This Week in Geek (29/09-05/10/14)

Buys

Two DVD buys: Blindness (because I'm reading the book and damn, I don't know how you adapt it into a film) and Arrow Season 2 (better get a move on if I want to watch the Flash when it premieres). I also got my hard copy of the Fifth Doctor Sourcebook from Cubicle 7. Flipping through the pdf version made available months ago, I felt a little let down - seemed the weakest of the books yet published, but it's still a handsome publication.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Given my interest in time travel, I was surprised I'd never seen The Butterfly Effect. Now I almost wish I hadn't. The premise is one I could really get my teeth into, but unfortunately, the movie breaks its own time travel rules, usually because it seems to think it's a horror film. Well, what should I have expected from the writer-directors of some Final Destination films? Basically, the whole enterprise is sunk by the need for shock horror. If the intent is to make the audience squirm, then yes, a kiddie porn element is totally the way to go, guys. This is a bleak, bleak film where people resort to violence much too easily, and where things happen because SENSATIONALISM! At least the directors' cut ending is as bleak as as the rest. The theatrical cut's is happier and less believable. The deleted scenes will show you even happier possibilities that wouldn't have fit the film at all, unless you really do think this is a romantic comedy in disguise. Now, I make it sound worse than it is. When The Butterfly Effect taps into its premise, it's clever and interesting, and Ashton Kutcher is obviously likeable in the lead. A shame that it forgets itself so often. The DVD is problematic too, one of those "branching" InifiniFilm things that DVD watchers hate so much. The saving grace is that you needn't watch the movie and press the button for a few minutes of making of here, a deleted scene or storyboard there, because they've all been edited together in larger featurettes available in their own menu. Nothing too great, just the usual making of stuff, plus talking head material about chaos theory, time travel and psychology from experts in those fields. The disc also features a commentary track by the writer-directors, and a "fact [subtitle] track" that's best left alone because the "facts" are irrelevant to the film (see knife, get Ginsu information, that kind of silly thing). Oh, there's DVD-ROM content as well (script-to-screen, image gallery, etc.), but guys, if I can't play it on my TV, I don't think I care.

Friend and neighbor Marty is watching one post-2000 horror flick a day in October, so I went downstairs to watch one of them. Why? Because Canadian director Bruce McDonald is my guy, and I didn't even know he'd made a horror film. That film is Pontypool (it's a town in Ontario, but the nonsense wordery of it all features in the story), more or less a zombie movie seen/heard from a radio station's perspective. Based on a book, McDonald produced it both as a film and as a radio play in parallel, and you might well come out of it thinking it was more radio play than film. Very spare, a single location, and only a small number of actors, and a puzzle story unfolding through what feels more like a character study. The threat, once revealed, feels like something out of Doctor Who, an unusual take on the zombie trope, and for me at least, the protagonists' solutions worked (but prepare to by mystified by the post-credits clip, classic McDonald). In many ways this was the reverse of every McDonald film I've seen. Instead of a road movie, we're trapped in one space. Instead of rock'n'roll, it's talk radio. And instead of a raw, grainy look, it's slick and polished. What we're really left of his style is the attitude that you can do a lot with little means. He's created another offbeat film I'd like to revisit some day.

Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters got four Oscars and certainly features one of his strongest casts, but I didn't fall in love with it. The film follows the lives and loves of the title characters and the men who love them, over the course of a year or two, many of them getting in on the narration. It's well-observed and actor-driven (indeed, a lot of the actors are PLAYING actors), frequently funny, and no surprise, uses New York to full advantage as a location. I suppose what bothered me about it is that it felt strangely unfocused. We spend an inordinate amount of time with Woody Allen's own character, a fidgety TV executive having an existential crisis, and yet, that's where the best comedy comes from and what best delivers the film's theme that life is meant to be lived, and passions meant to be followed. Perhaps what charmed audiences in 1986 was the clash of two different films crashing into each other like that. I'm not saying it doesn't work, only that it didn't quite do it for me. Warning: A couple of very brief moments have aged badly and may make modern audiences cringe; won't get into it, but it's got to do with Allen's later personal life.

You're used to me trashing the Babylon 5 DVD sets every 24 days or so, and Season 4 ("No Surrender, No Retreat") isn't coded any better. Ugly menus, blurry scenes (though the CG with no live action in it is sharper than in previous sets), and opening credits that fail to change when the broadcast version's did. For the content, well, you've got 3-4 weeks of daily posts to riffle through to find out what I thought, but it may be enough to say this is ultimately the most exciting season of Babylon 5 because they didn't know they were getting a fifth and crammed everything in this one. Don't know what that leaves for the fifth season they DID get, but there you go. This set covers two huge climactic wars - with the Shadows and with the forces of corrupt Earth - so have at it. The DVD includes, as usual, commentary tracks on three key episodes (one with the cast having lots of fun, one with JMS and director Michael Vejar, and one with JMS alone). There's also an introduction to the season retrospectively described by cast and crew, featurettes on the music of Babylon 5, a gag reel, and the usual "data files" that don't had very much to the experience.

RPGs: Still working on that role-playing for dummies campaign - using AD&D 2nd's Planescape - and another complete n00b, Isabelle, generated a character just last night. I was warned that she would likely try to go in insane, incoherent directions - and having played board games with her, I believe it - but her Tiefling Charlatan (a con man aspect of the Bard class) Betsy du Baril (Betsy Barrelbottom AKA Betsy the Bastard) is pretty legit. Incredibly charismatic and intelligent thanks to strong dice rolls, she was nevertheless given poor Wisdom to tie into her membership in the Society of Sensation, and we were already making jokes about the character eating stuff she shouldn't (visual aid: Isabelle's dog doing the same when he got bored with our chargen session). Given the two characters we now have, my challenge as GM becomes clearer: There's so much "neutrality" between the two characters (a Priest of a ruthless god and a career criminal, neither Good nor Evil) that adventure hooks will not be based on classic heroism. That's atypical of my campaigns.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Branagh '96

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