Game of Thrones season 8

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The long awaited final season of the supposedly most epic TV series of all times is finally here. I subscribed to HBO Nordic in order to be able to follow the season as it unfolded. Getting HBO Nordic was a good decision, despite the awful quality of the application, but this series certainly was not the reason.

Where do I begin? Season 7 was already completely based on some guidelines provided by George R.R. Martin and original writing, since the novels that describe the same events have not been released yet. Before they started to make season 7, they were well aware, that they had 2 seasons, under 20 episodes, to finish the series. So what do they do with season 7? They kill of a bunch of interesting characters just so they won’t have to give closure to any plots they were involved in or to the arcs of the characters themselves.

Now we come to season 8, 6 episodes and we still have the white walkers to beat and then there’s the problem of Cersei, who, to no one’s surprise, does not provide troops to fight the white walkers.

They spend 3 episodes out of the 6 available on setting up and going through the white walkers fight. I guess it could’ve gone into more interesting paths, but it didn’t. We get one episode of setting up the final chess pieces in their places. I mean seriously, most of the dialogue in the episode seems like the characters are describing chess piece movement. We get one episode that is supposed to set the mood before this end of the world fight. Except that everyone knows that the white walkers are going to be beat, because the show runners have shown exactly zero courage in anything they’ve done once they ran out of George R.R. Martin material. This kind of an episode still has some potential. Yes, the walkers are going to be beat, but so much of the secondary and tertiary cast of the series is present, that even without courage, we are going to get scores of important bodies, right? So night before the battle episode, there’s potential. But the dialogue is putrid, there’s very little tension in any of the scenes. Have a drink, knight a woman, sex for the first time, all by the book and seems like the actors were phoning it in. And obviously then the third episode, the fight. Yeah, there’s probably not been another mass combat depicted in a TV series with so much flair, but nothing happens. First it looks like they are doomed. Then some things go right and maybe there’s hope. Then those things are countered and they are doomed again. A few efforts that are supposed to be heroic fail, and the doom deepens until every hero has been cornered and it seems all is lost. Enter deus ex machina, combat resolved, count the bodies, one. How many? One. What? Yes, one. We get exactly one important body. They had the courage to kill one fucking character out of the dozens of expendable people there. One! If they had that much courage and that much originality, they should’ve covered the whole white walkers fight in a montage in 20 minutes during the first episode, so at least we could get more space for finishing character arcs and the multitude of open plots with some time and satisfaction – but they chose to spend half the season on a fucking useless subplot in a manner that does not take one character forward and does not provide a single surprising moment.

The rest of the season does not get any better. It’s true that they’ve been broadcasting Daenerys’ turn to evil for at least a season and a half, but they still manage to handle that so hamfistedly, that it feels like there’s no character arc behind it and no justified psychology. Cersei just dies. So does Jaime. The “awaited” Clegane encounter is a fucking joke. Euron’s arc is just ended. Tyrion and Varys continue being blabbering idiots instead of brilliant strategists. All the feminist tones are stomped on and ground to dust. All the other ideas about breaking the mold are diluted to the point of irrelevance. Jon, the fucking puppy eyed miserable cry baby, is the one, who finally finds his balls, and ends it all… And manages to do it in the most unsatisfactory way. All of it, everything, just wasted potential in the end. There is not a single juicy scene during the last two seasons of the series. And the 8th is by far worse than the 7th. And that isn’t even going into all of the lack of charisma and tension present in everything.

In all fairness, it is difficult to end a series, that has gathered so many expectations around it. I would assume the reason for Martin not having released further novels to the series, is that he is having the same problems. Martin and the series are both in unnecessarily deep waters with finding a good ending due to Martin’s tendency to take every namesake of a side character and give them a full story arc. But this is just a no show by the show runners. They phoned it in. They couldn’t care less. Their checks had already been signed. This is seriously a good contender for the prize of worst series ending ever, and there is no shortage of good contestants.

In a couple of years, the best bad moments will be watched during private bad film festivals and laughed at heartily.

  • Finished in: 20th May 2019
  • 0.5/5
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Multimodality

I’ve been consuming surprisingly many pieces work in the original and an adapted format recently. Here’s the reviews.

Lucifer – the Comic

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The comic picks up the character of Lucifer from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics and tells his story. The story plots his course rebelling against God in modern times. It starts by Lucifer leaving hell, since he doesn’t care about being his father’s puppet anymore.

I picked up the comic, because of Neil Gaiman and Sandman. There are definitely influences here, but Lucifer never flies in the same league. The ideas are not as surprising, the plots are not as devious, the characters are not as juicy.

The one point, where Lucifer can stand tall next to Sandman, is the art. Sandman suffered from slightly lackluster art for the first few trade paperback collection, but Lucifer has high quality on that front from the start.

This is a nice comic regardless. Again the flaws seem prominent only, because the point of comparison is so high. If you are interested in plays on the pop culture Christian mythology, this one certainly offers something new.

  • Title: Lucifer
  • Author: Mike Carey
  • Year: 2000-2006
  • Finished in: 25th Dec 2017
  • 3/5

Lucifer seasons 1 & 2 – the Series

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I picked up on the series, because some people, who were high on the comic, kept recommending it to me. It is supposedly based on the comic, the premise is certainly the same – Lucifer is done with being God’s puppet and leaves hell to strike out on his own in Los Angeles. There the similarities end. In the series we follow Lucifer through a path of self discovery as he fights crime as a consultant for the police. The fighting against God bit is restricted to occasional outbursts against his controlling dad.

The series could be interesting from this starting point, but execution lacks. Lucifer is a narcissistic and egoistic caricature built for cheap gags and nothing more. The individual episodes never offer anything interesting and the overall story arcs are inane and boring.

I should’ve quit after a couple of episodes, but it took me a couple of episodes into season 3, before I finally gave up. It’s like Buffy without the charisma and serious topics – what you have left is the case of the week.

  • Finished on: 17th Feb 2019
  • 1/5

Gone Girl [2014]  – the Film

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The story of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). They are a seemingly perfect couple – stylish, witty, beautiful, smart – but that is only a carefully constructed surface. Nick is out of a job and living on Amy’s trust fund money and he is having an affair, and Amy has just gone missing. The film follows the investigation into Amy’s disappearance. The story slowly reveals various secrets – the marriage hasn’t been happy in a long time, Nick is having an affair, Amy staged her own disappearance to look like Nick murdered her, she did it as revenge for the affair…

David Fincher is not at his best, but this is still guaranteed Fincher quality. The film is, if nothing else, rigorous. It reveals everything bit by bit, always grabbing the viewer’s interest back just, when it looks like the plot is not going anywhere. There are two major twists – one was revealed above, that Amy is still alive and hasn’t actually been kidnapped, and a second one in the end. Neither is being hidden too much and especially the latter one is clear long before it actually happens, but the interesting bit with the twists is not themselves, but the reasons behind them and what happens next.

There’s nothing wrong here, but there is nothing exceptionally right either. Fincher goes into Michael Haneke territory here, with the calculated control, but he lags far behind with the uninteresting mise-en-scéne. He used to be one of the more interesting directors coming out of the US, but it seems that Hollywood has gotten to him and although parts of his style is still visible, his ideas have been replaced by Hollywood design by committee scripts.

  • Director: David Fincher
  • Watched on: 8th Sep 2018
  • Watched at: Home (Sub)
  • 2.5/5

Gone Girl – the Novel

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The film seemed like there was unrealized potential just below the surface, so I picked up the novel to see, if that potential was lost in translation. Long story short: it wasn’t.

The novel reads like a film script from the start, and it reads like a script written for David Fincher. Maybe the goal was Michael Haneke, but it falls short. Nevertheless, reading the novel or seeing the film is enough, no need to do both, since the film is an almost exact replica of the novel. Towards the ends a few details have been moved around and changed a bit, but anything essential is neither lost nor gained. My rating for the novel is slightly less than for the film, since the novel attempts to be a film script and loses something of the possibilities of the novel format due to that.

  • Title: Gone Girl
  • Author: Gillian Flynn
  • Year: 2012
  • Finished in: 19th Oct 2018
  • 2/5

Under the Skin – the Novel

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The film was one of the most pleasant and surprising experiences I’ve ever had with films. I knew practically nothing about it going to the screening, and it completely blew me away. Definitely one of the best films of the millennium, maybe even the best. It horrified me to no end, without being a horror film, and it told of something essential in the human nature, that I hadn’t realized or experienced in quite this way ever before.

I didn’t realize, at the time, that it was a novel adaptation. When I did, I had to pick up the novel to see, if I could find another similar experience. Nope, nothing of the sort found here. The film takes only the premise from the novel, but heavily adapts pretty much everything. Not sure, if from necessity, since the budget was practically non-existent, or if it just sparked some ideas that were better than what the novel contains.

In the novel, we follow some… thing, that appears close to human at first. She goes around in her near broken down car picking up hitchhiking men for some sinister purpose. This is as far as the similarities between the film and the novel go. I’m not going to reveal more about the film, since it is an exceptional piece of work that heavily relies on not knowing anything about it beforehand. The novel goes on to slowly reveal, that the protagonist is not actually human and that the men she picks up, end up as fodder for the aliens. The aliens are a species that lives mostly underground, but the elite of that species have developed a taste for human meat, so some of the species have to go above-ground and hunt for this valuable food stuff. The protagonist has gone through extensive surgical procedures to appear more human. The novel proceed to delve into this alien culture and the ethical justification for the hunting of humans.

Unfortunately after the first third of the novel, it loses any tension. Too much is revealed and the alien culture and the characters drawing from it are just not interesting. Their differences are too big that the presumable tense ethical dilemmas seem like badly drawn caricatures and fail to touch on the reader’s emotions.

  • Title: Under the Skin
  • Author: Michel Faber
  • Year: 2000
  • Finished in: 16th Sep 2018
  • 1.5/5

Altered Carbon season 1 – the Series

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There’s never too much high quality cyberpunk / post human sci-fi in the world. This is a pretty run of the mill neo noir story of a detective going after a complicated case. We get all the trappings of both noir detective stories and cyberpunk sci-fi – it is the execution, where this excels.

Sci-fi these days tends to be self indulgent presentation of mind-tickling ideas, but no emotional connection – a tour of “hey, look how neat the future could be” moments, where the characters and story are just an excuse to go on the tour. That’s interesting in itself, but without interesting characters and plot, the whole falls quite flat.

Film noir on the other hand, has always been about strong characters and sort of fantasy – the viewer needs to buy into the characters acting the way they do, but after that one required step taken by the audience, the fantasy pretty much automatically provides emotionally gripping stories.

The combination seems like a match made in heaven. This is by far not the first time the combination has been made, so no points for originality. This also does not rise above the combination to produce singularly spectacular art, so no points for that either. It is just a really well executed version of this with good characters, good plot, nice ideas, and good enough production team to execute all of it well down to the last detail. The result is an excellent piece of entertainment.

  • Finished on: 24th Aug 2018
  • 3.5/5

Altered Carbon – the Novel

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Similarly to the Gone Girl novel and film, the novel and adapted TV series are very close to each other. Differently from the Gone Girl case, the novel doesn’t attempt to be a script, and here both the novel and series are actually entertaining in themselves instead of being slightly interesting film school exercises in plot control.

Not much new to say, except that Morgan has a way with words that pulls you in, like a good novel should. Despite having seen the series before reading the novel, the novel evokes new images and atmospheres. Not high art, but very good execution.

  • Title: Altered Carbon
  • Author: Richard K. Morgan
  • Year: 2002
  • Finished in: 17th Mar 2019
  • 3.5/5

Recently, I’ve Mostly Been Watching TV

It’s been a while, so I’m going to do a couple of quick posts that sum up some things I’ve seen – this is the first one and it’s about TV series.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency season 1

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The series is based on the novel of the same name by Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame. I’ve read the novel and its sequel some decades ago, but don’t remember much anything about them.

The plot of the series is delightfully Adamsian, that is, completely nonsensical. There is logic there and with great care one can pull together everything that is happening everywhere and figure out, if it forms a coherent whole. To quickly recap, it is about Dirk Gently getting involved in a time traveling, soul swapping romp, and being Dirk Gently, that is, completely nonsensical and utterly delightful, through all of it.

For the early part of the season, it is very much unclear, what is happening, but the weird humor and explosively surprising in gory violence keep things entertaining. Towards the end of the season the episodes tend to concentrate more on carefully pulling through the various twists of the plot. This and the occasional serious brooding leave less room for delightful humor, which in turn makes the series slightly tedious to watch at times.

Luckily the season is only 8 episodes, so the more free flowing early bits of the season weigh more heavily on the scale and the whole thing ends up being a positive experience. Haven’t seen the 2nd season yet, but I have a feeling it will not be as good, since with the now familiar characters, there’s less room for quirks and surprises and more need to get plot heavy things going early. Nevertheless, if the occasional bits of heavy gore don’t bother you and if you enjoy weird humor, this gets a recommendation.

  • Finished on: 15th Aug 2017
  • 3/5

The Expanse season 2

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This is another series based on novels of the same name, this time by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the shared pen name of James S. A. Corey. My thoughts on the previous season are found here.

At the end of season 1, I was pretty apprehensive that the protomolecule was going to take center stage for season 2. Unfortunately, that is the case. We spend half the season chasing after clues with the crew of the Rocinante and the other half in a stand of between Mars and Earth, while only a few key players understand, that the tensions have been staged by a rogue group that has been developing the protomolecule.

The series keeps the ruthless power hungry politics in the picture and the sci-fi setting keeps me interested in general, but the protomolecule is just boring, the rogue crew perpetrating the quickly heating political conflict is much less interesting than two groups clashing naturally over self interests, and this single ship crew being in on all the key events and surviving time after time is… well, most series still don’t kill their darlings regardless of what George R. R. Martin has been doing…

Altogether, the 2nd season is much weaker, but still very much a good experience.

  • Finished on: 3rd Oct 2017
  • 3.5/5

Orphan Black season 1

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An original series for a change. Orphan Black is a story about Sarah Manning and her fellow clones. They are the result of illegal cloning experiments and mostly unaware of each other, when the series starts. The plot involves Neolution / Dyad Institute, who are technology believers and intentionally push the boundaries with their experiments regardless of the law, and Proletheans, who are religious activists, who think badly of many recent technological innovations including the clones.

Sarah and all the other clones are played by Tatiana Maslany. For the most part she does an excellent job jumping between roles and making each individual clone recognizable and interesting, but someone somewhere didn’t trust in her completely, so they’ve added irritating gimmicks to each character in order to make them even more individual. Nevertheless, kudos for Tatiana.

This series suffers from pretty much the same things as the ones reviewed above – the setup is interesting, the characters are interesting, getting to know all of it is interesting, but the moment the characters and the viewers know enough about what’s going on to actually be active with the situation, the thing falls slightly flat. The mystery isn’t good enough and can be revealed only once, and the endless chasing after clues and power reversals soon become tedious. Oh well, at least the first season was worth it.

  • Finished on: 28th Jan 2018
  • 3/5

Game of Thrones season 7

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Well, this series should require no introductions. By now the series is past the novel series. As far as I know, George R. R. Martin has been giving the script writers pointers as to how the novels are going to progress, and the plot attempts to follow the rough picture that the forthcoming novels are going to follow, but mostly the script writers are on their own… And it shows. While George R. R. Martin has never been a great novelist, he does have an idea or two about plotting and revealing said plots slowly and patiently. The season 7 lacks far behind on that regard – the previously convoluted plots are now downright hamfisted and easily guessed, and the series has to rely on cheating the viewers to get some surprises across.

As mentioned above, George has his deficiencies as a writer and the series is actually able to improve on a few of the flaws. Most notably, the series has dropped multiple plot threads and scenes, some of them even quite prominent in the novels, in order to fit things into the less expressive TV format. And this is what George mostly needs – an editor, who would say to him that you don’t actually have to follow every god damn side plot to its conclusion.

Oh well, this is still some of the best fantasy imagery ever seen in TV and rivals most things on the silver screen as well. Unfortunately that does speak more to the qualities of the genre in these media. Despite the many problems, the series has its merits as well. Most prominent obviously being that I still enjoy watching it.

  • Finished on: 10th Feb 2018
  • 3/5

Russian Doll

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The series follows Nadia Vulvokov, a New Yorker of Russian origin, who is celebrating her 36th birthday in a big party organized by her friends, she leaves with a man to have a fling with him and after the thing, accidentally gets hit by a car… and wakes up back at the party. The plot twist was made famous by Groundhog Day and has been rehashed multiple times since then.

Regardless of the obvious comparison, this bears few similarities with that film. Nadia is a nihilistic woman living with a devil may care attitude drinking too much and using anything and everything she comes across. The dark tones of the protagonist carry over to the series overall tone. The supporting cast is full of dark characters, the lighting is almost always dark and reddish, there’s homelessness and drug use prominently on display, etc.

I love this short series format. Longer than a movie, shorter than an endless progression of season. You can play wonders in this format. And this does. Each iteration through the party (and sometimes) the following days follows slightly different patterns with Nadia trying to get to grips with her situation. This is again the most interesting part – when the viewers and the protagonist are still figuring things out. As the series progresses, it slowly shifts gears from people to the mystery. Unfortunately, the mystery falls a bit short of the setup – that seems to be common pattern (as witnessed above). At least this one keeps the last twist to the very final scenes of the show, and that was actually slightly surprising.

By far the most refreshing new thing I’ve seen on the TV series front in years.

  • Finished on: 18th Feb 2019
  • 4.5/5

The Umbrella Academy season 1

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This time a series based on a comic book and it shows. The series follows a dysfunctional group of adopted sibling superheroes, who reunite, when their father is found dead. Soon after it’s revealed that the world is about to end, due to their long lost brother returning from the future, where he’s been stuck for 30 years in a world that stopped existing 8 days from now.

The plot follows the efforts of the family to stave off the end of the world. Nobody seems to much care about how it’s going to happen – they just attempt to prevent it from happening. Besides the apocalypse, the plot is burdened by the family grudges. Although the series features a multitude of family meetings, it never actually features a calm discussion, where things could actually be explained – pouting and storming away is the name of the game.

I can’t really explain, what kept me entertained. The characters are quite inane, they act like teenagers all the time, the plot hangs on people not talking to each other, the amount of pouting makes teenage Instagram accounts look like nobody ever purses their lips… But I sat through this with a smile on my face. The one hour episodes give room to build atmosphere and change it multiple times and occasionally the series hits spot on.

Borderline watchable, but I hope they won’t make a second season, so I don’t have to watch a few episodes and figure out that it’s going nowhere fast.

  • Finished on: 28th Feb 2019
  • 2.5/5

The Expanse season 1

The Expanse - Season 1

I was sick for the week, so had some extra time and very little energy on my hands (as can be seen from the number of updates into this blog this week). Some of it was spent watching the full season 1 of The Expanse. It’s a Syfy production, but for some reason is marked as a Netflix original series in at least the Finnish market. I wondered about this, since production quality and cost is obviously above the Netflix standards. Biggest ever Syfy production explains it.

The series is a space opera situated in the 23rd century. Humanity has colonized the inner planets (well Earth and Mars) and there’s a multitude of space stations in various asteroids, moons and orbits. Earth is governed by a single UN government. It is in a bad shape, but still the best place to live in the system. Mars is controlled by a military regime. It has advanced beyond Earth in military technology, but is still a dead planet and everyone lives under a dome. The government and populace are single minded in their focus on terraforming Mars. The asteroid belt is a UN protectorate mining water, minerals and gases mostly for Earth, but also for Mars. There’s a peace that has been stretching very thin. Earth fears that Mars is making a move to claim Ceres, which is the trade hub for everything mined in the asteroid belt and the most important space station there. OPA, a terrorist organization based in the asteroid belt, is working to free the belters from their de facto slavery to claim the riches of the belt for the belters. A rich kid goes missing, a weird ship with contraband technology destroys a water mining ship, conspiracies are suspected left and right and pieces are set into motion.

The series reminds me of the unfortunately short lived Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome series. It had a similar setup of politics, intrigue, class based society, scarce resources, terrorism, gritty realism. They differ in that there’s no kind of leap of faith technologies present here. Technology hasn’t evolved into anything mystical, there’s nothing post human anywhere and everything happens in our own solar system – no warp drives or the like. I like it. The way Battlestar Galactica presented the Cylons and their more advanced technological feats was quite far fetched. On those parts the series jumped strictly on the side of science fantasy. Then again, all science fiction is science fantasy, but there’s always grades.

I like the setup, I like the focus areas (some adventure, some weird things in space, some intrigue, some detective work, some politics…) and I like the way the pieces are set in motion during this first season, but the few final episodes take the plot into a weird direction. There seems to be a big leap into science fantasy side of things. The fuse of the powder keg in the setting could easily be lit without any leaps into fantasy. I don’t like. The whole first season aims towards the big move in the final episodes, so it’s in a big role now. I hope the show runner will turn around on the topic and swipe it under the rug in season 2.

Despite the misgivings about the direction of the show, this is some of the best TV series scifi that I’ve seen. Very much recommended.