A few DVDs this week. The LEGO Movie, House of Cards Season 2, The Hunt for Red October, and Brazil with Michael Palin.
DVDs: It's hard to imagine a film like Nebraska coming out of the youth-obsessed "look at all the pretty people" cinema of Hollywood. Alexander Payne's leisurely, deadpan road picture is filled with what looks like mostly local talent as a son (Will Forte) takes his confused father (Bruce Dern) from Montana to Nebraska to redeem a Publishers' Sweepstakes million, knowing full well it's bogus. The ride through the northern Midwest is drab on purpose, flat and colorless (literally) to represent what people from many rural areas (and my province counts among them) will recognize as their own economy in decline, aging population, and lack of opportunity. Had the film been in color, it would have been all "Big Sky" vistas, but instead, the characters trek through a wasteland, physical and emotional. The people are real - dull and inexpressive - and the family relationships are too - bitter and corrosive, yet not without affection. Ultimately, it's about how a son connects to his distant father, creating hope and joy (however small) where hopelessness (but not despair) has a grip on reality (which is what the false million-dollar opportunity represents). A quiet triumph of humanity.
With its second season, Leverage delves much more into its characters and comes out a winner. Not only does it deepen their pasts and relationships, but it also gives them much better adversaries. Gone are the foolish marks so easily conned, replaced by more dangerous opponents that can flip a con on its head midway through an episode and force the team to switch tactics. Someone on one of the writer/director/producer commentary tracks (included on every episode) said most shows ended before Leverage's third act began, and it's true. Gina Bellman's pregnancy forced her character off the show except as a resource for the others to call, but you could do a lot worse than take Jerri Ryan on board as a replacement. She really gets to show her range as the team's grifter for half the season, and the casting is just as geek-savvy as the rest of the series (Nate Ford's aliases in Season 1 were all actors who played Doctor Who, for example). In addition to the worthwhile commentary tracks, the DVD offers several relatively brief featurettes, a gag reel (but no deleted scenes this time), a tour of the set, a Q&A with the show's creators, and a couple of comedy sketches where the actors run some cons.
Books: The Devil Goblins from Neptune is the first of the BBC's Past Doctor novels after they took over from Virgin Publishing, written by Keith Topping and Martin Day, and starring the Third Doctor, Liz Shaw and the rest of UNIT. Bit of a mess, frankly. The most interesting bit element is the conspiracy inside UNIT, with the Russians and Americans both acting on Cold War impulses, with the Brigadier caught in the middle, but it feels like they're setting things up for later, though I don't know if they ever returned to it. The characters are well rendered, though Mike Yates is laughably made into a Lothario, and the aliens are fearsome, if one-dimensional. Unfortunately, the stuff about the hippies and rock concerts doesn't amount to anything, the writers are singularly obsessed with military hardware (snooze), the action is often repetitive (if you're in a vehicle, it WILL crash, even Bessie), and most unforgivably, the finale is a big deus ex machina, with the Doctor and Liz as mostly bystanders. Not an unpleasant read, as it does make UNIT more of an international player, but it could have benefited from more ruthless editing.