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It’s Always Been Wankershim

5 Apr

Bravest Warriors is an 11-part series of animated shorts, created by Adventure Time kingpin Pendleton Ward. It’s my favourite thing that’s been uploaded to YouTube since Dubstep Guns.

Comparisons to Adventure Time are inevitable, justified, and numerous. Bravest Warriors shares an artstyle, adult-leaning sense of humour and surprising proficiency for character drama with Ward’s more famous series – indeed, pilots for both were produced at roughly the same time. And though I can’t really see anyone of note professing BW to be the best sci-fi show on YouTube, I’ve become enamoured with it with the kind of depth and force that my mere quite-liking of Adventure Time has never matched.

BW holojohn

This might have something to do with the length. One episode of Adventure Time isn’t long, of course, but the ultra-lean, five-ish-minute running time of Bravest Warriors means it’s pleasantly free of filler. There one moment in series highpoint Memory Donk – a death scene, no less – that’s howlingly funny, largely because it just happens so quickly. Despite this, it cleverly avoids feeling rushed by sticking to small-scale stories rather than staple lasers n’ lens flare action sequences. One episode revolves around procuring a bowl of cereal – it’s excellent.

BW signs

I also have a softer spot for the leads. It’s much easier to empathise with cheerful sap Chris than a monster-slaying tween and his talking dog. Danny’s origin story (bullies destroyed his time machine science project with bats) is both touching and hilarious, while Wallow and Beth are the sort of clever, charming mates that everyone wishes they knew in real life. I’d actually advise against checking out the pilot before digesting the full series, simply because there’s a needless friction between certain members of the team that was wisely cut from the final product – it’s much more enjoyable when everyone’s a bro.

Unlike most things I recommend, it costs precisely nothing to see Bravest Warriors in full: just head on over to the YouTubes. Do it, then joining me in staring wistfully at the last few months of a 2013 calendar.



23 May

Absurdly quick roundup, because bed:

  • The Avengers was incredible. Admittedly I’d walked in hoping for, but not expecting to  receive, The Adventures of Tony Stark and Friends, but therein lies the film’s brilliance – each lead has enough individual moments of either sheer, usually violent heroism or understated hilarity that it’s impossible to waste effort picking a favourite. I still haven’t seen, nor am I still likely to see, the Hulk prequel, but his scene with Loki alone was enough to elevate him to ‘Almost As Fun As Robert Downey Jr.’ in my really-not-qualified-be-a-film-critic eyes.
  • Speaking of criticism, I reviewed Tribes: Ascend over at Gaming Daily. In hindsight I might have been  bit harsh on the turtling/defensive aspects; circumventing them takes practice, but is possible, and in some cases has actually made my flag-capturing attempts far more tense – and thus more rewarding to pull off. Still detest turrets, though.

  • Over on BeefJack, meanwhile, I had a look at free mortify-em-up Raptus and previewed Crysis 3. Sadly, only two of my three ‘cry-‘ puns made the cut in the latter, which means it’s only two-thirds as informative, witty and transcendent as it could have been. Still, I’m quite pleased with it – I wanted to make it partly about the series as a whole without drawing on tedious ‘1 vs. 2’ tantrums which seem to show up whenever a Crysis sequel is mentioned on a site with longer comment threads than ours.
  • Unforgivably, I’ve only seen four episodes of Adventure Time. This is the fifth-worst situation to be in once you’re aware it exists, and I plan to use the summer break to catch up, but you don’t need to be a longtime fan to enjoy this stunning and sweet songification:

You should probably go see Chronicle

12 Feb

One of the upsides of my PC breaking, then PC World employing the most comprehensively incompetent repairmen in the West of Europe, is that I finally have an excuse to watch more films. This mostly involves dusting off my LoveFilm account or rewatching Biffy Clyro’s stunning live DVD (sample!), but I’m a lot more willing to be dragged to a cinema too – last week we saw The Grey, which I can’t honestly recommend to anyone who enjoys happiness and smiling. Yesterday we took advantage of the inexplicable deal Orange have made with theatres to get half-price tickets on Wednesdays, and checked out Chronicle. It’s pretty good.

Chronicle is part superhero movie, part coming-of-age tale and all masterclass in character writing. All three leads – the American high schoolers who mysteriously contract telekinesis – are both likeably charming and, importantly, broken in some way. Obviously Andrew, the introverted hero (of sorts) seen above silently murdering an innocent car, is worst off – his dad beats him, he eats alone and thinks nothing of carrying an ancient video camera around his school. Matt, Andrew’s cousin, is well-meaning but dangerously ignorant of his relative’s dark side, while Steve – an athlete, but a disarmingly friendly one – displays a lack of tact and understanding that has grim consequences. Still, even when Andrew’s power begin to corrupt him, he never seems like an outright jerk; on more than a few occasions, his misuse of an incredible power is incredibly cathartic. But it’s the humane, naturalistic dialogue that really sells the boys’ friendship. I repeatedly have issues with films that can’t reconcile narrative ambitions with convincing characterisation, a kind of “Pfft, nobody talks like that” cynicism. Chronicle actually seems to portray people having a conversation, not actors recalling lines from a script. Obviously, once you can believe in someone, you can actually start to give a damn – Andrew becomes more tragic, Matt more conflicted, Steve more affable.

To be honest, the makers could have easily stripped out the pseudo-USP: 95% of the movie is in ‘found footage’ style, captured from the perspective of Andrew’s video camera. That’s fine, but the footage is of such high quality and is so often the subject of telekinesis (allowing for suspiciously steady conventional pans, zooms and angles) that when that format is quietly ditched during the climax, nobody seemed to notice. The home-video schtick could have been ditched completely with barely any effect – every other aspect of Chronicles is so strong, silly tricks like this weren’t really necessary.

Offcuts: Due Date

25 Jan

Behold, the worst injustice in filmic history since that actor you like wasn’t nominated for that award you thought he should win: Due Date’s Metascore is twenty-two points lower than that of The Hangover. I. Know.

Zach Galifiankis plays pretty much the same oblivious, thumb-handed idiot in both films, but partnering him up with a quietly seething Robert Downey Jr. yields far funnier results than having him flanked by two equally stupid (but considerably more prone to hysterical screeching) manchildren. RDJ’s expecting father -a high-strung but straight-faced architect forced to roadtrip across the US with the bearded cretin that got him kicked off his plane – focuses his rage with laser precision. It’s genuinely funny when he punches a kid in the stomach, almost entirely because of the swiftness and efficiency of the blow – in an instant, the outburst has passed without so much of a changing facial expression. These kinds of moments are, simply put, far more entertaining and far less tiring than the prolonged screaming meltdowns that so often punctuate male-led comedies.

The story is predictable, the situations contrived, but Due Date boasts  some great staccato-ish gag delivery, gorgeous scenery and an enormously underrated double act (even though Galifiankis can’t match his co-star’s comedy chops, he’s likeable enough and absolutely sells the more dramatic bits) that probably won’t reform ever again. LoveFilm it, at the very least.

Offcuts: Chuck, Season 5

19 Jan

It kind of feels like, somewhere along the line, spy fiction forgot how to be fun. Arse-joke comedies where the main character happened to wear a tux, sure, but films and TV that weren’t parodying a genre that doesn’t exist anymore resorted to either immense grumpiness or impenetrable technowank. Chuck, for all its California glossiness, was pretty much unique: a competant spy-fi action series, with a sharp sense of humour and brilliantly understated pop culture geekiness. Then they went and cancelled it.

Season 5, which only has a couple of episodes left to air, has been crafted in the oddly beneficial knowledge that this is truly, properly, for realsies the end this time. That means no more infuriating cliffhangers, no more tiptoeing around character development or playing coy with backstory. The end is nigh, but for once in US TV, they saw it coming. This doesn’t mean, however, the ostensible plan to tie four season’s worth of only unconncected stories into a final mega-conspiracy hasn’t been a total bust – after setting that up in the season 4 finale, it seems like the writers didn’t actually know how to pull it off, so substituted it for a smaller plot masterminded by someone who wasn’t even a villain until halfway through season 3.

That said, Shaw is an awesome villain – genuinely threatening but frequently funny (“If you were, you would have brought a coat. Silly.”). It’s hard to think of Brandon Routh as anyone other than the hilarious psychic vegan bassist from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Word, but his character here – a symptom of a not-seen-enough side to Chuck, one which doesn’t pull punches and isn’t afraid to put bullets in the main cast – makes me sad that we’ve seen the last of him.

Otherwise, S5 has been mostly great. Action sequences are more ambitious and better-choreographed than ever, the references remain pleasingly modern, and the subversion of the Intersect from magic cure-all to a brain-melting scourge is the perfect way to put a lid on the whole thing. It’s a bit weird seeing Chuck himself being a decent fighter, hacker, shooter etc. without it – the initial appeal was, of course, seeing a complete dork fumble his way through international incidents – but hey, they’ve all got to grow up some time.


14 Aug

Good news for fellow telly masochists – Torchwood: Miracle Day, which has thus far been pretty terrible, got slightly and temporarily better last week. Or is that bad news? Either way, this post contains big spoilers for episodes five and six.

It may have taken half a season, but Categories of Life was when Torchwood – finally – got properly grim. All over the planet, the sort-of dead are being wheeled into cramped, heavily guarded camps with a moderate to good chance of ending up in a giant oven and burned to ash. Naturally, nobody outside of Jack Harkness’s Christmas card list is batting an eyelid, and so the US contingent of Torchwood go undercover inside the Los Angeles camp while Gwen, who is still barely a more capable secret agent than a shoebox filled with bark shavings, tries and fails to remove her father from a similar camp back in Wales, giving him another heart attack in the process. Well, she tried? I guess?

The hell if I'm dealing with iPlayer again for screenshots, so here's a promo image showing one of the most thrilling moments from Ep.6 - Captain Jack looking at a screen.

Things go even worse for Team USA, when Dr. Vera – a character who had yet to do much other than take fag breaks between stroking Rex’s ego – goads the camp’s clearly unstable, bigoted director into shooting her in both legs and dumping her in one of the ovens, burning her alive. Jesus Christ! Whilst Vera’s decision to wait until she, Colin the Psycho Director and his chubby Army lackey were in the most secluded part of the camp before furiously listing his failings and starting a shoving match displayed an improbably poor judgement for someone with a medical degree, it’s about time the show strapped some on and killed off a central character, brutally and without warning. It’s not that I’m sat here with a giant foam finger that reads “MORE DEAD KIDS”, but Torchwood is definitely at it’s best when it looms over you and whispers “Yeah, I went there”. It’s also much, much easier to forgive yet another ‘WE ARE THE REAL MONSTERS’ story from Russel T. Davies when we see people doing things that are both genuinely monstrous and attainable within the confines of reality.

For completely unexplainable reasons, the writing staff decided this episodes (the one with the concentration camps and an actual, real murder) would be best to have a big ol’ cheer with America’s favourite child rapist, Oswald Danes. For a few brief, shining seconds before he made an appearance at some poorly-defined rally of some kind, it seemed like not everyone was buying his bullshit. But then he made his speech, waved his arms around a little, and completed his journey to sainthood. For fuck’s sake, how dimwitted and suggestible was that gigantic audience? How did they all drive there without being distracted by a particularly shiny window and crashing? Why is the triumphant music suggesting anything other than an evil cretin’s plan coming to fruition? When is he getting the hell off my screen? Except we have an answer to that – apparently (hopefully) somebody realised Danes is barely relevant, and so neither he nor his despicable PR friend show their plasticky, hateful faces during episode six – The Middle Men – at all.

Sadly, this episode (which a kind Yank put on Megavideo yesterday) reverted to Miracle Day’s default setting of ‘dragged-out pointlessness’. Nothing happened in the first forty minutes that couldn’t have been handled in ten: Rex and Esther escape the camp, taking revenge on Psycho Colin along the way, while Gwen makes a slightly less incompetent second attempt at saving her dad. I won’t list the many, many ways in which this episode spits crumbs in the face of logic and common sense, but it perfectly demonstrates the underlying problem with this season. Ten hour-long episodes is an absurd length of time for a single premise, and so much of Miracle Day is spent watching the new team flail around with convoluted but not especially interesting plans, none of which advance the plot more than a few inches each time, with frequent cutaways to fucking Oswald. It’s like a comic who only knows knock-knock jokes laboriously explaining the exact manner in which somebody clenched their fist, raised their arm and tapped it on a very specifically-described door, stopping every five sentences to expose himself at the lighting guy. In The Middle Men, Jack’s task of tracking down and questioning a corporate executive type is relegated to a supporting subplot, even though it was the only thing in the whole episode that moved the overall narrative forwards, to make sure everyone else’s superfluously lengthy shenanigans killed enough time. I don’t want to keep comparing it to Children of Earth but that was at least pacey and lean – this is just bloated, and keeps bumping into things.

NEXT TIME: I complain about Rex some more and use a lot of hyphens.


6 Aug

A few months ago I had an epiphany (briefly manifested here) that, in short, the world would be better if everything bad (particularly in the creative industries) was vigorously dressed down, spruced up, and released back into the wild much bigger and better. Right now, our more common responses to something terrible are either to stare awkwardly at our shoes until it dies or goes away, or to hurl snark. Basically I’d prefer a much larger, more inclusive pool of creative output that’s constantly being worked on and improved than one pile of assorted stuff that humanity has deemed good, and another pile deemed to be awful and foul-smelling.

The current season of Torchwood, Miracle Day, is seriously forcing me to reconsider all that. It’s such a monumental step back from Children of Earth, so absurd in its characterisation choices and (thus far – episode four of ten just went out) so timid in its execution of a tremendous idea (nobody on the planet can die, including exploded people who have their head removed by their own doctors) that I genuinely can’t think of a good reason for the parent series to continue existing. There’s one more reason, at once the simplest and most important, but I’ll explain these three first.

They Changed It, Now It Sucks

I’m a big fan of American TV – I grew up on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, have accidentally started conversations with total strangers with a Firefly t-shirt, and genuinely consider a five-minute scene from the season 2 finale of Chuck to feature the highest concentration of fantastic little moments of anything I’ve ever watched. It’s extremely saddening, then, for the USA’s influence on Torchwood to be mostly toxic. It’s a devious bait-and-switch – after enticing me with a decent helicopter battle in the first episode (that wouldn’t have happened with solely BBC funding, unless it was a remote-controlled chopper held close to the camera), it promptly forgets about any further big set-pieces and focuses solely on glacially paced corporate espionage and excruciating “Trousers are called pants?!” dialogue.

Not that UK television is 100% free of either, but old-Torchwood – frequently awful as it was – had an identity. Nu-Torchwood is sprinkled with so many instances of “Ooh, that happens a lot on American telly, let’s put that in” that it’s barely recognisable. Episode 4, for example, began with woefully generic ‘WASHINGTON D.C.’ location pop ups,  a lame attempt to intensify the sense of urgency which didn’t exist, and ended with an honest-to-God CSI whoosh-zoom into the innards of a destroyed car. That was hands-down the grimmest thing to happen this season, and they managed to ruin it by drowning the whole sequence in thick Hollywood varnish.

On an unrelated note, it seems Murray Gold is doing Miracle Day’s music. I hope that’s some kind of colossal misspelling in the credits, because I don’t want to believe the man who composed this is also in charge of the insipid score that’s been quietly humming away in the background of this miniseries.

The Problem with Paedophiles

Here’s a brief list of some of the reasons why Miracle Day’s characters are less enjoyable to look at than, say, a five-year-old’s crayon drawings of them: Esther is a clueless plank who is only on screen because she happened to be driving the getaway car in episode 2, and while she can hack into the communications of a high-security pharmaceutical giant’s HQ, she is incapable of opening the doors of a lift (thanks to those renowned cyber-geniuses, the Los Angeles Fire Department, somehow locking them down). Rex is a sufficiently hateful jerk – even his rescue of Jack and Gwen, from his own probably-illegal extradition, was done in self-preservation – that he makes Gwen circa Season 1 look angelic. He even berates his teammates for using their phones hours after using his to solicit drug-gathering advice from his fuck-buddy doctor. Said fuck-buddy doctor is still getting far more screen time than her interesting/useful actions (current count: 1, and that was literally just opening a door) warrant. Gwen is still lucking her way through dull “missions” still way above her competency level. As of right now, we’re supposed to be horrified for her dad, who showed up for a few minutes in the first episode and hasn’t been seen since. The PR woman went from wanting to tattoo the face of convicted murderer and child molester Oswald Danes on her arse to grimacing whenever they were in the same room, with no explanation as to why. Danes himself is slimy enough for to be Convincing Villain material, but has absurdly managed to become a nationwide hero by saying some nice things on TV.

The subplot of Danes’ rise to something of a spokesperson for the somewhat-dead has to be the stupidest thing in Torchwood’s history. The small fact that he raped and killed a schoolgirl is conveniently glossed over time and time again, no more so than when his ultimate moment of ascendency is attained – while triumphantly holding a toddler. The only rational explanation is that Miracle Day takes place not in the Doctor Who universe, but in another, more forgetful universe the Torchwood team fell into whilst performing teleportation experiments on a bag of Peanut M&Ms, where everyone is a complete and utter fucking idiot. They could have easily circumvented this issue just by toning down the severity of his criminality – he could be a master thief killed evading arrest, or still a killer but sentenced to death despite evidence suggesting provocation or self-defence. Instead, we’re supposed to believe the best part of a country has fallen in love with this despicable cretin, presumably so the writers can keep making comparisons between him and either privatised healthcare or the Tea Party. Comparisons usually in favour of the paedophile. How subtle.

Miracle Durr

I’m hoping this paragraph will become irrelevant and wrong in the coming weeks – we’re less than halfway through the season, after all. But thus far, what is made to sound like a worldwide catastrophe could at best be described as a confusing nuisance. According to the Wikipedia page we see PC Andy reading in the first episode, it’ll take about four months of undead body pile-up to cause complete societal collapse. Fuck that. I want to see baffled looters breaking into anywhere that sells aspirin, hysterical lunatics suddenly and hopelessly attempting suicide in the streets like The Happening on fast forward, actual scenes (and not just passing mentions) that show how other countries are dealing with the crisis. Right now all we’re seeing is two, maybe three overcrowded hospitals, a handful of flustered medical staff and the occasional candlelit march by mask-wearing religious types. A good job has done making sure both the villains and the bumbling, mostly unlikable heroes don’t become invincible supermen now they’ve lost their mortality, but this is a meant to be a global thing. That ambition has, thanks to a preoccupation with a single recurring doctor and a tendency to tell rather than show, yet to be realised.

Also this thing

I’ll keep watching Miracle Day, especially since it supposedly ends back in Cardiff (and under BBC control), so perhaps we’ll see a few more scenes like this and fewer cartoon gay stereotype ‘jokes’. Even so, it would be no problem at all if these were the last six weeks I spend in the series’ company.

It’s fair to say Torchwood was conceived as, basically, Doctor Who For Adults. The earliest problem was it tried to live up to this interesting promise not through sharper writing or genuinely terrifying monsters, but cheap knob jokes and the now-infamous Sex Gas Alien. Things improved fairly drastically over seasons 2 and 3, but then disaster struck – Steven Moffat took the helm on Torchwood’s daddy show, and with wit, intelligence, visually imaginative settings and characters who weren’t dicks, made a proper Doctor Who For Adults called…Doctor Who. Whether or not this season gets dressed down and spruced up is irrelevant – the programmed that spawned Torchwood has now made it redundant. This, combined with a) the endearing Welshness at the heart of the show having been mercilessly buffed away with a chamois of dollars and b) the wealth of already-good sci-fi out there, makes me wonder: is there even a place for Torchwood any more?