INVINCIBLE s01

It’s tough to really discuss what sets this apart from any other coming-of-age superpowered story without utterly spoiling the thing that sets it apart.

So more generally I can say that it has fun takes on a lot of well-worn tropes and has a couple of refreshing things to say on the way these sorts of stories play out.

The voice cast is incredible and the action is visceral, even if the animation outside of the grand set pieces can tend to sway on the cheaper side. Still, it didn’t detract.

You’ll know if you’re on board by the time the credits on the first episode finish rolling.

Absolutely not for kids.

Recommended.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Continue reading “INVINCIBLE s01”

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY s01 (2020)

A total masterstroke of modern genre television.

Less the Cthulhu mythos elements of Lovecraft’s stories, but rather taking small, weird tales of scifi, cosmic horror, occult organisations, time/space travel and wrapping them all in post-Korean wartime black United States.

So of course, all the supernatural darkness and horror that comes with the magical side of things is frequently less terrifying, threatening and horrible than the everyday racism the protagonists face in their ordinary lives.

It’s brilliantly done. Each episode takes this lens and focuses it through the tone and genre of classic pulp novels — one time a haunted house, one time an artefact heist adventure, one time a body-swapping life-in-their-shoes story, one time a time-travelling historical lesson, one time a mythological fable crossed with a wartime romance.

The cast and their performances are fantastic, the VFX are cinematic quality (not to mention impressively visceral and disgusting) while the choices to use anachronistic modern elements of black culture only serve to further elevate and enhance the experience.

There’s just so, so much packed into only ten episodes that it puts many other shows to shame with both its ambition and execution.

Highly, highly recommended.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: The Snyder Cut (2021)

Is this an improvement over the theatrical/Whedon cut? Yes.

Is is actually a good movie now? No.

Look, I’m happy for Snyder that he got to complete his film the way that he intended, but I really don’t like his approach to any of the characters, and the storytelling swings wildly from slow and dull to heavy-handed and pretentious. This did not need to be four hours long and it’s a shocking amount of self-indulgence that kept it above the 120min mark for what essentially amounts to a retread of 2012’s The Avengers but with barely half the charm and a tenth of the colour pallet.

Primary villain Steppenwolf gets an excellent design rework and more complex motivations, but he boils down to a grey/silver redux of Loki’s role less the mischief and wit. Hell, he’s even looking for cubes and comes complete with a mindless army and a hooded go-between to the true Big Bad: Thanos…. erm, Darkseid.

Darkseid is in this! Yep. That character nobody outside of pre-existing DC fans knows anything about is introduced in flashbacks and then shows up at the end to bait for a sequel that will never come.

Instead they burn 30-odd minutes on a weird flash-forward post-apocalypse sequence so that Batman can threaten to kill Jared Leto’s Joker (in his most Ledgery portrayal) and then angry Superman can show up again and the whole thing can end on a weird downer that undoes the victory of the final battle.

It all feels so pointless. Every thirty minutes or so is something that makes you go “oh that’s pretty cool” and then we snap right out of it when Snyder does another cringeworthy needle drop. Like, the songs themselves are good songs, but he always deploys them in the most ham-fisted, obvious way and I can’t think of another director that makes me physically recoil so hard from hearing a familiar song in a film. Oh, Aquaman is a king? Here’s a pompous Nick Cave song with lyrics about a kingdom and a king cut exactly to fit a slow-motion walk into the ocean. Like, fuck, that is about as subtle as throwing a bowling ball through a plate glass window. My eyes almost rolled out of my skull and I like both Nick Cave and Momoa’s Arthur Curry (despite the movies he’s in being mediocre at best). And there’s not one but two scenes of him walking into the sea to dramatic music within 20min of one another.

What of the other characters?

Batfleck is fine. He doesn’t show up as Batman until two hours in. Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred.

Cyborg has a significantly enhanced role this time around. Ray Fisher does a good job. Sucks to hear the shoot was a nightmare for him. But… why not make his cyberspace sequences more visually distinct from the rest of the film though? It’s the same brown/orange as all the fight sequences, the same as the flashbacks, the same as the apocalypse sequences. There’s no distinction between any of the visual design, which doesn’t make it consistent or cohesive, it makes it bland.

Wonder Woman suffers hard from the fact that her next movie to release after this was set decades before this and contained several plot points that contradict dialogue in JL, as well as making her character intensely, retroactively unlikeable.

The Flash has the best visual sequences in the film but Ezra Miller’s twitchy portrayal of Barry Allen wears thin quickly. There’s something to be said for the fact that we barely see him actually moving fast too. All his speed-force shots are in slo-mo, which gives a good sense of his perpective but we don’t get enough contrast for what it’s like for those around him or what a layperson would see. Slowing things down constantly absolutely shatters the pacing, especially when slo-mo is used at other times when Flash isn’t even present because it’s Snyder’s visual crutch.

Superman is the same as he was. The weird digital lip scene is cut, he gets a colour swap on his suit, and he basically shows up as a deus ex machina in the final fight to do some good punching and that’s all.

Overall, it’s bloated, self-important, self-indulgent and self-serious. This didn’t need to be three hours long, let alone four. The “chapters” only serve to break up the runtime but don’t have much of a narrative arc distinct to them aside from loosely clustering scenes that happen around the same time in the plot without distinct through-lines.

Now that this whole hashtag has run its course I hope everyone can just bloody move on and start making new things instead of shovelling 20 indie movie budgets at a monstrosity like this. For all those celebrating this an unquestioned masterpiece, I ask:

This?

This is what you have been insufferable about for the last four years? This is what was worth harassment campaigns and nearly ruining peoples’ lives? It’s not worth any of that. It’s not visionary or groundbreaking in any way that could justify its $400m+ budget. It’s not even very entertaining.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t burn four hours of your life on it. If you love it, I don’t understand you. Just let the Snyderverse die off now.

Shazam is still the best DC film. At least that one was fun to watch.

PS. The 4:3 aspect ratio is stupid. You’re not “getting more information” if you’re cutting a third out of every single screen this will be watched on. Want more height in the frame? Pull back further in the shot. Widescreen is standard now for a reason, dammit! It was shot for IMAX? It’s not being watched on IMAX!

PPS. What was the point of the “Unite the Seven” marketing? There are five characters in most of this film, six when Superman gets revived. The other DC characters that make appearances aren’t part of the Justic League for the entire film.

WANDAVISION (2021)

A solid start to the MCU’s new Disney+ arm.

A little slow to start for the first two or so episodes, but quickly gets comfortable playing with its concept and pushes what’s expected of a superhero show out into some interesting directions.

I’ll save the big plot twists and geekery for a spoiler section after the click-through, but safe to say there’s some solid easter eggs and fan service woven into it all.

If you’re not familiar with much of the Marvel universe there’s still a decent amount to enjoy in the satirisation of various television sitcoms over the years, and at its heart it’s fundamentally about Wanda and her sadness. If anything it could have stood to lean a little harder on the sitcom tropes, since there was a lot of good material in the supporting cast that felt a little shoved aside when the main arc needed to wrap up.

Great supporting cast, Paul Bettany imbues The Vision with a wonderful humanity, and extra accolades must go out to Elizabeth Olsen for such a multi-faceted performance anchoring it all together.

Hard to say what got shuffled out in terms of the larger MCU tie-ins since the release schedule was scrambled last year, but it’s a worthy addition to the canon and bodes well for the D+ series going forward.

Criticisms and larger discussions are pretty spoilery so consider yourself warned:

SPOILERS AHEAD

Continue reading “WANDAVISION (2021)”

HIS HOUSE (2020)

An impressive debut from writer/director Remi Weekes, centring in the experience of a Sudanese refugee couple who have settled in the United Kingdom only to find something terrible has followed them across the sea.

Some really well executed scares, quick pacing and an organic escalation into horror that makes excellent use of both characters and setting to tell a larger tale of trauma and escape.

Absolutely one of the better horror films of the last few years, well worth your time.

ISLE OF DOGS (2018)

A little late to the party on this one, but glad I got around to it.

All the charm and personality of Fantastic Mr Fox plus all the usual trapping of a Wes Anderson flick.

Positively dripping with style and meticulous production design. The plot is tight and quirky and heartwarming, the voice cast is A+.

So, yeah, again… a Wes Anderson film. You generally know what you’re in for and this doesn’t disappoint.

Recommended.

New art!

I’ve been learning 3D software in my spare time the past few months and it’s been awesome to be able to start producing concept pieces so fast and have them look so awesome!

I build the models in Blender, then export to Substance Painter for texturing, then back into Blender with the Botaniq add-on to populate trees/grass and to compose, light and render, then final touches are done with Procreate.

More to come, I’m just excited to have work to share that came purely from my imagination!

You can follow me on Instagram @_nervesquidpilot for updates.

BLOODBORNE (2015) // PS4

A hunter is a hunter, even in a dream.

Being a Dark Souls fan this one has been on my wishlist for years and I was excited to finally have a system to spend time slashing my way through the beasts of Yharnam to discover what the rituals of the Paleblood Moon were for. So here I am, five years late to the party.

It did not disappoint.

And as the hunt wears on and the moon rises, things become somehow even more nightmarish and terrifying. Townfolk transform into monstrous things. Secrets that should have remained hidden threaten to splinter reality itself.

The waking world and the frontier of nightmares blur together when the blood moon rises.

You find yourself lost, wearing away your resources and ending up forced to rely on wit and skill to survive, barely scraping through an ambush with your life and then… you reach a gate that looks familiar. One that only unlocks from this side and suddenly you’re back to safety and familiarity, drenched in the blood of the creatures you have slain. You are a hunter.

Now you must venture out again, a little further this time. Madness is everywhere and by the time the night is through you won’t be the same as when you started.

The atmosphere is fantastically forbiding, punctuated by mad screams and cries and howls. You can sense a boss arena approaching. The moment the incredible soundtrack picks up your blood goes hot as you face off against one of dozens of the bosses, all if which are absolute masterclasses in creature design.

The “plot” or what can be said of the story is told through the environment and tiny scraps of information absorbed by curiosity and player conjecture. Things are rarely laid out plain and a lot of the fun is untangling the implications of discoveries and inferring from unreliable information. You could very easily go the entire game and never understand anything that’s really happening and yet still be compelled to push onwards and seek more. The beasts are only the tip of the iceberg. Much more terrifying things await, just beyond the fringes of insight.

World design in Bloodborne is probably the apex of the developer’s catalogue, and this says a lot considering the superfluous work of previous FromSoft games. Narrow gothic alleys wind and tangle around each other, pushing you down into deeper and darker forgotten paths, surrounded by brilliantly horrifying beasts and nightmares that lurk and creep and can cut you to ribbons in moments if you aren’t quick on your feet and ready to strike back.

Combat is fast, visceral and mean — the classic FromSoft action RPG style twisted to encourage aggressive tactics and favour higher risk/reward strategies. Attire is largely cosmetic and the selection of weapons is greatly stripped back compared to Souls games, with a greater emphasis on knowing movesets and learning to dodge and parry effectively. It’s pushing you to embody the Hunter and once you’re past the initial learning curve it’s a blast to play.

Online multiplayer is also the most refined and balanced it’s ever been. Calling for help from other players opens you up to invasion from hostile parties but otherwise you’ll largely be left to tackle things on your own. The challenge can be steep, but it’s never truly insurmountable and sometimes all you need is that extra person to draw the attention of a boss off you so that you can take it down.

I’ve noticed that a decent number of streamers have taken the time in this pandemic to finally get around to playing Bloodborne as well and it’s just as interesting to watch someone else slowly unravel the puzzlebox of mechanics and worldbuilding, everyone coming to their own conclusions and developing their own strategies to survive the unforgiving night of the hunt.

It speaks to the quality and expansiveness of the title that five years later it can still have an active, vibrant community with no additional content being added. Even having slain every last nightmare I was ready to drop my character (Doctor Bueno) right back into NG+ to do it all again. I rarely ever go for platinum trophies in games anymore but this one is calling me back in.

We are born of the blood, made men by the blood, undone by the blood. Our eyes are yet to open.

Fear the old blood.

THE OUTSIDER (2020)

Stephen King really has a way with small towns and supernatural murder.

Based on the book of the same name (which I haven’t read), it tracks the investigation into what at first seems like a very clear cut murder that quickly starts to escalate and destroy the community.

Tone and cinematography are appropriately unnerving, casting is excellent. Pacing is slow, but it works in its favour, taking its time to chew on each twist and let things unfold.

It’s all very Stephen King, and definitely one of his stronger ones, though the horror aspects fade out a little in the second half. Still, the characters are compelling and the mystery is well constructed.

Slow burn, recommended.

THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020)

A decent enough sci-fi drama trapped in an identity crisis.

There’s two tales happening in parallel and it takes a long time to become apparent how they’re linked, and only in the final ten minutes or so do the two threads really twine together. Problem is, George Clooney’s story is where we open the story and spend significant time before swapping to Felicity Jones’ imperiled space mission.

Something certainly got messed up in the edit here, and to some extent it seems like a marketing problem. Clooney is the bankable star and a decision was made to put his part of the story at the forefront of scene sequencing and this damages the story by relegating Jones’ arc to a B plot when it’s arguably the more important of the two.

And this is a shame! There some solid drama and well-executed action sequences that are overall held back by the story being told out of a better order.

You could still find plenty to enjoy here, but don’t be surprised if you find your attention flagging because the focus is scrambled.

Solidly medium movie, could have been very good with a few changes.