This Week in Geek (20-26/12/10)

Buys'n'Gifts

What I bought for myself: Futurama Season 5. What my good friend Mel gave me for Christmas: Castle Season 1. Thanks Mel! What my gaming buddy Marty gave me: A plastic Flash from a Kinder Surprise! It's Wally West, dude!

"Accomplishments"

Movies: Went to the theater Christmas night to see Yogi Bear---no, I can't type that with a straight face---to see True Grit, the Cohen Brothers' remake of the John Wayne classic (or if you prefer, their adaptation of the Charles Portis novel). While nowhere near my favorite Cohens film (it may yet grow on me), it had their trademark mix of comedy and tragedy, strong performances (Jeff Bridges creates yet another fun character, Matt Damon is surprising as the dumbass Ranger, and Hailee Steinfeld steals every scene she's in) and quirky decisions that will either take you out of the film or elevate its worth. In this case, the controversial elements will be the lack of contractions (straight from the blank verse-sounding novel apparently) and the low-key ending (that shows the consequences of the revenge story in a way few movies do). The more I write about it, the more I liked it. Certainly, it's made me interested in the Oscar-winning original which I admit not to have seen.

DVDs: My memory of The West Wing was that after Aaron Sorkin left at the end of Season 4, the series lost its spark (at least until Season 7 refreshed it with a new race for the presidency). So it took me a while to 1) buy Season 5 through 7 on DVD, and 2) watch them. Reassessing Season 5 today, I attribute my flagging interest simply to fifth season blues. Sure, the dialog is generally not as crisp as it once was, but I found the episodes kept my interest throughout and the acting was as always, stellar. Highlights included the government shutdown, the search for a new Chief Justice and the mockumentary about C.J. The DVD has a few deleted scenes, commentary on three selected episodes, a featurette on President Bartlet, and a making of the Gaza episode.

The Season 6 DVD set's production values take a dive as the English subtitles disappear (I hate that, especially in shows with hard to follow dialog) and the background material gets ever slimmer. Three episodes have commentary tracks and there's a featurette on C.J. Craig (that interviews actual press secretaries), but no making of materials or deleted scenes. As for the season itself, its shuffling of the cast can sometimes be awkward, and making both Leo and Bartlet sick reduces the appeal of these two powerful characters, but the show gets some momentum going again with the introduction of the primaries and the promise of a whole other presidential race in Season 7. Watched once a week, I remember that the White House stuff made me impatient for the campaign stuff, but on DVD, that's hardly a problem.

Season 7 ramps things up with the Alan Alda (Vinick)/Jimmy Smits (Santos) presidential campaign and manages a couple of high wire acts. On the one hand, while the show treats Santos as the "hero" candidate, it makes Vinick a viable replacement for Bartlet thanks to the Alda's star power and gravitas. It feels like it really is anybody's game. The other miracle is that the last few episodes satisfyingly give closure to the main cast, while also setting up four more viable seasons for the show (not that it was considered). I would have followed the show had it gone Republican - plenty of untapped potential - and also respond well to the proposed cast on the Democratic side. The only disappointments are in the DVD package. Gone are the commentary tracks, and the east coast version of the live debate episode isn't even mentioned. You can watch The Debate from the director's truck, but that's again the west coast version. An entirely redundant and boring feature (50 minutes of snapping fingers basically). The only good feature is a 25-minute behind the scenes on the live show.

I also flipped Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a fun little indie-style comedy filtered through the comic, indie rock, kung fu films and video games. Technically, there's a lot to admire, especially in the way the film borrows liberally from other media (the comic especially) to create transitions. The break-neck pace is especially impressive. I'm not quite geeking out over it as others did last summer, perhaps because the video game stuff is largely lost on me (I'm too old for those particular game references), but I still enjoyed it. The Blu-ray apparently has lots of making of stuff, but my standard DVD copy doesn't really need it. The 4 commentary tracks (director Edgar Wright sits down first with comics originator Bryan Lee O'Malley and the other scriptwriter, then with his D.P., and the cast is split into two different tracks) do a good job of telling me everything I'd want to know about the making of the movie. There's also a large number of deleted scenes (with commentary), a blooper reel and a large art gallery (which includes a photo blog and a comics-to-film comparison). Fun stuff.

Audios: Memory Lane by Eddie Robson has the 8th Doctor, Charlie and C'rizz once again land in a kind of prison (the characters even refer to this redundancy), but this one is at least imaginative. Trapped inside an astronaut's memories, the TARDIS crew must navigate a recursive maze and figure out both what's happening and how to get out of it. The resolutions are rather clever and this is perhaps the best use of C'rizz in a while. I'm still not sold on his long-term usefulness as a character, reminding me of Kamelion of all things, but there you go. Robson becomes a major architect of the 8th Doctor in stories to come, which is promising.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. Brevity - Olivier '48
II.ii. Brevity - BBC '80

3 comments:

Loki said...

I hear you regarding the season seven West Wing features - of all the shows I have on DVD, I think it's the only one not to have a commentary on the final episode. Who does that?

Siskoid said...

I've noticed a drop-off in extras on many final seasons of shows, presumably because the cast and crew are doing something else.

These days, extras are fashioned during a season while they have everyone on salary.

chiasaur11 said...

Finally seeing Scott Pilgrim?

Swell film. Kinda amusing in the bloopers how Allison Pill is breaking up what feels like every third take considering that she smiled, what, twice in the whole flick.

Nice smile, too.

 

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