This Week in Geek (27/10-02/11/14)


I'm less than a "year" away from finishing the 1960s' American Comic Book Chronicles from TwoMorrows, so I got the recently released 1970s volume so as not to skip a single beat.


In theaters: I wish the tank had been haunted... Fury was one of those war films that seemed an appendix to Band of Brothers - same dingy look, battleground wisdom, exciting action scenes, and enough insight into what serving in a particular unit could have been like - but at this point, beyond a setting we're not used to seeing very often (an armored unit), there's very little here that feels necessary. Yeah, it's well done, but what is it bringing to a well-worn genre that we haven't seen or been told before in some way? The characters are fairly typical, with the required rookie shocked by war and eventually embracing its horrors, and writer/director Dick Ayer seems to have taken a page from Inglorious Basterds with the uncomfortable dinner scene (more obvious when your lead is Brad Pitt, I suppose). Ultimately, it awkwardly tries for te sort of verisimilitude Saving Private Ryan did, while also being rather sensationalistic in its presentation of violence. Lots of gory shots for "war is hell" shock value, and laser gun battles (those are some extreme-looking tracers anyway). So not a bad film, but its self-importance detracts from what should essentially have been an action flick.

DVDs: I missed X-Men: Days of Future Past in theaters, and if I cared more about the franchise, I'd probably have waited for the Rogue-inclusive director's cut, but I didn't even know about it, so whatever. I can't imagine it would make the film any less convoluted though. Not altogether surprising considering we can call the Days of Future Past storyline in the comics - or at least its success - the root of the X-Men franchise's deep and destructive entanglement by the 1990s. So while it's fun to see both the original and First Class casts in the same film, the time travel element goes way too far, undoing and meddling with events that raise questions about the timeline. I mean, should we really be wondering if Wolverine has his metal claws in the new history? Undo the evil future and maybe X3 (which I have not seen), but screwing with the Weapon X program just distracting (or did they just want to undo Origins, which I ALSO have not seen)? I don't know, and I don't care. Like a lot of things in the film, it's a half-formed idea, like Quicksilver's appearance and disappearance from the film, or just how Magneto's show of force didn't spark a human-mutant war RIGHT THEN. I can appreciate pretty pictures and actors like everyone, but I think about time travel way too much for DoFP to be satisfying. The DVD includes a gag reel and a picture gallery of Trask's autopsy pictures and blueprints.

Another franchise is rebooted in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, with Chris Pine taking on the role once played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and, forgettably, Ben Affleck. I think he works well as a young Jack Ryan, as good a leading man as he is an action hero, but the film does have some important problems. One of these is Kiera Knightly whom I simply can't stomach in modern/American roles. I'm not sure what it is about those performances, but I think she comes off as creepy and damages, which isn't what the character here is meant to be. At least she gets to take part in the action, I suppose, but soon becomes just another damsel in distress. While I like the "first mission" aspect, the "origin" sections are stacked on top of each other and sequence too abruptly. I've often found Director Kenneth Branagh's use of "flashbacks" (not that they're flashbacks exactly) slightly off. For some, the "economic terrorism" angle might seem a little abstract, but I liked the novelty and the spycraft surrounding it, and it doesn't mean there aren't competent action scenes in the mix. The climax is a little by-the-numbers, I'll admit, but the preceding fights and chases do work well. And hey, the best Jack Ryan movie is still The Hunt for Red October and it's not particularly action-driven. But though a fairly competent chapter in the franchise - and I WOULD like to see Pine do another one - it's hard to see Shadow Recruit's story as anything more than a sketched-in spy thriller that could have fit any number of franchises or original characters. It's a relatively short film; it should probably have been stretched out with more meaningful character moments, both for the heroes and the villains. As is, too much happens because the script requires it.

Though not on par with the Cornetto Trilogy they made with Edgar Wright, Pegg & Frost's Paul does, like those films, feature their trademarks - the sweetest bromance in cinema, and loads of references to favorite films (in this case, blockbuster science fiction films, especially Spielberg's). On this road trip through UFOlogy's greatest hits, they're joined by MiB Jason Bateman, devout but tested Christian Kristen Wigg, and the voice of eponymous CG gray alien, Seth Rogen. It starts off as a funny indie buddy comedy about ComiCon attendees, but goes off the rails when Wigg's character is introduced. I suppose the twist is that she's a bigger fish out of water than Paul, who's been here since the Roswell crash and is just as a slacker-stoner as the two stars, but the Ruth is never a convincing character and the cheap shots taken against fundamentalist Christians aren't very original. While everything in the film smacks of parody, there is a real emotional core to it which her caricature just can't support. It gets better towards the end, even if the action beats are at times too violent for the overall tone of the movie. It's a bit of a mess, but it's generally a likeable mess. The DVD includes both the theatrical cut and an unrated one, with a 10-minute difference (that's a lot of extra profanity), a cast and crew commentary track, a short making of on the creation and implementation of the Paul creature, lots of gag reel material, a brief featurette on the jerky science fiction author in the story (they might've done more with it), and a gallery of pictures, posters and storyboards.

Ok, now for your Halloweek content, starting with a classic, Vincent Price's Theatre of Blood. If Price hadn't already been cast as a Batman villain (Egghead... ok, an Ant-Man villain, whatever), his Edward Lionheart would have been perfect. This malcontent Shakespearean actor murders (or psychologically maims) his critics only in ways described in the Bard's plays... with a bit of creative license. He even has an army of crazy henchpeople! It's hilarious camp, and for a Shakespeare buff like myself, great fun trying to figure out what atrocity Lionheart will think of next. Diana Rigg plays his sexy daughter and she gets to dress up as well. It's a hoot. I'm afraid it may taint my viewing of any of the plays from here on out, trying to think what ghastly crime might have been committed with it as a template.

Rubber is a movie about a tire that kills people. That's what I knew going in. What it ISN'T is the piece of shlock that description makes it sound like. Instead, imagine an art house film dedicated to the absurdity of films in general, and genre flicks in particular. The tire is our protagonist and by golly, we're going to follow our protagonist as he learns the stand upright, roll, kill, and eventually, emulate people. Not only that, but we're represented in the film by a crowd of bystanders with binoculars and the cast of the film intent on seeing them dead so they can stop "acting". It's aburd all right, and pleasantly so, though its art house stylings do sometimes create momentary longueurs. That's what happens when your hero is a non-verbal object, I suppose, though there are times when you actually empathize with the thing. Craziness. What it's trying to say isn't too clear, possibly even to its makers, but from experience, it's a fun one to TELL people about.

Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell is a fun, kinetic horror film in the style of, well, Sam Raimi, about a girl who falls prey to a "gypsy curse" and subsequently gets stalked by a demon intent on [see movie's title]. Allison Lohman is a credible heroine in this black comedy, and Raimi supplies her (and us) with lots of jump scares, gross-outs and cartoon logic. Apparently, the horror imagery is specifically culled from eating disorder experiences - and there enough repugnant stuff flying into the actress' mouth to bear this out - but if it's true, it's merely a psychological hook to make us squirm; it really has nothing to do with the story. Raimi remains a master of horror-comedy, though if I'm being honest, it all ends too abruptly, and on the wrong "twist". No spoilers, make of that what you will.

Okay so if you've been following the blog daily, you know I finished Babylon 5 Season 5, and so "flipped" its DVD set. Better talk about it before this piece of plastic crap falls apart completely - is there a sin B5 DVDs will NOT commit?! It's all part of the same larger set, so again, zoom-in/blur problems with the widescreen presentation and ugly menus are the norm. We find cast or JMS commentary tracks (so fun and bantery, or informative and smug, depending) for three key episodes, a making of that introduces the season, the teaser trailers for each episode (much less spoilery and misleading than the first four seasons' and thus less interesting), and then featurettes that complete the overall featurette package on the Babylon 5 experience, one on CG effects, the other on the extended universe (books, conventions, fans, etc.). Computer files about concepts and characters are again available, though far fewer this time, and hidden in that menu, a gag reel. Unlike the other sets, S5 features deleted scenes, all from the finale, Sleeping in Light.

But wait, it's NOT over. There's another box in this set and it's Babylon 5: The Movie Collection! This thing contains five TV movies of varying quality and importance, including the original pilot The Gathering, i.e. the FIRST EPISODE, only five DVD boxed sets later(!). It's the only one not ruined with widescreen shenanigans, not sure why they kept its original aspect ratio. And it's the only really good film on here, to be honest. The rest feel rather unnecessary to me. Each film has a commentary track accompanying it, and a short making-of/introduction. In addition, the last disc includes one last featurette about Babylon 5 overall; it's about the science depicted on the show, what choices were made when creating the universe, and so on. Seems like this would have been a good time to have a Harlan Ellison talking head - he was credited as scientific consultant throughout the series - but there's nothing of the sort.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Kline '90


snell said...

The other problem with X-Men:DOFP is that Xavier and Magneto keep having the same damned argument they've been having for the past 4 movies. Guys, we get it...get a new villain, or get a new metaphor!

Siskoid said...

When they get to a "new villain", it's freaking Apocalypse. Who's next? Mr. Sinister?! The Goblyn Queen?!

Do the X-Men HAVE any good villains besides Magneto and his Brotherhood?

Siskoid said...

Give me a Krakoa (the living island) movie RIGHT NOW.

snell said...

Juggernaut. The Mimic. The Living Pharaoh/Living Monolith. Sauron. Mesmero. Count Nefaria. Moses Magnum. Arcade. C'mon, how can you not make a great movie villain out of Arcade?!?

Siskoid said...

Well, they tainted Juggernaut with X3 right? (I've never seen it.) Of the others, I'll only grant you Arcade.

Ryan Lohner said...

Ever seen The Abominable Dr. Phibes? Theater of Blood was basically an attempt to recapture the magic of that film, and worked surprisingly well for that.

Toby'c said...

As much as I loved Days of Future Past as an action film and as a character drama, as a time travel movie, it just kinda pissed me off. A lot like Terminator 2, really. The worst part is that now I won't be able to rewatch the first three movies without thinking, "It doesn't matter who wins, the Earth has been doomed for thirty years already."

Incidentally, The Last Stand really isn't that bad. Flawed, yes, but hardly worth the kind of abuse it gets, and not deserving of a Cosmic Retcon.

Siskoid said...

Ryan: I don't know it, but looks like the same plot, only with doctors.


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