This Week in Geek (8-14/06/24)


At home: There was a lot of love for The Iron Claw when it was in theaters, but while it's a well-made drama, I'm not sure it ever truly transcends its status as a biopic for me. I don't know enough about wrestling to recognize the Von Erich family as a thing, nor whether Rick Flair is well cast or not (apparently not), but it initially at least feels like a fiction. An overbearing father (a powerful presence in Holt McCallany) lives through his sons vicariously, trying to get an elusive title belt "for the family", no matter the cost. Add to that an apparent family curse that does seem to manifest in a series of tragedies, as an unrecognizably swole Zac Efron (as the good-natured and rather guileless older brother) grows more and more despondent. Good, done for real, wrestling action and some grace notes at the end (one of which is questionable) don't really distract from the structure, which has one thing happen after the other, as per life, with only the most subtle of cathartic moments to wrap the story up before we go to some inevitable caption cards. Lily James is particularly badly served as Efron't wife, a woman with no apparent motivations except that she "wants that". It's still a strong, depressing drama that should inflame your daddy issues, but I've got my usual biopic blues.

Girlfight! It's Michelle Rodriguez's first movie, and she's believably a high schooler here (though a very buff one). It's also director Karyn Kusama's first film - you'll know her better for Jennifer's Body. Together, they kind of upend the boxing movie and coming of age genres, while still providing fine examples of both. For a sports movie, it's relatively low stakes. We never leave the amateur circuit, which allows for a gender-blind program to pit Diana (Rodriguez) against men as well as women, including the boy she's interested in. The actual stakes ARE high, but personal - getting out of the projects or an abusive home - and being in a relationship (of any kind) with Diana is a battle. Where it subverts the usual coming of age tropes is that no one takes Diana under their wing per se. She's the one who chooses to channel her anger in this way after getting into trouble once too often at school. She's the one who picks a coach (and I do like how he warms to her and the advice he gives, both in and out of the ring); he doesn't recruit her. It's not about seeing the potential in someone (the messianic theory), but about recognizing it in yourself and then fulfilling it. Great characters, strong drama, and those fights are well-staged and interesting too.

Sometimes you pick a movie based on title alone, and The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is such a pick, but helped along by being an early Wim Wenders film. Arthur Brauss plays the title goalie who gets expelled from a game, leaves the players' bench and goes wandering through Germany (so an early example of travel as a Wenders motif). But this voyage isn't a metaphor for finding oneself as this is rather about LOSING oneself. Early in the film, Brauss, though subjected to all sorts of minor irritations, kills a woman for no discernible reason. We look for meaning, but the character seems detached from the action in this existential piece, and indeed, Wenders highlights automatic or reflexive action as often as he can. We start on a goal that goes in because the goalie assumed it was off-side and therefore didn't even have the reflex to stop. We end on him being called a chaos agent who does things because he feels like it in the moment. And throughout, we have these machines into which he plunks quarters - jukeboxes, food machines, cylinders with maps on them, etc. - evoking that same idea. What if human beings are just a series of buttons ready to be pushed and aren't responsible for their actions? And yet, the epilogue is far more strategic in its view of football, and therefore life, so an ambiguity persists. The film does meander (as per the novel?), especially in the back half, but that's perhaps part of the idea. Seek, seek, seek, but never find an answer.

My Companion Film of the week features the second Romana, Lalla Ward... Hammer Horror goes deeper into sexploitation than usual with the rather naked Vampire Circus, the tale of a vampiric Count (not that one) who gets staked and promises a curse on the town with his undying breath. 15 years later, the town is struggling with a mysterious plague when a circus comes to town (which includes future Time Lady Lalla Ward, a couple of big cats, and a real circus act that includes a nude snake woman). The story's fairly thin, padding things out with effects-driven circus acts while we wait for the vamps to bleed the villagers so they can resurrect their master. But there are a number of characters to latch onto, and the circus angle is a good twist. Sadly, it's all going to end in the same old crypt setting. The movie is certainly lurid, with crimson blood and young women in various states of undress, and the proximity of children (the vampires' preferred snack) to all this can be upsetting, and it's meant to. Despite the premise, it's still the usual vampire story though.

Gaming: Ubisoft put their Assassin's Creed engine to making a rip of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with Immortals: Fenix Rising (or so I was told by friends walking in on me playing the latter), a pretty fun send-up of Greek mythology laden with jokes and anachronism, where you play Fenix (on a trajectory to becoming a Hero and lending her name to a certain bird - I say "her" because I played a "her", which I think makes more sense in the story than using one of the male figures) and use the gifts of the gods to ultimately free the world from an evil demon's thrall and restore the deities to Olympus. The figures look cute, the sandbox is beautiful, and with so many powers to master in the game, I'm surprised at how well it plays. All but the finicky jumping. I hate finicky jumping, and Creed-type games have a lot of finicky jumping. Jump, double-jump, jump with wing lift, sometimes my hands just couldn't remember what they were doing. In addition to the storyline, there are lots of puzzles of different types to help you build the resources to pay for the weapons and powers you'll need in the end game, so the "side missions" are actually part of the game (which is good for me, since I tend to be a completist). You don't need to do EVERYTHING to get there, but there's certainly a minimum. Weird ending - not the story per se, but the way they return you to the sandbox to finish everything you'd want to after the finale. Instead of just unlocking the islands and letting me roam, I'm given a choice: Go back to the save point BEFORE the finale (which is a BIG chunk of game play) or start over with all your stuff but everything undone. I chose the former because I REALLY don't want to go back to do some of these jumping puzzles. Whatever I left on the board required too much finicky jumping, and I'm at peace with that.

RPGs: Third adventure in Orrorsh in a row in our Torg Eternity game, and this one was about a haunted DOLL'S house, where dinner guests and their hosts were trapped by a ghost masquerading as one of their loved ones. This unusual haunting is in the Delphi Missions: Orrorsh adventure book, but I made it more personal by involving the Monster Hunter's family - his mom a fortune teller (with a real Tarot reading that actually influenced the game - allowing a Drama card change when the moment described was evoked) and his aunt, a priestess in the service of their org (inspired to join by her favorite nephew). Investigation-heavy, which I know my players like, and allowing for some of their theories to leak into the way things actually played out (though they created some red herrings for themselves too). The big thing, of course, is that during the purification/exorcism climax, the Nile Empire Super-Wrestler rolled a Mishap (one of many, many this session) on a reconnection roll, transforming him into the dreaded Orrorsh reality. Though intrigued, he did bargain for his life, reminding me that he'd played a Reality Surge card that actually put him in a personalized Mixed Zone that included the Nile Empire, so we agree to toss a coin between the two realities. Orrorsh still won. But what would a big, burly superhuman wrestler BE in the horror cosm? Well, here I have to thank Jay Rutley's Guide to the Cursed (available on the Infiniverse Exchange) because it introduces the Created - Frankenstein's monsters, essentially - which we soon became convinced would be a great analog. We have a couple weeks to rework the character using that mold (pun intended).
Best bits: The adventure was preceded by a 3-day voyage, and I couldn't really believe that would be uneventful, so I asked the players to narrate a spooky occurrence - they came up with a creepy children's song that could be heard behind their cart, in one of their own voices. I allowed one of them to draw an extra Cosm card for that one. "I don't want to end up a doll!" Yes, in Orrorsh, it's not a bad idea to have a safe word/phrase. The Akashan started beating at flying knives with a cutting board, catching them in the wood. Had a wounded Victorian wave someone over to slip secret strategy in their ear - manifested by a Destiny card draw - and the Realm Runner decided to use it (a Drama card) in an unusual way, spending it without its normal effect in exchange for giving the Akashan the necessary Bless Miracle (where normally, that character can "steal" a skill only from one of his cross-dimensional selves) after the priest went down. I made it a tough roll, but it worked anyway. He claimed the Victorian had inspired the move by saying "If one soldier goes down, another has to take his place". And gotta love the Monster Hunter's insane fixations, desperately looking for a mirror to check if he'd  been turned into a doll, then for a basement despite my contention that no one would build a basement in Orrorsh.