasy and detracts from the overall tone of the film. And while there's even more of it in the unrated version (also included on the disc), that version is still better than the theatrical, restoring some logic points and John Leguizamo's entire role to the film. The commentary track by the director and writers is truly entertaining, funny and enlightening, and made me appreciate Repo Men all the more. There are also deleted scenes and special effects montages, both with commentary tracks.

I was waiting for some kind of special edition DVD of Much Ado About Nothing before converting my old VHS tape to a better format, but it never came and the bargain bin whispered sweet nothings into my ear. And for whatever reason, it's my favorite Shakespeare adaptation of all time. Watching it (for the first time in widescreen), I found I could do practically all the lines, right down to the sound effects. I'm surprised my VHS tape never snapped. So no real surprises for me (though one piece of funny staging was revealed through the wider screen), still the same awesome performances (let me praise Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington especially), the same idyllic setting, the same pastoral feeling, the same Shakespearean verve. Familiarity breeds ecstasy, in my case, and I was joyously weepy throughout. The only extra is a short featurette that talks to many of the actors, but remains quite slim. "Making of" is not what I would have called it. "What actors think of working on it" would be more accurate.

Dave was on the flip-side of The American President, so if I wanted to put the DVD on the "flipped" shelf, I had to watch it. Not that that was a chore. Like The American President (though two years earlier), Dave plays on the myth of the ethical presidency (not to say it's not possible for a world leader to be someone who does the right thing, but it's just not how they are normally perceived). Dave is a presidential look-alike hired to double for the president (both played by Kevin Kline) when the prez has a stroke and falls into a coma. It may not have the verve of The American President, but it does have a lot of heart, an all-star cast and a well-constructed plot. It just doesn't have a very interesting title, is all. Aside from the trailer, this cheapie DVD has a few slides' worth of "production notes" and that's about it.

I have always had immense affection for City Slickers, but it was doubly interesting to watch it now, while I have the characters' age and am at that point in my life when I should be having a midlife crisis. This is a film that gets better with age, and its mix of comedy, dramatic heart and western tropes is sheer genius. The DVD extras were made in 2008, 17 years after the film was, giving them a retrospective feeling. The commentary track features Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and director Ron Underwood, and is fine indeed. The rest of the extras amount to more than an hour's worth of material, talking with surviving cast and crew, with particular attention given to the writing, with a cute if unsatisfying bit about Norman the cow, and a couple of commented deleted scenes. The "Collector's Edition" is a great package, especially at the price it usually goes for. This is a DVD I'm likely to pop into the machine on a regular basis.

In 2003's Warriors of Heaven and Earth, a rebel pursued by an Imperial agent, though circumstances beyond his control, finds himself escorting a priceless artifact to the Tang capital. The story is part history, part legend, and though I can see why the brief supernatural element was controversial with audiences, it's really no more jarring than similar stuff in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Some of the fighting goes on a bit long - it's dynamic but not precise - there are still some surprising set pieces, and the characters are universally interesting and likable (even the villains). I wish the unbearably cute Zhao Wei had more to do, but that's my only real complaint. Where the film particularly shines though is its use of locations across the Silk Road. China's landscapes are so DRAMATIC, it's incredible. Medieval Asia Minor is evoked, giving the movie its own unique feel. As far as extras go, there's a Chinese pop video and a 25-minute making of documentary with an irritating and condescending Hollywood narration. There's some interesting information and behind the scenes footage, but it's buried among the narrator explaining the story and telling us that a green screen won't be in the final shot. You don't say!

Doctor Who's Terror of the Autons has its iconic Auton moments (the evil troll doll, the killer chair), but its plot is far from satisfying, especially the cursory resolution that'll make the end of most of the RTD era's episodes feel like Lord of the Rings'. But that's not really what Terror is about. Terror is about introducing new cast members to the UNIT "family", including Jo Grant, Captain Yates and the evil Master, and in that regard, the story succeeds admirably. All three (even Yates) are quickly welcomed into the audience's collective heart, their characters drawn efficiently and affectionately. For such an important story on a continuity level, I'm surprised the extras are so slim. There is a 20-minute feature on the Master, which is fine, but not one on Yates or Jo. The making of is an odd duck, using Terror of the Autons to compare Classic and New Who. It sometimes succeeds, but it's often apples and oranges. Aside from the usual commentary track (Letts, Manning and Courtney are good), photo gallery, etc., the only other extra is an 11-minute piece on plastic and why it's so terrifying (in this story).

I also flipped Batman: The Brave and the Bold Season 1 Part 1, which includes the first 13 episodes of this awesome animated series. As with the first WB era (Batman/Superman/Justice League), DC continuity is again re-imagined to wonderful effect, especially so because B&B gives love and attention to characters that have either been dead, much abused or too long ignored in the comics: Aquaman (until recently, deceased), the All-New Atom, Jack Kirby's Green Arrow, Elongated Man, Red Tornado, and Ted Kord, who gets a better send-off than the one Max Lord gave him and paving the way for the current Beetle. It's a series where anything can happen, like Batman teaming up with Jonah Hex in a teaser WITH NO EXPLANATION GIVEN NOR REQUIRED! Huge fun, and I think most of you knew that. It's just that I hadn't seen any of it as yet. There's no reason to compare it to the earlier animated Batman series (plural) because it clearly defines its own identity, with nods to the comics, films, and shows of the last 70 years thrown in to make us geeks smile and clap.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 5 new cards for the End of Time mini-set, including a homage to the late Nicholas Courtney

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. The Players - Zeffirelli '90

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