This Week in Geek (9-15/03/15)


I got the 2011 edition of the Broadway show Company on DVD (see below, I didn't wait very long to pop it in the machine), and a couple board games, the co-op Lord of the Rings, and most happily, Tokaido (which we played and found very easy to learn and pleasant to play, and fitted well the hotel/motel/inn theme of the week, as you'll see....).


At the movies: I thought the original was sweet film about dealing with a major change in one's life, but The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which returns to India and the stellar cast, is, I think, more entertaining. Part of it is revisiting with the memorable characters of the first film, but it's also more romantic, funnier, and hey, has a Bollywood dance number in it. Director John Madden has correctly identified what we liked about the first film, and cranked those elements up, while also exploring an interesting theme. "Second Best" is really about potential, how much there is of it, and how it doesn't do anyone any good if it isn't fully reached. For the seniors in the story, that potential seems to be running out... or is it? The original was really Judi Dench's and Tom Wilkinson's movie, but this time around, the MVPs are the great Maggie Smith and Dev Patel, both hilarious, especially as a double act. I'll even forgive Richard Gere's presence in this. So there.

DVDs: From hotel to motel... My Hitchcock-a-thon brought me to one of only two films I'd previously seen in my boxed set - Psycho. If Vertigo is Hitchcock at his most artistic, in Psycho, he is at his most iconic. I hadn't seen it in decades, so it managed to surprise me all over again. With its technical mastery. With its intriguing shots. With its bold breaking of the rules of screenwriting. With Janet Leigh's intense performance. I don't think I'll be spoiling anyone after 55 years - duly warned anyway - but the reason the shift in protagonists works is because Janet Leigh's character actually completes her arc in the time she's allowed (which is a lot more than you remember anyway), and that she acts as a distorted mirror of Norman Bates, a soul fighting against itself and wracked with guilt. And both fall prey to the same overwhelming, monstrous entity. The DVD extras are disappointing however. This is the first disc in the set that doesn't include a making of. All the extras are instead vintage material, like a fun tour of the set with Hitchcock himself, a featurette on the publicity campaign, the shower scene without the music for comparison, trailers and lots of pictures and art. That hardly seems enough, y'know?

The last hotel-related film of the week was Holiday Inn, a 1942 musical with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, and the film "White Christmas" was written for (it would go on to become the best-selling song of all time). The conceit is amusing, Crosby opens an inn that's only open on specific holidays, and so the action skips from holiday to holiday, which is no doubt why some were chosen over others. Otherwise, it's a love triangle between a singer, a dancer and a girl who can do both, giving structure to what is essentially a variety show (that includes, it must be said, a rather horrifying number in black face, but I'm perhaps even more put off by the 4th of July "our army at war" montage; both are products of their day). But an enjoyable experience nonetheless, with some interesting staging, especially the dance numbers - Fred Astaire is the Jackie Chan of musicals after all. It gets a little bit meta towards the end, which I always enjoy as well.

The other musical I watched this week was the 2011 production of Stephen Sondheim's Company with Neil Patrick Harris in the lead, and lots of surprisingly effective TV stars, including Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer and in a sad-hilarious turn, Christina Hendricks. I know people these days will remember Sondheim's more fantastical works first - Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd - but (and I'm not really an expert) Company might well be his masterwork. Here's a musical about what it means to be married, and what it means not to be, with a non-linear narrative and characters presented in vignettes, laugh-out-loud funny but nevertheless rather depressing. It shouldn't work, but does. I like the staging, with the New York Philharmonic right on the stage and almost part of the action, and the actors give textured, memorable performances that dramatize very well the play's inherent dichotomies, its joy and cynicism, and its presentation of an unattainable ideal.

As you've now seen, I've just finished the Alien Nation series, so you need only go back over the last three weeks to get my opinion of this set's 22 episodes. Generally, I quite liked it. The strong premise and thematic episodes were at their best when Newcomer culture was explored, and when it failed, it was usually from over-reliance on cliched buddy cop TV tropes. The DVD set includes a commentary track on the pilot, with director/showrunner Kenneth Johnson an affable, enthusiastic speaker, and his stories paint a pretty good picture of the hows and whys of the series. There's also a behind the scenes featurette that talks to the actors on the set or on location, mostly during the pilot, so obviously something used to promote the program at the time.

Audios: Gods and Monsters by Alan Barnes and Mike Maddox isn't just the finale to the 2012 7th Doctor trio of audios from Big Finish, it's kind of the finale for every 7th Doctor audio since 2009. It features the greatest 7th Doctor villain of all time, Fenric, but some other Elder Gods as well, in a story that's full of twists and turns, some surreal, some tragic, some continuity porn, but always interesting, and the 7th Doctor's audio adventures will never be the same again! That's all I really want to say, lest I spoil some of the surprises, but it gets rather touching, and way you think you've seen the last twist, there's another one beyond it. In fact, when the music starts up for the last time, don't press Stop. There's a final tease that will drive you crazy. So is it a finale, or just the beginning?

Bernice Summerfield and the Criminal Code is a Companion Chronicle narrated by Lisa Bowerman as Bennie, written by one of my favorite audio writers, Eddie Robson. On a planet where the 7th Doctor is conducting diplomatic negotiations, Bernice comes across the mystery of a forbidden language, and soon gets entangled in a government cover-up. The truth of the situation is pretty cool, though if you've read the old Missing Adventures novels, there are strong echoes of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Even so, it's a story well told, a mystery well laid out, and a bit of ambiguity at the end to stimulate the old gray cells. Given that Bernice Summerfield has had her own range of audios, and that Bowerman is a prolific director for Big Finish, it's a wonder we haven't gotten more Chronicles with her in the lead. A wonder, and a shame.

When Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989, a 27th season had been planned. Big Finish finally produced these scripts (so major differences, but when you have the original writers on hand, that's easier to do) as Lost Adventures. Marc Platt's Thin Ice is based on his script for Ice Time, an Ice Warrior story in the swinging 60s which would have seen the Doctor sponsor Ace at the Time Lord Academy. Obviously, with all the novels and audios that have Ace in them, she doesn't leave at the end of Thin Ice, but they still use the element in an interesting way. The main story itself is pretty good too, with scenes in Moscow, an unusual heist, the return of a great Martian figure from history, and a bit of soap opera on the side. So much going on, I sometimes got a bit lost (where are they now?), but not enough to call it confusing or anything. Its rapid pace just doesn't allow for much straying attention.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. Duel and Deaths - Slings & Arrows



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