Weekly Ramble No. 8

Star Wars: Clone Wars Season 4 took a while to get going with most stories spanning multiple episodes. The first two stories didn’t really capture my imagination or thrill me as much as I would’ve liked – one very much centred around the clones and what it means to be a clone/soldier and the other was about slavers. Later on in the season things got a lot more interesting. I enjoyed Obi Wan swapping his face and going undercover to foil a plot to assassinate chancellor Palpatine (just let it happen guys!) – it’s from Obi Wan’s point of view but is very much about Palpatine manipulating Anakin ahead of him turning to the dark side in Episode III. One episode of this story arc was called ‘The Box’ and featured trials inside a giant cube very reminiscent of The Cube films and Portal games. No mention of cake, but it would’ve been a lie anyway (sorry, that was geeky even for me…).

The demise of the Night Sisters and Asajj Ventress’s storyline was interesting too and we also got to see the bounty hunter Dengar working with a young Boba Fett and Bossk. Up to this point it was a mystery to me why Dengar had a London accent in Battlefront – now I know why. And of course, to round off the season with a bang we saw the return of Darth Maul first with spider legs and then with magical robot chicken legs. This leads Obi Wan to comment ‘when I cut you in half I should have aimed for your neck.’ There’s a great buddy-up between Ventress and Obi Wan as they fight Maul and his brother Savage Opress who I forgot to mention last time is excellently voiced by Clancy Brown with played The Kurgan in Highlander. Pity they didn’t get Peter Serafinowicz to voice Maul again. 

Talking of spiders, I found The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to be generally pretty good in comparison to the first reboot film. It seemed much less of a rehash of old themes and more about Parker’s awkward relationship with Gwen Stacy and some proper conflicted bad guys for a change. I think Andrew Garfield was particularly good in the lead role again and it’s a shame he blew the gig with Marvel for Captain America: Civil War and future appearances. I especially enjoyed the first person point of view web slinging action and the stylised fight sequences with Electro played by Jamie Foxx.

The Mechanic: Resurrection was a pretty standard Jason Statham action film in which he reprises his role from the previous remake. The plot had more holes in it than a Swiss cheese and a host of bad guys who couldn’t shoot for shit and just seemed line up like a duck shoot to be killed in a variety of increasingly boring ways by Statham as if he was playing a first person shooter set on ‘easy’. Jessica Alba provided the eye candy but the various locations around the world were the real stars of the show. In that respect the film felt like a poor man’s Bond film especially since some of the locations were used in Roger Moore films. Juxtaposed with the great locations were some sound studio shoots with very poor background composites which in hi-def stood out like sore thumbs. Siggy and I wanted something that wouldn’t overly tax our brains after a busy week at work and this film certainly met that criteria. Plus it only cost me 49p on Amazon because of some credit I had built up. Here’s the trailer (which basically gives away the best scene of the film):

I also rewatched Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows this week because the film features in a short scene in the new book I’m writing. I read the synopsis on Wikipedia and couldn’t remember any of what it was going on about, so I thought it best to watch it again. It was interesting to see common themes between this film and BBC’s Sherlock. I enjoyed the film as an action film about as much as I did the first time, but I’m sure my characters are going to have fun discussing some of the historical inaccuracies featured. And for me, and I do recall this from last time now I’ve seen it again, I just can’t understand why they assassinate a guy from long range with a sniper rifle and then also blow him up. Either Holmes or Watson says something about how a bomb blast is a good way of covering up an assassination. But if they were going to use a bomb anyway why not just use the bomb and forget about the rifle? I still don’t get it…

Going a little further back in history, Taboo starring Tom Hardy is a BBC drama set in the early 1800s. Siggy and I managed to watch all but the last episode of the show this week. Hardy’s character, James Delaney, inherits a strategically important plot of land which the East India Trading Company, the Americans and the Crown want, but he is unwilling to sell. Delaney is plagued by visions of his mad dead mother and seems bent on rekindling an incestuous relationship with his half sister played by Oona Chaplin who we recognised from her great role as Mia in Dates. The cast is strong, including Jonathan Pryce as the head of the company and Mark Gatiss as the Prince Regent.

For once we can hear every word Hardy says; his accent is odd (verging on Welsh a couple of time) and his phraseology and delivery of lines is addictive. ‘I have a use for you,’ seemed to be his catchphrase and well-timed grunts are often substituted for dialogue. The character of Delaney is in turns haunted, psychotic and Machiavellian, and is the most intriguing character I have seen on TV since Mad Men‘s Donald Draper or Breaking Bad‘s Walter White. The attention to historic detail and accuracy seems impeccable and its no surprise the production was so costly to make. The bloody violence is finely balanced on the edge of being gratuitous but reflects the savagery of the times and the mystical elements lend a gothic quality to the whole production in a way that easily matches Penny Dreadful a show we’ve watched and generally enjoyed, but found slow at times.

I was hoping to have watched the complete series of Taboo by the time I got round to writing this and so I hope the last episode – I think there was just the one left which aired on Saturday – is as good as the rest and not a let down like No Offence turned out to be.

Also on TV, Inside No. 9 is back for a third series. The award-winning show that wobbles menacingly between black comedy and horror, hit the ground running with an episode entitled ‘The Bill’. Starring regulars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, with Philip Glenister (Life on Mars), Jason Watkins (Taboo, W1A) and Ellie White (a new face to me), the episode revolves around four badminton playing pals arguing over who should pay the bill at the end of a meal. As you’d expect if you’d seen the other series (and the Sheridan Smith episode last series was to die for) the argument descends into chaos and takes an unexpected turn. Pemberton and Shearsmith show once again that they are just as good as Mark Gatiss (who was in The League of Gentlemen with them) when it comes to character acting and writing. There are rumours that The League may be reforming, which I hope are true.

Reading this week has revolved around trying to finish Bad Science and reading a guide book for a destination currently under wraps. I did however start Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams. It’s a collection of short stories and it makes sense I think for me, one of his constant readers, to talk about each story as I read it much like I did for the Rogues collection here and here.

The first is ‘Mile 81’ which is about a car which isn’t a car parked up on a deserted rest stop. There are inevitable shades of Christine to the story and indeed in true King style it gets a name drop along with the likes of The X Files and Doctor Who. Also as is typical of King he introduces and fleshes out characters only to then have it ripped off their bones like a portion of KFC – a simile he uses in the story and if my memory serves me right also in Gerald’s Game. It’s a creepy story and has a good ending.

‘Premium Harmony’ is a shorter short about a dead wife and a dead dog written, according to the author in his preamble, in a style like Raymond Carver. I’ll take his word for it, having never read any of Carver’s writing. It’s a little unsettling why the dead woman or the dead dog should be considered a black comedy and I didn’t really see the humour in what was described.

‘Batman and Robin have an altercation’ is more what I’d expect from King; a thoughtful look at the relationship between father and son, blighted by the father’s dementia and infirmity. The story culminates in an act of violence which serves to reaffirm their bond despite the passage of time and the break down of brain function.

‘The Dune’ is another very short one (I’m talking about Stephen King here remember, the guy who wrote 1116 pages of It) and it’s impressive how he can boil stories down to the essentials to hit a diminutive page count. This one is about names appearing in the sand on a river islet. The short preamble by the author states that he was pleased with the end and it had me anticipating and inevitably guessing the twist. I might read the preambles after the stories from this point forward…

In terms of music, it was nice to hear the last Stereophonics album Keep The Village Alive at the gym on Sunday. Despite the fact that I have Spotify, I have only previously heard a couple of singles from the album. This was followed by a playlist of Manic Street Preachers singles. Somebody on the staff obviously likes a bit of Welsh rock. Also this week I was pleased to see that the new Depeche Mode album is available for pre-order – yes I will still be buying the CD despite the fact that it’ll be there for me on Spotify too. For some bands, old habits die hard. I read that they have worked with the producer James Ford probably best known for his work with Arctic Monkeys and recently Florence and the Machine. We’ll have to wait to see what he brings to the mix. It’s a shame the rumours about either Vince Clarke or Andy Wilder rejoining the band have not materialised.

To those of you who are now following these regularly weekly posts, I will offer an apology here. Next week’s service is going to be disrupted somewhat, but I promise to make it worth your while if you can bear with me…

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