Monday, January 31, 2011

Hey Kids, Daleks!

Because it's important to teach your kids life-affirming lessons about tolerance...

And yet, are there any toddlers you've ever been more jealous of?

So... when do we get a Mr. Sontaran Potato Head?

Reign of the Supermen #103: The Diro

Source: Action Comics #314 (1964)
Type: Alternate timelineIt's Amalgamonday, and we look in again on Jor-El as he forecasts his son's destiny as a hero. Whatever planet he's sent to, he becomes a different member of the Justice League! But where will he become Superman? Not here.

This week: Becoming Batman
Landing site: Saruun, a planet that only knows night because the fools put a giant satellite between it and its red sun.
Adoptive parents: A grim, but good lawman who teaches his foster-son to become the best lawman ever.
A new life: Following his father's dream, he dresses up as a "diro", a flying creature indigenous to Saruun - a cross between a bat, a stingray and a hammerhead shark. He strikes fear into the hearts of criminals.
Final score: B+

Jor-El doesn't want to condemn his son to unending darkness, not when there are juicy yellow suns out there...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

This Week in Geek (24-30/01/11)

Buys

Spooks/MI-5 Series 8 just came in the mail, which made for a very long time to wait and see how 7's cliffhanger would play out. And I see Ruth (Nicola Walker) is on the cover. She's back! Sweet! And tired of waiting for Amazon.ca to relist the Doctor Who RPG's Aliens and Creatures, I went for the 5$ pdf (thanks to a Cubicle 7 sale on DriveThruRPG). It's got me all a-twitter for some Whovian role-playing again.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: The problem with the first half of Alias Season 2 is that it feels so self-conscious about its own complexity. While it may not have been too bad watching week-to-week, back-to-back on DVD, the characters seem to always be regurgitating the same points. There's a lack of confidence there and it's not helped by the severe reduction in action when compared to the first season. But that all changes with a couple of shocking game-changers, a return to great action set pieces and the flocking of movie stars to guest roles. Roller coaster indeed, and not unlike how many an episode is structured (with a resolution, then a new cliffhanger). The DVD includes 4 episodes with commentary tracks (again, solid and no spoilers), a 45-minute making of the finale (which gets us through each step of the production), featurettes on costume and make-up, a few deleted scenes, a well-produced blooper reel, a lame "making of" the video game, and some relatively entertaining radio interviews with members of the cast and J.J.

"Beat" Takeshi Kitano directs and stars in Violent Cop, a 1989 Japanese selection for Kung Fu Fridays, which you could describe as Dirty Harry without the charisma. Violent Cop, like more than one late 80s-early 90s Japanese film I've seen, is raw and almost documentary-like. The director manages a jaded brutality and a stylessness that nonetheless doesn't forget to create memorable shots and lots of tension. Low production values somehow translate into a world that seems strange to my Western eyes, more than Japan usually does. Another plus: The music sounds like Sherlock's. No extras to speak of on this release.




Audios: With Nick Briggs' ascension to the producer's chair at Big Finish, the 8th Doctor is given a new companion (sitcom star Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller) and a new format based on the New Doctor Who. These 50-minute episodes were released in close proximity to each other (on BBC7), mostly one-parters with a couple of two-parters, and with an overall arc focusing on the companion. Throw in some big stars, a mix of new and old enemies, and future and historical locations, and you've very much got something that could air on tv over the course of 2-3 months like the Davies (and now Moffat) show does. After listening to the first four episodes, I'm also left thinking that I wasn't tired of McGann's 8th Doctor, but rather of his audios' character dynamics. Charlie has been aboard the TARDIS since Doc8 started those adventures and C'rizz remains a non-character to me. The writers may be as bored with that team as I am.

Lucie Miller shows up literally out of nowhere in Blood of the Daleks Part I, sent to the TARDIS as part of a Time Lord version of the witness protection program. What has she seen and who has sent the "Headhunter" after her? Her relationship to the Doctor is thus very different, sort of a Donna to Charlie's Rose, not all that impressed with the Doctor and frequently mocking him. They warm up to each other by the third episode, but for now, their antagonism creates some sparks, and is kept entertaining by writer Steve Lyons and the actors (again, more Donna than, say, Tegan or Peri). The Blood of the Daleks isn't that great an opening story though. It's hard to do something new with the Daleks, and Blood doesn't have much freshness to it. It's ok, but Part I has guest actresses with near identical voices going back and forth, and Part II features a big battle that's just screams and blasters. It's all noise and bluster. Perhaps it needs to be. It's all just window dressing for Lucie's introduction, which is where the interest lies. (Someone attempted a visual trailer for the new duo on You-Tube.)

Horror of Glam Rock is a stand-alone episode that takes the Doctor and Lucie to a 1970s roadstop diner known for attracting glam rockers. It's by Paul Magrs (which I have now found out is pronounced "Mars"), so you just know it takes the mickey. The title is only one bit of fun to be had in this audio, along with nice performances by Bernard "Wilf" Cribbins and Una "Sherlock's Mrs. Hudson" Stubbs, and actual songs (including a hilarious take on the Doctor Who theme). Magrs of course peppers this thing with references to music, much of it going above my head. Like New Who episodes, it feels a bit thin at times, with a quick victory over the monster of the week, but as with the television show, the focus on character makes up for it. Up til now, this series has revitalized the Eighth Doctor audio adventures for me.

Jonathan Clements' Immortal Beloved takes us to the season's halfway point with a story about young lovers who would rather die than suffer their destiny as receptacles for their brain-switching parents modeling themselves on the Greek gods. Ian McNeice guest stars as "Zeus". Again, the regulars are quite good together (and apart), the wisecracking Lucie somehow bringing a different performance out of McGann's Doctor. If the audio has a flaw, it's that the TARDIS crew are for the most part observers in the drama, rather than being its movers and shakers (at least, until the very end). Still, a well-enough rendered science fiction idea with solid performances from both the guests and the regulars.

Elsewhere on the Net: Jon K interviewed me this summer for a feature he calls "Way of the Geek". And I don't sound too much like a moron! Qapla!

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. The Fishmonger Scene

Reign of the Supermen #102: Bruce Wayne Superman

Source: Speeding Bullets GN (1993)
Type: ElseworldsIn Speeding Bullets, the Waynes - superhero comics' most famous parent team - that find baby Kal-El's rocket on the outskirts of Gotham City. They name him Bruce and take him to the movies. Well... you can probably tell where this is going. Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down outside a theater by one Joe Chill. And that's when grief-stricken Bruce exhibits super-powers for the first time.
The trauma represses those powers until as an adult, he is once again attacked by a burglar and remembers. Alfred fills him in on the details of that rocketlit night so many years ago, and a mission, nay a legend, is born. Let's just say you don't want a Kryptonian Batman on your ass.
Because this is an Elseworld and not a What If?, other members of the Superman family are magically transposed to Gotham, including Lois Lane and chemically pale Lex Luthor.
In the end, Lois teaches Bruce how to love and he becomes a gentler, kinder Superman for Gotham City:
Ooh, not sure about that costume. Love Eduardo Barreto's art in this book though.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What If... the Fantastic Four Lost the Trial of Galactus?

Or rather "What if the Trial of Galactus Had Ended in Reed Richards' Execution?" Coming up coincidentally around the time the FF have lost a member. I do say LOST because in no way does FF writer Hickman indicate that said member was killed. Only Marvel's press releases ever intimated such a thing. Not that it would have mattered, not in a world where you can come back from being shot by a sniper in broad daylight. This time, did you see a body? I sure didn't. And as blog buddy Bully went through great pains to show, it's not like it's the first time. And though What If stories didn't really "happen", here's another:

What If vol.2 #15 (July 1990)
Based on: Fantastic Four #262
The true history: Brought to trial by the Shi'ar for having spared Galactus' life, Reed Richards was cleared when Galactus showed up as a witness and summoned Eternity to reveal that the Hungry One had a pivotal role to play in the universe's destiny.
Turning point: What if Galactus did not appear at Reed Richards' trial?
Story type: Team Slayer
Watcher's mood: Torn
Altered history: When Galactus fails to show, Reed is found guilty. This one's for you, Bully:
And in case you missed it, here it is again a few pages later:
Got it now? Reed Richards is D-E-A-D, DEAD! Distraught, Sue Richards convinces the Torch and the Thing to get revenge. They load an impounded Skrull saucer with confiscated weapons from all of the FF's greatest villains and fly off to the Shi'ar throneworld. What they didn't count on was Annihilus' rod doing so much damage:
Who needs the Dark Phoenix? The Shi'ar planet and race and genocided but good and the FF return to Earth ashamed and knowing they have invited retaliation. In fact, Gladiator of the Imperial Guard is the lone survivor of the destroyed planet and he assembles an armada composed of every single alien race ever seen to wipe the Earth right off the face of the Marvel Universe.
However, the Skrulls decide that, having suffered the most when they lost their homeworld to Galactus, they should use the stolen Omni-Wave to destroy the assembled alien fleet and then Earth, making them the greatest military power in the galaxy. On Earth, the Avengers and SHIELD prepare to defend their home when the FF take off to head off the fleet at the pass. Maybe they can reason with it. They first hit upon the Skrulls hiding on Mars' moon Phobos, realize what's about to happen and attack, giving their lives to stop the Skrull stratagem. This is all detected by the alien fleet and Gladiator decides that justice served. Here's another one for Bully:
Earth is spared, hooray!
Books canceled as a result: Only the Fantastic Four. Unless Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, etc. want to get together again (for the first time).
These things happen: They keep killing members of the FF and they keep coming back!

Next week: What if Wolverine Battled Conan the Barbarian?
My guess: Business as usual at 1990s Marvel, right?

Reign of the Supermen #101: Blackout Superman

Source: Superman: The Man of Steel #6 and Superman vol.2 #62 (1991)
Type: The real dealWhat is it with the late 80s - early 90s and Superman losing his mind? First the execution of the pocket universe's Kryptonian criminals causes him so much trauma he splits personalities into another hero (come back Tuesday for that one). He leaves Earth to get better, but returns with an artifact that turns him into the Krypton Man (that was last Thursday). And THEN, an experiment gone wrong zaps his memory and lands him on Dinosaur Island where he can wrestle dinosaurs, marry a cavegirl and - gasp - wear a headband!

My review of that particular side-life HERE. Links... they're like Dinosaur Island; they take you back in time without having to figure out the technology.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Reign 100 Contest: Who's Making That Guy Freak Out?

100 days of Reign, 100 Supermen... It puts me in the mood for a contest!

Taking a page from Bully who, in the last days of 2010, made us believe there were 365 of these, I present details from 20 homages to the cover of Action Comics #1. See that guy FREAKING OUT in the bottom left corner? He showed up a lot. Your mission, should you accept it, is to identify WHO is making each version freak out (in other words, WHO is crashing the car). Since this IS part of the Reign of the Supermen year-long event, there might be one or more versions of Superman in there, so be careful to tell me which (for example, on Action Comics #1, the answer would be the Golden Age Superman). Send your answers via email to siskoid7 (at) hotmail (dot) com, NOT through the comment section (spoilerzzz!). You have until Sunday, March 6th at midnight EST. See the bottom of the post for the prize.
The winner will be the responder with the most correct answers. In case of a tie (such as if more than one person gets every answer correct), I will hold a random draw. The lucky winner will be contacted as asked to name his or her favorite Superman featured in the first 100 days of Reign. I will then create a custom, one-of-a-kind Reign of the Supermen iron-on featuring that Superman and mail it to that winner (in either full-page, I wear my geekiness proudly all over my chest, or in more discreet quarter-page format best suited to girls' t-shirts and breast pockets). And telling us your personal favorite in the comments IS allowed.

The winner will be announced Monday, March 7th! Until then, good luck and don't freak out!

Reign of the Supermen #100: Silver Age Superman

Source: Action Comics #242 (1958) to Superman vol.1 #232 (1970)
Type: The real deal (since retconned)There are really two Silver Ages. There's Marvel's, which featured flawed heroes with personal problems in full-length, even continuing, stories. And there was DC's which embraced the high level of craziness of books like Adventure Comics (the LSH), Haney's Teen Titans, and yes, I think its best poster child, 60s Superman comics. These parallel Silver Ages have things in common: The creation of new characters, the rebirth of the superhero genre, and an emphasis on (completely wrong-headed) science. In the Superman books, the latter was taken to new heights.

A Silver Age Superman story is often 8-12 pages (or else is called a "novel"!) and ends with a twist as contrived as the story's premise. Superman is all-powerful, existing more to foil Lois Lane's attempts at discovering his secret identity than to stop bad guys. Superman isn't used so much as a proper character than as a concept. Stories were frequently ABOUT Superman, as opposed to stories FEATURING him. And so we have a large number of stories that explore his powers and how they might malfunction, about Krypton and what happened/might happen there, about Kryptonian biology and how it can be transformed, about Superman's ability to keep a secret identity with the sole help of glasses and how that silly status quo can be kept in place, and about permutations of the Superman icon like other survivors from Krypton, strange transformations and imaginary stories. The Silver Age Superman stories add a great deal to the Superman "continuity bubble", without really creating a continuity. Lots is added, but nothing ever changes.

I'm part of that segment of the comics-related blogosphere that praises the "pure comics" aesthetic of the Silver Age and the work inspired by it (everything from Kirby's 70s stuff to, say, Scott Pilgrim or Umbrella Academy), and I love to both read and write posts about some wacky, barely justifiable comic book story like Superman Red/Superman Blue or The Two Faces of Superman. And while there are some awesome writers still going that route, the Silver Age keeps on giving. Especially through its Superman books.

Sadly, while DC has given its Golden Age comics its own Earth (and for a good while, integrated it into its sole Earth), it hasn't done the same with the Silver Age. I think they really should. The DCU needs a place where that kind of craziness can exist. Maybe All-Star Superman's Earth?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Kung Fu Friday Friends Made This!

We had an improv show last Monday with a really cool video opening created by KFFFriend Ludger "King Boxer" Beaulieu, to the tune of the Police Story theme. Obviously, it is heavily influenced by the Kung Fu Fridays experience. Enjoy!

In addition to Ludger, you can spot Marty "Iron Monkey" Leger, Mathieu "Snake" Chalifoux, David "Joy Luck" St-Pierre and Joelle "Rothrock" Martin, plus the improv kids who don't come round every Friday. Fun!

Reign of the Supermen #99: Krypton Man

Source: Superman vol.2 #41 to Action Comics #652 (1990)
Type: TransformationIt's often been said (and will again) that in the Silver Age, Superman was Kal-El first, and Clark Kent last. Superman was always pining for Krypton, visiting it through time travel or dreams or recreating it with awesome powers as a memorial or other plot device. But what happens when you try that story in the Modern Age?

The answer: The Day of the Krypton Man.

Manipulated by a long-lost Kryptonian artifact whose sole purpose was to recreate Krypton on Earth, and perhaps nudged a little by Maxima's telepathic speed dating invasions, Superman became more cool and logical than a Vulcan and started wearing some Science Guild froufrouwear, keeping to the Fortress of Solitude being serviced by robot attendants. It ends as these things must: After a fight with super alien gladiator Draaga on the moon in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, the "Krypton Man" brings Ma and Pa Kent to his icy Fortress to tell them his plan to conquer/improve Earth and they bring him back to his humanity. His new costume gets ripped and that makes him wake up and throw the Eradicator into the sun.

And if that isn't some kind of homage to the Silver Age...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cat of the Geek #98: Peanutbutter

Name: Peanutbutter
Stomping Grounds: James Kochalka's Peanutbutter & Jeremy's Best Book Ever!
Side: Good
Breed: American shorthair
Cat Powers: Office work such as filing, answering phones and wearing ties. Making me smile.
Skills: Eat 4, Sleep 6, Mischief 7, Wit 5, Filing 5 (according to human standards, -7)
Cat Weaknesses: Just not very good at office work. That darned crow Jeremy.

Reign of the Supermen #98: Ambush Bug

Source: Ambush Bug #1 (1985)
Type: Wannabe AnalogAmbush Bug will never be a Superman analog, but it's not for a lack of trying...

The Early Years:
Has the keys to the Fortress of Solitude:
Has his own Bizarro:
Has his own slew of Reign-able versions:
They share the same politics:
And yet... nope. Not an analog. Sorry Buggy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Task Force X Retirement Files 001-003

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Siskoid's Blog of Geekery has gotten its hands on formerly top secret info on the project code-named Suicide Squad that offered full pardons to so-called "supervillains" in exchange for participation in dangerous black ops missions for the U.S. government. While Task Force X had some more permanent members made up of "heroes" to keep the villains in line and villains with personal reasons for staying, it made ample use of whoever was jailed at the time, retiring them at mission's end one way or another. These are those retirement files.

Subject: Blockbuster IProfile: Lame Batman villain
Powers: Super-strength balanced by low intellect
Mission: To stop Brimstone, a giant flaming envoy from Apokolips.
Chance of survival going in: Fair. Enchantress seemed the most obscure member of the team at the time (a member of the Forgotten Villains) and was pegged to bite it. Because this was the first appearance of this iteration of the Squad, it was hard to gauge who would.
Retirement: DECEASED. Brimstone squeezes him hard. (Legends #5)
Final report: Blockbuster has since been replaced by his brother. After Neron's interference, Blockbuster II also gained near genius intellect forcing him to compete for the "monster voiced by Frasier" niche currently dominated by the Ultra-Humanite.

Subject: Plastique
Profile: Hot Firestorm villain
Powers: Pyrotechnics
Mission: Infiltrate the Jihad's base, code-name Jotunheim, and eliminate all members of the superhuman terrorist team. Specifically, destroy the lab where new Jihad members are created.
Chances of survival going in: High. Though Firestorm villains assigned to Task Force X had a tendency to die (see next Subject), Plastique was always one of the more appealing members of the Nuclear Man's rogues gallery.
Retirement: JAILED. Plastique betrayed the Squad - perhaps unavoidable that a FLQ member would try to join an international pan-ideological terrorist group - but was apprehended by Nemesis. (Suicide Squad #2)
Final report: Dr. Moon altered Plastique's memory so she would forget about the Suicide Squad and after escaping prison would go on to become an important part of Captain Atom's rogues. She would eventually land back in jail and be used by the Squad again.

Subject: Mindboggler
Profile: Lame Firestorm villain
Powers: Illusion-casting
Mission: Infiltrate the Jihad's base, code-name Jotunheim, and eliminate all members of the superhuman terrorist team. Specifically, keep terrorist troops occupied once the fighting starts.
Chances of survival going in: Low. John Ostrander was writing both Suicide Squad and Firestorm, so seemed to have carte blanche when it came to offing that character's rogues gallery. Given her costume's design and generic powers, she was dead the minute she showed her punk hairdo in the briefing room.
Retirement: DECEASED. Shot in the back by Jihad leader Rustam as petty team member Captain Boomerang just watched and smirked. (Suicide Squad #2)
Final report: Mindboggler returned as Ifrit, the Jihad's replacement for Djinn and was captured by Task Force X in an attempt to use her as an asset.

Still collating files (so many boxes!), but there'll be more. In the meantime, you can always get more Suicide Squad from the Task Force X blog.

Reign of the Supermen #97: Superbman

Source: What The--!? #2 (1988) and #7 (1990)
Type: PasticheA couple years after he started on Superman, John Byrne returned to Marvel and the Fantastic(al) Four to byrne burn himself in a Mad Magazine manner as Superbman, AKA Park Bench, was manipulated into entering a Marble Comic by Dr. Bloom so that he would (naturally) be forced to fight other heroes.

Monday, January 24, 2011

...of the Daleks

Being an attempt to fully catalog the official and officially licensed Doctor Who stories that feature the word Dalek.

TV Series
The Daleks
The Dalek Invasion of Earth
The Daleks' Masterplan
The Power of the Daleks
The Evil of the Daleks
Day of the Daleks
Planet of the Daleks
Death to the Daleks
Genesis of the Daleks
Destiny of the Daleks
Resurrection of the Daleks
Revelation of the Daleks
Remembrance of the Daleks
Dalek
Daleks in Manhattan (why not The Daleks Take Manhattan? Just another disappointment regarding this two parter)
Evolution of the Daleks
Victory of the Daleks

Films
Doctor Who and the Daleks
Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.
(Both are remakes of the first two Dalek stories, with very close titles.)

Stage Plays
The Curse of the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Daleks in the Seven Keys to Doomsday

Video Games
Dalek Attack
City of the Daleks

Novels
War of the Daleks
Legacy of the Daleks
Prisoner of the Daleks
(You'd think there would be more of them, but Virgin couldn't use them, so that's a big chunk gone.)

Short Stories and Novellas
The Dalek Factor
We are the Daleks!
I am a Dalek

Audios
Fear of the Daleks
Renaissance of the Daleks
Plague of the Daleks
Brotherhood of the Daleks
Return of the Daleks
Enemy of the Daleks
The Time of the Daleks
Blood of the Daleks
Death and the Daleks
Dalek Empire (I, II, III and IV; I has a chapter entitled Invasion of the Daleks; II is subtitled Dalek War)
The Dalek Conquests

Comics
Attack of the Daleks
The Planet of the Daleks
Return of the Daleks (a popular title, it seems)
The Dalek Revenge
Abslom Daak... Dalek Killer
Nemesis of the Daleks
Emperor of the Daleks!
The Dalek Project (not released)
The Only Good Dalek
Extermination of the Daleks

So that's what's taken. What's left? Obviously, the Daleks have appeared many more times without showing their plungers in the title. We could in fact have fun re-titling some of their New Who appearances... For The Parting of the Ways, how about Secret of the Daleks. For Doomsday, Cult of the Daleks (I also like Trash Talking of the Daleks). And for Journey's End, Nihilism of the Daleks (ooh, pretentious!). But probably you can do better in the comments section.

Reign of the Supermen #96: Aqua-Superman

Source: Action Comics #314 (1964)
Type: Alternate timelineAmalgamondays continue with that same story in which Jor-El checks on what baby Kal-El's life would be like if he sent the rocket to other planets via magic science computer. It's all about becoming different Justice Leaguers, apparently. There is no such thing as coincidence in the Silver Age...

This week: Becoming Aquaman
Landing site: Valair, an ocean planet
Adoptive parents: A nice couple from an underwater city.
A new life: Kal-El can live underwater without problems and even develops the merfolk's telepathy (I'm gonna go for a No-Prize here and say it's because they unlocked that part of his brain with their mind powers) which can be used to control sea life, like his pet whale Gorro. He uses his telepathic and Kryptonian powers to help people in various ways, but he's also got a side-project: Building an underwater mountain so he has a place to sit above the waves to look at the sun and breathe in the fresh air. Jor-El realizes that his son is a child of the open air and would never be satisfied there.
Final score: B+

If Earth is an A, then Valair is at least a B+. There doesn't even seem to be any crime there. (As we've learned from Silver Age Aquaman comics, crime is a surface world invention.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

This Week in Geek (17-23/01/11)

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: With Syriana, writer/director Stephen Gaghan tried to do for Big Oil what his script for Traffic did for drugs, i.e. use multiple story strands to tell a Big Picture story. It's not quite as successful as that earlier film though. The best strand by far is the Matt Damon/Alexander Siddig story about the son of an Emir who wants to do the right thing for his region, if the world will only let him. George Clooney's washed-out CIA operative holds our interest, but the film takes too long to make all the pieces fit, and the strand about corporate malfeasance, while it has some good lines, feels way too technical. This film needs the audience to focus, which isn't a bad thing, but I fear the picture being painted is too complex and often plays as a documentary before they put the voice-over on it. The DVD includes some deleted scenes, and a relatively short making of with good interviews with both cast and crew.

The Diggle/Jock version of The Losers failed to capture my imagination, so I didn't read beyond the first trade, but I AM a big fan of the Kirby original (I would go see THAT movie in a heartbeat). The "new" Losers movie was... a fun entertainment! Though it didn't feature Captain Storm, etc., it still felt like a Losers story, with each victory actually turning into a defeat. I see the Internet thought it was an A-Team rip-off, but I've never really been an A-Team kind of guy, so that comparison is lost on me. The Losers has some fun action, stylish "Hong Kong" style tricks, and perhaps most importantly, strong acting from the cast (many of which are becoming veterans of genre films). If there's a weak spot, it's the over-the-top villain. In movies like this, participants sometimes go too far to make the villain irredeemably evil, to the point of cartoonishness. This is such a time. The DVD has only one featurette, on how Zoë Saldana did on a "boy's picture". Slim, but pleasant, like the movie.

Staying on an action vibe, I watched Robert Rodriguez' Machete. The fake trailer for this thing was heralded as the best thing about the Grindhouse project, and Rodriguez was happy to oblige us and his man-crush Danny Trejo with a full-length picture in the Grindhouse style. Now here's a film where over-the-top is required, and we get it in spades. Ridiculously violent and filled with exploitation flick clichés (it's a Mexican Shaft, really), Machete still manages to be inventive, crazy and a whole lot of fun. And if you need some convincing, here's a list of a few actors in this thing: Steven Seagal, Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Cheech Marin, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan and Don Johnson. I'm sure there's someone you'd like to see in that hodgepodge. The DVD has little in the way of extras: Interesting deleted scenes mostly featuring Jessica Alba's twin cut from the final picture, and an audience reaction track, which I skipped because if I'd wanted to see movies with loud crowds, I'd go see them in a theater... in New York or something.

Challenge of the Masters (1976) features Gordon Liu as Wong Fei-Hung only in name (and musical cues). What he actually plays is a young man who learns Kung Fu from a master in order to avenge his uncle's death. Director Lau Kar Leung plays the villain and in this film refrains from injecting his trademark comedy. One thing Lau Kar Leung always has in his films, however, is a real love of martial arts. His movies are ABOUT martial art traditions and ethics. Liu's character not only learns some awesome staff moves, but also about respect for his fellow man and the evolution of his own spirit, making a fairly bloodless revenge story. There's also a plot about rival schools vying for dominance at a pao competition (sticks are shot into the air and participants must fight to retrieve them), a traditional game I knew nothing about, but that Lau Kar Leung is happy to teach me about. The DVD includes a 2008 interview with Chen Kuan Tai who plays the Master.

I think I've discussed Doctor Who Series 5 enough on this blog (just click the Doctor Who tag below and scroll back), so let's just talk about the DVD boxed set's extras. A third of the episodes has an "in-vision" commentary track, and they're all good enough, though the Moffat ones are obviously of more interest. However, I have to ask: Does anyone like in-vision? I find no redeeming value in seeing people talking while looking at a screen. It's not even always obvious who is speaking, the inset screen sometimes hides a detail they're talking about, and to make matters worse, I can't access proper episode subtitles while in-vision is on. The set also has video diaries, which are a mixed bad. Tennant was such an articulate actor on the subject of Doctor Who, you kind of miss him in these flightier efforts by Smith, Gillan and Darvill. There are outtakes, but taken more from Doctor Who Confidential than the show itself. Speaking of Confidential, each episode of the making of series has been cut down to under 15 minutes, and looks at the show from different angles, from actors to special effects to locations to writers, giving us (as in with past sets) a good cross-section of how the show is made over the course of 13 episodes. A few monsters get their own featurettes, also edited from full Confidentials. The most surprising features are a couple of "Meanwhile in the TARDIS" scenes, new material exclusive to the DVDs that take place in between episodes. It's a cool idea, but the scenes are fluff. Amy gets stuff explained to her, and it has a certain charm, but you could take them or leave them. Overall, the return of commentaries (missing from the last couple releases) is welcome, even in the silly in-vision format, making this the best New Who set in a while.

Audios: Nocturne is a 7th Doctor, Ace and Hex audio from Big Finish that takes the TARDIS to a planet where art is thriving during an intergalactic war. I won't give too much away by saying that art... can be deadly. Dan Abnett writes a good story, making this artist enclave believable, and creating some fairly memorable moments (such as the Doctor's low-tech trap). The principals are well written, especially the younger characters, though the Doctor gets stuck in a "arrest him/how do we know we can trust you?" scenario, which makes you long for the psychic paper. The CD also finds room for interviews with the guest cast, something that's on the next release as well. I like these. Why SHOULDN'T audios have extras?

Renaissance of the Daleks marks a change in the packaging of Doctor Who audios, with a slightly less cut-and-pastey look to the covers, part of the changes instituted (in 2007) by new line producer Nicholas Briggs (which you know as the voice of the Daleks). Are the interviews included as extras also part of his vision? If so, I like what I'm hearing (and no spoilers even for those included at the end of CD 1). Renaissance is a Dalek tale "from a story by" former Doctor Who script editor Chris Bidmead, a credit resulting from his taking his name off the project apparently because he felt the edits changed his story too much. And still, his fingerprints are all over this, including Logopolis-like scientific/mathematical concepts that could just as well have been technobabble for all the audience can understand of it. The story, featuring the 5th Doctor and Nyssa, deals with Daleks dropping out of history and trying to return in a more victorious role. It's not bad, but there are perhaps too many guest-stars boarding the TARDIS and an confusing ending that takes the air out of the various intriguing concepts in the first chapters.

Books: If you watch Castle and would be interested in reading his Nikki Heat novels, there are two on the market right now (ghost-written, of course). I just finished Heat Wave, which would have been written after the first season, and in fact, we see Beckett reading it as a guilty pleasure over the course Season 2. I'm no expert on detective fiction as I can't say I've read very many mysteries since I was a youth and devoured Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Agatha Christie, but Heat Wave is very close to what you'd expect Castle novelizations to be like. Except for the names and a few details (and the odd sex scene or PG curse word), this is Castle. Nikki Heat (Kate Beckett) is followed by Rook (Castle), a journalist (novelist) doing research for an article (book). Even the supporting players are there under different names. I won't say it's the most tightly written piece of prose I've ever read, but it does read like something the tv character would write, amusing and easy to follow despite the large cast of suspects. A solid entertainment and a great idea for a tie-in with a tv show. (On a side-note, I'm totally rocking my New Year's resolution to read a book at least every 2 weeks.)

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. Brevity - Classics Illustrated
II.ii. Brevity - French Rock Opera