This Week in Geek (10-16/02/14)


Couple of DVD buys this week, no-brainers for me, really: Sherlock Series 3, and Doctor Who's The Moonbase.


DVDs: The first time I saw 12 Angry Men, it was as a play, in French translation, made memorable by the way the audience was seated, in makeshift jury boxes on several sides of the room, with the deliberation table and actors in the middle. But the film I only just watched this week. A Henry Fonda vehicle and Sidney Lumet's directorial debut, it's great work for both. Though it could have come off as a play on film - twelve actors choreographed in a single room - it uses movie language to heighten claustrophobia and tension. The twelve jurors are efficiently differentiated, and the film manages never to lose your attention despite its Spartan means. There are hundreds of courtroom dramas on film and on TV, but few deal with the jury's end of things, and none as well as 12 Angry Men. Must see, if only to understand the concept of reasonable doubt. The DVD includes an expert commentary track, a making of that talks to people the film inspired as well as those who worked on it, and a featurette that talks to real lawyers and jury members to contrast the film to the reality.

Though a teenager in the 1980s, can you believe I'd never seen any of the Bill & Ted movies? This, despite the overt Doctor Who reference? Well, it's the truth, a problem I fixed this week thanks to Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Collection, a boxed set that has both films and a bonus disc filled with extras. So... what did I think? I liked them! I was afraid of lame stoner humor, but Bill & Ted aren't stoners, they only speak like them because they're morons. But well-meaning morons. They're naiveté is ultimately charming and what makes the films work. It's all so uncynical and if something dates the films, it's that. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure takes time travel to ridiculous levels, with history's integrity hardly a problem despite the duo taking people out of it, but it's also got some fun timey-wimey stuff. It's clever. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey doesn't risk coming off as stale by repeating the first film's tropes and beats. Instead of time travel, Bill & Ted die and move through the afterlife seeking resurrection so they can save their girlfriends and careers. Both movies end on a fun stage show, with the second providing the perfect ending to the franchise. Goofy fun. The DVDs' original extras are weak, just the trailers and a Hollywood featurette for Bogus Journey. The extra disc is perhaps a bit too focuses on Bill & Ted's lingo (often mentioned in interviews AND a video dictionary), but otherwise, lots of fun stuff. There's a good making of covering both films, a conversation with the writers who originated the characters, the first episode of the animated series, an interview with Steve Vai who worked on Bogus Journey's music, hilarious air guitar tutorials by actual air guitar champions, radio spots, and scans of the scripts through all drafts (starting with scribbled notes; of limited legibility and value).

Audio: The Butcher of Brisbane by Marc Platt, a Big Finish Doctor Who audio featuring the fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough, as well as Magnus Greel pre-Talons of Weng-Chiang is such a natural idea for a Who story (Tegan providing the necessary Australian link), I'm surprised it wasn't attempted before. Obviously, the Doctor can't let on he defeats Greel in the future, and can't undo certain events lest he screw up his own timeline, and Platt figures that puzzle out satisfyingly. There's a strange spin on the usual companion wandering off trope, with Nyssa and Turlough spending three years away from the Doctor before he catches up to them (and yet Turlough still wears his school uniform in Planet of Fire). It's a good story, with plenty for each character to do, though it's also a big continuity plug-in, and could be considered fanwank. Well, Platt's no stranger to that. My only REAL complaint is that one of the main guest-stars has a voice so similar to Mark Strickson's, I found it confusing every time he came on.

Switching over to some 6th Doctor tales - the best of the audio Doctors - Night's Black Agents (by Marty Ross) is missing an important ingredient: Colin Baker! It's a Companion Chronicle, so obviously, the Doctor's voice isn't in it. But it's the premise I found difficult to accept. This Chronicle occurs in the middle of a three-audio arc from the main range, when Doc6 was temporarily reunited with an older Jamie McCrimmon. It's been a while since I listened to those audios, and in a perfect world, I would have noticed and listened to THIS audio immediately thereafter, but I didn't and was left somewhat confused by it all. There just isn't enough of a recap before the action starts, and the action starts very quickly. I can't really fault Frazer Hines who gives another strong performance (even if his 6th Doctor isn't on par with his 2nd), full of energy and melancholy. The story, based on Scottish folklore, is well executed, with evocative sound design and music. I just couldn't go back to that point easily enough. In other words, when I listen to these stories again one day, I'll make sure to put Night's Black Agents in its proper context.

Maggie Stables then stars as possibly my favorite audio companion Evelyn Smythe in A Town Called Fortune by Paul Sutton, an old-fashioned western that dares to be pure historical, while still managing the strangeness and mystery of Doctor Who's faux history. More of a Black Orchid, if you will, though that may be damning it with faint praise. Fact is, it's a lot richer than that. Evelyn has a vocabulary and story-telling style worthy of the history teacher she is, and Stables has a great voice. The script builds her conversation with the Sheriff up to final revelations that really make A Town Called Fortune work best listened straight through (as opposed to two or three short sessions, say during your morning jogs). All the pieces will click into place more smoothly if you stay the course.

On to 2011's 6th Doctor trilogy, featuring Evelyn and Thomas Brewster as companions, starting with The Crimes of Thomas Brewster by Jonathan Morris. Brewster's been an on-again, off-again audio companion, an artful dodger who palled around with several of the Doctor's incarnations, making Turlough look like the gold standard of trustworthiness. Last we saw him, the young Victorian had been left in the present day, and now he's posing as "the Doctor" and getting into trouble with aliens. Enter the real thing and Evelyn, and special guest-star D.I. Patricia Menzies from earlier audios (though they occur later in the Doctor's timeline, so she's got to be careful). All these personalities on one audio, and Morris' sparkling script, makes this one genuinely funny without it turning into a silly romp. Great fun, recommended.

The arc continues with The Feast of Axos by Mike Maddox, a pitstop on the way to bringing Brewster back to the Victorian age. I wasn't convinced the Axons should ever be seen again, but the story is rather good! It takes place inside the time loop created by the third Doctor at the end of The Claws of Axos, as astronauts try to make contact with it and raid it for Axonite. Great sound design make it all sound very authentic, and the dangers inherent in EVAs (space walks to you and me) are made palpable. Plus, the time loop makes sure the story goes a bit timey-wimey, like we love them. Bernard Holley even returns as the voice of Axos, which is a great touch. No, I don't care to see the Axons again, but a straight sequel to Claws? Yes, I'll take it, especially if it's going to be this well made.

Gaming: Been wanting to play Fiasco for a long time, and our "Movie and a _________" cinephile initiative became the perfect reason to try. "Blood Simple and a Fiasco" has us watching the Cohen Brothers' first film - truly one of the templates for Fiasco, the story-telling game of panic and failure - as inspiration for our own game immediately thereafter. Our chosen playset, Town and Gown, was set in a small-town university (we decided it was nearby Mount Allison University in Sackville; the setting in general was one we knew well) and the plot, which could have been darker, followed a grade-changing scam to its inevitable doom. Major props to Isabel and Nath, whose characters were hilarious - a perpetually drunk tattoo artist and hardass, and a bubbleheaded failing biology student and the whale my character's needs to harpoon - and the consensus was that we should play again sooner than later. With one game under our belts, I think we can give scenes more punch, especially in the second act, and drive our characters to worse outcomes. And we can always use "Movie and a Fiasco" as an excuse, since all the playsets offer inspirational movie suggestions.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes completion: 74.2%

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Olivier '48

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Young Heroes in Love to Zero Hour. Thanks for patronizing the Daily Splash Page, it's closing up shop so I can work on other things.


Anonymous said...

"Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey" is a remake of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis". Deep in your heart you know I'm right.

Siskoid said...

Can't argue with that!


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