This Week in Geek (02-08/01/12)


Still picking up some Steven Soderbergh films, like Contagion (see below), The Limey, and an Ocean's 11, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen 4-pack (also see below), but also Equilibrium, a bargain bin SF film that, humorously, compares itself to The Matrix on the box cover.


DVDs: Before Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle and the rest, Michael Palin had done a little traveling, and BBC Video appealed to the completist in me with its release of his Hemingway Adventure (4 episodes) and Railway Journeys (only Palin's 2 episodes included). Both are quite enjoyable, and a little more thematically (as opposed to geographically) structured than his later travelogues. In the Hemingway Adventure (1998), he goes to various places the American writer visited or lived in, and attempts to do some of the things Hemingway did in those places, as well as see how "Papa" is remembered there. There's a lot of variety, with two locations per episode, from Africa to Cuba, to France to his birthplace of Chicago. The two Railway Journeys are set about 15 years apart. The first (1985) was part of a tv series that featured different presenters, his doing the length of the Great Britain, an avowed train spotter's dream. The second (1994) seems like a modern follow-up, this time along the coast of Ireland, more or less in search of his own Irish ancestor. Both are more interesting than I would have imagined, and really speak to a love of trains.

Finally saw Danny Boyle's wonderful Slumdog Millionaire, an almost Dickensian journey from child to young adult in the slums of India. It's also a grand love story, and a film about memory, as each question asked of the protagonist on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? sends us into a flashback that will show how he knows the answer (or doesn't). A huge editing effort, and it works completely. Charming, striking, unique and unforgettable. The DVD extras (so my copy isn't from the initial problem release that was missing them) include two interesting commentary tracks (director and lead, then producer and writer), plenty of deleted scenes, a standard making of, and a "music video" using a 3-minute edit of the film.

That Ocean's Eleven 4-pack surprised me by actually having extras (at least the "Disc 1" extras, probably). Ocean's Eleven itself is a great entertainment - and you know how much I like the heist and con genres - that shows Soderbergh's prowess at 1) assembling an all-star cast and 2) making all the pieces fit. The heist/con focused on robbing three casinos really is a puzzle, and we're given the pieces just right. Las Vegas is a perfect setting, all glitz, just like the cool, cool cast and slick camera work. Soderbergh does it one better by turning the epilogue into an Old Hollywood moment (or series of moments) that pays just the right tribute to the Rat Pack and the days when the original (Ocean's 11) was made. The DVD includes two commentary tracks (the director and the writer on one, a few of the cast on the other), a Hollywood-type making of, and a featurette on the costumes.

Where Ocean's Twelve fails is that it takes away one of the things that made Eleven a success, and goes too far with another. Part of the magic of Eleven was that Ocean's crew took a huge gamble, and it paid off and they didn't get caught. Well, so we thought. Twelve destroys this notion, and almost acts as a critique of the first film more than a sequel. It shows us the downside of the crew's original crime, creates tension between the characters, and takes them away from Vegas. Somehow, the film manages to make Amsterdam and Rome look grotty, because the slick, cool look is also gone in favor of washed out, edgy camera work. One of the good things about Eleven was that the actors were obviously having a lot of fun. This, they take too far, and we're left with a lot of fat on the steak, improv scenes that go nowhere, and by the time Julia Roberts' character is asked to impersonate Julia Roberts, we know everyone is just taking the piss. Don't get me wrong, it's still a perfectly fine entertainment, but it doesn't have as solid a structure or as resonant an ending as the previous film did. As if they knew it was the weaker entry in the franchise, there are no extras accompanying it.

Ocean's Thirteen is a return to form. We're back in Vegas, for one thing, this time to bankrupt a corrupt Al Pacino's new casino, and even the least utilized of the Eleven get to do and show more. It certainly book-ends the first one better, and its structure is tighter. Still, it doesn't forget the events of Twelve as there are call-backs to it too. It's too bad Julia Roberts and smokin' hot Cathera Zeta-Jones couldn't be in this one, but perhaps that would have been one or two characters too many, and the boys' club makes sense in the context of the story. It's a bromance at heart. One with love letters and everything. The DVD features a featurette on how Vegas evolved and continues to evolve - interesting and only marginally concerned with the film.

Another Soderbergh film? I'm on a roll. Contagion is his most recent (until Haywire comes out anyway), and it's a pandemic scenario played as a drama and a procedural. I found it rather disturbing because it seemed like something that could really happen, at least until the situation got too out of control and it starts feeling more like a movie.But by then, you're halfway through, so "it could happen here" becomes a question rather than a statement. I don't think I want to know the answer. Being a movie star won't help you survive the film (again, Soderbergh delivers on the all-star cast), probably why the jeopardy works so well. All I know is that I am probably the least alarmist person when it comes to health concerns, but this thing filled me with apprehension. Brr. The only extra included is a humorous PSA on disease prevention.

Kung Fu Friday's first real foray into blaxploitation was 1974's Black Belt Jones, starring Jim Kelly as a slick, karate-chopping government operative who goes after an evil Mafia winery when their real estate scam gets his mentor killed over his karate school. Terrible? Or terribly entertaining? More the latter, actually. Though it's made on the cheap and has some pacing issues and very little suspense, it does have fun, corny lines to reference among movie geeks, and has fun with the action sequences. The real star is actually Gloria Hendry (Live and Let Die), a rockin' babe who gives as good as she gets with sass and style (and sometimes without the benefit of underwear - don't worry, it's all PG). Man, if Black Belt Jones had been this competent in Enter the Dragon, he wouldn't have wound up on the wrong end of a meat hook. Now the gang wants to see more of Jim, so I'll see what I can do about putting Hot Potato on the schedule.

Audios: Power of the Daleks is without a doubt the most criminal tape-wipe of the entire Doctor Who canon. Not only is it the 2nd Doctor's first story, but it's a damn good one. In fact, it's easily one of the better Dalek stories ever made. On audio, it takes, I think a bit more time to get into the human colony/rebels story, but after a couple episodes, the characters get delineated enough that the pay-off has real punch. The Daleks play the slow game here, creepy and covert (Dalek and Victory of the Daleks, in New Who, owe a lot to this story), ramping up the tension until they do strike, violently. Anneke Wills does a good job narrating, getting into the momentum of the finale, etc., but also puts in one of Polly's better companion performances. And after all that, the last disc gives you a little Easter Egg - an entirely too brief message from the Daleks.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: Got back on the wagon (4 new cards), but am having problems with my web provider. I'll try to put them up as soon as I can.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. Instructing the Players


Señor Editor said...

I loved those Michael Palin travel shows! Haven't seen them in quite a while, I bet the DVDs are nice. I saw Slumdog in the theatre when it came out, I wasn't expecting it to be as good as everyone was saying at the time but I ended up enjoying it a lot. A really good movie. Going to see "The Rum Diary" next weekend.

Have a Happy New Year!

Siskoid said...

HNY AFTER the 6th? I'm ordering a sound flogging, sir!

(You too)

Randal said...

I caught all three Oceans movies over he past week, coincidentally, and damned if 12 isn't better when watched back to back.

The damn plot hole of how they got the fake money into the vault in 11 still drives me nuts though.

Siskoid said...

Didn't they bring it in the same way they took the real money out? In the SWAT team dufflebags?

Randal said...

The flyers in the vault yeah...but the duffel bags that were sent up the elevator and put into the van?


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