This Week in Geek (11-17/11/13)


A couple of DVDs, Red vs. Blue Season 11 and Community Season 4, both of which make me feel like an utter completist.


At the movies: Went to see Thor The Dark World, and really enjoyed it, though I can see why Natalie Portman wants out. Even though she was given a big role, she's still a damsel in distress through most of the picture, and kind of needy the rest of the way. But aside from some faffing about on Earth for comedy's sake, the story was big and bold, providing moments of incredible beauty on Asgard, opening up the world of the Nine Realms, and moving Thor and his supporting cast forward. Loki gets all the best line, and is the gem at the center of this movie, though I was pleased to see Malekith and Kurse, which were in the first Simonson issue of Thor I ever got (Christopher Eccleston is wasted as Malekith though, hidden under make-up and inside an unemotional character). The action is top notch, with some innovative turns, and Thor is a proper badass, which is what you really want from a Thor movie. Hogun the Grim (or the Grin?) is sidelined because of actor availability, sadly, though Heimdall gets in on the action, which is awesome. And a neat surprise after the main credits, though I would have done away with the bits after the whole credits, which were the very definition of "meh". Those are my impressions after seeing it once, though you can expect something a little more structured once I get the DVD. Because yeah, a sequel that outshines the original in every way.

DVDs: Speaking of superheroes on DVD, I rewatched Amazing Spider-Man, this time without comparing it incessantly with the Raimi originals, something I couldn't help but doing at the theater. Though I don't care hugely about the Lizard or his plot (not an uncommon feeling to have when watching superhero movies), I've come off thinking of Amazing as my favorite take on the character. Peter Parker as outsider rather than loser. A strong supporting cast that includes not only the best Uncle Ben ever, but a Gwen Stacy that's brilliant and heroic and unwilling to have the over-protective men in her life make decisions for her. A structure that builds each moment on the next, making the rise of Spider-Man as a hero a direct result, every step of the way, of his parents' mysterious departure. The original film - if I allow myself one last comparison - was more iconic (lack of web-shooters aside), I agree, basically a series of set pieces of what we knew Spider-Man and wanted him to be, in bold bright color. Amazing doesn't try to cover that ground again, so even the phrase "With great power comes great responsibility" isn't spoken. It doesn't need to be. Can't wait for the next one. The DVD includes a few deleted scenes (including an alternate death for Uncle Ben), a fairly strong director and producers' commentary, a montage of stunt rehearsals which can be pretty funny (especially the guy in playing the Lizard) and loads of production art.

I don't know stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia (don't follow the stand-up scene anymore), but his film adaptation of his autobiographical one-man show, Sleepwalk With Me, is pretty wonderful. Birbiglia (and his movie namesake Matt Pandamiglio) has a sleeping disorder that makes him physically enact his dreams, and sometimes become a danger to himself. This leads to some interesting surreal imagery, though most of the picture is about his struggles both in his relationship (with the always watchable Lauren Ambrose) and his stand-up career. In the DVD extras, we learn just how unfunny the movie was until they had the idea to make it more like the one-man show by setting Mike/Matt up as narrator in the future, and the result is slightly metatextual, funny, touching and truthful. I'm a big fan of it. Birbiglia and his producer expose the whole thing in the commentary track, but also participate in a fun Q&A moderated by Joss Whedon playing their archnemesis (a marketing ploy had set Sleepwalk against the Avengers on the same weekend, which is ridiculous and they know it), plus a diary/making of, outtakes, and often humorous behind the scene shorts. It's a nice DVD package for an indie flick well worth discovering.

Though the first one written/planned, Highway 61 is the middle film in Canadian indie maverick Bruce McDonald's rock'n'roll road movie trilogy, between Roadkill and Hard Core Logo. Like Roadkill, it's written by Don McKellar who co-stars with Valerie Buhagiar, an unlikely couple that takes Highway 61 from Thunder Bay to New Orleans, stopping at various sites made famous in American music history, to deliver a dead body. Following in their wake is a man who believes himself to be Satan, intent on collecting the corpse's soul. Like Roadkill, Highway 61 is like a shabby Wizard of Oz (or Odyssey, I suppose), a series of encounters with slightly deranged characters and bizarre situations that's somehow about the disappointment of meeting one's icons. And it's funny in a way only quirky Canadian films tend to be. My favorite bit is "Satan" playing bingo. And if that doesn't pique your interest, I don't know what else I can say. McKellar and a movie critic with lots of verbal tics provide the commentary track (not sure we needed the critic, but McKellar is eloquent), and three (very) short films by McDonald, in three different modes - poetic, documentarian and spoof. All three are of interest.

The fourth Lone Wolf and Cub film, Baby Cart in Peril, rescues the franchise after the rape-filled, disjointed third film (though there's a rape here too, what is it with this manga?), with two interesting co-plots. The first has the toddler wandering off and having his own adventure, meeting his father's old rival and getting caught in a brush fire. The point made is that this is a baby who's already seen death, even killed, which fascinates the villain and leads to a confrontation with the Lone Wolf down the line. The other thread is about a badass topless female assassin who got herself some distracting tattoos to give herself an advantage. Lone Wolf is paid to track her down, and this recalls the "missing mother" themes inherent to the series. And to add more gory action, there are of course bands of assassins looking for Lone Wolf, attacking and getting massacred, including one group that disguises itself as Buddha statues. All to a funky 70s soundtrack, and helped along by interesting camera angles and sound cues. That's what I like about this series, it dares to be a little artsy, though it is evidently part of the exploitation genre. Now that past DVDs have explained Japan to use in production notes, this one has only four slides to explain some new elements.

Season 8 of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia proves this dark comedy about the world's worst people (move over Seinfeld!) isn't out of steam yet, although they sort of joke about it in one episode devoted to recycling old jokes. Might be a little too meta. There's also a cool Halloween episode that features a cameo by Guillermo Del Toro, of all people (obviously, they know each other because of Pacific Rim), but my favorite is probably the therapy session all the characters undergo, to the shrink's distress. And because everyone seems to be doing it these days, there's an episode with 8-Bit game elements in it, though it's more of a takedown of WoW or Minecraft or whatever it is people play on Facebook (I just wouldn't know). The DVD includes commentary on four of the episodes, a talking heads featurette about "Fat Mac" (from Season 7), a Frank Reynolds' informercial, an old school mini-sitcom about Mac and Charlie's moms living together, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Audio: The Three Companions includes 12 10-minute episodes and tells three connected stories through three companions from different eras. At first, Polly and the Brigadier are emailing (or chatting online), but you eventually realize Big Finish original companion Thomas Brewster is the actual narrator, somehow intercepting the emails and making them part of his story. All three tales have the same villain and monster, and includes a rare trip off-Earth for the Brig (probably my favorite part, and sadly, Nicholas Courtney's last performance as the Brig before he died). I was a bit resentful of Brewster's intrusions at first, because he seemed to jar with classic companions in the story, but once the three of them joined forces, that resentment evaporated and he became a kind of hero guest star. Nothing against Brewster, you understand, he's just got a complicated journey and I'm not sure I'm picking him up chronologically from the last time I saw(heard) him. Each chapter was included on a different release as a bonus, but is now available as part of The Companion Chronicles: The Specials.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week: Hamlet's Letter - Classics Illustrated

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Super Friends to Superboy.


Unknown said...

On Thor, I thought it was a perfect mix of sci fi and fantasy.
I concur that Christopher Eccleston's Malekith was impaired. He is a great actor, so my thoughts are it was the direction that Alan Taylor wanted.

Siskoid said...

The director is always responsible, of course. Not blaming Eccleston. But for all the depth Malekith had, he could have been played by anyone with the right basic look.

Sometimes I think comic book movies just want to throw as many big names as they can on the poster to "legitimize" themselves.


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