Black Mirror – USS Callister

Black Mirror’s season 4 was recently made available on Netflix. This is a show I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time, but haven’t gotten around to. Peak TV, everyone. Anyway, I heard a bit about the first episode of the season, USS Callister, and decided to at least check out that one episode. I don’t have too many thoughts to write down about the episode, but I have some. Mild spoilers follow, but I don’t think you’ll lose anything knowing a few details before viewing.

Production Quality

The production quality of this episode was amazing. I know that a lot of TV shows, especially those on Netflix, are really upping their game in terms of picture quality, but this one really felt cinematic. I can’t help but be blown away by the quality; the sets aboard the USS Callister were deliberately cheesy, and of obvious lower quality, but it’s still high quality. The scenes in the real world are well shot, and I really enjoyed the sound design in the episode – something that I think is often overlooked.

There were some small, subtle touches as well in the set design. Most of these that I enjoyed were the light technology touches. The apartment door for example, using a display screen to show the apartment number as well as a nice little Christmas wreath. Cell phones appear as sleek devices that are essentially just a screen. The downside to this is that some of the video game equipment seems inappropriately clunky in comparison to the rest of the tech.

Ship In A Bottle

The ending of the episode, which I don’t really want to spoil, reminds me a lot of the ending of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Ship In A Bottle. The open ending of both episodes are really quite similar. Unfortunately since I don’t want to spoil it, that means I’ll have to stop talking about it.

Humour

USS Callister was very hit-or-miss with the humour. Some of it worked really well for me, but other places it felt very flat and didn’t work at all. I think in some parts they were clearly trying to invoke different sci-fi franchises (Star Trek being the most prominent) but stopped short of using copyrighted terms for some reason? I’m not sure why, because it would very clearly fall under the category of parody. For example, when Nannette asks if Daley is going to throw a fireball at her…I was expecting her to ask if he was going to use the Force. I guess the point was to avoid any mention of real life properties in the show?

Another thing – sometimes the humour felt out of place with the rest of the episode, which at times played as a sort of body and psychological horror show. What I mean is that the overall tone of the episode was uneven, leaving me unsure of what kind of message the show was trying to leave about technology. I think they were just telling a cool story they wanted to tell?

Overall Thoughts

I don’t think this episode convinced me to pick up watching the rest of the series. It was good, and I thought it was well-produced, but I don’t think this particular anthology series is for me.

If you want to hear some more detailed, spoiler-filled thoughts about the show, check out Anthology Pod’s bonus episode coverage.

Logan (2017) – Review

I finally had the chance to see Logan, the 2017 film from James Mansgold.  This was a really good movie on its own, but also a great super hero movie entry in the X-Men series.

Logan is based on the Old Man Logan comic books, and is set in 2029 – when mutants are all but extinct (at the start of the movie there are only three we know about: Logan, Charles Xavier, and Calliban).  Oh, and the funniest bit is that Logan is an uber driver, rolling around in a limo.  I thought that was great.

What follows in the movie is not your standard superhero movie plot to save the world from impending doom; instead it’s actually a pretty personal story (for Logan / Wolverine) and about a journey from point A to point B.  Stuff happens along the way, both good and bad.  I have to say that this is probably the best Marvel movie I’ve seen since Captain America: Winter Soldier.

A lot of the buzz about this movie was that it was rated R; the rating comes for mainly the graphic violence and some language.  I think that this movie would have worked without the graphic nature of the violent scenes, but at the same time – Wolverine is a very violent character, so including it seemed to help make the movie fit more with his character.  That said – the action scenes that included most of the violence were shot quick (though not in a blur, like some movies – it was very easy to follow along on the screen), and wasn’t “shocking” the way that violence like this can be (I’m thinking of Game of Thrones, or even one of the more recent episodes of Star Trek: Discovery).

What I think is the greatest move in this was creating a realistic future setting.  It’s only set in 2029 – so just 12 years from when it was released (2017).  It sounds like it’s far away, but it’s not – and the technology reflects it.  Cell phones are recognizable as cell phones, and there are some projections that make sense – driver-less transport trucks, for example.  Beyond that, it was a relate-able world.

Contrast this to a movie like Minority Report; that one was set in 2054, at the time 52 years ahead of the release date (2002).  Apparently they hired some consultants to brainstorm what technological advances we’d see in 50 years, and they came up with a world that mostly operates the same, but with hyper-inflated technology (the cars they were using were a bit much).  Yeah, some of the technology they showed has surfaced in the last 16 years, but watching that movie recently makes me feel like it’s closer to the 60’s vision of the future in The Jetsons.  Suffice it to say I think Logan’s vision of the (near) future is a good portrayal, and one I think you can extrapolate from.

I thought it was also interesting to note that cell phones were used in some plot points in the movie (minor bits), but were not integral to any of the major events in the movie.  I bring this up only because some people think cell phones have ruined movies – that a lot of scenarios can be solved by the main character simply being able to relay information via cell phone.  There were no plot contrivances in this movie that negated the use of a cell phone, it was simply a plot that didn’t need to rely on communication to get out of jams.  I just wanted to point out that it’s possible to do that.

I think Patrick Stewart really stole the show as Xavier.  It was Logan’s movie, but Xavier shined in this.  I’m glad that the trailers didn’t give too much away, because the movie definitely didn’t unfold the way I thought it would based on some of the scenes they showed, and what I knew going in about his character.

Solid movie overall.  I highly recommend it; and you definitely don’t need to have seen the other X-Men movies to follow along.

The Last Jedi (Spoilers!)

The Last Jedi has been out in theatres for at least a month now, which I feel makes it safe to talk about the movie without holding back on spoilers.  With that said, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, so the details will be somewhat vague.  I won’t be revealing specific plot points (I don’t think, anyway), but I might talk about specific moments in the film.  If you’re okay with that, read on; otherwise wait until you’ve seen the film.  These are some of my thoughts on the controversies and overall opinion of the movie.

Spoiler Alert
Spoiler Alert

Continue reading “The Last Jedi (Spoilers!)”

Figures In Motion – Confusion Will Pass

Figures In Motion – Confusion Will Pass

Searching for a new album to write about, I tuned into Jamendo’s Indie radio station.  I’m not sure how exactly they put this thing together – from what I can tell, it plays songs tagged as “indie” back-to-back like a radio station; you can’t skip ahead or go back to hear previous songs.  So if you hear something you like, you’d better click on it.

One of the songs that came up was Curled Up by French indie band Figures In Motion.  It’s off of their debut album Confusion Will Pass, which was released in 2014.

Confusion Will Pass is the first full-length album of Figures in Motion. It was entirely written, recorded and produced at home. Mastered by Jeff Ferrand (WooDBox Studio).

 This album was a treat to listen to.  It truly lives up to the “indie” tag, though touches down into pop and alternative on a few tracks.  Overall, I heard some heavy Coldplay influences – the lead vocalist Mickaël Menu sounds a lot like Chris Martin – mixed with Radiohead.  Not surprisingly, Radiohead is listed first among their main influences (others include Sigur Rós and Aphex Twin).  The sound of the band is predominantly electronic, but there are some acoustic touches as well, with a lot of piano.

I couldn’t really key in on the lyrics – it was hard for me to figure out what they were singing about.  Granted, I was working while listening, but Menu’s singing style made it hard to pick out distinct words and I found it hard to decipher any meaning behind the music.  That said, the instrumentation is fantastic and was what drew me to the album in the first place.  I just wish I could have picked out more of the words.

Figures In Motion – Cycle EP

From what I can see, there aren’t any new albums from Figures In Motion available on Jamendo.  I checked out their website and was disappointed to find that they have a “farewell” message posted; I’m not sure when they disbanded, but it looks like it might have been a while now, and “Confusion Will Pass” is their only full-length album.  If you want to check out some of their other work, you’ll have to make do with their 2011 EP, Cycle.  That one opens with a track that just screams “Radiohead”.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (IMDB) was a bit of a surprise movie for me.  It showed up in several podcasts I listen to – one of which was The Adam Sandcast (Apple Podcasts), so my first thought that this was another Adam Sandler Netflix low-effort vehicle.

But then I saw it pop up on Filmspotting (Filmspotting.net).  At the time, I had no clue that this was a film directed by Noah Baumbach, so this was my first clue that The Meyerowitz Stories had some pedigree behind it.  Filmspotting usually thumbs its nose at the Adam Sandler Netflix films, so to give it some attention came out of the blue for me.

Seeing it on one of the longer running film review podcasts sealed the deal – I was going to watch the movie anyway, but I made a concerted effort to watch it sooner than later so I could properly enjoy the podcasts.  My next wave of surprise was at how good the movie was.

I’d have to say that Dustin Hoffman’s elder, partially dysfunctional Harold Meyerowitz was my favourite part of the movie.  The next favourite part was that you could see pieces of him in each of his three children (played by Sandler, Ben Stiller, and Elizabeth Marvel).  I thought it was great how you could tell that these were his kids in terms of personality, if not looks.

The story is rather straightforward, so not much to write home about there.  It’s more about the characters in the movie and how they react to what’s going on.  It was nice to see Sandler give a bit more of a nuanced performance than his comedy stylings, though you could see bits of his comedy dip into the role (in a good way).

I REALLY liked how Baumbach plays with the screen; many times characters will be cut off mid-sentence, and often characters will pop in and out of the frame during a scene.  I won’t try to delve too deeply into analyzing the use of these cuts and framing devices, but I feel like it helped to serve the nature of some of the characters.

I definitely recommend this one.  It’s not an Adam Sandler movie, it’s just A Movie.  Has me thinking it’s about time I re-visit a few other “artsy” films I haven’t seen in a long time.

Star Trek: Discovery Review

I finally finished watching the final bits of “The Battle at the Binary Stars”, the second episode of Star Trek: Discovery.  Here’s my quick review of the show!

Overall impressions

I thought the premiere episodes were great.  In Canada, Discovery is being released on Space, the Canadian version of the SyFy channel.  I’m incredibly thankful that I don’t need to subscribe to CraveTV, which is where you can stream the show in Canada.

If I were to give it an arbitrary rating, I’d say 3.5/5.  The show was visually impressive, and had a story that was somewhat straightforward to follow.  There were some bits I didn’t like (I’ll get to that), but overall I found enough that will keep me coming back weekly.

What I didn’t like 

The Klingons – but not for the reason you’d think.  I’m not hung up on the design choices for the show; in fact I think I’d find it distracting if the technology looked dated compared to what we have available to us today.  Similarly for the Kilngons, the updated look didn’t phase me a bit.

What bothered me was the way they spoke, and the slow subtitles.  I found it very hard to follow along, because they spoke so slowly and the subtitles used such short sentence fragments.  Let me correct my phrasing a bit; it wasn’t that they spoke slowly at all, it was actually just the subtitles.  I think their speech patterns were the most “realistic” of all Klingon depictions.  Their scenes just felt extremely slow and took me out of the episode because of it.

I also found it confusing that we started with a crew that had already been together 7 years, and we’re most likely never seeing them again.  Why couldn’t we start with the Discovery, if that’s where we’re going?  That’s a minor beef though, and I’m willing to see what they’ve got for the rest of the season.

What I did like

Yep, the list of what I didn’t like was pretty short.  While introducing the Shenzhou was a negative, it was also somewhat of a positive for me.  It really did feel like we were seeing a crew that had spent 7 years together – there was no awkward “nice to meet you” moments we might usually get in a Star Trek pilot.  Especially the relationship between Saru and Burnham was really well done.

I mentioned the impressive visuals earlier; like I said, I wasn’t caught up with the fact that these sets look even more advanced than the Enterprise sets did at the time.  They do look like a natural progression from the Enterprise sets, which I thought made sense for 100 years’ difference.  From the technical standpoint, I thought it was great that this didn’t “look” like a TV show (whereas you can tell the original Trek series are filmed on sets, no matter how alive they tried to make them).

I thought Commander Burnham was portrayed excellently – you could tell she was a different character from when she first joined the Shenzhou to her moment of defiance 7 years later.  You can feel that there is a lot of character development that happened in between, and you can trust that it happened without having to see it.

Final Words

When I first saw the trailer for this, I wasn’t initially interested in the show.  I would watch the first episode, and try to catch it if I could.  But as the premiere date came, I realized I was legitimately excited for a new Trek show.

And now, after seeing the first two episodes, I can’t wait to have a weekly Sunday night TV date.  Everybody is talking about it – it’s great.

If you haven’t seen the episodes yet, go and watch them.  Judge for yourself whether it has a “Star Trek” message or not (I think the jury is still out on that).

Adventures Into Darkness #10 – Review

This comic was a complete surprise to me, and not at all on my initial list of comic books to review.  I found it by complete surprise, when I was looking for creative commons images to use on my initial blog post introducing the comic book review series I was about to write.

Adventures Into Darkness #10
Adventures Into Darkness #10

Adventures Into Darkness #10 was originally published in June 1953, and rather than being one complete story, is an anthology book featuring about 9 different stories in the horror-suspense genre.

The cover story, The Man Who Could Not Die, is the longest of the bunch and is front and centre in the book as the first story.  The cover actually depicts a different story – The Man Who Could Not Die is a story about a 5000-year-old man hiring a hitman to kill himself – because he is unable to die due to a pact made with Death.

I got a really good kick out of this book.  The writing is clever, if not a bit predictable (it hits on a lot of tropes that have been done to death – excuse the pun – at this point, but would have been fresh in 1953).

Most of the stories in the book are short, the shortest lasting one page at the end of the book.  Definitely worth checking out for a quick read; I think I may have a look at the rest of the stories in this particular collection!

Batman – A Word to the Wise – Review

Batman – “A Word to the Wise” – Review

Batman - A Word to the Wise
Batman – A Word to the Wise

Branded content has been around for a long time.  It’s usually pretty good for marketing.  You provide content that people will enjoy and attach your name to it.  Branded podcasts are starting to pop up now.

But never before have I seen a branded comic book, apart from Batman “A Word to the Wise”.  Here’s an excerpt from the fine print on the first page:

This comic book has been sponsored by Zellers Inc. to support and promote the cause for literacy in Canada.

No kidding on the fine print here – I actually used a magnifying glass to read it.

The Story

The comic begins in Montreal, Quebec, where some kids are trying to get a good view of fireworks.  Batman swoops in to save the day when one such kid ignores warning signs on a rickety fire escape, suggesting that a little bit of reading goes a long way!

We turn to Toronto, where Joey is trying to convince Joanie to ditch the boring library and go to the Canadian National Exhibition – which apparently won’t wait forever, you know.

Batman drives in the middle of the road.
Batman drives in the middle of the road.

Meanwhile, Batman, driving in the middle of the road between Montreal and Toronto, comments on how nice the drive is, and that it’s no wonder The Joker would make his way down to Toronto.  I guess there’s logic there?  The Joker likes farmhouses and country side?  Moving on.

Apparently The Joker is after a rare 1867 edition of “The Geography of Canada”, and was making his way across the country, starting in Newfoundland.  He’s made his way to Toronto, and that’s where Batman is headed (thanks to insight from his Bat-Computer).  Thanks to the wonders of 90’s technology, Batman is able to immediately fax a copy of his reports to the RCMP!

Batman tracks down Joker to a library, but he escapes.  But the book The Joker is after is with Joanie – who is now in danger!  Batman tracks down Joanie, but The Joker follows Batman and traps them all in the CNE.

The Joker gets his hand on the rare geography book, and tears it in half – disappointed that “it” isn’t in the book.  Apparently, there’s something inside this rare geography book that he’s looking for.  What could it be?

Zellers!
Zellers!

Batman, using Joanie and Joey’s help (after all, they know more about Canada than Batman does!), head west after the Joker to Alberta, and make stop “at the local Zellers store just outside Edmonton.”  They proceed to note that it’s “terrific that there’s always a Zellers nearby when you need one”.

Batman is too late, as the Joker found the parchment in the binding of the geography book he was looking for.  It looks like Joker’s headed to the Calgary Stampede (or perhaps, just a rodeo?) to make some sort of announcement to the world.

Joker claims that the parchment he found was a land grant, giving him full legal claim to all of North America west of Cape Spear.  He demands to be proclaimed rightful ruler of the entire continent within 24 hours or have the entire populace evicted.

Batman hog-ties The Joker in record time, and saves the day.  The RCMP arrive to deal with everything else Batman leaves behind, leaving the issue of this strange land grant!

Apparently the option on the deed had to be exercised within 125 years of the date of signing, but this very day happens to be 125 years and ONE day after the signing!  So Joker’s claim is void.  His henchmen tell him he should have read the fine print, and Joey realizes that reading DOES have its uses after all!

Fantastic Lines

This book is as cheesy as it gets, and definitely follows the mold of Adam West’s Batman with lines like:

“You heard the lady!  This is a library – and your card’s just been cancelled!”

There are some other gems, like:

“Look, can we just shelve this reading stuff for the time being?”

The writing is actually not that bad, for a commercial tie-in.  I think the best moment in the book is when Batman hog ties The Joker, and yells out, “Clear!” – clearly knowing exactly what to do in a rodeo.  You see, children, Batman is well-read.  See how useful reading is?

My takeaway

Throughout the entire book, there are double-sided, single page ads with coupons advertising various products sold only at Zellers.  As an adult, it’s fairly obvious that this comic book was designed completely to advertise, but if you were a kid reading it, it would just be a fun Batman story.

And for a piece of branded content, this was actually quite good.  The Joker seems to be very much in character (he has some cheesy tricks up his sleeve – literally – and dresses up like a cowboy).  The plot, while simple, doesn’t seem to have any holes in it.  I think that’s BECAUSE it’s so simple.

Anyway, if you ever come across this book – it’s worth picking up for some of the strange appearances in it; I mean, seeing a big Zellers store front show up on one of the pages is something you don’t normally see (and naturally, will never see again).

2.5 out of 5!

Book Reviews

It’s been a while since I finished reading something, and this month I managed to finish two things.  One was a full length book, the other was a piece of short fiction.  Here are my reviews.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

I received this book as a gift at Christmas this past year, and is a story I’ve had my eye on for quite a while.  What I didn’t know about it: it was originally written in Swedish, translated to English (and presumably many other languages since).  It’s a simple story, and starts exactly as the title suggests: A 100-year-old man climbs out of his window and disappeared, launching a man-hunt for him across Sweden.

It earns many comparisons to Forest Gump, mainly because the story of his past is told in parallel with the present-day story.  In his past, he interacts with many different historical figures and winds up inadvertently shaping historic events simply by dumb luck.

I’m normally not a fan of descriptions that compare the book to another work of fiction, simply because it saddles a lot of preconceptions onto the new work.  I tried not to think about the Forest Gump comparisons but after finishing the novel, felt that it was a pretty apt description.

The story is pretty funny overall, and the pacing was generally quite good.  At some points I thought that this wasn’t the case; some of the telling of his life in the past felt slow and left me wanting to get back to what the main character was up to in the present day.

I give it an A-, definitely worth a read.

Dead Trees Give No Shelter

Dead Trees Give No Shelter
Dead Trees Give No Shelter

This is a shorter piece of fiction, about 40 pages.  Wil Wheaton (yes, THAT Wil Wheaton) wrote it with an intended release for Halloween, as a break between a longer novel that he’s working on.

It’s a supernatural / horror story, which coincidentally also moves between the past and present day (and a quick jaunt into the year 2031).  I didn’t intend to pick two stories to review that had a similar story mechanic, it’s something I just realized.

Here’s what I wrote about it on Goodreads:

A quick but very enjoyable read. Wil Wheaton created a moody atmosphere and did a really good job of “hiding the monster” until it needed to come out of hiding. The story has a certain symmetry to it as well. At one point when I was reading it, I was listening to the E.T. soundtrack, which perfectly fit the tone that I think Wheaton was aiming for. There were some instances where the dialog didn’t work for me, but it wasn’t enough to make me give up reading in disgust. Solid read – pick it up after watching Stranger Things (or watch Stranger Things after reading this).

I really liked it.  Around the time that I finished reading this I also binged through the rest of Stranger Things, which was great.  Similar atmospheres, which I think is exactly what Wheaton was going for.

Since you probably won’t need help finding The 100 Year Old Man… on book shelves, I’ll just give you a link to Dead Trees Give No Shelter.  You can pick it up in multiple forms – I personally bought the eBook.  You can also listen to the Audiobook, which was narrated by Wil himself.

What’s next?  I’m going to finally read Timothy Zahn’s Survivor’s Quest + Outbound Flight; I’ve also got a World War II book I picked up from a bargain table that looks interesting.  I definitely have no shortage of things to read on my bookshelf.

Podcast Update for June

Here’s your podcast update for June!  There’s actually a lot going on for what is usually considered an “off-season” for entertainment.  If you want, you can see my subscription list at https://podstand.co/profile/lwgrs

Dropped Podcasts

I don’t recall dropping any subscriptions.  Good news!

Returning Shows

This list is somewhat long!  That’s really cool.

  • The Pitch is back!  Three new episodes came out, and while I was disappointed with the unannounced break I’m pretty happy there are new shows to evaluate.  Season 3 started June 14th and is now part of Gimlet.
  • Grant Lawrence is back on CBC Radio 3!  Which is now “Canada Sounds”, which I need to listen more for a proper evaluation.  I guess they got tired of doing the usual show of just playing cool music with the occasional feature.  Now it sounds like something tied even more strongly into Canada.  Episodes are short, it seems!
  • Radio Free Burrito – Wil Wheaton is trying to keep to a weekly schedule.  So far so good.  I’ve always liked this show, and it’s pretty much an audio version of his blog.  A show I usually listen to first as soon as it comes out.
  • Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder – season 2 seems to be looking at the Daniel Morgan murder from a slightly different perspective, assuming that the listener is familiar with the story.  Leans heavily on the host’s new book.

Recommended Listening

  • Overthinking It Podcast episode 464: E.T.: I Learned it from You, Alien Dad! 
    • Why this episode?  Because for a long time I’ve been meaning to re-watch E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.  I keep seeing it on Netflix and I don’t think I’ve watched it in 20+ years.  This episode is a deep dive on what’s going on with the movie E.T. (as opposed to covering the apparently terrible Alien Covenant), and was really fun to listen to.  They touched on so many aspects that I’d never noticed before so I had to watch it.
    • Pair this listening with a viewing of E.T.  You won’t regret it!

New Subscriptions

Just one – Back to the Futurama.  For the longest time, Futurama Pedia was the only Futurama podcast around but that’s changed!  Back to the Futurama is going through all of the Futurama episodes in order, from what I can tell.  I haven’t listened through everything, and still need to finish listening to their Space Pilot 3000 episode.  But it’s pretty good!

Got any podcasts you’d like to recommend?