This Week in Geek (9-15/12/13)


DVDs: I've never seen Jumanji, but the similarly-themed Zathura was a fun family film I think may be underrated by science fantasy fans. I particularly respect director Jon Favreau's use of practical effects over CG, which gives the film a nostalgic, but very solid feel, and the kids have a reality to them that makes the "moral" about feuding siblings and the importance of getting along come alive. It's pretty incredible just how much of the movie the two younger kids have to carry on their shoulders, with narry an adult in shot for vast swathes of time. While the plotting seems random (just as the game is), each random encounter actually adds a crucial piece to the world and becomes important in later chapters. Call me impressed. The DVD has some nice features too. Favreau and his producer provide insightful commentary, and the featurettes (which together make up a long making of documentary) cover everything from how the book inspired the film, to casting, production, creature effects, miniatures, and the design of the game itself.

Another film inspired by an unusual book is The Tracey Fragments, which Canadian director Bruce McDonald recently made into an even more unusual film starring Ellen Page. McDonald started out as Atom Egoyan's editor and it shows. This is maverick editing to be sure. The 15-year-old title character narrates her story, which deals with her running away from home after losing her baby brother in the woods. The editing works like Tracey's mind works, using split screen to juxtapose ideas and memories, lingering on sensual details, crafting rock'n'roll fantasies that put into question her point of view and honesty, and requiring us to actively put the fragments together to puzzle out just what happened to this girl. And for all the experimentation, it's not art house opacity. I think anyone can enjoy the twisted coming of age story, the dark comedy and the clever montage. The DVD includes a rather brief making of, a photo gallery, and the results of an editing contest for which McDonald had put his raw footage online and allowed would-be editors to make their own trailers, reedited scenes or music videos. The winner and runner-ups are all here and do something interesting with the material.

Lone Wolf and Cub's 5th film, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons is the one without rape or female nudity. I feel I need to mention this because that was the biggest criticism I had about the previous four films in the series. Even the violence seems tamer or at least, less exploitative. Despite this notable difference, Baby Cart in the Land of Demons still retains the artful style of the previous installments and spare soundscapes. I kept being reminded of Tarantino and Samurai Jack because, well, this is the original source material. The penultimate story in the sequence is laughably convoluted, requiring the title assassin to defeat five clansmen in turn to get the entire contract they want placed on a corrupt abbot's head. There's also a fun subplot in which the Cub gives his word of honor to a female pickpocket, part of the running theme of Baby Cart's relationship to proxy mothers. Only one left now. I can smell the revenge.

Audio: George Mann's The Pyralis Effect would fit perfectly in the Bidmead era of the show, and that's not a compliment, folks. Lalla Ward does a good enough job reprising her role as Romana in this Big Finish audio, and does a pretty good Doctor from her era, but if there's something we don't need more of, it's Doc4 and Romana2 walking around a spaceship. This is pretty much all that happens for the first 15 minutes before any other character is spotted. The idea that the ship personnel are waiting for a legendary Doctor to show up has promise, but then the alien threat du jour shows up, and because Romana knows all about it, you're left wondering if this isn't a sequel of some sort. As far as I know, it isn't, and the Pyralis haven't appeared before. Remarkably forgettable despite a couple of strong visual moments (or descriptions of them, at any rate).

Nigel Fairs' The Time Vampire... Uhh, what?! Okay, let me preface by saying I would listen to Louise Jameson read the phonebook, and that Leela is my favorite companion of all time. Let me further say that John Leeson as K9 here is much more on point than in the Fourth Doctor's 2nd Big Finish series where he's somehow too high-pitched. And if you're into the whole Z'nai thing, with elder Leela their prisoner for years, the ending here is absolutely crucial, and if even you're not, it's still a magical, transcendent moment, just wonderful. Plus, there's a lot of fun to be had with the Doctor getting unstuck in time, present in multiples and/or living these moments out of order. HOWEVER! I kept wondering what was happening half the time. It's more than the story puzzle, or that perhaps Leela can't quite put temporal paradoxes into words, it's that the plot is messy and at times undecipherable. I'm sure there's clarity to be had by listening a second or third time, but the first time through makes you question whether it would be worth the effort. That, and no matter how good the two actors are, their use of outrageous accents to identify the guest cast goes way too far. It's a shame, though I do expect I'll find the patience to get through it again some day.

The Invasion of E-Space by Andrew Smith is unusually set during the E-Space trilogy, adding a good shot at getting back to N-space that we just never heard about. The audio is actually a two-hander, with Lalla Ward as Romana and Suanne Braun as an officer of the E-space planet being attacked by savage Farrian raiders from our universe. While Romana has some interesting things to say about Adric (he's well used here) and gets to do a lot of the action, it's often the other point of view that's most engaging, related as official testimony in the events of this adventure, and looking at the characters we know with outsiders' eyes. There is no such device for Romana's part of the tale, which seems slightly incoherent to me. Either there's a justification for our hearing the story, or there isn't. Mixing these two approaches seems strange.

Ferril's Folly by Peter Anghelides is a similar two-hander, this one shared between Mary Tamm as the first Romana and Madeleine Potter as Lady Ferril, the story's antagonist. The latter is very distracting because her American accent is pretty awful and her voice sounds a heck of a lot like Nicola Bryant's. It sounds like TV's Peri, but not quite as good at mastering the accent (and that's saying something). But that could probably be forgiven if it didn't sound like her dialogue was prose meant to be read, not heard. Strangely, Romana's half doesn't have the same idiosyncrasies. Anyway, it's a not very memorable story about an astronaut possessed by magnetic nanomites or something. About the only thing that's interesting here is how they managed to fit a story into the Key to Time season without adding a segment, but that hardly justifies the expense.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
IV.vii. Claudius' Seduction - BBC '80

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Superman Unchained to Swamp Thing.


Kal said...

If you like Zathura you will like Jumanji too. The best part of Zathura is that Kristen Stewart stays frozen for most of it. He best performance ever.

Toby'c said...

Compared to Speak, Panic Room, Adventureland, The Cake Eaters, The Runaways and Welcome to the Rileys? No.

And yes, Jumanji is fantastic, not least because the two main kids are a lot more likeable than Danny and Walter.

Siskoid said...

How much Robin Williams do I have to sit through though?

Toby'c said...

From memory, about an hour out of the full 104 minutes. He's not in his Aladdin or Good Morning Vietnam-mode, if that's the issue.

Martin Léger said...

I watched it not that long ago and it's a fairly tame Robin Williams actually. He can't do pop-culture jokes since he's from the past and doesn't know them, so that's something.


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