This Week in Geek (28/08-03/09/17)

I'd like to send a public thank you to fellow blogger Dr. Anj from Supergirl Comic Box Commentary for thinking of me when he met Keith Giffen recently and handed him four comics important to me to sign. Key (to me) Legion stories mostly, but also one sorely empty spot in my nearly complete Ambush Bug collection - Irwin Schwab's first appearance in DC Comics Presents #52, co-signed by its scripter Paul Kupperberg. A big thank you from this side of the border, Anj!


In theaters: Castle in the Sky is Miyazaki's grand adventure about an Atlantis floating in the clouds, its lost heiress, the boy who would help her, and the band of air pirates they fall in with trying to get there before government forces do. Beautiful animation (obviously) is applied to great imagination, giving the audience an ever-rising sense of vertigo. The film may be high adventure, but it also has touches of humor and romance, and its score is quite beautiful and memorable. One question I do have is whether Miyazaki has thought out his use of Swift's Laputa as the name of his floating island. It is it right for it to be "the whore", or was something lost in translation. The idea of science run rampant and in this case, destroying the old civilization, does echo it however. And perhaps we should see that danger in the story's present as well, so obviously in the middle of an industrialization age. These are themes the director often returns to, but this iteration certainly stands with Princess Mononoke as one of my favorite examples of it.

At home: How to Train Your Dragon 2 has the same grand sense of adventure, so much the plot problems aren't readily apparently, though they may creep on you in the afterglow. The cardboard villain, for example, just how does he take control of the Alpha Dragon? But while the family subplot is unsurprising and follows formula, it seems to follow the first film's sense of stakes, coming with a real cost and is touchingly acted. That it IS formulaic means you should already know what the third film (set to release in 2019) will be about. For all that, it's fun to see all those characters back for a second adventure, and the world of dragons is expanded and given new wrinkles, which is what a fantasy film should do with its sequels.

The Defenders teams up the various Netflix Marvel heroes - Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and (groan) Iron Fist - in a sort of non-team, in deference to the original comic by that name, though they really oughta be called the Heroes for Hire. Stylistically, each hero's is color-coded (red, purple, gold, green, the villains in white) and follows the style of its home show, with shared spaces showing elements of each. An interesting idea, but you may have gathered from my other reviews that I wasn't that keen on the Hand and all that Frank Miller ninja malarkey, and well, a couple of the shows have been building to it, so yeah, it's all about the Hand. Again. Which means Iron Fist has a big role, and even the other heroes have difficulty not rolling their eyes at how whiny, volatile and useless he is. That it's only 8 episodes is a mercy. That it advances several of the stories significantly (Daredevil's and Luke Cage's in particular) makes it necessary watching for fans of those shows. Jessica, however, is left out to dry, just there to make snarky remarks or play her alcoholism as if it were a comedy shtick.

Moulin Rouge meets Hair and Rent in Julie Taymor's Across the Universe, the director's most mainstream film, surely, though I personally like her Shakespeare adaptations more. Probably, audiences are more ready to accept her highly theatrical visuals in music video vignettes; it's a vocabulary people are familiar with. I'm not a big Beatles fan, so the use of their songs to tell these stories (the love story is what's advertised, but there are subplots for a whole loftful of artist types) was fine - good arrangements, etc. - but at times seemed to force the film into certain corners. Song selection railroading the story awkwardly. But the other side of that coin is that it made the film very much about the same thing the Beatles' music was - love, Vietnam, the hippie revolution, and psychedelia - and as such, is less about its characters than it is about the Beatles themselves - with nods to their real lives and careers - and their place in Western culture.

Returning to Downton Abbey some years after the first two seasons impressed me, I found Season 3 a little lacking. The characters and scripting are still great, and cover up the problems reasonably well, but the plots mostly undo themselves through luck and coincidence. I was quickly turned off by the clichéd "we have to save the Abbey" story that took up the first third, though it's really part of the show's ongoing concern about the transition between aristocratic tradition and the modern world. Not to say the show entirely spins its wheels - they do lose characters permanently - but Season 3 doesn't feel as well moored to history as the previous two and makes it all seem soapier for it. The DVD opens with a retrospective/making of covering the first two seasons, which was a help in this case, and has lots of featurettes on various aspects and episodes besides.

Season 4 of Downton Abbey is a stronger piece, at the heart of which is a harrowing event for one of the more likable characters on the show. I cannot deny it, it unnerved me, as did the way the suplot unfolded across the season (and continued to do so in Season 5, I know that much). I'm less interested in the romances of the upstairs as "below stairs" continues to have the more interesting schemes and more likeable characters (though perhaps I'm just a below stairs person). I must say I'm enjoying the perpetual humiliation of Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), whose role has been more developed for losing his basic function, and while I'm admitting things: How much of a treasure is Penelope Wilton? Yes, yes, Maggie Smith is great, but my heart can't help but go to Wilton in everything she's in. This DVD package is much thinner, with a third the featurettes, but one of them has a video diary feel that's a nice change of pace.

Doctor Who Titles: A little update on this project, because it's gotten a little difficult lately. While I'd skipped a film called The Romans because it wasn't out yet, heading into the Troughton era's titles has yielded a lot of false hope. Next up should have been Moonbase, which was on Amazon Prime Video, but as I discovered this week, not available in my country! Well, it's apparently not very good, so okay, Then would have been the French film noir "Constance aux enfers" AKA Web of Fear. YouTube had it, but nope, it's a movie with the same actors, misattributed as Constance, and actually "Les scélérats" (The Wretched). Can't find Constance anywhere. Ok, next! The Dominators! Okay. This is a 60some minute indie film and when I did my initial research I was sure it was streaming on YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, SOMEthing. If it was, it now isn't. Can't find it. And so...

2007's The Invasion is a remake of 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers redesigned as a communicable disease. (The '78 version was a secret sequel to the '56 version thanks to Kevin McCarthy's participation, but though Veronica Cartwright is in this, there's no link between the two.) Might play better for those who have never seen the previous film, and Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig are certainly engaging stars, but I can't help but see this as its pale shadow, not quite as scary, showing too much in an effort to generate scares, and ending in Hollywood fashion, complete with a crazy car chase, of all things. In the end, I'm not even sure what it's trying to say. It makes a link between the emotionlessness of the aliens and anti-depressants (paranoia about Commies now about people on meds?), but doesn't do anything with it, confused about whether or not the invasion is a bad thing or not. And the use of real news footage, co-opting and modifying real tragedies to fit into its narrative? At times tasteless, I'm afraid.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 10th Doctor and Martha join forces with Kidman's psychiatrist and help her work things out. Alien invasions and thought control are right up his alley, after all.

Comics: Proceeding right along with the first wave of Young Animal imprint trades, Shade the Changing Girl, after reading vol.1: Earth Girl Made Easy, may be my favorite to date. A sequel to Rac Shade's adventures (both Ditko's and Milligan's), it follows Loma Shade, a bird-like alien from Meta who, inspired by the original Shade's poetry, steals Rac's madness vest and heads for Earth, possessing the body of a brain-dead teenage girl before her parents pull the plug. But Earth isn't all it's chalked up to be when you steal the identity of a wretched bully who consequently has no friends, in addition to the madness the vest manifests. It's a coming of age story where a girl's evolution is represented as two separate characters, and don't ask me where it's going most of the time, because it sure isn't formulaic. Produced by an all-female creative team led by writer Cecil Castellucci (The Plain Janes) and artist Marley Zarcone (Effigy), Shade the Changing Girl is Mean Girls meets Dali and I found it rather absorbing. The trade paperback is supplemented by variant covers, Who's Who pages, sketches, and various short back-ups starring all sorts of DC obscura, from the Space Ranger's sidekick Cryll, to Dial H for Hero, to Element Girl, and more.

Mother Panic (a long way to go for a Brecht joke) is the last of the first wave of Young Animal books, and is an altogether different, erm... animal. Unlike the others which are all tied to the DCU's past (and the pre-New52 past at that), this new Gotham vigilante is in Batman's universe, with a couple of Bats putting in appearances. The character of Violet Paige explores what it would mean to have a celebrity secret identity today (as opposed to Bruce Wayne's dated portrayal), and her addiction to body mods is certainly unusual if more tell than show. Jody Houser provides excellent dialog and characterization, but I'm afraid the trappings are still pretty familiar to me, superhero tropes aside, the set-up pulled from the show Revenge, which in turn felt like a high society female Batman. It's come full circle. It also doesn't help that artist Tommy Lee Edwards only does half the book (the better looking half), leaving the rest to the more cartoony Shawn Crystal, who is somewhere between Phil Hester and Roger Langridge, and not as well suited. The trade paperback has variant covers, Who's Who pages (though weakly mocked-up), sketches, and a Gotham Radio back-up by Jim Krueger and Phil Hester that sets up an intriguing mystery (and a link to an old forgotten Ditko creation), but cannot yet resolve it. If I keep up with Mother Panic, it might be just to see how this tale ends, though I won't mind seeing where the main story leads either.


Anonymous said...

I was thinking the other day, there's a superhero series you have watched but I bet you have never considered as such: "Due South". Tell me Constable Fraser isn't a superhero:

- Volunteers to solve crimes.

- Dresses in a uniform that stands out and could be considered a superhero costume. (It's pretty close to Jay Garrick's outfit actually. If I were in charge, Keystone City / Central City would be Windsor / Detroit, Jay Garrick would be a consultant to the RCMP, and his Flash would be deputized by the RCMP and given dispensation to wear a stylized uniform.)

- Practices a superheroic code of ethics.

- Has a variety of skills and talents that collectively add up to one or two super powers.

- Has a catchphrase: "Thank you kindly".

- Diefenbaker.

Kid Kyoto said...

Just finished Shade and totally agree, the first DC book in a long time that did not feel like old wine in new bottles

Siskoid said...

Anon: Totally. Also has a supernatural ghost dad.

Kid: I like that expression.

Toby'c said...

From what I've heard, Miyazaki didn't know what Laputa meant until after he made it.

Castle in the Sky is one of my Ghibli top 5, but the Disney dub is possibly my least favourite. Mark Hamil and Cloris Leachman are great, but the leads constantly sound awkward due to their ages or her accent, and there's a really distracting message about the Power of Love shoehorned into the climax.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 was my favourite movie of 2014. About what I expected since the first one was in my top 3 of 2010.

Siskoid said...

We happily saw it in the original Japanese!

CalvinPitt said...

Iron Fist didn't bother me much (admittedly, I haven't watched his show). The fact he was the only one of the four who actually seemed excited at the prospect of forming a superhero team had something to do with that.

I get they're supposed to be the Defenders, and thus not want to work together, but when you're making a show that wants us to be excited about seeing them work together, it might help if three-quarters of them didn't seem to hate the idea so much. I guess the original Defenders comic got around that by adding characters who did like being on the team, like Valkyrie or Nighthawk.

That said, pretty much all of what I enjoyed about the show was down to the four leads interacting, which I chalk up to the actors. There was some good back-and-forth there. Please no more ninjas.


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