This Week in Geek (14-20/01/13)


Some nice stuff from Amazon this week, many of which were side-tracked to Newfoundland through some postal snafu, but finally found their way to my mailbox. I got Looper, Cosmopolis, Doctor Who's Shada, Being Human Season 4, Justified Season 3, Archer Season 3, Dredd, and the follow-up to Chicks Dig Time Lords, Chicks Unravel Time, which looks more interesting than its precursor - more analysis of the show, now that "how I got into fandom" is out of the way.


DVDs: I'm a huge fan of The Wire, but I wasn't expecting Simon & Mills to retread that kind of ground in Treme, their love letter to post-Katrina New Orleans, and in particular its music scene. Though it's clear that "systems will fail us" is just as much a theme here as in The Wire, this isn't a police drama. Rather, it asks how a community can rebuild its culture after a disaster of epic proportions, and does so by cross-weaving the lives of various New Orleanians, much as Robert Altman did in many of his films. The pace is unusual, juggling all the stories admirably - an "Indian Chief" rebuilding his crew, a frustrated writer finding a voice on You-Tube, a trombone player trying to find work, a DJ getting into trouble and into an election, a chef losing her restaurant, a woman looking for her brother lost in the system during the storm, jealousy springing between a couple of street performers, and more - but also takes breaks for music performances. It seems slow at first, but one you get into the rhythm of it, it becomes part of the series' punctuation and its point. As you can expect from makers of The Wire, Treme is naturalistic to a fault, with incredible performances from actors, and plenty of of the city's natives just being themselves. I wasn't sure after a single episode, but after 2 or 3, I'm hooked and care about these people. The DVD extras are a inefficiently skewed towards the music though. "The Music of Treme" is an option that, when activated, tells you discography details on any song played. Cast and crew commentaries (on about half the episodes) are good, but "music commentaries" on every episode are frustrating because the so-called music experts only talk over select music performances, and don't always give much more detail than the "Music of" option, and fast-forwarding to musical performances is no guarantee that they'll be talking. The "Making of" featurette gets most of the actors talking about their characters, but the feature on Treme itself, the neighborhood's history, culture, importance, etc. is the better and longer offering.

The Oscar Pool Project had me (re)watch The Silence of the Lambs, in Full Screen (boo). I hadn't seen it since it came out, probably, but it remains the King of thrillers and is SO memorable (and so often parodied) that I could hardly forget any of its plot points. Well, that's not true, actually. The Hannibal Lecter stuff is unforgettable, sure, but the Buffalo Bill case itself wasn't necessarily as imprinted on my brain. What struck me most this time around was the direction. The camera keeps placing us on the other side of conversations, making actors talk directly to the lens and involving us, peering into us like Lecter and Clarice both do. It's cleverly done and can be disconcerting, especially considering the psychopaths involved. No matter how well Jonathan Demme does (or Jodie Foster, for that matter), the day ultimately belongs to Anthony Hopkins, a depraved villain you somehow end up rooting for, particularly during his clever escape from prison. Not because you want him to kill anyone, but because he's earned his freedom through sheer intelligence. That said, it's too bad that freedom led to the cheesy grand gignol that is the sequel, Hannibal. As you might expect, this version of the film had no extras beyond the trailer.

The Kung Fu Friday selection was 1977's The Battle Wizard, a Shaw Brothers' wuxia based on Chin Yung's seminal novel Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, directed by Pao Hsueh-li, and starring Danny Lee as the gauche prince who becomes invulnerable when he drinks the blood of a giant red python. For me, the attraction held by these older fantasy epics is the chance to see some incredible, magic kung fu, realized with little technological means. Battle Wizard features a lot of animation drawn directly on the film and various physical and juxtaposition effects, including people breathing fire, telescopic chicken legs, finger lasers, magic snakes that tunnel into your skin... it's quite insane. And it's what I like about it. The story itself is standard, though well-handled, revenge fare, while the characters are sadly under-written. Clocking in at only 73 minutes, one might wonder if scenes were cut at the script stage, editing stage, or when sending it out to foreign markets, and indeed, the ending feels ridiculously rushed. Recommended to fans of the genre or if you like things like 80s Conan, Willow, etc.
Audios: Listened to a cycle of 2010 5th Doctor audios from Big Finish's main Who range, which reunites an older Nyssa with the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough, right after Enlightenment. She's still with the team by the end, which means more arcs for this foursome right through to 2012. They meet again in Jonathan Morris' Cobwebs, while she investigates a case of Rictus Syndrome, in a story that turns into an intriguing predestination paradox. I wish the Doctor had been a bit more proactive in achieving the ending, but I do commend Morris on some clever dialog, especially for Tegan who comes off as my favorite character through the entire arc because of it. In The Whispering Planet, Stephen Cole creates a detailed and well thought-out culture based on a marooned medical ship, though there are perhaps too many science fiction ideas vying for attention. If this is the low point in the arc, it's not because it's not good, but because the other two stories are better. Not my favorite adventure, but a solid one. Marc Platt ends the arc with The Cradle of the Snake, a third engagement between the Doctor and the Mara, one that turns pretty terrifying when the Doctor gets possessed. Peter Davison relishes the chance to play a villain, and Platt is the right writer to bring the Buddhism symbology into it, as per Kinda and Snakedance. There's a character with an "American" accent that sounds just like Peri (had to check it wasn't Nicola Bryant) who is rather annoying, but an otherwise big... ehm, finish.

Needing a break from the long arcs, and on the recommendation of not a few Big Finish fans, I decided to try out one of the Companion Chronicles. These are shorter (1 hour) audio stories "told" by a former companion. It seemed a good way to do audio stories for Doctors who have passed away, but while I like the audio play format, I was less interested in the "book on tape" format, even with a companion as narrator. But the first in the range, Frostfire by Marc Platt (him again), was a real delight and showed the potential of the series. Platt is an incredibly literate writer, so he's perfect for colorful, detailed prose. Frostfire isn't just a first Doctor story read by Maureen O'Brien (Vicki), it's a story WRITTEN by Vicki. In the space of an hour, we get a full 1st Doctor adventure, something of that adventure leaking into post-TARDIS Vicki's life as Cressida, and well-articulated thoughts on Vicki's fate in Ancient Troi (something fans have struggled with). This story of a phoenix-like creature is told to someone, which is part of a developing mystery, and the end managed to get a nostalgic laugh out of me, just before it made me tear up. Equal parts charming and devastating, Frostfire is a brilliant start to the range, which opens up a variety of possible formats for these stories to be told - with or without guest actors, ways in which the story might be told, objective or subjective, during or after their time in the TARDIS... Platt's given us a taste of each.

Zines: And I finished reading Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games #13, the diarists Miniatures special. I haven't painted a miniature literally in decades, and seldom use them (lead or paper) in games, but by reviewing and listing every official and unofficial Doctor Who miniature, they've certainly made me drool over the idea of starting a collection (I'll resist, because I really don't have the time, but in other circumstances...). The focus on miniatures extends to game reviews (Invasion Earth, Tabletop Miniatures War Game) and gamer etiquette (how to use miniatures, what questions should be answered, etc.). While the zine has covered miniature use before, I found the advice here a little more advanced and thus, useful. We also get some exclusive paper miniatures and an entire Aliens (with optional Doctor and Martha) miniature game, complete with paper minis, floor sections and rules (quite colorful, they made me laugh in spots). Yeah, you can use the Loader to beat on the Queen. Non-miniature articles include an adventure scenario that connects to this, a crossover between the Aliens franchise and Doctor Who, though the xenomorph stats weren't complete; a very intriguing haunted house scenario; and an event report with the diarists gaming at a Renaissance Faire. This is a thick one because there are some 70 pages of floor tiles and minis, so be careful if you print it out with no intention of playing the included game.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Act IV, Scenes 1-3 - Branagh '96

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Extreme Justice to Firestorm.



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