This Week in Geek (6-12/05/13)


DVDs: If I tell you Gamer is by the makers of Crank, that might tell you everything you need to know about whether or not you want to see this movie. In a ridiculous dystopian future, video games use real people as avatars. You can be play in the debauched "Society" or control convicts fighting for their lives in "Slayers". Our hero (Gerard Butler) is one such Slayer, falsely accused of murder and intent on escaping the "game" and being reunited with his family. And of course, put a stop to a world-conquering conspiracy by the games' creator (Michael C. Hall). Plenty of gratuitous T&A, ultraviolence and music video effects ensue. Depending on your point of view, it's a meta black comedy or a casually offensive action flick. It's not bad if you're looking for action gags and online culture spoofing, and Hall has some delightful eccentricities, but don't go looking for deep character motivation or anything. It pretty much does what it says on the tin. The cast and crew commentary is rather "college humor-y", but the making of material really goes in-depth and lasts as long as the movie. I like how the producers and d.p. don't really seem to know what to make of the film. All facets of the film are covered, and there's also a featurette on the development of a new digital camera used in the movie.

On a high from Iron Man 3, I decided to watch Marvel's Avengers, which I'd previously reviewed after seeing it in theaters. Still stands up, and this time, the massive destruction in New York didn't bother me as much. Like many, I left the theater thinking it wasn't addressed, but while those moments are small, it kind of is (and a lot of buildings survive getting only glancing blows from the leviathan creature). The things you think about when you're watching a blockbuster the second time... The DVD I got has only one small featurette in which the cast members talk about all the other cast members, with some behind the scenes footage run under the voices. It's perfectly fine. The jewel of this release is Joss Whedon's commentary track though, and I know he's got his detractors, but he's always been one of my favorite commentators on stuff. No silences, a mix of deprecating humor, solid making-of information, and insight into scriptwriter and filmmaker story-telling decisions. I didn't feel like I needed a second disc full of supplementary materials after that.

As a change of pace, I then watched Luc Besson's The Lady, a biopic about Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma's democracy movement, and a political prisoner there until very recently (her release occurred while the film was being shot). Michelle Yeoh showed she had acting chops in Crouching Tiger, but this is the first time I've watched her in a pure drama and she acquits herself very well. David Thewlis, playing her British husband, puts in a touching performance as well. We've often seen the "woman standing by her man" dynamic in movies, but this is a credible reversal. This is quite unlike anything Besson has made before and he seems to disappear into the material. There's a lavishness that's certainly his trademark, but it's something you'd expect from any exotically-based historical film. His weakness here is the overt and sometimes cheesy sentimentalism of the piece. Still, I'm fascinated by the parts of history (and geography!) I know absolutely nothing about, so it certainly held my interest in that regard. Wikipedia tells me Besson did some guerrilla filming in Burma ('scuse me, Myanmar), had help from sources who want to remain anonymous because, y'know, oppressive regime and all, and that woul have made a fascinating making of, which just isn't part of the DVD package. The only extra is still a good one, a tongue-in-cheek documentary short that has the documentarians go to Burma as "tourists" and uncover the truth behind the country's frankly baffling propaganda. It's a little like being let into North Korea. Eye-opening.

Ichi the Killer was shown on Kung Fu Friday weeks ago, but it took me all this time to get through the "Collector's Blood Bag" DVD package (it's not that big, I was just being lazy). If you haven't seen Takashi Miike's most famous film, think long and hard if it's for you before you give it a go. As far as violence, sex and misogyny go, it's pretty sickening. How it gets away with it at all is part of its attracting, and I think due to Miike keeping a balance between the real and the cartoonish. It is based on a manga, after all, and reads like an extreme yakuza-superhero hybrid where the villain is a sado-masochistic version of the Joker and the hero a naive and pathetic mix between Kickass and Wolverine. It's the most perverse love story, in a sense, as the villain is drawn to Ichi because he needs an opposite and equal. Along the way, plenty of harrowing torture porn and gore, but Miike can't just give it to you straight and keeps you interested in the film through ambiguity. It's a motive force here. Who is manipulating these characters? What motivates them? What does this effect or this editing choice say about the scene? How should we interpret the ending? So yes, you'll see repugnant things you didn't think you'd ever see in a movie, but it may also be a satisfying and thought-provoking aesthetic experience. Which I'm always game for. The Blood Bag DVD comes in an icky, sticky sleeve that I thought for sure would harm the discs, but everything seemed fine despite a red fleck on disc 2. Disc 1 features a commentary track shared by Miike and the manga's creator, in Japanese with subtitles, and you get a sense of Miike's anti-art style, but it's relatively uninformative. There's also a featurette where gore-master Eli Roth talks about Ichi's influence on him. Disc 2 extends the latter idea by talking to various high(?)-profile fans of the film from the Western world, but also includes a long making-of and the uncut interviews from that documentary. Together, these are much more useful than the commentary track, though they all look cheap. A collection of Miike trailers completes the package.

If you've been reading my daily reviews, you already know what I though of Doctor Who's unaired and uncompleted Shada (had the makings of a Douglas Adams masterpiece), but there's a huge 3-disc DVD package supporting it. I was surprised that there was no commentary track on the existing assembly, but the steady old production note subtitles are there. Pop disc 1 into your DVD-Rom and you can watch the entire 8th Doctor webcast version of the story as well. No room to run it on the DVD player, I suppose, though that would have been more practical. Disc 2 features a making of documentary, a comprehensive look at how strikes have affected Doctor Who through its entire lifetime, a look at the locations used in Shada then and now, a half-hour feature on gender politics in Doctor Who, and a photo gallery. Disc 3 features the 30th Anniversary special, a 1993 documentary on Doctor Who called "More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS". It jumps around from subject to subject a lot, but does feature bits I haven't seen on other DVD releases and includes some fun sequences filmed with surviving actors caught in the Doctor Who world as monsters converge (a photo gallery helps chronicle this as well). You then get a bunch of extras that could be orphans from other releases, but they certainly bolster the package: A tribute to Nicholas Courtney with good chunks of his last interview, Peter Purves' segment for "Doctor Who Stories", Part 1 of an interview with Doctor Who's original producer Verity Lambert, and a fun featurette on female villains as seen by various Doctor Who actresses (from both Classic and New Who) and Doctor Who pundits and writers. So while Shada may be an incomplete story, the DVD has plenty to offer besides!

RPGs: Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG. The Shepherd Season 2 episode 2: The Scarred Planet
For our second session, I kept the 50th Anniversary vibe and threw the players at the original Dalek story's set-up. By stranding the TARDIS thanks to energy-draining Magnedons (those lizard things on Skaro), I inadvertently gave the players the means to drain the Dalek city of static electricity long enough for them to escape. Of course, by then, they'd completely fubarred the Thal question and most of the tribe was under Dalek guard. Instead of a front and rear attack, the players, stuck inside the city, only ever made an escape to the rear (doing the mountain and swamp course in reverse), while the Daleks were deactivated by the Magnedons called by our Time Lord. A theme is developing for our companion Corey, as he seems to be responsible for a lot of hardships throughout history. Episode 1 made his responsible for the Ice Age seen in The Ice Warriors, and here he might just have given the early Daleks the idea for the Time War. That's IF other companion James' slow-acting poison didn't kill off the idea along with the Daleks. But yeah, New Who has made the Daleks so fearsome that players are incredibly afraid of standing up to them. Even the dodgem car versions. Next game: A change of pace.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Act IV, Scene 4 - Classics Illustrated

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Justice League to Justice League: Generation Lost.


Craig Oxbrow said...

Interesting reaction to the Daleks (and fix for the lack of the Doctor being a self-sabotaging git).

I was thinking you could change it substantially by combining it with Genesis, so we meet two sets of apparent humans... and one is lead by a disabled scientist...

Siskoid said...

Most definitely!

As far as my players know, this was the "beginning" of the Daleks. How far back do they dare go after this?!


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