This Week in Geek (26/10-1/11/15)


Had the pdf, but my hardcover copy of the Doctor Who RPG in Capaldi's effigy arrived this week. Such a handsome volume. And since this is the time of the year when I start stocking up on indie films from the previous year, I got Slow West, Listen Up Philip and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night on DVD.


At the movies: Not going to lie, I've been struggling to find latter-day Steven Spielberg relevant, and it's the Cohen Bros.' contribution to Bridge of Spies' script that got me buying a ticket to his latest film. Spielberg's sentimental manipulation is reigned in for the most part (a cloying moment in the epilogue still annoyed me though), and what does shine through is the funny, quirky and absurdist dialog. In fact, Bridge of Spies is surprisingly funny, given the film still manages to be both suspenseful and heartfelt. If you don't know the story, the U.S. captured and jailed a communist spy at the height of the Cold War, and the U.S.S.R. did the same to the pilot of an American spy plane. They couldn't trade prisoners officially, so a lawyer was sent to broker a deal. Cue Tom Hanks. Obviously, Spielberg uses this to comment on today's War on Terror, with the American pilot being treated inhumanely, à la Guantanamo, and with Hanks making speeches about the American justice system that fall on the deaf ears of American lynch mobs. It's all supposed to feel familiar, but he doesn't over-stress it. It's there if you want it, but it doesn't get preachy. I can honestly say I haven't liked a Spielberg film this much in more than a decade.

DVDs: Ken Finkleman's The Newsroom (not Aaron Sorkin's) ends on a very weird, even mystifying note in its third season. And things were going so well too. Season 3 has just 6 episodes, and the smaller number actually helps the series. The satire is crisper, the stories are more about how news is packaged than Producer George's terribleness as a person (though that's there too), and there are some interesting élans of metatext. But that last episode... Finkleman has never played by the rulebook. Season 1, for example, ended with an episode where the characters were suddenly running for office instead of running a news show. Season 2 resurrected someone who had died on screen with no explanation, and changed its format to a mockumentary in the last few episodes. In this case though, the experiment comes off as pretentious and irrelevant despite a strong bookend structure. The whole thing is an animated dream with several layers, playing on the staging of Kurosawa's Rashomon but not its famous structure, and telling a story that really doesn't involve any of the show's characters. A frustrating way to end it! The DVD includes a good commentary track on the first ep, and the raw footage and animatics for that darned finale.

Books: The Sunday Philosophers Club is the first in another series by The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency's Alexander McCall Smith and features the same charming tone, with an improbable lady sleuth, a large cast of characters, and a well-drawn location. The protagonist, Isabel Dalhousie, is the editor of an ethics journal operating in the culturata of Edinburgh in Scotland. In her first adventure, she gets into trouble investigating a wrongful death and in a subplot, the worthiness of her niece's boyfriend. It's all perfectly charming and there are some great lines, but you know, I'm just not sure I like Isabel as a person. Like McCall Smith's more famous detective, Mma Ramotswe, she looks for the ethical solution, separating law and justice. But her philosophical musings come across as intellectual justifications for her decisions, and her involvement really comes from nosiness. I'm interested in reading further chapters of the story, but mostly, I'll admit, to see if she learns a harsh lesson down the line.



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