Tuesday 19 July 2022

The Umbrella Academy (season 3)

 The Umbrella Academy is cool. I mean, really cool. The characters are so different and well developed. The story is clever and well written. The production and editing are great.

It doesn't try too hard.

There's a lot to see if you look and listen.

After Elliot Page announced his transition following season 2, I wondered how they might handle that. Would there even be a season 3? Would they recast Vanya? or write her out? No. No, they didn't. They rewrote the script to transition Vanya to Viktor. Genius. After all, the Vanya character was indirectly transitioning via the body of Elliot Page in season 2 anyway... so it's not a plot swerve at all. Good writing.

And each season has at least one seismic shift: season one was all about the emergence of the White Violin; season 2 was the coup at the commission (and Lila) and WW3; now season 3 is the apocalypse of all time and the umbrellas being ursurped by the sparrows.

 So there is always a lot to see. Often you have to just wait and see how things develop. There are a few red herrings. But it is never dull. It's always a great ride and the pay-off is always great... then confusing. Each season ends with "OK!... wait... what?"

Before watching season 3 I went back over seasons 1 and 2. They rewatch really well. Which is never a given, for shows that have a lot of surprises. But there is so much to this show, and the characters are so great, that even when you know what is going to happen (and I had forgotten a fair bit) it is still exciting and fun to watch again. If there is a season 4 then I will be watching 1-3 again ahead of it!

Monday 18 July 2022

Ms Marvel (Disney+)

 I always knew that at some point I would probably be too old to enjoy new Marvel material. But I thought it would happen gradually, across the board. Instead it looks likely, in the near futture at least,  that there will be a mix of shows that I like and don't like.

That's because after liking pretty much everything in the MCU since the start (and the X-Men and Fantastic Four movies that Fox produced) I have hit something that just didn't grab me - Ms Marvel.

It's a character that I was aware of from comics, but only superficially. So I can't say whether the material is on-canon or not. That's not the problem. It's a youth show... there are clearly youth in-jokes that I don't get.

As such, not a lot happened in this show for me. It's all about the Pakistani youth culture in the USA. Which I know nothing about. It goes into historical detail. The British are the villains... oh, hang on, no... they were the villains until the Djinn. 

The vibe is more Scooby Doo than Captain Marvel. Maybe Disney+ should age-rate these shows in future so that adults don't waste their time watching shows intended mainly for kids?

Wednesday 6 July 2022

Stranger Things (season 4 volume 2)

 I wont get into the argument about whether splitting a "season" into two volumes makes sense. The end of volume 1 was an enjoyably constructed revelation and volume 2 continues on from there. Perhaps a bigger question is whether all these episodes needed to be quite so long?

Because, for all the time spent, I was disappointed in the final episodes. After all the time spent getting Hopper out of the Russian prison, he just broke back in again to kill the monsters. That was it, that's why he was there. He had to kill the monsters to weaken Vecna... a bit. Maybe it didn't even matter at all because Eleven seemed to kick his ass pretty easily anyway.

When it suited.

So, when Eleven appears in Max's mind to confront Vecna she beats him easily... then he beats her back easily... then her boyfriend says "I love you" and "fight"... and then she can beat him easily again. But just late enough for Max to die for a while... just long enough for the 4 gates to open and the clock to chime. Then she can bring Max back to life again. Well, an empty coma anyway; and she has broken arms and legs and is blind. So, it didn't work out so great for Max. Or Eddie, who didn't seem to need to die either, really; especially when the insane basketball team get taken out of the game.

Given how long it took to build to this "final" battle; it was a rubbish battle. I was really hoping for some insights into why Vecna and Eleven were so powerful compared to the other specials and why Eleven was ultimately stronger than Vecna. Maybe we get that in the final season? But this part didn't make sense - the trio were supposed to kill Vecna while he was defenseless in Max's mind... but he woke up before they killed him... and a couple of Molotov cocktails and a shotgun are enough? Clearly not... he's still "alive", right? (yes, just wait 2 days)

This was a long season and yet the ending felt so rushed. Vecna's down! Yay! Or not... he says it's just the begining. There's an "earthquake", people die, oh no the upside down is leaking into our world.

Oh, and in case you missed it, Vecna was the Mindflayer thing all along. He did all that other stuff before he realised he only had to kill 4 people to open up a gateway between worlds and turn all the flowers grey.

In summary. The episodes were too long. The pacing was a bit ropey. Some of the set-ups for the final season were very clumsy. Still pleny to enjoy, but I hope the final season is structured better.

Thursday 30 June 2022

The Primitives @ The Boileroom (Guildford)

 My favourite band of all time, The Primitives, played at The Boileroom in Guildford last night. My ticket was dated 2020, reminding me that the gig was postponed twice due to Covid-19... and this was the first live music event I have been to in 2.5 years.

Wow. What a great show. I mean, I was always going to enjoy it, but it was even better than I expected. Starting with Thru The Flowers the largely 40years+ audience took a few minutes to warm up, but by the end of that first track everyone was transported back to the 80s and having a great time. 

This was far from a mere nostalgia trip though. Add in a few of their new songs (post 2009) like Spin-o-rama and Rattle My Cage and even a couple of really new ones that I had never heard before (Don't know where to start?) and you see a band that is still creating, not stuck in the past.

(I didn't recognise the bass player... it definitely wasn't Raphael Moore who played with them 2009-2019 when I saw them... according to Wikipedia it was Paul Sampson (again) is that right?)

To cap off a great show the Prims played a 3 song encore including my favourite (if obscure) track Spacehead which judging by the volume of audience participation is also very popular with many other fans too (but were they wearing purple socks as I was?)

Each time I see The Primitives this century I think "this will probably be the last time I see them". So far I've been wrong. Hopefully I will be wrong again!

Sunday 26 June 2022

Guardians of Justice

 The first impression of Guardians of Justice is that it is simply a very thinly veiled spoof of the DC Justice League comics / movie(s). But quickly we see that it is far from a light-hearted piece. This is dark; very dark; very, very dark.

In some ways this is what a lot of fans wanted when they complained that some of the Batman films were not dark enough. But darker than that. So, maybe, this is instead a spoof of what fans say they want... or rather an illustration of what the result might be if fans got what they asked for.


Yet, as the episodes pass (there are only 7) the story is nicely coherent. There is a lot of violence, some of it clearly inspired by video games, other parts perhaps inspired by Scott Pilgrim, with no apparent reason behind the random switches. That was a bit grating sometimes. And it was sometimes a real effort to remember who had been killed, who was a suspect, who the good guys and the bad guys currently were.

I think The Speed was my favourite character, which turned out to be handy as she survived in play a lot longer than some of the other Guardians. I couldn't figure out who Awesome Man was for a long time and why he didn't do more... but that turns out to be for good reason later on!!!

Anyway, back to good guys versus bad guys. That is probably the whole point of the show. There are no good guys, really. Certainly by the end. The idealists who you might normally pick out as the good guys all get killed off. As do the fanatical bad guys. Leaving the pragmatic "all for the greater good" guys... who think of themselves as the good guys, but are not averse to killing anyone who gets in the way of their idea of a "peaceful world" where everyone behaves as they should!

Did I enjoy this? Probably a lot more than if they had taken shots at my favourite Marvel characters (was Sepia Spider a cross-over or a DC character I couldn't match?) as I always felt DC characters are inherently more ridiculous anyway (just my opinion). There were several "aha" moments that I definitely enjoyed. Overall, probably more "yuk" moments, and certain episodes dragged a bit in the middle.

On balance, definitely worth a watch; not as a superhero series but as a dark look at prejudice and authoritarian regimes... maybe a comentary on a direction that certain Western countries might be drifting if they are not careful.

Sunday 19 June 2022

Obi-wan Kenobi (3 + 4 + 5)

 I would have waited until the end of the season before posting again on the Obi-wan show... but I don't think I am going to watch it any more. I'll probably do what I did with The Rise Of Skywalker and swear blind that I will never watch it, but then be drunk enough one night to give it a go anyway. It is testament to how much I hated "Skywalker" that even then I only watched the first hour before bailing out!

So, now Star Wars is dead for me. Disney have wrecked it. I won't say "beyond repair" because anything can br rebooted or retconned in the future... but my plan now is clear - avoid all new Star Wars movies and TV shows unless and until a significant number of genuine fans sing its praises (like they did The Mandalorian). I can't give anything Star Wars the benefit of the doubt now; and I can't get excited in anticipation that it might be good. It's broken. I've been disappointed too many times and too deeply. 

Given the resources that Disney has, I can only conclude that their Star Wars material is not bad because of cost or lack of talent. It must be bad because they are deliberately targeting a new audience that they think doesn't care about the original trilogy and about consistency with that original world in which the story was built. The original characters don't matter, they were mostly white men (the human ones anyway) and it's not cool to show too many of those now. The force doesn't matter, it's only wielded by a hand-picked elite, even if that elite is incredibly diverse of species, race and gender; we just don't like elites and the ambiguous semi-religous undertones - give everyone a blaster and have done with it.

The plot of the Obi-wan series does not make sense. It is ridiculous. This scared old man who has forgotten, sometimes, how to use the force is not Obi-wan Kenobi. He is supposed to be watching over Luke Skywalker and learning how to commune with Qi-gon Jinn. He doesn't work in an open-air meat factory and go off chasing the kidnappers of Princess Leia ... kidnappers who are so dumb that it took them 10 years to figure out that the way to force Obi-wan from "hiding" was to kidnap her?

Anakin Vader isn't a scary evil villain. He's an incompetent fool, who has the power to single-handedly stop a space-ship from taking off, but can't actually do any of the important work himself... instead he sends off complete incompetents to do everything and then kills them, or not, when they fail.

In episode 5 there was a glimmer of hope, when Sister Sinister turned out to be one of the younglings that Anakin killed in the temple... except she didn't die. Now she's just doing all these evil things, like hunting Kenobi, to get close enough to Anakin to kill him. Except she's been plenty close enough to him plenty of times to take a shot. And anyway, when she does try her hand, surprise, surprise, Anakin Vader knew all along and was just using her to get Kenobi. So then he kills her again, with her own lightsaber because he can't even be bothered to get his own out... except she doesn't die again, and the Chief Inquistor that she killed in episode whenever wasn't dead either. FFS does no-one die of lightsabre runthroughs now? Only the nice lady officer with the hand-grenade actually perishes in the whole attack.

Urgh. It's just rubbish. And that's all excluding the involvement of Tiny Leia, who is more heroic and smarter than anyone else in the show. They might as well have called the whole thing "Young Leia" and have done with it.

I don't know how they will try and fix this in the last episode, how they will leave things, whether they will set up for a second season. And I don't care. I'm done. Maybe if I rewatch the original trilogy enough times then eventually I will forget about the whole Disney nightmare.

Monday 13 June 2022

Next (2020 Disney+)

 I have a real problem with Disney. The only reason I subscribe to Disney+ is because I am a big Marvel fan. If there was a subscription which was only the Marvel stuff, then I would go for that in a heartbeat.

A friend of mine, who's tastes match mine pretty well, recommended another show on there called "Only Murders In the Building" ... which I watched and enjoyed. I also noticed that they have "Devs" which I saw when it was on UK Broadcast TV and thought was brilliant.

OK, so maybe there are good shows on Disney+. Or maybe not. I tried watching "Next" which looks like my thing on paper - sci-fi, dangerous AI potentially out of control. But. I didn't even make it to the end of episode 1. It was dreadful. I only watched it a couple of days ago and all I can really remember is that it was awful... er, there was a car crash and ... some people ... and the billionaire genius ex-CEO of the company that made the AI was a bit of a dick. Nothing interesting. Nothing that made me even want to watch the whole episode, let alone plough on through the season.

Often I give things the benefit of the doubt if the start is slow... but this wasn't so much slow as just bad.

(just had a look on Wikipedia and apparently this show was cancelled after 2 episodes when it first aired on TV... cheers Disney+ for mopping up shows of this quality to pad out your sci-fi section!)