This Week in Geek (4-10/09/17)


From time to time, I get a book from Sequart, as they have some fine historical/critical works on comics, like Moving Target: The History and Evolution of Green Arrow by Richard Gray, just out this year.


In theaters: Wind River is a crime thriller blanketed with snow, set on a Native reservation in Wyoming, by writer/director Taylor Sheridan (who also penned Hell or High Water). It stars Jeremy Renner as a wild life services hunter and Elizabeth Olsen as an FBI agent out of her depth in the environment, looking for those responsible for a heinous crime against a Native girl. As such, it plays as something of a ghetto story, but as Sheridan likes to remind us, America's poorest don't all live in concrete blocks. While not without humor, Wind River is nonetheless a depressing and at times disturbing piece, told in the shadow of the many undocumented disappearances of Native women both in the U.S. and in Canada. A haunting score well matches the landscape and story, and the script manages both thrills and thoughtful reflection.

At home: Adam Shankman's Hairspray, based on the musical, in turn based on John Waters' comedy of the same name, brings the Broadway experience to vibrant, colorful life, with nary a bad song, and lots of fun dance choreography besides. In 60s Baltimore, a local TV station keeps its dance shows segregated, but a pleasantly plump white girl is about to change all that, the script slyly mocking institutionalized racism all the way through, and not with much subtlety. It's too boisterous and lively for that. My only problem with the film is the casting of John Travolta as the mother. He's distracting and not a good singer, and I don't think I like the idea of casting a man in a curvy fat suit in this role just because the great drag performer Divine played her in the original. On the one hand, we had some one who Waters saw as a female performer (one who starred in many of his films); on the other, someone not at all known for that sort of thing, essentially slumming it for a stunt. An irritating stain on an otherwise fun, satirical film.

Downtown Abbey's fifth season concentrates on developing its characters more than some big plot, and when you've got this kind of ensemble cast, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Still tracking the changing world of the 20s, the upstairs and downstairs must navigate new realities and new opportunities, the big estates a world going extinct. The mark of a good character drama, I think, is when villains can become heroes, and heroes villains. At this point, does ANYONE still like Lady Mary? I'm having trouble remembering her as the romantic heroine you rooted for in the first two seasons. Meanwhile, Edith and Barrow have become sympathetic figures! But yeah, keep me downstairs so I can steer clear of Mary. The DVD includes a few featurettes, including a "100th day of filming" behind the scenes feature.

Season 6 of Downton Abbey is the final one, and I'm sort of disappointed it didn't try to play a lot more on the theme of transition the series had been chronicling for half a dozen years. Instead, the season essentially continues the subplots from Season 5 (including the decline or elevation of certain characters), and tries to find an ending for each and every one that will satisfy the crowd who was mostly watching for the Mary-Matthew romance originally. So the soap opera is catered to, but History and what writer Julian Fellowes seemed most interested in, isn't really. The less said about the boring hospital management plot the better. So it's all a bit fairy tale at the end, which seems silly. I saw this one on Netflix.

I found Nine: Nine Time Travels, a Korean time travel melodrama, absolutely addictive. This "television novel" told in 20 episodes may sometimes look and sound cheesy (as per KTV, apparently), but its plot is full of surprises, and just when you think it's run out of juice and should end, it finds a way to resurrect itself. Basically, it's the story of a news anchor with a tragic family past (and a cute and equally tragic romance in the offing) who finds nine sticks of incense that have the power to send him back in time 20 years, but can he cheat fate? Once the past starts having ideas of its own, his plans could go out the window. Over time, the show creates an entire world out of its characters and their history, one that can be mined again and again, and you have no idea what's coming next. Not without its flaws (the video look, the probably replaced music, the blurred posters because Netflix distribution doesn't have the rights presumably, and a few broad comedy performances), but it feels like a breath of fresh air to watch a long story you absolutely don't have a road map for.

Doctor Who Titles: Saw WarGames in the theater way back in 1983, but not since. Still quite watchable, it puts together two fears from the era - nuclear annihilation and hacking - and gives both an air of verisimilitude. This is the movie that taught me the word DEFCON, and the low-tech hacks perpetrated by Matthew Broderick's character look they would actually work. The A.I. that almost starts World War III is science fiction, but the rest of it seems very legit. None of that silly Hackers stuff. You might also watch it to see some actors before they became stars (like John Spencer, Michael Madsen and an uncredited William H. Macy); this was also the year Broderick and Allie Sheedy broke out), and the script is smart enough to give even the smaller parts some quirks. I thought this would be retro beyond redemption; in fact, it's a smart techno-thriller that doesn't take itself too seriously, but still has a message to impart.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... Just before the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough find themselves wondering if there could have been another way in a future war between humans and Silurians, they help a young hacker defeat a rogue A.I. that could spell the end of civilization much earlier.
Comics: I've read the first three volumes of The Last Living Boy, the web series turned handsome hardbound graphic novels from writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis, and it really went from strength to strength as it moved forward. This is the story of Erik Farrell, a 12-year-old boy from our world who wakes up in a piecemeal fantasy planet (shades of Secret Wars) with amnesia. The all-ages series tracks his adventures as he makes friends and enemies, and eventually, starts to get clues as to his origins, with just the right dash of ambiguity as to what's really going on. In the long tradition of heroes being parachuted into fantasy worlds, The Last Living Boy shows a lot of imagination, and in that sense reminds me of another Last Boy's adventures, Jack Kirby's Kamandi. By the third book, the reader should be emotionally invested as well. I sure feel sufficiently intrigued to invest in later chapters.



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