This week is a good week to be a fan of science fiction. Three really great releases are coming your way that mix sci-fi and comedy in a way that still surprises people. On top of those, we’ve got one of my favorite movies of the year, which is also funny and weird, though not science fiction, and quite a few box sets of television shows from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Must be something in the air.
Guardians of the Galaxy
I’m not sure there’s much more about this movie to talk about that hasn’t already been said, but before it came out, I don’t think anyone was thinking Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be as universally loved as it was, let alone that it was going to be the biggest domestic hit of the summer. I think Marvel’s name helped it a lot, but so did the colorful worlds, distinctive characters, fantastic soundtrack, and overall cool vibe that director and co-writer James Gunn gave to it. As far as space adventure films go, you probably couldn’t have picked a more fun one than this. Chris Pratt cemented the fact that he could easily carry an action movie, as evidenced by how many other action/sci-fi movies in which he’s been cast following Guardians. His Star-Lord is like if Luke Skywalker and Han Solo were merged together into someone who loved to dance, and that’s a really great lead. Much has been made of how well the digital creations of Rocket and Groot were handled, but they were, no doubt about it, and Dave Bautista’s Drax has become sort of the sleeper breakout character. Really, only Zoe Saldana’s Gamora had the thankless task of being the generally-normal member of the group, but even she gave a nice performance with what she had.
Watching the movie again on Blu-ray, having seen it in theaters a couple of times, I was much more cognizant of just looking at the frame and seeing all the little details Gunn put in and just how different every single planet and location and spaceship and EVERYTHING is. It’s fascinating. It’s a movie that stands up very well to multiple viewings, which is why this is a Blu-ray worth picking up. It looks and sounds gorgeous, of course, but it also allows fans to really immerse themselves in it. Even though there aren’t a huge amount of extras, what’s here is really nice. There’s a feature commentary by Gunn which is entertaining and informative, a collection of deleted scenes, a 20-minute making-of featurette, a look at the film’s special effects, a short gag reel, and an “Exclusive Look” at Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is only a couple of minutes and not very enlightening.
It’s almost Christmas; treat yoself.
Terry Gilliam’s had a pretty eclectic career but nobody can say any movie he’s made isn’t his. He’s got an impossibly distinctive style and a dark imagination, mixing comedy and fright, that truly can’t be matched. The very fact that his first couple of movies were aimed at kids is testament to the kind of things that interested him. His background in cartooning and animation gave him the opportunity to hone his visual style and his aesthetic which mixed classical art with the modern world. His first big showcase of this ideal was his second feature, 1981’s Time Bandits, a movie that is wall-to-wall Gilliam.
Co-written by Gilliam’s Monty Python cohort Michael Palin, Time Bandits is the imaginative comedic adventure of a boy named Kevin (Craig Warnock) whose parents are rampant consumers and he spends his days reading books about famous heroes of the past. One evening, his room is infiltrated by a gang of little people who have a map that allows them to find time portals throughout the world. Former employees of the Supreme Being, these titular temporal troublemakers travel around through time and space stealing riches and generally making a mess of things. Kevin goes along with them on their journeys and meets people like Robin Hood (John Cleese), Napoleon (Ian Holm), and King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) before having to face off against the all-powerful Evil Genius (David Warner) who wants the time map for himself.
Criterion’s reissue of their 1997 laserdisc looks amazing on Blu-ray. The extras include the original 1997 commentary by Gilliam, Palin, Cleese, Warner, and Warnock; a new video essay on the film’s production, with special looks at the costumes and sets, an hour-long interview Gilliam did in Stockholm in 1998; an appearance by co-star Shelley Duvall on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder; and an essay by critic David Sterritt.
Doctor Who Series 8
Arguably the most controversial season of Doctor Who certainly since its return in 2005, Series 8 was the premiere of new Doctor Peter Capaldi and did a lot of things differently. Firstly, head writer and executive producer Steven Moffat had his finger in just about every aspect of the storyline, making each episode further his grand design, not for some crazy massive plot twist, but for actual character development of its two leads, Capaldi and Jenna Coleman. A lot of people took against Capaldi’s stroppy and unfriendly Doctor, especially coming off of the endlessly welcoming Matt Smith. Clara also had quite a whirlwind year, trying to balance her desire to travel in time and space with her very terrestrial relationship to former soldier-turned-maths-teacher Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), but her addiction to the adventurous lifestyle results in her truly becoming the Doctor, right down to his perpetual loneliness.
The episodes that, for me, stand up the best are “Listen,” “Mummy on the Orient Express,” “Flatline,” and the two-part finale, “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven.” There are other episodes that are enjoyable and well done, but for my money, these five really succeeded in being both great sci-fi stories and great character dramas. They’re full of darkness and fear and comedy and insight into the Doctor and Clara’s mentality. I think more like this next series will make for some excellent Time Lord action.
The Blu-ray set as a good mix of extras, including commentaries on “Into the Dalek,” “Robot of Sherwood,” “The Caretaker,” and “Kill the Moon”; all 12 episodes of Doctor Who Extra, several mini specials, including the two done by Chris Hardwick for BBC America before and after the premiere, the specials “The Ultimate Time Lord” and “The Ultimate Companion” and Foxes’ music video for the Queen song she sings in “Mummy.” Some really excellent extras all around.
Frank – Easily my favorite movie of the quite-good Los Angeles Film Festival this year was this odd and bittersweet story of an avant garde musician who might be insane and always wears a giant papier mache head. Read my full review here.
Mister Ed The Complete Series – A horse is a horse of course of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course, that is of course unless the horse has a lot of peanut butter stuck in his mouth for several years and is dubbed by a guy who sounds like he’s got Parkinsons.
Mork & Mindy – Relive the breakout role of the late great Robin Williams with this collection of every Orkan, Nanu-Nanu, Schazbat, and other catch phrase moment.
The Jeffersons Complete Series – All seven seasons of the family that moved on up to the east side, George and Weezy Jefferson, and every brown-suited weird Sherman Hemsley dance.
Hart to Hart Season 3 – When these two got together, it was moyduh!
Kroll Show Seasons One and Two – One of the best sketch comedy shows on TV, Nick Kroll’s brilliant skewering of the television culture is as biting and on-point as it is weird and silly.