This Week in Geek (12-18/03/23)

This week's themes: Ex-cons, Brandan Gleeson, false identities

In theaters: If Creed II was sort of doing Rocky IV, Creed III is the franchise's Rocky III - with Diamond Dame standing in for Clubber Lang, a dirty fighter who'll do anything to win - but Jonathan Majors is a more interesting performer, and Damian a more intriguing character. It's a performance not unlike that of Kang in the MCU movies, swinging between sympathetic and menacing and back again, but attached to a story of paths bifurcating, jealousy, bitterness, as well as brotherly love. Much was made of Michael B. Jordan's anime inspirations in the publicity for the film, and it goes much farther than I thought it would. I expected a few Dragonball punches, but his stylistic choices are riskier than that, and very much appreciated. Jordan also brings what Coogler did - choreography that makes you understand boxing as something more than two guys pounding each other. The plots to these movies are fairly predictable, but they are so well made, we don't really care. As usual, a highlight is Creed's relationship to Bianca, and here, with their little daughter. All three stars - Jordan, Tessa Thompson and Mila Davis-Kent - are immensely likeable.

At home: There's a lot of fun to be had with I Went Down, a crime comedy that makes good use of Ireland's back roads and pairs Peter McDonald as an ex-con forced to do a favor for a crime lord, and Brendan Gleeson as a quirky, irascible pro just as trapped in the situation, but less given to asking questions. But even the pros are normal people in this, and prone to making mistakes from which a lot of humor is derived. I was a little wary about the aspect ratio, like, was this a television production or what, but no, it's a cool fiasco-in-the-making, and a charmer to boot. Neither of the leads are exactly what you think they are and deepen as the flick rolls along, and it all comes to pretty satisfying conclusions. The 1990s really were the best time for crime pictures that didn't take themselves too seriously, a trend you can no doubt ascribe to Tarantino, and a lot of flicks were branded imitators, but divorced from the context of a certain glut, they're quite fun to rediscover.

When either of the McDonagh brothers work with Brandan Gleeson, it has more than even chance of being one of their good ones. The Guard is a crime comedy that stats Gleeson as a small-town guard (that's what police officers are called in Ireland) who stumbles on a murder and then on a large-scale drug-smuggling operation. But he's not your typical law enforcement officer. He's kind of the king of his own domain and has an off-putting sense of humor - you're never sure if he's kidding or being serious - which certainly confounds the FBI agent liaising on the case (Don Cheadle, doing his usual solid "aggravated" comedy). Lots of Chekov's Gun elements introduced that pay off well - sometimes for plot, sometimes for character - and very amusing dialog, cool location choices, and much humor derived from the cast having seen too many American cop shows, but it's still the villains who steal the show. They've just got the best banter, in particular Mark Strong as the one Englishman in the lot. Plus, gorgeous color theory cinematography.

Though I didn't find it particularly exciting, I do respect what Maurice Pialat is doing in Loulou. He sets things into motion and there IS a script, but the actors are free to improvise to give the film a naturalistic quality that works well with its theme of the unpredictability of human behavior. Isabelle Huppert's character is especially unfathomable because she's never a single thing, and in life, there are no explanations or "written" motivations. And yet, the characters are well drawn enough that her relationship with two brutish men (Depardieu - the titular Loulou - and Marchand) feels natural no matter where her inner wind blows. You can even catch Pialat letting outtakes breathe within the film to give it more verisimilitude. But it's essentially a case of watching people live and your enjoyment may be predicated on your ability to withstand a lot of French cross-talk, an ability I have in very short supply.

Books: In Book 1 of TimeWars, Simon Hawke had Robin Hood and Ivanhoe show up in a medieval tale. In The Timekeeper Conspiracy, it's the cast of the Three Musketeers. Well hey, they did exist. If this were a TV show, we'd likely be travelling in Hollywood's version of history. As these are books, it's the literary one. I'm not complaining. Happily, Hawke has indeed retained the more interesting members of his cast like Finn and Andre, the lead, Lucas Priest, is still pretty much a cipher. He does get to show off his sense of humor - and this is a much funnier book than TW1, with some fun comic moments - but there are times when you think he'll take the lead on something, but Hawke prefers someone else do it. The author also scores points for not repeating the first novel's plot or beats, with very different villains using very different tactics. If he has more cards up his sleeve, I'm quite happy to continue with this action-adventure series.

Comics: Daniel Warren Johnson's fantasy wrestling opus Do a Powerbomb! will be out soon as a trade paperback, and having finished the 7 singles, I'm a wholly endorsing it. I'm not really a fan of pro wrestling, but when blown up like this and influenced by luchadore culture and Manga/anime, it really sings. The premise: There's a cosmic tournament out there for tag teams from across the multiverse, and if you win, you can bring a loved one back from the dead. But tell you what, while that's a great fantastical hook, I could have just watched the travails of second-generation wrestler Steelrose trying to live up to her mother's memory played STRAIGHT. The art and most importantly the HEART is good enough to carry the story without going cosmic. I'm reminded of Infinite Kung Fu in terms of choreography, which is a very positive comparison. What I'm trying not to mention here is all the twists and turns the story takes, because Powerbomb does NOT go where you think it will. Just awesome stuff.

RPGs: Bit of Torg: Eternity this week, and the PCs finally reach the Nile Empire, which is a pulp hero cosm that obeys the Law of Drama, or rather, Melodrama. I've essentially put a few "Delphi Missions" into the blender to create a bit of a mini-arc, and the players obliged by playing a Romance card that has given more importance to their contact in Cairo and thus the adventures to be had there. This first chapter had them arrive in Cairo in search of the beautiful Sabella, a spy for their organization, but due they arrive late and discover local agents have been disappearing and she might be next. After some atmospheric encounters in an outdoor market and a jazzy speakeasy, contact is made, but pretty much in time for competing interests to arrive - La Brume ("The Fog", at right), a vigilante acting at cross-purposes with our heroes, and the Iron Crocodile, one of the mysterious Mr. Grimm's men, whose submarine has been trawling for riverside agents. As you might imagine, it all ends in a big fight, and though I was fully ready to blow up Sabella's warehouse HQ with torpedoes, the PCs instead hoisted the Iron Croc by his own petard (see below).
Best bits: Getting into Club Anubis provided some laughs, but the heroes were pretty smart about making discreet contact with Sabella using a code. The aforementioned Romance card was played just in time to make her kidnapping more stressful for our resident "tortured soul", and in the Nile Empire, all emotions are more intense as well. I think the two characters have enough in common (both are orphans) to keep it going a bit, and we're talking about a player who loves to write fanfic about his character, so I've outright said there will be two weeks in-game between this and the next session to allow for his take on the whirlwind relationship. But the coolest moments were yet to come. As the Croc's submarine came up to the dock and ninja frogmen started coming out, our super-wrestler threw a drum full of airplane fuel at the hatch and our monster hunter shot the thing and ignited it, the contents spilling into the interior (well, THAT shortened the fight!). The Iron Croc escapes, climbs back in, and back the sub away, shooting twin torpedoes at the warehouse, the heroes start running. A couple of them thought they were being spectacular jumping out of high windows by leaping off crates, but the monster hunter outdid them all, staying cool and shooting a torpedo so it hit its sister, way too close to the submarine, causing that massive explosion as he walked away!