This Week in Geek (9-15/05/16)


In the category DVDs, Fulltime Killer, Show Me a Hero, and Shakespeare Uncovered Series 2 (couldn't wait, see below). Under books, Kyril Bonfiglioli's Don't Point That Thing at Me (the first Mortdecai novel, I did say I was interested in the source material), Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, YOLO Juliet, and Fate Worlds vol.2: Worlds in Shadow. And in the games column, the small expansion for Tsuro, Veterans of the Seas.


At the movies: Captain America Civil War is the Avengers movie Age of Ultron sadly wasn't. Or it's BvS done right (or frankly, the movie the WB tried to make to cut the grass right under Marvel's feet). Or it's the comic book event rewritten by people who actually understand the characters. Bottom line, while Captain America still drives the film - as is proper - it's an incredibly well-balanced team-up story where some 18 characters each get not one, but at least two cool/important moments without pulling focus away from the main storyline and themes. The introduction of the new Spider-Man comes close, but he's integral, naively following Iron Man while espousing, and bouncing back at Tony, Cap's opinion. Most impressive to me was Black Panther, who I thought was going to get a perfunctory introduction to tease his upcoming film (as with Spidey), but no. He's as important as Cap, Tony and Bucky, a balancing element who works through the theme of revenge and comes out on the other side at peace with himself - something neither Zemo nor Iron Man are able to do. As with most "mastermind" plots, I'm not sure it all stands up to scrutiny - there are always contrivances and outright luck in this kind of story - but cool action, a somber tone well balanced with levity, and a host of characters we're already invested in keeps things bouncing along so that you certainly don't think about any of that while watching it (certainly not on first viewing). We might have a new entry in the MCU Top 5 here.

DVDs: In Veep's fourth season, Selina has become president, but with only a few months to work with, must run for a full term. And being the first female president isn't the only way the show's reality will "make history". The writers have gone out of their way to torture this woman with every bit of constitutional research available. Of course, she's a not a GOOD president. No one on this show is good at their jobs (by which I may mean good at ethically doing their jobs, depending). And therein lies the satire. Unafraid to give the characters new roles and functions, Veep remains as fresh as it was when it premiered, and the setting simultaneously keeps it from being a mere shadow of its UK equivalent, The Thick of It. The DVD includes deleted scenes for each of its 10 episodes, which might well have made the final edit.

I wasn't expecting PBS to do a second series of Shakespeare Uncovered, but boy am I glad they did. The premise is simple: Take a great actor, and allow them to explore one of the Bard's plays with experts, other actors, and film clips. The result is a thoughtful and often personal take on Cliff's Notes, and sincerely, I wish they could eventually do ALL the plays. And I dare say, this time they got bigger names. We have Morgan Freeman on Taming of the Shrew (my favorite episode), Joseph Fiennes on Romeo and Juliet, David Harewood on Othello, Hugh Bonneville on Midsummer Night's Dream, Kim Catrall on Antony and Cleopatra, and Christopher Plummer on King Lear. On the way, the series touches on the historical realities Shakespeare dramatized, and most interestingly, other versions of the plays "adapted" by playwrights in the intervening centuries, or precursors Shakespeare himself plagiarized for plot.

1988's Heathers is the Mean Girls of its time (and one of Tina Fey's obvious inspirations) and what a weird, weird film it is. A sort of high school revenge fantasy about mean popular kids getting their just desserts, it straddles the line between black comedy and impressionistic lunacy. You're never too sure what's real and what isn't; it's its own heightened reality. Winona Ryder and Christian Slater are engaging, even if few of the other actors turn in memorable performances, and the universal high school experience should dispel the dated elements (terrible fashions, synth music) before long. Heathers leaves you with more of a smirk than a grin, but I still let out a few giggles, and being a tough comedy audience, that should be considered a success.

Books: What If? 2 is the second volume of counterfactual historical essays by various historians, that lay down the knowledge about what really happened before indulging a little or a lot in what might have happened, and often, very nearly did. Historians get so grumpy when you play what if, but even the History majors reading this will get what they enjoy. It's really an exploration of those turning points in history, details on which everything hinges. The first volume was good, but perhaps too interested in military history. The second is better for the lack of such a focus. Take Socrates, or Incan potatoes out of history, see what happens. Turning points are more political (and sometimes religious, which in history is often the same) and look at the powerful effect of Great Men and Women on history. Cool stuff that makes me want to run a time travel RPG!

Canadian writer Mike Steeves' first novel, 2015's Giving Up is made up of three... I'll call them tirades, each just one paragraph long, each paragraph running for 50-75 pages. Once a character starts sharing, he or she just doesn't stop. It's a stream of reproachful consciousness, funny and snarky, honest in a way that's often self-deceiving. James and Mary, a married couple, are each trying to achieve something impossible - with him it's his unspecified "life's work", with her it's having a baby which simply isn't working - and refusing to come to terms with that impossibility. The book is about NOT giving up, even though all the signs are there and the reader may well be shouting "GIVE UP!" right through the page, but less as a manifestation of courage than of delaying the inevitable, of procrastinating, and justifying one's lack of success at either completing or abandoning the task. So the unending paragraphs are very important because they are a sort of futile momentum. The characters can't stop talking because if they do, they might not start again, and the many digressions they undertake are akin to the procrastination they routinely undertake. Over the few hours we spend with them, they'll each get a wake-up call, and perhaps have to address their relationship... Is it just like everything else, impossible? A fun read that just propels you headlong into two characters' psyches where, God save you, you might just find a little of yourself.


snell said...

Keep the mouseover jokes.

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

i had nothing to complain about when i saw Civil War last weekend hopefully it'll hold up to scrutiny the second time around. however i can't say the same for the ROM zero issue that came out that same weekend which was Free Comic Day. what a disappointment i can't imagine it was at all to your liking Siskoid.

abc said...

Thanks for reminder about the mouseover jokes. Keep 'em! Or at least keep 'em for when you've got a good one...

Siskoid said...

SBH: Truthfully, I haven't read a new comic in like a year.

Green Luthor said...

I'd go with keeping the mouseover jokes. Even if an article is on a subject I'm not particularly interested in (for example, I've honestly never watched a single episode of Doctor Who in my life; just haven't ever gotten around to it), I'll still click it just to see the mouseovers.

Brendoon said...

"Or it's BvS done right".
Nooooo! Siskoid, allow me to admonish you in sincere shock.
Surely you're above the anti Warner conspiracy critics seem to have signed onto before the film came out?
Civil war was really good. BvS was just as good. Because I've got DC in my genes I had a more personal immersion in BvS. Like, I WAS THERE immersion.
In truth both films were as good as each other and were true to the characters in 'em. One was the Avengers ,one was Batman and Superman. I should say "as different as apples and oranges" but I could see 'em both mashed together and not see the seams.
Both were like living the comics of my 70's fanhood, though admittedly neither were "Batman Brave and the Bold"(animated)... I still dig that Adam West/George Reeve vibe we somehow lost in growing up.

(PS..I mean, I REALLY identify with Aquaman on his road trip in BATB. One constantly claims headaches to get of family outings in order to go and bash bad guys, right?)

Siskoid said...

Sorry Brendon, scroll back a few weeks to find my review of BvS. It's not a conspiracy and I didn't drink the Kool-Aid. I thought BvS was terrible. Not well made. Not well written. Not well thought-out. I kept being pulled out of the movie by the bad editing, the wrong-headedness, the lack of motivations, and the snarky jabs at both the audience. In short, I thought we had well-cast actors doing their best and deserving of a better screenplay and a better director.

Not immersive for me. Dreary, depressing, disappointing and divisive. The 4Ds of the cinematic apocalypse.

Toby'c said...

I was not quite so impressed with Civil War, for reasons summed up pretty well by Jonathan Campbell of The Agony Booth. Still great, but not a top-fiver, and right now not even a top-tenner.

I haven't seen any of Veep before, but it's recently come up on my radar thanks to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (perhaps unintentionally) copying the "Continuity with change" slogan. I may need to make time for it.

Andrew said...

First, put me in the "Keep the mouseover jokes" column.

Second, I was really surprised by how dark a story Civil War turned out to be.


Peggy's dead, Bucky's back on ice, Steve's given up his shield and he's a fugitive. Every link he still had to his past is now gone.

Pepper's gone, Rhodey's crippled, Happy hasn't been seen since he got out of the hospital. Tony has to deal with his parents' deaths again now that he knows the whole story--and he hadn't done such a good job the first time. Not to mention the lingering PTSD from the battle of New York and guilt from the Extremis debacle and that while Ultron thing. They may not be doing "Demon in a Bottle" straight, but Tony's an addict and his poison of choice is Iron Man.

Sam's again seen a comrade-in-arms shot down in front of him (remember that story he told in Winter Soldier?). That can't be good for his psyche.

Getting his mind back together means Bucky realizes just how horrific the things he did over the decades really were.

Clint and Scott probably can't go back to their families what with the whole fugitive thing.

Zemo got what he wanted. The villain won.

On the bright side, T'Challa was able to set aside his need for revenge, and Peter got a spiffy new costume and Spider-Signal. One if those things is a much bigger deal than the other.

Erich said...

I always enjoy the mouseover gags!

Brendoon said...

"Sorry Brendon, scroll back a few weeks to find my review of BvS..."

I did actually miss that, but looking back I see you gave a fair opinion:
"not a popcorn movie, you're right, but I didn't think it worked as a cerebral artistic film either."

I think it tried, which is worth a point or two.
The good thing with both movies is they've fitted in SOME moral questions amongst the entertainment. that way you get a little stimulation as well. I guess neither count as hard philosophy, which is fair too, and thank goodness. (On philosophical, why the heck is Inception ALWAYS in the bargain bin??)
I have to admit I was really only judging BVS on two things... is that REALLY Batman in a movie at last? ...instead of some reimagining, and is that REALLY Superman? I felt like my buddies had finally jumped off the page.
In the opening moments of Civil War, the portrayal of Cap and his team was a real winner too, with their special forces type of approach - it made so much sense to be run like a military squad.
I also loved the way superhumans were called "Enhanced Humans."
DC's odd "metahumans" word is a betrayal of the essence of DCness. DC has always been the main-stream of superhero goodness and "metahuman" becomes tryhard in the context.

Siskoid said...

That last point is something we hope to address eventually on the Invasion podcast.

Shlomo Ben Hungstien said...

wow Siskoid you used to be such a hard core ROM fan it kinda bums me out how ROM has fallen so far off your radar. i don't buy or other wise read new comics either and some of the early previews of IDW's ROM reboot were anything but promising but i still had to check out the ROM zero issue for Free Comic Book Day. sadly however my worst fears were realized i can't believe how even these guys managed to %&#@ it up . . .

Brendoon said...

I'm hoping to listen to the fire and water podcast shortly re BVS.

Lots of interesting points in the comments. One of yours: "We often judge films on whether or not they succeed at what they’re trying to do. If all you want to do is entertain, blow stuff up, whatever, the you may succeed where a more ambitious film crashes because its grasp far exceeds its reach."

I see what you mean... superhero stories from the 1940's up thru the 80's were MEANT to be slightly absurd. Trying to translate them into the "real world" is fraught with problems.

For capturing kellog's True-grit Superhero essence my current fave is "Batman: Brave and The Bold" with its wonderful and accurately silly portrayals of the gold and silver age(plus). So good.

Brendoon said...

A great quote from "Brave and the Bold" episode when Batman finds himself with superpowers on a parallel world, stealing the limelight from the local Batman:

"I understand. If an alien came to my planet with super powers and started parading around my city I wouldn't like it either."

I see Affleck's Batman echoing in the past. He's been there a long time!

It's also interesting that Dark Knight Returns was acknowledged as non-canon*, yet BVS is openly based on it.

(*canon in comics? Haha. Creative freedom instead.)

Brendoon said...

Trailer for Dawn o' Justice extended is out...

I'm an extended cut kinda guy. I hated the short versions of LOTR!

Siskoid said...

Except this is more of a terrible thing. ;)

Brendoon said...

Aharrr! Ye be baiting me, Siskoid.
This'll be heavenly!
I'm one of the successfully targeted market, guaranteeing overall failure of course.

In the trailer I like the angst in Supe's eyes... you see that though he's powerful he's still one guy. Like though they keep calling him a god he knows he can't do the omnipresent omniscient thing.

If you recall the early cut was 4 hrs long and probably ponderous. You also mentioned the editing was really bad in the slashed down theatrical, I highly suspect the 3 hr version will be a vastly better edit.
Jackson's LOTR theatricals suffered from cramp too, in my firm opinion. The books were slow moving, meandering and grand. Fellowship extended was as close to perfect as possible in that respect, the Hobbiton section was sublime.
LOTR second and third movies were both noisy action movies though, extending 'em helped a bit but never quite matched the literary pace of the first!

As for Hobbit, even extended they were too fast, noisy and focussed on bashing to be anything like a winter's day under a blanket by the fire with the book.

Reading LOTR has a whole different pace than reading a digest of silver age Superman though. To capture the feeling of a summer's day in a secret spot with the aforementioned trove of Wayne Boring artwork, I reckon a bit of pace in the movie is comicbook-like, (many, many comics would be accused of choppy editing if they were used as film story-boards) BUT the feeling of ultraviolet rays, endless summer holidays and naive notions of responsibility sure DO seem to be missing.

HOWEVER, a recent BIG FINISH interview with a 4th Doctor era writer had some interesting things to say about aged (Thunderbirds) fanboys trying to foist their ideas of nostalgia on a new product aimed not at them, but the kids of today. These fanboys forget they're just guests at someone else's party!
And so, I shall sip at my lemonade and stop with all the summer holiday stuff.

Brendoon said...

Cor, speaking of editing, I sure wish I could redo some o' that!
My apologies for the "drafty" sentence structure.

Siskoid said...

That's just it. I can't say "BvS is not my thing and I should let the kids have THEIR version", because it's not made for kids. Case in point the Hard R full edit.

It's not made for kids to get them to love the characters. It's not made for comic book fans who remember better days (it's in fact openly derisive of fans). It's not made for the large audience that seems to have embraced the superhero films put out by Marvel Studios and to some extent, Fox. While many, like you, like the film, I don't know that it was made for you specifically. I think it may have been made for you only accidentally.

You may be right that the choppy editing is some attempt to make it more like a comic book, because that's one of the things I hold against Snyder. He's too slavish to the source material, creates panels on screen, but has no idea how to put a FILM together. These are not the same media, and shouldn't be. Snyder copies but does not adapt, and it bugs the hell out of me.

Some movies benefit from extended cuts (Lord of the Rings, Daredevil, Blade Runner), but many don't (almost every comedy that puts out an "Unrated cut" ends up creating pacing issues that take the stuffing out of the humor). But you have to have the goods in the theatrical in the first place. You would have to take a lot OUT of BvS before I would consider it a good movie. Even if you pad this already slow-ass monster out with more scenes, they'll still abut scenes I've already seen and found objectionable. More context to those scenes might make them seem more logical, and hopefully, earned, but won't quash Snyder's cynical objectivism, which I hate with the passion of a billion burning suns.

Brendoon said...

Good comments and all true.

Some comfort to you though, Snyder's comment about why he killed Jimmy shows he knows his tenure is brief.
It'll be over soon, as always.
George Reeves lasted six seasons, Chris Reeve only four films. Richard Donner only directed one and a half of those.
Burton directed... what, two "Batmen"?
AND our new Spidey has just arrived. Lets hope he gets to stick around as long as "Huge-Ackman's" Wolvie.

Brendoon said...

" Richard Donner only directed one and a half of those."
Ooh ooh ooh!!
By the way, did you ever get to see the "Richard Donner (re)cut" of Superman II using footage from the rehearsals?
WAY different movie. WAY good! If I recall, it became my fave Chris Reeve era Supe.
It also came out on bluray which made the viewing a great experience.

If you haven't seen it I recommend the experience... It'd be brill to hear the Siskoid mind speak on that version.


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