Pointless Nonsense

Posted in tv by Bill on October 19, 2020

Helstrom is Hulu’s new series based on Marvel’s Daimon Hellstrom, but they removed an L from his name. And they may have removed the main aspect of his identity, too? I’d avoided DC’s horror-y Swamp Thing because Swamp Thing never appealed to me, and this is also horror-y and Daimon Hellstrom never much appealed to me either, but I assume it got greenlit with Lucifer in mind, and even though I don’t care for that show, it at least has a sense of humor.

This does have Helstrom crack the occasional joke, so there’s that. The guy playing Helstrom looks a little bit like the Sleepy Hollow guy, which I guess is about right, but… meh. The aptly named Elizabeth Marvel is in it, along with a woman who sometimes looks a lot like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Robert Wisdom, who is always good.

But two episodes in, the show was mostly about how this guy and his sister are sad, and demons are bad. There was neither continuing plot, nor mythology, nor character that compelled me to watch more.

Posted in movies by Bill on October 16, 2020

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a new Netflix movie from Aaron Sorkin and an all-star cast. I assume people who like Sorkin will love it, and people who don’t won’t. 

The intro sequence is Sorkin at his best, packing exposition, character introductions, and jokes into a sequence that somehow makes some liberals planning a protest seem like the most exciting thing ever. The rest isn’t as good, but remains predictably Sorkin-y. Pithy rejoinders and impassioned speeches about liberal values. And it works on me, but it’s never as good when I’m aware that I’m being played like a fiddle. 

I knew little about the real story, so it was informative too. Although I found the text at the end saying what happened to everyone to be pretty depressing. 

Posted in tv by Bill on October 15, 2020

I was watching the sublimely weird Look Around You again recently, and while I’d kept up with Peter Serafinowicz’s career, I looked up what the other co-creator had been up to, I found that he’s been doing a sitcom for years, and that it’s on prime (at least the first four seasons, had to get creative to find the rest). So I checked out Friday Night Dinner.

It is much more traditional than Look Around You. A Jewish family has dinner every Friday night. Parents in their 50s and two young adult sons who are always trying to prank each other. And a Seinfeld-ish style of multiple threads tying together in the end, often ending abruptly as the payoff hits.

It’s weird that in 2011, seven years after she was the young doctor love interest on Green Wing, Tamsin Greig was playing the mother of adults, and that makes me feel old. Mark Heap, also of Green Wing (and Spaced), plays the weird neighbor. And weirdly the guy who played the safety test supervisor in Chernobyl is the dad. But it’s good. Almost never sentimental or emotional, it’s just a show where reasonably funny things happen with little filler in between.

Posted in tv by Bill on October 7, 2020

Next (or maybe capitalized NEXT or NeXt or neXt, I am seeing all of those variations) is Fox’s new AI thriller series, with John Slattery as a disgraced former tech CEO/genius/AI skeptic. Shit predictably hits the fan with AI development, and we end up with a sorta reverse Person of Interest, with the good guys being pursued by an evil superintelligent AI. 

It’s along the lines of my interests enough, and John Slattery’s character is interesting enough that I’m going to stick with it for at least a little bit. I wonder for the long term how they will manage to keep the AI a threat without making the good guys’ successes, or even survival, seem ridiculous. The story combines the alignment problem and recursive superintelligence, so it should be game over already. 

Posted in tv by Bill on October 7, 2020

Soulmates is a new AMC drama/scifi show set in the near future where a company’s developed a test to find someone’s soulmate. It’s kind of a Black Mirror-ish exploration of the idea, even down to the fact that is apparently a semi-anthology thing, with no recurring characters, and I guess they’re all set in the same world with the same soulmate test at the center of it. 

It’s not a bad concept, and I did enjoy the exploration of the idea in the first episode… but based on the preview for the next episode, it’s the same thing again, pure character drama, and any sort of “what would this sort of technology do to us?” question has already been answered in the pilot, which was the extent of my interest. 

The first episode features nothing but foreign people pretending to be American. Aussie Sarah Snook, and Brits Dolly Wells, Darren Boyd. and the guy who played Obama in The Comey Rule. It makes me wonder if it was filmed in the UK, but I can’t really tell. 

Posted in tv by Bill on October 3, 2020

Utopia is Amazon’s new-ish series about conspiracy theorists who think they’ve spotted hidden predictions that are coming true in a comic book series, whose last issue was never released but the fans go nuts when the artist’s pages for the last issue go up for auction.

I made it three episodes in and bailed. The first episode was intriguing, with an intersection of nerd culture, conspiracy theory drama, violence, and dark comedy, but then the violence gets very real for the nerd characters, who then are just pants-shittingly scared. Understandably so, but that leaves the show in a bad place, where bodies pile up, I care less about the people involved, and the plot twists are unexpected, but I don’t care enough to really be shocked.

It’s poorly timed, since the predictions are about disease outbreaks, so that’s not really something we need a show about in 2020. They put a big fat disclaimer in the beginning that it’s not based on real events, but there were probably some meetings to decide if it was even a good idea to release it.

John Cusack (who is apparently still alive) gets top billing and Rainn Wilson gets a “with Rainn Wilson” despite neither of them spending much time on screen at all. There’s also a less famous Kazan, the son from Cougar Town, some girl I recognize but I can only guess it was from Sirens, the girl from Happy Death Day, and Riddler from Gotham.

Posted in video games by Bill on October 2, 2020

Monster Train is a deckbuilding rogue-like game, similar to Slay the Spire. Very similar. It doesn’t seem to be the same developer, but the similarities go beyond the basic concept of card acquiring and dungeon crawling (except that the monster train goes down, while the spire goes up).

But despite all the similarities, it does a lot of things better, and ends up being a superior game. In Slay the Spire, I just wanted to beat the game with the four different characters, but never wanted to do the increasing difficulty level aspects. In Monster Train, there are five factions (unique decks) with two champions each (each champion has its own corresponding starting card), making for 25 combinations, and that left enough variety that I actually did start climbing the increasing difficulty ladder. My obsession stopped at 22 out of 25 of those, when it got hard enough to be genuinely frustrating, but still I haven’t stopped playing entirely, just enough to start catching up on my RSS feeds and some less-interesting TV.

There’s some story about a frozen heart and angels and hell, but that never matters in these games. You successfully beat the thing! Now would you like to do it again, but differently? Or intentionally make it harder on yourself? You would need a really contrived story for that to make sense.

Posted in tv by Bill on September 30, 2020

The Comey Rule is Showtime’s two part miniseries on Jim Comey, Hillary’s emails, the Russia investigation, and Comey’s firing. Jeff Daniels plays Comey in what is mostly a flattering performance, and Scoot McNairy plays Rod Rosenstein, who really gets thrown under the bus. It’s based on Comey’s book, so being pro-Comey isn’t that surprising, but I didn’t expect it to be quite that brutal on Rosenstein. He comes off as jealous, cowardly, and gullible.

It’s also negative towards Trump and his people, obviously, but none of that is surprising, nor do I really doubt the veracity of that. It is weird to see people going through the delusions everyone had in the beginning: the people around him will keep him in check they won’t just let him govern by tweet, or maybe Ivanka will rub off on him and she seems pretty sensible and kinda progressive right?

The question only hinted to at the end is that while Comey is portrayed as someone of integrity and faith in the institution of the FBI and the rule of law, is that faith is misplaced? Andrew McCabe gives a speech to all the people left in the room after Comey’s firing, anticipating his own subsequent firing, saying “Trump can fire me, but he can’t fire the FBI,” and the camera pans across the room and we’re shown in text the fate of all these characters, either fired or resigned since Comey. Robert Mueller ran into the same problem. He acted with integrity and by the letter and spirit of the law, and that allowed those who had no interest in integrity or the law to completely undermine him.

Posted in tv by Bill on September 7, 2020

Raised by Wolves is a new HBO Max series that takes place sometime after an apocalyptic war on Earth, and two androids launched in a ship to another world, tasked with raising a batch of frozen embryos. I got 2.5 episodes in, and I couldn’t deal with how slow-moving it was. There were occasional bursts of action (with the violence dialed up to disturbing levels), but it was mostly a scifi setting where you watched children being raised on a farm, discussing religion. I checked out some reviews, and the critics who have seen more of the series say the first three episodes are the high point. So while it’s possible I guess the later episodes go more action-heavy, I lost the motivation to keep going to find out.

Posted in tv by Bill on September 7, 2020

Away is a new Netflix series with Hillary Swank leading the first manned mission to Mars, leaving her husband (Josh Charles) and daughter behind. The Friday Night Lights/Parenthood guy is one of the writer/producers and that gives you a good sense of what it’s like. Shameless heartstring pulling. Normally that’s too sappy for me, but I think space and astronauts, much like football, gets me engaged enough to get wrapped up in it. It’s not great or anything but entirely watchable, and I blew through it over a day and a half.

Some technical nitpickery: it’s an international crew (US, Russia, UK, China, India), and they settle on English as the common language, but the second thing would be to settle on standard vs metric. But they so don’t. Temperatures in Fahrenheit, speeds in kph, and at one point they need to drill a hole to fit a 1/8 inch tube, and the spot to drill is 165mm below a certain thing. And they at one point are doing medical exams, and I think 3 of the 5 crew members’ temperatures come back as exactly 98.6, which seems totally unrealistic.