This Week in Geek (13-19/05/13)

Buys

Ok, after a couple weeks of frugal existence, I got loads of stuff this week, mostly DVDs. There's the UK version of House of Cards, Three Days of Hamlet, Disciples of Shaolin, Pina, Tai Chi Zero, Doctor Who's The Visitation Special Edition, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Detachment (see below for these last two), the complete K9 series from Australia, and Warehouse 13 Season 3. Books too: I'm well into A Feast for Crows, the fourth volume of The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones to some of you), so I got vol. 5, A Dance with Dragons. Annnnnnd Cubicle 7's print version of the First Doctor Sourcebook arrived in the mail. It's awwwwesommmme!

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is Shane Black's directorial debut, and after Iron Man 3, I was curious to see his first pairing with Robert Downey Jr. The result is a film noir comedy that gets amusingly meta about the genre's narration, and pleasantly surprises with its character choices. The Hollywood setting made the idea of characters knowing they're in a film justifiable, and the story came off as something that might take place in the Elmore Leonard universe. Val Kilmer's Gay Perry steals the show, and is probably the most memorable character Kilmer has played since Doc Holliday in Tombstone. And I've loved Michelle Monaghan since I saw her in Source Code, and would definitely like to see her in more films (not romcoms, please). I did find the casual nudity on the exploitative side, but I've otherwise got no complaints. The DVD includes an amusing commentary track with Black, Downey Jr. and Kilmer, and a gag reel.

Detachment tells the story of a long-term substitute teacher who spends a month in a school with more than its fair share of problem kids. But this isn't Dangerous Minds. The kids won't be saved by discovering dance or something. No, this is the opposite picture. There's a bleakness to Detachment that's rather poignant, and you'll only find hope in small, fleeting, even ambiguous moments. Though sometimes openly "art house", most of the film is in a "cinema vérité" style that's only broken by the fact we can pretty much recognize the school's entire staff - Andrien Brody (amazing performance), Christina Hendricks, James Caan, Lucy Liu, etc. - not that I'd get rid of any of them. The kids aren't just unknowns, they're somehow unknowable. Detachment is told from the teachers' perspective, and addresses the educational system's many problems. I have a number of friends who are high school teachers, and though Detachment seemingly presents an extreme, these problems have come up in conversation. No easy answers in this, and I'm not even sure I agree with its representation of the modern classroom, but I think what it does best is open these questions up for debate. I recommend this film to any teacher OR parent without any reserve. I think it should be part of the conversation many of our countries should have about education. The DVD has no extras, so the film must stand alone and its questions remain open.

Though I'd seen the pilot and the Eureka crossover episodes, I finally sat down to watch the whole of Warehouse 13 this week. I don't know why I waited so long. After all, the year before it premiered, I was running a GURPS campaign with almost exactly the same set-up (though the Warehouse number was 23), and Joanne Kelly was someone I was tapped into since she appeared in the superlative Slings & Arrows. Perhaps the premise reminded me too much of the old Friday the 13th TV series, and I feared the show would quickly become formulaic, with its artifact of the week, and all that. I shouldn't have worried. Like its cousin Eureka, the writers change things up a lot, introduce a recurring villain, delve into the characters' back stories, and lay in several mysteries over the course of Season 1's 12 episodes. And like Eureka, they thread the line between comedy, drama, and genre quite effectively. I'm sorry if I have Eureka on my mind, by the way, but W13 sort of asked for it by featuring three Eureka actors in two back-to-back episodes at one point, two of them in the same kind of relationship as on the other show, so much so I thought that's who they were. I love the winks at the fanboys as much as anyone, but that was a little distracting. Nice DVD package overall, with a fun cast and crew commentary track on several episodes, lots of deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a making of bolstered by plenty of thematic featurettes. Like the show, these are almost universally tongue-in-cheek, like Saul Rubinek answering his cast mate's questions over a Farnsworth.

This Saturday, we watched every single Karate Kid movie, back-to-back (oh those Kung Fu Friday special events!). The first four came in a boxed set, starting, of course, with the classic original. And it IS a classic, iconic even. I'm not even sure what to say about it because everyone reading this is likely to have seen it. It still works. Part 2 isn't quite as good. I respect the idea of returning to Okinawa and exploring Mr. Miyagi's origins, but the character's resistance to fighting translates into a film without a lot of karate. The kinds of lessons Miyagi was teaching in Part 1 are there, but don't pay off as well. Part 2 also starts the franchise's tradition of writing out unneeded characters in an off-hand way, and of course, shows there are bullies everywhere you go. Increasingly motiveless bullies. Part 3 returns to California and takes it to ridiculous extremes. The villain comes out of nowhere to revenge Part 1's baddie, and is over-the-top evil. Why is this karate-chopping millionaire taking time out of his toxic-spilling schedule to ruin the life of a 17-year-old? By this point - and this may be the effect of watching them in one go - Daniel-San's tics have become annoying. He's always been prone to talking to himself and rambling, but what was once naturalism is now exposition-filled, incessant monologuing. So is Part 3 the least of the series? It may be. It's certainly the least memorable. The Next Karate Kid could also make a claim to that title. Daniel himself is written out as Mr. Miyagi does some babysitting for a friend in Boston, teaching her orphaned delinquent relative to face her problems head on. Hilary Swank is actually effective in the role and a much better fighter than Macchio ever was. There's also some sitcommy fun in seeing Miyagi try to raise a difficult teenage girl. Unfortunately, the plot is ABSURD! And in a way, it's why I'm giving this one a better review than Part 3. At one point, the absurdity got too much and I was in stitches! Examples: A Buddhist monastery in the Boston foot hills, zen Bouddhist bowling, bungee bombing the prom (that's the one that got me), and the whole karate security force in the school (where NO ONE looks like a high school student) run by a motivelessly evil Michael Ironside. It isn't a good film, but taken as a spoof, it's actually fun. The set's DVD extras are, not surprisingly, on the first disc. The writer, director and lead have some fun on the commentary track, and the retrospective making of lasts a good hour and goes from concept to result, and includes a featurette on bonsai trees with a true-life artist. Part 2 features a short vintage featurette, more marketing than insight. Part 3 and Next can't even be counted on to have their own trailers in their bonus trailers.

The 2010 Karate Kid, which should really be called The Kung Fu Kid, stars Jaden Smith as the Kid and Jackie Chan as Mr. Han, the Miyagi figure. While the fighting is much better than in the original franchise, and Han's back story more tragic, it's way too attached to the original's story beats. There's usually a twist (and the training is completely different), but sometimes, it's repeating the first film line for line. In other words, it's perfectly acceptable for audiences that have never seen the original, but a bad case of déjà vu for everyone else. One of the themes of the original was an American corruption of martial arts' true message, which I'm not sure translates to the Beijing location (the State's corruption of same?). The trip to China also means we spend some time in travelogue mode, tedious to someone who's seen as many Chinese movies as I have. It's pretty padding though. The Kid being 12 years old instead of a teenager creates a few problems for me too. It's sweeter, but the romance comes off as a Mini-Pops version of the original's, and the injuries Dre sustains means his mother really should have interceded and not let him fight in the final. Both Kids' moms are pretty permissive, but the sassy new model comes off as negligent. So some great action, and a good mix of comedy and touching drama, but in no way does it dethrone the original, which remains the most iconic and relevant. The DVD includes a 20-minute making of, some Mandarin lessons, and a Justin Bieber video (I hope that sold DVDs, guys...).

Audio: Nigel Robinson's The Emperor of Eternity was written for someone exactly like me - a fan of both Doctor Who and Chinese historical films - and perhaps that's why I was so disappointed with it. The biggest problem for me is Deborah Watling's narration. She is likely my least favorite Companion Chronicle star. Her voice has changed too much since the 60s, and even her Victoria is unrecognizable, never mind when she's speaking as the second Doctor or other guest characters. Frazer Hines reads Jamie's lines, but doesn't share the narration, so he sounds slightly disconnected from the rest of the audio play (did he record his lines separately?). The plot, focused on courtly shenanigans in historical China, complete with terracotta soldiers and the quest for immortality, required a clear story teller to overcome the normal problems audiences have distinguishing between characters with difficult-to-remember names (and Chinese names definitely count), and that's not what we get with Watling. Interesting period in history and a good final act, but a bit confused in the beginning and middle.

RPGs: Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG. The Shepherd Season 2 episode 3: Babel
This week's session started out as a comedy interlude, but went surprisingly dark at the end. The plot followed a couple of suggestions in the First Doctor sourcebook about TARDIS malfunctions (because no one wants to do the confusing Edge of Destruction as written). Companion Corey gets into the TARDIS pool and causes a leak when he freaks out the space manatee family (my invention) sheltered there by the Shepherd. This leak of infinite water gets into the TARDIS systems and starts flooding the control room, and causes a problem with the telepathic circuits and translation matrix. As soon as the trouble starts, I forced my players to speak only in "exquisite corpses" from a bowl of words on the table. In the end, the TARDIS accidentally flies to a point from before the Big Bang and it's the TARDIS venting water that acts as the "last drop" that makes it explode. The short trip to the United States of Lizardia (the Big Bang acts as an access to various time tracks) is the last straw for Corey who immediately breaks up with the Time Lord character and asks to be brought home in Renaissance Italy. Listless, he doesn't even push back when Machiavelli shows up to ruin his life. Player hasn't quite the game, it was all in character, though I can tell it was informed by his tiredness from having spent the weekend at an improv tournament. But I also admit my error in crafting a TARDIS-bound scenario. For a character who's best described as the "interactor" of the team, it didn't give him much to do. No NPCs, and besides, an obstacle to communication, which was his strength and function. I saw it happening, and the frustration mounting, but didn't figure out how to write myself out of it at that point. Fixing it for the next game... in which I also introduce someone to role-playing! That's exciting.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Other Hamlets: Kill Shakespeare

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Justice League International to Justice League Quarterly.

2 comments:

Yves D said...

I just watched Detachment, and while it does portray extremes, as a teacher, I was touched by a central message: many students must feel alienated by their peers, their parents, their schools... And educators often feel excessively helpless faced with these challenges. We care - we care a DAMN lot - but a lot of these issues seem so much larger than what we can tackle...

I've come to the conclusion that all I can really do is talk about these things (teenage alienation, bullying, sexual identity, gender stereotypes,...) in the hopes that I can alleviate some of the pressure by giving them hope. I should probably listen more, but at least I provide an area where these issues may addressed on a neutral non-judgemental (bah, who am I kidding - less-judgemental) playing field. The movie captured this helplessness...

Adrien Brody was magnificent, as were pretty all of the supporting cast. A gem of a movie. If this doesn't make you think and feel, you're a lost cause...

Siskoid said...

Thanks for the honest insight, Yves.

From what I've gathered from working with the same kids he has, Yves is one of the good ones, so I trust his opinion on this.

 

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