This Week in Geek (3-9/12/12)


Added to my DVD collection, Sammo Hung's Knockabout, and the original Battlestar Galactica series (getting closer to a daily BSG review?).


DVDs: After much prodding from internet and real world(TM) friends, I decided to look into the Venture Bros. animated series, and I wasn't disappointed. Though technically meant to evoke cartoons of the 60, 70s and 80s (most closely, Johnny Quest), it's really a modern, raucous adventure comedy along the lines of Archer, except with supervillains (reminds me most of The Tick), high octane 80s action (thanks to bodyguard Brock Samson) and the mad, dangerous science of Professor Farnsworth in Futurama. The first 13 episodes (+ pilot + half-sized Christmas episode) have got me hooked to this crazy kitchen sink world where you might fight pirates one minute, and invite supervillains to your yard sale the next. In fact, I think it's one of the show's best features that you follow and care about the villains as much as the heroes. Fun stuff. The Season 1 DVD includes some cool vintage art, deleted scenes presented as storyboards, creator commentary on 6 episodes (less onscreen-driven than stories about the show's origins), a ridiculous behind-the-scenes featurette about the non-existent live action movie, with several voice actors dressing up for their cartoon roles and talking candidly about each other in character, and a parody featurette on the animation.

The conceit in the German film Run Lola Run is that we see the same story three times, but each time, a tiny detail makes Lola's run slightly different. It basically represents the characters looking for the best possible plot, and any attempt to rationalize it as timelines, hallucinations, etc. seems to me a fruitless enterprise. Run Lola Run resolutely uses the logic of a music video, with driving beats and the energy of a red-haired woman (the engaging Franka Potente) running through the streets of Berlin, to advance its intensely emotional plot. Which version actually happened? They all did, that's my answer. In a world of fiction, everything is imaginary and everything is real, and this film doesn't define the two, to its credit. More than an experiment in structure (though it is that), it makes you a participant in its game and comes to an emotionally satisfying close. Recommended, though I get the feeling I'm coming to it much later than many of my readers. The DVD includes a commentary track in English with Franka and director Tom Tykwer and one of the music videos made based on the film's music.

If you want to know what I though of Doctor Who's Planet of the Spiders, you need only read back through the last six days (short answer: a mess, but an important one), but I can tell you what extras there are on the DVD. The audio commentary is heartbreaking in that it includes three of the most recently - and dearly! - departed members of the Doctor Who team, Elisabeth Sladen, Nicholas Courtney and producer, writer and director Barry Letts, in addition to script editor Terrance Dicks and Richard "Mike Yates" Franklin. They have a good time and so do you, even if they tend to misremember some details (that's what the text trivia commentary is for!). On disc 2, we get a good making of that doesn't limit itself to Spiders, but also the end of the UNIT era (it's always nice when they include thoughts by a current writer/fan, this time Mark Gatiss). There's also a very nice interview with John Kane who played Tommy, and another with Barry Letts on his directing style, as well as a return to the locations used in the story and the usual photo gallery. The day before Tom Baker premiered as the 4th Doctor, the BBC aired an omnibus edition of this story, edited down by 45 minutes to 105 by Letts, and that's included as well. They make a point of saying it's unrestored, but it only shows in the opening credits. Oh, and it's trailer is also included.

Legendary Weapons of China is a weird, supernatural thriller by Shaw Bros. director Lau Kar-Leung, that is far less comedic than what he's gotten us used to, especially given the participation of Gordon Liu, Kara Hui and Hsiao Ho, who've all been in his comedies before. The main comedy element is left to Fu Sheng who is more of a Chang Cheh actor. A bit difficult to get into because it features some strange "magical" fighting and disjointed editing, the film soon settles down into a tale of magical assassins out to kill a retired martial arts master (played by the director). The final, interminable fight uses all 18 of the Shaolin weapons, and shows, in Lau style, that cheap gimmicks and magic are no match for true kung fu. But in getting there, you'll see stuff you've never seen before. Voodoo dolls making people fight for you, acid spit, exploding flash paper hits, and hypnosis that can make you, uhm, dismember yourself. Never mind the plot, check it out for the insane action. It's almost wall to wall anyway. The DVD's only extras are an hour's worth of trailers for Shaw Bros. and cheap 90s Hong Kong fare. None of them have subtitles, but several are intriguing anyway.

Super Inframan was on the docket weeks ago, so why didn't I "flip" the DVD until today? Well, there's a story there. The Kung Fu Friday we were scheduled to watch it, I took the DVD out of the case and it cracked in half. So we decided to download the damn thing so we could watch it that night and that I'd get a replacement later. So we did, but we couldn't make the subtitles work. Screw it, we watched it in the original Chinese and tried to decipher the story ourselves, Mystery Science Theater-ing a lot of it along the way. I think we did pretty well. There weren't that many scenes of non-action anyway. So now I have a fresh copy, and I watch it, and guess what, it's even crazier than we imagined when you know what they're saying, but we essentially got the plot no problem. Super Inframan is a Chinese rip-off of Ultraman and Kamen Rider and ultimately, of Godzilla, with the same requisite scenes of scientists explaining the situation around a conference table before returning to their mod SPECTRE surplus bases. Demons from underground - either luscious queens with metal bras or monsters in nerf costumes - have "invaded" the Earth (actually, just made their presence known), and the forces of good turn Danny Lee into a superhero to fight them. Though the formula is derivative, there's a lot of imagination and energy thrown at the screen as action set piece follows action set piece with plenty of variety, crazy costumes, and lots of explosive kung fu action besides.  The early 80s effects are pretty fun too, colorful and at times surprising. According to an interview with the director presented in pdf format, Shaw's was trying to cash in on the Japanese superhero craze, but before the film's release, a kid had thrown himself out the window in imitation of his favorite hero, and love for the genre dissipated, leaving Inframan a failure at the box office. Probably why it's a one-off in Chinese cinema. The DVD also has a photo and poster gallery.

Theater: Went to see the play put on by my university's graduating drama class, Mistero Buffo by Italian writer Dario Fo (translated into French by Quebec's enfant terrible Michel Tremblay), a clownish send-up - as near to a panto as I'm ever likely to see on this side of the Atlantic - of the New Testament. To a Catholic (which French Canadians almost all are), bitingly funny. To more orthodox Christians, probably the work of Satan himself. The drama department knows its audience. The play pokes fun at the Church's hypocrisy (the Pope can't get an audience with Jesus), and makes light of many of the Christ's miracles (a drunkard tells the story of turning water into wine, for example). The various scenes are bookended by some real pathos, a mother asking for her baby to be spared in Herod's massacre (the play gets to kill babies much quicker than Game of Thrones did), and Mary curses Gabriel during the Passion. So the acting is variable, as is usually the case with the drama department, but the clowning tends to cover up the usual offenders asked, for once, to play big. The night really belonged to the ladies in the cast, as one after another, they carried a scene alone, after which I'd invariably say "I wouldn't want to follow that act". The next actress would knock it out of the park, to my great delight. Next semester, they're apparently doing a French translation of Midsummer Night's Dream. Uh-oh. I'm gonna get real critical if it's to be my beloved Shakespeare.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iv. The Closet Scene - Tennant (2009)

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Day of Vengeance to DC Universe Online Legends.


Anonymous said...

Can you explain what "panto" is? The Internet isn't really helping me get a feel for it. The nearest I can guess is, it's theater with no illusions about how lowbrow it is; it's loud and gaudy and raucous but probably in a family-safe way.

Good on you for picking up "The Venture Bros". Season two is even better.

Siskoid said...

Like you, I can't be sure what panto is. The most I've seen on tv is in an episode of Ricky Gervais' Extras. I think you've the definition right, though it may be safe for families, it also has plenty of double entendres for the parents. Mistero Buffo had elements of panto, though was probably more satirical and bilious than traditional panto.

Austin Gorton said...

Glad you're enjoying Venture Bros. It's one of my favorite shows. As it continues, it really develops a deep, comic book-style universe for the show even while it develops and deepens the characters. Great stuff.

(Incidentally, whenever my wife gets a cold and ends up with a hoarse voice, it's referred to in our house as her "Dr. Girlfriend" voice).

Siskoid said...

Teebore: That's HIGH-larious!


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