Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Matt’s Week in Dork! (8/5/12-8/11/12)

    Lot of TV this week.  And lots of Tolkien.  Though it doesn’t look like it, I actually did do a lot of reading.  Though, not much in the way of comics.  I am working my way through a re-read of Habibi.

Haxen: Witchcraft Through the Ages:  It starts out surprisingly not sensationalistic, but by part two, it gets somewhat silly with recreations of various bits of deviltry.  I think the lesson learned is don’t mess with that witch ointment.  Bad news.  Unfortunately, this movie is pretty darned dull.  Some cool bits, and the devil makeup is fantastic.  But boring.  It’s like the devil worship equivalent of Reefer Madness.  Campy and kind of stupid, not to mention, not very scholarly, in spite of its claims.  It’s probably best to watch the version narrated by William S. Burroughs, which is slightly more interesting for his voice alone.  It does have a bit of good advice, intentional or not.  Mind your own danged business.  Also, sexual repression is probably a bad idea.  The picture does capture some of that sexual deviance and hatred of women that seems so common to organized religion and its persecution of perceived enemies.  Frankly, there’s an undercurrent of sexual violence both to oneself and others throughout religions, certainly modern Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) that should cause concern.  Anyway, back to the film.  It claims to be about witchcraft through the ages (it’s in the title), but it almost exclusively deals with the early Renaissance.  Blah.

The Fellowship of the Rings (Extended):  Though I’m sure I could be tarred and feathered in some quarters for saying so, but I genuinely think that Peter Jackson’s film version of the classic fantasy book is a major improvement.  It cuts a lot of the excess, boosts the drama, gives some depth to some characters who lacked it, and did an amazing job of creating a visual environment as rich as any.  I’m not generally into fantasy (there are plenty of exceptions), but this is a fine film.  Great music, great cast, great production design.  Awesome.

Agora:  The history of astronomy told against the collapse of the decadent old pagan world and the birth of Christian imperialism.  A time when, just for a moment, reason and science had a chance to edge out superstition and dogma.  Rachel Weisz plays the teacher Hypatia.  Based on a real life hero of reason, logic, and science, she is passionate about learning and understanding.  Not limited by interpretations of old texts and the angry confusion of ignorance.  It’s a depressing story, about learning being crushed under the heals of fear and hate.  The destruction of the Library is kind of gut wrenching, as so much accumulated human knowledge is burned.  But it’s also heartening to see the beginnings of modern thought trying so hard to break out.  There aren’t a lot of movies that really make heroes out of thinkers, scientists, or teachers.  And so few movies these days about strong, intelligent women who make up their own minds.  This is a welcome exception to the prevailing tastes.  The aerial shots in this movie help to put the action and the people in their place, and remind the viewer that the universe moves on, taking little notice of the petty passions of men.  It beautifully illustrates the passion knowledge can incite, and the frustration people like myself have with the faithful.  I’m sure most of the people who should see this film will never see this film.

Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks:  The Doctor ends up back in modern day (1984) Earth, and he’s not the only one who shouldn’t be there.  In the meantime, there are some bad happenings on a rundown prison ship in some distant future(?).  The Daleks are using human agents in this one.  Weird.  It’s a pretty good story with a couple fun twists.  And for the love of crap, Tegan finally, finally leaves.  Man, I just never liked her.  Gotta be close to the bottom of my list of companions.

American Reunion:  As soon as I opened the NetFlix envelope I just knew I’d made a mistake by even bothering with this.  Less than a minute in, and I knew that trepidation was warranted.  Look, I’ll admit to it.  I enjoyed the first film.  Almost certainly much more than it deserved.  This was one of those movies NOBODY was asking for, except maybe the has-been/never-were actors.  There are some funny moments, but they’re almost all Sean William Scott related, and what does that say?

Total Recall:  This plot-point for plot-point remake of the Arnold action classic oozes with kick-ass cyberpunk production design.  Sadly, while I didn’t hate it, I can’t say much more in its defense.  Granted, most of my ill will is focused squarely on Kate Beckensale.  Dear sweet movie gods, please stop letting that woman speak on film.  It’s excruciating.  And, unlike Underworld 4, where Beckensale’s ass was on screen more than her face at about a 3 to 1 ratio, this film gets you face to face; so you can see her perpetual scowl and Michelle Rodriguez ‘tough girl’ head tilt.  Ugh.  We get it, she’s bad.  I can tell because your hair is mussed.  Good effects and sweet design will put this alongside The Island for movies that aren’t very good, but that I’ll buy for $10. at some point.  I just wish it had a better script, less tethered to the original…and a different cast.  If you’re going to do a remake, you should have some reason.  Either you’ve got something interesting to say using a familiar concept, or effects technology has changed sufficiently to give cause (why I really do want a remake of 2001...start your hate mail now).  The film makers didn’t have that here.  Nothing new to say at all.

Superman VS the Elite:  Pretty much a love letter to the idea of Superman and the heyday of the Comics Code, this is a fairly preachy cartoon, with less than impressive villains.  But it is a bit refreshing to see an un-ironic look at the classic Superman/comic book values, of doing the right thing, even when it’s the hardest thing, of sticking by your principles, even when (especially when) it’s not convenient.  And it embraces that idealized America, that didn’t stoop to the level of aggressors.  It’s not really that good, unfortunately.  But still, nice to see someone do something to counteract the usual “let’s make this character DARKER” vibe you usually get.  I’m all for dark.  I am.  But Superman isn’t about that, never was.

Attack the Block:  “Allow it!”  A bunch of awful, punk kids, well on their way to being career scumbags are put in a bad situation and learn to be real men.  Aliens drop on a crappy South London slum, but Moses isn’t going to let these blue mouthed space apes do their thing.  He learns about the consequences of actions, as he learns self respect, and finds out if he has what it takes to be a leader.  It’s like The Goonies meets Critters, set in Harry Brown’s awful neighborhood, and all scored by John Carpenter.  Great stuff.  Truth.

The Two Towers (Extended): “What can men do against such reckless hate?”  The second entry in the Lord of the Rings trilogy takes things into dark places, putting our heroes through all sorts of trials and tribulations.  The Fellowship has fractured, and the story shifts from story to story as various members pursue individual goals.  The massive battle scenes are impressive, yet the film never lets the action or effects get in the way of the story, and the heart.

Don Juan (or If Don Juan Were a Woman):  It all starts with an avant guarde funeral, attended by a bunch of ugly prostitutes.  How very French.  I sometimes wonder if European films don’t get a little extra praise for being beautiful, just because they’ve got such nice landscapes and cityscapes to look at.  This movie isn’t especially well made, but like a lot of French and a few Spanish and Italian movies, it looks better than it probably should, in part because of the locations.  I’ve never been able to get very excited about Brigitte Bardot.  She has that sleepy eyed bitch-face (see Eva Green for a more recent example) that seemed to be very popular in Europe in the 60s and 70s, but that I’ve never much cared for.  It also always gives me a chuckle that in French film, as in Indian film, beautiful women are so attracted to hideous men.  I don’t know if it means I should move to France, because I’d be Cary Grant next to other guys, or if the women there would find my fairly indistinct appearance too much for them.  Maybe I could gain 50 pounds and wear a horrible prosthetic nose to try to capture some of that Depardieu mystique.

    “What do you do on Saturday nights, McGarrett?”  In keeping with my classic TV watching, I started Hawaii Five-0.  Cool late 60s vibe, in what is still a fairly exotic land for this child of the Atlantic north east.  Jack Lord is one suave dude.  It’s obvious why he is Conan O’Brian’s hair idol.  That part is just science.  But it’s more than that.  Some kind of groovy genius.

    Also started The Bionic Woman’s first season.  Actually, it starts with a few episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man where Jamie the Bionic Woman is introduced.  Then it gets into the regular run, which features a surprising number of guest spots from Steve Rogers.

    Watched some more Battlestar Galactica with Ben.  Such a good show.  And more Game of Thrones.  Also watched a few more episodes of Outcasts.  It’s an interesting show, but deeply flawed.  And I got in a few more episodes of Magnum P.I.

    Something clicked in my head this week (actually, before watching The Fellowship of the Rings), that got me really interested in Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  I think it may be in part because of watching the first Wagner Ring Opera a couple weeks back.  I have a weird relationship with Tolkien.  I absolutely love the world he created.  It’s fascinating and full of story potential.  But, I don’t much like his books.  Sure, they’re good stories, but reading them isn’t fun; it’s a chore.  So I found myself poring over David Day’s A Tolkien Bestiary, Robert Forster’s A Guide to Middle Earth, and the old basic book for I.C.E.’s Middle-Earth Role Playing game.  Heck, I even found my old musty paperback of the Silmarillion.  I really do love the setting, the deep history, and the vast unexplored parts.  It’s one of the few fantasy settings I really enjoy.  And I regret not having done more roleplaying gaming in it.  Maybe one day.


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