This Week in Geek (16-22/08/10)


DVD purchases this week include the Max Headroom complete series, one of those lost gems from the '80s (I'm not sure I can name any other cyberpunk tv series) and strictly from the bargain bins, both Sliding Doors (always up for a What If story, you know me) and Colossus: The Forbin Project (one of those 70s SF films that ends on a Twilight Zone/really sour note, an intrinsic part of my childhood).


DVDs: Flipped Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3, the year they graduate from high school. First off, I gotta say the WB's standard for violence must have changed around this point because the villains are dispatched much more gruesomely than before. Overall, this is the best season yet, with the Faith arc throwing things for a loop. Had the series ended there, it would have done so on a thematically satisfying beat. Of course, it didn't. Buffy apparently overcame the change of venue in a way that Veronica Mars just couldn't, going on for another 4 years. I've already started, so more to come on this subject. The DVD includes commentaries on selected episodes, short interviews and excellent featurettes about some of the facets of making the show. Again, Geller and Hannigan are missing from any of the extra material. Too bad, given that they are otherwise very good.

On Kung Fu Friday, we watched Dragon Tiger Gate, the superhero action movie starring Donnie Yen and based on the popular Hong Kong comic. Wilson Yip once again offers up a movie that is visually inventive, and as with his other collaborations with Donnie, is full of martial arts goodness. They really do play with comic book imagery, without being slaves to the original materials. The commentary by a panel of experts reveals that there are many important differences between the comics and the film (the focus on Dragon rather than Tiger, who lives and dies, etc.), and I'm almost glad to not be familiar with the former. As it stands, the film turns into an almost surreal struggle between Heaven and Hell, in part because the villain sort of comes out of nowhere and is not fully developed. The commentators start out positive about the film, but take a wrong turn in the last act, trashing it based entirely too much on how it differs from the comic. It comes very close to whining about things like the fact that Peter Parker shouldn't go out with Mary Jane Watson instead of Gwen Stacy (a double standard going by their earlier comments about the X-Men films). A second disc adds making of featurettes that are heavy on behind the scenes footage and thin on everything else, a few deleted scenes (some annoyingly without sound), more than an hour's worth of interview with the stars and director, and footage from Cannes. What's missing here is a feature on the comic itself.

Sometimes, it's relaxing to "flip" a movie from my collection that has no extras whatsoever. Watch it, file it, it's done. So I popped recent arrival Sliding Doors into the player. I'm well known for saying Gwyneth Paltrow can do no wrong (on screen), and she's her usual charming self here as a Schrodinger's cat, whose life takes two possible turns (there's a Gwyneth in a box joke in there somewhere, but nly for physicists who like David Fincher movies). Writer/director Peter Howitt cleverly meshes the two stories together, the twists of faith making the outcome more or less unpredictable. An imaginative romantic comedy/drama told in a diverging timelines format, yet easy to follow. Fun enough I'd have liked a little more meat on this DVD's bones.

Books: The problem with stories that happen in a dream world or other virtual reality is that anything can happen and does. This is a cheap plotting device and simultaneously confusing and disaffecting for the reader. It's the case with Simon Messignham's Strange England, part of the Doctor Who New Adventures line. Good prose, some real horror, and an interesting resolution all told, but my eyes tended to glaze over around the middle there. If nothing is real, how real can the danger be? And though it turns out there IS real danger, you don't always know it. Even if you figure it out by page 40 (which I did), you're likely to forget you did by page 200 (again, as I did) as the resolution keeps us waiting. Definitely a mitigated review.

RPGs: Thinking of participating in Stargazer's Book Club.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: Finishing up one card a day from Doctor Who Series 5. The last 4 stories have their cards up. Next is a fill set called Reality Unbound that makes use of alternate reality stories like Doomsday, Warrior's Gate and Amy's Choice. Here's the booster pack art:
Hyperion to a Satyr entries this week include:
I.v. Swearing Oaths - Zeffirelli '90
I.v. Swearing Oaths - Kline '90
I.v. Swearing Oaths - Hamlet 2000


snell said...

Interesting note about the violence of Buffy Season 3, as the WB delayed broadcast of both the episode Earshot (6 months!) and the finale Graduation Day 2 (2 months!) over concerns of Columbine, which of course was in the headlines at the time. We can show people being disemboweled, but not show kids with guns and weapons!!

Needless to say, watching the season "live" at the time was a somewhat frustrating, disjointed experience, one which has no doubt unfairly colored my perception of the season as a whole I've always thought 2 was better, but I'm willing to consider that having to see 3 out of order, with long gaps (and a pissed-off attitudes towards the WB), influenced me.

snell said...

Also, we can discuss more once you flip 4, but I always thought Veronica Mars was far more effective at switching gears to college than Buffy was. Yeah, Buffy continued for 4 more years, but only one of those seasons was in college really, and everything they did felt just like surface gloss and lip-service. VM, on the other hand, much more successfully portrayed college, I thought. Given the CW attitude at the time, I doubt VM would have been renewed even if she had been in high school for the 3rd season.

Siskoid said...

I agree that the comparison is an unfair one. Would still have loved a VM in the FBI series though!

As for Season 2, its second half with evil Angel is probably Buffy at its most nightmarish and very strong indeed. Yeah, the more I think about it, the less I can decide if 2 or 3 is the stronger season. I think that maybe 3's resolutions make it a more satisfying season, whereas 2 is more frustrating (in a good, thriller, Noooooooooooooo!!! kind of way).

I'm halfway through 4 and it is less engaging even if the production values are higher. I'm liking it overall, but the Initiative arc isn't turning my crank.

snell said...

Hell, I'd have loved a VM working at Burger King series...anything with more VM!

I can certainly see your point about the resolutions in season 3--just for me, the impact of those was considerably mooted when we had to wait 2 months between Graduation Day parts 1 & 2, and The Prom has more resonance if you see Earshot first, and not 4 moths later. Not the show's fault, obviously, but it is hard to shale those first perceptions.

Siskoid said...

I'm sure there's a lot of crime in the fast food industry for her to investigate. Point is, anywhere is a good where for VM.

On your last point, I'm really glad I didn't have to watch it out of sequence of with delays. Viva DVD!

Matthew Turnage said...

Like siskoid, I saw the series on DVD (just last year) and without delays. I would still rate season 3 as my favorite, although I thought 2, 5, and 7 were all really strong as well. Faith is one of my favorite characters the show produced, and the mayor was definitely the best villain of the show's run.

Austin Gorton said...

@Snell: Yeah, Buffy continued for 4 more years, but only one of those seasons was in college really, and everything they did felt just like surface gloss and lip-service.

I haven't watched VM, but I'll certainly agree with this assessment. I love the later seasons of Buffy, but the 4th is really the only college-centric one. After that, it's all lip service.

@Siskoid: As for Season 2, its second half with evil Angel is probably Buffy at its most nightmarish and very strong indeed. Yeah, the more I think about it, the less I can decide if 2 or 3 is the stronger season.

I think the second half of season two is Buffy at its best (the perfect combination of the high school-as-horror metaphor, engaging plots and strong characters) but that season 3, overall, is the better season (the first half of season two feels a little too much like it should have been the second half of season, imagine the "What's my Line?" two parter as the first season finale...but I digress...).

Season Four is definitely the weakest season, even if it does contain a few standout episodes (Hush, Restless).


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