This Week in Geek (17-23/02/14)


A few DVDs to add to the collection this week: Take Shelter, Breaking Bad's Final Season, Game of Thrones Season 3, China Beach Season 1 (to rekindle my boyhood crush on Dana Delaney), and The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency Season 1.


DVDs: Breaking Bad's fourth season was the best yet, playing out as a tense chess match between Walter White and drug lord Gus Freng. The last few episodes filled me with apprehension, which is always a good thing. Smart characters out-thinking each other, there's nothing more riveting. And the way it ends could have been a satisfying ending to the whole series. Satisfying in a punch-the-air kind of way, but not if this is to be a tragedy. Turns out, Walter forgot something, as did the audience, and so we'll have a fifth season. The DVD package for this season is much like those of the past, with fun commentary tracks for all episodes, featurettes on each ep as well as specific aspects of making the show (the crew, sets, stunts, science, etc.), deleted/extended scenes and a gag reel (as well as episodes newly uncensored or extended from their original broadcast), Gale's entire karaoke video, Call Saul commercials, and more. This is good stuff.

Breaking Bad's fifth season was chopped into two 8-episode cycles, broadcast and released on DVD separately. The first 8 start with Walter White realizing he forgot an important detail in his plan to take down Gus, and must spring into action to cover his tracks and make sure he doesn't go down too. The half-season becomes about empire-building, giving the always appreciated Jonathan Banks an even greater role in the show. Skyler, whose corruption had proceeded apace in Season 4 now completely breaks down, creating a different set of problems for Walt. There are some stand-out moments of elation (the train robbery), but very dark turns as well. You're never on sure footing with this series. 8 to go, talk to you about them next week. The DVD offers the same superlative package the previous season, and also includes an exclusive mini-episode, stunt rehearsals, a commented writers' room time lapse, audition footage, a visit to a Breaking Bad art show, and the amusing BB episode of Chad Hardwick's All-Star Celebrity Bowling. No matter how dark the show gets, there's always a lot of humor in the extras - Cranston is always hilarious.

Though nominated for an Oscar, Captain Phillips is too much of a procedural, in my mind, for it to ever win. That doesn't mean it's a bad film, just not one as rich as other contenders. Paul Greengrass' newest thriller is based on the real story of a cargo ship attacked by Somali pirates, the taking of its captain (Tom Hank) as a hostage, and subsequent rescue efforts by armed forces. It's not the kind of thing with subplots, though its worth is in spending as much time in the pirates' head space as it does in the sailors, and a real commitment to authenticity, using actual Somali actors and non-actors in minor military roles, doing the action for real and not with visual effects, and so on. (Not to say there aren't differences with the real events, or some invention by Greengrass, because there are.) A gritty, documentary-style, impeccably edited, suspenseful and yet unromantic (that's a feature, not a flaw) film that's more about team work than the title seems to imply. The DVD includes an ok commentary track by Greengrass, and a much better, one-hour making of documentary that talks to cast and crew, but also the real Rich Phillips.

Romancing the Stone wasn't quite as good as I remembered. The premise is strong - a romance novelist gets to experience what is essentially one of her stories and the truth of the kind of romantic figure she usually writes - and you can still see how the cast (Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito) was propelled into movie stardom and more projects together. The plot is a problem for me however. It needed to be Indiana Jones a little more, and an 80s shoot-em-up filled with comedy South American stereotypes a little less, for one thing. For another, it's got way too many plot holes, some of which get filled in by deleted and alternate scenes included on the DVD. I don't know if the film would have been too slow with them included, but too much information was left on the cutting room floor. Still, strong first act, and fun third. It's the middle in the jungles of Columbia that sags for me. The DVD also includes three retrospective featurettes and another on the scriptwriter who lost her life soon after the film's release.

@MartyLight's turn to share a film with our cinephile club (in what we call our monthly "Cultural Exchange". His choice: Attack the Block, a British alien invasion/horror movie set in a Council Estate, with a gang of teenage toughs taking on fierce alien monsters while, presumably, Torchwood is behind the scenes wondering why the creatures are attacking a specific block in South London. (And there IS a reason, I don't mean to make it sound like the premise is unduly absurd.) Strong action beats, intense monster and gore effects, plenty of comedy, cool hip-hop beats, and even a bit of a social message that carries over to whatever ghetto you care to name... Once you get a handle on the thick accents, bruv, you're in for a good time. Haven't been disappointed by a cultural exchange yet, despite some pretty wide variety.

Audio: Eddie Robson ends Big Finish's 6th Doctor/Evelyn/Thomas Brewster arc with Industrial Evolution, a story that jumps right in with Thomas back in the Victorian age, employed at a work house the Doctor thinks is somehow dodgy. And it is. There's some alien tech causing some strange things to happen and half-machine, half-flesh creatures to manifest. (Thankfully, this isn't a back door Cybermen story.) I found the opening a little jarring and had to check my player to make sure it wasn't on shuffle, or if I'd put the second disc in instead of the first, but my confusion was momentary, and the story evolved into its themes (nature vs. technology, social vs. technical advancement) rather well. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables, as you may know, can do no wrong, and this is a good one for John Pickard's Brewster too. I just wonder if his final(?) fate comes out of nowhere or not. He hasn't appeared in a story since, though there's definitely a strange opening for it.

The Ultimate Adventure adapts the stage play from the late 80s, with Colin Baker reprising the role, though he was actually the third actor to grave the stage in the eponymous adventure. The first was Pertwee, and you can sort of tell it's more of a 3rd Doctor story than a 6th, the second was David Banks. The two stage companions, Jason (despite the name a French aristocrat saved from the guillotine) and Crystal (a spoiled, bratty pop singer) aren't played by the originals, but I can't imagine anyone actually making this duo sympathetic. One has a fake French accent and the other whines her way through the story. There are three songs, which I like, though none for Baker, which is kind of crime against musical theater. I like them, but they're very 80s. Your mileage may vary. With the story, Terrence Dicks does what he's been doing almost exclusively since The Five Doctors: A collage of stuff you expect to see in Doctor Who. Daleks and Cybermen both, and the TARDIS skipping around to a new location every 5-10 minutes. I don't know how they did that on stage! Mostly harmless pap, then, and largely forgettable.

But Big Finish DIDN'T forget about it and produced Beyond the Ultimate Adventure, a Companion Chronicle that features a follow-up to the original as told by Jason and Crystal (with Colin Baker doing the Doctor's voice, thankfully, or else he might have a terrible French accent like all the other male characters). Terrence Dicks once again provides a script, and while it's less ADD than the original play, with only two major locations, it still sounds like it was written with the 3rd Doctor in mind. But while that might be acceptable in the stage-a-verse that spawned The Ultimate Adventure in the first place, the lack of any songs this time means the audio doesn't quite achieve that effect. I am in no hurry to revisit Jason and Crystal's stint aboard the TARDIS again.

Recorded Time and Other Stories is a 6th Doctor/Peri anthology of four short stories, each on the theme of recorded events. That's some nice fodder for reality bending and timey-wimey story telling. There isn't a turkey in the bunch. In Recorded Time itself (by Catherine Harvey), an artifact threatens to change history in King Henry VIII's court, with Anne Boleyn in the crosshairs. In Paradoxicide (Richard Dinnick), Amazon-like warriors create their own history by using the TARDIS to go back in time to their intended target. In A Most Excellent Match (Matt Fitton), the Doctor tries to rescue Peri from a Jane Austen simulation and the two of them then face off against a ghost in the machine using literature as a weapon. And Question Marks (Philip Lawrence) is a reality bender in which all the characters (our heroes included) have lost their memories and must navigate the plot without the benefit of their identities. All of them have a strong role for Peri, which hasn't been paired up with Baker in a while, it seems. (Checked: It was 5 years between this and Year of the Pig, wow.)

Gaming: Played another game of Fiasco this week, introducing the game to two new players. Their pick for a playset: Vegas. From our initial, dice-driven choices, this became a con/heist story with me in the con man role, the twin brother of a sexy stripper (and not adverse to posing as his sister in drag), the duo (Coriander and Basil) using an army of strippers to smuggle cash out of a casino in over-sized bras. Complete hogwash, but our mark was too nervous to notice, and of course betrayed us to an FBI agent/foil. We got wind of it, changed the plans around, humiliated the Feds (and maybe gave "Brick Johnson" some brain damage, it happens), and almost got away with it. The story took a dark turn though, with the mark going psycho and causing a massive car accident on the outskirts of town. All I remember is getting dragged from a van entangled in ladies' lingerie before blacking out. Fiasco'd.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes completion: 85.4%

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - BBC '80


idiotbrigade said...

In A Most Excellent Match (Matt Fitton), the Doctor tries to rescue Peri from a Jane Austen simulation and the two of them then face off against a ghost in the machine using literature as a weapon.

So Dr. Who pulled off Saints Row 4 before SR4, essentially!

Siskoid said...

Haha, I guess!

More to the point, what's our NEXT Fiasco?


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