This Week in Geek (21-27/01/13)


There are some movies I probably wouldn't get myself individually, but throw them in a cheap collector's set, and well... That's what happened with Jason Statham's action movies, with a Collection that includes the two Cranks, War,The Mechanic and Transporter 3. Another cheap combo set gets me Transporters 1 and 2. A Kung Fu Friday Marathon in the making? Could be. Also grabbed discounted copies of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Recount (both reviewed below) and Treme Season 2.


DVDs: Justified Season 3 adds two new bad guys, and both are memorable - Limehouse the butcher from a black holler, and Quarles the deliciously insane carpetbagger - without losing sight of old favorites like Boyd, Dickie, Dewey and Duffy (why do I make them sound like ducks?). One character we DON'T see enough of is Raylan's ex-wife Wynona, who still gets some stand-out moments, as these two have a wonderfully mature relationship. This series really is going from strength to strength, and I'm tempted NOT to wait for the DVD for Season 4 and diving into some Internet solution to my not having FX. I'd be (cough) justified, and they'll still get my DVD money next year. Speaking of DVDs, some good extras this time around, including cast and crew commentary on 9 of the 13 episodes, a few deleted scenes and outtakes, a good making of featurette, and further featurettes on the Noble's Holler's set design and the finale's big stunt.

To date, the best Judge Dredd movie is probably still Robocop, but the recent Dredd comes damn close. It just doesn't have the crazy satire of the 2000 A.D. strips for me to make that call. However, Mega-City One is a believable environment, Karl Urban is unrecognizable behind the Judge Dredd persona (he's got the pout down cold, and never EVER takes off his helmet), and the use of the Slo-Mo drug further creates comic book panels as frozen moments in time that tie back to the famous strip. It's a very straightforward action plot, surprisingly claustrophobic for an action-sf effects picture, but that's somehow refreshing in this era of complicated thrillers and kitchen sink special effects movies. But it's smartly done. With a closed-off protagonist, they've made a rookie psi-Judge Anderson the audience identifier, and while the violence is very much Rated R, the Slo-Mo sequences that feature it give it a kind of morbid beauty that takes the edge off the gore. No plans (yet) for Dr. McCoy and the other girl from Juno to ride their bikes through Mega City One again, but I'd love to see some sequels, maybe a visit to the Cursed Earth or even Judge Death. The DVD includes a cool featurette about the comics themselves, with plenty of Dredd contributors chiming in, and a good making of. The other featurettes are very short and might as well have been integrated into that making of, brief bits on the 3D, effects, set design and props. There's a prelude "Dredd motion comic" that's fine, but unnecessary, and what they call motion comic, I call limited animation.

Move over Hunger Games and Avengers Arena, we watched Battle Royale this week. 42 9th graders are dropped on an island, and the only way to survive is to kill everyone else. It's a pretty amazing film, and you can see why it would be imitated so often, but I don't know that it's been equaled in its category. For one thing, it finds a way to make you know each one of these kids - in broad strokes, rather intimately, or through vignettes - so that each kill has punch (and these kids know each other, have a history, pre-existing relationships). It's also got visual inventiveness going for it, mostly through editing and superimposed cards, that hint at a more profound message behind the carnage. You could see it as a metaphor for growing to adulthood, or going through the school system or work market. Maybe it's about where our culture of anti-discipline and/or reality shows is going. It could be a meditation on the generation gap and an admission that adults are as lost as the teenagers they used to be. I don't want to put too fine a point on it, as this is still a crazy-ass action thriller, but it does have a certain ambiguity (in large part thanks to the teacher running the game, brilliantly underplayed by Takeshi Kitano) that invites such ruminations. Too bad my DVD didn't have any extras to explore these more.

Lately, I've been digesting more American politics than usual, between the gun issue, Obama's inauguration, etc., so it's not surprising I'd have an urge to go back in time to the 2000 elections and watch Recount. This HBO movie surprises by making its subject matter - a legal battle to get votes counted in Florida - as engaging and exciting as it does. It's a real-life political thriller! Now the question Bush supporters invariably ask is whether the movie is biased towards the Democrats, and yes, it's told mostly from their point of view because THEY're the ones who want something and try to achieve it (and fail). However, everything was apparently well-documented and the writer, Buffy's Danny Strong, interviewed almost everyone involved to check the facts. I think that looking for partisan bias is the wrong way to look at this film (for example, I think Tom Wilkinson's James Baker comes off quite well). Rather, it's about how the system failed that election. What it does is expose many of the irregularities, abused loopholes and outright absurdities in that system, and leaves the viewer to decide whether the election was FAIRLY decided, despite being theoretically LEGAL. It definitely gave me that anxious feeling I get when I witness profound injustice. The director and writer collaborate on a useful commentary track that gives a lot of information on their sources, what was changed for the movie's sake, etc. The making of is relatively short, but allows cast and crew to talk about the experience of shooting this in Florida (it is mislabeled "The True Story of the 2000 Presidential Election" as if it was going to be a feature on the events rather than the film making though). And there are two brief conversations between people involved on both sides interviewed by the actors who played them. Neat, though perhaps too ruthlessly edited.

Let's stick with Wilkinson for our next movie, as part of another star-studded cast, in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This John Madden gentle comedy is no Shakespeare in Love, but it manages to charm thanks to its location work and performances. The premise could be a TV series: A number of British seniors move to India for a variety of reasons and stay at a work-in-progress hotel run by a zany young man played by Dev Patel who hopes to "outsource the old". So you've got a recently-widowed Judi Dench looking for a fresh start, Wilkinson looking for an old lover, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton forced to move to cheaper climes in their retirement, crusty racist Maggie Smith there to get a quick, no-waiting hip replacement, and both Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie independently looking for love and adventure. The realities of their adopted country, and the bonds they forge with one another, changes them. The film is perhaps better categorized as a drama, but the way threads resolve into mostly happy endings betray its true nature. Here, you either buy it or you don't. The ending is either too pat or part of the film's enchanted tone. It doesn't tread the line between serious realism and fairy tale quite well enough for it to work for everyone. Disappointing extras: A couple of very brief making of featurettes (less than 7 minutes total), at their best when actors discuss working with one another.

Audios: I wasn't expecting all the Companion Chronicles audios from Big Finish to be as good as Marc Platt's Frostfire (reviewed last week), but Fear of the Daleks is rather sharp dip. Since these stories are told in the voice of a particular companion, the narrative idiom can definitely vary. And while I love Wendy Padbury as Zoe, the character is perhaps too cold and clinical to narrate a rousing story. There are some clever ideas in Patrick Chapman's script about quantum entanglement and holographic armies and the Daleks subverting this tech for their own purposes, but as Zoe recounts this as a vivid dream (memories coming to the surface post-Time Lord-induced amnesia) to her therapist, it comes off as scientific description, at least in the first half. It fits the character, but surrounded by audios with so much more personality, Fear of the Daleks is a bit of a letdown.

Nigel Fairs' The Blue Tooth promises to explain why Liz Shaw (played by Caroline John) decided to leave UNIT and the Doctor during the hiatus between Inferno and Terror of the Autons. It doesn't exactly do that, though it definitely suggests that the tragic events of this Cyberman story (yeah, the cover kind of spoils the surprise) are at the root of her departure. We just don't see it. However, the audio does a good job of giving Liz a life before and aside from UNIT, and even if we know what the monster is, there are still some surprises as to the nature of the threat it poses. Fairs is good at layering in details that will become important later (you get to play the detective), and sticks to Liz's POV throughout, which means dark patches whenever she's rendered unconscious. It's also a rather violent story for the era, but of course, it's your imagination filling in the visuals. Unlike Zoe, Liz is a great choice for narrator because she's always been sharp, opinionated and sarcastic. That comes across very well here, though Caroline John is better at describing the Doctor and the Brig than doing they voices.

Jonathan Morris' The Beautiful People features a script that could have come right out of the Douglas Adams era, as the fourth Doctor and the second Romana (in other words, narrated by Lalla Ward) face off against a high-powered weight loss program. It's the kind of social satire not unheard of in the era, but more than that, it takes a comedic approach to the protagonists themselves. Romana is essentially the straight woman to K9 and the Doctor, the latter on a quest to eat a good doughnut. Yes, that's what sets everything in motion. Though the previous Chronicles had one other voice interacting with the Companion, they were monsters, Cybermen, Daleks. Here, there's an actual character at the end of that voice, a super-thin woman in Cassandra's mold. So while there are some nice flights of fancy - Roman's chapter titles, for instance - The Beautiful People comes off as fluff we might have seen before, like a cross between The End of the World and Partners in Crime (the latter of which had yet to air, to be fair). More Lalla Ward, yes - and she holds her own without the Doctor appearing for a few chapters - but maybe more scope next time as well. I'm not against more humorous romps, mind you, but this attack/defense on obesity/dieting didn't quite do it for me.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Olivier '48

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Firestorm to Flash: The Fastest Man Alive.


Kal said...

I try to convince everyone I meet that DREDD is a terrific action film. I am sad that it's poor box office will keep another one from being made.

Battle Royale is very good and I happened to see it after Hunger Games which was a good thing. Knowing the person you are forced to kill really ramps up the tension that Hunger Games never had for me.

Toby'c said...

"There are some movies I probably wouldn't get myself individually, but throw them in a cheap collector's set, and well... "

I know the feeling - a couple of weeks ago I ended up with five average-to-good kids movies (Peter Pan, Casper, Babe, The Grinch and Thunderbirds) at a price I would have paid for the best of them.

I liked Battle Royale, but I much preferred The Hunger Games, the main reason being the distracting plot hole where most of the kids seem to be totally unaware of what they're getting into until they've seen the video, even though we've already seen the aftermath of a previous battle being broadcast on TV. Also, Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson.

De said...

I'm one of those nutty blokes who doesn't mind the Stallone Judge Dredd film. At least, the first half of it.

Siskoid said...

Kal: It apparently did gangbusters on DVD, but still no plans for a sequel. And while I didn't see Hunger Games, someone who saw both told me the exact same thing, so I believe it.

Toby: On first viewing, that was confusing. We thought the film was one big flashback to explain that girl's smile, but she turned out to be in another event entirely. I'm not convinced it's a plot hole though as there's no way to know what the timeline actually is. There have been games before the one we see entirely, but it's obviously not that one. But there are no media in the ones shown, so does the movie start with a game sometime in the future, when these things have become publicly-known? The elasticity of the timeline opens the film up to such interpretations.

And if I'm allowed to tease you a little, aren't you the same person who once told me you liked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? ;-)

Wriphe said...

I second the love for DREDD. I was terribly disappointed by the Stallone version. (I wanted a British comic, and I got a Hollywood action film. Shame on me for expecting differently.) I was a little surprised that when I went to see DREDD during it's first week of release, I was one of only 2 people in the theater.

This year's DREDD was indeed an unabashed, straight-forward action film, but I feel that when you get the characterization right, little else matters. Tell me a story -- although please don't let it be yet another origin story -- with the characters I like, and I'm usually pretty satisfied. (That's the same reason that I appear to be the only person in the world who hates Nolan's Batman films. Nolan's Bruce Wayne is NOT the same detective Batman whose adventures I'd been reading about for years.)

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

Justified has proven it's self to being a damn good series. as for Dredd i was really happy with it i'm glad they stayed away from the more satirical aspects of the comic since that was the part of the comic i tended to like the least. my only criticism of the movie is that it would have been nice if they had maybe devoted even just ten minutes in another part of Mega City one to give the audience a more broader feel for the setting of the movie. like maybe to have had Dredd and Anderson make a brief call to the part of the city where the rich live for example.


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