This Week in Geek (15-21/04/13)


DVD buys this week include Django Unchained and Luther Season 1 (see below), and from a sale, cheap copies of Takashi Miike's Audition, Gamer, Ninja Assassin, Kingdom of Heaven and Zathura.


DVDs: John Luther is a maverick cop that's both a Sherlock-type genius and a Marlowe-type man on the edge, a combination that works so well (wouldn't a man who thinks too much be haunted by the evil he sees men do?), I can't believe it hasn't been successfully done for television before. That Luther is played by Idris Elba and created/written by Neil Cross aren't exactly strikes against it either! As with most police shows, there is a case-of-the-week, but this is a world with more far-reaching consequences. Some cases aren't put to rest so easily. Indeed, the first episode's villain becomes a regular character, a genius criminal who might as well be the devil on Luther's shoulder. Add a cast of actors I really want to watch - Indira Varma, Paul McGann, Saskia Reeves - and I was left feeling those 6 episodes flew by too fast. Guess what I immediately ordered? DVD extras: Though it tries to be a bit too stylish (the interview set-ups are uncomfortable), the making of is quite good, getting to the heart of the characters and themes of the show.

Robot & Frank is set in the near future - and a very believably imagined future at that - where a former cat burglar now suffering from memory loss and dementia (the always awesome Frank Langella) is saddled with a caretaker robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) by his son whose trying to do the right thing. Frank hates the idea, but makes it work by teaching the 'bot his old stock and trade as a "hobby". The DVD cover makes it look a bit syrupy, but it really isn't, getting, I think, the balance of comedy, drama and sentiment just right. James Marsden, Jeremy Sisto, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon co-star, not a bad note uttered between them. An odd little film worth discovering. The director and writer share a good and informative commentary track. The only other extra is a poster campaign gallery that treats the caretaker robot as if it were a real product.

After seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream, I was chomping at the bit for more Shakespeare. Coincidentally, Shakespeare Uncovered arrived at my door the next day. In each of this series' six episodes, a different actor explores a play (or two) by discussion what it means to them, interviewing other actors, directors and academics, and visiting rehearsals, libraries and the Globe itself. The series also uses footage from several film and theater versions as signposts as we move through each play's plot and complexities. Some of the actors have done the play they're serving, others really want to some day, but all of them are incredible admirers of the work, and that shines through. The case of Hamlet (hosted by David Tennant) is particular because I've written so much about the play myself, the episode seems cursory indeed. But when you haven't studied the play very much or at all, it's much more interesting (not to say the Hamlet ep had nothing new to tell me, because of course it did). Approaching the plays from these varied angles, we even get Derek Jacobi (on Richard II) claiming the plays were written by the Earl of Oxford, after which is the single best defense of Shakespeare's claim to the plays I have ever heard, so it was worth it. For the record, the other episodes are Ethan Hawke on MacBeth, Joely Richardson on Twelfth Night and As You Like It, Jeremy Irons on Henry IV and V, and Trevor Nunn on The Tempest. Speaking of which...

Julie Taymor's Titus (Andronicus) was a sterile art house film I liked, but did not love, but her version of The Tempest is simply gorgeous. Obviously, the play itself has something to do with, Shakespeare's retirement play necessarily better than an early effort like T.A. But more than that, this film has wonderful locations, painterly effects that are far less digital than you would imagine, and some incredible performances, most prominently by Helen Mirren as Prospera. You read that right, Taymor switches genders on Propsero, and makes her relationship with Miranda a motherly one that works very well for the play. It's so good, I think a male Prospero in some other staging would seem bizarre to me now. I won't call it perfect - the young singer who plays Ferdinand is a bit of a mumbler, for example - but my complaints are very slim. The DVD features two commentary tracks, one by Taymor and the other by Shakespeare experts, and an excellent making of documentary that clocks in at more than an hour. Part of why it's so entertaining is Russell Brand (Trinculo)'s madly comic interviews and on-set antics. He's so funny, he even gets his own extra, a brief but rather incredible improv riff during rehearsals. The DVD is rounded off with a music video for the song Taymor plucked from Twelfth Night and inserted in the film. The Blu-Ray disc included in my combo pack has the rehearsals as well, but I'm currently unable to watch them.

Audios: Getting back to some 1st Doctor-related Big Finish audios, I turn to the Lost Episodes series, which takes TV script that were never produced and adapts them for the audio format. The result is somewhere between the Companion Chronicles (with William Russell and Carole Ann Ford sharing the narration and doing their own characters) and full-cast audio (each has a single guest voice). I wasn't sure I'd enjoy them when I saw the first, Farewell, Great Macedon, was six episodes long, or more than three hours! But how wrong I was. The original writer, Moris Farhi, is an incredible talent and it's a real shame neither of his two Doctor Who stories were ever made. Nigel Robinson's adaptations do them justice. The first is a grand historical story in the style of Marco Polo, in which the TARDIS lands in Alexander the Great's camp, at a time when he and his generals are about to be assassinated. Despite the large cast of characters voiced by only a few actors, you get to know them quite well and care when doom befalls them. I dare say I would have remained interested in the story even if you had removed the Doctor and his companions from the proceedings (Farhi apparently tried to sell it as a historical epic when Doctor Who passed on it). The historical detail is excellent, and the story rather moving. A major surprise.

The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance was Moris Farhi's test-script, a short example of what he could do. It's probably unfilmable by the day's standards, but it's a beautiful done-in-one tale of love and tragic misunderstanding that would be a stand-out if done today. Fragrance is a utopia where the TARDISeers have spent some time prior to the episode's events, and one of the locals has fallen in love with Barbara. When she tries to leave, it throws the planet's culture into turmoil for there are things Barbara doesn't understand. In a normal Doctor Who script, there would be a kidnapping and all the rest, but Farhi goes a completely different route. Sad and surprising and completely unlike anything in televised in Doctor Who. The story is short, so the disc holds interviews with cast and crew mostly about Farewell, Great Macedon (in the same boxed set), but I would have like to hear more about Fragrance itself.

RPGs: Character generation has begun on my second season of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space role-playing! Been a while, but I wanted to get in on the 50th Anniversary celebrations. I've secured promises from a number of players (and NEW players) either as guest-stars or regulars, and figured out a scheme that will allow the TARDIS to have a revolving door of characters so I can include them (or not) based on their schedules. One of the Season 1 players will return to play his character and insure a transition for the new incarnation of our series' Time Lord, the Shepherd. Pout (made famous by one of my Gamer Profiles) came in today to create his version, who is to be played by Bill Nye the Science Guy!
He does look like a Time Lord. Maybe even a Time Lord we know...
His Shepherd will move from gregarious student of life to more of a mentor for his "flock" (companions), someone who pushes them to fulfill their potential. We've also created a strange seasonal/incarnation arc to do with a piece of solidified time stuck in part of his heart and causing (using a variation of the Faulty Heart Trait) temporal anomalies when he gets too excited. We call it Cardio-Temporal Arrhythmia. These "time shards" were created by an explosion inside the TARDIS, and also enable companions to 'port to the TARDIS from their eras. Now, I've got to sit down with would-be companions.

Zine: Finished reading the Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games #18, another themeless issue that allows the zine to offer a great deal of variety. There are ready-made adventure scenarios - steampunk adventure on a Victorian world, a meeting with the Sontarans, a visit to Terminus with an appearance by Sabalom Glitz and Dibber (to go with the article detailing their stats in all three systems), and the return of an old foe in Musketeer-era France. Play aids include an article on miniatures, part 2 of the GM advice on running long-term campaigns, and a consolidated list of every Trait in DWAITAS to date. Plus, toy reviews, a convention report, a list of Doctor Who board games (could have used commentary), and FASA character stats for some of the characters in the previous issue's sample campaign. A little bit of everything. Which is good because the next ish is a thick FASA-only issue.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Act IV, Scene 4 - Kline '90

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Infinity Inc. to JLA.


Zundian said...

Robot & Frank is my absolute favorite movie of 2012. Such a joy to discover. The twist near the end is just heartwrenching.

Toby'c said...

I listened to Farewell Great Macedon a couple of months ago, and yeah, I would have loved to have seen it. Highlight for me was when Barbara tells Alexander that if Ian dies, she'll die with him, and Susan not only stands with her but presumptuously volunteers the Doctor as well.

Do you have the Second Doctor Box Set as well?

Siskoid said...

Not yet! Is it as good?

Toby'c said...

Prison in Space is kinda like Angel One I guess - it hasn't aged well, and probably wouldn't have gone over well in 1969, for that matter. But it's nothing like as boring as that episode, the voice acting and narration are good and a lot of the comedy still works (even if some of it make me feel like I'm going to hell for this).

The Destroyers is... well, a Terry Nation Dalek story. Jean Marsh was as good as usual, though.

Kal said...

Robot and Frank is high in my queue list and now that you have recommended it I will be sure to find it. Luther is fantastic with teh second season being not quite at good but still fantastic. Indris is a real discovery and I liked this view of London that you never see before, at least here in North America.

Siskoid said...

Toby: So NOT a recommendation then. I'll end up listening to them anyway because I'm who I am.

Kal: A discovery? Never watched The Wire? And if you haven't, yeah, yeah, you totally should.


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