This Week in Geek (16-22/07/12)


A couple of DVD purchases this week: Eureka Season 5 (see below) and every season of Due South.


DVDs: Eureka Season 5 came on DVD the same week its finale was on television screens, so many thanks for not making me wait, and yeah, it does feel like the series is ending too soon. The show has always been good at reinventing its status quo without losing its innate qualities, and it does so here again, in a season opener that has consequences which must be dealt with in every episode right up to the end. There was plenty more juice for more. Still, all good things and all that. The DVD includes commentary on the finale, a sweet ending that does feel a bit rushed (it was done on the fly when SyFy cancelled the projected final 6 episodes), but hits a lot of buttons for fans who have been there since the beginning. There's a making of on "Jack of All Trades", which is great because it's the stand-out episode of the season. The Holiday Special is included as a bonus episode, with its homage to a variety of animation styles. Plus deleted scenes, a montage of the jeep's best accidents, a gag reel, a fan's song about the house-robot romance, and a message from the stars to the fans.

The Sting is the prototypical con movie, a genre I've always loved, but because it was first, watching it today (decades after I'd seen it on TV) gives me a deep feeling of dejà vu. That's because other con stories have taken so much from The Sting. Hell, there's an entire episode of Hustle that's pretty much exactly this, only slightly updated to the 21st century. It's still a tightly constructed puzzle movie, with excellent performances (reuniting Redford and Newman with Butch Cassidy director George Roy Hill, can't go wrong there), one of the most memorable scores in film history, and starting the long tradition of con movies conning the audience. With hindsight, it's lost a little of its, uhm, sting, but that could be said of any mystery/puzzle. Familiarity and expectation dull its surprises, but not its sense of fun. The DVD includes an hour-long documentary on the making of the film, from script to legacy, with interviews with all of its survivors 32 years on.

Let me first say I've never seen the original Fright Night. I'm not a huge horror fan, see. The NEW Fright Night came recommended by fellow David Tennant fans, so I snatched it up. And I wasn't disappointed! The movie has a lot of fun re-interpreting the original story line (well, I CAN read a Wikipedia entry), and throw in lots of vampire (and vampire hunting) gags I haven't really seen before. Colin Farrell gives as creepy a performance as he did in Daredevil, Tennant is a complete (and completely entertaining) arse as a Las Vegas "vampire magician", and the kids, Anton "Chekov" Yelchin and Imogen Poots, are engaging without being the jerks found in many horror flicks. The DVD includes bloopers, a creepy original Kid Cudi video set in the same world as the film, and the complete "Squid Man" home video featured in the movie.

In Steven Soderbergh's The Underneath, Peter Gallagher plays a gambling addict who gets a job with an armored car company, and finds himself making a wrong-headed deal for love and money with the only crook he knows. A simple enough noir story, but as Soderbergh often does, he takes relatively simple material and elevates it with directorial experimentation. Though it works visually, it doesn't always work thematically. Camera shots that call attention to themselves, stark colored filters, and unconventional editing don't always seem motivated by the story, at least on first viewing analysis, and it may be easy to simply chalk it off to this being one of his first films. I've often read negative reviews of Soderbergh's work claiming that characters are psychologically under-written. The two criticisms clash however. Soderbergh's movies don't over-explain character motivation, they infer it, and often create psychological mood through those directorial tricks. A blue filter may reference a feeling, while constant repetition of the lottery motif holds the key to Gallagher's addiction, something you notice because he does, not because it is important to the plot. You have to pay attention to get more than the plot out of this film. Its richness lies... underneath. As for DVD extras, they're basically text pieces and some very strange picture and sound testing elements copied from the Laserdisc edition. Beyond the demonstration of why pan and scan sucks, there's nothing of real value there.

Maybe I should have watched the first Narnia film again before attempting the second, Price Caspian, but I was on such a tear to spend my vacation time clearing a chunk of my DVD shelf (the results above and below). In this one, the four kids return to Narnia (via the Shazam train), but it's centuries later and the magical world has fallen to that of Men. Now they must bring the magic back with the help of the title character, a Hamlet type on the run from his evil uncle. At 2½ hours, I was surprised at how underwritten it was, paying off small character arcs from the first film without necessarily reminding us of them. Nothing confusing, but audiences who've never seen Wardrobe would probably be lost. The film at least didn't feel its length, perhaps because it still has a rather simple plot, with big set pieces, both personal and epic. Wardrobe won me over because of some of the animal characters, but few guest-stars really do it for me here, the chivalrous mouse feeling a heck of a lot like a riff on Shrek's Puss'n'Boots (maybe because both films have the same director), and Prince Caspian is a bit of a douche, whom I certainly DON'T want to see win the day or get the girl. Flawed, but reasonable entertainment. The DVD features a commentary track with the director and some of the actors, pleasant enough.

Unforgiven is Clint Eastwood's justly celebrated anti-western masterpiece, exposing what lies beneath the romance of the West and showing its true face. It's an incredible, and thematically consistent piece of writing, and well executed by Eastwood, filled with memorable scenes and dialog. There have been many films meant to be the "last western", several from Sam Pekinpah, but while they showed the cowboy as an obsolete relic in a world that doesn't want him - which Unforgiven does too, using Eastwood's western persona to good effect - Unforgiven takes place not at the end of an era, but in the middle of it. What it does is take every western ever made and takes the glamor out of it. It's a massive, dark retcon. (It was written in the late 80s and made in the early 90s, what can I say?) Hell of a thing, killin' a man... The DVD has a variety of making of material pulled from different sources, featurettes from the time and recollections assembled specially for the DVD, including the full Eastwood on Eastwood documentary teased in the Dirty Harry boxed set. There's also a commentary track by Eastwood's biographer, and Eastwood's guest-starring episode of Maverick.

The first Flying Guillotine movie was kind of slow and dull in places, but Flying Guillotine II is a right mess. Bizarre, unmotivated camera movement, too-quick editing that confuses the action, messy fight choreography filled with mistakes, awkward subtitles with strange choices and nothing on the many written messages shown throughout, and a mismanaged shared focus between Ti Lung's heroic rebel and the quasi-feminist story of Szu Shih's female Guillotine in her sweet pink pajamas. The Dragon Dynasty series has really fallen on hard times lately, coming out with poorer and poorer material. It's not a complete loss, mind you. Though badly made, it's still fast-paced enough to be an entertaining game of rock-paper-scissors, or hats vs. umbrellas. It's something to watch with friends while you point and laugh, not worth it unless found in a bargain bin.

RPGs: Finally started playing Hong Kong Action Theater after starting to make characters, what, two months ago? So this week, my old improv buddies Sly and Goups came in to make their action stars, one based on a young Jet Li (Rock Li), and the other, older and wiser, on Mako (Maki Roll). And within a few days, we had a date for the first game (or "movie"), which also starred Pout's heartthrob badass Tommy Chu, and St-Pierre's plump older actor Xi Fu. That movie was a take on the destruction of Shaolin Temple, and featured both the monk San Te and the evil priest Pai Mei. Basically a scenario from the RPG to help me get a hang of how it works. Once we surrendered to the insane wuxia action of it all, it made quite a cool role-playing session (review and poster here). Where we had hiccups was with HKAT's mechanics. The players found dealing with all the bonuses and penalties a chore that slowed down fights a great deal. It's a new school game with old school mechanics, which is something I hope to streamline in the next session, a zombie Gun Fu piece we're playing, yay, tomorrow!

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. Critical Reception - Slings & Arrows
III.ii. Critical Reception - Classics Illustrated


Martin Léger said...

I really wanted to see Fright Night because the original is like a childhood movie. So I dangled the David Tennant carrot in order to get the gang to come. Definitely the surprise of last summer.

Austin Gorton said...

Regarding your caption for the Prince Caspia pic, I love how in the course of the movie, Aslan specifically says nothing happens the same way twice, and then proceeds to show up and save the day at the last minute, just like in the first film.

Siskoid said...

At least that doesn't quite happen in the third one. Well, it does, but it doesn't.


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