A big week for getting DVDs: Outlander Season 1 vol.1, Doctor Who Series 8, the CBC's Newsroom Seasons 2 and 3, Ripper Street Season 3, Interstellar, and Kingsman The Secret Service.
At the movies: Ant-Man was a fun night at the movies, though one really can't help but wonder what might have been had Edgar Wright stayed on as director. You can plainly hear his script, but the pacing's off (Michael Douglas is probably the biggest victim, as I thought his sarcastic wit generally fell flat). And there are flights of directorial fancy, like the way Luis tells stories, but not enough of them. Nevertheless, I thought Ant-Man did a good job of creating a fairly large supporting cast, which is perhaps why some thought it akin to a TV pilot in some respects (though some, the villain in particular, kind of got short shrift), and loved how they gave the cinematic Marvel Universe more depth and history with a Cold War-era Ant-Man and Wasp operating before the Avengers ever got together, though I could certainly have done without an Avenger cameo (though it works and ties into the next film). As for the shrinking effects, they were pretty awesome. The shrunken world was interesting to look at, and the shrinkers' tricks were clever. That's why I love shrinking heroes in the first place, so I wasn't disappointed. Could have had more punch, but definitely one I won't mind revisiting.
DVDs: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was way better than the first film in the series - less of the horrid adoptive family, a more coherent story, a better villain - but still suffers from the same problems as the first's bloated, faithful adaptation. It's much too long at 2 hours 40 minutes (are you KIDDING me?!!), and you can easily see where they could have trimmed at least 40 minutes. For example, there's yet another Quiddich scene that isn't really integrated into the film's plot. It's just there because it's synonymous with Harry Potter. And it's not the only culprit. Kenneth Branagh's poser of a wizard has some good moments, though by now, I'm pretty sick of Santa Claus/Bumblebore's wispy voice and preferential treatment of certain students; I know it's sad the original actor died before the third film, but bring on Michael Gambon, he won't be such a caricature. Nevertheless, I'm warming to the series now that the world has been set up, but I'm nowhere near a place where you could make me say it's a good movie.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (actually part of my I-MUST-CheckMovies project, one of three Potter films that are) might be the best in the series, but then, I'm biased. I've always been very keen on strong directors. Potter 3's Alfonso Cuaron also made Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men and Gravity; he's a very visual and lyrical director. Chris Columbus who made the first two Potters has recently made... Pixels. So there you go. Azkaban is apparently one of the least faithful adaptations, and I'm happy about that. Movies have to stand on their own, and this one actually relates almost everything to its main plot (except maybe elements of Mundane world sequences - I'm sorry, I just don't want to say "Muggles", the hell?) including the inevitable Quiddich sequence. The acting has improved by virtue of the kids getting older, with Harry turning into an angry teen before our eyes, and the movie has a better look too. It's not just the muted colors or better special effects, it's that Cuaron doesn't feel the need to explain every little magical occurrence the way Columbus did. The magic becomes part of the world, often unmentioned, letting the visuals do the work. The way he changes seasons alone... It's not perfect, of course. Gary Oldman in the title role is really very boring, which takes away from the last act (though I'm always up for a bit of time travel). Emma Thompson's new teacher is much more fun, while the new Dumbledore is a complete re-imagining that still needs to grow on me (but then, the original never did). So now I have a little more motivation to finish the series, but as Cuaron only directed the one, I may stop dead in my tracks again.
I didn't dislike Hackers, but the one thing it really does badly is, ironically, hacking. Half the time, it looks fairly kosher, with Apple-style screens and menus. The other half is complete imaginarium, with a computer's innards represented as a Matrix city or the Sarah Jane Adventures' opening credits. Perhaps it's the clash between the two styles that's the problem. Or if they'd just let us believe all that was a cinematic "representation" of what was happening, but no, it appears on screens too. Otherwise, it's a fun, if silly, cyber-thriller about high school kids (including newbie Angelina Jolie in a Vulcan do) going up against an over-the-top corporate hacker looking to defraud the world with a money-gobbing worm. Director Iain Softley has some fun with the editing, and makes at least of the editing exciting and interesting (at least, until the visuals start to repeat themselves). But the writing is a little bizarre, and some characters are impossibly strange (Matthew Lillard is particularly obnoxious). Not a good film, by any means, but a fair entertainment for your throwback 90s pleasure.
Books: I enjoyed the HBO adaptation so much, I got the first three volumes of Alexander McCall Smith's The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency (which is also the title of the first). Those three books are where most of the stories and mysteries of the short-lived series were taken, but the novel still holds surprises for the television fan by going back into Botswana's premiere lady detective's past. Who her father was, how she grew up, and why she chose to open a detective agency are all delved into a lot more than on the show. This isn't an Agatha Christie-type mystery - with a single large mystery - but more of a Sherlock Holmes experience, with several small mysteries occupying Mma Ramotswe's time. The show reproduced the charm of the book quite well, with Africa as a central element, its landscapes, its people, its values and attitudes; the social commentary is gentle and loving. I'd have loved for some of the mysteries to be less clear in my mind before going in, but I'm already a ways into the second book. A nice, breezy read.
srsly Hamlet is Courtney Carbone's take on the greatest play ever written for "OMG Shakespeare". The premise: Shakespeare as filtered through social media, with all key characters txting each other, soliloquies in electronic post-it notes, emoticons up the wazoo, etc. It's an amusing experiment, one that shows good understanding of the play's themes and ironies, at its weakest when it does famous speeches and lines in modern/l33t English. That's really the problem with such adaptations. Once you remove Shakespeare's linguistic bounty, you're left with a melodramatic plot originally poached from some Italian source or something. Reducing Shakespeare to plot doesn't do much for me. What makes srsly Hamlet work despite it all, I think, is our own familiarity with the play. I'm not sure this would be anywhere near as interesting for someone who didn't know it inside and out.
Music: The "Weird Al" Yankovic Mandatory World Tour came to town last night, a fun evening of parody songs from the only artist of note in that game. Two hours with no intermission, and no time for much audience interaction except for the bits where Al came down into the crowd, but he did take several breaks to change costumes. There was perhaps too much energy spent on recreating music videos, especially when you can only do one song in, say, the Fat suit, but to keep people entertained, they projected all sorts of material from Weird Al's career (from Al TV, for example, and collected clips from what must be every Weird Al reference and appearance in movies and TV ever). Early on, I was a little clipped out, so my favorite parts were definitely the medleys and arrangements that circumvented the need to appear "in character". Lots of energy and good humor, and judging from the crowd, for all ages.