This Week in Geek (1-7/08/11)

Buys

A couple of DVDs this week: Source Code (see below) and Traders Season 1 (a Canadian show that's like The West Wing but in the bustling world of market trading; I was a big fan).

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: I've had the Sin City DVD since it came out, but it seemed so loaded with extras, I kept putting it off. And while I'd enjoyed it in theaters, it had also given me a sense of déjà vu. And it started the sad trend of recreating comics frame-for-frame for the silver screen. Listen up, movie makers: When I go see a screen adaptation of a written work, I want to see YOUR interpretation, not the same thing I've ALREADY seen. Now that 2006 is far behind and I'd even forgotten the details of the comics, I can better enjoy the film, and the criticism I lay at 300 and Watchmen's feet isn't as important here because 1) Frank Miller actually (co-)directed the film and 2) I think it's a lot better than those other movies. The DVD allows you to watch the film as released, but also as four separate stories (re-paced and extended) as they were meant to be experienced in the comics. On the theatrical cut, you'll find 2 commentary tracks, one with directors Rodiguez and Miller, the other with Rodriguez and spot guests like Tarantino and Bruce Willis. Good fun. You can also watch with an audience, but the noise is one of the reasons I don't like to go to the cinema in the first place! You can also watch the movie without any effects at superspeed, i.e. 10 minutes of intriguing green screen. Rodiguez' usual film and cooking schools are present and fun. There's a long take of Tarantino's scene and the guest-director intervenes from time to time. Making of elements cover every face of the film. There's also a feature with which you can get Frank Miller's spot commentary on each character, location and scene (the latter don't have much to offer, but the first two are more insightful). This edition also has the original Sin City (Marv) story in pocket trade, which is nice to have considering that the version I own is spread across more than a dozen issues of Dark Horse Presents. At ComicCon this year, Rodriguez announced they were finally making the sequel. Well, that's as maybe, but my appetite has been whet.

I followed up with Robert Altman's Short Cuts, a 3-hour web of incident loosely based on Raymond Carver's stories. It's like The Player or Nashville, but using the middle class, and it's at once tragic, darkly funny and elliptical. The huge cast (which includes such diverse actors as Julianne Moore, Jack Lemmo and Lyle Lovett) are connected in large and small ways, and their stories hold some truth. Behavioral truth is important to Altman, and that can be seen in how he uses casual nudity in a non-sexual way, just to show how couples, for example, are at ease with each other (and only once is it distracting, or perhaps we are made to feel the scene's discomfort). What I loved about this film is that it's about what we don't know. What we as an audience don't know and have to fill in with our imaginations, and what the characters don't know and how it motivates the mistakes they make in the piece. Criterion went to town accumulating material for the extras too. There's a strong making of documentary, a video conversation between Tim Robbins and Altman, a PBS documentary on Carver, a BBC segment on the screenplay's development and some deleted scenes. There are also some audio extras, including demo tapes of some of the original songs used in the film and an in-depth radio interview with Carver.

I'm a big Julian Barnes fan, but I can't say his best novels would work as films (simply on structure). Metroland was his very first book and much more straightforward and linear. Funnily enough, that linear structure is the biggest change made in its transition to film. But the timeline interrupted by flashbacks does work for this story of a man (Christian Bale) living in the suburbs of Metroland with his wife (Emily Watson) and comparing that life with the ideals he held up in his youth. His old friend Toni (Lee Ross) acts as catalyst, reminder, and tempter all in one. What we get is a coming to terms with the idea that a man's tastes and values changes as he gets older and that contentment may come in different ways. Has he betrayed himself? Has he sold out? Your answer may depend on your age as much as your temperament.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird is an "oriental western" by Korean director Kim Jee-Woon and boy, what an entertainment! Colorful, stylish and filled with action and humor, it tracks its three competing protagonists on an ill-advised treasure hunt in the Chinese desert in whatever time period you want it to be (there's an extreme mix of mongol barbarians, cowboys and Japanese army jeeps). There's one action sequence that goes on too long, but even when that happens, there's a fun soundtrack to keep you company. The DVD's extras are underproduced, but except for the Cannes montage, not useless. There are 15 minutes of behind the scenes footage that are worth a look, a quick making of with hilariously bad English overlays (a guy is credited as Assistant Horse, for example), and quick interviews with the stars and director. All could have used more care, but certainly better than nothing.

I'd heard good things about Source Code, but went into it completely blind. And I really liked it. Jake Gyllenhaal stars (alongside the awesome Vera Farmiga and the super-cute Michelle Monaghan) in this straight-up cross between Quantum Leap, Groundhog Day and 12 Monkeys (if you can imagine it). He's a man forced to return to the place and time of a terrorist attack in order to find the bomber before he strikes again. I won't reveal anymore, but it's an extremely well-made SF/puzzle thriller with real heart. Well worth a look (and try to spot the Scott Bakula cameo). The DVD has a fine commentary by the director, writer and star, but you can definitely give the "trivia track" a miss, these text boxes appear infrequently and give a new meaning to the word "trivia". Only one had any bearing on the film, and others went to such extremes as discussing smoking bans ordered by 16th-century popes. I know there was a no smoking sign on the wall, but I mean, come on! The making of elements are based on interviews with the director and cast, and there's alos "Focal Points", fun animations that explain some of the scientific concepts used in the film.

Books: Wil Weaton's Just a Geek is a great little book filled with humorous and frank biographical essays not so much expanding on his early blog entries as debunking them. It is the chronicle of Wheaton's struggle to get out of Wesley Crusher's shadow, and he means to be as honest with us as possible. Many of the early blog entries fudged the truth, tried to paint a rosy picture, downplay the negative. In this book, Wheaton reprints many of those entries and goes on to tell us the stories behind the posts, stories of his insecurities and deep disappointments. With a convivial style, he brings us unashamedly into his angst, but also provides enough laughs, smiles and a brutally honest Hollywood tell-all quality to entertain. If I have one criticism to make (aside from noticing the odd typo), it's that it stops in 2002. I'd love for Wheaton to write some follow-up volumes, taking us through his later successes with the Guild and Eureka. I could read his blog's long archives, but there's nothing quite like something you can hold in your hands, is there?

Audios: The Myth Makers was the last lost Hartnrll story in the first audio boxed set and a great to finish "volume 1". The Doctor, Steven and Vicki land at the Battle of Troi, but it's not the one from the Iliad. Rather, it's the comedy version, with the great figures of myth translated into boors, cowards, cynics and fops. It's a hilarious send-up in the style of The Shakespeare Code, and I'm only sorry the writer wasn't allowed to use some of the titles he had for half the episodes. Is There a Doctor in the Horse? is particularly good. The linking text is once again handled by Peter "Steven" Purves and his wet slurs, but at least he doesn't much to narrate. The main draw here is the witty dialog and there's plenty of it.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 13 new cards, mostly centered on the Daleks and adapting older cards to 2nd Edition. I'll have to give the Cybermen a similar treatment in the weeks to come, not to mention Torchwood and the TARDIS Crew.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.i. Briefings - Olivier '48
III.i. Briefings - BBC '80

3 comments:

snell said...

I knew you'd appreciate that Bakula cameo...

Toby'c said...

I mentioned a movie called Jindabyne to you a while back, which took the Carver story "So Much Water So Close to Home", transplanted it to rural New South Wales and starred Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney as Stewart and Claire Kane. Did you have any luck tracking it down?

Personally I don't think Short Cuts does justice to the Carver stories, but it's still an excellent film and one of my favourite examples of the Hyperlink Film style (beaten only by Magnolia and maybe Lantana).

Siskoid said...

I love Hyperlink films (great name for them). Magnolia, possibly my favorite film of all time, hows a lot to Short Cuts. I could have named Crash or Babel, I suppose, don't know Lantana though. I'll have to check it out.

Your recommendation slipped my mind. I'll write it down right now and try not to forget again.

 

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