The Westworld Triumph

I’ve finally watched all of Westworld season one and I’m left wanting more – much more. A sure sign of an excellent TV show.

If you haven’t come cross it yet, the premise is loosely based on the Westworld film of 1973, where a ‘wild west’ theme park is manned by robots.

Forty-three years later, special effects (and dialogue) have moved on, leaving the TV series streets ahead of the movie that inspired it. Fans of the film are sure to disagree, but the TV experience was full of suspense, misdirection, character development and some seriously mind-blowing reveals. To be fair to the original film, that’s tough to accomplish in 90 minutes.

If you haven’t watched any of it now, I’ll start with a brief summary, but after that it’s spoiler-central. You have been warned!

Continue reading “The Westworld Triumph”

That “Japan” feeling

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We watched the first episode of Joanna Lumley’s new series on Japan last night and really enjoyed it. She’s touring all the way from its very northernmost tip near Russia to its southernmost islands over three episodes. @FrankDJS and I both had several “remember that?” moments as we watched, thinking back to our visits to Japan over recent years.

I think I enjoyed it most because it wasn’t particularly touristy and definitely wasn’t ‘dumbed down’. Yes, she goes to a snow festival to see incredible snow sculptures and yes, she travels on a Shinkansen from Nagano to Tokyo. But she also visits a ‘dead’ town, abandoned since the Fukushima nuclear disaster and meets its lone resident, who stayed behind to look after all the animals. She goes bird-watching for rare cranes and hikes into the snow-covered mountains to visit an ancient pagoda. It was overwhelmingly a human-centred show and didn’t seem exploitative at all.

Not a Mario, karaoke bar or Cat Cafe in sight (yet!). 😀

I was particularly excited to see her visit the snow monkeys outside Nagano, as I’m heading out there myself (with @FrankDJS, of course – my own little monkey) at the end of October. Counter-intuitively, we’re hoping for cold weather, to increase our chances of seeing some of the cute Japanese Macaques who come out from the trees and stay warm by getting into the natural hot springs.

Ah… memories of my last meeting with Japanese monkeys. I’m obsessed, it’s fair to say.

The first episode ends with Joanna (we’re on first-name terms, it’s okay) arriving into Tokyo and disappearing into the crowds at Shibuya crossing. Can’t wait for next week’s episode, which promises more Tokyo and Kyoto.

(Though Joanna and I will have to agree to disagree over the quality of ‘Boss’ coffee from the drinks machines that litter Japan. Warm sludge, if memory serves. And heavily promoted by Tommy-Lee Jones, bizarrely).

I’d no idea the programme had eve been made, much less was going to be on TV last night. I’m not an big ITV viewer and most of our TV is consumed via Netflix or Amazon Prime these days.

A happy coincidence, then. Any other Japan-related TV shows I should be watching here in the UK? (Given several hours each week are already given over the NHK TV!)

Wholesome family viewing…

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After thoroughly enjoying the BBC Proms Gershwin concert on TV, I headed to bed with plans to explore Netflix and start something new.

For whatever reason, I ended up starting to watch ‘American Horror Story’, which was indescribably creepy and, at the same time, something I just couldn’t stop watching. It’s so much more than the traditional haunted house or bogeyman story.

Yes, there’s a house where terrible things have happened in the past. Yes, there’s a new family who move in for a fresh start. But the neighbours are also creepy as fuck and the family themselves are far from likeable. It’s not a simple ghost-and-or-slasher story.

Some nicely executed flashbacks fill in just enough backstory to keep you wondering what the hell is going on in the present.Lightning-fast cuts mean you can’t really look away from the screen without missing something important or symbolic.

Jessica Lange is a stand out in the cast. She plays the next-door neighbour, effortlessly exuding a combination of threat, evil, casual bigotry and hinted-at power and malevolence. And, as ever, there’s an annoying teenage daughter who won’t follow instructions and gets herself into trouble.

The great news for me is that there are six seasons of this show to go. Hopefully it’ll keep up the quality and fright-factor.

On the other hand, why I started to watch this while home alone all weekend frankly baffles me. When I eventually did turn it off, it was just a matter of minutes before I was out of bed, checking I’d locked the front door.

I’m so impressionable…

Star Trek possibilities

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The news that there’s a new Star Trek TV show on the way did not escape me. Not one bit. To say I was excited would be an understatement.

I still remember tuning in to see the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and how I neglected dinner and the school friend who was visiting, shuffling close to the TV screen to absorb every last detail. This was, of course, long before the days of on-demand TV, so I had to wait a loooong time before I ever saw that episode again.

But I quickly started recording them on VHS (remember that?!) so I could watch them over and over again. I had loved the original series and watched the movies at every opportunity, so to have a new episode of a new ongoing series appear on TV was like manna from heaven to me.

And, if I’m honest, this cycle was repeated every time a new Star Trek series started. I’ve lost count of the hours spent watching DS9, Voyager and yes, even Enterprise. Each series had it share of awful phases and shockingly bad episodes (from memory, Voyager had more than a couple!). But overall, Star Trek on TV was overwhelmingly entertaining and fun.

And it’s fair to say I’ve remained a fan.

So… there’s a new Trek ongoing series on the way and I’m very, very excited at the possibilities. Firstly, when will it be set? Is it going to be set in the same time-frame as the new series of movies? Will we be seeing contemporaries of Kirk and Spock? Or will it be set in the same century as The Next Generation? Both offer intriguing possibilities.

And then… what will its focus be? Will it be set on a standard starship, like TOS and TNG, or maybe a space station, like DS9? Or another scenario entirely? Are we talking a crew of explorers, or maybe Star Trek’s equivalent of the police?

The wait is going to be agonising and I hope it’ll be worth it. And now, we just need to wait for the inevitable avalanche of rumours and leaks.

Each of which I’ll consume with glee.

Game of Thrones come-down…

I finally caught up with Game of Thrones season five on my flights to and from Singapore last week. It’s always a gamble watching GoT on a plane, as you never know when someone is going to be murdered grusomely or when there is going to be an explosion of fairly gratuitous nudity.

But safely ensconced in my business class “pod”, nobody else could see what I was watching and I got fairly engrossed in each episode. It was superb. 

I’m left, now, at the end of the season, wanting more Game of Thrones than I’ve ever wanted it before. So many plot lines left hanging, so many character developments and so much plot exposition in a fairly fast-paced season. Having watched it in two long viewing sessions, I’m tempted to re-watch it at a more leisurely pace, to see what I inevitably missed. 

The thing about Game of Thrones is that so much is revealed in the dialogue – more, in fact, than in any action scene or indivivdual murder. You have to pay attention and listen carefully. I’m sure I missed various important points while I was eating or drinking.

And now I’m bereft. I don’t know when I’ll get more Game of Thrones. A sign of an excellent series, I’d say. 

“Agent Carter” sneak peak

Oooh. Marvel have released a sneak peek of the new Agent Carter show that starts January. The same Agent Carter as featured in the Captain America films, who helped to found S.H.I.E.L.D. All set in the post-war era, this looks sweet.

Just a few weeks until it airs in the US. Hope it doesn’t take too long to make it over to the UK.

Inhumans coming to S.H.I.E.L.D.?

I really quite like this theory/rumour/potential spoiler. If you haven’t seen the latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., look away now.

Could they be about to introduce some Inhumans into the story? I hope so. I had Skye marked as either a) Jessica Drew, b) Bobbie Morse or c) Carol Danvers from the end of the last series. Obviously, I was wrong. I think.

But if the blue body in the tank is a Kree, then Skye (and her father, played by Kyle MacLachlan) could be Inhumans. Marvel have already announced there’s going to be an Inhumans film in 2018.

Could they possibly introduce them on TV four years earlier? Maybe to build up a fan base?

Either way, this season of S.H.I.E.L.D. is hotting up for a big reveal in the coming weeks. Will we get to see Skye and her father share some quality time? Will be get to see more Kree bodies in tanks?

Marvel have really hit their stride with this series. It’s no longer something I watch because I’m a geek who’s addicted to comics and still thrilled to see Agent Coulson on TV, but because it’s entertaining, fun and engaging.

And because they’ve introduced Mockingbird.

Yes.

Getting my geek on…

Catching up with some reading and watching, geek-style. Owing to a particularly busy work-week, I have a stack of excellent comics awaiting me. I’m particularly interested to see how ‘Original Sin‘ pans out after last issue’s cliffhanger ending.

I spent some remaining iTunes vouchers on the latest season of Falling Skies (never seen this one) and the uncut version of World War Z. Amazingly (for me) haven’t watched WWZ since I saw it in the cinema – even though I enjoyed it immensely. Even though it was very, very different to the book – which is also excellent.

I’m also tearing through The Martian, which has kept me hooked this week and made my very uncomfortable flight home from Newquay (turbulence, screaming toddlers and obese passenger next to me) a lot more bearable. Recommended to anyone who likes their sci-fi grounded in hard science. There are no monsters or aliens in this – just one ingenious NASA astronaut, trying to survive the inhospitable environment on Mars. I’m actually learning about the science behind both space travel and how we might live on other planets.

While also learning that, despite childhood dreams, I am in no way whatsoever cut out for life in space. The toilet arrangements alone are enough to put me off…

Meanwhile, I’m bracing myself for the second half of Season 4 of Game of Thrones. I’m incredibly late to this particular party, thanks to my deep dislike of all things fantasy. I heard it involved dragons and so neatly filed it away as a waste of time. Boy was I wrong. GOT is fantastic – intrigue, murder, battles, more intrigue, swords, nudity and assassinations. What more could a boy ask for? (And I haven’t even mention the multiple hotties that appear regularly, or the gratuitous nudity neatly sprinkled throughout.)

I’ve worked hard to avoid all spoilers, so please… no spoilers! I’m also considering what will replace this as my go to show until it reappears next year. I’m considering re-watching Battlestar Galactica from the beginning. That was equally watchable and addictive, as I recall.

Yep. Definitely suffering from some pre-season-ending angst.

Advice from some other GOT fans would be most welcome.