This Week in Geek (30/07-05/08/12)


Need to rebuild my Asian cinema collection a little bit, so I got a couple of affordable Kurosawa films (thanks to the Essential Art House label), Rashomon and The Hidden Fortress (the movie Star Wars is based on), as well as Chang Cheh's Shaolin Rescuers. In addition to the usual load of comics, I also got a Hamlet manga for that other blog project of mine, and a few books from Top Shelf (volumes of Owly, Korgi, and American Elf).


DVDs: Sherlock's second series maintains the first's format and quality - three 1½ hour episodes, each feeling like a major event, the one in the middle falling slightly short of the rest. A Scandal in Belgravia introduces an S&M Irene Adler that might make purists blench, but it's an awesome mystery, a very weird romance, and builds Sherlock Holmes' popularity within his world. The Hounds of Baskerville feels like a science fiction thriller in the style of Doctor Who, but actually comes quite close to the original story's supernatural bent (definitely liked it better second time around). The Reichenbach Fall is a final confrontation between Sherlock and Moriarty that pulls out all the stops and makes the villain better and crazier than ever. An awesome, awesome season, stylishly shot and wonderfully structured, just like the first. The DVD includes a brief making of and cast and crew commentary on the first two episodes. Didn't want to give something away about Series 3 on that last one?

But Holmes faced Moriarty once more this year, in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. It's a movie I reviewed when I saw it in theaters, but the second time around, I was a little less forgiving of the gay subtext and master of disguise elements. Or perhaps I had just watched Moffat & Gatiss' Sherlock again, and A Game of Shadows seemed a lot more blunt with its comedy. On the other hand, I discovered Jared Harris in Mad Men since the last time I saw the film, which made me enjoy his Moriarty a lot more. The final sequence is truly brilliant, whatever the movie's weaknesses, and it still works as a Victorian Age action flick set on a world stage. The DVD offers three making of featurettes. All are good.

I'd never heard of Lena Dunham, but Tiny Furniture is the film that got her the creator/writer/director Girls gig on HBO, a series I went and looked at because of this (I find it very funny). Tiny Furniture is a sort of semi-autobiographical piece and would play as documentary if its shots weren't so prettily composed. Dunham stars as an echo of herself, a just-graduated film theory major who has no idea what to do with her life. As I found out looking at her other work, this is Dunham's main theme and working daily with young people her age, I can vouch for the claim that she is the voice of her generation. The self-examination is brutal, mind you, as her character is full of entitlement and selfishness. This is a comedy, but the comedy of discomfort and awkwardness, played for real (it often seems improvisational) rather than extremes (something I would attribute to, say, Ricky Gervais). The Criterion Collection release includes Dunham's first feature-length work, the more amateurishly made Creative Non-Fiction (not as strong visually, but still redolent with the same feeling and thematic wit), and four clever short videos she had produced for You-Tube. The DVD also has a discussion between Dunham and filmmaker/writer Nora Ephron and a short criticism piece that places the film in historical/artistic context.

I won Predator in the Oscar Pool and watched it this week. If you're reading this blog, you've probably seen it before. I hadn't since it came out, and well, it was pretty much as I remembered it. Neither better nor worse. Why the ambivalence? At the time, Predator was Aliens' poorer cousin. The character of the alien in this film hints at some culture and society that is not present in the Alien films, but that's a matter for the comics writers etc. to come. I just don't care for the style of action where the big hero comes in and shoots up the place. Machine gun fire is just so boring to me now. Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers are pretty much exactly as I remember them. The character I really love though is the one played by Bill Duke. Now that guy's awesome.

Robert Altman's Gosford Park is a stately mansion drama and an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, but the twist is that it's perceived by the manor's servants. In only 2¼ hours, we get to know a cast of both upstairs and downstairs characters surprisingly well, and they've all got secrets. The pieces come together in the audience's mind before they're ever explained on screen (and some aren't). In fact, I wish the murder HADN'T been explained, because I think the audience CAN figure it out, just as if we were a member of the household. It's brilliant cast that includes wonderful actors in the smallest of parts, including Derek Jacobi, Kelly MacDonald, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Stephen Fry, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, and on and on and on. The world of the downstairs is a real revelation, and Julian Fellowes' script is entirely witty and well observed. It feels like a great concept for a TV show, and that thought led me to realize that of course it is. Fellowes went on to create Downton Abbey. So that's something else I've got to get into straight away. The DVD has two commentary tracks, a somewhat disappointing stroll of a thing with the director and some other crew, and a very good and instructive track in the company of the writer. The deleted scenes have the former, but not the latter. Much better for Altman fans is the making of material (which includes an edited Q&A), where Altman speaks very eloquently as to his methods, as do other members of the cast and crew.

A very different kind of star-studded spectacular is The Towering Inferno, the special edition of which I also "flipped" this week. The film itself is an excellent example of the disaster movie genre, but a rather indulgent one. Clocking in at 2¾ hours, it takes its time introducing the characters and the calamitous building, but it doesn't feel too long or dull. Once the ball gets rolling, it's a thrill ride that doesn't let up. It could be tighter, but that's not the problem. No, the problem is that a lot of its stars are wasted. Robert Wagner get short shrift, but still a key moment. Robert Vaughn, on the other hand, seems too big a star for the amount of screen time he gets. Regardless, it's great to see Steve McQueen and Paul Newman share the screen, the miniature work is excellent, and the fire effects stand up today. The DVD is a mixed bag, but a pretty big one. The commentary tracks are second hand, that is to say, not by anyone who worked on the picture, with the film historian track particularly lacking. I don't need a play-by-play of the film, and historical anecdotes and such are few and far between. Scene specific tracks on effects and stunts are better, but still sound like people going "they probably did this" to me. Much, much stronger are the varied making of featurettes, which touch on many subjects (including that of tall buildings around the world) and include some nice outtakes and behind the scenes footage. There are also vintage promotional materials with lots of Irwin Allen hucksterism I found rather funny. Some 30 deleted and extended scenes pulled from the TV version would seem to be a big deal, but are mostly trims. And then there are interactive magazine articles, storyboard comparisons, and a wealth of pictures and concept art (which are unfortunately much smaller than your TV screen allows, so not as legible as you'd like). In addition, the packaging contains facsimiles of the original promotional booklet and lobby cards.

Running on Karma was this week's very strange Kung Fu Friday selection, a Johnnie To picture starring Andy Lau as a super-powered monk who can see people's "karma" (and thus their previous life and their future) and helps a (doomed) police woman played by Cecilia Cheung captured criminals. It's a superhero movie by way of Buddhist philosophy and To's gritty, violent crime dramas. Tonally, it's always jerking you around, but I dare say, in a good way. Lau does a lot of comedy and is wearing a muscle suit for most of the film, but then there are moments of shocking violence. There's the harsh reality of the police procedural, and there's the crazy wire work you identify with wuxia. There are crazy, almost campy, villains, and there's a metaphysical ending that will make you think. How they make it work, I'll never know, but it does (who am I to argue with 3 Hong Kong Academy Awards?). The DVD is supplemented by an excellent film expert commentary and a short but useful making of.

Comics: In addition to my weekly diet of comics, I read DMZ volume 12 this week, the conclusion of Brian Wood's landmark series. Now, I would have been content if things had ended with volume 11. The war was over, and I didn't need to see the city's reconstruction. What Wood does with the concept is compelling, however, and no doubt its template is other city that have had to be rebuilt in recent memory, like Sarajevo and Baghdad. It's all well thought-out, and also deals with the issue of responsibility. After a war has ended, who was responsible for the violence, the horror, the dehumanization, the losses on both sides? Who is responsible for the future? Wood finds a way to bring catharsis to the (former) DMZ and to the reader and leaves us much to think about, while also reminding us of this 72 issue (6-year!) journey.

Video Games: I don't play a lot of video games, but when I do play a game, I play it to end it. I spent my summer vacation with Saints Row the Third (not having played or even seen the series' previous releases) and finished its story, its various activities and challenges, and all unlocked all the achievements. There's still some stuff left, mind you, like collecting stunt jumps and barnstorms, and finishing up Whored (Horde) Mode and if I ever find a friend, the co-op campaign. But I think I can safely review it. Saints Row is basically Grand Theft Auto on crack. It takes itself less seriously, and provides a lot of insane action in cut scenes, some of which are more or less interactive. The designers basically took a look at GTA, and actively tried to fix its more annoying aspects while boosting its cooler aspects. For example, the nitro boost is always available as a purchasable mod on all vehicles instead of a one-off on a particular mission. The garage can hold any number of vehicles. Rag-dolling is turned into a mini-game - Insurance Fraud - where you actively throw yourself in front of cars to rack up cash. Fist fighting is easier and more spectacular. And so on. It's also fun to create your own character's look, with a choice of 7 voices (including Zombie voice), which you can dress how you like (and there are some CRAZY outfits). I played my main game with an Asian chick and found that the characters around her still treated her like a dude (oops). After I finished, I started a secondary game with a guy that looks a lot like the Hulk (Zombie voiced, of course) and that's amusing and occasionally appropriate to the onscreen action. The game is a monster, so it's a bit buggy. Sometimes in a funny way, with cars twirling around, or arms stretching between a character and vehicle, but if it screws up a mission, there's an easy way to retry. More annoying is the bug that freeze the game, which only seems to happen early on when attempting Activities. My main complaint, however, is that missions are by turns too easy and too hard, regardless of how far along you are. Not a big complaint mind you, as Saints Row is obviously built to work better as a crazy sandbox than it is a carefully balanced story. Heck, I was grinding the activities so much, I'm pretty sure I did the last Act topped off at Level 50. Now to get my Hulk though giant fist gloves so he can punch cars!

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iii. The Confessional - Branagh '96


snell said...

OK, I've got to throw a Sherlock question that's been baffling me to you.

In The Reichenbach Fall, how did Moriarty arrange it so that the girl screamed when she saw Sherlock? The whole frame-up, the whole episode, hangs on that. But while every other plot point is meticulously explained with clockwork precision, the most important element isn't even mentioned.

Oh, I can guess about hypnosis, or someone wearing an IMF style Sherlock mask during the kidnapping, or some such blather, but it all seems the tiniest bit farfetched in Sherlock's world...

MOCK! said...

A Facebook friend says she has "The Reichenbach Fall" all figured out but refuses to share. I don't believe her.

"Predator" has been with me since it's's a solid "go to" for me....

Siskoid said...

She's a young girl. It probably only needs to be a Sherlock Halloween mask worn by the kidnapper(s). I thought they would show it, but that would have meant exonerating Sherlock before the end, and there's really no place in the timeline where that could happen.

Maybe it'll be part of the Series 3 opener?

snell said...

(Also, you'd think the police would have a bit of follow-up with the girl, like going back to her an hour later and asking, "Did you know that man? Why did you scream?" before they start their otherwise evidenceless witch hunt...)

LiamKav said...

Who's to say she was screaming at Sherlock? Watson walked in at the same time.

(Granted, then we have the question as to WHY she was screaming at Watson...)

"A Facebook friend says she has "The Reichenbach Fall" all figured out but refuses to share. I don't believe her.

I also have it figured out. And I have scripts to Star Wars episodes 7, 8 and 9, and I know what Rosebud is. I win the internets!

Siskoid said...

I thought I had it figured out too. But watching it again, I'm less sure.

MOCK! said...

LiamKav wrote: And I have scripts to Star Wars episodes 7, 8 and 9... I win the internets!

Bwah-ha-ha-ha!! Are you really SuperShadow?!?


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