This Week in Geek (23-29/06/14)


LEGO fever being upon me, I ordered a bunch of discounted LEGO video games. On the Complete Star Wars game showed up this week - not my favorite franchise as you may know, but LEGO trumps all. Also, got my subscribers' copy of the 6th Doctor Sourcebook pdf and it may be my favorite yet released. They've brought the Time War into Colin Baker's adventures (by way of the Trial, among other things) and it looks brilliant.


DVDs: I hadn't seen the LEGO Movie. Now I've seen the LEGO Movie. I believe my reaction should include the word "awesome". Consider it included. What a fun, clever, and even a little poignant, little film! Not only does it use the LEGO's realities to create its world (thematic sets, generic faces and objects, build/unbuild, etc.), but it also uses the competing philosophies of the product's consumers. Are you one of those who follows the instructions to complete a predetermined "model"? Or do you mix all your blocks up and let your imagination run free? Throw in some great voice work, the best Batman we've gotten since Brave & the Bold, and a high repeat watching value because there's lots of background gags to discover, and you've got a movie that demands you put away your cynicism about it being a long toy ad. I mean, yes, it's likely to make someone want to invest in LEGO blocks, sets and video games, but it really work as an amusing and heartfelt Messianic comedy with loads of eye-popping sights and action. The DVD includes a fun cast and crew commentary track, various shorts both official and fan-made, including outtakes and promotional "auditions", plus LEGO-building demonstrations (physical and in the computer) and a short making of. The fun of the extras is that they keep up the pretense that the LEGOs are living plastic actors; they're worth watching for the extra comedy.

The Hunt for Red October has always been, to me, the only memorable Jack Ryan film made. I couldn't tell you want happens in the Harrison Ford ones, and haven't seen Ben Affleck or Chris Pine films, but I have a vague sense that they are action films, whereas Red October is more of a procedural spy thriller à la Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The submarine action is tense and authentic and our hero, underplayed by Alec Baldwin, is just a very smart CIA analyst with no special action hero skills. His opposite number, the Soviet sub captain played by Sean Connery, wins every scene anyway by sheer gravitas, but he too is a smart man with a complicated and risky plan. And that's how Red October stays relevant to modern audiences: Brainy heroes triumphing over impossible odds. "Cool action" is so easily trumped by the next action film to come down the pipeline (though obviously, director James McTiernan is quite capable in that department). The DVD includes a very honest director's commentary and a retrospective making of that interviews many in the cast and crew (Connery is all vintage footage though).

Labor Day had some pretty horrendous reviews, and that may be down to director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult) letting his fans down with a film lacking his usual twisted comedy. I don't know. I quite liked it. In lesser hands, this sentimental melodrama could have been steaming tripe, but Reitman, Winslet, Brolin and (no one ever mentions the kid, so I will) Griffith have a sensitivity that elevates the potentially ludicrous story of an escaped convict laying low with a socially anxious mom and her 12-year-old son over a long weekend and their adopting him as husband/father figure. It's the Stockholm syndrome taken to an emotional extreme, but the characters are all coming from a very real and earnest place. And their choices SHOULD be questionable. Each is motivated by a past trauma that informs their whirlwind "romance" and makes it believable. And yet, you should question that believability too. Much of this is told through the boy's eyes, and his outlook is tainted by his budding hormones and his wish to see his mother find someone. It's perhaps the reason the fugitive's back story is told in fragmented, almost impressionistic flashes; they are not part of the boy's point of view and try to interrupt the flow of his narrative, signal us to a darker truth we may or may not think is relevant. You can watch this one and take its sensual and at times moving romance as given - and embrace or reject it as per your temperament - or you can dare delve under its highly subjective surface at the truth of the emotional context that drives the characters and, ultimately, the film's narrator.

Limitless, about a writer (Bradley Cooper) who takes a super smart drug and find himself caught up in a conspiracy thriller, looks like that new Scarlett Johansson movie, Lucy, but it doesn't feature super-powers, just super-smarts. It's a perfectly entertaining sf thriller, though how his life eventually connects to the conspiracy element is somewhat contrived when you think about it. It's reasonably exciting and does interesting things with its premise, but I don't think I like its moral ambivalence. I'll grant it its central question: Would we do it? Would we take a drug like this if we could, and would our achievements be our own? But while the virtue of enhancing the human mind can be debated, the film should at least know (and show) whether the protagonist is in the right or not. Because he's telling the story and he's played by Cooper, we want to think he is, but because we don't know HOW he wants to change the world, and because we don't know just what happened during the blackouts, we can't actually be sure of that. Result: The movie may ask its question, but its own answer is glib and sweeps consequences under the rug. Not much help from the director's commentary which is rather ordinary, nor the very brief making of. The DVD includes an alternate ending that is less triumphant, but not as crisp either.

In House of Cards Season 2, we follow vice-president Frank Underwood as he struggles to take a presidency down. Now, I don't want to spoil anything, but I'm sure the first episode was a Game of Thrones-level shock for viewers who hadn't seen the British version. While I was less surprised, it's still a very cleverly done "F.U." to the audience. From there proceeds a season superior to the first, one that takes no prisoners, and has a stronger political thread for Mrs. Underwood, but also introduces (or chooses to explore) different characters and THEIR machinations. The result is a more intricate tapestry where Frank is playing on more even and challenging ground, which makes his potential victory all the more impressive. Great cast, great direction, etc. etc. I think it's finally gotten out of the shadow of the UK version for me. While Season 2's DVD set has the same frustrating packaging issues - tight sleeves so it's super-hard to get at the discs - it's actually got extras this time, including extras that should have been in Season 1! Short-ish featurettes chronicle the genesis of the show, compare the experience to the original British series, discuss different aspects including a Season 1 table read, and only on the final disc do we see behind the scenes action from Season 2. I guess they weren't ready for the first release? Well, better late than never.

Leverage Season 3 continues the good works the first two started, with more cons, more fun, and more character exploration, including revelations about the characters' past histories. A personal favorite is The Rashomon Job, which has all five recount the same heist from their perspective, and it's hilarious. So it's unfortunate that the production tries to strap a seasonal arc onto this one. I mean, it could have worked: A mysterious and untouchable international crime kingpin that must be taken down so Nate can pay for his pardon, etc. has legs. But it just doesn't work. The clues leading to Moreau over the course of the season are too few and far between (and not all that clear a trail), and this villain is kept to the end, so he's no more or less impressive than any one-off villain taken down by the Leverage crew. I'm not dissing on the season finale, which had a cool Mission: Impossible vibe to it, but it hardly needed an extended set-up. And mostly, the messenger for the arc, an Italian femme fatale, is played by Elisabetta Canalis who cannot act (at least in English) her way out of a bag. So I guess I'm thankful the arc didn't rear its boring head too often. The DVD package is similar to the previous season's, with fun cast and crew commentaries on all 16 episodes (yes, they finally get an actor or two to participate), deleted scenes, outtakes, and amusing tongue-in-cheek featurettes about the making of the show.

Well, I think the last month has gone into entirely too much detail about what I thought of K9 the Complete Series. Essentially, it suffered from stupid plots, awkward acting and a terrible recurring villain for three-fourths of the 26-episode run, so it was too late when the direction, writing and villains got better at the very end. No surprise it didn't warrant a second season, even if it had finally found its voice. The DVD's two extras are hosted by an Australian teeny-bopper children's presenter, you can imagine the type, but aren't too bad. The making of, which interviews most of the cast (John Leeson is conspicuously if understandably absent), only confirms my suspicion that the show would have been much better if they'd just set it in Sydney and had the actors use their own accents. I think it was a production and acting hurdle few managed to jump. The other extra is a jokey interview with a primadonna K9, voiced by whoever must've voiced him on set. It's silly and probably not as funny as it thinks it is.

Books: A couple years ago, I read the 6 volumes of Michael Moorcock's Elric, but there was a 7th that, not really being part of the core narrative, I kept on the shelf for a rainy day. Elric at the End of Time is a collection of shorter pieces, some related to Elric, some not, written between 1957 and 1984. Odds and ends, if you will, bu generally entertaining. The eponymous story has Elric meet time travelers and highly-advanced hedonists from the far future(?) who may be the basis for the Lords of Chaos, and a second tale takes a similar "Elric meets his God in a surreal sequence" approach. Both are interesting and filled my craving for more Elric. A large number of pages are dedicated to a very early fantasy character called Sojan, a pleasant if largely unremarkable adventure yarn that owes as much to John Carter of Mars as it does to Conan. Moorcock also includes a few essays on Elric and his mod counterpart Jerry Cornelius and how he came to create them, and rounds out the collection with a short parody of his own work. All in all, a hodgepodge, at best illuminating, usually intriguing, and at worst, a breezy pageturner.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.i. The Gravedigger Scene - Alas, Poor Yorick!


American Hawkman said...

I still think Limitless could be a REALLY interesting way to do Hourman for a revamp or reboot.

Siskoid said...

I had a similar thought!


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