This Week in Geek (27/05-02/06/13)


A few DVDs added to my collection this week: 30 Rock Season 7, Cloud Atlas, American History X, Life Gamble, and the Globe Theatre presentation of Much Ado About Nothing. Plus, early pdfs of the Second Doctor sourcebook for the Doctor Who RPG were sent out to subscribers, and it's keen! I like the structure better than the First Doctor's, with the Doctor and companions discussed upfront, and distinct sections on monsters and gadgets, before the book settles into discussing each serial, though that shouldn't be read as an indictment of the first book, which I like quite a lot.


DVDs: I haven't seen the American version of House of Cards, but this week I quickly got through the original UK version, which in a way, features a political system closer to my own, so I really took to it. Plus, Ian Richardson in the main role is awesome. He's a perfect Richard III figure (married to a Lady MacBeth for good measure), taking you into his confidence with asides and pointed looks, making you a participant in his political manipulations. I don't remember the last time I rooted this much for a villain, and yet, wanted to see him get his comeuppance. The original House of Cards is actually three 4-episode mini-series produced several years apart. House of Cards (1990) sees party whip Francis Urquhart attack his own Prime Minister from the shadows. In To Play the King (1993), conservative Prime Minister Urquhart has a face-off with a new and very liberal King. And in The Final Cut (1995), in the wake of Thatcher's death, he tries to insure his own legacy. Each mini-series goes just a little bit too far into thriller territory in the final act, but that's really my only complaint of what I think it a superlative (if extreme) look behind the scenes of parliamentary politics. The DVD features a commentary track for each first episode and a vintage interview where the scriptwriter faces his public about a controversial line about the monarchy in To Play the King. The fourth disc has a documentary about the House of Commons, looking at it from non-political perspectives, talking about its traditions, history and support staff, basically a tour given by a long-standing MP. It's interesting and all, but has nothing at all to do with House of Cards.
Flight of the Conchords was a fun change of pace. The 2007-09 HBO comedy about a musical duo from New Zealand (the actual band, Flight of the Conchords, except played as inept and naive losers) is part Extras (awkward characters with a terrible agent), part Cop Rock (Bret and Jemaine's interior monologues turn into musical numbers), part Coming to America (a lot of heart in an immigrant story). The concept and characters supported two seasons (22 episodes in all), and produced a lot of videos, some for original songs, some for Conchord catalog material fitted into the storylines, spoofing those of various eras. If you were around for the video explosion of the 80s, you're going to recognize a lot of stuff. The supporting cast is great fun too, especially Rhys Darby as the idiot band manager/pathetic consulate official, and Kristen Schaal as the duo's only (and hilariously obsessed) fan. There are no extras on the Season 1 DVD, but Season 2's has material from across both seasons, including a making of documentary, solid and funny deleted scenes, outtakes, a bonus meeting between New Zealand consulate personnel, and Dave (their American friend)'s pawn shop commercials.

City of Life and Death is a bleak experience recounting the 1937 Japanese occupation of the Chinese city of Nanking, and the resulting massacre and other atrocities. Filmed in beautiful black and white, as if bringing historical photographs to life, it sometimes plays without dialog, a lingering and sad stillness breaking up the violent (but not gory) action. The ensemble cast includes both Chinese and Japanese characters (and some from the international community too) and gives the film a narrative akin to long vignettes, several lives inhabiting this bombed-out husk of a city, lives touches by both horror and fleeting hope. It's a difficult film to sit through, but definitely a worthwhile experience. From the 2-hour making of documentary on the second disc, it wasn't any easier to make it. This is one of those films, like Apocalypse Now and Happy Together, whose production was rife with problems. Cost overruns, twitchy investors, embezzled funds, lay-offs, weather problems, unhappy actors, drastic script changes, shoddy workmanship, the director's flaming appendicitis... But you wouldn't know it from the finished product, which seems so well-assured and authentic.

Books: I finished the fourth book of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, A Feast for Crows, keeping ahead of the Game of Thrones TV series and all that. It features a narrative that runs parallel to about half of the fifth book, which came out 6 years later (must have driven the fans nuts). So no Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon Snow, Bran or Theon, except peripherally. I was afraid it would act at some kind of big set-up for the back half of the series, and introduce a huge cast (the chapter headings are more colorful than usual, so it gave that impression), but while we do explore the Ironborn and the people of Dorne as they start to play the "game of thrones" more aggressively, most of the book is about Cersei, Jaime, Brienne, Samwell, Sansa and Arya. Getting into Cersei's head is particularly fun because she's spectacularly and hilariously paranoid. Jaime sort of becomes a hero in my mind now (sorry Bran). Brienne's on a bit of a runaround though. The theme of this particular volume is king-making, with various characters attempting to rule THROUGH someone else. Given everything that's gone on before, it may indeed be safer to control the king than BE the king. A Dance with Dragons is next, but it's massive. Don't expect a review for some weeks, not to say months.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Slings & Arrows

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Kid Eternity to Leading Comics.



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