This Week in Geek (18-24/11/13)


Three DVDs added to my collection this week: World's End, Treme Season 3, and Doctor Who's The Tenth Planet.


DVDs: I kind of dreaded looking at the Dan Harmon-less fourth season of Community. Would the strength of the characters carry it, or would it lose its darker edge and genre-bending concept episodes in favor of a more sitcommy approach? Seems they decided to meet in the middle somewhere. Amusingly, the first couple of episodes make a meal of the online freak-outs, the opener going straight to cheesy laugh-tracked sitcom... in Abed's mind. So they're still doing referential humor and metatext, and do cater to the fans who liked Community as a self-aware concept spoof show - the evil timeline plays a role, for example, and there's a puppet episode - but it's the other side of the equation I find a little lacking. The show often managed to surprise with heart-warming moments in the midst of all the insanity, but this time around, these feel contrived. It seems that every episode MUST contain such a moment and someone MUST learn a life lesson. We're just too close to Family Matters-type violins for comfort. Still, a far cry from the unwatchable disaster in dullness the Internet said this would be. I do feel a little bad for Chevy Chase in his last season, however, as he now seems as lost in the role as his character is in life. He's definitely slumming it at this point. The DVD includes fun cast and crew commentary on each episode, several deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, and a couple featurettes of variable length on specific episodes (the puppets, the Inspector Spacetime convention).

In Atom Egoyan's Ararat, a young man becomes obsessed with proving the 1915 Armenian genocide really happened (Turkey denies it), and a lot of commentary on this film is about whether or not it did. This would be missing the point. What Egoyan is more interested in is how we me go about proving ANYTHING in our history (including our personal history) ever happened, or how and why we would ever deny any event. Who has the right to tell their version of the event, and how truthful and accurate can any of those versions be. Is it all open to interpretation and subjective? To do this, the director filters historical events through cultural artifacts, always distancing us and his characters from his subject matter. So the memory of a child who experienced them becomes a painting based on a photograph he carried, which becomes the focus of a book on art history used in a motion picture with an agenda. The aforementioned protagonist goes back to Turkey to try and get evidence of the genocide and comes back with his own changing narrative, while his mother who wrote the book mentioned above is denying a dark part of her own history. I'm only scraping the surface here, and omitting plenty of examples, subplots and characters that create the critical mass of inference that make Ararat such a conversation piece. Stopping short at the inflammatory movie-within-a-movie is doing it a disservice. The DVD has a strong commentary track by Egoyan, and a second disc that includes a making of, deleted scenes (with commentary), the raw video from the Turkish excursion (with commentary by the cameraman who captured the images), production notes on the genocide, a short film by Egoyan that uses the same key photograph (with commentary) and some relatively brief interviews with cast and crew.

1974 blaxploitation film Black Samson tries hard to create an iconic hero in the mold of Shaft, Superfly or even Black Belt Jones, but Rockne Tarkington doesn't quite have the cool of the major blaxploitation stars. The gimmick: Black Samson fights with an African tribal staff and has a pet lion. You keep waiting for the beast to get in on the action, but no, it's just a very dangerous prop to have on set. The slow-paced story has Samson fight off misogynistic racist honky drug dealers to keep his street clean. The action is mostly by-the-numbers, but there are some fun moments you might not have seen before. The theme of being true to one's roots and community resonates in various ways, which is an achievement in and of itself in a movie like this, but yep, still exploitation. Also expect boobies and sadism. Some props to Carol Speed who plays Samson's girlfriend Leslie for her impressively emotional performance. Definitely not the best example of the genre, but still has something to offer on a lazy afternoon.

Audio: Shadow of the Past by Simon Guerrier, a Big Finish Companion Chronicles story featuring Caroline John as Liz Shaw, is an okay UNIT era story that makes use of the Vault (from Tales of the Vault) and introduces a soldier as a possible romantic entanglement for Liz. It's about a crashed spaceship and its shapeshifting alien survivor, and pretty much goes where you think it will, though there's a welcome, if slight, twist at the end. There's also a doppelganger sequence, which is a frequent trope in stories like this. Even if Caroline John does two passable third Doctors, this is far from original. Now, Simon Guerrier has written a LOT of my favorite Companion Chronicles. His first Doctor stuff is stellar. Maybe that's why I'm registering disappointment with the generically-titled Shadow of the Past. It's not a bad story by any means, and it's well told and at time insightful, but it doesn't rise to the level of Guerrier's other work in the range. And maybe, just maybe, a buzzing light fixture isn't the best atmosphere enhancer. I kept checking if there was something wrong with my headphones.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction

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


Anonymous said...

Season 4 "Community" gets a lot of grief for being a tired retread, but I say it's not much more tired than much of season 3. (The anime-tinged foosball episode always comes to mind.) And the season 4 episode with the Germans was almost picture-perfect; Dan Harmon couldn't have done better. So I won't deny that season 4 had clunkers, but there was a lot of good to it too.

A lot of the show's "problem" at this point is that the characters have grown too much for allow for much conflict -- Winger can no longer be trying to get into Britta's pants simply because she's a hot blonde, they're both past the point where that still works. What I'm getting at is, even Harmon was running into this problem by the end of season 3.

Myself, I thought the "Freaky Friday" episode was inspired, with Troy not being ready for a relationship, and his "solution" demonstrating exactly how unready he actually was. There's a good man in there, who hopefully will grow up one day. (By the way, get Dan Glover's "Weirdo" comedy album, you won't be disappointed.)

One general observation about "Community" versus conservative attempts at humor: "Community" succeeds in mocking liberalism gone awry much better than conservatives ever will, because to find the contradictions in something and then extract humor from it, you need to understand it. Hence you can have the Germans being allowed to celebrate any heritage except their own -- sure it's an exaggeration, but it's based on a genuine liberal impulse taken to an extreme.

Siskoid said...

You've really thought about this!

I completely agree that the Freaky Friday episode is the perfect use of referential humor and high concept to do character development (the final episode also does this), which combines the best elements of Community instead of making them an either/or proposition.

Anonymous said...

I've had this discussion before with other folks -- I just can't hate season 4. It's hard for me to nitpick on a show whose greatest weakness is that it has built its characters well over time.

Speaking of which, one other thing season 4 does well: Shirley. For once she's a little more than the sassy, slightly intolerant Christian of the group.

Austin Gorton said...

Still, a far cry from the unwatchable disaster in dullness the Internet said this would be.

Indeed. Far from perfect, but still eminently watchable. It has its flaws, but it has its successes as well, and for all that, it's still recognizable as the show it's always been.


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