This Week in Geek (10-16/03/14)


I would have received packages from Amazon this week, but my walkway was under three feet of snow and ice for a few days and the postman didn't try to brave it.  I don't blame him. Still, I did receive the Fifth Doctor Sourcebook (subscriber's) pdf, so Cubicle 7 is really starting to push them through quickly (is it me, or is this one a bit heavy on story synopsis?). And though this is low on the geek-meter, I might as well mention my purchase of ceramic books at a student art auction. I'm not sure how I'll display them yet, or if they will simply become fancy paper weights and book ends.


DVDs: Though sold to me as a wolf-punching superhero movie, I really love what The Grey is instead - a harrowing survival film, pitting Man against Nature, in the harshest of environments. It's worthy if only for the harsh winter conditions so rarely put on film (and done for real), but Liam Neeson's depth as an actor makes it stand on its own legs. The men's struggle is internal as much as external, enriched by existentialist questions from within and clever "MacGyver" ideas from without. And if any wolves out there want to sue the production for deformation of character, they should remember the wolves in this film are a metaphorical extension of Nature's wrath. A surprisingly thoughtful action film. I admire it a lot. On the fun and insightful commentary track, the irreverent director shares drinks with his editors (and indeed, the editing is quite excellent). The DVD also holds deleted scenes rightly cut from the movie, some very short making of featurettes and interviews, and promotional material.

Apparently Steven Soderbergh's last film ever, Side Effects is a competent thriller that keeps you guessing and takes several turns before it ends, confounding whatever formula it seems to be following in any given act. At first, it seems a warning about our over-medicated society, as a woman (Rooney Mara) suffers life-threatening side effects from anti-depressants prescribed by her psychiatrist (Jude Law). Then it heads into thriller territory, but which character comes out on top isn't telegraphed; it's anybody's game. Regardless of the twist(s), there's still some insight into the anti-depressant culture, and how pharmaceutical companies have turned mental health into an industry. It's really too bad Soderbergh seems to have dropped out of the movie-making game (was The Man from UNCLE really that crappy an experience? or rather, was it THAT surprising such a film would trigger interference from the studio?), because his films are never less than interesting. The DVD includes various featurettes tracking the making of the film, fake commercials for the drugs shown in the film, a pretty awful montage of behind the scenes footage, and a funky retro featurette filmed in Super 8 by co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones (easily the best extra).

Never Let Me Go is a quiet little film with dystopian SF leanings based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel of the same name, and starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield (and for a full act, children that eerily look like them). It's really a tragic romance set in a parallel present (or past, I guess it's the late 70s by the time the film ends) where clones are used as organ donors. I hate to give it away like that because a lot of the film is about allowing us to figure out just what's happening and what the nature of this world is, but I don't think it's too great a spoiler. And while the film is partly about the question of what it means to be human, partly a metaphor for how we face mortality, and partly an indictment of older generations preying on the young, it's the romantic triangle that's in the foreground. While I admire what the film tries to do (and achieves), I feel somewhat ambivalent about it. I think the problem is that it's almost too sensitive and subtle a film, with no dips and peaks in its tone. It's all on the same, sad (but not too sad) note. The same feeling persists throughout. Never boring, but not exactly exciting. The most surprising thing is perhaps that a film grounded so much in emotion provokes the most intellectual of reactions from me. The DVD includes a very good making of and several photo and art galleries.

Ok, this one isn't in my collection, but I watched it with friends intent on a nostalgic experience. Not so nostalgic for me because I was, I guess, the only one who had never seen Space Jam before. My conclusion: It's harmless fluff and at most, an amusing secret origin for Michael Jordan going back to basketball following his baseball failure. Not that I care about sports, because I don't. Jordan acquits himself well enough, and Wayne Knight (he's alive, guys, I checked) and Bill Murray bring something to it without having to try much. It's the Looney Tunes that are a disappointment, with most of their jokes falling flat, and some very ugly "3D" shading on their drawings. Worse perhaps are the new animated characters stealing screen time from the real stars, like the sexualized girl bunny and the aliens from Moron Mountain, none of which are too memorable (I've already forgotten their names).

Surprisingly, there's a link between Space Jam and my next subject, China Beach Season 2! How? Well, one episode I liked a lot intercuts the action with old Looney Tunes clips for tragi-comic effect. It was one of the stand-out episodes of what is still one of the best TV series of the late 80s-early 90s. I'd also give a shout-out to the clip show supported by documentary interviews with the people who served in Vietnam's hospitals and R&R centers, the race war within the military in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination, and the especially moving one where one of the main characters is killed (just because you're in the opening credits...). A couple of new characters fill out the cast, including an ambitious journalist and a female private. Season 2 is as good as the first, with 10 episodes more (17), and the DVD set includes a commentary track on "Vets" (the aforementioned documentary episode), a making of featurette, and interviews this time with Michael Boatman, Marg Helgenberger and Robert Picardo (I expect all the principals will have gotten a turn by Season 4's release). I see Season 3 is already due later this spring, and couldn't be happier they're pushing the whole series out in so short a time.

What can I say about Archer Season 4 that I haven't already said about the first 3 seasons? The irreverent animated spy comedy does more of what it did in Season 3, with plenty of laughs and action thrills, moving some stories along (Archer gets a stepdad, for example, though the biggest developments are really only set up for Season 5), and getting some cool guest-stars into the recording booth, notably Timothy Olyphant, Ron Leibman, and chef Anthony Bourdain (for a reality TV parody). The DVD is slimmer than usual on extras though. There's a potentially-offensive hentai parody featuring anime versions of the characters and Krieger's holographic girlfriend, and the best bits from an Archer live show that includes fun with the fans, scene reenactments and other jokes.

Audio: Still listening to 6th Doctor/Peri Lost Stories from Big Finish, adapting scripts that were commissioned for the show but never made. Leviathan, originally by Brian Finch and adapted for audio by his son Paul, is an odd and worthwhile story (probably impossible to do well on the show's budget back then) powered by revelation. We start in what only seems to be a Medieval hamlet, with characters both on the trail of and the prey of the Huntsman from legend, but that reality is consistently put into question and though we peel away the lies and illusions, there always seem to be more behind the truths so exposed. And of course, great work as usual from Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. Leviathan is the first 6th Doctor Lost Story (which means first Lost Story PERIOD) that actually works, and that feels modern, pacey and thoughtful. It only took three goes!

The Hollows of Time features Tractators (Frontios) and a script by Christopher Bidmead. I actually thought of skipping it. Saying I'm glad I didn't is perhaps overstating things, as there are bits of Bidmeadian zen mathematics to get through. The man does love his science, but whether he understands what his scripts are extrapolated from or not, he always has a hard time making it relatable to an audience. But the audio succeeds in other ways. The guest characters are good and lively (with Susan Sheridan equally good at playing an old lady and a young boy). The Tractators are less characters than they are a dangerous gravitational effect (fine by me). And the amnesiac story structure helps the scenes that would have normally been "visual" by giving the descriptions a context. However! Originally, the story would have revealed the big bad as the Master before flinging us into the next story. Because this wasn't possible in the Lost Stories line, and to keep the audio as a stand-alone, it doesn't happen. So we're left with this strange unsolved mystery (maybe they could have just done away with references to the Doctor thinking the man looked familiar?), on top of science lessons replacing plot, and none of the characters having much motivation for what they're doing. I could enjoy any given scene AS a scene, but don't ask me to tell you the story, or what any of its elements have to do with one another.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.vii. Ophelia's Death - Fodor (2007)


JDJarvis said...

The weather was right on the mark in "The Grey" the wolves (which freaked out my cats at one point) are definetly narative and ficitional un-wolves that don't stop it from being a thrilling film.

Archer is remarkably good it's "Get Smart" for a world that isn't rated-G.

Siskoid said...

That's a good description of Archer!

Michael May said...

Glad you enjoyed Side Effects!

And my thoughts on Never Let Me Go are the same as yours. So ambitious, and I enjoyed a lot of it, but I never felt as strongly about what was going on as I wanted to.


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