This Week in Geek (26/02-04/03/23)


The Pan-Pacifica Sourcebook and Delphi Missions for that Cosm have finally been made available as pdfs for those of us not quick enough to be in on the Kickstarter, and you bet I snatched them up. It's too late to affect my plans for the next dozen+ sessions, of course, but after that, will I be able to resist a trip to a world based on the movies I love?


In theaters: In the mid-80s, a drug smuggler fell to his death from a plane, littering the wilds of Kentucky with bags full of cocaine, most of which were never recovered. A bear wound up eating a whole bag and died. But what if it hadn't? Cocaine Bear is the resulting gory lampoon of animal attack movies based on this premise. Director Elizabeth Banks knows how to get a laugh out of the violence, but the movie's best asset is its cast of lively characters - the kids who do a little cocaine too, the park ranger with the hots for her park inspector, the idiot punks who attack people in the park, the crooks with daddy issues, the detective who just got a new dog not of his liking - it makes for funny dialog and amusing situations. When you've seen everything a genre has to give, it's time to go absurd of go home. Cocaine Bear is a fairly stupid movie, but it does that with some success. I could well imagine a worse version of this. I could also imagine one where doing coke isn't presented as a positive thing.

At home: Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, a David Mamet script... The Edge is the high end version of the animal attack movie, and resonates strong enough to absolutely be taken as the history of Man in microcosm - and this, despite the bigger than life landscapes. It's Man vs. Nature, and when Nature is tamed, Man vs. Man. But the story isn't cynical, and ends up saying that there's value in compassion and forgiveness. That it comes from the billionaire raises an eyebrow, as this breed isn't exactly known for its magnanimity, but there's nothing wrong with the film's moral instruction when it comes to privilege. And well, it's a fun survival film too, starring a man who's all theory when it comes to the required skills, and another who may or may not want him dead, versus a bear who's tasted human meat and likes it and the Alaskan wilderness, which is its own beast. Great dialog as well, obviously.

When I saw the big credit for Bart the Bear at the top of Into the Grizzly Maze, I thought, wait, hold on, how long do bears live?! Because that's the name of the famous bear in The Edge. Well, Bart II was born the year Bart I died, and seems to have had a similar trajectory - these two have been every grizzly-type bear you've seen in movies and TV for the last 40 years basically - though they aren't related. And this movie is a lot LIKE The Edge, remixed with Lake Placid, which itself is derivative of Jaws, so yeah... not much new under the sun here. James Marsden and Thomas Jane are estranged brothers who go into the woods for different reasons following a killer bear attack, Billy Bob Thornton is a bear hunter who does also, and who makes it sound like this the bear equivalent of the Deep blue Sea sharks. "Bart" is good, but his attacks vary in strength depending on the scene, and I think he's justified, frankly, given the amount of poaching going on in this thing. The various themes don't really connect to one another, and the bad special effects in the climax had me throwing my hands up in surrender. Watchable, but less than the sum of its parts.

It doesn't take place in THE Lake Placid, but they have an explanation for that. What they don't really have an explanation for is why everyone jumps to the conclusion that the monstrous reptile in the lake has to be a crocodile AND NEVER EVER SAY the word "Alligator", which at least would have been indigenous to North America, and STILL required a miraculous amount of salt-water swimming to get to Maine. It's just weird. But perhaps no weirder than getting a ton of name actors - perhaps most surprisingly Brendan Gleeson and Betty White! - to be in a creature feature like this (plus Stan Winston on make-up effects). As the genre's tropes would have it, most of these characters are angry at each other or the world, making them less that sympathetic, which in turn makes it cathartic when they get killed by a wild animal. Except... the body count is really low, AGAINST all tropes. I can't decide if that's a plus or minus. Not all the jokes land, but some do. The bad CG is sparingly used. And it's got a pretty cool climax involving a helicopter and a flying cow. Could have been a lot worse.

Burning Bright crawl so that Crawl could run... uhm... something like that. The two films have strong similarities - a young woman with daddy issues (although in this case it's a deadbeat stepfather) is trapped in a house with a wild carnivore during a hurricane - but there are major differences. One is that the animal in question is a tiger, and just how he gets into the house is part of a twist, so I won't reveal it here. Another is that she's not alone, but must also deal with her autistic little brother, who creates a lot of extra jeopardy, and this is the bond that's reaffirmed (where, in Crawl, it's the father-daughter one). As a crazy survival movie, it's not too bad, but it's not perfect either. They use a real tiger, which looks good, but he's rarely in shot with actors (and if he is, it's a camera trick), leading to some bad CG slow-motion to make the action work. On the sibling front, the girl is given a moral dilemma, but her hand is forced, so it doesn't feel like as much of a choice as it should have been. Not a bad entry in the genre - there's a strong laundry chute scene - but pretty forgettable. I found the "greatest hits" credits sequence quite obnoxious.

The 80s vibe is strong in The House of the Devil, but then I shouldn't have been surprised that this early effort by Ty West (X, Pearl) would emulate another era. The opener especially: The music, the editing, the graphics, the fashions and technology. Set at the height of Satanic Panic, a college student strapped for cash agrees to house sit for what are undoubtedly rich Satanists on the night of a lunar eclipse. The first half of the movie is a tension builder with a couple shocks (and a loudly-ringing phone for jump scares), and for my money, that's the best stuff. Tom Noonan's awkwardly creepy, the house is mysterious, there's a nice needle drop, and Greta Gerwig is in there somewhere too. When the plot really ramps up, there's some good "girl fights back" action, but a pretty ruthless ending nonetheless. Seems the new apartment angle presented at the top of the film was just smoke and mirrors, but I'd watch that movie too.

Jack has mellowed out in some ways (I like the third act for that) and not in others (still leads with his fists) in Another 48 Hours, and Reggie, now a free man, has to help him once more - this time to find an elusive drug kingpin, the Ice Man - if he has any shot at getting his money from the first film back. And the results are... pretty similar to the the first 48. Director Walter Hill once again gives us a seedy San Francisco enlivened by cool shots. Nolte and Murphy have some good, far less racist, banter going. And the action is solid for its time. 48 Hrs. has more memorable scenes, but a lot of buddy cop movies would be happy with some of these. The only thing that doesn't really make sense to me is the Ice Man's participation in the final shoot-out, given that his whole deal was being a mysterioso who offs anyone who could potentially identify him. Tired of being in the shadows all of a sudden?

Though initially painted as a the female Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh is more than a little like Indiana Jones in Magnificent Warriors, what with the amazingly precise bullwhip and rope action, but she also flies a biplane (leading to rare aerial action in a Chinese film) and kicks ass, while laughing at the Japanese invaders. The plot is something musty - she goes into an occupied town to get their young lord out, but it seems better to stage a rebellion - but you're watching for the action and comedy. The former is excellent, at least until everything starts to blow up where I don't think it's as strong, but that's when the latter picks up, from the broad humor that doesn't really work for me early on to some really very funny action-comedy set pieces provided by the "Warriors"' comic relief, Richard Ng (who I first noticed in Millionaire's Express in a particularly humorous sneaking scene). Higher production values than your usual Chinese action flick of the era.

Books: You won't find a more complete history of role-playing game publishing in toto than Shannon Appelcline's Designers & Dragons, not in terms of referencing every company and game, up through 2013 when the series was revised (obviously, other books with tighter focuses will have more information on their particular topic). Publisher-focused, the first volume is about game companies that started putting out RPG product IN the 70s, and so includes their histories in the 80s, 90s and beyond. In other words, if you were a gamer, say, in the 80s or later, this first volume will still evoke memories for you. About a third of the book is, unsurprisingly, devoted to TSR and thus largely to Dungeons & Dragons (until it's handed over to Wizards of the Coast). The other big names include Chaosium, Games Workshop, GDW, Flying Buffalo and FGU, but if someone put out even a single little game in the 70s, it's covered. It's a quick read despite the page count, but it does have flow problems. There are way too many instances of "as we will soon see" type formulae, which is pointless because the chapters are so short, we're almost immediately there. But I often find fault in niche "inside baseball" books like this when it comes to style and editing. What's important in these cases is the information, and that's as complete as can be, and gives a good picture of the hobby in those early, primitive days, gives credit where credit is due to all innovations that can hard and fast back then, and tracks the evolution of companies and games beyond that decade.

If you love the idea of a Time Patrol, but thought Poul Anderson's seminal take was too intellectual, you might want to check out Simon Hawke's Time Wars series. Though in this world, joining the army means you fight in historical wars so things can be decided downtime rather than in the here and now (27th Century), this is better explained at the back of the book than in its interior, as the story will have the heroes impersonate legends of the Middle Ages like Ivanhoe and Robin Hood to stop a rogue time traveller bent on taking Richard I's place and changing history. So it's Patrol kind of stuff, but more action-oriented - it moves at a fast pace, and Hawke knows how to withhold and reveal information to create page-turning suspense. Though there's talk of what would happen if history were changed, I'm not sure the stakes are all that well defined in this first volume, but my time travel brain certainly has theories. Suffering from too many epilogues, there's one in particular that's extended to the point where I now expect those characters to return even if they're not the nominal star of the book. (Frankly, there are a lot of fun characters in this, and I'm glad the author has deemed it important to tie up their loose ends after the "mission", but Lucas Priest, the lead, is pretty much a cipher.) There are a dozen of these, and I've been slowly picking them up where I can just based on the time travel theme, but I'm happy to say the first one was fun and that they won't linger too long on my shelf.

Comics: I've been catching up on comics lately, but not reporting in, so here goes, starting with some older or ongoing material before talking about series that ended this week. First off, I've caught up with both Nightwing and World's Finest, two of DC's very best books right now in terms of art and story. I've sung Nightwing's praises before and I was afraid #100 would be a changing of the guard, but it wasn't. I hope Taylor has a lot more to say because I love love love his Dick and Barbara. Similarly, Mark Waid really gets Superman and Supergirl, and Batman and Robin (Dick) and I love what he's doing in World's Finest. Just read the "Dawn of DC" Superman, and this is one to watch, very interesting status quo and excellent characterization and art (couldn't care less about what they're doing with Action though). I also caught up with the current She-Hulk book, which is certainly romance-adjacent, and though the story moves slowly, it's impactful (and restrained in terms of the meta-textual comedy). As for older series I read late, New Champion of Shazam was great, and I regret the decision to now pivot back to Billy Batson when all I want is more Mary Marvel. As for One-Star Squadron, it may be the best Red Tornado story ever (and it's hard for me to admit), but the humor is much too cynical for it to work as well as, say, Hero Hotline, which has the same premise. Like another project I'll talk about below, the way it uses certain DC characters (like Power Girl here) is off-putting and makes it feel like it's not in continuity. I mostly like where it ends up, but it could have been much more charming. Instead, it's kind of depressing. Well, it IS a Red Tornado story.

Here's the thing about Tom King: He likes all the same characters I do, but when he uses those characters, they're often off-model and tend to get damaged. That's fine when you're reinventing a C-to-Z-list character (like in his Danger Street), but terribly annoying with B and up (see Wally West in Heroes in Crisis or Supergirl in Woman of Tomorrow as prime examples). The Human Target is, by nature, a cipher, so it might have gone either way. King's use of the Bwa-ha-ha Justice League in a noir story, however, should have been marked as an Elseworlds. He's essentially doing D.O.A. (his Supergirl was True Grit, so he's obviously a cinephile), and one of the JLI members accidentally poisoned Christopher Chance while trying to murder Lex Luthor. So THIS version of the League did it?! We've got Ice as a Femme Fatale, she and Fire smoking cigarettes, Justice Leaguers having illicit affairs and blackmailing each other... while also being the goofy Giffen-DeMatteis characters (Booster Gold's story in this, for example). If you're a JLI fan, it make you want to throw the book across the room. If you're not, you don't care if it's these characters or some others with less chance of being reused. As it turns out, the last page of the 12-issue series pretty much confirms this is not in continuity, but was there no way to use the characters correctly even if Chance does have his suspicions? It's a well-written noir, and the art is absolutely beautiful (which is what brought me back each issue, probably more so than the mystery), but THESE characters?! Sheesh. I am also now very very aware of King's terrible writing tic re: swearing. He laces his dialog with long strings of swear symbols (you know, "%*@$") that are just annoying to read (and gratuitous). I thought Black Label books were able to use real swears anyway? I mean, if they can show Batman's dick...

Speaking of Batman, let's talks about Batman vs. Robin, and therefore Lazarus Planet. when Mark Waid was announced as DC's new creative director, I rejoiced. I love his superhero comics and they're usually fun, exciting, and in-character. His Batman vs. Robin, which has demonic villains from his World's Finest run manipulate Damian into fighting Batman is all those things. After issue 4, it spins out into the Lazarus Planet event before coming back to an actually very effective, even touching finale. But that's the Batman side of things. Lazarus Planet itself, a series of anthology specials about the Lazarus Pit resin raining all over the world, screwing up magic, and giving people powers (or changing them), was pretty terrible. Had Alpha and Omega been issues of Batman vs. Robin, it would have been perhaps fine. But they essentially made us read a bunch of prologues to upcoming books and storylines in the guise of an "event". And not a great one. The gene bomb in Invasion was the weakest part of that event. The Genesis Wave is now appropriately forgotten as are most of the Bloodlines heroes, and they walked back a lot of the Underworld Unleashed transformations. That's because "event acts as common origin story" does not make for iconic heroes, and only pollutes the stories of established ones. Chapters I did like, for example the Doom Patrol story, could have been told in that book. I don't think we need all this Lazarus Rain stuff at all. So if this is Waid's idea of an event, or way to rearrange the deck chairs for his run at DC, I'm pretty disappointed. We're coming off a Crisis, for Pete's sake! That was all the justification we needed!


Randal said…
Last summer I was cleaning the garage and came across a box of my old teenage era books my parents had packed up for me when I moved out thirty years ago…the whole Time Wars sequence was in there. I had never finished it the first go around…just polished off Lilliput Legion the other day. Always wondered what happened to Simon Hawke.
Charles Izemie said…
Actually, I think you may find that there is an American crocodile and that it prefers saline water. Actually.

Putting aside my stereotype of an offended anorak, it appears that the filmmakers got that bit right. And now I want to see Lake Placid again. I remember watching it when it was new and enjoying it as didn't thread too well-worn paths of the genre. But that was almost 24 years ago now, memory may cheat and hindsight is the king.
Siskoid said…
I might have checked some Safari cards.

There is still the insanity that this is a crocodile who swam to Maine from Southeast Asia.
Siskoid said…
And despite your zoological expertise, the croc experts in this outright say crocs don't like saline water. And this one, even if it did, has been living and thriving in a freshwater lake. So it's a bit of a muddle.
Charles Izemie said…
Sir, I crouch corrected by my keyboard.

As said, 24 years a long time. I've just tipped my imaginary hat to the filmmakers as if I were J. Jeremy Bentham claiming The Celestial Toymaker to be an unrivalled absurdist masterpiece.

Although I suspect that the Southeast Asian origin is a wink to the audience to take it with a grain of salt in the manner of shipwrecking on Bohemian shores.
Siskoid said…
Nothing in this is supposed to be taken seriously. it's got more in common with Deep Blue Sea than it does Jaws.
Boosterrific said…
As a cinephile, I very much enjoy your weekly Geekly Roundup for exposing me to films I might not otherwise encounter. But our film tastes are different enough that I rarely share your opinions. Which is why it shocks me that we're almost exactly in line regarding the DC books you mention here. I don't know what that means other than that maybe I should go rewatch THE BURBS?
Siskoid said…
Maybe we just like the same comics, but not the same movies?!