This Week in Geek (28/05-03/06/18)

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: As an origin story, Solo works a bit too hard to weave in everything a prequel MIGHT have used from Han's backstory and improbably features almost EVERYTHING is the span of a single adventure. Well, they were never gonna make a hundred of these, I don't really mind, and there's still room to grow his disillusionment in a possible sequel. Fact is, this is a perfectly acceptable space cowboys movie, with lots of action, a heist element (but sadly not all in on the tropes), and not without its insight into Solo's character (compare Leia, Rey and Qu'ra, for example). Alden Ehrenreich is likewise fine in the role, but it's Donald Glover channeling Billy Dee Williams as Lando that's truly great. That voice! My only real gripe is the lighting, which is mostly dingy and hazy, the faces in gray shadow practically at all times. All other flaws - structure, dialog, continuity implants - are those I'm used to with Star Wars films in general, and get a pass. Bottom line: Would I watch a sequel? Yes. Does this make me want to revisit the other movies with this context in mind? Sure.

At home: X-Men: Apocalypse, set in 1983, pushes its luck when the kids go to Return of the Jedi and come out of it saying "the third one is always the worst". It's meant to take a potshot at The Last Stand, but Apocalypse itself is the third of the new cycle, one that, as of Days, has wiped the first three films' events from history, more or less, and for what? For THIS? First off, in almost every case, the original actors have been replaced by much less interesting specimens (I guess Storm is the exception, as Halle Berry was terrible; might say J-Law, but she hates the role and phones it in; and yes, McAvoy and Fassbender are good, but technically less interesting than Stewart and McKellen). Second, the film is bloated with scenes we don't need, like a whole side-trip to Stryker's facility just so we can have a Wolverine cameo. And Apocalypse? One of those villains from the comics that I just can't stand, equal to himself in the sense that he has all sorts of unconnected powers and is boring as hell. Oscar Isaac is unrecognizable under the make-up and voice distortion, so why even hire him? The movie is basically just two factions assembling teams, then having them fight, which is nothing the franchise hasn't already done. So it kind of coasts on your good will for characters whose names you recognize. The X-franchise belongs to X-Force now, time for the main franchise to rest so it can be MCU-ed into something that doesn't take the comics' bug as a feature, i.e. its convoluted continuity.

Independence Day: Resurgence doesn't seem to know it came out 20 years after its predecessor. It says it does, as it takes place 20 years later, presumably in a world devoid of landmarks, but director Roland Emerich (part of my trifecta of unwatchables, with Michael Bay and Zack Snyder) is pretty sure you JUST saw ID4, because he fails to put any of the relationships back in context. We meet a billion characters, and some might have a relationship to the ones from the first movie, I'm not always sure. In any case, ID4-2 keeps cutting from thing to thing, with characters popping up without so much as a word as to how they got there, the plot lacking so much linking material, you can hardly feel it's there. And if the original was physics-optional, this one doesn't even GIVE you the option. The alien ship is literally as big as the moon and sits itself down over the entire Atlantic Rim. A lot of shooting and destruction porn ensue. To be fair, ID4 INVENTED destruction porn, so it makes sense for this one to indulge, and while those moments are sometimes imaginative, the characters characteristically look on with a faint smile as if millions of people weren't being killed. I guess that's the essence of destruction porn. A few crazy/cool moments aside (the city bombing, the kaiju queen), this is just one big impenetrable mess.

When xXx originally came out, it was touted as the 90s XTREME version of James Bond. If so, then xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is one of the sillier Moore or Brosnan outings, stunts, chases and fights barely connected by plot tissue, but a tone that allows by never taking itself too seriously. I'd even say it was pretty amusing at times. Post-Fast and Furious, Vin Diesel makes sure this is now ABOUT FAMILY, and so it may be more proper to say it's Mission: Impossible XTREME, with various characters coming in to help Xander Cage as part of the xXx "program". There's added value to putting Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa in it as antagonists as well. So what's the story? Some runaround trying to get one's hands on a MacGuffin. It really doesn't matter. And you'll have likely forgotten it the next day.

I've never seen Justin Simien's Dear White People - the MOVIE - but it adapts real well to the television format. Using both comedy and drama, this examination of race relations on an Ivy League campus follows a large cast of (brilliant) characters, each getting their time as a point of view character. The series doesn't mind doubling back on itself, showing events from different perspectives, as "understand the other" is really what it's about. It is actively political, but no more so than sitting in front of Twitter for half an hour, and indeed, the series takes some of its cues from social media where alt-trolls reign and privilege tries to drown out diversity voices. Season 1 (or Volume 1, as it calls itself) presents the characters and mostly centers around a blackface party held at a frat house, and with Volume 2, we start to get into the history of the college, as an avenue into systemic racism. However, it wouldn't work without great and witty characters to invest in, and DWP certainly offers that. What it DOESN'T offer is easy answers. Whether black or white or something else, it will ask you to examine your own behavior and perspective, even as you enjoy the laughs, the tears and the soap.

I'm used to Brooklyn Nine-Nine's format by now, and I know getting out of the previous year's cliffhanger will be done within a couple episodes. It was true of Season 4's witness protection program plot, and it's true of this last season's prison term for Jake. And even so, I kind of resent the efficacy of the resolution. Not that there's no fun to be had at the precinct, but putting Jake in other kinds of crime fiction opens the show up to taking down a new batch of macho tropes that I don't think 2 episodes really do justice too. Moving on from there, B99 continues to tickle, charm, intrigue and tweak the heartstrings. In this season, a character comes out as bisexual, two of the cast get married, and Captain Holt sets his sights on the Commissioner's office. I hope he gets it, if only for the Batman jokes. Best episode: "The Box".

The Toys That Made Us released its second batch of 4 episodes, documenting the history, this time, of Star Trek toys, Transformers, Lego, and Hello Kitty. With Star Trek, it's really the story of a failure, either to strike when the iron was hot, or to do it badly, depending on the era. And that adds some variety to the show. Transformers is the most like the best of the first half, with toy wars and weird origins, ups and downs, etc. The season is also less American for it, with the Hello Kitty phenomenon and Lego also taking us abroad. Overall, either the bloom is off the rose or this back half is weaker than the front. Maybe a little bit of columns A and B. The sometimes puerile humor was less agreeable to me this time around, with bits of interview used as comedy sampling to the point of annoyance (this, I'll admit, is partly because someone I know was complaining about it last year), and the narrative drive of some of the episodes doesn't seem as strong. Still, a fun documentary series about something that otherwise doesn't get much love. They need to do a role-playing game version of this, I'd watch the hell out of it.

Doctor Who Titles: Romans is a heavy film about a self-loathing demolition worker (Orlando Bloom) who was once abused by a priest. Now that he's working on an old church, it's all coming back to haunt him (along with other timely triggers), sending his life into a spiral. Relatively low on plot and eschewing strict formula, Romans is more of a character study, and takes its cues from the book it's named after, asking whether we can forgive even this clergyman's act, and even if we can, must we? In no way would I place this in the "Christian" section of the video store (i.e. movies specifically made for Christians, which I normally find bland and cheesy, and obsessed with demagoguery), but it is definitely a film about Scripture, thoughtful though dark and uncompromising.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 12th Doctor and Bill are investigating something evil that used to be trapped under that church, but are more sickened by the evil that men do than anything alien or supernatural.

Moonbase is a cheap 90s science-fiction thriller with pre-Star Wars effects about dangerous convicts who escape a space prison and take the personnel of a moonbase hostage. Some Die Harding ensues, though it's not quite that formula either. Scott Plank makes a competent action hero, and on the other side of the moral divide, Robert "Gowron" O'Reilly chews up the scenery as the terrorists' leader. It's not a great movie, but it's not bad for what it is either. What it lacks in originality and production values, it makes up for by at least having a working plot and some dependable character actors.
#The TARDIS lands in the film... The 8th Doctor and Sam are first seen as intruders themselves, but they're soon helping the moonbase defeat the real threat. The Doctor's used to this environment anyway.

Books: China Miéville's first novel, King Rat, does feel like it's his first, but only because the prose is weaker - too many extended descriptions of characters moving around London (in unusual ways, but still). Nevertheless, it is very much a Miéville novel, with a living, breathing setting (if perhaps over-familiar to urban fantasy fans), socialist ideas, and imaginative fantasy ideas married into a larger theme (in this case, the son as extension and destruction of the father). It's the story of Saul, who discovers he's in the line of succession to become the rat king, ever at odds with the Pier Piper of Hamelin. This backstreet coming of age eventually plays around with the Drum and Bass club scene in London is a pretty cool way, and if I wasn't too convinced by the early chapters, ends on such a perfect note, that I forgive it its faults.

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