Was intrigued by this Iceland/Norway production called The Bothersome Man, so I snagged it.
In theaters: I was expecting Captain America and Bucky, but I wasn't expecting the Howling Commandos and the Human Torch android. I was expecting the Red Skull, but not Arnim Zola and Hydra. I certainly wasn't expecting a visual reference to the Cosmic Cube or a musical number. Not only is Cap a good superhero movie, but a war picture as well, and its got those extra layers for the knowledgeable comic book geek too. I was reminded throughout of how good the G.I. Joe movie might have been, because this is basically that, isn't it? A good G.I. Joe movie. And it's almost disappointing to leave World War II behind for Avengers and any possible sequel, because it really gave Captain America its own identity (which I believe is where the Marvel movies' success lies - Cap as Weird War II movie, Thor as fantasy, etc.). That, and it means we lose Tommy Lee Jones' Colonel Phillips!
DVDs: As far as watching movies at home goes, I went a little more realistic. Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down recreates the battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, a powerful vision of urban warfare and a true event that changed U.S. policy for the better part of a decade. Many actual soldiers are collapsed into easier to follow characters, and the movie's made changes here and there, but it's essentially what happened. And it's exhausting, which I guess is the point. These soldiers were under unrelenting fire for 18 hours on a mission that should have taken a half hour. Ridley Scott says in the extras that he wanted to recreate the experience, not load the film with back story. He's certainly managed that, and there's no question his visual style fills every frame with something interesting. And if you're interested in recent military history, the DVD package has loads of extras. Three commentary tracks: Ridley Scott & Jerry Bruckheimer (the latter a little political for my tastes, by which I means I don't share his), the writers of both the book and the script, and some of the soldiers who lived through the event. These not only talk about how the film was made, but also sets the record straight where it needs to be. Disc 2 features about 3 hours of making of material from inception to reception, as well as deleted scenes, commented storyboards and pictures and an alternate opening sequence. And then there's Disc 3, which features two separate documentaries on the actual event made for tv (they don't use the same spokespeople nor cover the same ground, so they aren't redundant), a music video, three 10-minute edits of various Q&As, and commentary on a multi-angle sequence. At the risk of telling you too much about one event and film, so to speak, but I was always kept interested.
A big DVD meant I was also gonna watch a bunch of cheapies, with no real extras. It's my last week of vacation, I wanted to empty a bit of the unwatched shelf, you see. The first of these was The Accused, the film that made a star out of Jodie Foster, and this despite top credit going to... Kelly McGillis?! Who the heck? I'm kidding, we all remember her from Witness as well. McGillis plays a D.A. who takes up the case of a girl (Foster) who is gang raped, though because of her less than stellar reputation, is considered a sure loser. This too is based on an actual event, a landmark case from 1983, and it's got some pretty harrowing scenes of rape. McGillis is a bit "tv movie" for my tastes, but Foster is completely believable, at once damaged and sympathetic, and rightly won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actress for it in 1988 (or '89, since they're given the next year).
Next up was an old favorite. The Color of Money is one of my favorite films of all time, and an underrated Scorsese picture if there ever was one. I'm not sure why, but this 25-years-later sequel to The Hustler (itself a fine, but completely different, film) moved with the cracking power of billiard balls. Check the film out again if you haven't in a while, and you'll see crash zooms and quick camera motions on the people as well as the balls. But at the heart of it, The Color of Money is about second chances. Paul Newman's character looks at first to buy himself one, but discovers he would rather earn it. And Tom Cruise is at a point in his career when his trademark energy seemed appropriate. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has never been sexier (only slightly because it's the first time I've seen it with nudity). And there's a scene with a young Forest Whitaker that I quote to someone probably once a year. Revisiting it this week, I didn't find it lacking. I wish people paid it more attention.
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is a sequel to the animated movie First Flight, with Nathan Filion in the lead (voice) role (and come on, he'd make a great Hal Jordan). The main story is that of Krona coming to eradicate Oa, just as Arisia (Elizabeth Moss) enters training. It's a fine excuse to tell many tales of the Green Lantern Corps through the movie, including those of the very first GL, of Kilowog's days as a rookie, of Mogo, and more. After three consecutive GL-related movies that feature versions of Hal's origin story, it's a breath of fresh air to see something else. Most of the stories used are adapted from the comics, some recent, but some as far back as the 80s. They seem fresh here, and the animation is certainly as sharp and action-filled as in any of the WB's releases. The WB continues its streak of Sneak Peaks at other stuff (most notably Batman: Year One), yet nothing on the feature at hand, not even a reprise of its own Sneak Peak. Ah well. Still, a good animated feature for Green Lantern fans.
I think I talked about Superman Returns enough today, so I'll stick to the DVD's special features, all on a second disc. There's a huge making of documentary that follows pre-production and shooting in detail and is quite fun. It never takes itself too seriously, and a lot of screen time is given over to the antics of Bryan Singer, James Marsden (that guy's just funny) and Kevin Spacey (no slouch either). It even ends with a blooper reel. In the inception stages, one might find just where the film went wrong, though it never detracts from the film's achievements. After you're done with those almost 3 hours of documentary, you'll still have 10 deleted scenes and a technical bit that shows how they recreated Marlon Brando's Jor-El for the film. The package as a whole enhances the viewing experience, which is what they're meant to do.
All through July, I've been comparing two versions of the same story each week. This time around, a bit of a change of pace because the two versions could not be more dissimilar, to the point of avoiding comparison altogether. Yes, I watched the first Batman film and the last (or latest, if you will), i.e. The Dark Knight. The Adam West original, filmed between seasons 1 and 2 of the 1960s show, is really all we have to pore over on DVD of that era, at least, until they untangle the rights to the tv show itself. Good thing it's a good example of it, then. Batman and Robin go up against their four greatest nemeses, Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman (and while I've often professed a preference for Julie Newmar's, Lee Merriweather's will do just fine, thank you) in what can only be termed an absurdist comedy. Batman is a send-up, but not a parody or spoof, which is a thin line to walk, and yet it does so admirably. From the moment that rubber shark takes hold of Batman's leg, you know you'll love this ride filled with flashy vehicles, bizarre detective conclusions and other silliness. The DVD includes a commentary track by Adam West and Burt Ward, but they basically have a good time watching the movie with you. They mention all the best stories in the 15-minute featurette anyway, and more besides. There's also a bit with the Batmobile's designer who has plenty of stories to tell, and a load of behind the scenes pictures.
I spilled a lot of virtual ink about The Dark Knight when it came out (I think everyone did), and I sure don't want to repeat myself. Of course, I wrote about the film after seeing it once on the big screen. Seeing it again, I'm chuffed that bits I'd completely forgotten support my thesis about the film's theme. To me, The Dark Knight has a thematic richness that far outreaches its action sequences. Watch your ears. On my tv, at least, the action BOOMED while the dialog was mixed in much lower. The DVD extras are a mixed bag (isn't this one of those DVDs where they purposely tried to get you to switch to Blu-Ray?) in scope if not in quality. There's an excellent 6-minute piece on the film's music, an interesting 17 minutes more on the evolution of the suit, gadgets and vehicles, and some 45 minutes of entertaining "Gotham Tonight" fake news show webisodes leading up to the film's events. Less interesting are the IMAX sequences, which offer a taller format on action scenes. Not as relevant as discussion on the script or the film's villains, which are sadly missing from this edition.
Kung Fu Friday's selection was The Master AKA 3 Evil Masters, a very strange hybrid indeed. The story is a good one: A martial arts master is severely wounded in a fight with the dreaded "Three Devils" and finds refuge with the most junior student of a martial arts school. In exchange for his help, the master teaches the student a better form of kung fu, which he'll eventually need to defeat the Devils. It's got a well-constructed plot and stellar fight choreography. However, it's also an unforgivably broad comedy, and some of the clowning will definitely turn Western audiences off. And the music sure doesn't help, a collection of cartoon sound effects and intrusive stock music. I say watch it for the action (it's awesome), and grit your teeth when it's trying to be funny. Maybe one to see with a large group of hecklers, it'll make you feel less guilty. The DVD has some photos and trailers, but its main attraction is an 8-minute interview with the Master himself, Chen Kuan Tai, who talks about the film and about his lawsuit with Shaw Brothers.
Audios: Continuing my journey through Doctor Who's lost episodes, I listened to Galaxy 4 this week, a somewhat dull science fiction story starring the 1st Doctor, Vicki and Steven. Nominally about not judging a book by its cover, it's also got space amazons with an intriguing culture and a bunch of bleeping robots who, on audio, bleep a heck of a lot indeed. Long stretches of bleeping. It's meant to be charming, but it's not quite R2-D2. The linking narration is the weakest I've yet heard in the first volume of the Lost Episode sets. It's written well enough, but Peter Purves (Steven) sounds like he has a cold and makes a lot of wet mouth noises. His delivery certainly lacks the tension other narrators (the gold standard for me is William Russell, but Carole Anne Ford is good too) have brought to this set. I'm afraid I'll be stuck with Purves until the end of volume 2, so I hope he picks up the pace a little bit.
New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 23 new cards, mostly from A Christmas Carol, though some basic concepts from other places, like the Torchwood Hub, the Sonic Screwdriver and some Dalek cards. We're still a ways from making rudimentary decks to test the engine, but I'm trying to get enough key cards to make a test game possible. I'm confident what I learned in the past half dozen years will serve me well in this 2nd edition though.
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.i. Briefings - Branagh '96