This Week in Geek (5-11/07/10)


Only one purchase this week, but it's been something of a holy grail for me - Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, special edition. I had all of this director's films that are available on this side of the planet, save this one, and it's widely considered to be his masterpiece. Damn you, out of printness! Anyway, now I do and the only question is, do I put it into the Kung Fu Fridays rotation despite its total lack of action? Or do I just savor it alone? Money's on the latter.


DVDs: In the spy corner, we have Spooks (or if you prefer, MI-5) Series 7, in which we shockingly lose a number of players. I'm happy to see Ros come into her own as a no-nonsense, but compassionate leader, and Richard Armitage's Lucas North slips into the role of hero very nicely too. This series takes the series-wide conspiracy of the previous series, but leaves on a slow burn for most of the 8 episodes, making this an exciting hybrid of stand alone and serial. Spooks is, I feel, getting into the same kind of heightened groove The Unit did, after more realistic beginnings. And that's cool. The DVD includes a couple commentaries, a half-hour behind the scenes documentary and a couple of featurettes. In the Series 6 release, I didn't think I was learning much that was new about the show as key cast and crew rattled off the same old opinions and stories. Series 7 is much better on that point.

In the cult SF corner, I watched Silent Running for the first time, and it must be the most depressing film of the 1970s. Which is saying something. I don't think I liked it at first. Preachy in the first act, with long boring scenes in the middle, and a protagonist that is never really likable. Strangely, it's the sad little drones that you most empathize with, despite their looking like boxes. The load of extras on this cult classic is really why you should check out the DVD. It certainly made me like it more. There's an hour-long documentary that charts every part of the making of the film, rare for the 70s. It details how it was made on a shoestring budget, follows the cast and crew on the decommissioned aircraft carrier where it was filmed, and makes us meet the bilateral amputees who played the drones (when you think it can't get any sadder!). The director and star share an over-awed commentary, but it's a frequently insightful one. There are also some more modern interviews with the two of them, giving the production a bit more hindsight, and also covering their later careers.

In the Doctor Who corner, I flipped The Keys of Marinus, starring the 1st Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian. It's in fact only the Doctor's fifth story, and the second by Dalek creator Terry Nation. It's got a reputation for being dull and dreadful, but it's a lot better than that. Taking its cue from matinee serials, each episode features a different environment and enemy for the TARDIS crew to encounter. None of them are particularly developed as a result, but there's enough energy and inventiveness on screen to cover the holes in the sets and plot. William Hartnell took a vacation for a couple weeks, giving the companions (except Susan, really) the chance to shine. His return is your only stop for Doctor Who courtroom drama. Fun if fluffy. Sadly, this is one of the "cheap" releases without many extras. Designer Ray Cusick is a bitter pill in his interview, laughably so, but is much nicer in the presence of others during the commentary. The most notable extra can only be viewed on your home computer - a series of Cadet Sweets cards featuring the Daleks, the Voord from this story and "Doctor Who" (a combination of the tv and movie versions of the character).

In the superhero corner, I decided to catch up on some superhero movies I wasn't in a hurry to experience. The revolving finger fell on The Incredible Hulk, which inevitably, I must compare to Ang Lee's first Hulk film. You might think the cast is stronger (or at least as strong) with the inclusion of Edward Norton, but I found each character to be slightly miscast, even the new ones. Certainly, I miss Sam Elliot and Jennifer Connelly. In the case of Banner, it works for the first half hour, when he's on the run in Brazil (I quite like that part), but as soon as Betty's back in his life, I guess I don't buy the chemistry. And really, though effects have improved since the first Hulk film, this monster is just as CGI as the other one. I am glad they didn't do another origin story though, simply throwing it out there in the opening sequence, more Incredible Hulk the tv show than the comic. The direction is modern and dynamic, and the story, on the whole, better than Ang Lee's version (which went on for one act too many). So call me... ambivalent, but progressively more positive about, especially after viewing the 45 minutes of deleted scenes (which includes a lot of Doc Samson stuff). The DVD also includes lots of making of materials, which are generally pleasant and informative, and a slow-as-molasses "animated comic book" scene from Hulk: Gray, barely connected to the film. The commentary track between director Louis Leterrier and co-star Tim Roth is surprisingly fun, and thankfully subtitled (they tend to talk over each other with their varied accents).

I'd been sitting on Punisher War Zone for months because, really, I liked the first one and didn't see a reason to reboot and recast it, but when I realized Frank Castle was played by Rome's Pullo, Ray Stevenson, I just had to kill the evening with it. Sorry, Hulk, you've got to share your corner. And Dominic West's in it? Gee, I guess when a film does badly, no one talks about it. And this movie IS pretty bad. For one thing, it pulls in too many directions. Stevenson plays Castle with a haunted subtlety (he's the best thing here, along with Wayne Knight), while the bad guys have one over-the-top foot in Tim Burton's Batman films and the other in torture porn. The cops are meant to provide comic relief, but the comedy falls flat. Certainly, there's none of the black comedy and dry sense of humor of the Thomas Jane film. Another thing that bugs me is the accents. Half the cast is made up of Brits and the New York accents are either outrageous or just don't sit comfortably. And it's incredibly violent. So was the previous one; so is the Punisher concept. But here it's sadistic without having been earned (the comic earning it does not mean you can go directly there). You'll never see such soft human being in your life, where a punch can blow up a head. It's far less imaginative than the Jane film, and at times suffers from weak direction as well. Nice cinematography and all, but the good bits are few and far between. Maybe the DVD extras can add value... Well, the self-congratulatory commentary between the direction and d.p. sheds light on why I don't like the film. You can't defend your film by saying we need to read the source material, guys. It's got to stand on its own. Comic book movies obsessed with recreating comic book panels have been bugging me since Sin City proved a redundant experience, and here the filmmakers work on the false assumption that the Max Punisher series is in any way as iconic as, say, Watchmen. I'll leave at that to be polite. There are also a half dozen superficial featurettes. If Marvel really feels the need to reboot the Punisher once again, my dream casting is Max Martini. But they really shouldn't.

Why no Kung Fu corner this week? Well, barring the fact the corners should really come in fours, we watched only part 1 of John Woo's Red Cliff this week. The thing's close to 5 hours long, and in this unbearable heat, I thought it best to split the experience in two before we all passed out. Part 1 was still a pretty complete entertainment experience though!

RPGs: Second session of Savage Worlds: Evernight down the hatch. A simple dungeon delve to continue to test the player characters' (and system's) possibilities and limits, and their first leveling in order to at least attempt to overcome spotted limitations. Being exploration, traps and encounters, there wasn't much room for me to do NPCs, which is always a shame, but I think we've licked the combat system and made it quicker. Quick enough that players are comfortable with trying out tactics. Which doesn't account for the dwarf tossing. Here's to more of the same next week (tactics, not dwarf tossing).

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 12 cards from Fear Her. Not everybody's favorite (or anyone's, really), but I think I managed to wring some good stuff out of it. And then 15 from Voyage of the Damned.

Hyperion to a Satyr entries this week include:
I.v. The Ghost's Tale - Branagh (1996)
I.v. The Ghost's Tale - Olivier (1948)
I.v. The Ghost's Tale - BBC (1980)


Austin Gorton said...

My thoughts eerily mirror yours on both movies: I enjoyed elements of the first Hulk movie, despite it's flaws and ditto the second, and I'm definitely glad they skipped the origin.

I also really liked the first Punisher movie and felt this one was WAY too over the top, even if Stevenson did a good job with the character. Dominic West and his obnoxious accent drove me nuts throughout the whole movie.

I have to admit though, I laughed so hard I cried when Punisher took out that Parkour guy in midair.

Siskoid said...

Sure. That's one of the good bits :) Although I'm not sure they entirely sell the idea that they put Parkour runners in the movie as a parody of current action movies.

Funnily enough, Incredible Hulk ALSO has parkour in it.


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