Westworld Season Two- Episode 1

west1Just a few observations- firstly, having been enjoying Netflix just over a month now, having to digest a big show in weekly chunks just feels so old-fashioned its almost arcane. I mean, I watch one episode, and then… then I have to wait? WTF? (It occurs to me that I’ve never done a weekly review of a series episode by episode, maybe I should start with this show).

Secondly, when does being intellectually ‘clever’ get in the way of actually telling a story? Don’t get me wrong, I love Westworld and it’s one of my favourite shows of the past few years-  away from the nudity and violence, what I really like is the examinations of what it is to be human, the impact of memory, the possibilities of AI. Its really heady stuff and the idea someone can make such a popular show that is so high concept is just profoundly exciting. BUT…. sometimes a show can risk being too clever for its own good. I enjoyed the ‘twist’ in season one of the separate timelines, and this seems to be carrying on into season two. Fair enough, but I don’t really see what we gain from it at present, with how it’s going. What I’m saying is, it should be there to inform and tell the story, not the story there to support the multiple timelines for their own sake. I fear there may be a danger in that here. Don’t try to confuse me just for the hell of it, tell the story and if the story doesn’t benefit from that confusion, why is it there? Well, time will tell if these multiple timelines serves some purpose.

I’m also a little concerned that Delores is becoming the least interesting character now that she’s slipping into ‘avenging robot angel’ mode. She risks losing her sense of humanity and empathy. Whereas the focus is really shifting towards Bernard, easily now the most interesting character in the show, who on the one hand seems to be dealing with the mindf–k that must be knowing his true robot nature whilst hiding it from his colleagues who are (?) all unaware of it. I always had a soft spot for him in season one and it’s fascinating to imagine where he might take us this season.

Anyway, roll on episode two. Oh yeah, I have to wait….

…and wait….

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Return of the (last) Jedi

jedilastBad films can be infuriating, particularly when they are from a beloved franchise or series… but so fascinating too- so how could I resist buying The Last Jedi on disc? 

In all honesty, I felt like writing a long list of issues that I still have with this film, really, but the more I thought and the more I wrote, the worst I felt it was largely pointless. I doubt I’ll ever make peace with this fim. So I scrapped most everything. But I still felt the need to write something. So instead of an opus of pain, here’s this:

Imagine if you will, a (motion) picture:

1979, or the early ‘eighties, it doesn’t really matter, it’s an alternate universe, think of it as a Black Mirror episode for geeks: Paramount are launching a trilogy of Star Trek films, based on the old 1960s tv series and rebooting it for a new saga/crew. Old creator Gene Roddenberry is gone, replaced by a new creative team eager to reboot Star Trek with new values. Bringing the old crew back to placate fans whilst introducing a new crew for later adventures, the first film brings back Mr Spock and Dr McCoy but leaves the appearance of Kirk until the very last scene, used to tease film number two. To the fans consternation, Mr Spock dies during this first film, so fans never see a proper reunion of the three main stars of the old show.

The second film features a rather older and rebooted Kirk. This Kirk has retired from Star Fleet and gone off to some corner of the galaxy. He thinks the original Trek’s five-year mission was a waste and that the Federation of Planets and its human-centric organisation was a mistake and wants nothing more of it, wants it to die.

Imagine how the Trekkies would have reacted. Imagine how the film-makers would have exalted in their ‘out with the old, in with the new’ policy. Imagine William Shatner fundamentally disagreeing with the new direction and this new interpretation of Kirk. Imagine fans pining for the good old days of creator Gene Roddenberry’s oversight.

Imagine if you will, another trilogy:

Its one hundred after Return of the Jedi. The New Republic still stands, but is under threat from a new outside force- a resurgent Empire that has lingered in the remote Outer Rim for the past decades, remnants of the Old Empire gathering and scheming and now further rejuvenated by a new Sith.

The old heroes are gone now. The descendants of our old heroes are separated by fortune and distance. Some are bureaucrats in the Republic, others driven with wanderlust, trying that luck in the trade-routes as entrepreneurs or rogues, and perhaps there is still a Skywalker in the fledgling Jedi Academy. The disaster that befell the Old Republic when the Emperor seized power has left the Jedi Order marginalised  by this New Republic wary of old mistakes. Jedi remain few and far-flung through the galaxy.

A restless grandchild of Solo and Leia, curious about past glories and lessons that could be heeded, searches out the places and events of those old adventures. He finds Vader’s old helmet, and Luke’s old lightsaber. His curiosity leaves him open to manipulation and he is found and seduced by the Sith, clearly a prime asset to their schemes to overthrow this infidel Republic and return to the days of Empire.

But Disney chose a different path….

A VERY different path.

I mean, this thing no longer even functions as a trilogy- if IS still a trilogy, it’s a dysfunctional one, most of the set-up from The Force Awakens being ditched and arcs abandoned. It feels a bit like Justice League following BvS, something is of, something has changed as if there’s a whole new creative team without any oversight.  Look at how well that’s turning out for DC.

Ignoring all that, it still feels ‘off’. For one thing, the tone is all over the place. The opening portion with General Huxx is like a Spaceballs farce.  The film from the start undermines General Huxx and shows him up to be an incompetent moron and makes Huxx throughout the butt of too many jokes (casting Eddie Hitler as his assistant just exacerbated the issue and makes me wonder if that casting was actually deliberate). Imagine 1977’s Star Wars making Tarkin the comedy relief. Exactly.

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Characters do contrary actions all the time and there are holes all over the place. In just the same way as teleporting from Earth to Klingon moon, or from Vulcan moon to in-warp Enterprise in the Star Trek reboots contradicts everything established in Star Trek of old and makes Starships obsolete, so too does Star Destroyers tracking Rebels through Hyperspace. I mean, think about it, it’s now out of the bag- they’ll be able to do it all the time in every future Star Wars film because its been done (and if they don’t do it, then why not?). Good luck escaping the bad guys in future, Rebels, they will be tracking you across the galaxy. Straight back to your rebel base, too, I should imagine.

If Rian Johnson had thought it through, he just had to have a plot device about a bug or tracker hidden by a spy on the lead Revel ship. That’s all he had to do (and has been done before in Star Wars with the Death Star tracking the Falcon, and Rey and Leia are doing it all the way through the bloody movie). Instead he has to weave this preposterous plot device of having to travel to a casino planet to get a code-breaker to get onboard the bad guys ship and then disable the tracking machine without anybody noticing a rebel droid hiding in a waste paper basket? As if only the one ship was bothering to track the rebels- wouldn’t all the ships be doing it as a matter of course if they all have the technology now (so if one tracker failed or was disabled, the others would offer redundancy)?

Hell, at least hunting down a spy and tracking device in a race against time would have given Poe something to do.

I get that Rian Johnson was trying to shake up Star Wars and spin it off in some new direction. I admire the intention, but I abhor the execution.

 

The Last Man on the Moon (2014)

last1This terrific documentary is a salient reminder of how much the world has changed since the 1960s and the glory days of Apollo. As a lad who grew up fascinated by the space program of that era, it’s hard to express what the future looked like back then, when everything seemed possible. Of course, I was a kid struck by the romantic adventure of going to the moon, I didn’t understand the political expediencies of budgets and a Vietnam War. The future I thought was ahead of us, that I thought we would inherit, was not what eventually transpired.

How can it be that the last time a human left a footprint on the moon, or even left low-Earth orbit, was back in 1972? What happened? How is it that the launch pads and all the NASA infrastructure is now left just rusting in the sun?

Such thoughts are inevitable, and the sentiments considered, watching this fascinating documentary film that is, as the title suggests, chiefly centered upon the life and thoughts of Gene Cernan, the titular last man on the moon, and his adventure on Apollo 17 in 1972. Its a surprisingly candid and emotional film that reveals much of those heady days of the space program, his life that lead to it and the cost to his private life because of it.  Of course there is a lot of ego demonstrated here- Cernan was not the reclusive type like Neil Armstrong was, but there are a few moments towards the end where Cernan reflects at what he lost by being so obsessed with his career. The knowledge that time is indeed finite – and that Cernan himself only had a little time left, as he passed away in 2017- makes his story rather poignant. How does one live anything like an ordinary life having been a part of something as massive as Apollo? When you are one of only twelve people in all of human history to have stepped on the surface of another world?

This documentary doesn’t really have the answers, but it is very informative and quite emotive and beautifully shot. It is indeed a very sobering reminder of what we as a species can do when the political will is there, but also a reminder of what can be lost when we lose our way. Was the expense and effort behind Apollo a folly? What was the point of it all? Will we ever follow in the footsteps of those original twelve? These are questions that rattle around in your head after watching something like this. Its all very inspiring but rather depressing too. The future isn’t what it used to be.

Lost in Space (2018)

lost1I’m mid-way through the latest Netflix show, Lost in Space. I’m rather enjoying it. Sure it’s a daft, leave-your-brain-in-neutral kind of show, but there’s no harm in that considering the greater demands of shows like Altered Carbon, Twin Peaks or Westworld.  Indeed, it’s a bit refreshing to watch a show that is light and fluffy compared to other shows more concerned with angst and violence. Different shows for different folks I guess, and this is clearly a family-oriented show aimed at different demographics.

Must confess, when I recently heard about Netflix doing a reboot of Lost in Space, I thought it a strange one. Although I have a soft spot for the often-maligned movie of 1998 (does anyone else remember that great R1 DVD? Those were the days) the original tv series was a camp monstrosity of the 1960s, that clearly wouldn’t work the same now. Thankfully while the central premise remains the same (Space Family Robinson lost on space) its been reworked and modernised with some thought to the background. Now we have flashbacks to a Earth blighted by environmental collapse forcing colonial expeditions to Alpha Centauri and a family slightly this side of dysfunctional, requiring mom in charge more than Dad.

While some things work better than others (the kids are rather annoying, frankly, but Parker Posey makes a great female twist on Dr Smith) one thing that cannot be denied is the amazing production credentials of the show. As is becoming typical of Netflix, no expense has been spared here, with a great cast, brilliant convincing sets and high-quality effects work giving the whole thing a big-budget look more akin to a Hollywood blockbuster movie. Its probably a bit of a shame the stories don’t really show the same level of high-concept thinking but hey, its a light family show that’s easy to watch and functions well for what it is. I don’t know where the remaining five episodes will go over this first season’s ten-episode run (I’m not expecting too many shocks or surprises, frankly) but on the evidence of what I’ve seen this is something of a surprising success.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Robot yet…

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The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

huntsAs fantasy movies go, this wasn’t too bad. Harmless really. I expected it to be a prequel but actually it functions as both prequel and sequel, in that it bookends the first movie (Snow White and the Huntsman, something of a box-office hit back in 2012) with a section prior to the original and the remainder set after it, all the while cleverly avoiding Snow White herself  altogether other than in some general passing comments.

This is, of course, due to all the furor over the original films backstage gossip, something about rising star Kristen Stewart (Snow White) cheating on her then-lover (whoever he was) with the films director, Rupert Sanders, which has resulted in this follow-up missing both.  Its like making an Alien film without Ripley or a Blade Runner film without Deckard- hey, it could be done and might not be such a bad idea. But would a risk-aversive studio do such a thing if it didn’t really have to?

In this case, they obviously figured they really had to. Still, it does see the return of Chris Hemsworth as the titular Huntsman and the great as ever Charlize Theron as villainess Ravenna. With Emily Blunt thrown in as extra Evil Queen and the brilliant Jessica Chastain as a new female hero and love-interest for the Huntsman, its executed really well and is clearly a triple-A production. Sure, it’s pretty much a Lord of the Rings-lite kind of fantasy, but I well recall old fantasy films clunkers like Hawk the Slayer, Krull and the original Clash of the Titans (hey I know they each have their fans, don’t shoot me), and compared to them this isn’t bad at all. The fantasy genre is pretty hard to pull off without looking silly or camp and this really does work quite well.

Theron is a great villain and Chastain a great heroine, both charismatic and impressive in physical roles (particularly Chastain which surprised me). A spin-off with just Theron sparring against Chastain would be a great idea in my book. Meanwhile the ever-reliable Hemsworth gets by with his natural charm and again reminds me how he would have been a fantastic Kirk in those Trek reboots. Clearly this is a better cast than such silly fantasy films deserve but we’re in an era where fantasy films= lots of CGI spectacle and that’s what gets bums on cinema seats on a Saturday night. I rather hope that one day we’ll see a big adult fantasy done right (and I REALLY hope it’s a definitive Conan movie, personally) but while this isn’t it, it’s not a bad way to while away a couple of hours.

The Terminally Walking Dead

wd8The Walking Dead – Season 8

Well, that’s an hour of my life that I’m not getting back. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s a whole 15-16 hours of what was Season 8 that I’m not getting back.

Whatever happened to The Walking Dead? I can remember back when it was great, each episode eagerly awaited and discussed at work with the guys afterwards. Having never read the comics, the show seemed full of surprises and capable of genuine shocks with various members of the cast getting the bullet (or bite).

Those days seem long gone now. I’ve stubbornly watched (endured, a more apt description) the last two seasons out of some mix of loyalty and curiosity- having invested several years watching it, it seems pointless/stupid to give up on it and not know where it goes/how it ends. It feels like I’m that guy in Godfather Pt 3… ” Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” But at this point I really have to wonder if I’m out for good, and the way the viewing figures for the show is going, it would seem I’m not alone. Loyalty and curiosity only goes so far, and maybe nine seasons of turgid mild horrors (and that’s just the last-minute twists and the truly cringe-inducing dialogue)  is more than enough.

There have always been pacing issues with The Walking Dead but the show has done so many WTF about-turns with character behavior and turgid storylines and plot-holes that it’s impossible to take it seriously anymore, it’s just becoming a self-parody. Its an awful, bloated, self-important mess with so many confusing, convoluted WTF moments that I’ve lost track. Case in point, this season eight finale revelation of where Eugene’s true loyalty lies which is so out of left-field and contrary to everything seen over the last two interminable seasons  I just cannot fathom out what the script guys were thinking. Indeed, in an effort to surprise and possibly shock they’ve thrown out any semblance of credibility and continuity. A few episodes ago Rick is killing bad guys who have surrendered to him and here he’s offering amnesty to a bunch that were all ready to wipe out Rick and his freinds in a bloody cold-murder trap just a few moments earlier.  Its bullshit, that’s what it is. This show has truly jumped the shark.

And Maggie has been pregnant for two seasons (possibly actually three, I can’t remember) and still isn’t even showing a bulge yet? WTF?