This Week in Geek (5-11/03/12)

Buys

Just as I renew my commitment to clearing out some of the movies on my DVD shelves, some TV series arrive from Ye Olde Amazone: Game of Thrones, Justified Season 1, Greg the Bunny, MI-5's last season (see below), and the first season of the Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon. Better space them out.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: In Season 3, Parks and Recreation adopts a couple of new characters played by Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, and finds a way to continue both the career and relationship stuff that keeps the show from stagnating, and the "comedy of idealism" that is its trademark (and something I find quite moving). Season 3 also has a couple of big events - the Harvest Festival, the big town funeral - with big production values. Despite the comedy shenanigans, it feels all the more real. I can't wait for the Season 4 DVD, though I may just cheat and first download all the shows that have already aired. Don't worry, DVD makers, you'll get my money regardless, if only for the wealth of deleted scenes! Season 3 has that, of course, plus fun ensemble commentary on a few key episodes, a long gag reel, promos and in-story commercials, and more!

Spooks (or MI-5)' s 10th and final series is a short 6-episode arc that returns somewhat to the theme of the first couple series, that of juggling a personal life and the life of a spy. It also delves deeper into Harry Pearce's past and how it molded his present, as the cold war comes home to roost. And of course, it all comes to a heart-rending conclusion. I won't spoil you, but it's not secret that Spooks was never a happy endings kind of story. Each of the DVD set's two discs has one featurette. On Disc 1 is "Harry's Game", a spoiler-heavy telling of Series 10 from the mouths of the cast and crew. I'm not sure what the point of it is and it should definitely not be watched before you've seen the entire series. Disc 2 features a Top 10 Moments voted on by the cast and crew and it could almost be called Top 10 Favorite Farewells. Still, effective and emotional.

Take equal parts Evil Dead, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and (Loony Tunes + Three Stooges), add a generous helping of Jason and the Argonauts, throw in B-movie blender, and you've got Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness. I just watched it for the first time since it came out and it's hard not to be charmed by it as a pure entertainment. Raimi hits the perfect tone between action, horror and comedy that films like Pirates of the Carribean only wish they could. No, there's no character arc, and very little besides action, but it hardly matters. Wacky sequences like the birth of the Deadite Ash, or the insane battle with the skeletons are what it's all about. Great fun. The Screwhead Edition DVD features an interesting alternate ending, and an excellent 20-minute featurette on the impressive old school effects.

Major Dundee, Sam Peckinpah's flawed second film, stars Charlton Heston as a disgraced Union officer tasked with assembling a posse to kill Apache raiders. I really like the first half of the film, but it has real problems following through on its set-up. Several of the most interesting characters fail to complete their arcs or disappear entirely. An unconvincing romance is shoehorned into it, from which point the story completely derails. This extended cut, apparently closer to Peckinpah's intent, I'm sure makes the derailment more justifiable, but in return, makes it more tedious. Ultimately, the Melvillian elements just don't pay off. And personally, while it's thematically sound, the dark cinematography and muddy day-for-night makes certain sequences difficult to understand. There's a great deal to admire however. The relationship between Dundee and the renegade Confederate Captain Tyreen (Richard Harris) is fascinating and leads to all the best scenes in a film that is veritably about the possibility of healing the wound between the North and the South (still relevant in the mid-60s). Heston is a proper cold-hearted badass wound so tightly that he might break at any time (and does). So off to a great start, but then it gets lost. The DVD features a commentary track by the usual Peckinpah experts, a nice piece of documentary tells the story of this troubled production, a vintage featurette about stuntmen, and various deleted scenes, silent outtakes and promo material.

A Zed and Two Noughts, Peter Greenaway's second feature film, is an attempt a doing poetry for the screen. Essentially, it is about symmetry (oooh, pretentious!). Two brothers who work at a zoo lose their spouses in the same car accident and become obsessed with the cycle of life and decay, each in their own way. The sole survivor of the accident is a one-legged (asymmetrical) woman who becomes their lover. Even Greenaway admits he tries to do too much in the film. It's got three strands: Meeting oneself, the world as an ark or zoo, and an attempt at paying tribute to Dutch painters. Visually, it is an arresting piece. Stylishly composed, with incredible access to zoo animals, and (for some, stomach-churning) time-lapse photography of various animals rotting away. As a story, it is bizarre and at times shocking, working more as a set of resonances in imagery, dialog and themes. An acquired taste which I acquired back in college. The DVD features an insightful, but not TOO insightful, commentary track by the director (keeping the elusiveness of the film intact), and some much lesser materials, including a few minutes of behind the scenes footage marked "making of", some storyboards, and the full time-lapse films (which were close to fully scene in the finished film anyway).

Crank 2: High Voltage is a DVD I won in this year's Oscar Pool - mostly films I DON'T want to see, but am making every effort to watch anyway - and geekery buddy Furn (who I won it off of) thankfully summarized the first Crank before I pressed PLAY. Not that he needed to. I just accepted it started with a guy falling from a helicopter and surviving and went from there. Jason Statham is Chev Chelios, a hired killer who pissed off the wrong people and has now had his heart stolen. To survive while performing unbelievable acts of violence, mayhem and public lewdness, he must frequently electrocute himself to keep his bargain bin artificial heart pumping. It's completely stupid, but it earns points for knowing it and playing it for laughs. Like its title suggests, it has a cranked up, inspired visual style that attempts such things as slide show flashbacks and a ridiculous fight sequence shot like a Godzilla movie. And for all that, it never elicited an emotional reaction from me beyond mild interest and mild annoyance, depending on the moment.

Kung Fu Friday selection? Bodyguards and Assassins, and this DID elicit an emotional reaction. A positive one. Taking place over 4 days in the early days of China's People's Revolution (1905), this historical epic plays it more for drama than action, but just when you forget it's meant to (also) be a martial arts film, it shocks you with a frenetic action piece (and of course, the last act is all action). It's an odd balance to hit perfectly because the drama is so poignant and well done, you almost frown at the eventual wire work, but the action is great too. A large ensemble cast (some names just to whet your appetite: Donnie Yen, Eric Tsang, Simon Yam, Nicholas Tse, Fan Bingbing, though best performance goes to the patriarch played by Wang Xueqi) could have crippled with the film with too many subplots (which often happens in Chinese films of this sort), but each character is memorable and sympathetic. B&A's greatest success is probably how it juggles all those characters and subplots and pays them off without testing the audience's patience. And the production values! The historical Hong Kong set built for this film was some 10 years in the making and is on par with Gangs of New York's similar achievement, and the sound design and music (a frequent weakness in Chinese cinema) is slick, modern and beautiful. The DVD features about a half-hour's worth of making of featurettes of good quality, spending the most time on the characters and actors.

Books: Barney Stintson's The Playbook is an amusing bathroom reader from the world of How I Met Your Mother. Like the similar Bro Code, it has its roots in the popular sitcom, though in this case, there's far more material you'll recognize from the show. Barney DOES, after all, use the Playbook a lot even when it's not mentioned outright. Even if you do recognize many of the plays, the style of writing adds a lot of jokes (in Barney's trademark sexist voice) and is as good an example of "lad culture" humor as any. Fun, but not in any way essential.





Audios: With Castle of Fear, Alan Barnes provides the first script of a 5th Doctor & Nyssa trilogy focused on the town of Stockbridge which has appeared a lot in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip (a number of 5th Doctor stories take place there, but also some for 8th and 10th Doctors), but I've never seen them so it's really not a problem if you haven't either. Castle of Fear has a sadly generic title, but the story has a great hook in which the Doctor seems himself represented as a character in medieval pantomime and returns in time to see what role he really played. It's a character-driven comedy with an almost Pythonesque quality, a connection to a classic series episode in that same era, and some rather evocative and beautiful musical cues. Barnes writes the 5th Doctor rather well!

If Castle took place in the past, Jonathan Morris' Eternal Summer is in the present. The twist is that Stockbridge is caught in a time bubble that makes the last few decades happen all at once. It's cleverly done, and here the comic strip connection is explored overtly with the appearance of Maxwell Edison, a UFO-obsessed nutter from the comics. So again we have a comedy, one that plays around with the conventions of X-Files-type shows, but it's got moments of poignancy as well, with the villagers reliving their worst moments over and over again. It's also interesting to find actors from the first play in the second, playing their own descendants. As with Castle of Fear, it ends on a cliffhanger, but hopefully the "future" Stockbridge story will be as good as these two first chapters have been. The fact that the Daleks return in it do lower my expectations however.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - BBC '80

7 comments:

Mitchell Craig said...

In spite of its flaws, Major Dundee is an enjoyable Western. Heston's title character isn't too far removed from Taylor in Planet of the Apes. I like to quote some of the dialogue when I'm writing characters.
One blog had the opening clip from Castle of Fear, in which The Doctor and Nyssa are watching a Christmas pantomime. Their interactions with each other is something I wish I could have seen more of (though "Arc of Infinity" has some of what I'm hankering for as a Five/Nyssa fan).

Siskoid said...

Castle of Fear actually infers that Nyssa is a companion he deeply cares about (à la Sarah Jane or Rose). Are you THAT kind of fan? ;)

Teebore said...

Parks and Rec is without a doubt my favorite comedy on the air right now (Community reaches bigger, and when it works, it's a better show, but P&R is more consistently awesome), and the high from the excellent third season continues well into the fourth.

Might have to check out Major Dundee sometime. For all it's flaws, it sounds interesting.

Mitchell Craig said...

Five and Nyssa had a rapport in "Arc of Infinity" which was enjoyable without pandering to the slash-fan mentality. I think that The Doctor not only sees Nyssa as a peer of sorts, but that he bears a certain guilt towards her father being murdered by The Master.

As to the intimation of Five/Nyssa ala' Ten/Rose, we're approaching a slippery slope that I think you may want to hold off on for a while.

@Teebore: Major Dundee, for all its flaws, is worth watching. It compares to another flawed-but-fascinating Western I like, A Distant Trumpet. As to the former: if you should watch it, and you have a DVD player with zoom capability, check out the scene where Charlton Heston and Senta Berger have a conversation in private. If you zoom in close enough when she's speaking, you can see automobiles passing by in the distance.

Siskoid said...

I don't believe in hanky-panky in the TARDIS, don't worry. There's also a scene in The Visitation that shows how she's his favorite. You can care deeply for a female friend without there being a romantic element.

Oh Major Dundee's cars are visible without the zoom, upper right corner.

Mitchell Craig said...

Thanks for mentioning "The Visitation", with more of my favorite Nyssa moments.

BTW, you can see cars zipping by in the background as the Dalek rises out of the river in Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD. Nice to know that their conquest of the planet didn't affect the morning commute overmuch.

But that's another blog for another day.

Siskoid said...

A day not so far off, in fact.

 

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