What'cha Watching? (TV or Film)

I watched all the available episodes of Players on Paramount+ when I realised my trial month was running out. I liked it so much I actually renewed my subscription so I can watch the final two episodes when it airs next week and the week after. It’s a mockumentary of a fictional League of Legends team against the backdrop of the actual LCS featuring real teams TSM, Team Liquid, EG, Cloud9, etc., and it works really well by leaning into the awkwardness of the personalities. The show mixes the drama of esports as a whole with more personal struggles between the main characters. It’s also really funny in really specific ways and definitely expects you to have a familiarity with esports (specifically LoL). It’s not shy to just throw in a bunch of jargon without taking time to explain it. It’s part of the humour I think, as esports often is just so opaque to outsiders, and fans would enjoy the references. I came into the show as someone who really enjoys esports, but not League of Legends, but I really like the show for its writing and humour.

Came down with COVID last week and a few days ago I reached a spot where I was too physically tired to get off my couch but mentally there enough to consume some new entertainment (as opposed to what I had been doing, which was rewatching the Jurassic World movies over and over again). I settled on The Boys and ended up watching all three seasons in four days.

First off, that the show got me through all of it that quickly is kinda wild. I usually hate binging TV. The last series I watched (Josh Brolin’s weird-fic western Outer Range) took me about three weeks for a third as many episodes. The Boys has some incredible momentum. Aside from a couple of slowdowns in the early-middle of S3, this show has some of the finest pacing I’ve seen in a long time.

Anyway, needless to say, it got me. I started watching for unhinged Karl Urban and was not disappointed, but literally everything it threw at me worked. Even the absolutely over-the-top ultraviolence of it all — that usually turns me off, but I think it was just so grotesque that I ended up finding it funny. The performances across the board are just brilliant, with a special nod to Giancarlo Esposito and his ability to do quiet menace better than anyone else. I think the bottom line is that, as long as it’s done with style, I am always here for the complete annihilation of subtext. Especially in genres I love. I will lap that shit up. And this show annihilates subtext with style maybe better than anything I’ve ever seen. Wow.

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I can’t say as though I like The Boys all the time, but I think I’ve seen a few people make a very valid point: it truly is the satire for the time. A violent and gory superhero show that is truly the “I know writers who use subtext and they’re all cowards” meme come to life.

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The A-Train Pepsi ad felt like a good example of how to do satire of the Trump age. Just lift it basically wholesale because the discourse of 2016-2020 was ridiculous enough that you can’t really escalate it anymore.

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Is Nope worth checking out (Covid permitting)? Yup.

I also watched Netflix’s The Gray Man, a $200 million John Wick-flavored rice cracker of a movie. If you’re wondering what it would look like for Marvel to make a John Wick, here you go: a lot of tremendously talented actors doing extremely medium stunts and quipping at each other. Maybe this will finally convince someone to give Ana de Armas her own action movie.

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Ironically I am currently watching Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (the origin of that meme) and it is a wild show. I have only watched 2 episodes so far so I dont have much to say about it, but it is definitely a low budget British Satire, that’s for sure.

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I tried watching Darkplace. Some of it is really good and funny, but other parts are meh to bad. They have the thing of ‘satirizing’ women being treated poorly in shows, but they kind of just recreate the trope

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I watched S1 of Killing Eve. Enjoyed it, but am unsure of whether to continue into the following seasons without the writing of Waller-Bridge

Thanks to Twitter I discovered that Justified is on Hulu (without additional fees) so I’ve been enjoying that. I almost feel bad for Timothy Olyphant, who is so good in this role that this is what he’s going to be doing for the rest of his life.

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Just watched Nope and while I am normally not a fan of thriller/horror I really enjoyed it. Some really interesting ideas in it!

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So, the Sandman TV series released on Netflix today… and whilst I’ve only seen one episode so far, it is very good. I am not 100% sold on one of the changes making the Corinthian a bit of a nightmare-behind-the-man in giving advice/prompts to people who get in Dream’s way, a sort of “pseudo-antagonist”, but it does make some sense (and it gives a little more narrative glue between the first half - which looks like being an adaptation of Preludes and Nocturnes, the first collected book - and the second half - which looks like it is adapting The Doll’s House, the second book).
And everything else - the CGI, the casting and so on, is superb.

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I’m very anxious about giving this a shot. Not even particularly sure why - I did love the comics, but haven’t revisited them in nearly two decades, and I’ve survived other both good and bad Gaiman adaptations without much discomfort. Yet Sandman still feels special to me in a way that’s hard to pin down. That said, the positive reception it’s getting might force me to take the plunge.

By the time I decided “Maybe I should read Sandman”, I was already super done with Gaiman. So I’ve never read it. But the level of interest among my IRL friends makes me think I should watch this, at least to be able to not sit there, foolishly, during conversations about it.

All aboard the hype train for Prey. I’m a big Predator fan and a defender of at least two of the sequels (Shane Black’s effort didn’t work for me) so arguably I was an easy mark, but this was excellent.

Minor Quibbles

My only real quibbles are that 1) the CGI is pretty obvious at times (it’s 20th Century, which is of course owned by Disney, which is now renowned for its underfunding of effects and quality-destroying deadlines). It’s never so bad it really ruined any moments, but it did undercut certain aspects, particularly when used for wildlife.

And 2) the main language used is English which just feels like a missed opportunity. There is a Comanche language dub, but it’s just that, a dub, with the slightly off lip synching you’d expect (also another pet peeve I have about Disney+: often, including for Prey, the only English subtitling is actually closed captioning, and while I definitely think that should be an option for users who need it, seeing all the sound effects captioned is a distraction to me).

Those very minor nitpicks aside, it’s a great sci-fi action movie. Amber Midthunder rules, all the fight choreography is incredible, and it has an extremely good doggo*.

*The dog actor’s name is Coco, she’s a Carolina dog/American dingo, and this was her first film. She enters the pantheon of great movie dogs.

On a recent pod Patrick floated the idea of watching Predator and I hope the Waypoint crew does. I’d love a pod or two on what they think of the original and this.

EDIT: I looked at this again and was like “huh, my petty complaints are front and centre when really I just wanted to praise this movie”, so I threw them behind a ‘hide details’ button.

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Coco! What a good dog.

And a killer movie. Amber Midthunder enters the pantheon of People I Think Should Be In A John Wick Movie.

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So, to follow on from this for interested parties now that I’m 50% of the way through Sandman [essentially, the Preludes and Nocturnes bit]:

In general, it’s still very good. I remain unconvinced on the plot change in my first review, but it’s fine. The second episode manages to pin the emotional currents well, and generally hits all the marks. Conversely, the episode with the biggest “casting change” (John Constantine → Joanna Constantine, given the history in DC John has) works actually very well - Jenna Coleman pulls it off admirably, and the plot is essentially along the same lines.
Unfortunately, whilst I know Gaiman himself says he was happy with it, I’m not 100% convinced by the next episode’s Hell - the “walls made of moving bodies” are clearly some performers stuck in hollow moulded walls and the fact that all of the demons now look like human actors with body paint and prosthetics, as opposed to the more radical forms that are in the comic combines with this to rather detract from the experience for me. It’s the first point where it’s obvious that Netflix’s funds are not unlimited in their scope. (There also, for me, a bit of a “Neverwhere moment”, where the battle of wits and transformation between Dream and Lucifer is undermined by the staging clearly being partly on practicality terms (compare to the Beast in Neverwhere)… and the first actual plot change, albeit minor, that I really don’t like - Matthew the Raven needs to give Dream a last-second pep talk to inspire him to use “Hope” as his trump card - where as in the original, this was always Dream’s plan, as he notices that his opponent, being a devil, always chooses the caustic, destructive option, and so can be led in this direction.)
That said, the other half of the plot - which in the comics leans on having Dream meet DC comics characters like Scott Free and J’onn J’onzz - works arguably better by just eliding them from the piece. (I was never the biggest fan of the wider DC inclusions in Sandman, for the most part.) And obviously, David Thewlis’ reworked (again, no longer precisely the Doctor Destiny of DC comics) John Dee is brilliant, partly by ditching some of the DC bits, and partly because Thewlis is a great actor.
That’s also mostly why the 24Hours adapting episode (24/7 in the TV series) works so well - not just Thewlis, but all of the actors they have for the people in the diner, especially as version of the script is a little slower-burn than the original. I could do without the horror moments, but then that was also true of the original story - but it’s worse in live-action of course.
And the adaptation of The Sound of Her Wings (with some interpolations from other material) also works well, partly because it’s another character piece and relying on the actors is the thing that works best for this series so far.

Question for Sandman watchers: should I read the books first?

PREY UPDATE: The dog’s name is Coco and she is very good: Okay, let's lose it for Coco, the "hot mess" dog from Prey

I think you can get away without reading the books - I’ve read exactly one review which moans that they’re not told what’s going on up-front, but the books also do exactly the same thing in that episode, so the reviewer is just a fool who isn’t good at following along. (Also, the books are a product of the late 80s/early 90s, and it’s early Gaiman trying to prove himself, so whilst they’re good, they have (possibly unpopular opinion) aged a little.)

So, the fact that I’ve finished the Sandman series already speaks to how generally very good it is.

I have further complaints about some of the handling of The Doll’s House sequence (again, mostly because they insist on trying to make The Corinthian more of a threat that he actually is, partly just to subvert a particular frame from the comic)… and the actors playing Rose and Jed Walker are… good, but not quite as good as the rest of the cast around them.
Oh, and finally, in the last sequence, we get a demon who isn’t just a guy in coloured body paint and minor prosthetics - Azazel is exactly as he should be, and the (spoiler for season 2)misdirection on what Lucifer plans is perfectly judged - I am looking forward to that particular storyline a lot.

I’m mid-Sandman and enjoying it so far. It’s been such a long time since I read the comics that I don’t really remember much beyond some of the high-level arcs and I don’t have a particular investment in it. I’m currently watching the episode in the diner and, whatever else happens, this is one of the most tense, fraught-feeling episodes of a show I’ve seen in a while!

edit Holy shit

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