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So, I finished Season One and:

Whilst it was overall enjoyable [and I’m going to at least give Season Two a go], I have basically given up any hope of the thing actually surprising me, or being more than just a series of homages to Movies of the 80s.

(And, yeah, they did do the Eleven and Mike are going to be an item thing, up for “most depressingly boring narrative choice for a TV show in the 21st Century”. And they killed off Barb, who really did just exist to be the least stupid person in her school year and to be fridged to get Nancy involved in matters. Sigh.)

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So, half-way through Season 2 and:

Max is… not actually very interesting, and her brother (or at least, brother-figure) is a 1 dimensional asshole caricature which the series doesn’t need.
Sean Austin is pretty good as “guy who doesn’t realise he’s in entirely the wrong genre of show.”
Eleven has Sigourney-Weaver-in-Alien hair, and astonishingly little to do. It’s like the whole thing with Hiro in Heroes (and, actually Sylar and Peter at points in Heroes) where they realised they had a character who would just break all their plots so they had to have them be ill/in another time period/bricked into a wall/etc just to keep them from being around and breaking everyone else’s plotlines.

Dustin continues to be the best thing about the Party; and everyone seems to enunciate “True Sight” weirdly (like TrueSight run together, not two separate words like normal people would say it). Plus: this thing doesn’t ring true to me - the Party are Tolkien nerds as well as D&D nerds, and surely the better and more obvious metaphor for Will’s condition is the state of Frodo when he has the shard of the Ringwraith’s blade lodged in him, rather than an ability that lets you see the true state of things (to see through illusions and deceptions, not just to see into the Ethereal Plane).

I am also now pretty sad about Dart already: since this is based on 80s media, he’s obviously going to turn out to be the larval form of a UpsideDown predator and is going to try to attack Dustin and the others or something, rather than any kind of actual interesting plot that allows nurture to win over nature.. Also, it’s very obvious that this is probably going to start with him killing Mr Mews (since we’ve been introduced to Mr Mews repeatedly hissing at Dart, and this is what 80s movies did…) which has me sad already as I hate bad things happening to cats in stuff.

Edit to add: I was right about Mr Mews, and I’m sad enough at this moment that I don’t know if I want to watch any more of the show at this point.

Oh, and over in the older kids plotline… apparently the writers feel like having suddenly, a year after the fact, Nancy feeling bad about Barb [and showing us that Barb’s parents are crushed by not knowing what happened to her] is anything resembling an actual way of addressing the way she was treated in Season One? Fridging, everyone, is still fridging when the effect of the fridging continues for a long time. That doesn’t actually fix the problem.

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The Boys S3 started Friday. They have a weird tendency to throw in gross-out gags that don’t really do anything other than suggest that the writers room is run by a bunch of 15 year olds. Somebody smarter than I am can dissect the effectiveness of its satire; it does lean heavily into caricature and it doesn’t really have a sense of politics other than that Kid Rock picture of him giving the finger to an unspecified “Authority.” It’s very watchable! Karl Urban is tremendous! I just get hit by a gross-out joke and suddenly my amateur critic brain starts drowning everything else out.

Also Tokyo Vice slaps although not without its content warnings. Definitely watch but watch with care.

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I’ve read the book. I can imagine…

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I promise I won’t do another Stranger Things post (after this one) until I’ve seen all of Season 3 at least but:

Having finished Season 2, I still have basically similar feelings about it to Season 1 [that is: it’s mostly a lacking-in-true-originality throwing together of plots from 80s movies, tv shows and books, and just having a character at one point say that it’s like that doesn’t stop it from being true. Being aware of not being original isn’t the same as being original or secretly ironic or anything; but it’s a mostly enjoyable derivative copying of 80s tropes].

There continues, in my mind, to be a weird disconnect between the show’s idea of D&D and what D&D playing teens would use as metaphors and what’s more “realistic”. I know they wanted to probably use a classic D&D monster name… but, just a True Sight is an awful metaphor for Will’s condition in the first half of the season, Mind Flayers are an awful metaphor for the infectious dominant intelligence of the Upside Down. Given that they’re some kind of spore-born intelligence associated with moulds, rots and things like that, it’s pretty obvious that any reasonable D&D player of the time would have immediately thought of Zuggtmoy, Demon Lord of Fungi (and Slimes, Moulds and Oozes), who appeared in D&D around… 1983 to 84 (right when this season is set), and probably would have been at the forefront of the minds of the kids as a result.

Anyway, other than that, there were the expected good and bad bits, and the inexplicable bit where Eleven goes off and spends time with some terribly scripted thinly-written attempts at doing 80s punk counterculture types that apparently no-one was fired for their involvement in the development of.

Oh, and for some reason the last episodes has the “high-point” romantic ending [before the obvious twist sequel hook] scored with The Police’s Every Breath You Take, a song from the point of view of a stalker. Which is certainly a choice. Yes, it could be taken as being from the “Mind Flayer’s” viewpoint, except that it also fades out as soon as we go to the final scene rather than keeping going to make that connection…

Also, on that penultimate scene - what’s with Will suddenly getting asked to dance by a random girl? I know it’s just to make Dustin sad because the writers realise that he’s the best thing in the entire show and need to have a downer moment for him being dejected about being rejected and alone… but what?

(Also, spoiler for minor thing I guess but: I also was on a low point at the start of this scene anyway, because the shot of poor Dart dead by an empty 3 Musketeers bar wrapper actually did make me cry. Second most appealing character in the entire show (who was still alive), and he’s a weird carnivorous pack hunter from another dimension with no face.)

I imagine Jake Edelstein’s an interesting cat and a decent enough guy but Ansel Elgort in Tokyo Vice just kinda makes him seem like a giant himbo

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So I’m glad S1 of Star Trek Discovery was actually aware of how incredibly fascist the whole setup was from top to bottom. If Lorca hadn’t turned out to be Terran, I would have just been incredibly disappointed with this show..

As it is, the first season definitely wasn’t what I wanted from a Trek show. Too much death, destruction and immediate unrelenting peril on a weekly basis. S2 seems like it’s remembering that Trek is supposed to, at the very least, have some cozy moments. I’m hanging on because there are some pretty lovable characters here (and some incredible casting choices), but I have doubts.

I watched Jurassic World Dominion (thanks but no thanks to Capybaroness on Twitter for pointing out the Dominion isn’t the sub title) and hoo boy what a bad, dumb but ever so slightly fun movie. I am emphasising the slightly. There is some fun to be had in little bursts but it’s all buried under some of the worst blockbuster writing I have ever seen and some of the shakiest and blurry camera work (I’ll come back to that in a moment) that I have ever seen.

I had this epiphany while I was watching Jurassic World and it crystallised all the problems this series has had all the way back to Jurassic Park 3 (I won’t hear slander against The Lost World, sorry) which is that ultimately you have to treat this franchise as the blockbuster equivalent of World Wrestling Entertainment. Let me explain.

WWE’s arguably biggest problem is its inability to push new stars partially due to their failure to let them go over their old timers. This is Jurassic World’s problem as well. The thesis statement of the first movie really boils down to “damn, aren’t the originals just the best though?” Sure, they are, but you are clearly determined to bring through new dinos so why do you, the movie writer and hopefully FBI most wanted, Colin Trevorrow, not believe in what you’re writing?

This isn’t even a problem for the characters. The writers really believe that Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, and the English teenager are as integral to the franchise as Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, and Laura Dern and while I doubt anyone else agrees at least the writers do. The same can’t be said for the indominus rex, indoraptor or all the nameless dinosaurs that are peppered throughout this.

But to extend the WWE booking analogy further, even the old timers aren’t booked great. The velociraptor is maybe my favourite all time movie monster ever since I first saw it when I was six years old. I used to have nightmares all the time as a kid because of how ferocious, intelligent, and independent we’re told (and often shown) they are but in the new trilogy they’re relegated to being dogs when they’re even on screen. Jeff Goldblum even alludes to this on multiple occasions! Not that they’re booked great all the time in the original trilogy (“they kicked you from the team?”) but they’re integral parts of the story and are portrayed as neither villainous antagonists or possible protagonists just animals independent from notions of morality.

There’s also this incredibly baffling scene where the t-rex and some dinosaur with claws come together to kill one of the new big bads and when they take it down together they bizarrely both do their big roars and depart. My friends were utterly baffled by this and I had to ask “are they friends? Did we miss this?” but then it clicked. This is the dinosaur equivalent of Roman Reigns having his hand raised by The Rock. It makes no real sense but the old head has to give the new guy the rub.

Anyway, these are bad movies. They even have as much blurry footage and constant camera cuts of a modern episode of WWE Raw. The main villain has the same pitch as Michael Scott. BD Wong is shown to be good this time because he’s wearing a cardigan and Jeff Goldblum seems to be played by a caricature of Jeff Goldblum. Not to go all Cinemasins either because I think plot holes are fine if they’re in service to doing cool shit but everyone keeps turning up to where they need to be in the nick of time like it’s a latter season episode of Game of Thrones.

There’s also a reference to Dennis Niddrie in the first movie that’s so egregious and telegraphed that I loudly yelled in the cinema when it happened.

I would not recommend.

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Ah I see you too are a person of taste. When I was playing that bit in The Last of Us 2 and Joel mentions that The Lost World was no good, it made me come to terms with Joel’s violent demise instantly.

I too saw Jurassic World Dominion last night. Whilst I don’t think it’s as bad as Rise of Skywalker, it certainly is the Rise of Skywalker ending for this franchise. It’s a big long mess, that largely drops the chaos invested within it’s most interesting premise dealt by it’s prior sequel in favour for fan service and absolutely throwing the dinosaurs onto the screen. Though no doubt Universal are going to spin the Jurassic World IP into multiple new spinoffs. I wouldn’t be suprised if we see Jurassic World presents a remake of The Valley of Gwangi going forward.

I did have more fun with Jurassic World Minions because… gestures madly dinosaurs and they pretty much feature all the big dinos that were still left on the bucket list - Giganotosaurus, Quetzalcoatlus, Therizinosaurus and even Dreadnoughtus. But I would say it felt kind of exhausting switching between each set of characters as they bumbled their way through one harrowing dino escape scene after another until they all coalesced and appeared perfectly within the frame. I got to say, some of those animatronics looked really ropey, especially for those Dilophosaurs were they borrowed from the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios?

The way the film wraps everything up it’s final message of, hey guys we’ll have to co-exist with the dinosaurs and hope they don’t eat us. Felt like pressing the ejection button on the franchise. Trevorrow out! I would say the film does add to the franchises gender fluidity in a big way, I’m not sure if the discourse has properly dissecting that plotpoint yet. It’s potentially quite radical but just lost in a sea of… whatever.

It feels as if there must have been lots of studio intervention on this movie. As they released what was supposed to be the film’s opening 10 minutes a few months ago, which was genuinely a great piece of dino-cinema. I know the film is already too long, but it has some of the Jurassic wonder that was missing from this movie as well as a sequence that has a bit of that Spielberg energy.

Maybe there will be a director’s cut released further down the line. Sure, I’ll eat that up too.

Anyway thanks for reading this essay, I am going to satiate my dino-kick by watching Prehistoric Planet.

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So, all caught up with Stranger Things now (all the way up to the end of Stranger Things 4 Volume 1 Subsection 12 Yes-We-Caught-Giant-Book-Syndrome-From-GRRM-And-They-Need-To-Cut-Our-Stories-Into_Chunks-Now edition), so a final thoughts on the thing so far:

Firstly, and overall: I think Stranger Things only really works if you accept that it’s 90% a mechanism for the Duffer Brothers to make references to all the 80s movies they loved, and only 10% a mechanism for telling new stories or anything. Or in other words - it’s fun, but if you try to hold it to standards above those you’d hold an 80s B-Movie to, then you’re disappointed more often than you get payoffs.

Like a lot of narratives like this, the real problems come in later seasons - we get sequel escalation, continuity issues, and an increasingly sloppiness in design because it’s clear that the architects of the whole edifice only had a general sketch of where they wanted to go with all of this, and the weight of past decisions increasingly begins to buckle their narrative supports.

(This is especially true in Season 3, which suffers from the fact that 80s depictions of Russians as bad guys were basically extremely silly and nationalistic (and, indeed, gets weirdly Good Old Uncle Sam will save us at the end, which is kinda contrary to the previous seasons, and the one following); and across Season 4, which has a number of retcons (most notably - apparently every single numbered-child-experiment under Dr Brenner’s control, except Eight/Kali, has exactly the same psychic power set, but also apparently Nancy did see what happened to Barb explicitly in the Upside-Down in Season 1, rather than just being told what happened to her by Eleven, and weird simplifications/reifications (it’s a cool effect, but the Upside Down being the “underside of the game board” was a metaphor in Season 1, you don’t have to make it literally true in Season 4, guys).

I could list a number of just obvious other examples of sloppiness in Season 4 in particular - (like the way in which “Vecna” apparently always does his psychic Freddy Krueger-impersonation kills from his attic; but the bulb in the corresponding place in our dimension only bursts the third time he does it, so that it can simultaneously be around to clue up the team that he’s up there, but also give them a jump scare when he does the deed, or how Hop’s feet apparently never get gangrene after he drives and runs barefoot through snow for at least 2 hours…) but to be fair, this is just escalation from Season 3 (where Steve determines that the Russian Transmission is coming from the Starcourt Mall by noticing that the music in the background is from the mechanical ride… except that that can’t possibly be the source of the music, as the transmission room is tens of metres underground in a sealed complex…; which corresponds to the similarly silly “revelation” in Season 4, that because Victor Creed heard some music and then didn’t die, that music must be how you save people from Vecna’s modern day rampage - despite the fact that back in the 1950s, it was One doing his Psychokinetic thing in person, not via a mental link from the Upside-Down, so it’s just a lucky coincidence that music happens to actually work in the modern day).

There’s a number of other weirdly off things - like the apparent obsession with having the teens all get paired up in relationships, (which is one of the least realistic things in the entire show arguably! - most of the people I knew at age 15 or so didn’t have relationships, especially the less-cool-kids, let alone by a year or two earlier for Season 2 and 3) - and the way in which the only way Will is going to end up being “alone” is going to be because he’s obviously being set up to be both actually gay and in love with Mike.

And the references to D&D continue to be off (in S4’s case, I don’t think the whole Cult of Vecna thing happens in D&D until around 2nd Edition time, several years in the future - in 1e there’s a lot less about him, so either Eddie miraculously invented the same plotline as TSR would use themselves, or…) as are basically all the hacking stuff (All the Suzie stuff is massively anachronous, with the code scrolling on the screen being HTML… which isn’t invented until 1989/90 (if they cared about accurate 80s tech references, media of the time tended to show scrolling C source code to stuff like floppy disk controllers and things, or just sequences of binary numbers), a top-secret minicomputer run strictly off the books has an IP address, which… would make it very non-top-secret to the people in the Pentagon who are looking for it at this point in time, given how small the Internet was in 1986… and which wouldn’t help geolocate it at this point in time either, and the term “data mining”, which is very much a 1990s term of art (it’s also not what Suzie is doing, she’s just looking up an address in a database).

All that said: when Stranger Things gets things right, it’s good at a certain feel.
The perfectly synced walkie-talkie conversation between Dustin and Mike scored by the Back To the Future soundtrack in the cinema is great; the NeverEnding Story bit is… okay, weirdly out of place, but also kinda cool. And, generally, Murray, Dustin and Robin (despite her personality change between S3 and S4) are worth watching for, as is Eleven once she gets taken out of her boring relationship with the increasingly petty Mike and put into her flashback sequence).
Hey, I didn’t think this would be the case, but also Steve’s increasingly one of the better things about the show.
And for all it’s somewhat over done, the satanic panic theme of Season 4 actually works well as well.

(Also: did anyone else notice that they seem to be doing the sequence of settings in the Alien films for Demogorgon appearances? Season 1 - Alien (one demogorgon, mostly in the shadows hunting, killed by lone shaven-haired female), Season 2 - Aliens (lots of squishier demogorgons, more automatic weapons and military feel, “nuclear option”, Season 4 - Alien3 (one demogorgon again, in a prison, weirdly back to being almost indestructible)?)
That also feeds into the writers rescuing Hopper from the parody character he’d become in most of Season 3, which was to his detriment

So, after that finale, I think everyone is in agreement that Barry is the new Breaking Bad.

The show always tickled in that serious, dread-soaked place, but I think this finale was the nail in the proverbial coffin of Barry being classified as strictly a comedy. God, that whole episodes was rough.

EVERYTHING was stressful. It teases you with the idea of maybe going back to that comedic place when Sally is toying with the idea of threatening her theater friend, but then everything shifts so fast and scary, and then you realize, “Oh fuck, this is the end game of the whole show. Things are spiraling.” The whole actor redemption pitch of the show is gone and now it’s just the consequences of EVERYTHING falling right on top of you and Barry.

Also, if anything happens to Noho Hank and Cristobal… ;-;

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Watching Jurassic World Dominion, one of those films that believes the thing I liked about Jurassic Park was when someone looked at a dinosaur and took their sunglasses off, or perhaps that one time Alan said ‘you didn’t come out all this way just to catch up, now, did you?’ Do you remember when Nedry said ‘Dodgson, we’ve got Dodgson here!’ because if not the primary antagonist is even less interesting.

It’s not very good in the original parts, either. There’s a scene early on where Blue is jumping up towards the camera that may be the worst effect I have seen in any film in this franchise. The dinosaurs are meant to be this huge disaster, but they rarely are portrayed as much more of a nuisance than a bear. (This film would be better if it took the G Gundam approach to wanton destruction.) Why does Claire’s maybe (?) ecoterrorist group - an idea done better in The Lost World - have people deep undercover in the CIA and similar organizations across the world? Why even make the film about dinosaurs in the world at large when the entire back half of the film takes place in a secluded, mostly forest valley with a few labs and a visitors centre - basically just the same as every other Jurassic Park if it were less tropical?

It’s nice that Wu lives, though. And I’m always happy to have Sam Neill on my screen.

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If you do click through, CW for some of the dark stuff The Boys gets up to.

The Boys sure is a TV show (reserving final judgment to see if they land the plane) but I was delighted to learn that Karen Fukuhara (Kimiko) is an excellent singer. The Boys is a show that could use a lot more literal song and dance numbers.

I haven’t got around to watching Tokyo Vice yet (I think it’s airing over here, not sure where) but the book as an autobiography and how Adelstein presents himself online definitely paints an interesting picture. There’s some stuff in the book version of Tokyo Vice that arguably stretches belief, and one might be tempted to believe it’s even self-aggrandizing (building on the claim of being the first non-Japanese crime reporter at a major Japanese newspaper and the situations he finds himself in), but because I’d say it’s also not always an entirely flattering self-portrait it makes the more outlandish moments seem plausible.

Longwinded way of saying: himbo is not the vibe I would have expected.

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I discovered that you can watch the first season of For All Mankind without an Apple TV+ subscription so I’ve been checking that out. I’m attracted to the premise (an alternate history version of the space race where landing on the moon was not the finish line) and it’s Battlestar Galactica’s Ronald D. Moore running the show to boot. I haven’t quite finished the first season yet, but I was hooked from the jump and binged the first 7 or 8 episodes in two nights.

One of my biggest early takeaways is that there is this real sense of dread, suspense, and tension hanging over everything. 1960s space technology is just too fragile. As a character says at one point, the skin on a lunar lander is so thin you can push a screwdriver through it. It establishes an expectation that things can and will go wrong and it isn’t shy about taking characters off the board. In that sense, it does echo Galactica to some extent. So far it hasn’t quite hit the same ‘holy shit, what’ escalations of that show but it does feel like they could be right around the corner.

Oh, and there’s a courtroom/political hearing scene in the second episode that is simply exceptional (spoilers from both the episode and real history I guess): the show features Werner von Braun as the head of NASA and handles him in a fascinating way, building to a scene where his political opponents declassify and make public the extent of his involvement in the Nazi V2 weapons programme. I’ve always found it shocking (though in cynical hindsight, not as surprising as it should be) how the Allies recruited Nazi scientists after WW2 and it was cathartic seeing this version of von Braun forced to account for his use of slave labour from concentration camps and, ultimately, disgraced.

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I think it was more of a plot thing than a reflection of Jake. Jake’s story kind of takes a backseat about halfway through the season so some of the other story threads can get some time but that winds up meaning Jake kind of acts like an idiot.

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