This Week in Geek (28/07-03/08/14)


The Fourth Doctor Sourcebook's physical copy arrived at my door this week, but I also got other books, including TwoMorrows' American Comic Book Chronicles 1965-1969 and The Quality Companion, and The Gospel According to Jesus. New DVDs on my shelf include The Fighter, Noah, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.


DVDs: The best thing I can say about the Veronica Mars movie is that it made me want to watch the TV series all over again (so I am). While not opaque to people who never watched the series, it IS the ultimate in fan service and acts like it. Many characters (including some obscure ones) make a return as Veronica returns to Neptune to solve one more mystery AND attend her 10-year high school reunion (plus inside jokes). For fans, it's fun to reconnect to this world, and everyone slides right back into their old roles (with a few new faces thrown in for good measure). While the film does have a TV movie feel - it's not shot in a way that would be too jarring when watched back to back with the series - it does use its time wisely and has something to say about its protagonist. Veronica is treated as an addict. Her vice is solving mysteries and getting into trouble. Could she ever give it up? The DVD includes an hour-long making of that really puts the focus on the fans who made the movie possible, from the launch of the Kickstarter campaign, to the people who won cameos in the film, etc., taking us from inception to reception with plenty of on-set hijinks along the way.

Gael Garcia Bernal stars in the Chilean docudrama No, all about the publicity campaign that helped peacefully overthrow Chile's dictator Pinochet in the late 80s. It's a fascinating story, shot with old-timey cameras to get a documentary feel that meshes perfectly with the campaign's actual TV footage. Almost a procedural at times, it nevertheless takes us into its protagonist's household and personal life, as a way to show his world, his emotional context and what Chile was like for the privileged few who nevertheless suffered under a censorious regime. Playing out as a political thriller with moves and counter-moves, the No campaign must struggle against opposition both from within and without, and ultimately, against its own unsaleability (who would vote for a negative somehow representing change?). And in the end, what does it say of a country's political fabric that minds can be changed by marketing tricks? What does it say about us as a species/culture? The DVD's commentary track has both Bernal and director Pablo Larraín discussing the film in fluid English, and a Q&A with Bernal at the Toronto Film Festival (worthy, clocking in at 12 minutes).

Nicholas Winding Redf's Valhalla Rising is a stark and austere viking film that may have been marketed as a sort of Northern 300, but is nothing of the sort. It owes more to Jodorowski's The Holy Mountain (confirmed by Refn in the making of, I'm delighted to say). Though less surreal than that film, it is nonetheless something you can't exactly take literally, a mystic/religious journey with barbarian trappings. If the film is about Christianity's disruption of Norse culture, then the mute One-Eye (Mads Mikkelson) is an Odin figure, a slave in a harsh world that has no place for him anymore. Though he escapes to commit great violence, and goes on a journey with "holy men" to what they think is the holy land, but turns out to be hell. As the film progresses, One-Eye becomes more and more Christ-like, changing with the religious zeitgeist. It's pretty deep, I admit, but while a tough viewing experience with definite longueurs, it will reward the audience member in a more thoughtful mood. The making of on the DVD is a nice release from the movie's darkness, filmed by a an A.D. who bit off more than she could chew with demanding Refn and filled with behind the scenes shenanigans, punctuated by the occasional talking head. The extra doesn't attempt to explain the film, which is probably for the best.

Gomorrah, the 2008 Italian film sensation which has since become a TV series over there, is equally difficult, perhaps more so. It definitely isn't entertaining. I thought the shot of a woman yawning near the dead middle of the film was just about the best statement that could be made at that point. Basically, Gamorrah tells the true story of the Camorra family, a crime family that holds Naples in its grip and has corrupted every level of society. In near-documentary verite style, it tells five interrelated(ish) stories about people in the mob, who want to quit, or who are eager to join. And it's totally devoid of the romanticism American mob movies indulge in. It's the nitty-gritty of the mob business. Yes, there are violent hits, but this is a mob picture as much about illegal landfills and haute couture knock-offs. I suppose what's amazing about it is the very ordinariness that makes it a little dull. Still, it grows on you as it progresses. It's just that first hour is (metaphorical) murder.

Obviously, you need only look over daily posts over the last 3 weeks to see what I thought of Babylon 5 Season 1. But let's talk DVD. As I've already expounded upon, the B5 DVDs look horrible. The widescreen format, which the show was NOT broadcast in, means CGI shots and any shot that dissolves into another are blown up and blurry. You'll find there's sometimes dirt on the image, and the sound isn't particularly crisp. The pilot isn't included (it's on the Movies Collection), so that's not great for people buying each set as they watch. If you want to look at nice, clean, sharp CG effects, you can go to the extras, including each episode's runner (which hilariously distorts the story it promotes). JMS has a short introduction and appears on commentary tracks for two of the episodes where he's less concerned with what's happening on screen than telling the story of how B5 came to be, his early decisions, etc. (and that's fine). There are two making of featurettes, one from the time, hosted by Walter Koenig, and the other a retrospective look with talking heads. Both offer good content, though expect some gushing. Completing the package is a sort of wiki feature with a computer interface from which you can select a large number of 30-second bits about places, people, species and tech from the B5 universe. Some of the information wasn't actually revealed in Season 1, but no great spoiler either.

Loosely based on Mark Waid's JLA story line "The Tower of Babel", Justice League: Doom may not exactly be set in Justice League Unlimited continuity, it is its very close cousin, and on that basis, can be pretty gratifying. It reunites a lot of the voice talent associated with JL/JLU, including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Carl Lumbly as the Martian Manhunter, Michael Rosenbaum as the Flash (but confusingly, Barry Allen instead of Wally West) and Nathan Fillion reprising his Hal Jordan from the Green Lantern direct-to-DVD releases. The designs have changed and are less Timmversal, but it does come close to getting us back to the franchise's roots, both in the modern age (JL) and the 70s (Super-Friends) with the use of the (or rather, a) Legion of Doom. With a featured role for Cyborg, it feels like the bridge between the previous era of Justice League action and the next, inspired by the New52 (for better or worse). The villains have found each Justice Leaguer's weakness and exploit them, which leads to some hard-hitting action. It's all pretty exciting, but it could have done more. The feeling is that it's just a string of superhero fights with very little personal drama, and that somehow fails to sell the final moment. It doesn't help that there's no real follow-up (or is there? I pick and choose my DC animated DVDs these days). So pleasant enough, but length aside, it could have been an episode of the original series. That's both a plus and a minus. I just wouldn't recommend spending a lot on it. The DVD version includes promo stuff for Supreman vs. the Elite (any good?).

Books: As bathroom readers go, TwoMorrows' American Comic Book Chronicles is a very informative and gorgeous-looking series. The latest volume I read, The 1960s - 1960-1964 by John Wells (who wrote the Marvel tell-all), is forced to cut the decade in half because it was a veritable watershed in American comics. It's when Marvel came on the scene and changed everything, causing a resurgence of interest in superheroes that went beyond the 50s' Silver Age beginnings over at DC. But don't worry, these books don't just cover the Big Two. There's plenty of info on Archie, Harvey, Dell, Gold Key, Charlton and the rest, and plenty of illustrations to cover each. A chronological affair, it also takes the time to place the comics in their proper historical context, connecting comics stories with the assassination of JFK or the explosive popularity of the Beatles along the way. The writing and lay-out are lively enough to make this a fun overview and coffee table book, and detailed enough you should learn something going through it page by page, year by year (sure, I knew the origin of Spider-Man, but not what went into the creation of Magnus Robot Fighter). I didn't think I'd find the 1960s volume as useful as the 1950s (a decade I knew relatively little about), but seeing comics "advances" in order gives what I knew a different slant, and I eagerly ordered the next volume to find out how the decade ends ;-). Now if only the book on the 1970s could come out before I get to the end of '69 (so I don't have to skip to the already-available 1980s volume)!

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - Zeffirelli '90


Toby'c said...

"The DVD version includes promo stuff for Supreman vs. the Elite (any good?)."
It's my least favourite of the solo Superman movies from this line, but still pretty good.

American Hawkman said...

It's worth admission just to hear Pauley Perrette do Lois Lane.

Hoping you'll talk more about the Quality Companion later... love that book.

Siskoid said...

While the Chronicle '65-69 is my bathroom reader, I've put the Quality Companion in the cat room. So when the cat wants me to go in the petting room for extra attention, the book'll be there. It'll probably spawn posts here, and I'll be referring to it for Who's This? articles I'm sure.

jdh417 said...

Okay, so the Veronica Mars movie isn't all that great then? Disappointing.

Off-topic-Anybody who gets the Retro Network, they've just started showing classic Dr. Who episodes nightly. They're starting at the beginning.

Siskoid said...

Is that how the capsule review came off? I think that if you're a Mars fan in the first place, you'll like the movie. It's at least as good as the show.

As a standalone film, it's a pretty good detective and personal story, but it doesn't feel particularly cinematic, nor would it play as well for people who've never watched the show.


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