This Week in Geek (12-18/03/12)

Buys

Got me some fancy graphic novels, including ACME Novelty Library #20 and Daniel Clowes' Death Ray. Some non-comics illustrated books too - Douglas Coupland's Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People, and the Parks and Recs tie-in Pawnee: The Greatest Town In America (by Leslie Knope). Au audio, there's the recent re-release of the BBC's narrated lost episodes of Doctor Who vol.4 (The Macra Terror to The Ice Warriors). And the usual mix of DVDs - Justified Season 2, Young Adult, the Adventures of Tintin, The Guild Season 5, and the poker movie Rounders.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: My geekery pal Furn got me into Justified and all he got was this lousy credit. I've always been a fan of movies based on Elmore Leonard's work (so yes, I do aim to read some of his books sooner than later), and Justified is one of the greats, up there with Out of Sight and Jackie Brown. More impressive by virtue of the writers having to continue the story beyond the pilot episode's adaptation of the original short story "Fire in the Hole" and bailing Leonard's voice for 13 straight episodes (and counting, but I only just finished Season 1). Tim Olyphant is pitch-perfect as Raylan Givens, exuding charm and yet so flawed, but what I love about Leonard's work is his criminals. They're so damn stupid, but no less dangerous. And therein lies some wonderful black comedy. The writers also manage to reproduce Leonard's witty dialog, and the story arcs flow out of the characters wonderfully. Plus, being from hick country myself, I'm loving this new trend of setting television shows and movies in regions other than New York and L.A. Between Justified's Kentucky and Republic of Doyle's Newfoundland, I've been well catered to recently. A new favorite! The DVD includes commentary on four key episodes, production featurettes on the everything from writing to shooting, as well as how the U.S. Marshall service actually works, and the cool theme song's music video.

Jason Reitman has yet to make a film I don't want to watch multiple times. His newest is Young Adult, written by Juno's Diablo Cody, and it's an impressive vehicle for Charleze Theron. She plays a writer of young adult fiction suffering from depression who returns to her home town to get her currently married old flame back, and connects instead with a crippled geek from her class played by Patton Oswalt. Theron manages to make you laugh and break your heart, sometimes in the same scene, and I'm happy to report that Cody's dialog is a lot less mannered than it was in Juno. It's a film with a largely ambiguous ending, or maybe I should call it ambivalent, which makes it more realistic and believable. On the commentary track, Reitman says the movie is meant to make you uncomfortable. If by that he means it confounds movie expectations, then he succeeds. I suggest showing it to your favorite romantic comedy addict. In addition to the commentary, the DVD also includes a short making of with behind the scenes footage/outtakes from one particular scene, and three unremarkable deleted scenes.

Finally saw Spielberg's Adventures of Tintin and it is a remarkable achievement on many fronts. The animation, of course, is stellar. Water and particle effects are especially convincing, and you'll sometimes feel like it's all actors with prosthetics. Unlike other motion capture animated films (like Beowulf or even The Polar Express), the character work isn't creepy and I found myself liking them a lot. I'm most impressed by the script however. I'm not sure who did what, but I can certainly feel Steven Moffat's assured hand on the plot itself, which manages to merge two disparate Tintin books - The Crab with the Golden Claws and The Secret of the Unicorn - into a single coherent story. He didn't put one on the end of the other, mind you. He actually amalgamated them into a single story. The addition of various original cinematic action and/or cartoony slapstick sequences makes it even more surprising for Tintin fans. Though I knew the basic beats and characters, I never knew what was actually coming next. That cameo by Hergé himself was only the first of my many involuntary grins throughout. If I had one complaint, it's the opening score, which I found lackluster. I'm so over John Williams' work, it's not even funny. As far as this version of the DVD goes, it's only got a couple featurettes, one on why Spielberg and Jackson got involved in the project, and the other on Milou (sorry - Snowy - no wait, I'm not sorry at all - Milou Milou Milou!!!), which includes Peter Jackson's WETA animation test in which he plays Haddock. If I get a chance at a Special Edition with more, I may well go for it and gift this not-many-frills DVD to a deserving fan.

In the Shaw Brothers pic The Duel, Chang Cheh outdoes himself as far as violence and bloodshed go, and your enjoyment of the film may be tempered by the number of knife fights and the amount of torture you can stomach. It's really a crime drama of the kind Scorsese excels in (with 1000% more knife fights), which brews to a duel between uneasy allies who first must topple a (more corrupt than most) criminal empire. The music is distracting - I don't think director Chang can sell me on his use of Also Spake Zarathustra unless the monolith imparts the heroes with knife skills - but you can otherwise see why Chang Cheh is considered Shaw Brothers' premiere director. Dynamic camera work, moody lighting, a real sense of atmosphere, together with a 30s or 40s setting that allows for exploration of scenes not possible in most of the Shaw Brothers' output, give the film a unique look. I was actually surprised to discover it was released in 1971 because much of Chang's later work is a lot less inventive. Not as iconic as Five Deadly Venoms or One-Armed Swordsman, but one of of his more interesting efforts, in my opinion.

Audios: Mark Morris had the task of finishing Big Finish's 5th Doctor/Nyssa Stockbridge trilogy, a relatively tall order I'm afraid Plague of the Daleks doesn't quite fill it. The other two were strong comic pieces, but while there are some quirky elements in this one, it tries for zombie horror as well and comes across as rather dour. Thankfully, the Daleks don't show up until the very end of episode 2, but it's not much of a reveal because, well, that title. It's not BAD, you understand, but it just feels a bit piecemeal, especially in the opening chapters.



And because I just got them, bam, I'm back on the BBC's narrated audio CDs of Patrick Troughton's lost episodes. It was the first time I experienced The Macra Terror in any medium, and while I can't be sure what it looked like on screen, it makes a WONDERFUL audio. It's Anneke Wills' last narration for BBC Audio (her character bows out in the next story), but she's the best at this I've yet heard. Regardless, the story works without narration, with cheery brainwashing jingles and eerie, suspenseful music. The 2nd Doctor is a powerful force for anarchy, and is up against a Big Brother regime, or at least, if 1984 had musical numbers in it. It'd be good even if giant crabs weren't in it (no doubt, they would be the let down if the story was re-discovered).

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Zeffirelli '90

9 comments:

American Hawkman said...

I laughed myself silly in the acknowledgements section alone of Pawnee: the Greatest Town In America, and it was nice to see the callback to some of the new materials introduced here in the fourth season to date. Good stuff.

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

Justified is so good that I feel bad about comparing any other show to it. I watch TV for the character development and this one is pitch perfect. Walton Goggins and Boyd Crowder is one of the greatest characters in television history. Have you ever watched THE SHIELD? No one sells a line to the rafters like Goggins.

Siskoid said...

Not yet, but I've now a mind to!

American Hawkman said...

Yeah, Justified is definitely the best drama on TV. Of course, living within Eastern Kentucky as I do, it makes me laugh insanely ever time someone drives from Harlan to Lexington since that's a ridiculously long drive for the time that they pretend, but still... Between Boyd and Raylan, and the excellent supporting cast, you've got a show that really can go six seasons and a movie.

Toby'c said...

I loved Tintin and I was immensely pissed off with the Academy this year (though when am I not?) over the lack of recognition. Whether Best Cinematography, Best Editing or Best Visual Effects, someone deserved an award for that chase scene. To say nothing of the Best Animated Feature snub.

Siskoid said...

Truly absurd. They've got a couple more chances to get it right, if everything goes to plan.

Teebore said...

I'm so over John Williams' work, it's not even funny.

You know, I think I am too. It's been a long time since his last score that really captured my attention as a standalone piece (probably Minority Report or Prisoner of Azkaban), and while every composer has a signature style/feel, a lot of his more recent efforts have just sounded very "John Williams" without offering up any distinctive themes or tracks.

It more or less works for the movies he's scoring, but nothing is very transcendent anymore, which is a shame. Plenty of composers can write rote, effective scores; Williams should be better than that.

LiamKav said...

I was actually thinking it's a shame that films don't have "themes" anymore. I was listening to a medley of film scores, and I realised how much of it was Williams (Jurrasic Park is my favourite), and how little of it has occured in the past ten years.

I mean, I'm not saying that The Dark Knight needed a theme for Batman, but, well, Elfman's theme from the Burton movies was awesome. And it's a shame that NO movies seem to have good letmotif themes anymore.

@Teebore Williams only did the first two Harry Potter films. It's interesting that the only one they kept for the others was Hedwig's theme, but I suppose it did stick in the mind.

Anonymous said...

There are no "long drives" in Kentucky. It's the size of a postage stamp as states go.

 

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