At the movies: Went to see latest Woody Allen movie, Magic in the Moonlight, a witty 20s romcom about a world-famous illusionist (Colin Firth) who tries to debunk the powers of a charming medium (Emma Stone) in the South of France, but she may just upend his world view. It strikes me that Allen is making a lot of films with the same intent Tarantino does, i.e. tributes to a certain genre of literature/film. Magic is a little bit Agatha Christie, a little bit Arthur Conan Doyle (the man himself was a ghost-breaker who came to believe at some point), and a whole lot P.G. Wodehouse. Perfectly charming and entertaining, especially Firth's character who is the perfect Wodehousian (and Wildean) wit. There are greater concerns here as well, such as the contrast between Firth's atheism and the simple magic of emotion. But overall, I dare the Whovians among you to watch this film and not think Firth would make a great Doctor. It plays like a lot of New Who, with a great but clueless genius talking circles around everyone, yet learning grace from a would-be companion. At the end, they hopefully climb into his TARDIS, destination Everywhere. Ok, that's not the intent, but by now, I'm sure you understand how my brain is wired.
DVDs: I don't care what anyone says, D.O.A. - Dead or Alive, the movie about the stupid beach volley-ball video game with "realistic bounciness" is, or should be, a cult classic. Yes, there's a volley-ball sequence in it, and it's actually pretty smartly done, even if, like so many butt shots, it's gratuitous, but it mostly treats the material as a fighting game. There's cheesecake AND beefcake, and it's all pretty well-intentioned and clean. Not only is it bloodless, but it's about girls kicking all sorts of ass. Like every good B-movie, it has "one of those actors" in the villain role, this time, Eric Roberts. But best of all, it's got Cory Yuen directing and it's wall-to-wall action. It works as a slick, fun kung fun movie in the crazy Hong Kong style. Most people who give this a pass just based on the source material. I get that. What I'm saying is that it's so much better than this. Ridiculous fun that isn't ashamed of what it is even remotely. The DVD includes a 10-minute making of that's got some fun bits too.
In I [heart] Huckabees, David O. Russell creates something almost pretentiously art house, except that it's clearly a comedy that mocks pretentious art house films. And yet, it's about existential exploration nonetheless, about the questions we ask ourselves, and how we connect the big and the small picture. Between the organ music and Jason Schwartzman's participation, it feels a lot like a Wes Anderson film, truthfully. The story? Schwartzman is an environmental activist who hires existential detectives (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) to explain a coincidence in his life. They're more interested in helping him figure out who and why he is. In the process, they pair him up with another client (Mark Wahlberg) and turn people in his life into clients (Jude Law and Naomi Watts), but all might be lost when a darker detective (Isabelle Huppert) steals him away. It's the kind of movie you're not really sure of while you're watching it, but then it gets to you, especially in the final moments' deconstructions, epiphanies and catharses, ensuring your next viewing will be more profitable. It's not all talk, there's a lot of texture and background detail, crazy video dream montages, and no, not everything will make sense or tie into the big picture. Or maybe it will, over time. The 2-disc special edition has tons of extras, including two commentary tracks (Russell, and then Russell with a few of the actors; both have value though there is repetition here and there); a production documentary that prioritizes behind the scenes footage; more than an hour of deleted scenes, outtakes and bloopers (though the line is blurry as to which is which); a half-hour infomercial made by the two detectives, with lots of outtakes from it and a small making of besides; the music video for composer Jon Brion's "Knock Yourself Out" directed by Russell, with optional commentary track (and I hope you like that song, because it plays over a LOT of extras - I didn't tire of it though); Open Spaces PSAs and Huckabees commercials (though some are cut into the infomercial as well); a slideshow gallery; and a booklet with in-universe journal entries, articles and adverts.
The Another Kind of Distance time travel podcast took its name from 1948's Portrait of Jennie, a film they examined, and that I, that night, dreamed about quite intensely (though not having seen it, I of course made up my own version). I vowed to see it. It's a bizarre little film, with a story I find rather incredible for the era. An artist (Joseph Cotten) is unnoticeably drawn to the past where he meets a strange young girl called Jennie (Jennifer Jones) who gets older with each meeting. He falls in love with her and investigating her life, attempts to change her fate. No explanation is given for the time travel as such, it's psychic in nature. The characters are drawn together by some unfathomable connection, a metaphor for love. While some of the era's trappings come off as cheesy today (overuse of voice-over, very heavy-handed music), it surprises with stylish flourishes, most of them motivated. Canvas-like treatment as we enter landscapes, interesting angles, an intense tidal wave sequence, and some surprises I won't spoil besides. A fantastical and even metaphysical romance that will intrigue, at the very least.
Babylon 5's third season, entitled Point of No Return, was the show's strongest yet, but then you know this if you've been following along with the daily reviews over the last few weeks. So let's talk DVD package and extras. Well the package is about the same as the other boxed sets, since they did come out as a set. So the same problems with zoomed-in effects (the pure CG appears sharper than before, but same problems when live action has fades, compositing, etc.), and the more ugly morphs in the menu. We're used to all that. The extras also follow a familiar pattern, with commentary tracks on three key episodes (two with JMS, one with the cast), a talking heads introduction to the season that should be watched AFTER you've seen the whole thing to avoid spoilers, ridiculously spoilery trailers for each episode (people at the time would shut their televisions off when they were broadcast, I'm sure), and some more focused featurettes on subjects like alien make-ups, the look of sets and props, and the process Narns must go through every morning. Data files you click for 30-second informative videos are drying up - there are far fewer - but there's a neat one where you have to input Garibaldi's password to get access (it's easy, don't worry).
RPGs: Don't know if it'll amount to anything yet, but our Stairwell Party (housewarming for three apartments in the back stairs only so as not to mess up anyone's apartment) became the stage for yet another conversation about giving a group of n00bs a classic role-playing experience. So mostly people who haven't played, with an experienced player in the mix and myself as GM, at least to begin with. They're open to anything and have backgrounds in theater and/or improv, but the ringleader does want a "classic" experience - in other words, character creation, leveling and looting opportunities. For me, that's going to be AD&D 2nd's Planescape. It's the only configuration of D&D I want to go back to, ever, but I believe the setting has everything needed to make this work: An extra layer of ridiculous philosophy that puts the focus on role-playing which theatricals crave, a nexus for every possible idea regardless of geography which allows me to say "yes" to any n00b's character concept, and a city setting that helps justify the absence of certain characters when schedules fall apart (and I know these players, it WILL happen). I do plan on streamlining some of the rules, incorporate new school ideas in there, and perhaps push the timeline so the characters can level up faster instead of at the usual crawl. But this is the frontrunner, pending a conversation with the whole group. Tabled for now are my plans for a Bond's Bastards campaign using the Leverage RPG.