Three DVDs purchased this week: The Avenging Eagle and 13 Assassins for my Asian cinema collection, and Castle Season 3 for my non-Asian, non-cinema collection.
DVDs: I flipped the fifth season of Angel this week, and thus the whole series, and I've got to say they took a real risk. Giving Angel and company the evil lawfirm of Wolfram & Hart changed the look and feel of the series, and I've got to admit that the first episodes often sat wrong with me. I realize that was the idea - exploring whether going to work for "the Man" corrupts one's ideals - but the bright color palette and absence of cheery Cordelia all worked against our sympathy for the characters. The show soon hit its stride again though, producing some of the most moving (or funny!) episodes of the entire series. On the comedic front, the addition of Spike to the cast, another risk given how he'd gone out in Buffy, gave Angel his real will they/won't they romantic interest (I say this with tongue in cheek, just like the episodes do). On the tragic front, the final fate of each character gets us some truly wonderful and affecting moments. Given that they got the cancellation order relatively late, I'm surprised they could pay off as much as they did, and even the interrupted Illyria story still somehow makes dramatic sense. Overall, I think I enjoyed Angel more than I did Buffy. As far as extras go, seven episodes have commentary tracks, and there are outtakes and plenty of featurettes, many of them with a retrospective feel that covers all five seasons. The themes covered include the season itself, the hilarious muppet show, the celebrations for the 100th episode, Angel's stuntman, recurring villains and the show's best moments. As I store away my full-series box, I'm looking into the Buffy and Angel comics written or overseen by Whedon's team. Let's see where thing went after that brilliant final scene.
Kung Fu Friday took us to Japan this week with last year's 13 Assassins, an authentic samurai epic from director Takashi Miike. Owing something to both history and Seven Samurai, the film has an elder samurai assemble a team to kill the Shogun's decadent and psychotic brother whose actions threaten to end an era of peace. Some of the 13 are fairly generic (students of others, for example), but enough of them are distinctive to make their victories and defeats resonate, as the second half of the film takes us through a massive battle in real time. The violence is harsh and realistic, and Miike doesn't rely on music or editing to make his points. It's Spartan and thus much more subtle film-making. To my taste are the lasting ambiguities of the film, from the impervious mountain man's almost spirit-like appearance to the final smile to what happens after the credits fall. The more I think about 13 Assassins, the more I like it. The DVD features almost 20 minutes of mostly illuminating deleted scenes and an 20-minute interview which made me laugh because the interviewer seems trained only in puff pieces, but the director is adamantly the opposite. "That was cool!" "It's not meant to be." I like what he has to say beyond that simple contrast, but he also lets the film speak for itself.
Books: Elric Book 5 - The Bane of the Black Sword is a return to form for Michael Moorcock's tales of the Albino Prince, his best since Book 1, and it's all down to the language. Book 5 has that Shakespearean turn of phrase, a formalism shared by both the characters and the omniscient narrator that gives this epic the right feel and this reader the most aesthetic pleasure. I've felt that the previous three books' prose had been a little plain in comparison. Again, the volume is divided into three Elric stories, but it adds and epilogue in which some other characters we've met defend the fabled city of Tanelorn from attack (as a prologue to Stormbringer? We'll see). The other tales finally allow Elric to get revenge on that pesky wizard, and even find love. And the more I read, the more I enjoy his companion Moonglum. After Book 4, I thought I might take a break from the world of Elric, but this book has propelled me right into the pages of Book 6 - Stormbringer.
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.i. To Be or Not to Be - BBC '80