This Week in Geek (28/11-04/12/21)


I don't normally buy 4th Edition GURPS books - not my preferred rule set, but also because of redundancy - but I made an exception in the case of GURPS Mysteries, seeing as there's no 3rd ed. equivalent, and the information within isn't really rules-ish.


In theaters: Kenneth Branagh's impressions of his own childhood, fictionalized in Belfast, provide a strong mix of drama (the city becoming a battleground between Protestants and Catholics) and comedy (there are a lot of fun character moments) with the good dose of space race nostalgia for older audiences, and mythical distortions caused by the child's point of view/movie magic. It's all heading for a touching finish, largely laid at the feet of Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds, though the film wouldn't work if young Jude Hill wasn't as engaging as he is. In short order, Branagh makes you fall in love with his old street and its people, whether they stuck around despite the troubles, or were forced to leave, examining his own sense of belonging to a place and time (and thus, ours), with an interesting use of color where he shows his hand in terms of Buddy being his stand-in. If this is Branagh's sweet take on Roma, it's one that's more likely to please general audiences.

At home: Man, Will Robinson has really grown like a weed! At the start of Lost in Space's third season (Netflix version), they basically have to jump ahead a year to make it work. Third and final, as advertised, these back 8 episodes wrap the story up, give us a satisfying ending, and solves the mystery of the robot race that's been plaguing the colonists since the previous season. More importantly, Season 2's dull conspiracy plot is over and done with and the show gets back to what it does well, i.e. survival stories in hostile alien environments as "one damn thing after another" creates complications for the heroes. As the finale, you want the characters to arc, and that works well for Judy and Will (and Smith), but I don't think Penny ever worked for me. Beating her insecurities at this point feels like trying to force a square peg in a round hole, and though everyone goes on and one about how genius a writer she is, all her voice-over is ordinary as hell. Don's humor never worked either, but at least he brought some levity to the proceedings, while Penny just irritated. She's still a member of this family, and Lost in Space is about members of a family supporting one another through thick and thin. Ending it after only three season means everything is tied up before the non-stop danger gets too ludicrous and the show overstays its welcome.

I remember Bodyguard taking the UK viewing public by storm a couple years ago, and it indeed has a massive twist at the heart of it, or really more of a pivot after which it practically becomes a different type of thriller. The initial premise is actually stronger than the final configuration - after Richard Madden disarms a terrorist situation on a train, he's posted to bodyguard duty on the controversial Home Secretary (Keeley Hawes) with whom he deeply disagrees on policy, and he's soon being pulled in all directions while also suffering from secret PTSD. The show goes out of its way to make you wonder if he'll actually turn on her, so the nature of the thriller is up in the air until, in the second half, it goes full "24", except at an accelerated rate (this is only 6 episodes) until the dueling conspiracies are exposed. It may even be a case of too much going on, but there's no denying that it's exciting television, and Madden himself acts his socks off portraying a deeply emotional man who has to keep a cool, professional front at all times.

50 Years of Criterion/1976: Ok, someone remind me never to play Chinese Roulette's eponymous party game, with Fassbinder especially, but with anyone I care to remain friends with. Youch! Peppered with interesting shots, this difficult to categorize satire-drama-thriller is all about people hurting one another. The set-up is delicious, as a couple both inadvertently bring their lovers to their country manor - and it's mostly awkward for the lovers. Then their monstrously cruel (but justified?) daughter shows up to expose their dilettante shame. The strange modern decor of the old country house evokes of a museum full of display cases, as we settle down to examine and dissect these complex relationships. When the daughter claims she's going to the zoo before turning up there, that's a crucial line. Can our parents' authority survive such examination? And can love survive the Chinese roulette's interrogations? Fassbinder's cold eye on the situation may actually be the cruelest of all.
Paired Short: Beyond its amusing premise (which only hits you late), House Specialty is just a lot of cross-talk in French, which is one of my pet peeves.

1977: Agnès Varda's L'une chante, l'autre pas (One Sings, the Other Doesn’t) is a folk opera about reproductive rights, and I will admit to finding the songs pretty silly (though usually delightfully so). At least in Pauline (Pomme/Apple)'s sections. Suzanne's journey, from desperate abortion to working in Family Planning, is more straight drama. The mix of genres does help build up this relationship between two very different women, sisters more than friends perhaps, as they have children or chose not to, with men or not, in every way determining what's best for them, and not always without the regret that is implicit in making choices. So when I say this is a pro-choice movie, it's pro-choice in every sphere of a woman's life. It's about self-determination and celebrating whatever a woman might choice to be or do. It's all a bit on the nose and dogmatic - especially the music - but it's an enjoyable pair of intertwined stories.
Paired Short: In The Diary of an African Nun, a poetic testimonial tells us what an African woman finds attractive in the idea of becoming a nun, but things turn sour as she discovers it erases her true identity. My favorite part is how the voice catches on the word "civilized". A powerful piece by Julie Dash.

1978: In my limited experience, Hideo Gosha seems to be a director that embraces trends. His Three Outlaw Samurai looked like Kurosawa's classic chambara films; his Bandits vs. Samurai Squadron 10 years later is right out of the Zatoichi/Lone Wolf and Cub playbook, filled with lurid sex and violence (and a Zatoichi clone). The core of the film - "one last job" as they say in the heist business - is strong, pitting freedom fighting bandits against samurai working within a corrupt system in a perpetual gray zone. But it's also a very complex tapestry of characters and motivations, some of which I found hard to follow. In the first hour, I was often asking myself who was who and working towards what, and whether I should care when someone died in a glorious arterial spray. Even when I was confused (look, everyone has the same hairstyle, what can I say?), there were still some memorable images to be had, and the last 100 minutes (it's a long 'un) really did bring home to cynical ironies Gosha is known for.
Paired Short: In 1978, Jacques Tati filmed Forza Bastia, documentary footage of the first time Corsica made it to the European Cup and there's very little football in it - fans mostly - which might be why the UEFA shelved it. Rescued by Tati's daughter over 20 years later, it's valuable because it shows how his mind works, picking up on moments that could be set-ups for gags on his film work.

1979: I love Kieślowski's work and Camera Buff, which looks and feels like the eleventh story of his Decalog, is no exception. An unassuming man buys a film camera to record his new born child growing up and is soon asked to shoot archival footage at work, which sends him on the heady path of the proper film maker... at the risk of losing himself and his family in the process. Though a satirical comedy, Kieślowski aficionados used to catching glimpses of the director's early work-place documentary shorts as DVD extras on the Three Colors trilogy for example, will immediately grasp the semi-autobiographical nature of Camera Buff. Whether he's talking about himself at that stage, making State-sponsored films (replace Hollywood suits with factory directors and it's rather similar), or goosing other people in the business, the film makes points that transcend any one "biography" - how artistic vision (be it ever so naive at first) develops, what the cost of passion is, how powerful images of everyday life can be, and what the responsibility to society does the artist/film maker/documentarian bear? Amusing and tragic in equal measure, it seems very personal to Kieślowski and thus necessary to understanding his work.
Paired Short: Hollis Frampton pays tribute to his grandmother in Gloria!, a deconstructed film that separates image, story, and music and makes for an intriguing modernist experiment, but such avenues are really dead ends.

Books: It strikes me, reading L'insoutenable légerté de l'être (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), that Milan Kundera's writing is a lot like that of my favorite author, Julian Barnes. There's a similar flow, similar interest in making philosophical points, similar poignancy and humor, similar clinical dissection of relationships through varied points of view, and similar postmodern flourishes. Some of those in combination are a real achievement, for example, making you care so much for its main characters, while also being honest about the fact that's all they are - fictions on a page, images taken to a natural end. The novel makes many points, but I feel the central one is that everyone is an island that we can see from afar but never really visit, and all our anxieties come from the basic misunderstandings this creates between people. True empathy - the knowing of the other also called "compassion" in the book - is unattainable, but should still be reached for, and of course through the novel itself, we come closest, letting ourselves be exposed in this case to an author, two men, two women, and even a dog. The book is breezy but heady. It made me laugh out loud (some of the best toilet humor in literature, honestly) and sob my eyes out (that damn dog). I didn't want it to end.

Role-playing: GURPS Greece, yes, but MYTHIC Greece, largely inspired by Harryhausen films (RELEASE THE KRAKEN!), but as are coming off a stint of GURPS Time Travel, I kept that in there. Our two brothers, one of which is looking to get his "essence" back so he can shift between worlds properly, discover that the evil Darkos who did the deed has done so back in time. A time even more mythic, accessible only through an oracular temple on an island whose history has evidently been meddled with. Led to some conclusions by an omen in the form of a dream (a way to have fun with Ace/Assos' Nightmares disadvantage), this first session (I feel like I prepared for three, probably just two) had the boys encounter a couple gods (will this send them to mythology websites, they're the type), both high and low, as they used to walk the land when the Earth was still new, on their way 'round a volcano to find answers. The story is suspended for a week and a half as they brave (or re-brave) a stinky swamp filled with stop-motion atrocities, which doesn't seem to bad thanks to the help of a hi-octane beekeeper's family. Bit of action, bit of problem solving, parties these particular PCs can't say no to, a lot of great dice rolls (the Discord bot was definitely on their side this week), but I feel like the players supplied their own paranoia re: the big bad. Or is it that they just don't trust ME?


daft said…
Hit up your local dollar mart, get one of those smallish tabletop push button night lights, get a packet of those rub upon alphabet transfers, stencil the immortal phrase upon it. Place said button beside your laptop without drawing attention to it and let your hand theatrically hover over said button every time the players visibly 'displease you'... :D