This Week in Geek (12-18/09/11)


It was Amazon Delivers week here at the old homestead, sheesh! My Kung Fu Fridays shelf has been shored up with The Bastard Swordsman, The Sword of Swords, Killer Clans, The Duel, Jackie Chan's Who Am I? (sadly, all I could get was a full screen version), Mulan, and in the same vein, Kagan McLeod's Infinite Kung Fu in trade paperback. Other DVDs include Spain's sensual Like Water for Chocolate, X-Men: First Class, Thor, Season 6 of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Spanish Prisoner (see below) and Doctor Who's Day of the Daleks. Speaking of Who, I also got the third volume of the Lost TV Episodes on audio CD, covering The Smugglers to The Moonbase.


DVDs: For some it's heist movies, but me, I'm a right sucker for con stories. Finally found a copy of David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner, which I hadn't seen since shortly after it came out, and naturally, I popped it into the machine. Even with my knowing there was an elaborate con in process, it still managed to surprise me, and of course, Mamet laces his script with gems, and I do love Steve Martin in a more dramatic role. I think why I like con movies (and The Spanish Prisoner is a good example of this) is that it pleasantly subverts the old Hitchcock adage that if a gun is seen in the first act, it must be fired by the third. Movies are filled with coincidences, things that are shown or said because they tie into the plot. In con stories, this is done on purpose not by the writer or director, but by the characters themselves. It's fun to piece the puzzle together, and in the hands of a unique filmmaker, there's something interesting in the puzzle's picture itself. Sorry, no extras on this DVD beyond its theatrical trailer.

I also flipped Angel Season 4, a very tight year-long arc that perhaps covers three weeks in the lives of the characters. It's a big Apocalypse, and it occurs in stages. The villains spin wheels within wheels, the cast is irrevocably altered, and finally Andy "Lorne" Hallett gets added to the opening credits after being in almost every episode for two and half years (Hollywood is cruel!). Every episode this seasons seems to end with a cliffhanger, so it's hard to see it as anything other than a long 22-chapter movie (longer since it really starts the previous year). I find the show very even, with no incredible highs, but no real lows either. It's all of a piece and there's nothing wrong with that. The episode commentaries are multiplying, with seven this time around, and joining them are outtakes and featurettes on the season as a whole, the Apocalypse, prophecies, the villains, the Hotel, and Wolfram & Hart, Attorneys at Evil.

1986's Martial Arts of Shaolin (AKA Shaolin Temple 3) is pretty much at the crossroads of the old Shaw Brothers era (and so directed by my favorite, Lau Kar-Leung) and the new school of martial arts (as typified by Jet Li's starring role). This historical context is evident everywhere you look. Jet and female co-star Wong Chau-yin are quite good, but many of the other actors are using a jarring "mwaa-ha-ha" style of acting. There is modern shaky cam, but also the weird bubble effect that Shaw-Vision sometimes produces. The revenge story set against the Shaolin temple backdrop is right out of a dozen Shaw Brothers films, but it's all done in beautiful locations in mainland China. The fights are universally excellent, of course, and the film looks great and has memorable scenes (the riverboat fight, the sheep escape), but it's got problems that keep it from being a great martial arts film. Chief among these is the soundtrack. Terrible and intrusive 80s synth music playing out the same themes over and over again at different tempos. And where Lau Kar-Leung's usual cultural asides are usually fascinating and informative, here they feel like padding. The birthday celebration at Court lasts entirely too long, for example. So mixed reviews, and no extras to boost the score.

Books: Still reading the Elric Saga, and this week finished Book 4, The Vanishing Tower. Again, Moorcock writes three interconnected novellas, that connection being Elric's confrontations with the evil wizard Theleb K'aarna. In the first, Elric consorts with a Goddess of Order. In the next, he is captured in the City of Beggars (an intriguing and original location). And in the third, he meets up with a couple other incarnations of the Eternal Champion to get his hands on a deus ex machina to save his friends. While the Eternal Champion concept is an interesting one, I feel like its use leads to Moorcock's worst chapters. He has powerful flights of imagination, but sometimes gets his heroes out of jams "magically", and I don't mean that in a good sword & sorcery way. Still, good last moment on that last story despite the outrageous deus ex.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.i. To Be or Not to Be - Olivier '48


Austin Gorton said...

I've often thought that season 4 of Angel is probably the closest we'll get to a long-form superhero comic in TV form, with peaks and valleys to the narrative, running subplots, etc.


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