Sunday, May 27, 2012

This Week in Geek (21-27/05/12)


Oh Amazon sales! Why you make me buy so much stuff? In this case, cheap versions of the first four seasons of Mad Men (people have been on my ass to watch it), the second and third Narnia films, Hellboy II, Last Samurai and Archer Season 1. Oh, and Sherlock Series 2 came out, snapped that up as well.


Books: After getting into A Game of Thrones, I went and decided to read the books (mostly so my co-workers who had were throwing spoilers at me). It's uncanny how much of the first book actually made it on screen (I can already confirm the second is much different from the second season). The chapters read like extended scenes from the show, speaking to an incredible achievement on the part of the adapters. I don't think they're doing as well with Season 2, but that's a discussion for another day. A Game of Thrones is a smooth enough read, but the show's viewers won't get an inordinate amount more from reading it after the fact, except for an enhanced sense of the world's history and a couple of battles never shown for budget reasons.

DVDs: As you may remember, I won our annual Oscar Pool this year and won some 17 movies not of my choosing, and pledged to watch them all before the next Oscars. Unless I want to do that all in one hellish week next February, I've got to pace myself. So this week, I decided to watch as many as I could psychically withstand. Managed four before I hit a wall. So here they are...

Step Brothers was not the worst film I watched this week. It's really not my kind of comedy - gross-out humor, gratuitous filthy language and sketch comedy characterization - and the script is definitely lazy (the two leads play the exact same character, for example, and most scenes were arrived at through improv). Will Farrell and John C. Reilly play 40-year-old slackers still living with their single parent when those parents fall in love and get married, forcing them to share a room. They're almost impossibly childish though they do grow through the movie. It's pretty dumb, but I did wind up enjoying some of the secondary characters and the "fix everything" magical ending, and through it all, there are enough likable actors in it that it's never unwatchable. The DVD includes an improvised musical commentary with at least one hit song in it, and it isn't too bad (might even be better than the film), as well as gag reels, extended and alternate scenes/lines, a music video and a fair making of.

Hancock was not the worst film I watched this week, but it did have tonal problems, never quite understanding if it was a gritty realistic look at superheroes, a black comedy or a dramatic tragedy. Again, it's the likeability if the actors that wins you over, though there is some fine superhero action and effects in there. Will Smith is the world's only(?) superhero, but he's been on a bender for decades, and is more destructive than helpful until he comes in contact with the family of a public relations man played by Jason Bateman and his wife played by Charleze Theron. Superman meets Bad Santa meets Arrested Development. I'm even interested in the sequel that's in pre-production. The DVD provides making of featurettes on the story, pre-viz, stunts and special effects, as well as gag reel-type montage on director Peter Berg's antics around the set.

Spice World was not the worst film I watched this week either, even in its full screen version. A Beatles-style, essentially plotless excuse for a super-group to sing its songs, Spice World doesn't try to be anything more than what it is, and manages a number of fun set pieces and loads of cameos from British personalities. It's silly, not stupid, and the girls have a sense of humor about themselves (Posh and Baby have the best comedy potential). It even gets cleverly meta towards the end. Cute and harmless and kind of makes me want to see what other bands would have done with the concept. My choice of bands would probably have created some insane box office failures though. The DVD includes an encore from the Spice Girls' show.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull WAS the worst film I watched this week. And one of the worst things I've been subjected to in recent years. Of course I knew its reputation, and I'd long since decided NEVER to see it. But there it was in my Oscar pile. Indy 4 is what no Indiana Jones movie ever should be - it's BORING. As my friend Furn says (and he should know since he's the one who got RID of the movie and put it in the Oscar pile to begin with), it is aggressively trying not to be an Indiana Jones picture. George Lucas' intent is spelled out in the "Return of a Legend" featurette - seeing as Indy in the 30s was in a genre of that era - the pulp serial - then an older Indy in the 50s should be in a genre of THAT era, i.e. the science fiction B-movie. As with the Star Wars prequels, Lucas shows a complete misunderstanding of what made the first films interesting and popular. Just wrong-headed and awful on every front, with a tired-looking Harrison Ford playing second fiddle to rebel without a cause Shia LeBoeuf in a variety of dull action pieces not the least bit grounded in reality. Look, if Indy can survive an atomic blast and Shia can be Tarzan and swing with the monkeys, then literally anything can happen and I'm not gonna feel any kind of tension. Even the DVD is badly put together, with this one-disc version having origin and pre-production featurettes, obviously just orphaned from a fuller package, though I'll cherish "Return of a Legend" as I do the making ofs on the SW prequels as further evidence of George Lucas not knowing what he's doing. It's actually hilarious how Steven Spielberg tries to distance himself from the turkey he just directed. So after this one, I was too frustrated and depressed to watch another movie from the pile, I think you'll understand.

Return of the Bastard Swordsman was not from the pile, but rather our Kung Fu Friday collection, the sequel to, you guessed it, The Bastard Swordsman, in which the Bastard's Silkworm style finally goes up against the evil dude with the Fatal Skill. It's a bit unfortunate that the sequel isn't anywhere near as insane as the first film, but there's still a good deal of magic chi going on, and as in Bastard 1, you can't get to the main villain until you've beaten a secondary baddie, this time a crew of Japanese samurai and ninja. The craziest thing in the movie, however, is the super-fortune teller who sees portents in everything (and is always right). It's hilarious at first, and eventually wears thin, but I can't argue it isn't original and fun.

RPGs: More chargen for my upcoming Hong Kong Action Theater role-playing. Furn has crafted a former wrestler based heavily (yes, that's a kind of pun) on Bolo Yeung called Louie Zhuang, a good contender for Toad-type roles, and if I know Furn, he'll make him a lovable lummox. The fictional career he's already given him is already tons of fun. That bio's on the site already.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. Critical Reception - Branagh '96


snell said...

While I'm not defending the Crystal Skull, I've always been puzzled by why people found aliens more puzzling than three consecutive literal deus ex machinas. After all, if Dr. Jones had never gotten involved in the 1st and 3rd movies, they would have had the exact same endings...Nazis finding the treasure, God striking them down. All of Indy's gymnastics accomplished nothing...

Siskoid said...

The movies all have the same basic plot: Boy wants artifact, boy finds artifact, boy chooses to lose artifact. It's no different in Crystal Skull.

I don't believe it's a matter of deus ex machinae because that's not where the climax lies. Indy succeeds simply by finding the artifact. The fact that Nazis (or whoever) then take it and get burned is all epilogue.

Aliens as a MacGuffin is a far cry from the Ark and Holy Grail, and seem to belong to another tradition entirely, one that doesn't sit well with Indy's world of ancient magic.

And all that would have been forgivable if the film had been exciting and funny like the other were. Yes, even Temple of Doom.

snell said...

Given the "ancient gods were really aliens" meme (which, admittedly, Crystal Skull jumped the gun on by a few years being set in 1957), I don't see them as that different a set of traditions. To me there's not much difference between having an angel or Shiva intervene than having a greyskin do it...but that probably says more about my worldview than anything else.

The climax of Raiders came 46 minutes before the end? That's a heck of an epilogue...

Siskoid said...

I never said they were perfect - they are George Lucas films after all.

Michael May said...

I like your Oscar Pool prize better than what we do. I'm totally stealing that.

Siskoid said...

Feel free. What do you usually do?

Michael May said...

We used to be able to find these chocolate Oscar statues at our local grocers, so we'd get one of those for The Prize. But the grocer hasn't carried them for a couple of years and we've been substituting a Toblerone, because it's gold-colored and vaguely statuesque.

Only, this year we bought a dark chocolate Toblerone, because dark chocolate is awesome, but that's a black package, so there's zero connection to the movie theme now.

Time to reboot. :)