This Week in Geek (7-13/10/13)


Couldn't resist, Columbo the complete series (including later TV movies) at a particularly low price, it had to be mine. Other DVDs that have come to live with me this week include Homeland Season 2, The Guild Season 6, The Town, Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing (see below), and two Doctor Who releases, The Green Death Special Edition and Terror of the Zygons.


DVDs: So the reason I was looking at Columbo releases was that I watched Neil Simon's Murder by Death (with Peter Falk) for the first time, and it was great fun. It's basically Clue, a sly meta-textual send-up of literary detectives put to screen, with pastiches of Hercules Poirot, Miss Marples, Charlie Chan, Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles trying to solve a murder, and one of them is most likely the killer. In addition to making fun of the various archetypes they represent, Simon also produces a very funny critique of bad mystery fiction and throws some outrageously silly and bizarre ideas in just to make it more memorable. Modern audiences might be made uncomfortable by some of the casual racism on show, especially Peter Sellers in yellow face as the Chan figure, though that's definitely a critique of the old Charlie Chan movies, but if anyone can sell it, it's Sellers. And Alec Guiness is hilarious as the blind butler. Who knew? The DVD includes a lively and enlightening interview with Neil Simon.

There's more mystery solving in Luther's final season, a conclusion that's happily ambiguous to let the audience make their own choices for Idris Elba's tortured homicide detective. The four episodes that make up the season are really about Luther deciding who he wants to be and confronting his own nature, especially in the second case in which he is pitted against a street vigilante. If it's not okay for that guy to bend the rules to gets things done, is it okay for Luther to do so, badge or not? Meanwhile, his partner's loyalty is tested by a ruthless Internal Affairs team who may be as bad as Luther is when it comes to bending the rules. So everywhere he looks, there's a mirror showing him a rather unflattering picture. Needless to say, it's riveting television as usual. The DVD includes a making of that discusses the season's themes and I think makes clear there won't be a Season 4.

I'm really very interested in How I Met Your Mother's last season, which is due to take place over the same 3-day weekend. Structurally, that's fascinating. So Season 8 is really about getting all the pieces in place FOR that fateful weekend when Ted meets the Mother. We meet her just a bit before, as the actress is finally revealed in the season's final shot, and I think it was a wise choice not to stunt-cast her. Anyway, this series is still a well-written sitcom, even if it goes for stupid puns a lot more than I remember, and I can't quibble too much with any season that offers up a new Robin Sparkles song and video (complete as an extra, and with a dedicated making of for the episode). The highlight, however, is an episode called "The Time Travelers", which seems a very odd piece in older Ted's narrative until you realize what's really going on. Very effective. The DVD has fun cast and crew commentary on a couple episodes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a tour of the exterior New York sets with Josh Radnor.

On second viewing, I can't really find a reason to change my review of Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing. What I liked in theaters, I still like. What put me off, still does. I was enthusiastic about the DVD extras however. There are two commentary tracks, one by Whedon himself which illuminates his various choices both in terms of direction and screenwriting, and I do appreciate the way he's brought out the darkness of the play, focusing on how it's really about people lying to each other and themselves. A second commentary track sounds like a big cast and crew party, with several playing a drinking game and sometimes talking over each other. It's fun and full of jokes, though not necessarily always easy to follow. The DVD also has a good making of in which cast and crew get a chance to talk about the film, their relationship to Shakespeare, and how much this was a "home movie". A featurette on their bus trip to a film festival is also fun, publishing various Vine videos they made on the voyage. And the jazzy rendition of Sigh No More gets a music video. The extras did what good extras do - make me enjoy the film (and the play!) even more.

While I did enjoy the story and acting in Painted Skin (reviewed last week), it did have production problems, namely cheesy music and effects. The sequel, Painted Skin: The Resurrection, fixes those right off the bat and manages another compelling tragic love story. The music is grand and sweeping, and the effects are painterly and near-constant, giving this second chapter of the Painted Skin series a true fairy tale feeling. Only the Fox (a succubus played by Zhou Xun) returns, after escaping imprisonment for having dared to fall in love with a human, but she meets a new couple played by the same actors that were in the first film (Zhao Wei and Chen Kun; descendents maybe?), which may be why she sticks around. The sad love story is theirs this time, and the Fox is actually on a quest to win her humanity, though it may cost other characters theirs. The B-story, featuring a cute bird demon and a demon hunter is also stronger than the unrequited loves of the first film. The relationships are strong, the dilemmas well explored, and the action exciting. If there's a weakness, it's in the ancillary villains (a sort of wolf tribe) who might as well have walked out of a Conan movie. We tittered at how over the top they were. Still, a good, romantic fantasy piece. The DVD's making of is made up of various featurettes, focusing on each of the three lead actors/characters, the effects and the score.

If you read the blog, you already know what I think of Doctor Who's Remembrance of the Daleks (a classic), but what about the Special Edition DVD's extras? First, it retains all the extras from the original disc - the production note subtitles, the commentary by McCoy and Aldred (fun, though it peters out at the end), deleted scenes and outtakes, behind the scenes footage of some explosions from various angles, an isolated score, a photo gallery (Special Ed's is longer though), and continuity announcements. What's new? A making of, for starters, and it's a good one further supplemented by a featurette that explores the story's references to the past, how and why they were put in by the script writer. There's also a second disc with a documentary called "Davros Connections" which is all about the Daleks' creator, and that surprises by telling the complete story including all the stuff from the too-seldom-acknowledged Big Finish audios! Cool! And speaking of BF...

Audios: Simon Guerrier's The Memory Cheats is an unusual Companion Chronicles for Zoe because it's so a-technical. I've been disappointed in Zoe-narrated audios at times because her point of view is so logical and scientific, there's no room for interesting prose. Not so here (more proof that Guerrier is Big Finish's MVP right now). A trip to 1919 Uzbekistan focuses on history and society instead, and links Zoe's worldview to Soviet communism in an interesting way. In the present-day time frame, an older Zoe is having her memories prodded by "the Company", whose agent is played by Wendy Padbury's own daughter, which might make one wonder how many different framing tales older Zoe will get into in order to tell stories she's supposed to have no memory of, but is forgiven for turning this particular tale on a meditation ABOUT memory, and whether Zoe is even telling the truth.

Guerrier continues the framing tale in The Uncertainty Principle, under a similar theme, and though the story is about sentient computers, and there's a monologue about Schrodinger's Cat in the middle of it, the story Zoe tells is again more emotional than logical, even moody and a little bit touching. And the end of the framing tale is just a tad devastating. I haven't mentioned it, but Padbury - for all her claims to the contrary in the disc's extras - is quite good at conveying both Jamie's and the Doctor's voices. I suppose in a range where Frazer Hynes is doing THE best Troughton impression ever heard, it's natural to be a little insecure about your own, but while she can't do the voice, she's got the delivery down cold. But I wonder, is Guerrier done with Zoe? It sounds like it, but I'd love to hear more.

The Selachian Gambit by Steve Lyons makes fair use of one of the spin-offs' most enduring aliens, the Selachians (think sharks in Judoon armor; they're in a number of books and audios), in a romp about a bank robbery in which the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly are made hostages. Anneke Wils does Polly's voice, but this is really Frazer Hynes' show, dazzling not only with his Doctor, but his cockney Ben as well. This isn't really a serious piece, more of a fun action-driven one, with memorable music and a few twists and turns involving the Galacti-Bank's dimensionally-transcendental vault. Lyons can usually be counted on to produce a solid story, and so he does.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.v. Laertes' Return - Classics Illustrated

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Shazam! to Smallville.


Tim Knight said...

I'm having to use all my patience to wait for HIMYM to finish before I buy the DVDs as I want to invest in the box set of the show's complete run.

I came to it late (having initially dismissed it as a Friends clone) but quickly discovered it's so much more.

I love the way that the format (Ted's unreliable narration) allows the writers to cleverly play around with the structure of episodes.

Jayunderscorezero said...

Wow. Your copy of Much Ado sounds amazing. The only one I could find just had the Joss Whedon commentary. Boo.

Siskoid said...

Tim: I had the same impression until my friends sold me on it. I guess I got in after... season 5 maybe? But I also wait for the DVD, so it's gonna be a year before I see the last season.

Jay: Boo is right!

Toby'c said...

"It's Clue before they ever made the board game"

Murder by Death - 1976
Cluedo - 1949

Siskoid said...

Wow! I never imagined!

Radagast said...

Speaking of Much Ado, have you seen the David Tennant/Catherine Tate version? Not sure if it's had a North American release though.

Siskoid said...

Never. But when I finish covering Hamlet on Hyperion to a Satyr, I would be very tempted to do a Much Ado adaptation comparison.


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