Last Week: LEGO Trolls, Titans season 2, Deep Blue Sea 2, The Quiet Earth

All Work and Some Play… Week ending Sunday 1 March 2020

Another week of gentle peace and busy days of WORK THINGS. Consequently I don’t have much to report, other than that my cats are beautiful and I’m generally quite content, if verging slightly on manic. To deal with that, I’ll be taking my stay calm and sleep goddammit drugs a bit earlier than usual, otherwise I’ll find myself checking work emails at midnight for that elusive “here’s the instruction you need” email. So what have we been doing? Weeeelll, I guess I’m going to have to start scribbling notes about what I’ve been doing on a daily basis, because once a thing is done, it seems to be just clean gone from my brain.

We had a couple of lovely opportunities to see friends and family this week. First, a dear pal from the States is in the UK for a week, so I ditched the improv drop-in for a wonderful evening of catch up chatter. I really enjoy those friends with whom you can slip back into whatever state you were in last time you met up. Speaking of which, Saturday saw another convergence of my siblings and spousal partners for food, drink and noise. They’re some of my best evenings, and I’m happy to find that we’re probably closer now than we ever were when we were younger. Even if I did then choose to sleep in an unfamiliar bed and deal with children early in the day – I mean, really, who gets up before midday on a Sunday?! Still, I built a small LEGO tattooist’s with my youngest niece and a cat habitat with the eldest. Win.

Revitalizing: LEGO

That all left me so thoroughly trashed that I almost had a nap on Sunday afternoon. Almost. I stirred myself into action by finishing off the (insane) LEGO Trolls: World Tour set Pop Village Celebration (41255). It’s a fun build, but seriously, what the fuck is any of this? I’m psyched that there are now felt pieces in the LEGO building kit! I’ll aim to do a proper review of this later. That woke me up enough to continue with my lovely gold and green castle/shrine thing. Not enough to give you a proper update just yet, but I’m happy with the progress.

Watching: Titans season two

I really liked season one of DC’s Titans. It’s rare to enjoy anything with the DC label as they’re just so bad at translating their properties into live action, but it was really fun, kinda gritty with suitable TV-level special effects. But what the hell happened for round two? The first episode appears to be the last episode of the previous season, which instantly wraps up all the bad alien dimension stuff that was threatening the world. Now it’s all cool, and the team splits up. That was… odd. After that, Dick Grayson forms a new Titans team in the lush Titans tower, and we’re all confused about why this wasn’t episode one. It never really recovers from there. The introduction of Deathstroke is kind of fun, and we’re soon saturated with mini-Deathstrokes (his kids), who variously get killed or turn out to be bad guys who become good. It was intensely frustrating to see the characters from the first season tossed into thirteen episodes which have fitful pacing, no narrative arc for the existing characters, too many new characters (hi, Superboy!) the utterly baffling behaviour of evil scientists Cadmus, Dick Grayson sulking and fucking everything up, a nice turn from Bruce Wayne, and lots of random crap that makes no sense… Ah man, such a mess. It’s the worst of comic book plotting and cramming of continuities into too small a box, far too fast. Oh, and just wait for the utterly purposeless death of someone you like at the end of the season. For fuck’s sake, just make him Nightwing at the start (without a huge codpiece) and let us enjoy some superhero hijinks.

Watching: Deep Blue Sea 2

Deep Blue Sea is a proper guilty pleasure of mine. It has a very satisfying B movie cast including a shouty Samuel L Jackson, Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, LL Cool J (ha!), with a genuinely funny script, quite scary massive clever sharks, fun action scenes, stupid science and lots of payoffs. As someone more scared of the idea of sharks than I ought to be, I find it both appealing and terrifying. So naturally, I’ve been keen to see the sequel for some time. You’ll be shocked to hear that it’s fucking awful. Almost unwatchably bad. Everything good about the first is dunked in a bucket of chum, coming up choking, wet and reeking. The sharks are cack, the script is… not good, and almost nothing happens. Plainly filmed for a tenner, and that ten quid spent on buying the sound effects from Piranha 2. There are baby sharks that make a bizarre squealing sound and a mad scientist for whom, when he necks the precious shark cleverinating potion, we see random chemical structures and equations (a la Numb3rs) to show how clever he’s becoming. Very not good. Please compare the trailers below for further details. And do watch Deep Blue Sea – it’s great.

Reading: The Quiet Earth by Craig Harrison

I’m somewhat relieved to discover that googling “the quiet earth book” immediately brings up “…ending explained”, as I had no idea what the hell happened. I should say that this is a long-awaited read, since I saw the film version as an impressionable teen and was suitably impressed by the post-apocalyptic (well, everyone disappears, so a really clean apocalypse) vibe, suicidal characters, but most of all by the prospect of being all alone in the world and rooting through everyone’s stuff… So I was interested in seeing how much of a gaping void there was between the book and film, and unsurprisingly, it’s pretty vast – or at least it feels like it is.

In the novel, a very sad scientist who allowed his autistic son to drown himself, and who also had a hand in the experiment that maybe caused every other living animal in the world to disappear at precisely the same time (barring himself and two others), wakes up to discover he’s alone. This leads us into a few hundred pages of his existential angst, grief about his son and collapsed family, meeting and falling out with the only survivor (a nice Maori chap who’s probably a war criminal – don’t worry, they later have a grenade-tossing shootout). We learn he sabotaged the experiment he was working on, and tried to kill himself, leading to the current world catastrophe.

It’s a lot clearer, or at least more sharply done in the film. Everyone who was alive at 6:12 died, and everyone who died at 6:12 remains alive. I think the end turns out to be just a dream, or something. If so, it’s an ending that neatly undermines the whole story. I suspect there’s good stuff in here about the psychology of despair and sadness, but I bounced off the vibe and what felt extremely muddled and hard to understand toward the end, and had to force myself through it. I kinda don’t want to watch the film again, in case it’s not what I recall…

Last Week: Onward, The Invisible Man, The Good Place, Braggart, Betrayal at House on the Hill

Week ending Sunday 8 March 2020

I had a nice long weekend filled with LEGOing and the watching of things, which left me quite chipper. Obviously by this far into a week (Wednesday – egad!) I’ve thoroughly squandered the languid lie-ins we achieved. We were intending to visit the Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience in Leicester on Saturday, but found it was closed due to the “Light Up” festival taking place, which seemed odd as the exhibition seems to be entirely illuminations… Oh well. I was a bit annoyed that my poorly-planned intentions were so easily scuppered, and with them a self-indulgent trip to the Leicester Vintage Toy Shop and it’s many examples of beloved and dreadful plastic tat. Next time, possibly next week… Still, it did give me quite a lot of extra time to play with LEGO. I don’t have any updated pics yet, but I was highly gratified this week when a friend popped round and exclaimed with delight at its progress (before I knocked chunks off in my haste to show it off).

Games Night – Braggart, Betrayal at House on the HillThe Last Word

I also had a nice chance to play some boardgamey things (other than as part of vital team building at work!)

I introduced the mob to my current favourite card game (excepting Fluxx and Gloom), Braggart. It’s a delightful little storytelling game, based around the idea that you’re all winos in a fantasy tavern bragging about your made-up adventures and conquests. The cards offer you parts of a story (scene, deed, foe and result), and as long as you have the two central components you can offer your boast, ideally with wild embellishment and braggadocio. Your companions may nod sagely or cry “liar” and swap high-scoring cards in your yarn for low-scoring cards in theirs, eg previously you fought a mighty demon, but in reality you punched an orphaned child.  If it’s accepted unchallenged you can get the points (coins) on your cards. It’s a fast, silly and splendidly fun game with remarkable replay value. Note for the designers: I would kill for an expansion.

We grew a little more serious and horror-struck with Betrayal at House on the Hill, which I’ve heard of but never played. A random assortment of folks with various physical and mental attributes explore a haunted house, revealing new room tiles as you pass through doorways until someone comes across too many Omens and you trigger the “haunt”. As far as I experienced, each room is filled with nightmares that instantly wiped out my twelve year-old boy’s mental faculties before stumbling into a skeleton-strewn inside garden and plummeting into the grim basement area, from which I never escaped. I did find “a girl” and “a dog” to be my companions, so I guess that’s good. Not a great deal happened before I triggered the haunt, becoming the titular traitor and taking control of the monster, Crimson Jack. He was defeated within one round of becoming active, and that ended the game… It looks like it has a lot of potential with complex and interesting possibilities,  but we didn’t encounter a lot of that. Most of our enjoyment came from laughing at the awful things happening to my character rather than from the game itself!

We’ve played The Last Word before, and it performed as expected. You get a stack of subjects and another one of letters, the task being to name as many things in that subject beginning with that letter, before the buzzer goes off. The time period is random, and the goal is to the last person to say something vaguely cogent within the time limit. It’s fun! Largely this is just yelling things which are tangentially related to the subject and hoping the people you play with will allow them. Lots of give and take, a lot of filthy suggestions and semi-hysteria. Good.

Watching: The Good Place

If you haven’t seen this yet, then either you lack Netflix or the pressure of other people who saw it and loved it. I really enjoyed it, and we wrapped up the final season this week, having waited until the tedious dripfeed of weekly episodes was over and we could binge it properly. Difficult to summarise by the end of the fourth season I guess… but plainly spoilers are imminent.

A quartet of humans die and awaken in “the good place”, except they were all sorts of failures at being good people and it turns out that they’re actually being psychologically tortured in “the bad place”. And that’s just the beginning. Our four humans are Eleanor, a scumbag person from Arizona (the splendid Kristen Bill), fatally-indecisive philosophy professor Chidi (the remarkably buff William Jackson Harper), ghastly name-dropping socialite Tehani (Jameela Jamil, playing the sort of person who I imagine writes the Metro celebrities pages) and genuine cretin Jason (played with stupendously vacant happiness by Manny Jacinto), In time they fully grasp their situation, grow as people, become good, and ultimately restructure the afterlife. They’re aided in their adventures by the Architect of their particular afterlife (staggeringly on-form Ted Danson, with very good wig) and his infinitely powerful Janet (D’Arcy Carden)  who comes to believe that humans can be redeemed and that there’s something very wrong with the whole system. All of that plot belies that this is an utterly charming character-based, intensely plot-driven sitcom. It’s very funny, packed with pop philosophy and psychology, delightful character turns and relationships I ended up feeling very invested in. It’s a proper heart-tugging finale too.

Watching: Onward

PIxar dig deep into the hearts of its audience to yank some heartstrings, this time playing them in a modern fantasy realm where everyone’s given up magic and uses technology, and their magical past is remembered only by those playing a thinly veiled Dungeons & Dragons. In keeping with Disney sensibilities, we have a nice family with a dead dad, and on the youngest lad’s sixteenth birthday they get the chance to bring him back for a single day. Cue adventure. With a cast headed up by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt it’s quite snappy and the characters are all charming, though I think they could have been played by almost anyone and you wouldn’t really notice. It’s pretty fun, especially as someone very casually aware of what happens in D&D, since most of the comedy and action are based in learning magic and various questing stereotypes. I enjoyed it at the time, but like everything Pixar’s made since Up, it’s rapidly fading from memory (this is in five days!) Good for the kids and fans.

Watching: The Invisible Man

Once more, Universal Studios attempt a resurrection of their classic monster characters, and for the first time since The Mummy (Brendan Fraser’s, obviously, not the fuckawful Tom Cruise tediothon), may actually have succeeded! I should qualify that a bit… This is the invisible man as domestic violence perpetrator and psycho stalker. I guess that’s what anyone who wanted to be invisible probably would be like. I’m not good at horror/thrillers at the cinema, and this one had me twisting in my seat and chewing my fingers. Elizabeth Moss is electrifying as the bullied spouse, Cecilia, it’s a harrowing performance. Creepily shot as if two people are in frame even when it’s just Moss, it swiftly becomes deeply disturbing. Obviously the fucker is gaslighting her like crazy and ruining all her relationships, as you do when you’re a total arsehole. The film really ramps up a gear when Cecilia starts fighting back, and I found it immensely satisfying. GOOD!

Last Week: Westworld, The House of Shattered Wings, Van Gogh The Immersive Experience

In the Time Before Crisis

Wow, last week feels like it was ages ago. Hard to believe that Sunday 15 March is only two days dead.  All the more important to scrape together my fragmentary memories before they’re washed away in a wave of hand sanitiser. Not that we can find any in shops any more. Thanks fuckheads. Last week was already becoming dominated by the outbreak – now pandemic – of COVID-19 and I’m really weary of it. I’m tired of compulsively reading about it, and our government’s shocking (but not surprising) ineptitude at handling it, but most of all I’m tired of this fluttery anxious sensation about the future. It really doesn’t help that so many utter fuckwits are raiding the supermarkets and making it impossible to get, say, toilet roll or paracetamol, or (today) bread or fresh fruit and vegetables. For fuck’s sake. It’s such a frustrating cycle, and it means if I can finally locate the item I want, I’m gonna end up buying two because I’m not gonna find them again. And I hate being dragged into that cycle of compulsion. The endless hand-washing is bad enough. Anyway… 

Watching: Westworld season one

I’ve been waiting to watch this for ages. I’ve got fond memories of the Yul Bryner movie, and of the general style of things from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (which is surely just another nightmare ride in the same park). I wasn’t disappointed. From the gorgeous opening credits, the sublime score and its old West-style piano renditions of popular modern songs (do pick up the soundtrack – it’s ace), to the splendid performances throughout, this is a real SF treat. The story is straightforward enough: dudes make a park filled with simulated humans to amuse rich people through torture, rape and murder. A tale as old as time… Of course the “hosts” are becoming sentient, but their memories get scrubbed every day or every time they’re killed, which is often, and it’s not really working any more.

It’s magnetic viewing, with park guests drawn into the drama, and seeking hidden meaning within the park’s elaborate narratives, and hosts seeking their own freedom from the stories, and possibly from the park itself. Slight downsides, I guess, in the usual HBO vein of truly excessive amounts of nudity, though it’s not remotely erotic, so maybe they succeeded in their thematic point about dehumanising the hosts. It’s also really bloody, which should not be a shock in a western murder park, but there’s still more than you’d like to think people would go for. Gah, there’s too much spoiler fodder I’d like to get into, and some tricksy time-slipping stuff that I believe I need to rewatch the season to really appreciate fully. Just watch it, alright, it’s phenomenal – just look at the magnificent cast. We can watch it together while we’re all at home for the next three months.

Reading: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

I‘ve learned that despite summarising books professionally for work, I suck at it for reviews of stuff I read. With that in mind… Aliette’s novel introduces us to a Paris (and presumably world) ravaged by magical warfare. In its ruins stand the Great Houses, centres of magical and political power headed by powerful magic users, such as literal Fallen angels. They vie for power amid the rubble, casually destroying lives and each other to claw their way to the top of the slagheap. We first meet a brand new Fallen, as she’s about to be dismembered for magical parts to be used by others. She’s rescued, and one of her tormentors is captured, by the leader of House Silverspires. But nothing is what it seems; dark secrets and past grudges are the foundation of the house’s power and it’s all set to come tumbling down.

Yeah, that sucked as a description, sorry. What I can tell you is how much I enjoyed reading this. Aliette’s prose is gorgeous, and the setting which ranges from the decay of Paris to the near-mythical magical cities of the Far East is deeply intriguing. Partly I’m thrilled to have a great intimate fantasy novel based in a city other than London or Venice (please, spare me another), but also because I like this set up. Theology made real, with few proper answers given – I suppose I’ll have to read the other two books in the trilogy to figure it out propery – magic based on the fading grace of Heaven or from the ground up parts of angels is very appealing. It’s also a rather strange book, in that it seems to promise epic, but is much more rooted in a broad domestic setting (it’s kinda what I imagine Downton Abbey would be if it was appealing enough for me to watch), and I rather liked that. Strong recommend – you’ll have fun.

Doing (I guess): Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience

We wanted to do this the weekend before last but it was closed, so we seized what’s likely our last chance to see this at All Saints Church in Leicester (as of writing this the exhibition is still open, but for limited numbers per self-guided tour). Our slightly poor time management (we don’t get up well at the weekend), meant we got five whole minutes in the Leicester Vintage Toy Shop, which was not long enough. There were so many wonderful things to pore over… Another time, I guess. I’ve liked his work since I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as a teenager – I hadn’t especially cared before I saw it for real – and this seemed like a fun way to see more. Big colours and deceptively sweeping strokes of fat paintwork, plus more cobalt blue that you can shake a paintbrush at.

The exhibition is traveling around various places and is part historical journey with some very nice big pictures and timelines of Vincent’s short and troubled life. The main event is the immersive section, but before that they have a lovely projection of his very many vase paintings overlaid on an urn, which I probably could have watched all day… There’s also a nice life size creation of his famed bedroom, and a short documentary about him, albeit with a rather portentous voiceover. We tarried around these other exhibits for a bit, but finally wandered into the main event: one of the larger chambers of the church, painted with light from projectors over every surface, including the floor. It’s a twenty-minute (I think, I lost track of time) of Van Gogh’s paintings morphing and flowing across the walls, accompanied by a spoken guide through the artist’s life, with inspiring excerpts from his letters. It’s absurdly trippy, and hard to describe, so I badly filmed some bits of it to give you a better (or worse) idea what it’s like.

After this we took in the virtual reality finale (which is an extra £3 each). I’ve never viewed any VR media before, except possibly some truly ancient stuff when it was all crude polygons decades ago. This is both much better than that, and very limited at the same time. It’s a lovely stroll through Van Gogh’s Arles, placing a bunch of his best-known works in the landscape. I enjoyed it, as a novelty experience, and I kinda liked being able to look around and see the terrifying robotic sheep (I know, so Westworld),  but it did make me somewhat dizzy and headachey. It’s fun, but not a patch on the projection show.

I love this use of space and new ways to view and appreciate art. It’s so very different from just seeing paintings in a book. Check it out, if you can.

Last Week, Locke & Key, Lexicon, The Maltese Falcon

Once There Was Bread, and Milk, and Things

Well, what a week. For all that nothing really happened it sure feels like a lot! We went in to work on Monday and got sent home by the evening. Cue frustrated working off a laptop until I finally cycled in super-early a couple of days later and retrieved my beloved monitors. Work off a single screen? What a bag of wank. I suppose it was the week when the whole pandemic thing felt properly real, for me at least. It’s a strong reflection of the very weak messaging we’ve received from our government, I guess, that even though we saw Italy collapsing, the lackadaisical focus here just kept it unreal. Fast forward a week and I’m stuck at home for twelve weeks because I have pretty bad asthma. Fuckin’ A.

Of course, as a largely antisocial homebody, this hasn’t yet made much difference. Not having improv drop-ins on a Thursday is odd, but since it’s only been one week it just feels like I’ve had a week off (working!) The lack of food in shops most days has given it a true apocalypse vibe, which is both exciting and scary. I can’t say I’m sleeping particularly well, especially once they closed my beloved swimming pool. That left me a couple of days to cycle aimlessly round university park till being restricted to home today. Bah! Bah I say! If anything, being suddenly in contact with a bunch of family and friends has slightly overdosed me on socialising, so I’m content to hide here for now. Content, in the sense of “anxiously refreshing coronavirus news and endlessly scrolling through Facebook”. It’s the extreme uncertainty of course, and I don’t recall anything quite like this before. 9/11, maybe, but without the social media screaming.

So what have I done in the last week? Honestly, it’s a tedious combination of hunting for bread and milk, fretting, being wildly distracted from work, and checking in on people. But we did, of course, consume some media! I’ve been been bouncing between books, what with all the distraction, but have at last settled on Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Cage of Souls, which appears to have the combination of writing style and things happening that I was struggling to find. Oh, I seriously need to write a LEGO building update – I had a good Sunday time!

Watching: Locke & Key

Another Netflix comic book adaptation, finally exploiting all that rich fictional fodder. This one was written by Stephen King’s lad, Joe Hill, and that feels quite clear from the grim murder of one family’s father and their resulting return to the family home – Locke House. Obviously this all spoilers… The house is filled with magic keys, some of which do mildly odd things like putting broken things back together, and others do seriously weird things like take your soul out or unlock your face. It’s a strange mix of whimsy and bludgeoning people with hammers. With a most older teenage cast, it feels a lot like Umbrella Academy and the already forgotten October Faction (seriously, it just took me three minutes to recall the title), not least because it turns out the family is guardian of a secret (the keys, duh) and protecting them from an evil dude. I guess they were going for a Stranger Things vibe with a chunk of It. Mostly it pays off well, with intriguing mystery and a fairly likable cast. I wanted to scream at the kid in it, who keeps using the damn keys even though they’re plainly dangerous. It reminded me a lot of my younger brother at that age… Or everyone flocking to McDonalds and the beach during a pandemic.

Overall it’s a glossier, better produced product than it’s closest relative, Umbrella Academy, but ultimately ends up with another confusing and somewhat bungled ending which detracts from its apparent conclusion. The burning need to set up the next season by retconning who was really a baddie rather weakens the first season. It’s a real shame, because up to the final episode – even the last ten minutes of the final episode – it was a fun, engaging and rather dark drama.

Reading: Lexicon by Max Barry

This was exactly what I needed last week – a fast-paced techno-thriller with conspiracy, a cool high concept macguffin and snappy dialogue. Thank you Max Barry! I read Jennifer Government a couple of years ago and was taken with the speed that Barry whips you through a story. Lexicon has a very appealing idea: that words have power. Dead simple, but delightful to push all the way through. There’s a secret society using words of power to influence, control, and even kill people. Even better, there are alluring suggestions in here of how words are made up of primal commands that hack human brains. Once you know someone’s type, you can figure out how to crack them. Big data seems even less friendly than it did before. To hide your type, the operatives – poets – spend a lot of time learning how to hide all of their emotions and reactions, lest their colleagues get hooks into their brains. It’s got that delicious semi-plausibility which, once accepted, make the story just glide by with a frisson of nervous excitement. The novel is split along two narratives: the operative gone rogue, using power words outside of the organisation to wreak terrible harm, and the operative sent to bring her down. It’s a bit like Salt or half a dozen other cinematic spy thrillers, but with a fine literary polish and plenty of rewarding twists.

Watching: The Maltese Falcon

No Cineworld (and coronavirus) means we have to plumb the depths of our deep and neglected DVD collection. God I love Netflix (and Prime, but less, because it’s mostly filled with crap and its interface is the worst thing since gov.uk), it means I don’t have to open a box and stick a disc in a slot. The freedom is intoxicating. But, since we couldn’t cinematize it felt appropriate to have a similar experience from home. We’re both fans of classic noir, and The Maltese Falcon is (maybe) the best Humphrey Bogart. It also features our other favourites, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. A delightful cast, a captivating little murder mystery about who’s really got a mythical golden falcon statue, wrapped up in magnetic character acting and a witty script. If you haven’t seen it, you’re plainly insane and should rectify your brain now. “Come closer..” indeed.

LEGO: A Place of Quiet Contemplation

Welcome to the Temple

I’ve been building this for months, kinda. I originally I assembled some complex and fiddly gates using lots of gold pieces, and left it standing alone for about five weeks before beginning to tinker with walls and shapes. Mostly I blame a trip to the London Lego Store where I picked up a huge number of coral pink quarter-circle tiles, and all the other times I gorged on sand green bricks. The whole front section came first, mounting the hideously fragile gates with right-angle skeleton arms, and then spreading up and out with as much lovely gold Lego as I could convince myself to use. There are cups, weapons (many light sabre hilts and sais) and taps hidden in there somewhere… I learnt some new things, like the lattice window frames can be jammed into the underside of arches, as well as laid flat on top of bricks with studs through them.

It’s built around a tight octagon, which seriously stressed the hinged plates at the bottom, so I was cautious about building on top of it. Eventually I connected them lightly using jumper plates, and later ensured they were all attached to each other, if not the base… I’ve been admiring sideways built shapes for ages, and done little to practice myself, but the green “brick profile” bricks in the walls are all assembled sideways, using lots of headlight bricks to fit them together with long tiles, and to attach the vertical 2×12 plates which fill in the gaps. After that it was just a lot of greebling… with many changes to make it more uniform in colour, which I think has worked out pretty well. I’ve relearned a few things about how many plate widths apart headlight bricks need to be in order to lay other bricks and plates across them, but I still have to refigure it out each time (not that bright).

The steps at the front were fun to make, with a series of the tiles that have flat upright walls fitted together. Nice pattern! I’ve also finally made foliage I really like – again, thanks to pick-a-brick walls I’ve got tonnes of the individual green leaves which here are attached to lots of the small plant leaves, in turn hanging out of the old and new flower stems (with and without bar), and all those are attached to the sea grass pieces at the front. I think they tumble in a pleasingly organic way, without being quite as fragile as I expected.

Once more I’ve built something that it’s impossible to photograph the inside of properly. One day! Thankfully, I made the rear of the temple entirely removable so I could work on it, which provides a lovely view of the tiled floor, and allows me to turn the back wall around so you can see it below. I used the only good sand green minifig I have, the LEGO Atlantis Barracuda Warrior who has delighted me forever.

Barracuda temple. I wonder if this whole thing was once underwater… This is with the back section reversed.

So, pretty chuffed! I have nowhere to put it…

A slightly higher resolution gallery can be see here.

Last Week: AJ and the Queen, I Am Not Okay With This, CHEER, Disney+, LEGO and Improv Workshops

What day is it?

The days and nights are beginning to blur… Having a day off on Friday was nice, but didn’t really help with the curious sense of dislocation from the world. I do like working from home, and on a task level it doesn’t make much difference to me – that, combined with being a proper homebody anyway and the odd quiet holiday sense of this pandemic has my body and brain profoundly confused.

In proper pandemic fashion, we went to a birthday party via Zoom on Saturday, and it worked really well! Sixteen people (I think), and not too chaotic, once we were past the obligatory head fuck with swapping background images in and out. That part felt much like watching Predator for the first time… unsettling.

Watching: Virtual Improv Comedy Workshops with MissImp

Since we can’t meet in person at present, our first phase for MissImp has been supplying recorded workshop material to follow along with at home and bring some light and silliness into the house. Emily has been hard at work finding folk with skills to share, and we’re delighted to make them available to anyone for free. Keep track of them as they become available every Thursday here (or on YouTube). Here’s the first one, featuring a charmingly cabin-feverish Emily (also see below), and the second with Leicester-based pals Ki Shah and Russ Payne. Enjoy!

LEGO photographing and washing (oh, the thrills!)

The nice sunny days that I watched from my sofa last week provided the perfect opportunity to get outside briefly and take some half-decent photos of my latest LEGO build, the temple of quiet contemplation. I have been using it as such, spending hours gazing at it, saying “mmm, that’s some nice LEGO there”. Hey man, it’s working! Anyway, I posted up some of those pretty pics and you can check ’em out here: A Place of Quiet Contemplation.

Meanwhile, the lull in having to interact with the external world has finally led me to disassemble and wash two of our LEGO modular buildings, the Palace Cinema (10232) and Parisian Restaurant (10243). They’ve both been gradually accreting a vile layer of greasy dust due to living in our kitchen. It takes approximately the length of a Marvel movie to properly wash a building… They’re both very satisfying builds, but I hadn’t noticed till taking them apart just how many more pieces there are in the newer wave of modular buildings like the Parisian Restaurant than the Cinema – nearly three hundred more, and that really shows when you’re trying to lay them out to dry on a towel. I’m not brave enough to put my LEGO through the dishwasher, and chose to handwash instead. For those who may wish to burn their hours of confinement cleaning plastic bricks, I just used a splash of washing up liquid in hot water and a toothbrush to attack the most egregious filth. I’ve now got three of those mesh bags that Sainsbury’s sell for fruit and veg filled with Lego sitting on a radiator. Seems to take about a day to thoroughly dry out. The best thing about this is we now have space to build some more stuff! I’ve got my eye on the Brick Bank (10251) and the Monster Fighters’ Haunted House (10228), both of whom have been neglected in their boxes for some years.

Watching: Disney+

Inevitably, we subscribed to Disney+… launching during a stay-at-home pandemic is phenomenal good fortune! I’m only in it for easy access to the Star Wars series, though I’ve already seen The Mandalorian (it’s very good Star Wars – you should watch it now), and the splendid Rebels, but I’ve only ever skipped through The Clone Wars, partly because a lot of it is just very similar battles and it’s Anakin and Kenobi, two of my least favourite characters doing their dry schtick. But there’s also Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex and Darth Maul – all characters I came to love from Rebels and can now fill in the gaps for. I’m also 100% happy about being able to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe all the way through again. I’m already up to Thor: the Dark World. It is however astounding that Disney+ doesn’t let me just binge through them all in order! On finishing Iron Man 3 it offered me Iron Man to watch… C’mon Disney, don’t make me keep looking it up. We’ve had a glance through the rest of the content, and with very few exceptions it is entirely kids’ stuff, which is cool, but not very appealing. I hope Disney start adding all the amazing non-kids’ movies, like everything they bought off Fox! The interface is based on Netflix’s, so is familiar and continues to make Prime Video look incredibly bad.

Watching: AJ and the Queen

I’m not entirely sure why we watched this. I think it was the burning need for something light after watching season one of Westworld. There are worse reasons for bingeing. I’ve never followed RuPaul, other than by knowing the name, and quite liking him as the stoner neighbour in Girl Boss. He’s in full flow here, both in aiming for drama and his immaculately made-up drag performances. The story is surprisingly dark in places for a thinly veiled drag show tour: Robert (RuPaul) gets fucked over for $100k by his boyfriend and business partner, trashing his hopes of retiring from the crappy club he performs at and setting up his own place. To cover some of his costs, and in hopes of recovering from devastating heartbreak, he embarks on a planned tour of various shitholes across the US. But he ends up with company, in the form of AJ, an (spoilers) eleven year-old girl living on her own because her mum’s a drug addict working girl. It’s all a little forced, but the rapport between RuPaul and her spiky co-star, Izzy G is delightful. Similarly ace is the affectionate relationship between Robert and his blind drag queen flatmate Louis, played by a phenomenal Michael-Leon Wooley. The piece hangs on the characters, and it’s AJ and Louis who help it rise above the slightly shonky acting and setup. I’m not sure I need another season, but I’m quite glad I watched this one.

Watching: I Am Not Okay With This

This is great – a very tight seven half-hour-long episode season featuring Sydney, a teenager discovering her superpowers along with her romantic feelings, plus school outsider, weird friends (Stanley) and the promise of Carrie-style blood spectaculars. I don’t really want to spoil this one… All the performances are spot on, particularly the leads: Sydney (Sophia Lillis) and Stanley (Wyatt Olef), and everyone else… Sydney’s little brother (Aiden Wojtak-Hissong) fits the modern fad for rather grown up youngsters with fine comic timing. It’s filled with teenage angst, but not too much brooding, heartfelt parental performances and the super-awkward romance we’ve come to love in Sex Education. But it’s all that plus extremely unwelcome and uncontrolled superpowers. Exactly my thing, bring on season two please.

Watching: CHEER

Goddamn, but I do love Bring It On, so when we saw a short docu-series about real-life cheerleaders it was hard to say no. It’s a weird one, because while it’s celebrating the startling athletic prowess of these young women and men (slightly more men, which was initially surprising) it’s super-clear from the outset that this is almost guaranteed to be a dead-end activity. Here we have about forty university students (I think, frankly the US college system of freshmen and sophomores is something I’ve never grasped) who have moved to this college in the middle of nowhere (Texas) solely to cheer and neglect the rest of the studies, but there is no continuation of their sport in the professional/adult world. At best some of them may coach the next frenzied generation in the inevitably multibillion dollar industry, at worst… they’ll leave with a middling degree and satisfaction at their achievements (or not – nailbiting suspense!)

As in any documentary series, you can feel very particular storylines being selected and “characters” focused on, but it feels even more forced than usual. Perhaps inevitably, many of these students come from difficult backgrounds where they didn’t fit in, and it’s wonderful to see them flourish. All of that is countered by the show really wringing those stories out for their misery value. Their hero worship of their coach is frankly disturbing – it might just be that I naturally swing far away from inspirational leaders – it feels super-culty and brainwashy. It’s especially grim when their intense, focused coach takes zero responsibility for the many serious mishaps and injuries that occur as the cheerleaders are encouraged to rehearse through exhaustion and existing injury – and are then variously dropped from the team. Made me wince. I’m left with very mixed feelings about how the story was told, as well as the sport itself. The acrobatics however, are spectacular and inspiring, and I really felt for many of the students. It ends with very little resolution for most of the cheerleaders we follow through, just one who falls through the cracks. Watch it? Maybe on fast forward and pause for the tumbling.

Next Week

Probably a review of the new season of Altered CarbonCage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and almost certainly more LEGO.