I got Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well on DVD, and in the belated birthday gifts category, Isabel, my partner in many things, got me the board game Betrayal at the House on the Hill.
At the movies: Joel Edgerton's The Gift makes you think it's a perfectly standard home invasion thriller à la Pacific Heights before pulling the rug out from under you and making you question if his character really is a dangerous creep or if something else is going on. It does this with a formulaic trailer, unnecessary jump scares and a first half that, to be frank, borders on the ordinary. But the film metatextually mirrors its core premise, that putting an idea into people's heads can have devastating consequences. And so the movie plays tricks on the audience as well. Makes sense. The other premise, if you will, is that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, but perhaps we're reading too much into the location. ;-) The three leads (Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall and Edgerton) all give strong, naturalistic performances, and once stuff starts happening, you're never too sure where it's going to go (or if you do, risk being wrong). Rises above the usual fare in this category.
DVDs: Having finally watched Die Another Day, I can now say I've watched every Broccoli Bond film. Not the franchise's finest hour, it doesn't do anything particularly well, and does a number of things quite badly. Being the 20th Bond film, released on film Bond's 40th anniversary, it's full of tributes to the past, and perhaps that's why it has such a schizophrenic nature. The tone is all over the place, with Bond tortured for 14 months promising more of Brosnan's hand-edged 007, but delivering camp science-fiction the likes of which we hadn't seen since Moonraker. I can accept the space laser (we've had that several times before), but gene therapy that changes your DNA and appearance entirely? An invisible car? Virtual reality? A cyber-suit that delivers an electrical sting? Hard to take all of that in. Halle Berry is famously terrible as Jinx - imagine if the plans to give her an original movie had gone ahead! - but then who could be good delivering nothing but sexual innuendo? But then, every line in the film seems to be a glib pun. Newcomer Rosamund Pike is much better. I actually want to watch when she's on screen! Sure, the standard of stunts is pretty high - even if I think I'm done with this era of Bond's obsession with extreme sports; I think we've run out of strange utility vehicles now - but there's way too much cheesy CGI for anything to feel immediate. From the director's commentary track, I understand he tried to refresh the franchise with a number of new tricks, but they just don't work. The odd slow motion shots, integrating the opening credits into the actual (torture) action (and could that Madonna song actually be the worst song in the franchise?), source music... I dunno, man. Brosnan and Pike also share a commentary track (though they were recorded separately) and it's good, though Brosnan's contention that a darker take on 007 wouldn't work was proven false. The disc also has a trivia track (good for spotting 40th Anniversary tributes), which sometimes pops up behind the scenes video vignettes without stopping the action or making you press buttons.
Tons of talent from the best TV comedies got together to make They Came Together last year, a spoof on New York-based romantic comedies with Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler in the leads. Mostly a send-up of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, with a structure not unlike what Woody Allen's used, the film's humor vacillates between outright parody, the ridiculing of common tropes, silly whimsy, and absurd Airplane-type gags. It's loaded with characters and surprise cameos, and somewhere in there, you'll find something that'll make you laugh. Personally, I thought the film worked best when it banked on the two leads' chemistry, and less so when it went full Airplane. But if you'd rather watch it as less of a spoof and more as a romance, you really can, because the film's structure means what we're seeing is mangled by how the story is being told, with all the hyperbolics, tangents, jokes, and point of view distortions you would expect in the telling (not to mention the listener's imagination). It's kind of fun to watch it with that in mind and wonder what's actually being said at any given point.
Books/Comics: After Hope Nicholson co-curated the Nelvana of the Northern Lights collection, she turned to another Canadian Golden Age strip of note: Brok Windsor. Created by Jon Stables, this adventure strip had its lead canoe through mysterious fog on a Manitoba lake one day and pop out in a Lost Land of highly advanced Natives (for the era, Stables is uncommonly respectful of Canada's indigenous population), Flash Gordon monsters, and air that made him grow two feet and develop superhuman strength and toughness. Stables was an impeccable draftsman, and his stylish illustrations are well supported by narration, giving the book the feel of a trim pulp novel more than a comic at times. The hardcover reprints every story ever published, as they were presented (black and white except for a couple of color issues, with color covers and duo-tone ads) and an additional story drawn by Scott Chantler over a surviving script (also included). The serial approach of these strips means we'll never see the actual end of Brok's journey, though by the time it was abandoned, the character had already left the strange land for more international adventures, for which he was certainly the poorer. The book also includes text pieces by Hope herself, as well as a comics historian, and the son of the "real" Brock Windsor the character was based on, as well as many art pieces commissioned as part of the Kickstarter campaign. Beautiful book. Even American Golden Age comics would be happy to get this treatment.