This Week in Geek (30/01-05/02/12)


Bought the following films on DVD this week: Green Zone, Moneyball (see below for these), Bodyguard and Assassins (can't resist Donnie Yen), and The Men Who Stare at Goats.


DVDs: I'm not a big sports movie fan, but when the writer of Sports Night is concerned, I'll make an exception. Aaron Sorkin's Moneyball, both a behind the scenes look at pro baseball and a character piece on the man who dared try to change how teams were built, is easily up to the writer's standards. I think baseball is pretty boring to watch on tv as a sporting event, but this movie gets the romanticism of it just right. We need baseball, because baseball makes for the best movies. Brad Pitt's good and all, but the real MVP award goes to Jonah Hill whose very first appearance had me rooting for him to be in the entire picture (he is). Classic Sorkin character. Moneyball's proudly going on my shelf right next to its close cousin, The Damned United. The DVD includes a few deleted scenes, one long blooper (meh), and some good-sized featurettes on the true story of Moneyball and how the accurate look was achieved. The actors don't make an appearance on these.

Despite the involvement of director Paul Greengrass and actor Matt Damon, I don't think Green Zone should have been quite so marketed as a Bourne lookalike. Yes, it's an action picture with a strong conspiracy thread, but it's really closer to something like The Hurt Locker. Green Zone is about a U.S. soldier tasked with finding Weapons of Mass Destruction at the start of the Iraq war who comes up empty and starts asking too many questions. 10 years of hindsight and a look close to other Iraq "ripped from the headlines" movies may well have you wondering if it all really happened. It didn't. At least, not the conspiracy thriller elements, though the film is based on true events and the experiences of real WMD sniffers' experiences. The mix of real and fictional may not sit well with everyone, but it's an engaging story with good performances and impeccable production standards. There are a number of excellent moments concerning the Iraqi characters, but the film is mostly plot and not so much concerned with character. And I will admit the final action scene goes on too long. The DVD has Greengrass and Damon collaborating on an instructive commentary (on the deleted scenes too), and features a couple of featurettes - on on the making of, the other on Matt Damon himself.

Iron Bodyguard isn't Chang Cheh's best film. What's set up as a political thriller in 19th-century China becomes a sluggish martial arts film that is in no way helped by constant zooms in and out of every shot. Had we invented a drinking game based on zooms, we'd have been sent to the hospital for immediate stomach-pumping at the 15-minute mark. Sure, there were some chuckles to be had by the accidentally homoerotic relationship between the two stars, and how tables seem to be the revolution's biggest victims, and the fights themselves were fine, if a little one-sided, but otherwise a failure. I just couldn't get into Kuan Tai Chen's constantly smiling performance either. The DVD includes a brief picture gallery and the original trailer.

Books: When I got Barney Stintson's The Bro Code, I thought I'd get a bathroom reader full of inside jokes from How I Met Your Mother, but I got a little more. Barney (with Matt Kuhn's help, probably on typesetting, cough cough) offers 150 rules (plus amendments) for Bros, most of which are new to the book (though may turn up if the Code is canon), while still evoking your favorite Barney moments from the show. A fun, easy read in the voice of one of the most disarmingly chauvinist characters on tv at the moment. Good for a few smiles. However, the artwork looks like it was drawn by Barney, which is a sort of back-handed compliment. CHICKS NEED NOT APPLY.

Audios: At one hour per audio, 8th Doctor/Lucy Miller Big Finish audio seasons fly by. I was worried that Nicholas Briggs' Wirrn Dawn would bring back the Wirrn like Hothouse brought back the Krynoid, and rehash The Ark in Space. It's a much better audio adventure than that. It uses the giant bugs in the context of a full-on war between Wirrn and human colonists, both in space and on the ground, and achieves much by revealing how the fates of both cultures are intertwined. The relationship between the Doctor and Lucy is pitch-perfect, essential to the success of this series, with the highlight being the bit where they are stranded in the void in spacesuits. Daniel Anthony, Clyve from the Sarah Jane Adventures, stars as one of the colonists and puts in a good performance. Almost-11th-Doctor Colin Salmon also in the cast. Dangerous, exciting, funny and tragic, Wirrn Dawn delivers an Aliens to The Ark in Space's Alien.

Pat Mills didn't impress me with the previous season's Dead London, but his Scapegoat more than makes up for it. The TARDIS lands in Nazi-occupied Paris and Lucy becomes part of a strange underground theater of horrors run by goat-like aliens. If it sounds crazy, it's because it's genius. Sheridan Smith as Lucie is particular good, especially when she gets on stage and starts improvising. To her, it's all panto, and it plays quite well into the comic absurdity of the story. That comedy becomes rather dark, and though the story hinges on a pun of sorts, it's still works. Another success for Series 3, and again, a lot of it comes down to the two stars' ability to juggle tension and comedy.

Jonathan Morris' The Cannibalists is a NOISY story about robots left alone on a space station whose corrupted programming leads them to evolve in usual or dangerous ways. Though it can be savagely violent - the title antagonists are robots who kill others for spare parts - the fact that no human is in harm's way (until Lucie shows up, of course) means it plays well as a comedy. The performances as doddering old good bots or cockney evil bots seal the deal, and both McGann and Smith are up to the task of doing the comedy and yet selling the jeopardy. It's a good story, all in all, with fun lines and fair twists, but yeah, it's damn noisy. The sometimes chanted "Death metal!" would have been a better title, especially with all the metallic crashing, screaming and distorted robot voices.

After a number of comedy audios, the season finally gets into some proper drama for Eddie Robson's two-part finale. Part I, The Eight Truths, sees Lucie indoctrinated into an alien-worshiping cult in 2015, with ties to her overall arc across the three seasons AND a classic Doctor Who monster (I won't spoil it). I mentioned my misgivings last week about early audios in the series keeping the Doctor and Lucie separated for too long, but the fact I was even thinking about that probably means there were other weaknesses in the script. Here, the two of them are usually apart, and Lucie even starts acting strangely, but the script is tight and interesting and the dangers faced by both leads varied yet related. It feels like they're working together even when they're apart. If you don't want to listen to Part II after this... but that's gonna have to wait for next week.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.ii. Instructing the Players - Fodor (2007)
III.ii. Instructing the Players - Tennant (2009)


Randal said...

Yeah. I'm usually good at figuring out Doctor Who surprises (I called "the oldest question" before they revealed it), but I did not see the Eight Truths surprise. Afterwards I smacked myself because it was so perfect. Yeah. Definite success.

Tim Knight said...

Also worth tracking down is the audiobook version of the Bro Code - read by NPH himself!

De said...

Tim, that sounds like it would be legen...wait for it...dary!


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