Sunday, September 23, 2012

This Week in Geek (17-23/09/12)

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: I begin this week's capsule reviews with Kevin Smith's Red State, a film that's difficult to categorize as it starts like foul-mouthed horror film, turns into an actorly showcase for Michael Park, Melissa Leo and John Goodman, seems to resolve itself into a thriller based on cults under siege like Waco, with a couple of strange twists as the end. It's really nothing like Kevin Smith has ever done, especially in its handheld, score-less, cinema vérité (so perhaps its closest cousin is the original Clerks in that sense). Not a perfect film by any means, probably because it's a mash-up, but it does grow on you. It's Smith's most proficient film technically, but should also be commended for making the cultists somehow sympathetic despite their hate speech. (Don't confuse them with true Christians, you'll just create issues where there aren't any, these guys are crazy extremists.) Worth it for the performances alone, if nothing else, but I think there's more substance to it than that. As with Smith's other DVDs, he doesn't skimp on the extras. There's no commentary specific to what's going on onscreen, but Smith runs 7 podcasts over the film which run in length between a half hour and an hour and a half, always interviewing people who worked on the movie before a live audience. Some great stories come out of it, not just from Michael Parks (who is adept at doing voices), but from more low-key positions like the casting director and the first A.D. That's like 6½ hours of bonus content right there. There's another 45 minutes of making of material, a few deleted/extended scenes, and Smith's full speech about distributing the film himself at Sundance, an interview with Parks, and a collection of posters. Every feature is, of course, introduced by Kevin Smith.

Due South Season 4 (or Season 3 Part 2 as it was broadcast in some parts of the world), ends Fraser and Ray's journey not because the show was unsuccessful, but because Paul Gross was exhausted. Go out on a high if you can, no problem with that. The DVD's featured stories tone down the more overt comedy of the previous boxed set a little, which I think is sound, but continue to offer comedy as well as drama, magical realism, 4th-wall breaking, music, and whatever else the show routinely threw into the pot. The two-part ending (accompanied by a rare extra, a commentary track by Gross) breaks out all the stops and not only includes some crazy stunt work, but also brings back David Marciano, the original Ray Vecchio, and provides a loopy ending for all the characters. Those who want some kind of Making Of experience in Region 1 will have to hunt them down on You-Tube. There are two: Southbound is a terribly narrated documentary that aired on ITV, and Ride Forever is the feature from the UK DVD release. Both have something to offer, but if you can only spare the time for one, make it the latter.

You already know what I thought of Colony in Space if you read this blog, but having finished the story, I got to check out the DVD extras. Toby Hadoke moderates another fine commentary track (and he's actually needed to steer things back on track this time) with Katy Manning, Bernard Kay (Caldwell), Terrence Dicks, Graeme Harper and Michael Briant. This is fun and is supplemented, as usual, by an informative subtitle trivia track. The DVD also has a making of documentary that's a bit cursory, but includes a fun recruitment video for IMC, the evil mining corporation featured in the story. In addition, we get the usual photo gallery, and a very nice collection of silent film trims and outtakes from the location shoot, set to music (and not the terrible warbles of the story's score either). Colony in Space isn't a superlative story, but with well-produced extras like these, it's still worthy of a Doctor Who fan's shelf.

The Daemons is the other story I completed work on this week, and the DVD's a bit more robust. There's a lovely commentary that assembles Katy Manning, Richard Franklin, occult expert Damaris Hayman (Miss Hawthorne), and director Christopher Barry, and all the regular features too. In addition, we get a strong making of documentary that actually features new information even if you've listened to the commentary, a nice retrospective on producer Barry Letts (also this story's co-writer) from childhood to his passing on, and a mute behind the scenes location film trims. This DVD collection prides itself on archiving as much on Who as possible, so we also get Episode 1 in the 1992 color test versions, even if it's not much different really, and a clip fro Tomorrow's World in which the process used for that colorization (and why it was needed) is explained. Good stuff for a flawed, but largely revered story. (I fall on side of reverence myself.)

The original 1978 Drunken Master put Jackie Chan on the map just as he was about to be black-balled, and in so doing, it revolutionized kung fu cinema. After this point, kung fu comedy was just about the only way to make a successful kung fu film for many years. I thought the movie would look cheaper (as often happened in non-Shaw Brothers films of the 70s, even if they looked more modern in contrast), but I've actually got no complaints. The movie is funny (some of the broad Cantonese comedy, including the cartoony make-up, may not fly with everyone, I admit), the action is spectacular, and flipping the legend of Wong Fei-Hung on its head like this still works (or for Western audiences, perhaps works better NOW that we've seen Jet Li's Once Upon a Time in China series). That said, the DVD has a strange technical flaw: Some of the Cantonese audio is missing and has been replaced, in spots, with the English dub. And wow is it awful. It's actually interesting to compare the poetic Chinese track's translation in the subtitles, and the macho nonsense of the dub (with just as horrible "dubtitles"). There's a reason we never listen to the dub if we can help it, and it's perfectly exemplified by this odd audio mix. The DVD also includes a loving and expert track by movie critic Rick Meyers and uncredited on the case, Jackie biographer Jeff Yang. A tremendously entertaining package despite the technical hiccup.

Speaking of Kung Fu Masters, our Hong Kong Action Theater "movie" this week was Clone Master, an RPG scenario broadly adapted from something in GURPS Martial Arts Adventures about a future feudal system run by essentially immortal "Clone Masters" and fought by a rebellious society of Luddites trained to supra-human levels. The game was fun, and a throwback to ultraviolent 80s action movies, with more than one reference to James Cameron's Terminator (it's what the GURPS book called the elite rebel agents, and I didn't change it, so as to cater to Hong Kong cinema's more exploitative efforts). We had fun with it, and yes, there may be sequels in the works. The results of our night's play are, as usual, available on the "Studio" website, along with the larger-sized movie poster.

Finished the 6th issue of Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games, titled the Time and Travel Issue (available HERE) and it's possibly the best issue yet. Useful tools include a list of time travel gaming supplements from other games and GURPS settings which can all be adapted to your Who gaming, as well as articles on time management in the game (which I'd have liked to see go deeper), what to check before walking out of the TARDIS, player (not PC) motivations and how to cater to them, on keeping records of your games (fascinating for the anecdotes it includes), and on integrating young gamers (children and teens) into games. There's also a long essay that explores the Doctor's would he/wouldn't he relationship to violence. This issue's "event report" covers a trip to the UK (specifically Cardiff and London) where the Diarists try and play at various sites seen on the show (very cool and abundantly illustrated). Two adventure modules are included - a pretty solid scenario featuring the Weeping Angels - and their stats for each game - and a crazy Saved by the Bell crossover that should be hilarious to fans of that show - I never watched a single episode for its entire length, so I'm sure I'm only getting a fraction of the references and still finding it fun). To complete the package, a couple of reviews (the Brilliant Book, not RPG-related; and the FASA solo adventure, The Vortex Crystal, which sounds mighty intriguing). I've still got lots of issues to go before I'm caught up, but the zine is moving closer and closer to what I like to read in a focused RPG mag.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iii. The Confessional - Tennant (2009)

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Batman: Gotham Knights to Batwing.

2 comments:

Paul Thornton said...

Nice review of Red State. I've seen and highly regard it, but have been unsure of picking up the DVD.

Siskoid said...

If you liked it in the first place, you get a lot for your buck on the DVD. I don't even know how that all fit on a single disc.