This Week in Geek (30/04-06/05/12)


Movies: So I just came ouf of Marvel's The Avengers (2D, of course). Where to start? Some have said it raised the bar for superhero movies, dethroning The Dark Knight. I think TDK is safe as far as thematic depth goes, but The Avengers certainly raised the bar for superhero ACTION. Joss Whedon was assuredly the best man to write and direct this to make it a proper ensemble picture. Though the popular Avengers weren't neglected, neither were the less established characters and even the supporting cast. Black Widow, Hawkeye and Agent Coulson all came off VERY well. The big star of the show though was the Hulk. Mark Ruffalo is the first great casting for the character as he brings a worn dark sense of humor to Banner, and has distinctive features that translate very well into the Green Goliath. This is the first Hulk that truly LOOKS like Banner, and the first to use the Hulk as a heroic force, not just as "Mr. Hyde" to Banner's "Jekyll". He steals the show, which makes this the first awesome Hulk movie. But while there's a good mixture of kickass action and upbeat comedy, I won't call it perfect. I did feel some of the early banter was a bit self-indulgent, especially Stark's. Still, a terrifically entertaining end to Marvel Studios' first chapter. Can't wait for the DVD.

DVDs: I didn't prep for the Avengers by watching every Marvel movie since Iron Man, but Thor was still on the unwatched shelf, so I decided to revisit it. Still as enjoyable as the time I saw it in the theater, but I was more accepting of Thor's lightning-fast character arc. While quick, more time may pass in-between scenes than is apparent, and Thor's redemption isn't unearned. He is worthy because he gives up his life for others, simple as that. Deed is more important than thought in this world, and that's perfectly acceptable. The single-disc DVD has an excellent commentary track from Kenneth Branagh, a few deleted scenes (also with commentary) with some very cool bits for the Warriors Three, and an Avengers preview featurette.

So now I'm in the mood for some sword & sorcery, and coincidentally, I'd gotten Conan the Complete Quest, which includes both Arnold films. Conan the Barbarian, the original, was heavy-going for me. The print shows its age, with desaturated colors, and it indulges in S&S fiction's worst sin (for me) - an episodic structure that undermines narrative drive. I don't care for it much in novels, and it certainly doesn't work for me in films. I do like a great many things about it however. For example, I could have watched an entire movie about Conan's dad, and James Earl Jones is awesome as the snaky avatar of Set. Director John Milius is adept at filling the screen with details you might only get on a second viewing, introducing black comedy and visual verve to the proceedings. Perhaps it's Arnold I have trouble with. He's got his moments, but we're well into the second hour by the time I care for his Cimmerian. As if the film knows he's an awkward speaker, it plays almost as a silent movie, with a huge operatic score over a lot of sequences (but a good operatic score). By the end, it had grown on me, but tighter editing might have saved the first hour. The DVD extras, made almost 20 years on, are very good. Milius and Arnold offer a jaunty commentary track and the retrospective making of is excellent. The deleted scenes show up in the documentary so are less interesting, but the art and photo galleries are extensive.

Conan the Barbarian originally got an X rating (what is now the NC-17) for sex and violence, so the PG-rated sequel, Conan the Destroyer, is a bit of a eunuch in comparison. I'm ok with it, but the amount of blood is ludicrously small. Though Barbarian is of course the better movie, I prefer Destroyer as a casual entertainment. Though both films have a structure that feels a little like a game of D&D, especially in the way characters join the adventuring party, Destroyer at least doesn't make me think the gaming table is populated by hormone-crazed teenagers. Ironically, this is the only Conan those teens would have been allowed to see in theaters. Destroyer's straight-forward doesn't ask much of its audience, but I do like Grace Jones' turn as a warrior woman quite a lot, and there are goofy monsters to defeat. It's no surprise the story was written by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. It's very much a comic book. Ultimately though, it's far less memorable than the original. This side of the disc has no extras, sorry Destroyer!

Now for some Elmore Leonard, and a film I hadn't seen since it was in theaters: Get Shorty. At the time, I remember thinking its greatest sin was not being Pulp Fiction. It was the first movie Travolta did after his Tarantino comeback, and it was marketed as the same kind of gangster comedy. Now that I've taken a step back (and seen many more Elmore Leonard material taken to the screen), it stands up quite well. Travolta is Chilli Palmer, a loan shark who wants to get into the movie business. He's the essence of cool, and plays off beautifully against the quirky crooks and Hollywood types satirized in the film. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Leonard writes the best "stupid" I've ever experienced, and each character is a joy to discover. Director Barry Sonnenfeld gives his comedy a fun visual style as well. Fun, and filled with great stars like Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Rene Russo, James Gandolfini, and more. It's a bit like The Player, if less ambitious. The DVD has a director's commentary that I'll call adequate, deleted scenes and outtakes, a sneak peak at the non-Sonnenfeld sequel Be Cool (looks awful), some excellent making of featurettes made 10 years on, and a completely different making of from the time (an episode of From Script to Screen) that takes a different tack and spends much more time at the novel-to-script stage. The package also has a bullet hole in it, for extra fun.

A strange Kung Fu Friday selection this week: I'm a Cyborg But That's Ok from Korean director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy). It's a sort of romance that takes place in an insane asylum, between a girl who believes herself a cyborg, and a boy who steals delusions from the other patients. Will a healing take place? The only way to describe this film is to perhaps compare it to something you know. Well, it's got the same visual flare the director showed in Oldboy, but it's like a film made by Michel Gondry (more The Science of Sleep than Be King Rewind or Eternal Sunshine). Because we're in the POV of various patients, delusions tend to take visual form, and the film is perhaps better understood as poetry more than prose. What drives the narrative is our discovery of why the heroine has the particular delusion she does. It's a sweet, lyrical film about mental illness, inventive and arty, and props to Rain (who plays the boy in our story) for a performance that shows he's more than a simple K-pop star.

Books: I've been reading Running Through Corridors - Rob Shearman and Toby Hadoke's 2-episodes a day Doctor Who marathon (volume 1: The 60s) - on and off for a while now. But I knew I didn't want it to influence my own marathon's results, so I always kept the reading ahead of the watching by as much as I could. Sprinted for the finish line this week and well, they really got me. Both Rob and Toby, in each of their final pieces (about The War Games Part 10, Troughton's last episode), made me tear up. The book is great fun, and the two writers complement each other well. Rob is the one who gets all literary criticism on the material, and Toby is the trivia machine, who lets what he knows about the making of the show inform his critiques. They also make it a personal work, telling us (and each other, it's a kind of correspondence) what connections they have with some of the material. When you're steeped in Whovian lore all your life, your biases are bound to show. Great book which I can only aspire to in my own writings. Bring on volume 2, guys!

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. The Mouse-Trap - Classics Illustrated


Tim Knight said...

I understand The Avengers DVD is going to have 30 minutes of cut scenes on it. I wonder what got cut out?

Siskoid said...

I heard it was stuff with supporting cast characters?

Tim Knight said...

Could be something interesting in there though. As if we needed a reason to pre-order the DVD then moment it's listed...

boosterrific said...

Completely agree about Hulk stealing the show. As a huge fan of the Bixby/Ferrigno television series, I've been disappointed that Hulk never took off at the box office. I wondered as I left the AVENGERS if Hulk's success here was because of Ruffalo (who plays a Banner that accepts his fate), Whedon's fan-friendly dialogue (giving Hulk so many punchlines -- pun intended), or simply because Banner's one-note angst didn't have to carry the entire weight of the dramatic arc as it would in a solo film.

Siskoid said...

Probably all plays a role, but I think the fact that he's a hero as well as a menace also works in his favor.

De said...

One scene I heard was planned (not sure if it was filmed) involved a very significant aspect of Cap dealing with life in modern times.

Siskoid said...

That would make sense. A little more introduction to some of the characters like that. Iron Man, Hulk and Black Widow get off pretty well, but the others might be a bit perfunctory.


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