So big boxes are starting to come in off of that Amazon DVD sale, where I picked up the following at bargain bin prices (almost all have extras, etc. - they're not the cheap discs): Jackie Chan's 1911, Army of Darkness, A Fish Called Wanda, Ghost Rider, Gosford Park, Invictus, Pan's Labyrinth, Total Recall, The Towering Inferno, and The Underneath.
DVDs: This week, I flipped the first season of Parks and Recreation - hey, it's only 6 episodes - a mockumentary style sitcom (like The Office) about small town government and Amy Poehler's crusade to get a park built in place of a large, abandoned pit. Quite funny, with great comic talents hitting a variety of notes, some of them quite subtle. Makes me glad I picked up three seasons for a song during one of those Amazon sales. The DVD includes deleted scenes (or sequences, really) for each of the episodes. The finale has them integrated into a producer's cut, and really, they're all funny enough to be part of the finished episodes. Each episode also has an entertaining commentary by various members of the cast and crew, and a couple of "Mouse Rat" videos.
The Avenging Eagle, a 1978 Shaw Brothers film by Sun Chung, stars Ti Lung as a member of a group of criminal assassins who is betrayed by his conscience and forced to be on the run from his own squad, whom he must defeat with the help of a man he most deeply wronged (Fu Sheng). Sun Chung's camera work is much more dynamic than your usual Shaw Bros. release, and there are some artful touches throughout, elevating this rather typical revenge tragedy above the standards of, say, many of Chang Cheh's less memorable productions. Plus, Ti Lung's favored weapon is the three-section staff, and that's my favoritest weapon of all! Could have done with a more memorable set piece or two, but I was entertained.
Now, at this time last year, I won our annual Oscar pool, and consequently, 10 DVDs thrown into a Ye Olde Pile of Crappe from the various participants. Of these, one was damaged and mercifully could not be watched (Dude, Where's My Car?). The 9 others I vowed to watch before the next Oscar Party, and that whichever was the WORST, would wind up back in the pile (THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE). By the time Oscar week rolled around, I still had four to watch. Ugh. So I bit the bullet and the results are below. To first recap the 5 I did manage to watch during the year: 2 were actually pretty good indy movies I might have picked up on my own if I'd known about them (Dead Fish and He Was a Quiet Man); 2 were deeply flawed, but had some elements I really loved (Masters of the Universe and Hamlet 2); and one was disappointing, dull and pointless (Pressure Point). Can anything beat the latter to the Crap Pile(TM)? Perpend...
Backlash is a mess of an action movie shot on video, but trying to imitate John Woo's style or something. It stars Danielle Burgio, who I believe was the stunt double for Jennifer Garner in Daredevil, as a CIA agent marked for death by evil assassins. She holds the screen relatively well among characters all played by fellow stuntpeople. The principal source of production values should have been the location shooting in Trinidad and Tobago, but to be honest, they could have shot in in the Southern United States and edited in stock footage of cultural festival action, because that's exactly what it looks like. There are some fair action scenes, in particular the martial arts sequences, but they're frequently badly shot, fists obviously missing faces. Nonsense plot, lame comedy bits that come out of nowhere, and worst of all, going into musical montage every couple minutes (NOT an exaggeration!). If I recognized ANY of the songs, it might be better, but then the sound cuts off after 30 seconds anyway. The film is OUTRAGEOUSLY bad, and that's why I need to keep it. In the interests of completeness, let me talk about the DVD extras: There's a 20 minute making-of that does a lot of that musical montage thing, a long, badly-recorded interview with reggae musician Machel who did a lot of the music, and a video of his.
Long Live the Queen is Lisa Lampanelli's HBO stand-up special, and right off the bat, let me come out and say I'd never heard of her. It's not a style of comedy that makes me laugh, but I can appreciate where it's coming from and seems relatively well put together. It's principally racist and homophobic material, outrageously crude, but delivered with just enough insouciant good spirits that you can believe all these members of minorities would flock to her shows for some kind of communal catharsis. There was a bit on deaf people that gives context for the "sign language" corner-of-the-screen feature on the DVD, but I do wish they'd had the interpreter leave outraged after the bit (after all, don't subtitles have the same function?). The disc also has a couple of deleted scenes (an improv riff with a make-up malfunction, and the encore).
Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? - a drama about four married couples facing various challenges in each of their unions - is a mixed bag. There's just enough truth in the writing for the happy ending to feel forced, and Perry's directorial style seems to give scenes way too much space to breathe and plonking the camera in the set and letting things play out. Needed to be sharper, especially in the comedy. All the actors do get a chance to shine, even Janet Jackson as the creepy Oprah-ish therapist, but the heart and soul of the film has to be Jill Scott. She gives such a soulful, emotional, sympathetic performance, it smooths over a lot of the movie's flaws. Just not enough for a recommendation. The DVD includes three featurettes on various aspects of the film. Those aspects are: Janet Jackson, the music, and everything else. Wait... there's a SEQUEL to this? Am I such a completist that I have to see it? Jury's still out...
EZ Money is an an annoying kids' movie about three precocious children and a government agent getting involved with a Nigerian Prince email fraud run by an evil - but not too evil - Carmen Sandiego clone. It is AWFUL. The adults in the film are intent on making the kids look good by acting very badly indeed. There's a CIA computer expert who gets electrocuted and turns into a destitute man's Jim Carey, speaking only in movie references the target audience will not get (the film was made in 2005, but most references are from the 80s), and that will irritate anyone old enough to do so. And though it's obviously for kids, there are a number of cleavage jokes I find completely inappropriate for ANY age. A brainless irritant. Hey EZ Money! I DON'T WANT YOU TALKING DOWN TO MY KIDS! The DVD includes a short making of that doesn't explain WHY WHY WHY this film was made, and a Lil Kev video just for extra annoyance. Yes, you guessed it, it's going BACK IN THE CRAP PILE! Sorry, this year's winner! I'll sleep better tonight with EZ Money out of the house.
Books: When Matt Kindt's name was brought up in connection with Frankenstein Agent of SHADE, I'd never heard of him. Then I found his Super Spy at my local shop. What a wonderful, quirky read. Super Spy is actually about a number of spies in WWII Europe, and is designed as a sort of found object, with yellowed pages, occasional documents from the stories, and coded messages. The book itself is in a kind of code, not told chronologically, the reader gets a sense of the entire story and how each "dossier" is connected to the bigger whole. My only negative is that the cover detached when I opened the book (not the pages though, they're fine), which is disappointing coming from the usually top notch Top Shelf.
Audios: I managed to finish two Big Finish Doctor Who audios this week. The first is The Company of Friends, which comprises four short stories featuring the 8th Doctor and four different extracanonical companions Paul McGann has never teamed up with before on audio. Lance Parkin writes a fun Bernice Summerfield team-up (Benny and Doc8 met in the last Virgin New Adventure) that focuses on a paradox. Stephen Cole writes a funny Fitz story set on a planet with a television-obsessed culture (sound familiar?). Fitz the 8th Doctor's longest-serving companion in the 8th Doctor Adventures novel series, and is well played by Matt di Angelo. It's my favorite of the lot. Alan Barnes' story stars Izzy, a companion from the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips, and is ABOUT comics. Izzy has the Doctor bring her back in time so she can pick up the only issue she missed of her favorite comic, but wasn't expecting her childhood heroes to come to life. Another bit of fun, and Jemima Rooper shows she might have been a good Rose Tyler (she was up for the part at some point). The final story (by Jonathan Morris) introduces Mary Shelley as a companion and the Doctor as a (partial) inspiration for Frankenstein. There's a big fat paradox in the middle of it, but the episode's function is to put a celebrity historical in the TARDIS. We'll see how well this idea works in future audios, but Julie Cox does a good job in her introductory tale. And don't worry about not knowing the root material, interviews with the companions set the stage at the start of each story.
With Patient Zero, Nicholas Briggs starts a 6th Doctor/Charley cycle that though it will tell three different stories, promises to have an arc running through the trilogy. As the Doctor tries to draw answers from paradoxical Charley, she starts to fade from reality and has to be quarantine. In an attempt to save her from a temporal virus, he eventually winds up at a viral repository where strange and interesting ideas multiply, well, until the Daleks show up, but the focus is really on Charley dealing with a surprising stowaway that's been on the TARDIS since season 2! Like most 6th Doctor audios, it's a better than average Doctor Who story, but it ends on a nasty cliffhanger. Even the things that are resolved, are resolved rather brutally as the audio just... stops! Hmf.
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Branagh '96