This Week in Geek (1-07/07/13)


Got a number of DVDs this week, some for Kung Fu Fridays - Soul of the Sword, Invincible Shaolin, Heroes Two, and three Johnnie To films, Life Without Principle, Yesterday Once More, Mad Detective - and a little Canadian content in The Essential Egoyan (four early features by Atom Egoyan) and Bruce McDonald's Highway 61 (see below for some work by these two directors).


At the movies: I think I adequately described my thoughts about Man of Steel in this week's Reign of the Supermen, so I'll just vamp for a couple lines while the picture on the right scrolls properly. (Oh, blogging!) Maybe I can talk about the movie-going experience... The only theater that wasn't showing it in the loathed 3D was running it at 6h10, and we decided pretty late to make a go of it, so there we were in the front rows at an angle (in other words, while not full, the room was pretty packed), but to my surprise I didn't have to get a neck brace later. It was a quiet theater. The public laughed only twice and there were no disruptions. When we came  out, it was all talk of whether Luthor would show up in the next film, though if so, I hope he's just there to set-up for a third chapter while Clark takes care of other business. All of this says something about the movie and I see I've written the requisite number of lines. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

DVDs: Starting summer vacation, so you expect the ecclectic DVD section of This Week to inflate to unreasonable size in July. Battlestar Galactica's Blood & Chrome TV movie started out as a video game element that turned into a pilot for a new BSG prequel series with young Adama fighting his way through the Cylon war. This is his first mission fresh out of the Academy and it's got some exciting action, but there's frankly too much of it. If some BSG fans rejected Caprica because there wasn't enough (or any) spaceship action, B&C goes the other way completely, and I miss Ron Moore's thought-provoking writing. David Eick is only half of the equation, and as with Bionic Woman, his Moore-less production does action well, but doesn't avoid clichés very well. I suppose the other thing I should mention is the effects (and the making of is entirely filtered through this topic) because the entire thing is shot on CG sets. The bits with snow stretch the technology a bit far, but otherwise, it's surprising how little you can tell. Effectless deleted scenes (which would have added even more action set pieces) are also included.

Le Samouraï is Jean-Pierre Melville's classic minimalist hitman film and a huge influence on cinema. Blade Runner, Ghost Dog, John Woo and Tarantino's oeuvres, and heck, having just watched Johnnie To's Vengeance, it can't be a coincidence Johnny Hallyday's hitman-cum-amnesiac chef is called Costello just like Alain Delon's character in this film. It's the kind of film that proves sometimes style IS content. Melville creates two worlds here. A cool 1940s Paris right out of American gangster pictures, practically in black and white, with a star that hardly ever says a word. The other, a vibrant contemporary (1967) yet stylized Paris with an almost over-talkative character actor (François Périer as the cop). Their clash is Costello's doom. And it's hard for me not to see something of the zen engravings of Japan, in the structure and spare script (Delon famously agreed to do it when he realized 10 minutes into the script he still hadn't had a line). I'll admit to only perusing many Criterion Collection booklets, but this one I read cover to cover. In addition to the scholarly essay, there's another by John Woo and fascinating excerpts of an interview with Melville. The DVD itself contains interesting interviews with authors who have written about or known Melville, and an assembly of archival interview clips with Melville, Alain and Nathalie Delon, Périer and Cathy Rosier (the beautiful pianist). I'm ashamed to say I have few French films in my library, but Le Samuraï really makes me wonder why.

Believe it or not, I'd never seen American History X. Not a particular fan of Edward Norton, I suppose, though I'd always meant to see it because AVERY BROOKS, people! Realizing it was made by Tony Kaye, the director responsible for Detachment, was what pushed me over the edge. The film is really a thing of several parts and doesn't QUITE work for me. And that's why perhaps it insidiously does. Racism is real, and I know it exists in extreme forms like the white supremacists pictured in the film, but it seemed to hit its message a little hard on the head. At the same time, it refuses to give any easy answers as to the root cause of its characters' racism, painting the situation (again, an extreme situation that hinges on gang warfare) as an endless cycle as, if you'll allow me to borrow from the best, sin plucks on sin. Many of the characters are wholly justified in their world view, though only because they ascribe the actions of the few to those of the many. I guess what makes me uncomfortable is how cheesy American History X can become at times while retaining its brutal naturalism. And sorry, but the subplot involving the school principal helping the police looks like it's from another movie entirely. The DVD includes some fairly good deleted scenes.

On Canada Day, I decided to watch a couple of Canadian films, the first of which was Atom Egoyan's Exotica which I hadn't seen since... college? I still packs its punch, except now I recognize many of the actors! The story has two dovetailing strands. There's Bruce Greenwood's traumatized tax agent who tries to get over the murder of his daughter (for which he was for a time falsely accused of) by going to Exotica, a high-class strip club where he has a strange (and platonic) relationship with a dancer whose shtick is dressing up like a schoolgirl. And then there's Don McKellar (the hilarious Darren Nichols from Slings & Arrows) playing a repressed exotic pet dealer, investigated by Greenwood. Also watch for young Victor Garber and even younger Sarah Polley. Egoyan creates the film in editing, pacing it non-chronologically as revelations of the heart. The relationships are mysteries but obviously important, and only by the end do we understand why the characters are who they are. It's masterful and surprisingly touching. Don't let the sordid subject matter put you off. The DVD contains a lively recently-recorded retrospective commentary track with the director and composer Mychael Danna (Life of Pi).

Don McKellar also stars in (and wrote!) Roadkill, the first of Bruce McDonald's road trip films. I lovvvvvvved Hard Core Logo and this is definitely a precursor, though perhaps too "indie" for its own good, looking for all the world like a black and white student film. But it's not without its charm. The striking Valerie Buhagiar is Ramona, a band management stooge sent to retrieve an MIA band in Northern Ontario (if you don't know what it's like, you'll soon find out, but its reputation is that it's Nowheresville). Unlike Hard Core Logo, Roadkill isn't a straight-up mockumentary, but it does have a documentary treatment and documentarian characters in it. Rather, it's built around a series of meetings with strange characters, from which Ramona progressively learns to drive (I guess that's the central metaphor), until she is ready to help THEM at a big happening in Thunder Bay. That's where things get really loopy, not to say absurd, and if you like, pretentious and cynical, but mostly, the film is amusing and never overstays its welcome. Plus, awesome soundtrack filled with music you'll likely never have heard before but will want to listen to again. The DVD includes a commentary track with the writer and producer, a photo gallery, and two fun shorts by McDonald, one of them McKellar's bizarre but wonderful Elimination Dance.

Now how about a little Muppet action? Muppets from Space was 1999's attempt to tell Gonzo's extraterrestrial origin and it's a pretty fun flick. The Muppets are all living under the same roof and grooving to funk hits when speciesless Gonzo gets a message from the stars. It happens. Or could it be in his head? Meanwhile, Miss Piggy hopes to become a news anchor. This could be her big scoop. The usual Muppets formula is used, with plenty of guest-star cameos and a strong villain played by Jeffrey Tambor (who nevertheless gets his spotlight stolen by his bear sidekick - he's the best thing about this movie). As far as musical numbers go, it's cover band material or action put to soundtrack. While the focus is strongly on Gonzo and Rizzo (a good pairing, as always), the other Muppets get some fun stuff to do as well. A fun afternoon's amusement, with some foam rubber heart. The DVD was sadly in full screen format, but had some fun extras. The commentary shared between director Tim Hill, Kermit, Rizzo and Gonzo takes a Mystery Science Theater 3000 approach with their silhouettes in frame, and really takes the mickey, with ridiculous explanations of how certain shots were achieved. The "outtakes reel" isn't really a reel at all, since each scene has to be accessed separately, but they're fun little moments with the puppets acting like actors (because they are). And there's a lame music video.

15 years earlier, The Muppets Take Manhattan was the first (and I think only) Muppet movie I saw in theaters. Comedy had a slower pace back then, and gentleness that makes Muppets from Space seem percussively rat-tat-tat in comparison, and yet, it made me laugh out loud more. Less punchline-driven and more character-driven. And it's got original songs and musical numbers too, some of them strangely touching. The classic Muppets plot has the characters move to New York to sell their show on Broadway, initially with terrible results. They're forced to split up and get jobs while Kermit tries to scheme his way into the industry, while being spied on by a jealous Piggy. It's an important film for the Muppet Mythos (yes, I date to call it a Mythos) as it changes the nature of the Kermit-Piggy relationship AND creates, in a dream sequence that would become a memorable Saturday morning cartoon, the Muppet Babies. It dips in places and has one terrible extended cameo by Joan Rivers, but otherwise is a minor classic filled to the brim with guest-stars both human and plush. Interview elements with Jim Henson (like Space's outtakes, these should really have been consolidated to reduce button pushing) are a treasure, as he talks about this film in particular and puppetry in general, and there are some quick "Muppetisms" skits starring a few of your favorites.

Chan Shen's Shaolin Intruders, a Shaw Brothers' martial arts picture from 1983, features a typical plot as far as these things go - a round robin of revenges between martial arts masters - but the twist is that there may be a traitor among the monks of Shaolin Temple, and perhaps among the three heroes navigating the mystery. Well, the plot hardly matters (though it's not too bad), because this thing is wall-to-wall action. Ninja-monk attacks, Shaolin Temple tests, highway ambushes, it hardly ever stops, and thankfully, that action is clever, varied and choreographed incredibly well. The tests are particularly inventive and memorable. Plenty of laughs (intentional and not), violence (there are some crazy suicides in here), and tragedy (sorry, they don't all survive). Like the three other films in the Legendary Heroes collection, well above average. You could do worse than add this 4-in-1 DVD to your collection.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Kline '90

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Metamorpho to Mister Terrific.



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