This Week in Geek (6-12/11/22)

This week's themes: Reality resets, resurrections of a kind, on the war's margins

In theaters: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Martin McDonagh team up again for The Banshees of Inisherin, an unusual story of a friends' break-up, reinventing the tropes we associate with a romantic break-up, and while in the modern world, you can generally take the ghosting and move on, on a small Irish island in the 1920s, losing your one friend is a much bigger deal. Setting it during the Irish Civil War is no doubt a mirror of the situation, setting brother against brother, and highlighting the underlying absurdity of the conflict. This bleak comedy provides a lot of character humor and we chuckled throughout, but also so heavier, emotional moments, so I'm not gonna say there weren't tears too. There are a lot of expressive animals, companions filling in the holes the lack of humans have left, and it's notable that the "smarter" friends has a dog whose breed is known for its intelligence, while the "dumb" one has a miniature donkey (and very sweet it is). The film doesn't withhold the reasons why one friend would want to break off with the other, but it's nothing melodramatic (though perhaps the consequences reach those heights), just very human. While Gleeson and Farrell are very good, Kerry Condon as the latter's sister is sort of the audience's stand-in and extremely effective. Gold star to Barry Keoghan as well, playing the very last rung of the friendship ladder with gusto. And such stark cinematography, it's gorgeous to look at too.

At home: The best part of No Exit, for me, is the snow storm. It's hard to do snow in movies, even harder to do blizzards, and hardest yet to hold that as a sustained environment. I've been in worse than what's shown here, but it's still remarkably realistic. I haven't been in worse overall SITUATIONS, mind. Havana Rose Liu plays a recovering addict trapped at a visitors' center in the mountains, waiting out the storm with four other travelers (including Dennis Haysbert!), and finds a little girl, kidnapped and bound, in the back of one of the quartet's van. A competent thriller ensues as Liu attempts to figure out what's going on and, with little means and strangers as allies, attempts to save the girl and herself. The violence is at times harsh, the situation desperate, the twists... not always unpredictable. It works while it's working, but I'm not sure it's too memorable.

A couple of Doctor Who alumni get together for The Devil's Hour, a precognitive mystery starring Jessica Raine and Peter Capaldi (Nikesh Patel also appeared in Doctor Who recently, I guess this must be standard for a Sue Vertue production, those who know, know). Raine plays a social worker who gets flashes of the future, but even after the future is changed, she still "remembers" things wrong. She also has a child who is an emotional blank and who sees things that aren't there. The structure is also a kind of flashback, since the 6 episodes are remembrances during the interrogation of a strange serial killer (Capaldi) who seems to be acting on similar precognitive information. The explanation for all this will turn out to be more in the realm of science-fiction (perhaps metaphysics) than in the "psychic" realm, so while I was ahead of the characters in some ways, I was still absorbed in the details I couldn't quite explain and they all fit quite nicely. While it seemed to be barrelling towards a conclusion, The Devil's Hour was apparently designed as a trilogy, and I for one will be very interested in seeing where this dark, loopy tale goes. Great acting, strong atmosphere, and a complex, thoughtful story.

Based on Stephen King's novel, the 11.22.63 8-episode mini-series may be a sci-fi thriller, but it still has a lot of that King darkness. The idea is that there's a time portal to 1960, and Jake wants to use it to stop JFK's assassination, with three years to figure out the puzzle surrounding the event so he can act properly. That's if he doesn't get mired in the past after he falls in love with a local. AND if the past doesn't push him off. That's where much of the horror elements come from. The past is a force that tries to interfere, often violently, whenever a traveler comes too close to their goal. James Franco is only okay in the role, but he's well supported by the cast, and there's a nice nostalgic feeling achieved through the music and cinematography, though it's not blind to the sins of the era. I do think it drops the ball in the final moments by choosing the wrong self-sacrifice, or by over-egging the pudding so as to take away Jake's choices, but that's straight from the book. The final FINAL moment does work however. I'm not crying, YOU'RE crying!

The Canadian-made Parallel suffers from not picking a lane, I think. As presented, the premise of a mirror to close alternate realities seems to herald an invasion of "alts" body snatching their reflections, and that could have been very cool. Instead, we quickly move to a quartet whose app company is struggling until they find the mirror in the attic and start using it for their own ends - profit, success, women, catharsis - and it becomes more of a sci-fi comedy. But there's a dark side to these travels, especially when some start to use parallel worlds as playgrounds, seeing their citizens as "unreal". The thriller elements start to build again. And I'm there for all of it - it kept my attention - but it makes too many promises to really feel satisfying at the end. What we end up with in the epilogue is an attempt to do a number of endings, resulting in closing moments that are both corny and puzzling.

In Wild Target, Bill Nighy is a precise assassin hired to kill Emily Blunt's shameless grifter/thief, but through comic shenanigans (and ROMcomic ones, but I don't think that's particularly believable - they had played father and daughter only 5 years earlier), he becomes her protector against other hired killers, including Martin Freeman. Rupert Grint also gets involved as an innocent bystander and would-be pupil to the master hitman. There's a nice sense of capery fun to all this, and if I made sure to mention the cast (which also includes Rupert Everett, Rory Kinnear and Eileen Atkins), it's because the movie shines thanks to the actors' performances, and the character-based comedy is its best feature. Reaching out to some low common denominator, the slapstick is far less appealing, but it's there for you to frown at. Bottom line: It won't revolutionize cinema, but if you're a fan of Nighy or Blunt (and if not, why aren't you?) then you'll find this an amusing bit of fluff to wile away 90 minutes.

Long before "YA" novels were a thing, and I was an 10 or 11-year-old, I was a big fan of Langelot. He was a teenage spy in a fictional French secret service, written by the mysterious Lieutenant X. So despite being the fruit of post-Millennium YA fiction, Alex Rider feels rather familiar - in the TV series, he even LOOKS like Langelot. The comparisons stop there, at least in the show's first season, which is largely based on the novel Point Blanc (not that I've read it, the books really a blank to me - and by the way, very frustrating that this school in the French Alps is never called by its French pronunciation, invalidating its built-in pun). Here, Alex is a little clumsy, in way over his head, unlike Langelot who was trained and fit from his first appearance. Still, Alex prevails and the season, while its plot is reminiscent of In Her Majesty's Secret Service, has its share of suspense and is well-acted. Whether it's the books' fault or not, too much of the action is predicated on people being stupid (allies and enemies both), not coming up with the obvious answers or acting much too rashly. The production values are good and the characters worth investigating (except the main spy group on the British side who are largely interchangeable pieces of cardboard), so I'm up for the second season. But I'm also up for revisiting the few Langelot books I managed to keep.

Books: Though short story collections aren't easy to place in an author's timeline (at least each of their individual tales), there seems little doubt that Julian Barnes wrote the stories in Pulse in tandem with his novel-length meditative essay on death, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, i.e. in the wake of his wife's death. While one recurring theme is Britishness - Barnes being the writer who explains the French to the British and the British to everyone else - exploring various elements endemic to Britain in the first half, in part through a series of dinner conversations between friends, by the end, we know what this is really about. Barnes' stories are filled with people who are struggling to find their soul mates, or have indeed found them. How people convince themselves of this fact, find disappointment or still hope for it to be true, how they might have given up on that part of their lives, or how chemical bonds might have ended their quest. To me, this is all a celebration of what he had with his spouse, and how rare it is, and yet, common enough. By George (and Arthur)! Barnes has done it again.

Following directly from Time-Life's World War II: The Second Front, Liberation gets right into what happened after D-Day and the drive to free France - in the North, the South, and Paris itself - and even a bit of the Netherlands push as well - chronicling the military movements and personal anecdotes surrounding that part of the conflict. A lot of these books fall into what I might call statistical story-telling, which is to say that I get lost in all the numbers. Division number something of army number something had this number of every kind of troop, vehicle, weapon and/or provision, lost this number of men to this number of bombs, etc. I will retain none of it. More interesting to me are the personal stories and the stakes. Things like Paris' peril when Hitler ordered its complete destruction just for spite, prevented by a general who couldn't bring himself to do it (the next book over in my collection is on the Resistance, so that's going to fill in the gaps nicely), or what was going on between Allied leaders and where the push to Berlin stalled on a judgment call. But for the most part it IS one village or bridge capture after another.

RPGs: In the latest installment of our Torg Eternity - still going through the Day One scenarios that introduce each Cosm with one-off characters - the players discovered the Nile Empire, a world of pulp heroes and Egyptian treasure, in a kind of eternal 1930s. I think the do the Nile Empire well, you have to lean into the melodrama and dramatic contrivances (which led me to thinking about how I might change my GM persona in every Cosm, though I've come to this notion late). So I threw in suspenseful musical stings at the end of scenes, and at one point suggested a player put his faith in the Law of Drama and let himself be "apparently killed" - I would return him to the game at a cool time with extra Possibilities. I'm finding that while it was fairly easy to fit the multi-Act scenarios in this product in our sessions (at one Act per), the one-Act stories are a bit longish, and threaten to spill over. For example, here the climax with the three supervillains couldn't really make use of all the villains even if I'd wanted to throw complications at the heroes (who had a stealthy/fast-talk plan in place, which I prefer anyway), so I pushed on the "everything happens at once" button that fits the matinée serial feeling of the Cosm to make things go faster. It's up to me to get some of the middle bits done more quickly in the future if I want these one-shots (two to go) to fit our schedules. But I AM quite happy that the players were thinking on their feet and coming up with strategies beyond jumping in guns blazing. In terms of tutorials, this adventure of course showcases the world and the super-powers available, but also introduces the notion of Eternity Shards, artifacts that hold stashes of Possibility energy.
Best bits: An outstanding result on the electro-ray blast to the villains' crates of explosives not only blasted 2/3rds of the bad guys away, but set off the ammo dump, which in turn sent bullets flying to the overhead zeppelin which, in flames, crashed into the Sphinx's newly-restored nose and broke it all over again. My player who loves to do research of course had a tour of the pyramids ready and tweaked his priest's religion to invoke the Egyptian gods and effects slightly different from the rule book's. Oh and he immediately spotted that an NPC was going to be an "influencer" based on her name, so that was almost worth an extra point.


I’m very pro-Nile Empire adventures. It’s Indiana Jones RPGing done correctly. Sounds like your group had a great time and enjoyed the spirit of it!!

For 11/22/63, I’ve read the book and enjoyed it. Your description of the tv mini-series is not compelling me to try it. 😞

Unknown said…
The film is very good since it is only 8 episodes. They knew what to take out, like the car accident where the cheerleader gets scarred. The bookies coming after Jake. If you have a few nights free, watch it while eating dinner, Shag.

Siskoid: this was the first book of King's I've read since THE DARK HALF, which I never finished. I then read 11/22/63 again the following summer. I've done the same with BILLY SUMMER, which I hope becomes a film. With BS, I can now say that whenever a book is not set in Maine, it is vastly better. Set in late 2019, there are a few lines like "Who would expect that in just a few months the parking lot would be completely empty?" I also read that book twice.
Siskoid said…
Shag: Since my only big problem is with the book, I don't see what's putting you off in my assessment.
LondonKdS said…
Have you seen the earlier French version of Wild Target with Jean Rochefort?