This Week in Geek (6-12/09/20)

"Accomplishments"

At home: The First Purge feels more prophetic than it did in 2018, but then, the time frame would be much closer to us as it shows the prototype for Purge Night. If you listen to the news broadcasts at the top of the movie though, the buzz words are right out of 2020's news cycle, and the images of violence on the streets will certain evoke what we've been seeing out of major American cities re: rioting cops. Brrr. So what WAS the secret origin of the Purge? Well, would you believe it's all built on a lie? Of course it is. Set on Statten Island, the first experiment isn't all that different from some of the other films in the series - a cast of characters from poor backgrounds try to survive the night and/or take action against the elite. There's even a bit of home invasion phobia that harks back to the first film (but has always been a part of the series' DNA). I continue to find interest in these things and don't ask too much finesse from them. Since we know the New Founding Fathers went ahead with their nationwide initiative, it does make some of the heroic action futile in a sense, but I find the actors involved watchable enough to care what happens to their characters.

I saw Iceman in theaters when I was 12 or 13, and I remember being quite struck by it. So tragic! I think I may have shouted "PITA!!!!" a lot after this. And while my adult brain didn't think it too exciting, I still have a lot of affection for it. For most audiences, I think it will depend on whether or not they are fans of caveman movies. Because let's face it, having one (or all, in the case of things like Quest for Fire) characters communicate with grunts and sign language isn't everyone's cup of tea. In this case, there's only one Neanderthal, found in the ice by a scientific expedition in the Arctic. He is someone revived (they make you believe it), but it is not then a fish out of water integration story (à la Encino Man). Rather, this is one of those scientific examination films that tries to truthfully answer the question as to how we would handle such a discovery. It thus has more in common with, say, Born Free than it does Captain America. Timothy Hutton is the empathetic anthropologist who reaches out to "Charley", and cold Lindsay Crouse thaws out a bit more than usual after a while as the doctor who sees an opportunity for other kinds of research. Charley has his own agenda, and part of the mystery is understanding it. Nice exotic-sounding score. Not keen on the cheesy slow-mo in the climax, but overall, this is a thoughtful science-fiction film and I still appreciate it.

A small, but entertaining film out of Nigeria, The Lost Okoroshi might be described as African Kafka, as a man dreaming of spirits gets caught by one of them and wakes up AS that spirit, the Okoroshi. And though he is at first still himself, he eventually feels compelled to act as the spirit would, dancing rapturously, punishing the wicked, and getting snared by cultural activists who know the folklore. We do spend a half hour with the character before any of that happens, to familiarize ourselves with his world - the city of Lagos - that is especially unfamiliar to Western audiences I would assume. Director Abba Makama has a lot of fun with his silent Okoroshi figure and how people react to it, which is also obvious in the gonzo direction, but there is a strong tragic quality to the film as well. Because quite clearly, this is about the clash between cultural roots and modernity and the sense of a loss, a corruption, is felt throughout (so it's not necessary to hang a sign on it at the end). From the techno music playing over ancestral spirits, to the Western reactions some people have to the Okoroshi, to the conversations about cognitive dissonance and ill health in the city. Makama finds both humor and tragedy in the disconnectedness created by colonization.

Personally, it seems like a mistake to call Welcome to Me a comedy just because Kristen Wiig is in it. It smacks of the absurd and can be taken as satire, but the core of the story is actually pretty heavy. At its "funniest", it is at best cringe-worthy and troubling. Wiig plays a woman with mental health issues who wins a massive amount on the lottery and, in an unmedicated state, decides to blow it on her own television show. Her take on "Oprah" is essentially therapy on screen, pure emotional exhibitionism, the kind of train wreck television that tends to become a hit in the Reality TV era. In that sense, it satirizes television's exploitative relationship with reality, and people's toxic need to define themselves through its lens. But it's really more of a portrait of mental illness gone unchecked, and your appreciation of it may depend on your familiarity with some of the issues. I met a woman with bipolar disorder in the context of an oral presentation competition who came off exactly as Wiig does here, strikingly so, and the film explores the self-centeredness related to mental illness, which may be at least in part created by the therapy process. But it's also a film about compassion, and even the more mercenary characters in the film let themselves be moved in ths way. Plus, really great cast, I couldn't ALL these people were in such an obscure little film. FAVORITE OF THE WEEK

I don't care if a movie is made on the very cheap, so long as it has an engaging story, and A Promise of Time Travel does. For most of the run time, it seems true to its title, more about a series of heists to get to a fabled time machine than about time travel itself, though peppered with discussions on time as a concept (though never too pretentiously). But there's still something strange going on, and the audience will discover that it WAS a time travel puzzle movie all along. It's interesting than alphabetically, the movie would follow Predestination and Primer on the time travel shelf because it has a lot in common with those movies, though it's easier to decode. Liberal use of flashbacks makes sure of that, but as they're part of the narrative and the theme from the beginning, I don't resent them the way I have similar practices in other films. I found April Grace Lowe quite effective in the lead role, and the movie is a lot more intriguing than its low production values seem to predict.

Altered Hours is another of those cheaply made indie time travel puzzle thrillers I seem to be a sucker for. In this one, a crazy new drug sends a junky back and forth through time inside his own head in a 3 days space. What he sees of the future is disturbing and desperate to stop it, he only seems to make sure they happen. This is a fixed history narrative, but with the hope of actually changing things for the better. Is history immutable, or is it all in our interpretation of the glimpses we see? There's actually an interesting play there with the bleak existentialism of the predestination theory and the idea of free will, one that mirrors the addict's story, doomed to play out a fate dictated by a painful memory unless he can get off the merry-go-round. And can you do that alone, or will you need help? Deeper than it first appears. On a pure nuts and bolts level, I do find the ending a bit schizophrenic, with last minute twists and a tonally dubious button. But that may be my interest in strict fixed history talking, even if I don't completely resent the message here.

In 2:22, Michiel Huisman's character has an uncanny ability to see patterns in the every day, and a few days before a supernova's energies hits Earth, he starts noticing disturbing patterns that might almost qualify this as a time loop movie, ending at 2:22 PM every day with an explosive event. Along with the bad luck comes the good, and there's just no way for him to explain the various coincidences converging on his life. I'm not sure the movie has entirely decided on an explanation, mind you, and our interpreters could be wrong at various moments. Essentially, all the New Age bunk - astrology, reincarnation, destiny - seems to be real, so I just sat back, relaxed, and took it as a Twilight Zone story, not a hard sci-fi one (in the least). If I can enjoy Battlestar Galactica, I can enjoy this. In any case, I liked the Huisman/Teresa Palmer romantic pairing, I liked the investigation of unexplainable phenomena, and the movie was nice to look at. Wouldn't it have been amazing if the climax had occurred at 2:22 when I watched it? If you want to freak someone out, I did the math, start the movie a few seconds shy of 12:54 PM for just the right frisson.

In 1972, Leonard Nimoy starred in a failed television pilot called Baffled!, in which he played a psychic race car driver and playboy, solving supernatural mysteries with his occultist Gal Friday played by Susan Hampshire. Intriguingly, this was shot in England, and so stars a number of recognizable British actors (for Doctor Who fans, Christopher "Jago" Benjamin and Milton "Castellan Kelner" Johns), as well as some nice locations. One imagines that had it gone to series, the show would have featured the two leads faced with different mystical shenanigans in week, and Nimoy somehow finding a way to get into a car chase each time (sadly, the process shots are most awkward). As to whether it would have stayed UK based or gone to cheap Californian locations, I can't say. Not a bad mystery at 90s minutes, with a definite Agatha Christie vibe, but the final twist is right out of Scooby-Doo. And I don't mean that in a good way.

Some classic MST3K movies, regardless of comedy commentary... The Killer Shrews tries to convince you shrews are the piranha of the rodent world, but I rather think they're dogs who can't jump a wooden fence; only gets fun in the third act. Best as I can make it, Hercules Unchained is called that because despite being married, Herc gets memory wiped so he can boogie with an evil queen (and his bride gets propositioned every few minutes); otherwise a typical Italian sword and sandals picaresque. Next, Indestructible Man? More like Over-Narrated Man! The Magic Sword isn't too bad! It's even better if you think of it as happening in the world of Bewitched. Herc takes on Atlantis in Hercules and the Captive Women, which at least has big epic effects to distract from the as-usual narcoleptic Hercules.

Books: Jack Kirby's Dingbat Love is a TwoMorrow's volume, springing out of their Kirby Collector magazine, that reprints some of the King of Comics' lost DC projects. There's True-Life Divorce, which was supposed to modernize and revitalize the romance genre. There's Soul Love, a romance magazine aimed at African-American readers. And there's issues 2 and 3 of The Dingbats of Danger Street, a boy gang comic that first appeared in 1st Issue Special and never again. I certainly knew how DC shafted Kirby with the comics he DID publish, pulling the rug out from under him with the Fourth World and forcing him onto books he'd agreed to launch but not continue (Demon, Kamandi), and having inkers redraw his faces. All the while, people were stealing and selling his pages right out of the Marvel and DC vaults. The essays in the book follow up on that theme, discussing adult magazines that were the whole REASON he went over to DC and how little faith the publishers had in any of them, downgrading the project's quality, refusing him co-writers even though divorce and the black experience were alien to him, and pulling the same bait and switch tactics they did on better-known books. It really feels like all they wanted to do was draw Kirby away from Marvel and call it a day. There was no commitment to him once they had. The lost material is presented in a variety of ways. Sometimes with finished inks and modern colorization. Sometimes in pencils. Sometimes inked with the liquid paper showing where faces were altered. Editor Jack Morrow presents an issue of Soul Love as it might have appeared if Kirby had had its way, with glossy colors, text pieces and ads. The best part for me was Dingbats, where we get fold-outs and on the last issue, comparisons between pencils and inks, because it's more action-based and the stories are of course longer. I felt invested and wanted more. And that's the whole point, isn't it?

Role-playing: Bit of a quickie this week on the Star Trek Adventures front, bit of a rush. And I hope none of that has been because I've been ribbing GM Ryan about being many many sessions in, but still being in the "pilot". On a meta-textual level, we had to deal with a player no longer being able to play for scheduling reasons. When the character is acting captain and kind of the all-arounder of the group, it creates problems, but if we had to bail out of the story suddenly, it's probably because much of it hung on his own personal subplot/drama. In a way, that's useful, because then we can say the story is the reason he gets drummed out of the "show". But I bet he had better piloting stats than the rest of us had - good thing that was a "parallel reality" where I crashed a Jem'Hadar fighter into our own nacelle pylon... Whether the end of the story or not, it seems to have left us with continuing mysteries and a lot of housekeeping to take care of, including 300 extra people who were never supposed to be aboard the Beckett, and now that we're on the back end of the Gamma Quadrant, we REALLY have no room for them. Stand by for Voyager done right...?

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