Smile Politely

DVDs I watched while not at Comic-Con

The San Diego Comic-Con is, for aficionados of comics and popular film, a lot like Disney World. It’s a phony, overpriced, overhyped, capitalistic scheme that originated as something (at least imagined to be) organic and beautiful. Comic conventions were once cheap, fan-run events where people could get together and talk about their mutual obsession in all those pieces of media and merchandise that were preventing them from getting laid. Now, as evidenced by SDCC, they’re corporate-run, money-guzzling, exploitative excuses for Hollywood to peddle its crap on those comics fans lucky enough to have disposable income, or at least delude themselves into thinking their income is disposable.

Man, I wish I was there.

For pretty much the entirety of this decade, SDCC has been the place that Hollywood premieres new footage of, and trailers even, for films with only the most tenuous connections to comic books. This year, one of the highlights was twenty minutes of footage from James Cameron’s fictional comeback, Avatar, not to be confused with M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon of a similar name. Avatar is based on a Japanese animated show. One of this week’s new DVDs was also based on such a show, but instead of being shot with funds of literally Titanic proportions, this one seems to have had the budget of an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger.

New Releases From The Box

Dragonball: Evolution

It would be fair to say that only a few people will truly “get” Dragonball: Evolution. But it is not esoteric in the way that fellow new release Repulsion might be, or even in the way that superhero films in general are. A stomach for and appreciation of the truly awful, of the spectacle of cinematic failure will help you to an understanding of this film. It faces the typical pitfalls of many types of film: the cult/comics adaptation, the derivative teen comedy, the martial arts film, and the low-budget B-film. It manages to include just about everything that is awful about these often enjoyable genre–but it still comes out on top, at least in terms of absolute, all-out failure.

Even the disaster that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn’t hold a candle to the brainlessness and terrible wire work of this film, and the result is that Dragonball is far more fun than that monster hit. Sure, the green screens and CGI of Wolverine was embarrassing, but imagine those effects if the film’s budget had been slashed by 87%. You’d end up with Dragonball (or that leaked workprint of Wolverine), one of the more hilarious major action films of the year.

Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5

It seems that TV writers can only be brilliant until you tell them they are. Ron Moore was behind most of the good things that happened in the latter seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine (the latter seasons, of course, being the seasons in which most good things happened), and when he started this update of the campy 80s show, nobody gave it a chance–and it was brilliant. Four seasons later and faced with a number of loose ends to tie up, not the least of which being the “how does it end” question, Moore and his writers largely abandoned the character development and semi-allegory which had made the show great and occasionally brilliant in favor of lots of explaining. With the exception of the admittedly awesome “rebellion” pair of episodes, this season was a lot of people sitting around talking, opening up new holes in the plot even as they tried to fill them. Then, the series was capped off with a finale that, although it had a couple good character moments, was largely disappointing, lazily written, and even a little trite. Oh well, if you’re into this show, you’ll want to finish it anyway, and there are always the nice retrospective features that final season box sets always have.

Fast and Furious

I only watched parts of this film. There was Vin Diesel, Paul Walker in a suit, some running, more driving, and more young women in small clothing. As far as I could tell, that was about it. Should have been called 4 Fast 4 Furious. To avoid confusion. Which, based on several conversations I’ve had, is abundant.


Director Roman Polanski has a frank but generally unexploitative way of presenting onscreen violence that heightens its emotional and moral impact and makes for great and thoroughly involving cinema. If you’ve seen his most popular film State-side, Chinatown, you might know what I mean, but what I’m actually thinking of is his adaptation of Macbeth. Repulsion may not be anything close to a Shakespeare play, but there were moments of terrifying and upsetting violence that reminded me poignantly of the way he presents the slaughter of MacDuff’s family — which was off-stage as the bard wrote it, but graphically onscreen in Polanski’s version. Likewise, Repulsion has some of the more harrowing scenes of violence I’ve ever seen, but it judiciously takes its time in getting to them.

The film is a “the walls are closing in” story, something akin to his later Rosemary’s Baby, sans Satan. The always wonderful Catherine Deneuve plays Carol, a young and virginal Belgian emigre to London who lives in a small flat with her sister. Every night Carol has to listen to her sister make love to her boyfriend in the adjacent room (according to IMDB, this may be the first mainstream film to feature an audible and explicit female orgasm) and evidently it makes her feel unclean and violated, though Carol’s reaction to the nightly aural assault is not the first and only sign that she may be unstable. An otherwise cheerful family portrait shows Carol as a young child looking off-frame, distant from the rest of her healthy family.

After her sister and the boyfriend depart for a vacation, Carol, in the vernacular, starts to lose it. Paranoia and extreme fear of men and phallic objects set in, leading to a wide variety of disturbing scenes, both real and imagined. Polanski builds up this descent into madness with patience and inventiveness, crescendoing in a shocking double-climax that doesn’t let up even when we know what the neighbors are going to find in the bathroom. Repulsion has aged far better than comparable films of the genre and time period (e.g., Psycho) and is therefore worth watching not only as a masterpiece by one of the great directors of the last fifty years, but also as a genuinely thrilling thriller.

Next Week on From the Box

Alright, I’ll watch Obsessed because Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) is in it. And Race to Witch Mountain because of The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment Today. But I will not watch The Soloist. So hopefully those two, and whatever else I find in the box, next week.

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