This Week in Geek (28/12/15-03/01/16)


DVDs: Got myself Orphan Black Season 3, Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the original Point Break, and Better Call Saul Season 1. Games: Finally took the plunge and bought Lego Dimensions; just cleared the Doctor Who level. And some thanks for Christmas gifts: My sister got me a stuffed Dalek and pictures of her kids, and my roommate got me a "Your Own Adventure" version of Hamlet that looks hysterical.


DVDs: Will Forte's The Last Man on Earth Season 1 takes the postapocalyptic formula and turns it on its head. Unlike other shows in the genre that show us heroic zombie fighters and civilization rebuilders, his "last man" is hapless, horny, and wasteful. This is probably closer to the truth of the situation, and reminded me of The Battery without the zombies. But everyone hasn't been wiped out by the virus, and people start to congregate to his location, including Kristen Schaal, January Jones, Mary Steenburgen and others. After a while, it's more of a play on "I wouldn't if you were the last man on Earth" because the character is an irredeemable liar and a terrible manipulator. The soul of the series probably resides in the other characters, but Forte gives you permission to point and laugh at his own. This is much more of a serial than your usual half-hour comedy, equal parts Three's Company and docu-drama on how people would actually live once civilization has fallen. You're never too sure where it's going, which I think is a big plus. The DVD includes commentary tracks on a couple episodes, loads of deleted/extended scenes, a making of, a Q&A panel, and a gag reel. Fun stuff.

Justified's 6th and final season starts off a little rough, to be honest. Eva's fall from grace and Raylan's quest to finally bring down Boyd Crowder combine to turn the protagonist into a menacing presence, somehow above it all. Since he's supposed to be the one we identify with, it's more than a little off-putting. Things get better in the middle, though since this is the last season, you can expect something of a blood bath. It's not like Justified doesn't leave a trail of bodies in a normal season. And though there's meant to be a focus on Boyd as the season's big bad, the show still manages to introduce an excellent quartet of new villains, leading to some memorable scenes and resolutions. And yet, there may be happy(ish) endings for several of the characters. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Should it have been a lot more tragic? Seems to me that if you're going to play "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive", then it probably should be. The only extra on the DVD is a featurette about the crew doing research in Harlan County.

A few last movies from #ISpyDecember... The Good Shepherd is a slow burning John Le Carré movie ably directed by Robert DeNiro, which some will find boring, I'm sure, but I rather thought was interesting, not to say riveting. Matt Damon is CIA agent in the 1960s, trying to find the leak that led to the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba, an investigation that will flash us back in time to how he joined the OSS and helped create the CIA after the war. The film is full of real-world spycraft, and feels very real, though your mileage may vary on the solution to the mystery which is somehow part of the more melodramatic elements of the film, something that can sometimes feel like a distraction. If people don't hook into this film, it may be because Damon plays a stone-faced character who doesn't show any emotion, and so it's hard to relate to him, but just because someone doesn't show emotion, doesn't mean they aren't there. My attention never flagged, each scene an interesting and crucial part of this puzzle. BEST SPY FILM OF THE WEEK

Though Paul Verhoeven's violent action flicks in the 80s are still classics, the director eventually sank into sex'n'violence exploitation, some of it successful (Basic Instinct), some of it not (Showgirls, Starship Troopers). But his star had faded and he's helmed few films since the late 90s. 2006's Black Book does have a lot of violence and nudity, but it's much better than I would have expected. It tells the story of Jewish woman who infiltrates Gestapo HQ for the Dutch resistance in the final days of WWII, and though not a true story, has that bent, as it has an unpredictability that creates its tension (though the last act does have a couple of crazy questionable moments). Carice van Houten in the lead role is impossibly beautiful and quite affecting, and it's really not the kind of war narrative we're used to seeing (though the theme and message are necessarily the same). Apparently Verhoeven had been working on the screenplay for 30 years, so this is a very personal picture, and I think that's why it's more sensitive than anything else I've ever seen from him.

So Angelina Jolie was once offered the role of a Bond girl and reputedly turned it down saying she'd rather play Bond. Salt is that Bond. A crazy action flick about a CIA super-agent who might be a sleeper agent for the KGB, or a rogue to both organizations, its tone is perhaps problematic because much of the spycraft feels well-researched. Just don't be fooled. It's meant to be high-octane and superhuman, and in that mold, it certainly works. My only real beef is that the wire work is pretty bad. For best results, watch the Director's Cut (or Extended Director's Cut), because the Theatrical's changes really are condescending to the audience. The DVD has all three versions, a director and crew commentary track, a few deleted scenes not included in any version of the film, a radio interview with director Phillip Noyce, and a few featurettes besides.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is another John Le Carré story about a stony-visaged agent, this one played by Richard Burton, who must appear to defect to the Soviet side as part of an elaborate ruse of which even he's not entirely informed. An austere, slow film, it really did try my patience, though I respect its spare use of music and sound to create suspense and shock its audience. But as a plot, you're all at once wondering what the heck is going on AND are told what's going to happen before it actually unfolds. It's a strange state to be placed in, but it's what happens when the lead is so non-verbal and no one tries to catch you up mid-stream. I can see this is a film classic, and I think it'll play better on second, third, etc. viewings, but it's not exactly "entertaining", at least until the third act (even if Burton's romance with Claire Bloom has some wit to it).

Casino Royale (1967) is a lot of fun, a send-up of the Bond formula with an actual - if crazed - plot. (Parody movies actually had them before Airplane spawned the gags-before-all approach that eventually led to the ghastly Scary Movies and such.) The Bond of the film, David Niven, is a chaste super-spy whose name and number were given to that other fellow to keep a legend alive, Peter Sellers is very funny as yet another Bond when they try to confuse the enemy by making everyone a James Bond, Ursula Andress - the original Bond girl - stars as Vesper, Orson Wells as stage magician/gambler Le Chiffre, Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond Jr., and Joanna Pettet as the spawn of Bond and Mata Hari. A crazy cast juggled around by no fewer than 5 directors... it's gonna get messy. But a beautiful mess with crazy 60s mod sets, and all kinds of different styles of comedy, with an ending right out of Mel Brooks.

It's been a few days since I finished my daily X-Files reviews, which means I "flipped" Season 9. It was a season that only too late started to address the long-standing mytharc mysteries, and so ran out of steam before it could manage proper resolutions. I liked the Doggett-Reyes-Scully three-way, but it was ill-served by the show's rushed death throes, though the new agents did manage to see their subplots resolved. The DVD package is just as frustrating. We get a few lackluster commentary tracks on spotlight episodes, the usual international clips, and some 10 deleted scenes branching out of the episodes. Well, I hate that format, so I was waiting for the last disc where, for the last few seasons, you could find all the scenes bundled together with optional commentary. And the DVD box tells you they're there, along with commented special effects sequence. Well sorry, not in the "complete series" edition which omits a previous edition's two bonus discs where these extras were located. Well, I'll be damned if I go back through various episodes to find those elusive deleted scenes.

The X-Files - I Want to Believe was the X-Files' first attempt to come back from the dead, and I reviewed it extensively earlier this week. In brief, it just wasn't what fans wanted, just an extended episode of the show, with a mystery/monster of the week, and a link to the supernatural. Other than bring Mulder and Scully out of retirement, it did nothing to resolve any dangling plot threads left over from the series 6 years before. The DVD includes both a theatrical and a director's cut, audio commentary by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz (recorded before the film was released, so they can only hope fans will like it as much as they did), a Fox-mandated featurette about how green the production was, a special make-up featurette, a music video, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and some photo/art galleries. It's not a bad package, and not even a bad "episode", but it feels spectacularly unnecessary.

Big Finish Doctor Who Audios: The Devil's Armada, the second story in the Philip Hinchcliffe Presents set, adapted by Marc Platt from a story by classic Who's most famous producer, has the 4th Doctor and Leela land in 16th century England, where an interdimensional alien posing as Satan himself is inspiring witch hunts as a prelude to invasion. The Spanish Armada coming to attack is a mere distracting in all this, which is a bit of a shame seeing as it's referenced in the title, but a good story nonetheless. More so than with the other audio in the set, there is a sense that Hinchcliffe is padding things out in the second act with detours that detract from the core story, but the setting, the villain and the leads are strong enough to warrant a listen.


Toby'c said…
It's been about nine years since I've seen it, but I'd honestly call this Casino Royale my least favourite Bond movie by quite a big margin, not least because the Daniel Craig version has me laughing much more often than the intended parody.
Siskoid said…
To my surprise, both films have a bottomless torture chair.
LondonKdS said…
The Black Book: I remember enjoying this a lot when I saw it, but the main bit I remember is (spoilers) how stupid it is to tell someone you've injected them with a lethal dose of insulin and then leave them to die, next to a bag that you showed them thirty minutes before is filled with family-size chocolate bars. The villain is actually strongly based on the real French fake resistant and serial murderer Marcel Petiot, although Verhoeven uncharacteristically bowdlerises him compared to the incredibly sadistic and gruesome things Petiot did.

Salt: I was really impressed by how the film avoided gratuitous male gaze shots in situations where the average action movie would have been unable to resist them.

Casino Royale: The torture chair scene is actually in the Fleming novel.
Siskoid said…
Salt: Well, I get the feeling Jolie wouldn't stand for that kind of crap. That's part of the point of the film (which was originally scripted for a male Salt, did you know?).

Casino Royale: Yes, but I'm still surprised it's one of the "suggestions" that made it into this comedy.