This Week in Geek (18-24/05/15)


Bought a DVD, it was Tracks. Bought a video game, it was Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.


DVDs: Predestination, based on the possibly misleadingly-titled Robert Heinlein short story "All You Zombies", is the kind of film that would suffer if I said anything about it at all. There's almost nothing that wouldn't feel like a spoiler to me. So what CAN I say? I can say that it's an intricate time travel story. I can say, because it's right there in the title, that it's about predestination paradoxes. I can say that it has a twisted structure with stories told inside stories that's true to that concept, but that while I made a big case out of not spoiling any surprises, I've absorbed too many time travel stories in my life to not have been a step or two ahead of the film most of the way through. But there's a certain delight in figuring out the puzzle as it unfolds, so that wasn't a problem, especially given the performances of the small cast of actors (both Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook are excellent) and the film noir atmosphere. The twisted journey can be more important that the destination. The DVD includes a short making of featurette and a gag reel.

Moving on to more time travel, I was surprised to discover the Continuum TV series, already three seasons in. Given my predilection for the genre, why wasn't I aware of its existence? The premise owes something to Terminator a terrorists from the 2070s escape the death penalty by traveling back in time to the present day where they hope to make the Corporate State they were fighting against collapse before it can happen. They accidentally (or perhaps not so accidentally given the show's own predestination paradoxes) bring super-cop Kiera Cameron (played by Rachel Nichols) who soon connects with her tech's future inventor Alec (a id who is a dead ringer for his older self, William B. "The Cigarette Smoking Man" Davis) and the Vancouver police department (it's wonderful to see Vancouver - the sci-fi TV capital of the world - playing ITSELF for a change), from which she means to stage a counter-offensive to keep the future and her family safe. As Season 1 progresses, we discover that history may well be "fixed", but that doesn't we can't enjoy seeing HOW events will inevitably unfold. Interesting mysteries, strong action, a neat-looking future which we regularly go back to in flashbacks, Continuum is a show I want to keep up with (Season 2 is already on my shelf), and I'm hoping it doesn't stick to a police procedural format going forward. The premise certainly allows for mutations. If I have a complaint, it's that the cinematography does this weird blurry thing around the edges of the screen, which I'm not sure is altogether motivated by the idea that this is another world for the main character. The DVD has commentary tracks on the first and last episodes, and a number of bonus features - interviews with cast and crew, an effects reel, commented production design/effects tests, and a discussion on crafting the future.

You know how studio execs keep saying female-led superhero movies wouldn't work? Luc Besson's Lucy is a kind of answer to that, and most of the criticism I've seen about this movie is that the science/premise is preposterous. These reviews just don't get this IS a superhero movie. It's Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, then as Jean Gray, then as Dr. Manhattan. So of course, it's insane. It needs to be. Besson's particular brand of nonsense works for me because it's the closest the Western world is producing to Hong Kong cinema, which I love. But this IS more about ideas than characters. Evolution, human potential, humanity's divinity, our responsibility to ourselves, the big picture vs. the small... all very interesting, but because Lucy is always in a state of becoming, there's no stable character there to hold onto. Scarjo does a good job with it though, playing someone who tries to hold on to her humanity even as it slips away. Effects and action aside, it's really part of that strand of SF that gave us films like X the Man with the X-Ray Eyes or Altered States. The DVD's one feature talks to scientists about the brain's potential (in an effort to counter criticisms?), but it doesn't make me believe any more in the superhero science.

One superhero movie that's been forced on me by my i-MUST-CheckMovies Project is Kick-Ass, a film that interested me about as much as the Mark Millar comic, which is to say, not at all. I won't say it was terrible, but it wasn't good either, and I think I know why: It doesn't embrace any aspect of itself fully. It's got too many flights of fancy to work as a "what if superheroes really existed" story. It's too serious to work as a parody or satire of the genre, and yet too outrageous to work as a straight superhero film. Hit-Girl, the one "kick-ass" character has some great moves... if you can take a 12-year-old murdering her way through the film. The satire isn't sharp enough to make that work (like say, Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America). It's just patented Millar shock-o-rama, which will always come off as cynical to me. The better version of this whole idea is Super with Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page, which came out the same year. Now THAT'S a clever film.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is a rather incredible film by Steve Coogan. It means to be an adaptation of an actual 16th-century novel that's a comedic exercise in digression, thematically about the chaos of life and the impossibility of representing it fully and truthfully in fiction. An impossible endeavor, so the movie becomes just as digressive, equal parts movie footage and hilarious behind the scenes mockumentary, some of which mirrors the themes and events of the book, but also filled with unrelated background noise because that's part of the point. It's rather brilliant, and at the very least, captures what it's like to be in a hotel with a team of creative types for an extended period. I was actually smelling it. A great postmodernist historical comedy that keeps its audience interested by shifting between the ludicrous Tristram movie and the improvisational(ish) stylings of its great cast of actors in the behind the scenes portions.

Season 9 of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has more of the same thing fans of the show have always liked - this isn't a show about characters changing over time. They don't learn lessons and that's why they're such horrible human beings. The stand-out episodes this season are the high-concept ones, like The Gang Saves the Day, where the each imagine how they would handle a hold-up (with eye-popping martial arts action, in Mac's case!), and the offensive Lethal Weapon 6 parody (which amusingly, has a commentary track by the characters, not the actors). My favorite idea, however, is from The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award, which has a fun meta-vibe, where they visit other bars (and thus, shows) which follow television's more mainstream tropes. A stronger season than we've had in a while I think. The DVD includes commentary tracks on a few key episodes, a gag reel, a featurette on making it to 100 episodes, additional takes, and full footage of bits that were originally cut with reaction shots.



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