This Week in Geek (31/07-06/08/22)


In theaters: Animated films like to "reveal" their voice cast at the end and while it can be fun to go "yes, that voice did sound familiar", DC League of Super-Pets is one where I think knowing the cast up-front would have added to my enjoyment. Pulled more than usually from stand-ups and sketch comedians, the movie has a brilliant cast led by a perfectly-cast Dwayne Johnson, even if Kate McKinnon steals the show as a villainous guinea pig, and Natasha Lyonne's turtle probably gets all the best lines. Sore spot: Kevin Hart's Ace is so nonplussed and unengaged, both in voice and animation, that a lot of his stuff falls flat. In any case, while there was some kiddie humor, there were probably more jokes for the adults, and in terms of superhero movies, it worked as an action comedy better than any in DC's live action stable. Sure, the Super-Pets are called in because the Justice league is taken out of commission, but the human team is still in it and more likeable that, well, pick your Cut. Warning: There's a definite anti-cat agenda in this (no Streaky, for one thing, but not the only thing), but it will definitely resonate with dog lovers.

At home: Comics and TV are good at different things. Case in point the new Paper Girls adaptation. Comics are good a bold visuals, and moving plots heroically. TV, on the other hand, is good at character development and using acting to tell personal stories. So the show isn't as crazy as the comic - give or take Erin's creepy CG Reagan dreams - but it makes fuller characters out of the four girls, focuses on their relationships and those they have with their families, often changing things completely to better differentiate each of their subplots. The comic is about this insane time war four paper girls from 1988 get caught up in. The SHOW uses that context to allow these 12(going-on-16) girls and their future selves to confront their future/past, how their ambitions changed, and so on. The show can of course take us back in time through musical selections, and whoever chooses the music for the show deserves a prize - excellent stuff. (Surprisingly, the show is prone to making 80s/90s/etc. references, but that may be due to the cost of product/trademark placement.) There's a whole arc of the comic devoted to getting to the 2010s, but the show gets there pretty quickly, and then deviates significantly from the comic's events. Vaughan and Chiang are producers on this and surely don't mind. In fact it makes both versions of Paper Girls relevant in and of themselves. Can't wait for a second season to hit the streamers.

Though I wasn't sure one could or should adapt Neil Gaiman's The Sandman for television, I think they did a pretty good job with that first season. It's legit, despite some clunky dialog here and there (word choice, mostly - I don't want to blame Goyer, but well, why is his name on everything anyway?). I know the story beats from Sandman's first couple arcs, but there are enough changed details to keep it interesting, and the show doesn't compromise on some of things TV would normally consider, well, anti-TV. For example, we totally get a whole episode of Dr. Dee in the diner, a long chat with Death based on "The Sound of Her Wings", flashbacks dealing with Hobb's immortality, and a Dream who is a pompous, self-centered git. Almost makes me believe they'd do all the interstitial short stories in due course (almost). Some of the changes are rather interesting, especially giving us a modern-day Joanna Constantine (they say ConstanTYNE rather than TEEN, which does drive me batty) played by Jenna Coleman to replace John Constantine, and she's so badass, you'd think they were already thinking of a spin-off. Visually very strong, there are moments that, while not reproducing the comic in any way, have that Dave McKean feel (yes, he did little beyond the covers, but they were the one constant). Very faithful despite the changes, and part of that is not trying to cater to a cast who would have to be in every single episode the way other shows feel they must. Everybody's kind of like a recurring guest star, except for Dream.

Very much in the style of sitcoms like 30 Rock, The Mindy Project and Kimmy Schmidt, Powerless was a short-lived attempt at a workplace comedy set in the DC Universe, though far from the main action. Out group of misfits works at a loser division of Wayne Corp, run by Bruce's loser cousin, in Charm City, a town protected by the likes of off-model Crimson Fox and more-on-model Green Fury. And it works, though network television was obviously not the right berth for it. Still the 12 episodes are a lot of fun. Heading the cast is Vanessa Hudgens (she and Jenna Coleman were separated at birth, right?) as the peppy new personnel manager, and Alan Tudyk plays Van Wayne as the most privileged idiot on Earth, but my favorite character is probably his no-nonsense administrative assistant played by the dry Christina Kirk. Danny Pudi, Ron Funches and Jennie Pierson complete the main cast, each bringing their own brand of craziness. Is this just for comics nerds? Not at all. The deep cuts don't really matter and characters mostly talk about well-known heroes and events from famous movies and TV shows. I think this is fun for everyone, especially in a world where superhero movies and shows are the new normal. Bonus points for the opening sequence which integrates the cast in actual comic book covers - nice touch.

Expectations are likely to kill All the Old Knives, which is more about relationships between spies than it is about spy action - Shadow Recruit II, this isn't, despite the participation of Chris Pine. And yet, there's a lot of procedural spycraft here, namely how the CIA reacts to a hijacking, how they work with contacts, etc. So I was more than fine watching a mystery unspool over dinner between old flames - Thandiwe Newton being the other half of that equation - going back and forth in time, changing your assessment of just what happened or indeed, is happening at any given time. In the background, a failed mission that has taken its toll on all agents involved. In the foreground, an aborted romance that did the same. Throughout, a game of trust and mistrust played between the characters and the audience. At the end, deep ironies I don't think we were expecting. Quieter than most spy thrillers, but not less paranoid, no less tense, and no less engaging... unless you're looking for something else.

A hugely entertaining action comedy, Extreme Job features a squad of oddball narcotics detectives who look good on paper (just why is part of the climax and very satisfying), but keeps screwing up operations and getting passed for promotions. When they buy and start running a fried chicken place so they can surveil the gangsters across the street, they screw up by becoming a big success as a restaurant, and amusingly, neither side sees what's going on under their very noses. A number of laughs throughout, and couple of good twists, and well-differentiated characters makes Extreme Job a joy to watch (the bad guys also has a female enforcer who seems right out of John Wick, awesome Sun-hee). I love how Asia has this whole subgenre of cooking movies, and this one might just make you order some chicken at the halfway point. As to the action, it's sporadic, but every fight is shot differently, offering variety as well as fine choreography. Extremely fun.

Books: What a ride! Paper Girls: The Complete Story, includes all 35 chapters of the time-bending saga (see what I did there?) by Brian Vaughan (an under-discussed writer) and Cliff Chiang (always a treat). Since the show diverges wildly from the comic, I felt like I could read ahead. An interesting take on time travel, in that there's a threat of changing history, and yet the timeline is pretty rigid - you're never too sure. Crazy images, fun intercutting, and a story that pleasantly loops back on itself at different points. Vaughan uses the apple as a leitmotif, because at its core, time travel is the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, humanity was never supposed to partake in. It's cleverly done, with lots of world-building and wordplay. And I also enjoy how it keeps returning to the newspaper, so the title never becomes a meaningless artifact. I'm very happy to see this on TV as a remix, one that I can enjoy separately for the way it connects to the grand comic book epic, but also its new twists and surprises.

From the book jacket of Now We Are Six Hundred, I don't think Doctor Who writer James Goss fancies himself a poet, and though I quite love the last two pieces in the book, it must be said his rhyming schemes and meter are often clunky, despite frequently being copied from other poems (credit given). Winnie the Pooh seems a big inspiration, and the formats recall nursery rhymes more than anything you might have studied at university. But then, the exercise is to inject as many Doctor Who references as possible - across the Doctor's entire television history up through the end of Capaldi's era - and that means a lot of strange words with too many syllables and difficult rhymes. The real revelation in this "Collection of Time Lord Verse" is Russel T Davies as a cartoonist! The book is worth it for that alone. Davies accompanies the poems with fun and well-crafted illos, replete with hidden TARDISes and almost every Doctor and Companion you care to name (and even some you wouldn't). I didn't know he had this talent, but I'm glad someone thought to make use of it.

Time-Life's Partisans and Guerrillas tells a couple of neglected chapters of World War II, dealing in particular with German-invaded Yugoslavia and Greece, and the guerrilla groups that sprang up in the Balkans, sometimes with support from the Russians or the British, sometimes not. These are some of the bloodiest stories of the war, atrocities committed on all sides, and there are therefore some violent pictures in the book (reader beware). But generally, it's a fascinating read, largely because it feels like "untold history", except for the one name that looms large: Tito. Obviously, in a book series like this, the big events we've seen in movies are going to be told, even dissected, but it's the books about other fronts that I most like. And what happened in Eastern Europe helps us understand the history and conflicts that would come in that part of the world a whole lot better. It's all part of a continuum, and I'm starting to agree more and more with historians who say the First World War never really ended.

RPGs: Played out first session of Torg Eternity on Foundry/Forge, and there was a lot of figuring things out for the first hour and a half, a crawlingly slow low-stakes combat before a dank trek through the Living Land's jungles to get to safety. What do I click? Why isn't this enhancement working? What have I not toggled? It worked earlier... But it was a natural part of getting the hang of it, and by the climactic encounter of Act 2 (of 3), the players were vibin' and using the game mechanics to the fullest extent to avoid getting shot up by a villain with comparable powers to theirs and delivering a powerful final blow. At least my lighting and sound effects worked as they were designed to, to nice effect. As prescribed in the Day One supplement, there was an interlude in the middle of the adventure where the players encountered a fragment of a long-defeated reality - one of the Living Land's best new features is how it retains pockets of what went before - allowing the players to snatch some interesting loot and learn key lore about what the heck is happening here. Wade the hockey kid was unchained in this episode, whirling like a dervish to beat down cavemen and power-mad office managers alike. Somehow, the party's OWN caveman has become the social interface with other NPCs (well, who wants to deal with a grumpy teenager?)
Best bits: The son defending the father as "the best leader here" was kind of touching, wasn't it?


Charles Izemie said…
We'll keep the faith and follow his mystical design --
On to the shining future of the magus Constantine.

Just saying.
Doc_Loki said…
I mean, the comics solved the whole name thing back in '88, and they went with 'Tyne.
Siskoid said…
I know, but it's gone both ways, and I used to say Tyne, but then fell into saying Teen, and now that's the one that "sounds better" to me, and it's never not going to bug me.

A purely personal observation.
DustMan said…
FYI: Powerless as of the first pilot was supposed to be set at an insurance agency. When retooled for production, they switched it to Wayne Security.
Siskoid said…
Explains the poster!