[ occasional pirate ], [ scribbly fellow ], [ hat devotee ], [ improviser ], [ cat dad ], [ sometimes unhappy in the brain ], [ AFOL ], [ consumer of eye-candy ], [ beer drinker ], [ enraged cyclist ], [ please talk to me about Transformers ], [ very bad at DIY ], [ enthusiastic duct-taper ]

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.

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