This Week in Geek (6-12/01/14)

Buys

The DVDs I got on various Amazon sales over the holidays are starting to trickle in: The Bill & Ted two-fer, Man of Tai Chi (I guess it's the Keanu pack), and Magic Mike (because Soderbergh, see below).

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: So finally getting into Breaking Bad, and if I hadn't while the series was still on, it's because the premise didn't appeal to me. I'm not really interested in drug culture, though obviously, I've enjoyed drug narratives like The Corner tremendously; and maybe my mother's cancer was still too close for comfort for that part of the equation. After the short, 7-episode first season, I can say I'm hooked regardless. Certainly, part of it is the acting, especially from Bryan Cranston, though the show isn't just well-acted; it's well-shot and well-written too. I'm impressed by the way it manages to juggle some pretty extreme tones, from black comedy to crime action to indictment of the United States' healthcare system to the tragic and moving family drama. Breaking Bad's theme is desperation. A man living under a death sentence desperate to not keep his family in debt. Another desperate to make something of himself as his life spirals out of control. And in the background, the junkies desperate for their next hit. I'll be burning through the whole series in short order, I think. The DVD includes commentary on a couple episodes, some deleted scenes, screen tests, a photo gallery, an episode of AMC's Shootout where they talk about how TV's evolved with the creator and star, and lots of short featurettes about various elements of production, anecdotes, and trivia. My one complaint about the DVD package is the absence of English subtitles. See, I like to watch shows while I'm eating and can't hear the dialog over the chewing. I made use of the French subtitles, but they are just awful. It's not just that they're in befuddling Parisian argot, but they actually change facts and meanings. The hell.

From the marketing of it, Magic Mike was not a film for me. What I kept forgetting was that this was a Steven Soderbergh picture, and I've nearly seen them all. So for what looks like a beefcake vehicle for Channing Tatum, is actually an indie character portrait using, as Soderbergh now almost exclusively does, a performer's real life and talents. When he worked with Tatum on Haywire, he found out the actor had once been a male stripper, and immediately wanted to work with him on a film that portrayed that life, and insured its truth. So we get a window into a life filled with ups and downs, punctuated by entertaining and very athletic dance numbers, shot with a rather objective lens. The individual viewer can decide if male stripping is glamorized or criticized; what we really have are characters who enjoy it, or want something more. It's got another fun, crazy performance by Matthew McConaughey too. The picture's big flaw is Cody Horn as a love interest/concerned sister. While Tatum's own acting is under-stated to say the least, she's a big ol' eyesore, expressionless and unengaging, or worse, false. In a film that strives for verisimilitude, that's a big problem, but not enough to prevent a recommendation. The DVD includes a short making-of.

Not that I expect readers of this blog to care much, our weekly Kung Fu Fridays are transitioning to more varied movie nights. Still some Asian cinema twice a month, but we're branching out with a couple new concepts, including what we're calling "Cultural Exchanges". Essentially, a member of the "movie club" presents a film they care about, that reveals something about them, that most in the group have no seen. Isabel's turn this month and she showed Singin' in the Rain, a Gene Kelly classic musical that's also about cinema, set during the transition between silent film and talkies. I now realize this was a perfect as our first official move away from KFF, since 1) it's about a transition and 2) it's as well choreographed and athletic as the best martial arts movies! Highly enjoyable, with fun comedy, memorable songs, and incredible physical prowess in both the dancing and the slapstick. Loved it. Maybe it should be in my collection proper...

Audio: Listened to a bunch of Big Finish Doctor Who audios this week, including The Valley of Death, a "Lost Story" from that range's Fourth Doctor set, based on an idea by Philip Hinchcliffe which was never produced (no writer even took a shot at it) and here written whole by Jonathan Morris. It features the 4th Doctor and Leela going to the Amazon with an explorer following in his lost great-grandfather's footsteps. They stumble on a time bubble and an alien invasion (of course), and midway through, loses the unusual setting for some much more frequently trod terrain - London under threat, enemy spaceships, and an evil doppelganger plot. It's a fine production, and I'll always love the Doc4/Leela pairing, but while there are excellent moments and the usual wit from the regulars, the story's also rather ordinary. That, and there's once again, a Brit doing a horrendous American accent. It's okay when it HAS to be part of the story, but the journalist here could have been of any nationality.

Now moving to my backlog of 5th Doctor material with Ringpullworld, a crazy Paul Magrs Companion Chronicle starring Mark Strickson as Turlough, and a sequel of sorts to the Jo Grant story Find and Replace. Like that previous Magrs effort, Ringpullworld also features Huxley the Noveliser from Verbatim 6, who has finally caught up with the Doctor and attached himself to Turlough (other Novelisers are attached to the Doctor and Tegan, so he still missed his chance). While there's a slightly insane plot about a pocket universe locked off from our own, the audio mostly exists to give Magrs a chance to play around with story structure through Huxley. What if he could flash forward? Well, he can, but the very cheeky script remains ambiguous about the story's definite ending. Very nicely done, and a strong Turlough story, told from his perspective and giving him proxy novelizing privileges that end up revealing his better nature. The sequel manages to be better than the original, I think.

Mark Morris' Freakshow is another Turlough audio, and in this one, he's left to his own devices more than half the time. The freak show in question is made up of aliens, trawled around the Old West by an snake oil salesman of uncertain origin. Fun and evocative - Turlough's got a good "voice" and Strickson is always good in the role, generally better than he was on TV - it nonetheless starts to lose something when the Doctor and Tegan are around. Turlough, when by himself, is a lot less cagey, and gets to reveal his thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of Enlightenment and his breaking off from the Black Guardian. Like Ringpullworld, Turlough's brand of heroism is rash, but informed by his hatred of feeling trapped, and of seeing other beings as prisoners. And for once, the American accents are acceptable. That tends to happen when the infuse performances with Southern twangs, the more exaggerated the accent, the less the British tones come out.

The Demons of Red Lodge and Other Stories is an anthology, featuring four separate stories (almost five, in a sense), starring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa. The title story is actually the least interesting to me. The Demons of Red Lodge (Jason Arnopp) starts cleverly, with the characters fumbling in the dark, but there's soon enough light to see, so it's not a clever play on the audio format or anything. The script still manages an atmospheric tale of "possession" and alien doppelgangers. I'm afraid I saw the ending coming though. The Entropy Composition (Rick Briggs, chosen from 1200 entries on this particular open call), about a musical motif that can destroy reality, is not only a nice riff on the audio format, but well-told and gives Nyssa a personal stake in the story. TV stories really didn't make much out of her being the last Trakkenite, so it was sweet to include that here. Doing Time (William Gallagher) starts in medias res, with the Doctor a tenant in an alien prison and Nyssa trying to join in, but unable to get arrested. It's a mostly comical bit, with something of a techie resolution, but definitely a nice change of pace. They kept the best for last though - John Dorney's Special Features. Basically, we're hearing an audio commentary on a film the Doctor and Nyssa worked on, based on true demonic/alien events. But there's still danger if the Doctor, a participant in the commentary, can uncover it. We've heard Davison do a lot of commentary for Doctor Who DVDs, so it's amusing to use that concept in a narrative way. It works as a story (and the film in the background as a fifth story of sorts) and as a bit of a spoof on such DVD special features. As my Cybermen friends would say: Clever. Clever. Clever.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - Fodor (2007)

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Teen Titans to Unknown Soldier.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"indictment of the United States' healthcare system"

What may be surprising to your Canadian sensibilities is that "Breaking Bad" is NOT any such indictment, it's simply the reality USAvians (or whatever we should be called) are accustomed to. I don't believe the show ever made any point of how completely screwed up the American system is*. Granted, more than a few people have observed that Walter White would have just gotten his damn cancer treatments if he'd lived in Canada, but it's not a point the show is trying to make.

A stronger indictment could be found in the pilot episode of "Due South", and even then it was a mild criticism in passing: dude at the airport who needed money to pay for his daughter's doctor, and Constable Fraser was surprised to hear that, in the US, you have to pay before your children will even be seen.

*: WAS completely screwed up! The main provisions of Obamacare took effect at the start of this month, and that goes a long way to making sure people can see the doctor when they need to. There's still more work to be done, but we've advanced to the point of having basic health coverage. In relation to "Breaking Bad", Walter White would no longer be a victim of pre-existing conditions, unaffordable premiums, annual caps, or lifetime caps that would have kept him from getting the care he needed.

Siskoid said...

Being used to something doesn't make it right. I think Breaking Bad IS an indictment of the system (at least as it stood when the first season was made), and it makes that point simply by presenting it objectively. No opinion required.

I'm not really comparing to Canada's system which has its own problems, believe me. However, my mother's operable cancer, and after remission, its return as Walt's exact inoperable version, did not leave her family in terrible debt despite the fact that the most she ever made in a year was 18,000$. So there is that.

You could still do Breaking Bad as a Canadian story, I suppose, but Walt's money trouble wouldn't be as predicated on health care costs.

 

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