This Week in Geek (04-10/07/11)

Buys'n'Gifts

I don't get many birthday gifts at this point in my life, but my roomie Joelle was nice enough to hand me Tina Fey's book "Bossypants". It'll be my next read for sure, thanks Jo-Jo! And then there's the stuff I get for myself. Books? Grant Morrison's 18 Days. Audio? The Doctor Who audio collection volume 2, wrapping up the Hartnell years. DVD? Tons, mostly from the 10$ bin. There's The Color of Money (a personal favorite), Black Swan (10$? sure!), Unforgiven (10$ special edition? very sure!), Roadkill, Westworld, Batman (1966), and at a slightly more normal price point, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights and Eureka Season 4.0 (see below).

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Eureka Season 4.0 features the Camp Eureka/James Callis arc from the first half of last season, and as Season 5 is about to begin, it drives me kind of mad that 4.5 is a separate product as yet unannounced. Gah! But as for 4.0, it is a very likable segment of a usually charming show. Callis' character has, I think, more to do with that likability than any of the changes in status quo brought about by the season premiere. These might have seemed gratuitous, but their emotional content more than makes up for whatever cheat my be perceived. Left me wanting more, which is good, if maddening. As for extras, there's a commentary track on an extended cut of the premiere episode, a lot of strong deleted scenes, a gag reel and a 5-minute making of featurette on the 1947 version of Eureka. A good if slim package.

Chang Cheh's Kid with the Golden Arm is one of the few Venoms movies to actually have "Snake" in it, and as ever, he's a completely douche. Which is why we love it when he shows up. The story of a gold shipment that must be protected from a villainous clan is full of cool, acrobatic fights and ends in tragedy for most of the superheroic cast. It's hard to decide who you should root for in this movie, since there are heroes to hiss at and villains to cheer on (as well as the reverse). I don't see it as a weakness, but rather as a strength. Chang Cheh's martial universe isn't black and white, and you could turn the tables and say the bad guys are "good" and vice-versa and it would still work. It's about finding honor (or dishonor) on either side. "Heroes" working a cross-purposes. Plus, starring role for my favorite Venom, Kwok Choi (the Gecko).

Romeo & Juliet has never been a favorite of mine, but I endeavored this weekend to watch two completely different versions of it back to back. Both are from 70s British TV, both fill around 3 hours of screen time, and both carry the integral text (give or take a few lines). In both cases, seeing the entire text unfold restores unfamiliar scenes both fascinating (the ghost of Tybalt) and tedious (the story explained to the supporting cast at the end). Otherwise, the two versions are wholly dissimilar. The first was the Thames version, which shows how important casting is to this play. It has always been my contention that everything hinges on Juliet's. I have to believe that she has such charms as to make Romeo fall in love at first sight, and the strength of character to act the engine of the play. Unfortunately, Ann Hasson is hopelessly miscast in the role. She's not pretty enough or vivacious enough. In the ball scene, she doesn't stand out and is surrounded by greater beauties than she, and in all but maybe one scene in the presentation, the lighting, make-up, costuming and camera angles is unflattering. Worse, the way she plays Juliet is actually creepy! The rest of the cast isn't so ill-fitting however. Christopher Neame's passionate Romeo is a strong presence, and the ancillary characters mostly talented, in particular Clive Swift as the Friar, Patsy Byrne (Blackadder II's "Nursie") as the Nurse, and Robin Nedwell as Mercutio. The sword fights are long and exciting, but the direction lacks energy. I was disappointed too in the sets and silly cod pieces, because other Thames Collection DVDs I had sampled (Twelfth Night and MacBeth) were a lot more daring. There's one DVD extra, a 20-minute interview with Neame and David Robb (Tybalt) paying tribute to all the other actors as well as their experience.

The BBC version of the play, made two years later, was, however, a total revelation. I might finally have found "my" Romeo & Juliet. Up til now, I was pretty much resigned to counting the play-within-a-film in Shakespeare in Love my definitive version. The gold standard of course is Zeffirelli's, but even that had failed to make me a fan of the play. (Baz Luhrmann's, you ask? You're mad, son.) This adaptation is dynamic and lively, and its characters witty and funny, in a way that I haven't experienced before, and when compared to the Thames version, both the acting and direction underscore lines in such a way as to give the audience a better understanding and appreciation. It's miles ahead. It also has my favorite overall cast of R&J. Rebecca Saire, all of 15 in this, is a believable object of Romeo's affections, virginal, angelic and pure in appearance and a quick wit when spoken with. This is how I picture Juliet on the page, actively thinking and manipulating her way into Romeo's arms. I've never cared for the Capulets, much less cried for them, until Michael Hordern and Jacqueline Hill played them (both are just wonderful, sympathetic where others have been cold absentees). Celia Johnson is an atypical casting for the nurse, but nonethless and excellent one. Anthony Andrews's Mercutio is a fun and interesting goofball. And Joseph O'Conor is a strong presence as my favorite character of the play, Friar Laurence. Oh, and get this: Alan Rickman as a cowardly Tybalt.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 2 cards for End of Time, both forgotten broken links. Oops!

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - Olivier '48
II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - BBC '80
II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - Zeffirelli '90
II.ii. O, what a rogue and peasant slave am I - Kline '90

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