This Week in Geek (31/12/12-06/01/13)


A few DVDs this week: From Japan, Ichi the Killer; from Indonesia, The Raid: Redemption; and from the Land of Awesome, all three seasons of Arrested Development at a low, low price.


DVDs: Season 2 of the Venture Bros. deepened the Venturverse by adding a number of new characters, most gravitating around Orpheus, and exploring the already large cast supplied by the first season. Though I'm a big Brock Samson fan, there's no denying it's the villains that are most interesting in this series, or at least, the ones whose situation is most likely to change. (Not that Dr. Venture is a good guy, or anything.) The proof of this is that the season's cliffhanger hinges on Dr. Girlfriend (no spoilers, please!). Phantom Limb also comes into his own, leading to a spectacular action finale. Triana's friend Kim is introduced as a potential future villain. Brock's nemesis and love interest Molotov babysits the Ventures. And the Monarch's henchmen continue to entertain with their comic double act. So yeah, for me, it's all about the baddies. The DVD features commentary on every episode, but these are of variable quality, both in terms of relevance and sound. Nice to have some of the voice actors in addition to creators McCulloch and Hammer, but it tends to devolve and/or put someone too far from the microphone. There's a tour of Astro-Base Go! (the production company), a too-slowly paced, not quite as funny as it should be, send-up (we'll never get a serious making of, will we?), and about 20 minutes of deleted/alternate scenes, either in storyboard or fully animated formats.

Dynamite Warrior is a pretty wacky Thai action film starring Dan Chupong, the star of the awesome Born to Fight, and about a cattle-rustling wizards who must be stopped by the rocket-wielding/riding hero. You won't believe what the magical ingredient is to his victory. Part of the strangeness is the setting, 1850s northeastern Siam (Thailand), which looks very different from usual Thai settings. Instead of jungles, temples and elephants, we get open plains, water buffalo and rockets (apparently used in rain rituals). According to the making of extras (a relatively strong mix of interviews and behind the scenes footage), it's all very authentic. Except for the crazy action and characters, obviously. It's pretty fun, without being the action film of the year or anything. I did have an issue with the sound mix, as the music was way too loud compared to the all-important punches and kicks. Egregiously so in the 5.1 mix (because my TV's not in 5.1), but still noticeable in Stereo.

In the last few days before going back to work, I was determined to take a bite out of what I call the Oscar Pool Project. See, last year, I won our annual Oscar Pool, which meant I scored a bunch of DVDs, many of them terrible (whatever is put in the box that I don't already own, essentially). According to my own rules, I MUST flip each of those DVDs by the next Oscar Night. And again, according to my own rules, I can only put back ONE of those DVDs. Of the 17 I had to get through, I had 9 left, including some of the worst. So I watched the three at the very bottom of the pile. This is their story, as it turns out, in ascending order of terribleness...

À vos marques, Party! is a teen drama/comedy from Québec about a bitter outcast girl who gave up competitive swimming, and the boy she loved, after an injury. Will she make a comeback in her senior year? It's a bit Mean Girls, and while some of the more comedic subplots should have been trimmed (especially the silly high school principal obsessed with a pop star stuff, which takes you out of the movie every time it shows up), the drama holds up fairly well and gives the characters some depth. Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin provides an effective and emotional performance in the lead. the soundtrack almost kills any of my good will, however. Mario Sévigny not only scores every scene with pointed comedy or drama cues instead of allowing the performances to do the work, but also writes and performs a full album of lame pop-rock tunes with over-obvious lyrics relating to any given moment. The musical crassness reaches its apogee in the climax, when pop star Andrée Watters comes on stage at the prom for her music video (yes, included on the DVD). Not very ambitious or original, with wall-to-wall bad music, but thanks to some solid performances, I think a fair entry into the teen flick genre. The director and producer commentary is absolutely inane, which might have been expected, but the disc also includes deleted scenes, brief storyboard comparisons, a photo gallery and a blooper reel.

Going down further into the rabbit hole, I watched You Don't Mess with the Zohan (to make matters worse, it's the Extended Unrated version with extra crotch jokes). The Zohan is a clearly superhuman Israeli counter-terrorist agent who fakes his own death to go to New York to fulfill his life-long dream of becoming a hairdresser. Of course, his past (played by John Turturro) comes to haunt him and there's a romantic comedy subplot involving the beautiful Emmanuelle Chriqui. There's certainly a good movie hidden in there somewhere. The action is completely insane, if only it felt motivated (why are these guys so powerful?), and the message of peace isn't as cheesy as it might have been. However! While there are positive figures on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, the film paints Middle Eastern people as hummus-addicted Mariah Carey groupies whose only ambition is to get a low-paying job in the service industry in America, and includes kiss-of-death Rob Schneider in black face. It also seems to think women enjoy being sexually harassed, and that Adam Sandler banging old ladies is funny. It is not, and the repetitive use of each joke saps the laughs right out of the movie. I suppose I was glad to see Sandler in a role other than his usual rage monster, but that's about it. The DVD features two commentary tracks (making the experience three times as cruel); one by cast and crew, which is fine if unremarkable, the other by director Dennis Dugan, a hyperactive who thinks he's funny but really isn't. PAINFUL AND INANE. The DVD gave me even more to look at with some 45 minutes of featurettes, including making of elements, behind the scenes footage, bloopers and deleted scenes. These also show how the movie could have been even worse if it had included a robot who goes to the toilet. Wow.

And yet, the movie that's in the lead for getting put back in the Oscar pile is the direct-to-video release, Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts. This fifth entry in the Dr. Dolittle franchise is kiddie fare done wrong, with absolutely no interest in portraying the real world within its talking animals fantasy. Eddie Murphy has been away from these stories since Dolittle 3, the reigns having been passed to his daughter Maya, played unobtrusively enough by Kyla Pratt. Norm MacDonald returns as the blasé voice of Lucky the dog, and he's not helping anything. So in this one, Maya is discovered by a Paris Hilton lookalike who takes her to Hollywood to star in her own talk show where she would help celebrity pets. Will she sell her soul? There's no attempt here at making Hollywood anything but the cliché of vain stars, clueless executives and evil agents, nor at making Maya's veterinary college sound like anything that would happen in a real school. Worse, the pets' problems are universally stupid, caused by pet owners who can't tell their pet's gender, or who don't know cats are self-grooming. Watch Maya enable an anorexic pig! Brain dead on arrival, with a limp romance and strained moral, there's really no reason to keep this one in my collection. Even Indiana Jones 4 (the actual worst of the worst I won in the pile) has the virtue of interviews that make George Lucas look stupid. Million Dollar Mutts has extras too, short  making of featurettes on pet and human fashions, special effects and locations. But it's not enough to keep the thing.

Zines: Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games #12 is a "Gazetteer Issue" that presents a number of different locations (i.e. planets) with a variable amount of detail, with relevant plot seeds or fully-developed scenarios. The centerpiece is Tlirr, a Dalek-controlled planet from the FASA game into which the author incorporates various other elements from FASA as a way to counter the "never return" limit of Doctor Who locations. Tlirr is a bit deeper as a result, and the article includes not only stats for various FASA-created alien species whose members found their way to Tlirr (in all three supported systems), but those of Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer, who features in a Tlirr adventure module. While the next adventure (on a freezing outpost) really needs stats for its monster, the other planets gazetted are, in my opinion, more evocative than Tlirr, with strange ecologies and societies. Only one of these has a full adventure detailed, Lumos, and it's an interesting murder mystery I'd like to run. The issue continues the "locations" theme in its other features, like a review of GURPS Humanx (a useful gazetteer itself), pictures from the Doctor Who Experience, and an article on vacation episodes. Outside the theme, we get FASA stats for Adric, a feature on handling Total Party Kills, and a less-relevant plea for embracing one's nerddom that really needed more of a Doctor Who hook. So a good issue overall, with plenty of material one can use and adapt not only for Doctor Who games, but other science fiction RPGs as well.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Other Hamlets: Swing with Scooter

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Doom Patrol to Eclipso.



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