This Week in Geek (2-8/11/15)


At the movies: With Sorkin and Boyle at the helm, I had to see the latest Steve Jobs movie despite having little to no interest in the subject. Boyle is a stylish director who nevertheless transforms himself to suit whatever film he's working on, and I love Sorkin's writing. In biopic material, he seems particularly adept at finding the themes that emanate from biographical data. In this case, he plays Jobs AS the Mac (a closed system incompatible with others) and uses a daughter born out of wedlock to riff on the concepts of creator/father/destroyer (and notably, his relationship to co-creators in both cases is toxic). I found Sorkin's idiosyncratic patter a lot more noticeable here than in previous films, so critics of his television work might get annoyed. But I think the clever three-act structure - essentially three furiously-paced sequences set before one of his big launches - the unflattering portrayal that doses the Church of Jobs with some perhaps long overdue reality, and the strong performances by all involved, make this one of the box office's neglected gems, whose biggest problem is that it comes late to the Jobs biopic phenomenon.

DVDs: Going to see SPECTRE tonight, so downstairs neighbor Nath and I had to finish the Bond-a-thon we started two summers ago before going to see it. All we had left was the Craig movies, which we chugged in a couple of days. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, watched back to back gave a little more heft to the latter, though it's still a badly balanced film, with too much action up-front and too much talking in the middle. It's really an extended epilogue to Casino Royale, which remains one of the best Bonds ever - perhaps the very best Bond - just to get Bond over Vesper. And with those films, I had finally flipped the 50th Anniversary Boxed Set (pictured above). I know the Blu-Ray version has loads of extras, but the DVDs just had (usually multiple) commentary tracks (sometimes trivia tracks too). All except the Craig films that despite matching the others visually, didn't even have the same animated menus. They were just the cheap-o DVDs inserted into the set, no extras except for a stray trailer or music video. Lame. My other copies of those films have more to offer. Way to stumble at the finish. The big thick booklets don't have Skyfall, but they did leave a slot for it. I did get it separately, of course...

Revisiting Skyfall, I found it was still very clear in my memory, probably in large part due to Sam Mendes' extremely visual direction. Some of the sequences are so lush, they actually lose something on the TV screen. If Quantum walked the franchise away from the more vulnerable Bond of the novels (the exploding hotel comes to mind), Skyfall wounds him early on to "depower" him once again. Of course, the plot is still in superhero mode, and if you start thinking about Silva's plot too much, it stops being believable. What makes the audience forget and forgive is that something of import to the franchise actually happens. The theme of "getting old" and redundant plays out in Bond's story, but also in M's, and bringing in a new Q and a new Moneypenny, all smacks of regeneration. A much better 50th Anniversary film than the way Die Another Day celebrated the 40th. The DVD includes a number of featurettes, covering the title sequence, the locations, the car and the Bond girls.

If you watch Community, and there's a good chance given your obvious predilection for geekery, then you've heard of Cougar Town. But based on the title and assumed premise, you may not have watched it. Well, I took the plunge a couple of years ago and chugged the first three seasons... and like Abed, I loved it! Got the DVDs on the cheap at some point, and this week decided to do some more chugging, figuring I'd forgotten the plots and jokes. The show DID start out as a humorous exercise in "cougaring", playing off Courteney Cox's embracing of her fortysomethings and aiming for a comedy about the female midlife crisis. But though her character Jules - an obsessive mother hen and recent divorcée - dates younger men in the opening chapters of Season 1, the show soon finds its voice elsewhere, turning into a 40somethings version of Friends, only much snarkier and without the passé studio audience. Like all the best comedies, it has a lot of heart, and no matter how ridiculous the characters and situations are, the endings are heartfelt and often touching. The DVD includes a making of, a relevant Jimmy Kimmel Live sketch, a blooper reel, deleted scenes, and amusing webisodes featuring Barb, the one true Cougar of the show, giving one-liner dating advice, and a few more about golfing with Jules' ex Bobby Cobb and his bromance partner and caddy Andy.

With Season 2, Cougar Town embraces its format as an ensemble show far less centered on Jules. It's evident from the DVD cover, and in the phasing out of the ludicrous cougar Barb (who still vid-bombs the cast with a one-liner here and there) in favor of creepy and pathetic neighbor Tom, now skulking around waiting to deliver a laugh much in the way Barb did. The production now makes fun of its title in every episode (I've always loved mutable opening titles) and mostly ignores the dating scene to bring us the kind of close-knit group of friends which may mirror your own. I certainly recognize my group in there, with their silly games, bizarre inside jokes, and vicious honesty, though we really don't drink that much wine. The show is getting comfortable, which has its joys, but with comfort may come complacency, and I found myself missing the first season's edge by the end of the second. Oh and Community fans take note, Abed's cameo is in this season, episode before last. The DVD includes a making of, a blooper reel, and deleted scenes like the first season set, but does the webisodes idea much better by showcasing "Andy's Dreams", all essentially movie and TV spoofs featuring some of the cast. The series of shorts even scores its own making of.

Anyone wondering what I thought of The X-Files Season 7 hasn't been paying attention. Track back through the last month of reviews for my take on Duchovny's last full season. In short, there were some high points, and few real low points, but the series does feel like it's been idling since it moved to California. Is it me or does the sunshine hamper the show's atmosphere in all but the most UFO-in-the-desert cases? Strangely, the few episodes that score a commentary track are among the worst episodes of the lot, though Gillian Anderson gets to talk about her "all things", which was debatably good. There's also a making of that looks at key episodes, deleted scenes with optional commentary (watch them on the last disc if the "branching" option on the episodes makes you angry, as they do me), commented special effects sequences (pretty cool), all of Fox's promotional spots, and some alternate language clips (we're still doing that?).

Books: Kurt Vonnegut 's The Sirens of Titan (1959) was his second novel, an odd science-fiction story that roped him a Hugo nomination and was apparently one of Douglas Adams' influences for Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Though an early work, it could have been written at almost any time in Vonnegut's career and is very much a herald of the style and concerns that marked his more mature bibliography. Though draped in a sci-fi plot that I might have ascribed to Philip K. Dick (if Dick wrote with style), this is really an existentialist comedy, focusing on the absurdity of human history and endeavor, on the futility of free will, throwing in some Vonneguttian mockery of the military mind for good measure. Our protagonist, Malanchi Constant, meets a man unstuck in space and time, now essentially omniscient and who, as it turns out, has manipulated his entire life. Eventually, you realize that man too has been manipulated, and so have we, and it's all this big stupid onion. That's all pretty great, often amusing, well told, and it treats humanity and Earth, yes, in much the same way Douglas Adams would many years later. I do have issues with the middle part of the book where some of the characters are more or less lobotomized so Vonnegut can riff on "jar heads". While thematically correct, it's hard to stay invested when even a disreputable protagonist is no longer himself. Not one of Vonnegut's greats, but certainly good, and of interest to fans of his work and of absurdist sci-fi comedy in general.


American Hawkman said...

I was starting to think I was the only one who loved Cougar Town, at least from the Thanksgiving episode on. A great show, that I wish they'd finish collecting on DVD.

Siskoid said...

True that. Only the first three made it to printed disc.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

"though it's still a badly balanced film, with too much action up-front and too much talking in the middle. It's really an extended epilogue to Casino Royale, which remains one of the best Bonds ever - perhaps the very best Bond - just to get Bond over Vesper."

Well-said! (Except maybe still a little too generous to QoS... ;-) ). We may not agree on Trek series, but we definitely agree on Bond films. (I have yet to revisit Skyfall- strangely, my wife and I's Bond marathon ALSO stalled at the start of the Craig films, which she doesn't care for- but I hope to enjoy it as you did. And hoping Specter will be a return to the Bond of old, at least in a few (I believe the word is 'fun') aspects.)

Siskoid said...

Notes on the Bond-a-thon: We chugged Dr. No to For Your Eyes Only or so that first summer, but then, took the slow road.

I won't talk about Spectre now. See you next Sunday.


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