Shame Lists & Internet Friends

Yesterday I met up with some friends and we had all prepared lists of the top ten video games of the 21st Century. We are all video game lovers, and it reminded me why they are such a brilliant medium. Everyone had some of the big hitters in their favourites list, but everyone had a different favourite of all time.

I was the only one who was correct and put Skyrim as my favourite, but the fact that there are so many incredible games I have never played made me appreciate the abundance of quality there is in the video game industry. There really is something for everyone. For example, if you’re not a big gamer, but you love challenging puzzles, games like The Witness or Portal will wow you.

Some of us even arrived with 2 lists, a “favourite” list, and a “best” list. The “Best” lists tended to have a lot of the same games on there, but only two of us had God of War down as the best of the 21st Century. It also confirmed to me that I have so many games on my backlog that I really need to play. Finding the time is another question.

I think everyone who plays games has that list of shame, the list of games we had every intention of playing but never did. Bioshock Infinite is one of my favourite games in recent times, although it didn’t make either of my top 10 lists. I have not played any other Bioshock game though and I am told the first one is incredible. I also have a huge gap in my gaming library in the shape of Zelda, as I have never played a Zelda game through to completion. I played Twilight Princess on the Wii when it came out, but I haven’t touched Breath of the Wild or Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask or Links Awakening or any other Zelda game.

With a lot of my list of shame I must just accept it’s never going to happen. I missed the time that Zelda would have been relevant for me, and so I am unlikely to ever play them. Even Super Mario Odyssey isn’t something I have played or something I feel compelled to go back and get through. The Nintendo properties never grabbed me. Games I do have the desire to play like Bioshock or Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice I am unlikely to find the time. With limited time for playing games, I don’t know if I will ever fit it all in between FIFA, Borderlands and all the other games on the horizon.

On a similar but different topic, The Emmys award show was this weekend and showcased a huge list of TV shows I have not watched. Jodie Comer won for Killing Eve, which I started watching season 2 and just completely forgot to carry on. That could be a bit of a condemnation of the show, but in reality, I am just an idiot. Game of Thrones took home best drama, which I assume was awarded based on the entire show and not just the poorly written but well-acted car crash that was Season 8.

A couple of shows I am yet to see are The Marvellous Mrs Maisal and Chernobyl. I know a lot about Chernobyl, just because I have been down the Wikipedia black hole enough to have ended up reading about what happened, but I have no idea about Mrs Maisal beyond the fact Zachary Levi was in the show at some point I believe. That being the case, I will add it to my watch list. Which is probably even longer than my Games list.

What all this is showing me, without even touching on the huge list of movies I need to see, is that I would have to cancel all social arrangements and go part time at work if I was to even get close to clearing the back log. There just isn’t enough time, and I have Podcasts to listen to.

Speaking of Podcasts, the friends I met up with on Sunday all came together because of a love for a certain group of podcasts, those being Kinda Funny and What’s Good Games. I won’t go into the shows themselves, but as a big fan of the two YouTube Channels, I attended a meet up last year to meet a few of the crew and was shocked that the best part of the meet up was meeting all the other fans and getting our own group of like-minded people together. I hadn’t really considered that as a factor, I just assumed I would go, meet the guys and gals, get a picture and have them sign my shirt, then leave and get home.

I ended up spending all day there and since I have drunk plenty of alcohol and discussed a huge range of topic with them like we are a group of friends who have been doing this kind of thing for decades. Long may it continue.

And people say you shouldn’t meet up with people from the internet.

‘Til tomorrow, when I will tell you everything I hate, and love, about FIFA 20.

ChAzJS

 

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Carnival Row Review

Amazon wow’d me a little while ago with their series “The Boys”. It is seriously one of my favourites shows of the year, and if they continue on the trajectory, they started with that season it will go on to become one of my favourite shows ever. The latest Amazon original series is Carnival Row. Based in a fantastical Victorian style world with magic and creatures mixing with humans. Starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne alongside a stellar supporting cast, it has all the ingredients of a good show. 

Carnival Row is attempting to bring us a world that has been tried several times in many different mediums. For me the Victorian style mixed with fantasy never quite hits the spot. It makes me think of games like Bloodborne or The Order 1886, both of which did the Victorian fantasy mash up, but I couldn’t get into. I went into Carnival Row expecting it to have the same struggle, but I was surprised that a couple of episodes in I just wanted to watch more.

A big part of that, and my personal favourite element of the show, is the intriguing relationship between Orlando Bloom as Philo and Cara Delevingne as Vignette. As it develops through the show you find out more and more about their past together, and Episode 3 was one of the high points in the show where their relationship is brought into focus.

For a while it seemed to me like Orlando Bloom would always be known for Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. He has been in other films and shows, but I always see him as Legolas or Will Turner. Here is the first role since those ones that I can say I really bought into his character and enjoyed his performance. Philo is an interesting character and one with layers of history that we uncover through the main plot, and the reveal about him is nicely done and plays into the overall narrative of Carnival Row.

As for Cara Delevingne, I consider this her best role to date. My exposure to her as an actress is limited to Suicide Squad, where I thought she was okay, but her character was just a bit odd. In Carnival Row’s Vignette, she’s given a character with a lot of meat and motivations that are justified. She’s a strong woman and is uncomfortable with the role the society expects her kind to fulfil, which plays out in a variety of ways that Cara pulls off well.

One of the biggest issues Carnival Row has for me is that is almost benches these two characters in exchange for a political story for what felt like a long while. Everything is interconnected in a way, but I felt the two halves of the whole were very disjointed until the reveal near the end of the season. It makes sense overall just I managed to guess the reveal before it happened because of the clear change in focus.

That main story is broken up with a very interesting sub plot between the upper classes of the city, where we get some good performances. I enjoyed how this plot is delivered alongside the other one and given its own importance and story. If done poorly, this would have been an annoying distraction from the main story, but I enjoyed the variation. Simon McBurney, Tamzin Merchant and David Gyasi play out this class-based Beauty and the Beast with a twist story brilliantly and in the final episodes I found myself enjoying their plot line as much as the main one.

That main plot line with Philo, Vignette and the politics starts strong, but ends flat. I understood the motivations of all involved, but due to the late introduction of some characters and the short screen time of others, I just didn’t really care about anyone outside of those two main characters.

Carnival Row is a solid start to a new show. It has potential to become a much bigger story, with the intrigue and politics beginning to suggest a power struggle on top of the class war that is dividing the city already. The shows message about everyone being equal is heavy handed at times, but I never found it too offensive. I think the show could go on to a much better second season, but the first season is worth a watch on its own. Carnival Row is streaming now on Amazon Prime, so most of you will have access to it.

Good: Interesting world built that I want to see more stories in, several great performances, Orlando Bloom pulls off a bowler cap well.

Bad: Peaks in the first half of the season and some characters are underdeveloped for the role they play in the overall narrative.

7/10 – Solid Start for a new show.

ChAzJS

 

Archer’s Burgers

I started watching Bob’s Burgers yesterday, an animated show for adults about a man named Bob who runs a burger shop with his family. It’s hilarious and the title character is voiced by H. Jon Benjamin. His voice is great to listen to but hearing him as Bob made me really miss the good old days of Archer. 

If you don’t know, Archer is another animated series for grownups that follows a spy agency and its main man Sterling Archer. It’s fantastic, right up until the end of season 7. Since then we have had three seasons of something a little bit different. None of them terrible, but none of them Archer quite how we know it. All the scenarios they’ve used since have been interesting ideas for maybe a two- or three-episode spin, but to commit entire seasons to Dreamland, Danger Island and Archer 1999 I think is a mistake.

In its prime Archer is a show that’s full of “In jokes” and references to previous episodes, with constant call backs and pop culture reference’s mixed in with that week’s situation. I understand a need to change the name of the spy agency, “ISIS” has become an awkward name for it now, but to spend so long away from the basic premise of the show that hooked my is worrying.

The actual happenings of the plot each week are less important, you just want to see what Cyril will say, how Lana will react and what Cheryl’s mood is at any given moment. For me the show needs to get back to that old office with the laundromat in the basement as right now I am struggling to get through season ten. It’s set in another alternate reality with the team in space, which sounds as if it should work fine, because the characters are all there. Something is missing though, and the only big change from the earlier seasons is the setting.

The rumours are it will be heading back to the present day and continuing from the cliff hanger ending to Season 7, and I for one cannot wait for that. Archer was my favourite current show for a long time, a title that now lives with Brooklyn 99. I can’t wait for a day when I can alternate between new episodes of Archer and B99. By then though, Bob’s Burgers may have found its place in my heart. I’m only 5 or 6 episodes in but so far, I have had several laugh out loud moments and I am told it gets better as it goes on.

The wait for a serious new show to hook me goes on, since I watched “The Boys” on Amazon Prime I haven’t been able to get into anything. That being said, The Boys is a pretty high bar. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys superhero films and especially to anyone who likes the Watchmen film and/or comic book. It has a bit of an odd name for a series about if super powered beings were kind of dickheads, but it’s a brilliant show.

Any excuse to watch Karl Urban be a bad ass is good enough for me, and The Boys delivers that in spades. It’s rare that you can decide if an eight episode show if for you within the first 10 minutes, but The Boys is one such show. Give it a go, try 10 minutes. You will either be intrigued and excited to see where things go, or you will turn it off and never need to watch any more. I enjoyed the show and look forward to the next season.

It has left a hole in my schedule for serious TV shows. Carnival Row looks intriguing, and perhaps I will give that a go, but, the next series I am excited for is The Mandalorian on Disney Plus, which doesn’t start until 12th November which feels very far away right now.

It’s far away to wait for a new season of something, but there is a lot of things to enjoy between now and then in the Gaming world so perhaps I should get on with installing Gears 5, before I sink into a Borderlands shaped void and disappear to all my friends and family for a week or two on September 13th.

There we go I managed to post a blog that wasn’t about Star Wars. That post will have to wait for either this weekend of Monday. I haven’t committed to doing weekend blogs yet, but I might start doing it. Doing this every morning has been great for my sleeping pattern, I now fall asleep before midnight some nights! Anyway, I am all out of orange juice, so I am off to the day job.

Have a great weekend!

ChAzJS

 

After Life Review

Ricky Gervais is a somewhat divisive figure in the entertainment industry. His stints hosting the Golden Globes are famous for his harsh put downs and dry humour that often goes past the line of politically correct. After Life is the new show from the mind of the comedian that has been released on Netflix.

The how follows a man whose wife has passed away and taken his main reason for living with her to the grave. Gervais is the writer, director and star of the show, and his sense of humour is stamped all over the show. You get the feeling the character of Tony is not very far from Gervais’ real thoughts. He puts himself in this position and it’s hard to say he is acting well, as it feels a lot like it’s just him and not much of a character.

Surrounding Gervais is a flock of talented actors and actresses who are all solid throughout the show, some comedians you’ll recognise from TV and some character actors who have popped up in a lot of British television. It’s clear immediately though that Gervais is the focus, and Afterlife is a vehicle for him to put his thoughts out into the world.

A lot of this is managed heavy handedly by Gervais, with all the subtlety of a brick through a window. The lack of a deft touch is noticeable, especially early in the six episode series. Some of the jokes fell flat to me, and this is evidence that it really is all about how a joke is delivered. The jokes are similar in topic and at times even similar in structure to his stand up jokes, but for me Gervais’ stand up is a lot funnier than this show is.

That’s not to say its not got it’s moments, it just never peaks above the funny clips I saw before release. Three or four times through the series I found myself laughing out loud at the show which is lower than I expected for this season going in. Those expectations I found myself changing as the show went on and I realised what Afterlife is; Afterlife is Gervais trying to tell a story with his comedic style sprinkled in, and I expected a more comically focused series.

The story we follow is interesting, relatable to people, and has a good message at its core. The heavy-handedness with the comedy is also present with the storytelling here though, and at times the script is blunt and repeats its point. The main character’s arc is satisfying if obvious, and didn’t really hit me how it could have if it was better handled.

After Life is an odd series of TV, it’s a lot of good ideas that just didn’t hit the mark for me. Gervais is a good comedy writer, and his sense of humour works for me as it did brilliantly in his stand up show, but something didn’t quite hit right for me here. It is a series with the potential to be a thoughtful introspective on loss, loneliness and the emotions people deal with in tough times. The heavy-handed execution mean it lands as a decent series with unfulfilled potential.

Good: Gervais delivers some good laughs, themes and story are fantastic.

Bad: Poor execution and lack of a light touch took away from the series for me.

5/10 – High potential but didn’t hit for me.

Sex Education Review

Netflix’s original series’ have been going from strength to strength, and the latest one I sat down to binge through is Sex Education, the Asa Butterfield led series about a 16-year-old boy who has grown up with a sex therapist as his mother. The mysterious cool girl at school convinces him to share the knowledge he has picked up over the years with the rest of his school peers, and make a bit of cash at the same time. 

This odd premise is used as a brilliant framing mechanism for the show which delves into a plethora of topics that teenagers have to deal with in their formative years. Exploring their sexuality and all the uncomfortable moments that brings with it. Handling such important topics in what is first and foremost a comedic show is a very tough task, but one that Sex Educations writers get absolutely perfect.

I don’t recall any show I have ever watched successfully bringing real questions the are directly relatable to the real world in the same way this show does. The show is set in 2019, in the real world and every character we spend any meaningful time with has a story and feels real. Again, the writing for these characters and their arcs through the series is tremendous, and somehow the tone stays consistent throughout the whole show regardless of whether the topic is a picture being spread around the campus or characters losing their virginity.

The great writing goes hand in hand with some great break-out performances, particularly from the main 3 characters. Asa Butterfield as Otis is equal parts socially awkward and quirkily charm. Ncuti Gatwa plays fabulously camp Eric, and I found his characters journey was really interesting as it’s a journey I know nothing of, but I am sure a lot of people my age struggled with the same problems he encounters. For me the star of the show is Emma Mackey as Maeve Wiley. Maeve is an odd entity in school, maligned by the cool kids, but too cool for the rest of her peers, the story her character goes on is entertaining, heartbreaking and very real.

That element of the show, how real every situation feels, is what I think Sex Educations special ingredient is. I did not experience all of the shows events in my time as a teenager, but I experienced a few of them, and I think it will be the same for anyone in my generation. For the generation below me, who are currently going through this time in their life, this show brings to light the fact that everyone is in the same boat and dealing with their own problems.

There are not many shows I have watched where I have repeatedly thought “This is brilliant”, but Sex Education is one of them. I have written a lot about the messages and societal issues the show addresses, but it would be remiss of me not to touch on just how funny the show is. It finds the funny side of most situations, and more often than not it times the punchline right, so as not to ruin the moment. Occasionally a few of the jokes fall a little flat, but its got a high success rate compared to jokes in most Netflix shows I have watched.

The one real negative I have on Sex Education is the first episodes placement in the season, the “big issue” (pardon the pun) is a bit too on the nose for the first episode and perhaps could have been swapped out to a later episode, even episode two. The show moves through topics and issues that teens struggle with but are perhaps feel are too taboo to ask the questions that sex educations poses, and it often answers them as well. This is one of the cleverest shows I have seen, and I would recommend it to pretty much everyone over the age of thirteen.

Good: Incredible handling of sensitive topics, brilliant acting, 80s wardrobe, Awesome soundtrack (Old Time Rock and Roll being the highlight for me).

Bad: Some of the first episode is a bit silly.

10/10 – One of the best shows that will come out in 2019. 

Netflix’s The Punisher Season 2 Review

Netflix have recently announced the cancellation of a number of their Marvel show’s, with Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Daredevil all being scrapped by the property. There is no word yet, but I am pretty sure all of these series are done for. That being said, The Punisher was one of the best series out of them all, with only Daredevil beating it for me, and one of those Daredevil seasons featured Frank Castle heavily. 

After the first season surprised me with the story driven deep dive into Frank Castle’s mind, I was open to whatever story the show runners decided on. From the start of Season 2, I found myself really intrigued by the story. With Frank seemingly close to getting away from his bullet-filled past, the opening episode is quite different, but I thought it was a great way to show that Frank could have a different life, but he is constantly drawn to violent situations.

Jon Bernthal is once again superb as Frank Castle, he has completely owned this role and made the character infinitely more interesting to me. Before this version of The Punisher was brought into the world, he was always a character I felt was extremely thin with not much to explore beyond the rain of gunfire he brings with him. Bernthal plays a man haunted by his past, desperate to get away, but almost subconsciously drawn towards a world he thrives in.

Frank ends up looking after a young girl, around the same age his daughter would have been, who is played excellently by Giorgia Whigham. She’s a street smart kid, and doesn’t initially trust Frank, and why would you, he kills anyone he gets into a fight with. The dynamic between them is the driving force behind the entire season for me. There are elements of Joel and Ellie from The Last Of Us, and I really enjoyed that element of the show. She is there to remind Frank to stay on the right side of a line. He does kill, but he kills when he has to, not just because he can, leading to some of the best moments in the season.

Micro from Season one is nowhere to be seen, or been mentioned but returning from are Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Curtis (Jason R Moore) who are both there to help Frank despite his grumbling. Curtis has a much bigger role this season than he did last, and I liked the way he interacted with Frank and the arc his character goes on is genuinely interesting. Madani however, I found a little odd. There isn’t much for the character to do, she is essentially the worst Homeland Security Agent in history, who is always a step or three behind the protagonists and antagonists in the story.

Speaking of Antagonists, Ben Barnes returns as scarred ex-best-friend of Frank, Billy Russo. I really liked the actors performance, but I did find the story with him and his psychiatrist to be a little repetitive. At the 5th or 6th time we see them discuss the past, the bit begun to wear a little thin and I would have rather dedicated more time with him and Frank perhaps having more interaction. In addition to him, we have Josh Stewart playing a devotee of the Church, whose motivations are initially unclear. I won’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but I found his characters arc grew into the season. His  ominous presence begins as a distraction and uninteresting, but by the end I was keen to learn more about the character.

Being a Netflix Punisher season, the action is something to behold. Every gunfight, hand to hand brawl and car chase is shot and edited masterfully. I loved all of the action, and could have gone for a bit more although that’s not to say the show lacks it in any way. In a similar vein to the entirety of the Punisher show, it never quite reaches the heights of Daredevil’s one shot masterpieces. The brutal action of the punisher is still very entertaining, although be warned, this is maybe the bloodiest of the seasons Netflix has produced.

All in all, I had a great time watching this season. The melancholy feeling knowing this may be the last season we get from this is hard to avoid, but even though a season 3 is easy to get to from where our characters are left, I am happy with the finale of the show. Perhaps the biggest indication of how much I enjoyed it, is that I finished the entire 13-episode run by 3pm on saturday, just 31 hours after the show dropped on Netflix in the UK.

Good: Jon Bernthal is fantastic, along with a number of the rest of the cast, and the story with him and Giorgia Whigham is great. Action scenes are brutally brilliant.

Bad: Madani a wasted character for me, and even though I was hooked throughout, there is probably 2 episodes worth of time we could have saved with some editing and not beating us over the head with the Jigsaw character’s memory loss.

9/10 – Great series and I hope we get more, but if not The Punisher ends on a high.

My Most Anticipated TV series’ of 2019

I’ve done Games, I’ve done movies, now for the series that will take up hours of my time throughout the year. Last year had some excellent shows, Killing Eve, Bodyguard, and Daredevil sticking out in my head, but 2019 has some real treats in store (hopefully) and these are a few of the ones I am most excited to binge watch. 

Game Of Thrones – April

Where better to start than with arguably the most anticipated TV series in history. I watched every episode of Game of Thrones in August 2017, having never seen a single episode before. I knew about it of course, but I missed the start and felt I was too late to jump in. Once I decided to go from Episode one, it hooked me within the first hour. Sixty-seven episodes later, and I am a massive fan of the show.

With so many memorable characters over the seven seasons to date, and so many of them having met horrific ends, this season has the unenviable task of finishing the story. There are so many fan predictions and videos online about the upcoming season, but honestly I am avoiding all spoilers and going in just hoping that they can stick this landing. This is as ambitious a project as I have ever seen on TV, and if they pull it off and finish this series well, it will almost certainly cement itself at the top of TV shows for me. I loved Breaking Bad so much because of its excellent ending (in my opinion), so I really hope Game of Thrones can get it right.

Netflix’s The Punisher – January 18th

Netflix last year released a lot of series, all 4 of the defenders has a series released and to me the only success was Daredevil season 3. The next, and possibly the last Netflix Marvel series after the cancellation of Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Daredevil, is The Punisher Season 2. The first Punisher series surprised me, because it didn’t go for the over the top action I expected. It told a real story about a flawed character, and is the only series without Daredevil that has worked really well for me in this Netflix Marvel world.

Jon Bernthal returns as the title character, and his portrayal of Frank Castle is probably the best single performance in the Marvel series aside from Vincent D’onofrio’s Wilson Fisk. This season I am hoping for a bit more of the action I expected last time. The villain this time round, Jigsaw, was set up brilliantly in the last episodes we saw, so I am expecting big things from him trying to get revenge on Frank.

Stranger Things – 4th July

Halloween last year didn’t feel right without Stranger Things to binge all weekend, and I for one am glad its back this year. Wait its coming out in July? What the f….

In all seriousness, this show has been excellent for most people who have seen it,  for me its been a good show with some great moments, and I really hope the next season expands the property into new areas. The random episode last season (Season 2, Episode 7) felt very out of place for everyone, but I think this next season will do a lot to make sense of that episode. I expect a bit a change of tone for Stranger things, mainly due to the moved release date. Halloween was perfect for the pervious 2 seasons, so I am hoping for even more of a Goonies vibe this time round.

American Gods – March 10th in US – UK Unconfirmed.

American Gods was one of the weirdest series of tv I have ever watched. To be honest I am not sure whether i liked it or not, such is the level of weirdness. It was certainly interesting, and Ian McShane is absolutely brilliant in his role. The world it’s set in really does intrigue me a lot, combining the mythology of every real world religion is a really cool idea, and i have been tempted to read the book myself.

I am keen to see how the story plays out with the characters I know, and I think this next season could be a real surprise. Hopefully I am right, but honestly this series could be terrible, and at times in the first season it teetered on the edge of being nonsensical madness.

Of course there are several other series I will watch, Brooklyn 99, Lucifer and hopefully Archer all have new seasons coming out, along with Rick and Morty. Thanks for reading this week, and I am going to keep the posts coming this year. Again please share if you think someone else might like to waste 5 minutes reading my ramblings. Til tomorrow.

ChAzJS