This Week in Geek (16-22/06/14)


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.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - French Rock Opera


Anonymous said...

Not that I've read The Devil Goblins from Neptune, but I think it features the first appearance of Control, a CIA operative, who came back in several later PDAs. Is this perhaps the set-up you're thinking of?

Siskoid said...

The books sets up Control, yes, but also a greater conspiracy at the heart of UNIT that isn't really resolved within its pages.

James Ashelford said...

The Control plot resurfaces in a Fifth Doctor book King Of Terror but as far as I'm aware the conspiracy is never revisited.

Siskoid said...

I believe he's also in the Eight Doctor book Time Zero.

Anonymous said...

Also Escape Velocity, and briefly in Trading Futures.

Jeremy Patrick said...

Re: Nebraska

"The people are real - dull and inexpressive - and the family relationships are too - bitter and corrosive, yet not without affection."

Siskoid, I am wounded that you did not draw upon a singular source of expertise on all things Nebraskan amongst your regular readership for consultation on this review. No one's as "dull and inexpressive" as I am! Remember my push for Justice League Nebraska? But that's okay, I presently accept your future apologies.

Siskoid said...

Obviously, that wasn't a dig at Nebraskans, but rather at "people". As an improv player who is (and I'm not going to call this a positive) "always on", and an over-educated one at that, I find most (so-called) normal people, impossibly tedious.

I've felt like Will Forte's character many times. At family Christmas parties for example.

Delta said...

The scene where Forte sits and futilely tries to make conversation in a room full of people silently watching a ball game who haven't seen each other in months or years is frighteningly on-point.

Siskoid said...

To cope, my siblings and I had devised a game, a kind of pool, that got us points (and nickels!) for guessing before hand what clichés would crop up at family gatherings, from old arguments to the same damn questions we were always asked, etc.

Today, of course, I have nothing to do with the extended family. I've long ago accepted that you don't choose family members, you can only choose friends, and that's where I find the real comfort of what people call "family".


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