This Week in Geek (8-14/12/14)

Buys

Because I love Leverage, I got some Leverage shirts, one for each "position" on a Leverage team.

"Accomplishments"

At the movies: The Theory of Everything's trailer was unrepentantly romantic, and while the biopic's vision of Stephen Hawking and his wife (whose autobiography this is based on) isn't quite that rose-colored, the film is definitely unrepentant in its romanticism. It's a love story first, and a story about science second. It avoids being too cheesy thanks to some incredible performances from both stars and some interesting direction from James Marsh (possible drinking game: circles). Obviously, representing Hawking's physical deterioration and then showing emotion through the most minimal of expressions is an incredible feat for Eddie Redmayne, but it's Felicity Jones I found riveting; she generally has more to play. The parts are definitely stronger than the sum.

DVDs: 31 indie SF films in 31 days... That's still going on. Coherence (my Sunday selection) was a nice surprise. I guess the best way to describe it is as Schrodinger's dinner party. Friends experience a strange event when a comet passes too close to the Earth and must, as the movie progresses, figure out what's going on before parallel dinner parties start intruding. It's exactly the kind of puzzle movie you can do with the genre absent any kind of budget. Even the casting is done on a shoestring, with various TV stars you forgot all about popping in (including Nick Brendon from Buffy in a somewhat meta role). Recommended for fans of Community; they'll understand why. And if you like to overthink things, there's one version of events that's a real twister (but I think the truth is more simpler, personally).

Time Travel Monday, I watched Happy Accidents, a quirky romance with Marisa Tomei and Vincent D'onofrio. She's a neurotic New York gal with terrible luck with men; he's a time traveler from the 25th century trying to integrate into our time. OR he's a country boy who's suffered a mental breakdown. Or... both? The movie keeps jerking her and us around as trust in this strange man and his story rises and falls. Definitely funny and  charming, and if you're principally coming to this as a time travel fan (though the poster/DVD cover/ title doesn't reveal the film's nature), you'll find the sort of puzzly goodness you're expecting from the genre. My thanks to Another Kind of Distance, the time travel podcast, for suggesting this one.

Mad Science Tuesday... The Signal starts out as hacker movie where the three principals are decoding messages and following a mysterious signal to its source somewhere in the desert. Apprehended by Area 51-ish personnel, the film turns into a strange, Kafkaesque prison/madhouse puzzle movie, where it's most interesting. The third act, however, completely loses the plot, and more importantly, the tone. Suddenly, it's a big budget special effects-fest, with slow-mo action and lots of gunfire. And here you were thinking the entire budget was spent on Laurence Fishburne's salary. The movie can't even claim to have defied my expectations with its final twist, not really. And it had started so well... But hey, this is the first (and to date, only) of my 31 films I was disappointed with.

From Astronaut Wednesday, I start an international tour... Cargo is a German space opera thriller about an abandoned Earth, humanity living in huge space stations, except for the select few able to colonize the planet Rhea, and a ship's mysterious destination and even more mysterious cargo. Cargo shows what can be done with CG on a smaller budget, and in its live action creates a believable, lived-in world, and it's cool to see a super-SF future (dystopian though it is, it's still got spaceships) where they don't speak English. I wouldn't call the plot airtight exactly, nor is the twist completely unexpected, but there's enough suspense, paranoia, action and atmosphere to keep the flaws from becoming too obvious. Chief among these is the protagonist's choices in the last act, but I don't find them particularly suspect. She's a movie character, and movie characters will choose freedom and truth over whatever status quo is presented. I didn't question it.

ApocaThursday next takes us to Australia and The Rover. Grungy Guy Pearce is a man obsessed with recovering his car from jackers in the Outback 10 years after a massive economic crash. He's eventually joined in his quest by a near-unrecognizable Robert Pattinson, playing the jacker's dim-witted brother. It's a desperate, remorseless world that kicks its characters when they're down. Bleak, but with moments of pitch black comedy. And while a superficial analysis might pretend the film goes from postapocalyptic incident to incident, that's an impression driven by the protagonist being a man of so few words. In reality, there's a lot more a stake here. What happens to humanity when civilization can no longer dole out consequences, and to morality when survival encourages us to treat each other like animals?

No theme on Friday, just movies that interest my usual Friday movie club, so... Gareth Edwards' Monsters is a low-budget attempt at a giant monster movie, but I was actually surprised at how much of the spidersquids we see. The focus is rather on the two protagonists' introspective trek through Mexico's "infected zone", coming so close to death, they can't help but take stock of their lives. Edwards is actually pretty smart with his creatures, establishing them with brief TV clips, signs and urban art before we ever get a good look at them. The real "monster" however, is America's foreign policy. Whether we're talking about how it closes its borders, bombs Mexico, and in general makes the creatures more hostile, there's a whole lot of subtext there.

And some romance on Saturday... Code 46 uses Shanghai as its primary location (told you, world tour), playing in 2003 the same trick as Her last year, using the strange cityscape and predicted economic supremacy of China, to create the future in visual strokes. But the script does a lot of world-building as well, proposing a future where genetic science is so advanced tailored viruses can give you traits like super-empathy or even affect your memories, and enough of humanity was conceived in vitro that mating is closely monitored so you don't accidentally sleep with your mom. Something like this happens to the lead characters played by Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton - with other references pointing to the Oedipus myth, in case you're wondering. It's a rich future, with a meshing of language and ethnicity speaking to a united if somewhat oppressed humanity. I went in not knowing what to expect, but it's turned out to be one of this film list's more interesting experiments in futurism.

Audio: Babblesphere by Jonathan Morris is easily my favorite entry in Big Finish/AudioGo's Destiny of the Doctors' series. This fourth Doctor story features Lalla "Romana II" Ward as able narrator (not surprisingly, she nails her Doctor's haughty arrogance and flippancy), and takes social media to a dystopian extreme with a planet where everyone shares their most trivial thoughts mentally, hashtags and all. The script has fun with the idea, and is witty besides, though the heavy-handed satire can seem unnecessarily preachy to habitual users of social media (and at this point, what Doctor Who fan isn't?). But if there's a flaw, it's really Ward's use of an irritating speech impediment to denote one particular character. Not a game breaker. And by this point, it's quite clear Doc11 is the one photo-bombing each story. I suppose it'll all connect in the last audio.

Smoke and Mirrors by Steve Lyons is the same series' fifth Doctor audio, also featuring Harry Houdini, the Master, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, the latter of which narrates the story. Or rather, Janet Fielding does. I hate to say this, but her Australian accent actually creates an issue. Unlike - and I know this isn't a fair comparison - Frazer Hines, who can differentiate Scottish Jamie from his English narration as well as other characters' voices, Fielding gives us Aussie versions of everyone. In the Companion Chronicles, where Tegan might be telling the story, that's not as much of a problem. But with Fielding talking about Tegan in the third person, who's who can sometimes get muddled. That story is a good collage of various Doctor Who tropes - a historical guest star, a fairground, mind control - to the point where it feels a little redundant. I kept imagining Snakedance. The saving grace is Houdini's complex relationship with the Doctor. We've heard the Doctor talk about the escape artist often enough this meeting adds much to the canon.

Gaming: I can now be revealed, though only my improv peeps will really care - I've crafted a Fiasco playset about the improv tournament experience (in French), full of things we've lived through over the years, though specifically referenced last year's extended stay in Edmundston after a blizzard struck. It's called #Edmundstuck, and I've already gifted it to many, mailed it to others, and am making it available in pdf via this blog. HERE IT IS. It was fun and easy enough that I might design more, and in English, some time in the future. I just need the right idea. I don't expect #Edmundstuck will see a lot of play, even among those who can understand it, but it's a neat novelty souvenir.

Websites: This week, my local comic book/gaming store the Comic Hunter, asked me if I wanted to contribute comics reviews to its blog - essentially cross-posting what I was already doing here, though I've tweaked the content and may provide original articles as well - and I accepted. After all, it's a kickass store, well worth your patronage if you're ever in the Moncton area. I'm proposing a weekly series called "Siskoid Tries New Comics". I hope local comics fans will find it useful. The blog is ComicHunter.net.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. Duel and Deaths

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