This Week in Geek (26/12/11-01/01/12)


On DVD, I got the third volume of Primeval (see below), and to supplement our Kung Fu Fridays experience with non-Chinese movies, Destroy All Monsters and the Kung Fu Panda suite.


In theaters: Went to see Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows, and while it was a rather different animal than the first film, it was still an excellent entertainment. One might make the complaint that there's less mystery and more action in this one, but Moriarty deserves this more epic, international scope, and that great triple fight finale. Watson and his wife Mary get much more to do (the former getting his own nemesis), and even Sherlock's brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry) makes a delicious contribution. Guy Ritchie does go overboard with both the gay subtext and the "master of disguise" elements, but they come off as amusing rather than irritating. If you're looking for "more of the same, but different", I think you won't be disappointed by this particular sequel.

DVDs: If Children of Earth was Torchwood finally getting it right, Season 4 was Sarah Jane Adventures doing the same. It no doubt helps that the kids are older now (Clyde and Rani can now carry an entire story), but the writers have stepped up their game as well. The comedy actually works, and are well contrasted by heartfelt, touching moments. The Lis Sladen memorial card right at the top of the first episode certainly put me in a weepy mood, but that's only part of it. Luke contemplates leaving home in that one, and it's just a beautiful piece about friendship. The 11th Doctor's guest appearance is 100 times better than the 10th's in the previous season, and thanks to the return of Jo Grant, acts as a wonderful tribute to many past companions (find out what happened to quite a few!). The other episodes all have something to offer as well, and Sarah Jane's illness in the finale is heartwrenching because of what we know of Elisabeth Sladen. No extras on this DVD. Here's hoping a half-sized Season 5 DVD will include the tributes she most richly deserves. Sorry, I've got to get a tissue.

Primeval vol.3 includes the 13 episodes of what are called Seasons 4 and 5, which both came out in 2011 (spread apart in the same way Doctor Who Series 6 was). The previous series was broadcast 2 years prior, so it was a long time to wait to see the cliffhanger resolved. Good news: They seamlessly return us to the adventures of the world's best dinosaur-hunting crew, and manage to raise the stakes in the process. Abby and Connor are, as ever, the heart and soul of the series, but they've pulled a Ianto on the Arc administrator James Lister, i.e. his sarcastic wit is the best thing about these series. And I'm always happy to see Alexander Siddig on anything, bonus points for drafting him in. For fans of the series, there are a couple of surprise returns, and though it all ends epically enough, there's the usual Primeval cliffhanger tease. Another series could be in the works for 2013. I'm ok with that, but might've liked a definite ending right here on what I would have considered a high. The DVD also includes the prequel webisodes, and a lackluster making of.

In order to completely flip my Alejandro Jodorowski boxed set, I watched La Cravate, an early 20-minute film recently recovered (the box says 35 minutes, don't believe it) in an attic, apparently, a low-budget but charming mime act about a shop where you can exchange heads. Or if you prefer, about finding the person who will accept you for who you are. It's the only film in the set that Jodorowski doesn't do a commentary for, but the case interior publishes his thoughts on the matter. He's a little embarrassed by such an amateurish effort. Sure, it's something of a student film, but it bears the mark of his unique brand of symbolic film-making without any of its excesses.

Next up, cult favorite The Last Starfighter, the prototypical 80s fantasy of having your arcade game "investment" turning into real world skills. From the director and designer commentary, they set out to make a corny family film, and they succeeded at that. Something to watch with your kids on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and not to be taken seriously, though it does act as a metaphor for moving from home and growing up. And of course, it's historically the first film to use CGI for an entire film to render photo-real elements (sorry, Tron!). And these stand up for the most part, even if they seem dated today. Not far off from such tv productions as Babylon 5 or Space: Above and Beyond. It's the script that doesn't really rise to the occasion. Either there should have been more comedy in the outer space stuff, or the outer space stuff needed to be more fleshed out, but as is, The Last Starfighter is merely "pleasant". Two making ofs - one 15 years after the film was made, the other 25 - off a retrospective look with plenty of interviews with cast and crew, and the amazing story of how the effects were created, but expect some redundancies. There's also a huge photo/design drawing gallery to flip through, with title cards explaining their contexts.

Like Water for Chocolate is a wonderful Mexican film, a romance that spans decades in which the title character's feelings and desires are magically communicated through the food she prepares. Based on the best-selling book by Laura Esquivel (which you'll still need if you want the recipes), the movie does a good job of rendering the magical realism of the book into film terms, at once funny, touching and always surprising. I loved it in 1992, and I still love it now, though I do wish the DVD had a little more to offer to support this unusual experience.

The biggest surprise about Out of Sight is that Jennifer Lopez is so SMOKIN' HOT as U.S. marshal Karen Sisco, by which I mean how well she holds the screen. This wasn't really issue back in '98 when I saw the film in thearters, but since? Why can't all her performances be this good? Maybe it's her chemistry with George Clooney, who plays escaped bank robber Jack Foley. Maybe it's Steven Soderbergh's awesome direction (the centerpiece for me is the "second date" in the hotel, the way it's intercut and the dialog laced in. Maybe it's Elmore Leonard's original material. Whatever the case may be, Out of Sight is an electric romance set in a crime movie full of ironic humor (Tarantino fans will love it, for example, and it even has a connection to Jackie Brown). The casting is spectacularly good - Catherine Keener, Albert Brooks, Ving Rhames, Micheal Keaton, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Samuel Jackson, Luis Guzmán, Dennis Farina... That's just off the top of my head. The director and scriptwriter share a critical but useful commentary track, and there are about 20 minutes of deleted or alternate scenes, and a good making of (that doesn't forget to talk to Elmore Leonard).

It was a long week. I dipped into my Oscar Pile (crap films I won in our annual Oscar pool). I am living now to regret it. The film? An unambitious thriller called Pressure Point, starring Michael Madsen as a father of a family who bumps into a fugitive on their way to a camping trip. If it kept my interest at all, it's that the wet and dreary landscape seemed so familiar. It could have been shot 1 km from my home. Turns out, it's Quebec, so not THAT far off. Otherwise... Jeff Wincott plays the typical unmotivated villain who is evil for its own sake, and Madsen never seems comfortable in the hero's role. Worse is the distraught sheriff who means to avenge his dead wife, badly played by Steve Adams. It's the stupidest part of the script, requiring characters to abandon all reason when dealing with him. So as the movie progresses, it gets stupider and stupider. Only the actresses are engaging at all, in particular Michelle Scarabelli as the deputy sheriff. If at least it achieved some kind of drinking game B-movie grandeur, but no, it's at about the level of an 80s tv movie.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.i. The Nunnery Scene - Classics Illustrated
III.i. The Nunnery Scene - French Rock Opera


Michael May said...

I didn't realize Primeval was still running. David and I loved that show in its first three seasons, but I thought it had been cancelled. Thanks for letting me know I have catching up to do!

Siskoid said...

It was and then it wasn't. The cancellation became a long hiatus with plans to do a double season two years down the road.


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