This Week in Geek (16-22/02/15)


Told you I would: After falling for the charm of HBO's No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, I got the first three books.


At the movies: Based on a Mark Millar property, Kingsman: The Secret Service is great big fun in a way the Millar original does not seem to have been (going be research as I never read it). I think I can say that because all the best things in Kingsman - the tribute to well-dressed spies like Bond and Steed, Samuel Jackson's crazy villain, the spy school, the whole concept behind the Arthurian apolitical service - aren't from Millar. And where the film makes me wince is in its Millarisms which don't mesh with the 60s-style spoof stuff at all - some of the hyperviolence (though it usually works), for example, and definitely the anal joke (which isn't in the comics, apparently, but feels very Millary). Ultimately though, we get the likes Colin Firth and Jack Davenport as elegant superspies in a cool tribute to Connery's Bond, when spy movies were allowed some levity. See it as a critique of the Bond franchise of today if you like. Shows the old ways aren't necessarily outdated.

DVDs: After that, we really had to get back to our slow-moving Bond-a-thon, didn't we? Licence to Kill completes Timothy Dalton's all-too-brief tour of duty as 007. Though analysts say audiences never accepted his "angry" Bond (in other words, he should play better today), I don't think that's what actually crashed the franchise for 6 years. Rather, I think his era of Bond wasn't different ENOUGH, even if Dalton's performance was a departure from Moore's. The Living Daylights still had some of the jokey humor, and having venerable Bond director John Glen still at the helm gives the film a dated feel. Camera angles are very conservative, sets are flatly lit, etc. I don't think it's his fault necessarily - many films from 1989 look like that - but it shows no willingness to take risks at the movie-making level. If they were really taking risks, Felix Leiter wouldn't have survived getting eaten by a shark (there's a Fonzie joke to be made here, I think). Personally, I quite like Licence to Kill. The stunt work is high-end as usual. The Colombian drug lord villain, definitely a product of its time, is well played, with some humor to be had from Wayne Newton's modern-day Aztec priest. I can't stand Anthony Zerbe in anything, so he's the one I'd cut out of the film. Carey Lowell is an excellent Bond girl, a smart and resourceful agent in her own right, always better than the bimbos in distress Bond is so often stuck with. And if you believe in multiple agents who take on the 007 identity, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why a new man is in the tux by GoldenEye. As with all the films in the Anniversary set, the only extras are commentary tracks. Two in this case, one for director and cast, the other for crew, both audio montages crafted from special interviews with all concerned (all? no, there's no Dalton, and that's a shame).

Pierce Brosnan isn't my favorite Bond (his era so quickly devolved into shenanigans, I've actually only seen the first two), but GoldenEye remains the best introduction for a Bond, at least, until Casino Royale (not coincidentally, I think, both films had Martin Campbell directing). It isn't just great for Brosnan who really gets the right balance of thrills and humor, but for Sean Bean who gets to die twice (pushing his death rate in stuff past the 100% mark), and Famke Jensen for whom this was a star-making role. Judi Dench as the new M is an immediate sensation and within seconds of showing up proves a more interesting M than we've ever seen. Samantha Bond has lots of potential as the new Moneypenny (and the perfect name to star in one of these), but I can't help thinking she's selling Bubbleshock soda on the side, sorry. Also look for Minnie Driver and Alan Cumming in "before they were stars" moments. The story is one that could and probably should have come a few years earlier; in 1995, it seems a bit late to transition out of the Cold War of the earlier movies. Still a good idea though, and showcasing another "00" in the story, an even better one. Watching these last two films back to back, the refreshed look is almost shocking. The hiatus really was necessary, I think, to break from what had become an outmoded way of doing things. (I think the same thing happened with television's Trek franchise in the 90s, where the house look just wasn't current anymore after so many years of doing it just like TNG.) Most importantly, the script is good. If only they'd kept that up over Bronson's time in the part. The DVD has a single commentary track, featuring the director and the producer.

From one slow marathon to another - I watched Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry, the next in my boxed set. This is a black comedy where country zanies trip over a dead body without ever showing any feeling for the man. It's Hitchcock does Weekend at Bernie's. I'm not going to do the disservice of comparing it to Hitchcock's suspense thrillers, even if there's an element of the macabre which we could compare to, say, Rope's. I will critique it for what it is, i.e. a comedy. And as a comedy, I do like it. It's absurdist to be sure, has clever dialog and some amusing misunderstandings. It's entirely pleasant despite its leisurely first half, especially once Shirley McClane (her first film role) is on screen more than a moment, but I don't think I like the ending. It feels like we get a recap for no other reason than to explain the plot to those people who are always getting up to go to the bathroom, and then there's a rather annoying continuity flub in the last shot. Flawed, but not unentertaining. The DVD includes a good making of, a vintage trailer and some production photos. Good stuff, as per the rest of the boxed set.

Wait, there's ANOTHER slow movie marathon I'm doing and it's the iCheckMovies Project, where I watch films everyone has seen and liked according to iCheckMovies. Fernando Meirelles' City of God (Cidade de Deus) was next on my list (#11 in fact), and since I loved adaptation of Blindness, I was going into this one more willingly than I have with others. City of God is about a couple of kids growing up in one of Rio's slums (or favelas), and has a real documentary feel that's supplemented by stylish camera work and editing. The narration is a little flat at times, and there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but if you let it all wash over you, you can't help but be absorbed by the time the kids reach adulthood. One becomes a drug lord, the other might just make it out of the slums thanks to his photographic skills, but the favela offers few opportunities. It is its own world, and to survive one must participate in its social (or asocial) order. The cognitive dissonance of seeing children with guns may seem like movie exaggeration, but this is based on true events, and such things did/do happen. As the film shows, it's a cycle that's hard to break. And yet, the film isn't a critique so much as it is a statement of fact. This is what life is for these people, there is joy along with the heartbreak, kindness along with the violence.

Justified Season 5 takes a while to take off, in part because it's hard to take the Crowes too seriously as a season villain at first. After all, Dewey is the series' idiot. Going forward, it's interesting how the show positions the Crowes between the two stars, Raylan on the right and Boyd on the wrong, criminals to be caught by the one, and untrustworthy pawns to be used by the other. By the last third of the season, any misgivings I had were tossed aside. The new Crowes included enough variety to be keep my interest, especially the fate of the youngest "brother" Kendal, played by Mud's fairly amazing Jacob Lofland. Though it's not explicitly said - the show is too smart for that - Raylan sees the boy as a mirror of his young self; he too came from a criminal family, though he escaped that reality. This provides some of Timothy Olyphant's best moments of the season. I was disappointed that Eva Crowder was relegated to starring in her own Orange Is the New Black, late to that particular party and feeling rather derivative because of it. Especially since the experiment seems abortive by the end. The DVD includes commentary tracks on both the season's premiere and its finale, several deleted scenes, and a featurette on the new villains.

I finished the complete Space: 1999 this week, and you can go back through the last two months to see what I thought of each episode. But what of the DVD extras? Well, there are 8 discs per season and 2 seasons (48 episodes in all), and Season 1 discs only have production photos for their episodes. Season 2 does a bit better by adding various trailers for the new season, and lots of station IDs (the same clips accompanied by Landau and Bain namechecking a different channel). Year 2 also has some brief promotional featurettes where cast and crew are interviewed on set, usually smoking (times have changed); and some behind the scenes footage of the model shots with narration by the effect man who brought them to life. Then there's one disc devoted entirely to extras, and strangely, it repeats three important Season 1 episodes, apparently "remastered" (but looking worse than the ones on the proper discs) just to present commentary tracks. Looks like they bundled various products together to make this set, or else the tracks wouldn't need their own disc. Anyway, these don't focus overmuch on the episodes per se, but are instead an excuse (a welcome one) for producers and script editors to talk about the genesis, mutation and thematic underpinnings of the show. These are pretty insightful. The DVD also includes the 7-minute fan-made episode I reviewed on Thursday, providing closure on the series. Vintage interviews, an alternate sequence (the DVDs' plural is misleading) and even more picture galleries complete the package.

And on Friday, I reviewed the 1988 film Alien Nation starring James Caan and Mandy Patinkin. I don't want to rehash that here, of course. You'll just have to go back a couple days. The DVD includes a promotional featurette and some behind the scenes footage from the first shoot-out, the one that costs Caan's first partner his life. A trailer and TV spots are in there as well. Now if I want the text to clear the DVD picture (right), I have to riff for a few more lines. What else can I tell you? Well, how about the fact the lame-ass French title on my copy is "Futur Immediat", or "Immediate Future", which is obviously inspired by one of the film's alternate working titles "Future Tense". There's no analogous pun in French for "Alien Nation", you see. "Aliénation" is still a word, the same as "alienation", but you can't really split it up like that. Riffed enough? Good. Moving right along.

Audios: Big Finish started a new "7th Doctor as loner" triptych with Nicholas Briggs' Robophobia, a return to the world of The Robots of Death, a short time after the events of that classic serial. We're on a spaceship where robophobia starts to run rampant after a murder is apparently committed by a robot, a mystery full of twists and turns, pleasantly put together, and featuring the plainly wonderful Nicola Walker (from Spooks/MI-5) as Liv, the med-tech who acts as de facto companion to the most manipulative of Doctors. She would reprise the role for a couple of audios down the line, which I'm looking forward to! Briggs' specialty is dusting off old monsters - well, his specialty is Daleks, but in connection to that - and while he does that here, he should try his hand at more mysteries as opposed to straight up action thrillers. The music's particularly good too. And here I thought I'd be bored without Doc7's usual companions.

Next up was The Doomsday Quatrain by Emma Beeby and Gordon Rennie (their first), an equally intriguing audio play featuring Nostradamus and his prophecies, aliens apparently trying to sell Earth's invasion rights to crocodilian monsters, and the Doctor using democracy as a weapon. A fun brew of disparate elements made more interesting thanks to a proper twist. Sylvester McCoy is in good form, just as he was for Robophobia, which bodes well for the third audio in the cycle. I'm more critical of Nostradamus' portrayal, but I shouldn't be. My problem is that he sounds like just another Englishman, even though he's French. Doctor Who does this all the time, and I don't think I would have wanted him to talk like Batroc ze Leapair. I think it's more a question of his voice being too similar to various other male characters in the story, less a question of accent than of tone or timber. The writing for the character is excellent however, so it's really not much of a complaint.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. Duel and Deaths - Hamlet 2000


snell said...

Nostradamus as Batroc the Leaper might be the greatest idea you've ever had...bouncing around Cap whilst quoting quatrains...

Zarm R'keeg said...

"Samantha Bond has lots of potential as the new Moneypenny (and the perfect name to star in one of these), but I can't help thinking she's selling Adipose weight loss tablets on the side, sorry."

Close, but not quite... bubbleshock soda. ;-)

Siskoid said...

I knew I'd get those two confused some day. Same damn character, RTD!

Erich said...

Regarding Kingsman: It seems to me that Mark Millar's stock-in-trade is as an "idea man"; he specializes in creating properties with a strong central premise...then stops caring about the execution. It's as if he knows that, once he gets the main idea out there so he can lay claim to it, it doesn't matter how well or how badly he writes the actual series. He knows that filmmakers will buy the rights, use what works, throw away what doesn' he doesn't bother figuring out those details for himself.

American Hawkman said...

I think Erich is dead right about Miller.

I'll note that the third Brosnan Bond, Tommorrow Never Dies, is pretty good and definitely worth watching.

Siskoid said...

You could be right about Millar. He's comics' Michael Chichton. Stuff is optioned even before it gets to the comics stores.

AmHawk: Tomorrow Never Dies is the 2nd Brosnan, it's the one with Michelle Yeoh and a villain who wants to control the media (so Murdock, right?). The third is The World Is Not Enough, which I believe is the one with Michelle Richards as a nuclear physicist, which is its main claim to fame. I forgive you, the last three Brosnans have the kind of titles I can't tell apart.

American Hawkman said...

It's the World Is Not Enough I was thinking of. It's pretty good, with Brosnan at his most Connery-like in the role, a genuinely compelling villain (despite him being Skull Duggar from old Batman issues), and return of much of the Goldeneye supporting cast. I quite enjoyed it. I don't remember if it's the one with Denise Richards as a physicist or not, although it'd fit with the plot. She's not the memorable Bond girl of the film at any rate.

Michael May said...

I second AmHawk's recommendation of The World Is Not Enough, and his dismissal of Denise Richards as the Bond Girl of the movie. There's a much better one.

Great to hear that Justified Season 5 improved. I got bored and gave up partway through, which is something that I never thought I'd do with a season of that show. I'll try again.

Green Luthor said...

For whatever it's worth, in the Ian Fleming novels, Felix Leiter was also fed to sharks and survived (albeit losing a hand and leg). In the novels, though, it occurred in Live and Let Die (which was the second novel), and Felix continued to be a recurring character in subsequent books (but no longer a CIA agent). I don't know if Felix was intended to be used in other films after License to Kill, although he wouldn't show up again until the Casino Royale reboot, but my guess would be they didn't kill him in the movies because he also survives in the books.

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of Goldeneye, but I think you mean Alan Cumming.

Siskoid said...

Michael: Catch yourself up, Season 6 is meant to be the last and it's gonna be all Raylan vs. Boyd.

Luthor: That makes sense. He's a tough sucker!

Anon: Yes, I don't even know who Adam Cummings IS! The lord protect me from heavy word counts.


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