Monday, May 20, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (5/12/13-5/18/13)

    Busy week, but not much nerdy stuff going on.  I did read Superman: Red Son, which was pretty good.  It’s the best Superman thing I’ve read, for sure.  And then on Friday night, we met for the book club again.  This month’s book was The Massive, which is apparently an indie darling, but most of us found lacking in substance.  However, one brave voice defended the book for its potential.  And I have to agree, it has potential.  I just have a feeling it won’t be living up.

Secret Files of the Inquisition:  This four part series based on the Inquisition files released a while back by the Vatican features good narration and some interesting interviews, as well as nice looking dramatizations.  But it feels very surface.  The first episode covers the end of the Cathars.  Watching it, you can’t help but feel for the rebellious sect, but this is largely because their weirdass dogma is mostly ignored (though their mostly pacifist beliefs made it preferable to the violent lunacy of the Church).  The second episode deals with the Spanish Jews who had either chosen to convert or been force-converted to Catholicism, and their treatment at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition.  Again, interesting and important issues are glossed over.  With the third episode, we see the rise of a zealot pope in Rome, who brought back persecution of Jews in Italy.  And the last episode deals with the final days of the Inquisition, as it is first knocked to the ground by Napoleon, then finally brought down by its own system of kidnapping and intimidation that didn’t sit well with the modernizing world.  Overall, the series is OK, with a few interesting glimpses into a few eras of the Inquisition, but its odd mix of the microscopically personal and vaguest of overview means too much is missing.  By focusing on just a few cases from four different locations and times, the series lacked context (with the exception of the final episode, which is probably the best of the bunch).  Also, three out of four specific cases were related to persecution of the Jews, which was certainly a mainstay of the Church, but not the only thing the Inquisition was up to.  A bit of variety in what was covered would have been better.  It feels like the Cathar episode was thrown in there because you can’t really talk about the Inquisition without talking about how and why it was formed.  But otherwise, the series was about anti-Semitism in the Church.  The one thing it does manage to get across fairly well (intentional or not) is the danger posed by religion and state working in conjunction.  Be that the Roman Catholic/Saudi Arabian religion as state, or the Maoist/Stalinist state as religion, the end result is always the same; oppression, degradation, corruption, and villainy of all stripes, guarded by a cloak of official sanction.  Every perversion is justified when done in the name of gods or patriotism, more so if it’s both.

The peasants are revolting.

Star Trek: Insurrection:  Though often disparaged by Trek fans, I think this somewhat light hearted entry is a lot of fun.  Lots of good character exchanges, beautiful space sequences, and a dilemma to solve, as opposed to a big villain to fight.  Of course, there’s still a couple thugs so they can still shoehorn in a fistfight (this is a post Khan Trek film, after all).  One thing I noticed watching it again is how much of a raging bitch Donna Murphy’s character is.  By this point in the franchise, Trek had sadly descended into a near constant barrage of word-salad technobabble.  It started in Next Gen, got worse in DS9, and reached parody levels in Voyager.  There’s WAY too much made-up BS vocabulary (the phased tachyon inverter couplings must be reversed so that the particle beam emitter doesn’t have a malfunction in its ionic coils).  The message is pretty darned heavy handed, but that’s not surprise from Trek (remember the whales?).  Still, this and First Contact are well done, nice looking films, worthy of the Next Gen cast and crew.  They are, unfortunately, the only two.  This is the closest thing the Next Gen crew got to a Star Trek IV.  If I could go back in time and work my magic, First Contact would have been the first Next Gen movie (skip that craptacular Generations), followed by a very dark, Mirror Universe type story (the crew makes it back to their own time after First Contact, but something ain’t right), and then cap it off with something more like this, a dilemma movie with a lighter tone.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger:  “For him I would risk my life.  For you, I would give it.”  This third outing is the weakest of the lot, for sure.  Part of the problem is Patrick Wayne, who is horribly miscast as the titular character.  Jane Seymour is a stone fox.  That’s just science.  And the Ray Harryhausen creatures are typically cool.  Plus, it has another classic Doctor, Patrick Troughton as a mad hermit-wizard.  But it could really use some John Phillip Law.  Wayne is so danged deadpan.  Tyrone Powers’ daughter…she’s an uh, actress and whatnot, I guess.  But what’s up with her romance with the baboon?  The story is pretty good, with lots more crazy jumbling of myth and magic, though the production feels a bit cheaper than those previous.  There’s still plenty to like, but it’s missing something.

G-Men:  “He’s a darn good lawyer.”  James Cagney is an honest lawyer in a crooked town.  When his buddy gets whacked in the line of duty, he decides to take up the FBI mantle and take down crime.  The Yoda-like crime boss who paid Cagney’s way through law school is kinda genius.  James Cagney is all smiles and smarm, but he’s charming as the devil and cool as Joe Camel.  And big shootout near the end is crazy violent.  Great lighting and lots of bullets flying.  Even the gun molls get in on the action.

Expo: Magic in the White City:  This documentary about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair feels like a brief traveler’s highlight guide.  It features a great number of fascinating photographs and historic tidbits.  This would make a good companion to Devil in the White City, which dealt more with the ‘how it happened’ as opposed to this film’s ‘what happened.’  Gene Wilder’s narration is a touch surreal, but effective, none the less.  For a look at a fascinating and weird event in American history, this is a good one.  And I would certainly recommend reading Devil in the White City if you’re interested in what you see.

Star Trek- Into Darkness:  Well, that sucked.  If my ass were a cannon, I would have shat my heart upon it.  Look, I really, really liked Abrams’ Star Trek.  I did.  It was fun, exciting, and an interesting way to re-launch the franchise.  This film squanders everything.  After basically remaking Wrath of Khan in 2009 (like every Trek film other than The Voyage Home has done since Wrath of Khan), they actually straight-up remade Wrath of Khan, only stupid.  That’s it.  It’s Wrath of Khan.  Only f%$#ing terrible.  Every emotion is false.  Every call-back is infuriating.  Instead of taking things in a new direction, it stupidly tries to ape what has already happened, even awkwardly cramming dialog from Wrath of Khan into the mouths of new actors.  WHY!?  And everyone’s plan was completely idiotic.  Totally idiotic.  The Admiral’s plan?  Dumb.  Khan’s plan?  Dumb.  Kirk’s plan?  Dumb.  Spock’s plan?  Dumb.  Carol Marcus’ plan?  That s# %t don’t make no sense at all.  Any of the chemistry between cast members in the first film is totally absent here.  Shoehorning in that blonde bimbo (Marcus), and then having the pointless underwear shot?  Really?  When I heard the title of this film, my interest dropped.  When I saw the trailer, my interest dropped more.  But now, having seen the movie, I was impressed that my low expectations not being low enough, and the fact that the film was bad enough to actually make me angry in spite of not having a lot of built up anticipation.  Is it the worst Trek film?  No.  That honor still goes to Nemesis, with Generations a close second (or Generations with Nemesis a close second, depending on which one I‘ve watched more recently).  But this isn’t too far behind in third.  And it’s missing the one thing that makes all the others (except Generations) watchable, good character interaction.  No shock that the guy behind last year’s monster disappointment Prometheus also helped script this.  It suffers from many of the same failings (read: interesting ideas unexplored, characters acting in the stupidest way possible, retread plotting, etc.).  My hope now is that Abrams and his writing crew leave to mess with Star Wars and leave Trek to someone who gets it.  And maybe we can finally have another movie that isn’t about Kirk punching a bad guy.

Somebody saw the script.

The Sarah Jane Adventures Season 5:  “I know what a robot looks like.  I seen Star Wars.”  This final season of the youth-aimed Doctor Who spin-off is short, but strong.  There’s a melancholic feeling watching it, knowing that Elizabeth Sladen was in the final days of her fight with cancer, while she put on her actor face and did the job.  There are only three stories, but each one is pretty good.  Even the slightly awkward attempt to recapture the first season’s ‘fish out of water’ character by adding a new cast member doesn’t get too annoying.  The second story, with Clyde getting cursed is actually unsettling and has a ham-fisted but good social message mixed in.  And the third story works as a finale.  Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith was one of the great companions on Doctor Who, and I love that not only did she come back in the new Who series, but then had a successful show of her own.  And in fact, made Sarah Jane much, much better with age and experience.  It stands as a solid series that I think supplements Who’s universe well, and is a much better and tonally correct spin-off than Torchwood.

The Cry of the Owl:  I checked this film out for two reasons.  Mathilda May is a shockingly beautiful and strange looking woman who has fascinated me since Lifeforce.  And, I am interested in Patricia Highsmith’s work.  This one is pretty danged weird.  The charming and damaged Robert is an oddly chaste peeping tom, who eventually introduces himself to his subject (May) and apologizes for his actions.  She finds him charming and they strike up a relationship.  That’s when things go down hill.  As more characters are added, more layers of weirdness and villainy pile on top of poor Robert.  Then people start dying, and the blame keeps coming back to our damaged peeper.  It’s an interesting movie, and clearly made by a fan of Hitchcock.  But I don’t know that it’s satisfying.  Several things just happen.  And the finale is memorable, but perhaps a touch too vague.  Mathilda May plays one of those crazy women that seem to only exist in movies, the gorgeous madwoman who may be worth the pain.  The femme fatale end of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype spectrum.

The Curious Dr. Humpp:  “Your love means nothing.  Your body already belongs to me and I’ll use it in every way that I want.”  One should not bandy about words like genius, lest they lose their special meaning.  That said, this movie is genius.  There are big mutant henchmen, a talking brain in a jar, ace reporters, Amish barkeeps, and boobs, boobs, boobs.  Almost every line of dialog is a classic, like the Casablanca of stupid.  It’s seriously entertaining.

The Slammin’ Salmon:  “Twins are disgusting, man.”  The Broken Lizard boys take on the restaurant business in this extremely funny little movie.  It’s low budget and somewhat claustrophobic.  But that adds to the comic tension of one crazy night working at a classy Miami restaurant.  A series of awesome cameos, great lines, and awkward situations.  And Michael Clarke Duncan.  He is so flipin’ funny in this movie.  It’s a performance for the ages.  He’s a crazy, stupid, evil monster who haunts all these poor bastards who are working their low-end jobs.  His rambling thought spirals, his butchery of the English language, he violent mood swings.  Glorious.

    That was basically it.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading and I’m revisiting an old movie script I wrote a few years ago.  It won’t stop raining.  So, I haven’t been on my bike in quite a while.  Life goes on.


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