This Week in Geek (5-11/08/13)

Buys

As soon as I learned Peter Capaldi was the new Doctor Who, I investigated his career and found the parliamentary comedy The Thick of It, all four seasons of which released on Amazon the following Tuesday. Coincidence? I think not. And of course I ordered it. I'm that guy.

"Accomplishments"

Books: It took me a large chunk of the summer but I finally finished A Dance with Dragons, the fifth volume of the Song of Ice and Fire (AKA Game of Thrones) series from George R.R. Martin. At nearly 1000 pages, it's a monster, initially exploring the lives of the characters ignored by volume 4 - people at and beyond the Wall, in Winterfell or Slavers' Bay (as lots of characters both old and new converge on the Dragon Queen) mostly - before getting back to the folk in King's Landing where it left them. A lot of crazy happenings in this one, and certainly a lot more magic as get closer and closer to winter. If there's a theme, it's that of rulers trying to do the right thing and largely failing to get support because Politics. As usual, no one is safe from the author, and the book, a lot like the most recent season of the television show, ends on a number of seeming deaths. I'll say seeming to keep the characters alive in my imagination for now, and here's hoping I might be able to enjoy The Winds of Winter next summer (not holding my breath in any case, seeing as there was a 6-year wait between vol.4 and 5, though HBO does provide some motivation to complete the work at a faster rate at least). Despite the length, a fun, fast-paced read, and yes, dragons. It'll make seasons 5 through 7 (by my reckoning) of the show exciting.

DVDs: I've seen a lot of Canadian director Atom Egoyan's early films, up through The Sweet Hereafter, but have lately because collection some of his more recent films. Chloe is unusual because it's the only(?) one that isn't written by Egoyan as well. Maybe it's why it's so linear in structure. It's clear why he was still attracted to this erotic thriller though. Egoyan ofter deals in second-hand emotion, usually filtering relationships through technology. In this case, Julianne Moore's jealousy makes her hire a call girl (Amanda Seyfried) to see if her roguish husband (Liam Neeson) will make a move on young thing, thus proving his suspected serial infidelity. Living an affair vicariously through another person, Moore's character is aroused as much as she is despondent. Needless to say, that's an impressive cast that doesn't sound one false note. If the film has a weakness, it's the last act that becomes a melodramatic thriller. It's still artfully done, and the characters remain ambiguous and interesting, but I somewhat resent the inclusion of formulaic elements in what is otherwise an engrossing character study. The DVD includes a commentary track with the director, writer and star, a strong making of and some deleted scenes.

The year before Chloe, Egoyan had made (and written) Adoration, and it's really much more in line with his earlier films - a non-chronological structure that makes the film unfold like a mystery for the audience to solve, human relationships filtered through a proxy, Arsinée Khanjian's participation, and a family secret that haunts the protagonists. Adoration is about Simon, a teenager who lost both his parents at a young age, and who, as part of a school project initiated by an oddball teacher (Khanjian), creates a fiction in which his father was a terrorist who had once attempted to explode a plane with his pregnant wife on board. It's the first of several "emotional proxies" used by Egoyan throughout the film as the boy works out his feelings about how his father's role in both parents' accidental(?) death. Of course, Simon becomes the subject of debate on the Internet, with various live video chat rooms coming in to expose this raw nerve in our society's skin. As usual, Egoyan creates an extreme family situation, but manages to find a truth we can all recognize about trauma and healing. The DVD, surprisingly, features no director's commentary, but there's plenty besides - an all-too-brief making of, a longer interview with Egoyan on the film's themes, some deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage, and most interestingly, the full semi-scripted improvisations of two of the video chats.

Next up was the Polish fantasy film Stara baśń: Kiedy słońce było bogiem, AKA An Ancient Tale: When the Sun Was a God or this here DVD says The Old Fairy Tale: When The Sun Was God, though it was also released as Army of Valhalla. This is an official release despite the box looking like a bootleg, and the DVD menu is similarly amateurish and blares music at cat-scaring levels, but it's really a case of not judging a film by its DVD cover. Somewhere between Polish folklore, The Game of Thrones and MacBeth, Stara baśń tells the story of an evil prince who does away with all competitors, and his just-as-evil wife who wants her son to reign supreme over the country. A subplot, which will dovetail into the main action, features a young hero who falls in love with an exotic beauty (played by Russian actress Marina Aleksandrova) who can't reciprocate because she has been promised to the gods (she's to become a priestess, not a sacrifice, to be clear). Originally a feature film that ran 103 minutes, this is the TV version which turned into three 45-minute episodes (removing repeated credits sequences that's still 22 minutes of new material). I can't compare them, of course, but the episodic format creates a pleasant rhythm that's as addictive as any TV show serial, and ultimately, you kinda wish the adventure wasn't over and that you could have spent a few more episodes with these characters and their world. The plot is served, but the characters could have gotten more room to breathe. The production values are mostly low-tech with thankfully very little 90s-level CGI (the film was made in 2003 though), and if some shots look video-y, I mostly blame the DVD transfer. Not surprisingly, there are no extras on the disc.

No extras either on Johnnie To's Mad Detective, a very strange police drama in which a rookie detective calls in a forcibly retired schizoid cop to help him on an unsolvable case. The Mad Detective has the ability to see people inner selves, which in the case of the culprit, is split into seven, all represented without effects through simple editing. He's also haunted by an imaginary version of his wife who acts as his conscience, and the film culminates into the strangest Mexican stand-off in cinema history, where there may be only four people in the room, but more than a dozen from the title character's perspective. The director really pushes you in the deep end and you're forced to unlock the rules of this universe early on, and the final scenes are wonderfully ambiguous. I can't remember the last time my living room exploded into explanations and counter-explanations, theories, analyses both psychological and archetypal, and even DVD scene selections to check and tweak our understanding of WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED? So we made our own DVD extra, pretty much. Delightful, maverick film making.

You already know what I thought of Doctor Who's Resurrection of the Daleks from reviews this week (unfortunately too violent, but features a superior Davros and a sweet goodbye scene for Tegan), but I flipped the Special Edition DVD this week, so we could talk about extras. First of all, everything that was on the original release is there, except maybe the Easter Eggs (weak ones anyway) - the 4-part (not as aired) version of the story, with production notes and a lively commentary by Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and director Matthew Robinson; a making of that returns to the original locations with the energetic director, script editor Eric Saward, and also includes interviews with producer John Nathan-Turner; JNT and Fielding on Breakfast Time promoting a book on companions (with a filmed bit about the Radiophonic Workshop); a TARDIS-Cam CGI test of the TARDIS landing in Fury from the Deep; extended and deleted scenes; the isolated music score; and a photo gallery, though the Special Edition improves on the collection. The SE adds an hour-long retrospective on the fifth Doctor era hosted by David Tennant, though most of the material has been said or actually appeared on those stories' DVDs and it quickly turns into a JNT trashing. Tennant doesn't seem to be enjoying himself reading cue cards either. Much better, though rather quirky, is Toby Hadoke interviewing five of the many actors whose characters were massacred in Resurrection, some having gone on to better things, others not so much. It's the kind of thing he's doing on his podcast right now, and it's lovely to hear about the acting business from people who were not then stars, and for the most part, never became ones. There's a new commentary track too, this one on the as-aired two-part version of the story, with Saward, Terry Malloy (Davros), effects designer Peter Wragg, and moderated by Nicholas Pegg. You'll also find the Doc5 installment of "Tomorrow's Times", looking at what the newspapers said of the show during those years, and a truly awful sketch from Walrus, in which a Dalek comes across a woman with a Welsh accent. The model photography of Skaro's destruction from the end of Evil of the Daleks, which used to be on The Seeds of Death, but was shuffled out of the Special Edition, also finds its way here. I'm a little disappointed with the retrospective, but overall, in an interesting re-issue.

RPGs: Justice Legion - A Fragile Peace, episode 2: Aiding and Abetting
That's the the motto of the UFP according to my players whose heroes maybe didn't do as well as they would have liked in yesterday's session (banner courtesy of player Furn, who also brought a prop of his character, the brick Green Lantern, and a green dry-erase board to draw in rebus form what the character could not articulate). The story was a fairly simple one that opened up the space opera aspect of our 28th-century superheroic campaign, and in addition to Br'k, it involved Ferro Man, Oracle (played by Fred via Google+ hangout, naturally), and new character Aaron Strange, a descendent of the Rannian hero. I promised to show new character sheets for this campaign, so here is his:
A ladies' man with a touch of Zap Brannigan in him, Aaron was also a conceit to introduced Zeta Beam technology into the campaign world so that, whether he be present or not, the Justice Legion could go roaming the stars. The story itself was a prisoner exchange fraught with complications, delivering a Dominator captive to the Dominion in exchange for a Federation diplomat who turned out to be a Durlan agent who soon attempted to assassinate the Khund ambassador. Among the complications, the Fatal Four showed up, currently composed of the Thanagarian pirate Wingman; Atomic Axe, a female Persuader precursor; the Empress-free Eye of Ekron; and a true nemesis for Br'k, the Sinestro Corps member known as Lo'g (he got chopped by an emerald giant space Paul Bunyan wielding the atomic axe). The characters all earned their Khund names by the end. So now I've set up a "fragile peace" on near-Utopian Earth AND in the Dominion Buffer Zone out in space. Where do I go from here? (The answer is back to Earth...)

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.v. Laertes' Return - Branagh '96

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Outsiders to Phantom Stranger.

4 comments:

Tim Knight said...

Glad to see you had a chance to watch Stara baśń.

Siskoid said...

And thanks for the recommendation!

Mitchell Craig said...

One of the guest stars in Resurrection of the Daleks, which you didn't mention, was Rula Lenska, who was best known in the US for her series of VO5 Hair Spray commercials.

The tag line was, "Please don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

You're welcome.

d said...

Actually, Kelly LeBrock was the "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful" girl. Rula Lenska's line was "I'm Rula Lenska" and talking about her busy day of photo shoots and acting, as if anyone in North America knew who she was.

You're also welcome.

 

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