This Week in Geek (27/11-03/12/17)


In theaters: There's a lot to unpack in Greta Gerwig's solo directing debut. The semi-autobiographical Lady Bird is a sensitive and truthful coming of age movie that digs deep into mother-daughter relationships, but it's also about coming from a small town and wanting to leave ASAP. It's a drama where you might recognize yourself, but it's a wry comedy too, with a lot of knowing smiles and laughs. Gerwig gives even the smallest character a nice moment. If there's a theme here, it's that no matter how much you rebel against it, you can't really deny where you came from. Saoirse Ronan's character has renamed herself "Lady Bird", has problems with her mother (a great performance from Laurie Metcalf), can't wait to leave Sacramento for college, etc. But through a novelistic accumulation of evidence, we're meant to understand that these rejections are futile, and that you can't exactly reinvent yourself from scratch. Thoughtful, funny, sad, and beautiful.

At home: Fronted by Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw and Dominic West, The Hour is a BBC show about a hard-hitting news show in the late 1950s, tonally somewhere between Mad Men and The Newsroom. Each of the its two 6-episode series feels and looks very different, with Cold War concerns represented in the first by muted colors and spy thriller elements, the second instead concentrating on gangland, vice, corruption and scandal, and looking slick and colorful in comparison (Peter Capaldi also joins the cast, so there was that to look forward to). Well-acted, directed and plotted, with an eye towards at once accurately representing the bygone era of television and commenting on today. My one complaint is that the show feels the need to also cater to the "lives and loves" of its characters, producing soapy drama that, while it does tie into the action, still takes away from the more engaging journalistic procedural and thriller elements.

Before anyone thinks I've gone mad (or madder), I didn't actually watch four seasons of the CW superhero shows this week. I've been hacking away at them for a few weeks, using the suggested order, flipping between one and the other. So naturally, I finished the 2016-2017 season of each show around the same time.

Flash Season 3 starts with Flashpoint (urg), the fruit of the show's hare-brained ideas about time travel that will come to haunt the entire season, and inject some of the 14-year-old angst that frustrates me about the CW superhero shows (urg again). That said, the "save the cheerleader" plot is an interesting outgrowth of those events, and manages a few surprises (some you might guess, some not) towards the very end. The season has a musical episode that's kind of fun, and a lot of Killer Frost stuff that isn't. I hope that Savitar will be the last "evil speedster" Barry needs to fight and that future seasons will find a different Big Bad for its seasonal arc. As for the convolutions required to keep Tom Cavanagh on the show, I half hope they'll pick one and stick with it, and half wish they go even crazier with it in the future. The DVD includes deleted scenes, the usual Comic-Con panel, a gag reel, a short taped conversation with Kevin Smith (who directed another episode), a full suite of featurettes on the musical episode and the regular scoring of the show (involved and interesting), and bits on the Rogues, the Invasion event, and time travel. One thing I'll say is that the choice of comics images in the featurettes is absolutely AWFUL, and rarely pictures what's actually being discussed. Not a problem on the other shows' extras, but in Flash, it elicits nerd rage.

With the Time Masters gone, Legends of Tomorrow Season 2 has the heroes act as time police, at least until the CW's greatest villains team up to quest for the Spear of Destiny and change reality in their favor, which makes for an engaging, and often insane storyline. Vixen and Steel join the cast, which puts us just one Aquaman or Batman away from having the whole JLDetroit in the Arrowverse, though the latter has the emotional maturity of a tween (there's always at least one 14 year old!). The show's take on time travel doesn't quite match the Flash's, which is kind of irksome, but it's entirely mad. We're not far from Bill & Ted here folks, and I for one don't really mind. Of course, the past is almost always represented by the same well-groomed forest park... That could use some work. Legends works best when it doesn't take itself seriously, and that's really what they're going for - case in point, when they let Heat Wave have the recap/show intro. The DVD includes deleted scenes, ye olde Comic-Con panel, a gag reel, and a featurette on the Invasion crossover.

With Season 2, Supergirl makes some important changes, sometimes with the wave of a magic wand, like the new D.E.O. and the replacement of Max Lord with the friendlier and more complex Lena Luthor. The show's biggest lost is Cat Grant, however, who really was one of the best things about the series; she's replaced by a reimagined Snapper Carr, editor-in-chief of CatCo's newspaper. The focus of the season is on alien refugees from all over who apparently live in National City, and threats to THEM more so than FROM them, which makes the series surprisingly well-grounded in current events. Mon-El is a main character this season, a Daxamite dudebro with feelings for Kara, problematic at first, but since his story leads up to the best action episode the CW's done (the season's penultimate episode), all is forgiven. Some good development for Alex, but as she's the CW trademark 14-year-old, everything they built they kept destroying again. Sigh. The DVD includes deleted scenes, quick trivia about the cast and show, a commentary track on the Kevin Smith episode, featurettes on Invasion, aliens, and fights, and the same Kevin Smith convo that's in the Flash package. For once the Comic-Con panel isn't rubbish; this one is sincere, touching and funny. I wish it had been edited down less!

With the flashbacks to the island (and beyond) always 5 years behind the contemporary story, Arrow Season 5 promises to tie the loop on Lian Yu, not just in terms of the flashback, but by making the story about Oliver's past coming back to haunt him. Having him build a team of vigilantes (Wild Dog, an early irritant, becomes the best character of the lot), electing him mayor, giving him an incredibly smart, manipulative villain in Prometheus... I think all of that works, especially the latter, taking us to a maddeningly effective season cliffhanger. The season's big weakness is the Russian flashback, which seems to move at a snail's pace, and despite its ties to the present, never really engages. I couldn't care less about that chapter of Ollie's life. So maybe it's for the best that we're done with the five missing years. The DVD includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, a Comic-Con panel, and featurettes on Invasion, the new team, and the arc villain.

The Italian Job (2003) is more spiritual successor than either remake or sequel, and while we can be cynical and call it a cash-in on the Ocean's Eleven remake's success, or an extended car commercial, it's a rather fun popcorn movie with an affable cast, and more importantly, cool and crazy heist plans that go disastrously awry. It's not reinventing the genre, it's riding the waves made by the genre's well-worn tropes. Now, it IS kind of disappointing that the eponymous job is essentially a prologue, with the action moving to Los Angeles (talk about "well-worn") for the main action. The film does a fair job of using that location to best effect - the traffic jams, for example), but a lot of it could have been set just about anywhere with subways and underground tunnels. So it doesn't exactly escape the criticism of being "generic". And structurally, though I love to see plans go wrong, sometimes they throw the baby out with the bathwater, making certain sequences less than relevant to the end game.

On the surface of it, Duplicity's ambitions seem to be those of a romcom, albeit in the dangerous world of industrial espionage, with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen veterans of the genre. But Tony Gilroy isn't a romcom director, and we soon realize that this is a much more complex story in which one never knows who to trust, including the two leads themselves. Are they playing their employers/marks? Or each other? Or is the truth even more complicated? Because it IS a complicated story, or perhaps I should use the epithet "confusing", one we come to understand through a series of extended flashbacks, which makes the front half a bit difficult to follow. I felt satisfied with the conclusion, and with the way the theme of trust was handled, and perhaps that's enough. I just can't shake the feeling the story could have been told with more clarity.

Doctor Who Titles: 1992's Mindwarp (AKA Brain Ripper) starts out with an interesting premise - a society where everyone's plugged into VR bliss - then sends its disobeying heroine to the outside world for some Mad Max-type action with B-movie king Bruce Campbell. With a title like that, you sort of expect the third act Philip K. Dick twist, but this is a movie without a third act. I understand that as one of the few flicks put out by Fangoria Films, it's got to feature freaky make-ups and gore, but Mindwarp just gets LOST in that stuff and forgets it needs to wrap things up satisfactorily. So before you can say "uhm, what?", it's over. The belated twists don't even make sense, because the movie doesn't know how POV works. Well, at least Bruce Campbell met his wife on set, so SOMEone got something out of it.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 7th Doctor and Ace may or may not be in a virtual reality (that's very Doc7), but Ace makes quick friends with Judy anyway, and loves to kick cannibal mutant ass.

Audio: With the Companion Chronicles, Big Finish could have companions tell a story from the perspective of later in their timelines. With the new Early Adventures, the actors are forced to channel their parts as they were back in the day. For some, that's nigh impossible, and I think Simon Guerrier's The Black Hole suffers a little from that. On the one hand, and not to be unkind, but Debbie Watling no longer has Victoria Waterfield's voice. On the other, while Frazer Hines does a fine 2nd Doctor, it's hard here to tell that and his own performance as Jamie apart. Plus, this is a very complicated script that tries to explain Season 6B, uses an old foe of the Doctor's, has a timey-wimey structure, and almost doesn't have time for its final act villains. I had to track back and listen to some parts several times to make sure I got it. That's not to say it's a complete disappointment. It's got a lot of interesting ideas, and you can't really go wrong with David Warner as narrator. But perhaps it just tries to do too much, eh?


Anonymous said...

The CW has not been a good influence on "Supergirl", but nevertheless the show remains true to what it should be. Kara helps people because she thinks people are worth it, full stop. She's not motivated by any deeper angst, though there is certainly all kinds of tragedy in her past that she simply refuses to get mired in.

The other heroes could stand to be more like Supergirl.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I've been really liking the CW shows too; the 4-part crossover last week was really well done (which I guess you'll get to when the DVDs come out). I like the character growth that Alex is getting, and even Barry has become less of a douche lately. Your JLDetroit comment was funny, but you forgot about Zatanna; personally I'd love to see her as a regular, maybe on Supergirl where her magic would be a good contrast to the usual super-science.

I know you hate spoilers, so without being specific, I'll just say Flash does have a new Big Bad this season ... and not one I normally associate with the character.

Mike W.


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