This Week in Geek (24-30/06/13)


DVDs: The Michelle Ryan version of Bionic Woman was over-hyped and then almost necessarily under-performed at the Nielson's box, so was canceled after 8 episodes, leaving plot threads dangling aplenty (though it does complete a character arc for Jamie Sommers, in my opinion). The good news is, you can get the DVD in 5$ bins, and while I have issues with the writing at times, it's got a strong cast, mostly good effects, and rocking fight scenes. Not surprisingly, producer Davis Eicks brought a certain Battlestar Galactica darkness to the program, which I think makes it closer to Alias than it does the original Bionic Woman show, and quite a few BSG alumns (most notably, Katee Sackhoff as the first - and quite insane - bionic woman). It was getting better, and kept things moving forward instead of settling into formula. I liked that. It was just at the wrong network. Had this been at Syfy, it would have been fine. At NBC, it was a goner as soon as a character made a Freedom Fighters comic book reference. It just wasn't speaking to broad enough an audience. The DVD includes Eicks' commentary on the pilot, a bit of a tell-all where he pulls no punches about network interference, as well as short featurettes about stunts and interviews with cast and crew.

Johnnie To's Vengeance borrows Memento's plot if not its structure, as aging French rock star Johnny Hallyday hires hit men (and joins them) to avenge the maiming of his daughter and murder of her family before he loses his memory from a condition we shall call "a bullet in the head". Anthony Wong, Lam Suet and Lam Ka Tung play the hit men, and Simon Yam puts on another memorably zany performance as the villain, all of them frequent To collaborators, which means they're all among my favorite Chinese actors. As with all To films, it's inventive and atmospheric, out-pacing its plot points with moments of pure movie magic. A bike moving the combined bullet hits of four new brothers. Hallyday praying in the ocean. The firefight in the garbage dump. And the final showdown not possible without the help of a group of orphan kids. All very memorable. Most of the film is in English, even though it's none of the actors' first language, but they do a good job with it. It's about the personalities more than it is about the words. The DVD's sole extra is a pleasant 10-minute making of, short but what's there is good.

This summer, I want to crack down on my BBC Shakespeare Collection, and I could have gone two ways: In order of broadcast or in suggested order of composition. Not surprisingly, I went with Shakespeare's point of view. Besides, it means I haven't clumped the various producers' stamp on the material together (the productions were allowed to be more experimental as time went on). While the actual writing order of the plays is debatable, the boxed set suggests Two Gentlemen of Verona as first. Well, it's certainly the least of the Bard's comedies, and yet, I find in it a lot to interest me. It's quite clearly a prototype for both Romeo and Juliet AND Twelfth Night, which makes its use in Shakespeare in Love (it's the play with the dog, and from which Viola takes her audition speech and the idea to dress as a boy) a new genius bit I hadn't recognized before. The love poetry in the play is quite good, and in the clown with the dog, there's a shade of what Shakespeare will later become. Motiveless plot contrivances are the play's weakness, including an odd scene where one of the protagonists is taken into the bosom of, essentially, Robin Hood's Merry Men. Same with the ending that would have the two gentlemen, estranged because they loved the same woman, forgive all including the almost-rape of that woman at one's hands(!). Shakespeare has a way with words, but not yet mastered plot (or in his case, figured out how to tame a borrowed plot for his devices). But already, he's making his female characters smarter than his males, louts all. Which brings us to the next play...

The Taming of the Shrew can be a difficult comedy for modern audiences because its gender politics seem well ensconced in the attitudes of Shakespeare's day, patriarchal with women as second-class citizens if not outright property. I say "seems" because the play is so often misread as anti-feminist. Considering the body of Shakespeare's work on female characters, it would be surprising even at this early stage to find misogyny in the play, and I refuse to see any except in how Elizabethan gender politics are sent up. At the end, when the "shrewish" Katharina submits, it's not a victory of Man over Woman, it's the compromise we call marriage. John Cleese plays Petruchio, which should be a major draw to comedy fans, and it's his innate humanity that makes the play work. He's a fiercely absurd character, prone to Three Stooges-type slapstick, and intent on giving Kate the combative marriage she seems to seek (presenting the mirror of her abuse that ultimate tames her), but it's his quieter moments, his kindness, that allows us to believe the two of them love each other. The play isn't about a man subjugating a woman, it's about the two of them finding a way to co-exist peaceably, to rule ONE ANOTHER, and be strong partners facing society together. The subtlety of it escapes many, but it's there on the page, and it's there on the screen.

Audio: David Locke's The Forbidden Time is a Companion Chronicle using my two favorite 2nd Doctor companions/narrators, Polly and Jamie (the latter in the smaller role), in an inventive story that takes place sideways in time, in the literal shadow of our own world. The story's telling is framed with a conference held to explain why everyone on Earth received a telepathic warning that the next few years were off-limits to time travelers under penalty of life drain, which is just about one of the coolest story hooks I've ever heard! The final result is very strange and couldn't possibly have been done on television, but Anneke Wils is such a personable narrator that it all seems quite acceptable for her era, and there's even a couple of character bits for Ben in there that are quite welcome. I'd like to think Michael Craze would have jumped at the chance to do these with Anneke if he'd had the chance. They shouldn't be so keen to separate Ben and Polly so much in future releases. She does a good cockney.

RPGs: Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG. The Shepherd Season 2 Episode 8: The Sons of Fenric
We had trouble getting our season finale scheduled, I have to say. First, the player who was to leave town for the summer the next day lost complete track of the time. We rescheduled 3 days later with him on Skype and Google+ (one was great for sound, the other for picture), but the Time Lord player completely forgot! It would all have come to naught anyway because my router blew a fuse later that evening, though after we'd debugged our tele-gaming system. So 3 days later (and a cheap new router installed), with a laptop sitting in a player's place, we were ready to go (and doing the credits sequence with a toy TARDIS flying at the webcam was really cool). For the finale, I had to pay off a number of things required by the players who'd used Reward cards to impose certain elements on me. The Bad Wolf for the season was Norse mythology, "Norway Corp" was meant to be an "interesting thing" that had to pay off, and of course, I had to give the companion, Corey, opportunities to make his exit, whether temporary or permanent. And I had to resolve the cliffhanger from our previous game in which the Shepherd boarded a Dalek saucer that immediately crashed into the time warp spewing clones of Corey all over the Norse countryside. Norse? I thought of using Fenric as the final monster, and I didn't even realize he was literally a "bad wolf". That made us laugh. So now it was Corey who'd released Fenric from a chess set in Kublai Khan's court (2 episode ago), which had infected his DNA all across time so that his ancestors, descendents and clones (from when he helped save a planet with no males from extinction) were "Sons of Fenric". While he confronted a monster of his own making, the Shepherd was in the toxic future of the Ancient One (the original Corey, infected by Fenric's evil) trying to paddle back to his TARDIS with Haemovores on his trail. The timey-wimeyness of the situation made Corey allow Fenric to enter him, but before the entity could steal the TARDIS, the companion defeated from within, cutting his ties to his Sons, and as if a wink from The Curse of Fenric (which no player had seen), the "pawns unite to beat the king" idea was invoked. Unfortunately, Corey had some rough dice rolls at the end there, so his final fate was to be left in a comatose state in a temple guarded by his clones, until the day he awakens. Felt pretty epic, and a good end for Corey whose arc this season was that he was responsible for absolutely EVERYTHING that happened. Watch out, accident-prone characters in my campaigns. I take that stuff SERIOUSLY. The Shepherd will return on Cinco de Mayo... (The Doctor gets all the big holidays, so we decided to take some lesser dates... not that we're going to play the "Special" on May 5th, that's passed us by already.)

Gaming: In anticipation for Saints Row IV, I downloaded the old season pass for SR the Third, which includes three new sets of missions, none of them particularly long, but they do feature some replay value because of funkyness and achievement-getting. It was fun and I'm still fiddling around with a couple achievements, but by this point, my character is immortal so the missions are probably a bit too easy. I'll replay them with a lamer character later on. So the first is Gangstas in Space, in which you agree to star in a terrible alien invasion movie. You get lasers, fly (and destroy) spaceships and hang out with an alien princess/actress as the director yells abuse. It's probably the hardest DLC even with my invulnerable character because vehicles are more fragile than she is. Then there's The Trouble with Clones, a completely insane story that revives Gat as a hulking clone you must recapture, culminating in a sequence where you have super-powers. It's worth it just for this. Super-speed, which makes you act like a car on nitrous, is especially cool. Shame about the clichéed nerd character that accompanies you on the missions. And there's GenkiBowl VII, adding four different activities to your map as part of Genki's mascot-killing events. Apocalypse Genki is like normal Genki with sharks snapping up victims in the water. Super Ethical PR Opportunity gives you a flame-throwing car that feeds on the blood of those you run over with which to drive Professor Genki to events. In Sexy Kitten Yarngasm, you drive a giant ball of yarn that must crush all opposition. And Sad Panda Skyblazing is a high-flying, chainsaw-buzzing version of the skydiving activity. They're all fun, I just wish they got up to High difficulty (which would have meant 12 separate activities instead of 7). If only SR4 could be out during my month of summer vacation! Ah well...

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.v. Ophelia's Madness - Zeffirelli '90

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Manhunter to Metal Men.


Madeley said...

Tangentially, during the first series of New Who, I was desperate for Bad Wolf to be a Fenric reference because Curse is to this day my favourite Who story ever. Even though I knew in my heart of hearts that Russell T was never going to go for something like that.

Siskoid said...

That would have been cool indeed. I may have had that thought too, 8 years on, I can't remember.

Madeley said...

Eight years? Eight years? Oh god oh god oh my goooooood.

Siskoid said...


De said...

It's too bad the Bionic Woman DVD doesn't include the original pilot where Jamie's sister is a deaf juvenile delinquent. It made the pilot a little stronger than what eventually aired.

Siskoid said...

Eicks talks about the actress switch on the commentary, but I didn't know it actually aired that way.

Looks like the whole (unlikely) hacker on probation thing was abandoned after the first episode too.


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