This Week in Geek (21-27/09/09)


I bought two season sets of shows I've been following on DVD (I hardly follow television shows on tv anymore... it's like I'm "waiting for the trade"): 30 Rock season 3, which makes for great going-to-bed short installment viewing, and Primeval vol.2, which is actually the show's third (and sadly, looks to be final) season. Bass came to Kung Fu Friday this week bearing the gift of an obvious awful Kung Fu movie named Ninja Squad. So awful, in fact, that the back cover actively laughs at it. Thanks, Bass!


DVDs: I started taking some time off from work because I've got hours of overtime to spend (85 hours to be exact, 53 of thise in the last three weeks), so I decided to at least try to make a dent in my unwatched DVDs. Don't be surprised by the volume...

First up was the HBO movie Conspiracy. I'd gotten it for two reasons: 1) I remembered it winning several Emmies at the time and 2) it seemed to make a natural book-end to my copy of Nuremberg. It's about the meeting where the Final Solution was arrived at (or really, force fed to Nazi officials by the S.S., not that they didn't mostly go along with it), and pretty straightforward. Based on the verbatim minutes of the meeting, it still helps flesh out the drama with the arrival, bathroom breaks and departure. I'm loath to call this kind of film an "entertainment", though of course, it is. Light on plot, it is rather a shocking character study - shocking at once by the matter-of-factness of certain characters and by the vocal (but censored) opposition of others. The DVD includes some very short featurettes that nonetheless hold valuable interviews with the actors.

The next day, I flipped Lub Besson's Léon: The Professional, which I went in thinking it would be a kind of Day of the Jackal, but was surprised to find it was a Lolita story with hitmen. 11-year-old Natalie Portman is a real discovery, but it's Jean Reno's performance as an awkward teenager in a man's body that makes the relationship at all workable. Besson's usual fetishes are all present: Decaying buildings, fish eye lenses, spring-autumn romance, oddly-juxtaposed comedy... but he himself isn't so present in the extras. There's a text trivia track that does a pretty good job, but no audio track, and he's not in any of the featurettes. Also absent is Gary Oldman who apparently doesn't want to talk about his bit of overacting in Léon. The interviews 10 years on are all interesting (though there is some redundancy with the trivia track), but hardly able to fill the second disc of this Deluxe Edition (less than an hour's worth).

The guys downstairs from my apartment have been borrowing by Doctor Who boxed sets and just finished Season 4, so we invited them up to watch the two latest specials. I'm no enamored with the idea of getting them out on separate DVDs, not if they won't have more extras on them. (This is especially bad when comparing them to BBC World's releases for Classic Who. The Next Doctor, for example, doesn't even include a Doctor Who Confidential and has no commentary track. I'd have liked to see David Morrissey's thoughts on playing ±the Doctor. At least it does include Doctor Who at the Proms, a concert hosted by Freema Agyeman in which the Doctor stars in a sort-of adventure. The DVD also includes Doctor Who at the Proms, a live symphony concert of Murray Gold's music, with plenty of guest-stars, functional monsters walking about scaring the kids, and even a silly little mini-adventure with a wormhole that overlooks the concert hall and the Doctor speaking to the fans. As someone who listens to Gold's soundtracks rather a lot, it's really great. Nice electric Doomsday arrangement, for example.

We jumped right from The Next Doctor to Planet of the Dead, a lighter romp, but better on this second viewing. In fact, most of New Who is better on the second and subsequent viewings. On first viewing, I was left with a rather negative impression of Lee Evans as Dr. Malcolm, but he provides a good bit of fun in retrospect, not quite as over the top (at least, not until the end). The DVD does have the full Doctor Who Confidential episode, worth it because of the many production problems associated with filming in the desert near Dubai. It truly looks like a doomed production for a while there. Still, I wish the DVD had a little more to it, in particular a commentary track.


Next day, watched Lars and the Real Girl, a Canadian indie film that has a dirty-sounding premise, but is anything but. Deranged man buys an inflatable doll and starts dating her. How this quiet picture manages to avoid smuttiness and instead deliver a touching and hopeful tragi-comedy is almost a miracle. Sadly, this is the bare bones DVD without even so much as a trailer for the film. A film should stand on its own, and it does, but it's still be nice to hear from anyone connected with the film, if only because it's such a strange idea. How they came up with it, or how they felt about it, etc.

Kung Fu Friday! There isn't a whole lot of Bruce Lee material that fits these evenings of filmic pleasure, so I've been rationing them out. Bruce Lee's first film, The Big Boss, was this week's. Like Enter the Dragon, it isn't a good film, though Bruce Lee is good IN it, which is probably why we should be sad Bruce died so young. He never got to make some really good and well-produced action films. (All my hopes now reside in Fist of Fury.) The Chinese dub has intrusive music and terribly timed sound effects which they fix in the English dub, but at the cost of Bruce's trademark "intimidation cooing". Overall, I think while the sound is technically better, it makes the film flatter. The DVD has a few trailers, pics and a short interview with a co-star. Slim, but forgivable given it's part of a boxed set.

I finally watched Torchwood: Children of Earth (the whole apartment was going to watch it, so I waited for the proper window). Well, that could be a series finale (except it apparently isn't, and from the quality, I glad that's so). It's hard to believe now the first season was such an awkward, gory, adolescent thing. Series 3 (and I'm in favor of mini-series like this rather than full 13-episode series) is a taunt 5-hour thriller that dares to pose some potent moral dilemmas and end in tragedy. Torchwood is definitely the pessimistic end of the Whoniverse. The DVD is pretty bare (like the recent Doctor Who specials'), with only the half-hour Torchwood Declassified going for it.

Hyperion to a Satyr entries this week include:
Act I Scene 2 - The Wedding Banquet according to Hamlet 2000
Act I Scene 2 - The Wedding Banquet according to Fodor
Act I Scene 2 - The Wedding Banquet according to Slings & Arrows

Someone Else's Post of the Week
Mwb only infrequently posts these days, but when he does, he makes it count. His play-by-play reviews of SF b-movies in particular are worth reading. Mwb brings you: ZONTAR!


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

I saw the 'Professional' at a film festival when it first came out and I enjoyed it very much. Fell in love with Natalie Portman right from the beginning of her career and Jean Reno is one of those actors that makes even bad material good.

Torchwood Children of Earth was one of the best things I saw all year. Never seen much Dr Who so I went in a total virgin and was WOWED. Fell in love with Gwen AND Captain Jack (I seem to do that alot) and still feel that the kiss he gave Ionto seconds before the HUB was about to be destroyed was one of the coolest, bravest things I have ever seen in popular entertainment. I thought.."YES Captain Jack, you magnificent bastard, you just got betrayed by your government, you go kiss your boyfriend if you want to!" I was not raised with European sensibilities so it was something not often (not EVER) seen in North American entertainment especially not the action/science fiction genre.

As someone who was raised with the horrible knowledge of the Holocaust I found 'Conspiracy' to be chilling. Stanley Tucci and Kenneth Branaugh are forever my models for the hiarchy that could come to that kind of a decision. How anyone can see that and not believe it or not think what happened was a crime against humanity is beyond me.

Thanks for some great reviews and choices as usual.

Siskoid said...

Thanks Cal.

I'm only a couple provinces removed from you, but I guess I was raised with "European sensibilities". Or at least acquired them in college. No, come to think of it, my mom had a lot of gay friends. In any case, I thought CoE was John Barrowman's best performance in anything ever. He's come a long way.

De said...

For the most part, I loved Children of Earth despite it being one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen.

Something that kind of pissed me off was the notion of the Britain's government willingly going along with 456's demands. Especially chilling was how callous that decision was carried out.

One of the dangers of setting this in the Doctor Who universe is that a story like this is somewhat incompatible. We've all seen UNIT and similar militaries fight off alien invasions before, but a creepy thing in a cloud chamber makes everyone surrender?

Siskoid said...

The fast-acting virus and no blue box in sight was probably a deciding factor. Think of the Doctorless universe of Turn Left and similar "final solutions" carried out in Britain.

The Whoniverse has just had a run of bad luck with its Premiers too... Harriet Jones, Harold Saxon and now Green. Sheesh.

Just why the Doctor doesn't show up at these critical TWo/SJA times is fodder for a future article...

Jeff R. said...

Primeval might not be completely dead yet...

I think that the TARDIS has a mans-inhumanity-to-man filter. (If the government had decided to tell the aliens to get stuffed, then the Doctor would have been positioned as having been in the vicinity for a few hours. Probably too late to save said government people from getting virused, but those are the breaks.)

mwb said...

I'm catching up a bit after a busy week, but thanks for the linky!

Sad thing I still haven't gotten around to watching Planet of the Dead.

I guess I should before the last three specials come out in the next month of so.


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