This Week in Geek (12-18/11/12)


A few DVD buys this week, including Doctor Who's The Claws of Axos Special Edition, Lu Chuan's City of Life and Death, and The Best Red vs. Blue DVD Ever. Of All Time. (on the promise of new material for less than 5 bucks).


At the movies: Went to see Skyfall this week, a film that both pays tribute to the past, re-casting some classic characters from the franchise and winking at past continuity, while simultaneously treating Bond as a pill-popping, alcoholic man haunted by demons, just Casino Royale had some wonderfully done. The franchise is celebrating its 50th anniversary by looking back and looking forward, and by allowing its lead to feel old and passé, so that he can reaffirm his relevance for the next half-century. While there are some great locations and action set pieces, Skyfall actually feels very down to Earth, gritty and intimate. A lot of the action takes place in Britain. The stakes have an international dimension, but are more personal. And if there's a Bond girl here, it's Judi Dench's M. She's never had this big a role before, and it's entirely worth it. It's probably no surprise that Javier Bardem makes a cool Bond villain - he and Craig have plenty of chemistry - and Sam Mendes brings his visual style to bear and makes Skyfall one of the most interesting Bond films to outright analyze. If I'm keeping this short, it's because I don't want to spoil anyone who hasn't yet seen it. This one is important to the future of the franchise, in terms of both character development and incidents.

Also saw The Man with the Iron Fists, the RZA's homage to Shaw Brothers-style martial arts films. I thought it would be geared more towards comedy, but no, it really owes more to Chang Cheh's clan warfare films. Like those movies, everyone has their own highly unusual style and weapons, the violence is extremely gory (the film was co-written and co-produced by Eli Roth, so), and the female characters are only ever allowed to be prostitutes (not quite true here, and those roles are much bigger and memorable than Chang would ever have allowed). But it's not humorless! Byron Mann's villain approaches George Takei levels of camp charm, and Russell Crowe, never usually my favorite, steals the show as "Jack Knife". Don't look for the RZA's blacksmith/narrator character to show much emotion though, he only ever has a single expression. The Man with the Iron Fists is a highly entertaining film whether you get the genre references or not, though some may find the gore and explicit sexuality (all the more shocking because it's done without nudity) hard on their sensibilities. I'll be more than happy to add the DVD to my collection when it comes out.

DVDs: I was always a fan of Sarah Polley as an actress, but Take This Waltz makes me a fan of her writing and direction as well. This is easily one of my favorite films I've seen this year. Michelle Williams plays a listless married woman, Margot, who considers cheating on her rather immature husband (Seth Rogen) with a free spirit who recently moved across the street (Luke Kirby). A simple story, but one that transcends its premise, each scene well-observed and poetically shot. Polley's Toronto is summery in a way that is quite unusual for Canadian cinema, just gorgeous, and there's a bit of a squee moment for this Atlantic Canadian when the film starts out at Louisbourg. There's an ambiguity to the film that makes you wonder if certain scenes are actually happening as presented (or at all), or if they're part of Margot's imagination, but I think both interpretations flow into one another, both possible and neither completely true. This may help mitigate some of the criticism that this film somehow glorifies adultery (it SO doesn't, thanks for missing the point), because it may not even be happening. What it does is make each of its characters sympathetic and real - the childish silliness in Williams and Rogen's marriage feels particularly true and un-Hollywoodian - flaws and all. The DVD includes an hour-long making of in which the participants discuss the themes, their characters and their experience along with behind the scenes footage. It's quite good without spoiling the film's every ambiguity.

At only 18 episodes, many of which never even aired, Freaks and Geeks definitely ended before its time, and yet, it manages to be a satisfying experience. If you don't know it, and I can't stress how much I recommend you soon do, this 1999 high school series that takes place in 1980 is about the people these kinds of shows are never about - the eponymous geeks (nerds, brains and the gymnasium inept) and freaks (burnouts, stoners and problem kids). It does so in an incredibly naturalistic way that will remind you of your own teenager anxieties and heartaches, and give a voice to people who are either never seen in teen shows, or written as clichés. The pilot, and then almost every other episode, had me laughing out loud AND tearing up within the space of 45 minutes. It features, among others, Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, James Franco, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen and Busy Phillips, and it's really too bad these kids never did anything after that... A most realistic look at high school (no glammed up 20somethings playing teens) facing real issues and yet managing charm and humor. The DVD package, made 5 years after the show ended, is excellent as well, with some 29 commentaries (so two on almost every episode), including some concept ones (the actors' parents, fans, the teachers in character), that tell the show's story without the need for a making of. Each episode also features deleted scenes and outtakes (with and without commentary), audition tapes, and behind the scenes elements that bring out the fun atmosphere on a set filled with kids. Even the booklet is worth a read. An immediate favorite, folks.

RPGs: We had a fun chargen (character generation) session for not one, but TWO upcoming games, neither of which I'm GMing (unusually). Fellow gamer Furn is working on a Mass Effect campaign that would run parallel to the video game storyline, using a combination of various Savage Worlds conversions. My character is heavily based on Keith Laumer's cowboy diplomat Retief of the CDT, and I, in fact, called him Retief. Part James Bond, part James T. Kirk, and 90% talk, I plan to make him an incorrigible bastard, a guy who breaks all the rules, but somehow gets the job done. In the same game, Pout's going to play a veteran bruiser/tank, and St-Pierre a tech expert with Jedi tricks (or whatever it is in Mass Effect, I've never played the game nor plan to). Then came characters for Pout's In Nomine game. My character will be St.Christopher, a reincarnated patron of travelers who is only now remembering his role in the War between Heaven and Hell, and extremely reluctant to get back to it. He's a drifter, fate constantly forcing him to move whenever he tries to nest. The other characters will try to make sure I don't get corrupted, including Furn's human soldier, a redneck junkyard artist, and St-Pierre's speed freak celestial who is clearly there to keep us both in line. Can't wait to move beyond chargen.

Zines: Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games #9 is the Historical Issue, and goes into good detail about how to run historical and pseudo-historical adventures in Doctor Who RPGs, and offers a number of such scenarios for your characters to play through, using events such as the American Revolutionary War, the sinking of the Titanic, the Gold Rush and the Chernobyl Disaster. The purely historical among them do highlight the difficulties associated with such adventures and doesn't quite manage to address them. The Titanic module, for example, leaves me wondering how the players will know that history is off-track in the first place. Setting "future history" on the right track is also given some space, with a Firefly crossover scenario that should be fun for Whovian Browncoats (yet still work within the Whoniverse for non-fans). The issue also encourages you to make your own history, with articles on staging period photos of your character and advice on running games with first-time players (and includes those players' reactions). Unrelated articles include toy and magazine reviews, suggestions and recipes for gaming food (some with a Who element), some sound advice on creating building maps, a critical failure table for diplomacy in the FASA system, and some short, unusual and picture-filled event reports. Come for the well-researched scenarios, stay for the advice columns and the rest.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iv. The Closet Scene - Kline '90

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Checkmate to Conqueror of the Barren Earth.


idiotbrigade said...

St-Pierre opted for the Engineer actually, so he has no Jedi tricks. Tech powers are essentially just the 22nd century equivalent of superscience; PDAs made of hard light constructs, used to create anything from electonic warfare in computer systems to outright regular warfare (combat drones.)

Basically he's playing Sharl again, but with technomancy instead of regular ol' sorcery. And I mean that. the powers really are just swapped in name only.

It's gonna be fun-on-a-bun!

De said...

Freaks and Geeks was the first time I willfully shelled out over $100 for a DVD set. In this case, it was for the limited edition yearbook set (which was eventually available to all *sigh*). One of the finest television series ever produced and one of the finest DVD packages ever produced.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised and pleased by the relevance of Skyfall's title. When I first heard of it, I expected another plot involving an orbiting doomsday weapon, but...

Siskoid said...

After watching all those old Guy Hamilton Bonds recently, I thought the same thing!

Austin Gorton said...

Freaks and Geeks has been on my to-watch list for far too long.

Really enjoyed Skyfall. Bardem was fantastic, and I really liked the visual flair Mendes brought to it.

Siskoid said...

My recommendation for F&G couldn't be any stronger.

LiamKav said...

Curious as to your decision not to play Mass Effect. Is it a time thing, or does the scenario just not appeal?

I played as Female Shepard, which resulted in one of the freshest gaming experiences ever, where the fact that the lead was female was almost completely irrelevent. Which was great. Also, Jennifer Hale.

Siskoid said...

I am just not much of a video gamer. I don't have much time to play, and don't care for most video game genres. I had a roommate who played Mass Effect, and its combination of controlling allies and conversation menus didn't much interest me. I don't like video game RPGs much at all, and while Mass Effect isn't quite Skyrim, it's enough like it to bore me.


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