This Week in Geek (9-15/07/12)


A few DVDs this week: Adventure Time's first season (I love the comic, but haven't really seen the show), and two classic Doctor Whos, Death to the Daleks and The Krotons (arriving, wouldn't you know, the day AFTER I was done reviewing it for the blog; see below). And in the gifts section, for helping him with a Hamlet-related project, my good friend Sly got me a "Trust me, I'm the Doctor" t-shirt. Awesome!


Movies: Don't go to the theater often, but I AM glad I went for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Comic book geeks know how enticing this premise is. Anything with President Lincoln kicking ass is on par with dinosaurs in the awesomeness department. But would it translate to the silver screen? I say yes. Not only did AL:VH have some unique, crazy exciting action scenes (anything with a vehicle/horse in it is way up there), but I felt it really respected its subject matter. The historical characters are treated with sensitivity, as is the theme of slavery, vampirism acting as a metaphor for slave ownership. The period is well realized and the vamps have their own, original mythos. And though it seems like it's all going to be about Young Lincoln, don't worry, he's a vampire-fighting president by the last act. The surprise of the summer, going well beyond the promise of its clever premise.

DVDs: Last week I saw the first Ghost Rider film and gave it a generally lukewarm review. I liked the gags, stunts and effects, and Sam Elliott a whole lot, but Nick Cage never convinced me he was Johnny Blaze, and a lot of the performances left me cold. Still, I thought Mark Steven Johnson understood what the character was about in making a supernatural western. In the second film, Spirit of Vengeance, the directing team that brought us the Crank movies can't make the same claim. They've re-imagined the Devil as an Eastern European mob boss, which makes Blaze and the ciphers that help him just another team of all-purpose action heroes despite the supernatural elements. The Rider himself is presented as more of shambling monster, and the curse feels like a Hulk story. Having a lot of Ghost Rider action take place in bright daylight is just bizarre, though it does give the film its own look. As do some fun cutaways, but given the story is about birthing the anti-Christ, it plays havoc with the tone. And I can't say the powers are too consistent - sometimes things happen just to make a gag possible. The Rider flaming up different vehicles is cool though. And what's up with killing off Anthony Head in the first minute? Where's Buffy when you need her? Ok, so that sounds like a pretty negative review, but I have to stress that I didn't hate it. It just felt like it had a rather slight action story and if you filed the numbers off, it could star Chris Chelios or Triple X instead. Good effects, and I like the resolution and many of the bits, but it's fluff that doesn't take itself seriously. The first film was just as uninvolving, but a deeper and better thought-out story. The DVD includes some deleted scenes, including one featuring Doctor Who's Noel Clarke and another with Cage's performance pre-effects.

Our Kung Fu Friday selection this week was Let the Bullets Fly, a 2010 action comedy directed by and starring the eminently watchable Jiang Wen as a bandit in the 1910s who steals himself the governorship of a town, if only he can free it from the influence of a gangster played by Chow Yun-Fat. At 132 minutes, it has a convoluted plot that never wants to end, but it works because this is essentially a huge series of Spy vs. Spy gags, as deception builds on deception in an often hilarious storm of words. The subtitles fly by at an incredible rate, leaving me to wonder if I should rewatch it with the dreaded English dub. But it's funny, and there are clever twists aplenty, and the action set pieces are quite fun as well. Its length did put off some viewers, but it's something I'd watch again to catch all the nuances I missed.

After two short seasons filming in Vancouver, Fox decided to bring Sliders closer to home so their notes wouldn't be ignored, and sidelined creator Tracy Tormé in favor of a new focus on SF tropes and eye candy. Every episode in the third season is a flimsy excuse for some terrible CGI creature, construct or morphing. Instead of "what if the American Revolution never happened?" we get "What if there were electric tornadoes, or vampires, or sentient robots, or wizards?" Even when the parallel world is built on a sound premise, they throw in some ridiculous SF thing like an alien parasite or living fire or giant scarabs. At first, you still have the characters to latch onto, as their personal stories are still watchable. After John Rhys-Davies is fired and the Professor killed off (I mean, WHO FIRES JRD?!?), things take a turn for the worse. People are out of character, the scripting is terrible, the science moronic, and there's a general sense that the production team just doesn't care. Kari Wuhrer makes for a sexy if wooden new Slider, but it's soon a game of seeing how the writers will get her to disrobe each week. This is a production team that made an "intelligent snakes" story to coincide with Anaconda (also starring Wuhrer). You see what I mean? And after nixing two potential recurring villains - the sliding race of Kromaggs and the Quinn's female double - Fox okays Col. Rickman, a U.S. army officer from Cold War World who has a British accent and a need to drink the spinal fluid of his victims. WHAT THE HELL. Very heavy going, this. It's like they're making bad Voyager or X-Files episodes on purpose. I've read that the show returned to Tormé's original formula in Season 4 as it moved to the Sci-Fi Network, so maybe it'll pick up. I've seen episodes, it's just very murky in my memory. None of the behind-the-scenes information I've discussed is actually on the DVD - many thanks to the awesome Sliders website Earth Prime - because I'm sure the official product wouldn't acknowledge just how awful it is. The only real extra is a gag reel, itself pretty poor, most of its footage actually made it into the show. Otherwise, there are bonus episodes of Cleopatra 2525 and Earth2, neither of which convince me to buy their respective DVDs (Earth2 is good, but I know it was cancelled before its time). The packaging isn't so unwieldy as Seasons1+2's foam thing, but the supple vinyl sleeve is still very awkward and may lead to disc scratching (two of the episodes in my set had defects affecting two episodes... mercifully so, maybe).

If you want to know what I thought of the 2nd Doctor adventure The Krotons, you need only look back at my daily Doctor Who reviews over the past week. But what about its DVD extras? Well, as usual, there's a fine pair of commentary tracks - one audio with members of the surviving cast and crew moderated by Toby Hadoke (though no regulars this time around), and one very full production note subtitle option - and a photo gallery. The only Kroton-focused feature is a 7-minute fan reaction with Joseph Lidster and Simon Guerrier, mostly in defense of this ill-loved story. It's diverting enough, but fails on the promise set forth by its title, "The Doctor's Strange Love", which refers to Troughton's public claim this was one of his favorites. The mystery lingers. The other two features mention the Krotons, but are about the entirety of the Troughton era. "Second Time Around" is the 1-hour centerpiece, a documentary on Troughton's entire run, with love given to each of his stories and plenty of interviews and archival documents, both informative and touching, and it even teases the newly-found footage from The Underwater Menace. Finally, there's a 2003 interview with Frazer Hines (Jamie) with neat graphics and about 17 minutes of anecdotes. Good stuff, all things considered.

Same thing with Seeds of Death, you can read my thoughts on the story itself this weekend and over the next few days. The Special Edition DVD adds a lot of new extras, but keeps the old, except for clips from lost episodes which were repeated in the Lost in Time boxed set. It's the same commentary track (you can hardly do any better than to have Hines, Padbury, Ferguson and Dicks), the same photo gallery and TARDIS Cam (a CGI test featuring the TARDIS), and the same excellent recollections from the men who played Ice Warriors and their make-up artist. The Special Edition adds a new making of (with some discussion of what might have been, as the original story treatment was more John Carter than base under siege), a short bonus interview with director Michael Ferguson about directing monsters, and a fun featurette on recurring monsters in Doctor Who. The new stuff is good, but there's not a LOT of it. However, my main complaint is that it makes the original DVD obsolete, something Tomb's SE didn't do. Well, the original Seeds does have an Easter Egg, I guess.
Blogs: Your Daily Splash Page gained a new focus this week. I liked it as a celebration of comic art, but was growing increasingly unhappy with the lack of content. So I made a change. As of last Thursday, my "eye candy" blog is posting a splash page from every DC Comics series ever, in alphabetical order (some restrictions may apply, see Thursday's post). AND it gives me a chance to write a few words on each of those series, so that takes care of the content thing. Not only am I hoping to renew my own interest in Your Daily Splash Page, but yours as well.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. Critical Reception - Tennant (2009)


idiotbrigade said...

"Nic Cage never convinces me he was Johnny Cage." You mean Johnny Blaze. Though Nic Cage as Cage in Mortal Kombat would also be awesome.

Siskoid said...

Thanks for catching the typo. See how much he DIDN'T fit the role? I kept thinking of him as himself.

Kal said...

No more love for Cleopatra2525??? Gina Torres Pre-Flyfly, Victoria Pratt - post Mutant X - and the betty-boopness of Judy....meow...

Austin Gorton said...

Yours is one of the few positive reviews of AL:VH I've read, so I might just have to check it out after all (I've been on the fence: fun concept vs. poor reviews/word-of-mouth).

Siskoid said...

WHAT?! Who are these critics?

I consider myself very critical of bad film making, very critical indeed. I enjoyed this about as much as Avengers, which is to say a heck of a lot. As did the 6 other people I went to see it with.

Maybe some people didn't embrace the premise, or never thought it was a worthwhile story to tell. That's their bias talking. Probably, they went in with preconceived notions (which is often behind bad reviews I don't agree with) either sticking on the "that's not history!" point (well duh) or it not being an outrageous comedy à la Crank. It's neither of these things and all the better for it.

Austin Gorton said...

@Siskoid: From what I can recall, the general critical consensus was that for a (perceived) silly premise, the film took itself too seriously.

But that's all subject to the usual issues that befall many critics, which you mention.

Yours is the first opinion I've heard from anyone I know (online or otherwise) who has actually seen it, and I trust your reaction in a case like this more than a cadre of professional reviewers.

Siskoid said...

Because slavery could have withstood a more tongue-in-cheek approach? I think it would have been a TERRIBLE film if it had gone that route.

Siskoid said...

I'll tell you what it made me think of: Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films. So if you liked those...

Austin Gorton said...

I enjoy the hell out of the Ritchie Holmes films, so that probably is the best review you could give it. :)


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