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Last Week: Sabrina season 3, The Hanging Tree, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, The Collapsing Empire

Short Week, Long Weekend – Does it Even Mean Anything?

I think I’ve fully adjusted to working at home now. Got my Wii Fit running on the spot for half an hour before starting work routine sorted. The cats come and sit with me for few hours, which is lovely. The lack of urgency is vexing, but I’m still getting things done. The evenings continue to be filled with LEGO and the usual TV watching or book reading. I’m beginning to wonder if this whole pandemic thing is just for me… being at home is kinda great.

Catching up with a bunch of the MissImp Thursday drop-in regulars was very reassuring – it’s my only specific evening of any week, and it was good to reestablish some kind of weekly calendar. I need to take some pics of the amazing LEGO Ideas Dinosaurs set that I’ve eked out over this week, they really are very pretty and need to be reviewed! I’ve also washed a lot more LEGO, so that’s news for anyone who needed it. Cleaned this whole box, and I reckon about 15% was Mega Blocks.  It took a lot more bags than that to dry out though! We’ve just started watching Star Trek: Picard, and I’m very excited.

Watching: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, season three 

I’m quickly coming to the conclusion that I shouldn’t be watching TV shows I don’t deeply care about. I have watched all of Sabrina, and I do enjoy it, but I’m damned if I can tell you what’s actually happening. This season it’s more of the same except that Sabrina’s heading for being queen of Hell (quite fun to spend some time in Hell itself, with its attendant Star Trek alien-style demons). Lots of things happen… including the introduction of a priestess Voodoo (with a murderously awful creole accent) and killer pagans. Everyone remains chipper and fun to watch – if you enjoyed season one and two, you’ll enjoy this as well! 

Reading: The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

A rare re-read for me… I’d finished The Girl Beneath the Sea, couldn’t face getting out of bed, and had re-added this to my Kindle because I couldn’t remember where I was in the series. It’s a good re-read! For those not following the Rivers of London series: The Dresden Files crossed with The Bill. London copper Peter Grant gets dragged into the near-forgotten magical police as a huge resurgence of magic begins. The books have a similar light-hearted feel to Charles Stross’s excellent Laundry Files, though they’ve yet to become quite as dark. The police procedural aspects appeal greatly to me, completely eclipsing my general loathing of SFF set in London, plus Grant’s West Indian family, his dad’s love of jazz, and Grant’s relationships with his old-school magician guv’nor, and the literal rivers of London embodied in stunning female form have made this a really fun series for me. The Hanging Tree continues to pull story threads related to the Faceless Man who is the magical Moriarty for this series, the general rise of magic and diving a little deeper into how magic actually works. It’s an enjoyable read, even though I can already see why I’d forgotten if I’d read it – there’s no enormous story arc shift here, it’s firmly in the “another Peter Grant case” zone. I’m looking forward to the next one.     

Watching: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Sure, I’ve seen most of these films multiple times anyway, but I’m enjoying taking advantage of Disney+ to watch them all back to back without the sheer hell of opening and closing DVD cases. I still think the MCU is one of the most extraordinary cinema achievements. No one has managed a watchable ten film series with such consistency and purposeful story arcs, let alone one with twenty-plus instalments and half a dozen excellent TV shows to back it up. Even Star Wars, which I adore, spectacularly fails at planning and consistency, and for all that I really love the new sequel trilogy, it’s afflicted with the same inability to plan for the next film that plagued the originals and prequels. So, Marvel – our literal movie superheroes.

Iron Man (2008)

It remains a delight that the MCU begins by rehabilitating Robert Downey Jr into what will undoubtedly prove to be his signature role. In retrospect this looks oddly low budget, with its gritty video feel. That certainly softens later, making Stark appear to age backwards for a while. As in several of Marvel’s origin stories, this is a small film with big bangs, but introduces us to the central theme of ordinary people becoming exceptional and having to make a moral choice about how to use their powers. Stark of course, is already a genius, but losing his freedom when captured by the Ten Rings terrorist organisation, and realising the harm his weapons industry does inspires him to become so much greater. It also has the first demonstration of how Marvel manages its extraordinary characters, by constantly undercutting Stark’s smugness and arrogance with slapstick injury and being put in his place by his closest companions. All the “building a better suit” montages do this wonderfully, and we’ll see it again for Thor. He’s a massive dick though…  particularly with Pepper, and less so with Happy than in later films. I’d completely forgotten the villain of the piece is Jeff Bridges’ corporate monster. Very topical then, and even more so now. Lt Colonel Rhodes in Terence Howard’s hands is utterly bland and he is sadly not at all missed for Iron Man 2 and onwards. I’m watching Agents of Shield from the beginning again, and it really does deepen all of my fondness for Agent Coulson (and Nick Fury) throughout. Stark’s suit is endearingly angular, and I rather miss the physical effects which are later replaced with nano suits by the time of Infinity War.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Cruelly, a distribution deal with Universal means I already had to reach for my DVDs for the second MCU film. This one gets a lot of stick, but for anyone who played the Playstation 2 game The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, this is an absolute joy. Borrowing not just the main storyline, but the actual moves Hulk pulls in the game, like ripping a car in half to make boxing gloves, earthquake punches and many more, means that I adore this film. Sure, I can’t imagine Edward Norton continuing in the MCU, but Hulk does us a massive favour by bravely embedding the complete origin story in the splendid comic book style opening credits (largely leaning on Ang Lee’s horribly dull Hulk) before introducing Bruce Banner hiding in South America. It’s a marked change of pace from Iron Man, with much larger and more frequent action set pieces and a pleasingly psychotic Tim Roth becoming Abomination – a bit closer to a big bad villain than a CEO in a metal suit. This one’s unusual in that very few of the hints and leads from it have yet been followed up – we’ve seen no more of his love interest Betty, her father General Ross, or scientist Samuel Sterns who looks like he’s turning pretty Hulky at the end. With the Ruffalo Hulk now all chill and contented with his dual forms, and feeling like he’s at the end of his character development arc, I wonder if we’ll get a proper gamma villain to rile him once more.   

Iron Man 2 (2010)

It’s hard to believe this was a whole two years after the first couple of movies, but then I hadn’t realised they were only released a month apart! This is probably one of the weakest entries in the whole MCU, although most of them fade away if you watch it back to back with the first movie (a bit like Gremlins  but less so Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters 2 is really bad). It feels very much like filling time before we can get to some more characters and a proper villain. On the plus side we get the infinitely more fun Don Cheadle as Rhodes (suiting up as War Machine), and I’d forgotten that this is when we first meet Black Widow (fantastically introduced beating up Happy in the ring). We also see some of Howard Stark and his relationship with Tony, which proves much more important in Captain America: Civil War and is finally, beautifully paid off in Avengers: Endgame. So yay, for that! I suspect these weaker films are all going to be much better with the rest of the story in my head. Iron Man 2 continues the Stark arc of atoning for years of enabling mass murder, and this cleansing punishment probably is necessary for him to later appear in the Avengers films on an equal standing with the super-upright Captain America, Thor, and the rather humble Hulk. The story, um. Well, a Russian dude Vanko (a hopelessly miscast Mickey Rourke) who’s dad co-invented the arc reactor with Tony’s dad takes Iron Man’s success rather personally and sets out to destroy him. Cue laughable Zardoz costume with arc whips. It’s a rehash of the first movie after that, with an underused Sam Rockwell trying to build iron man suits / robots / whatever for his very similar company using Vanko’s genius. The CGI man fighting nearly identical CGI men problem that later besets Avengers: Age of Ultron appears here. Other than that, it’s more of Iron Man doing Iron Man things, upgrading the suit, the arc reactor, getting comically injured and being sweet with his robot arm. All the dialogue is still fun and snarky, but the film overall is just fine. I recall being enormously excited by the end credits tease of a hammer found in New Mexico…

Reading: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

A fun and quickfire space opera, reliably easy to read with engaging and smart-mouthed characters. There’s not a lot more to it than that though. This is the first of Scalzi’s big new space opera series featuring the intergalactic human empire, the Interdependency. It’s all connected together by “the flow”, a convenient natural anomaly like a slow wormhole which links the various chunks of humanity together and takes months to get from one end to the other. Ruling over it all is an emperox and a bunch of semi-feudal merchant guilds who own complete monopolies on very granular products like “grapes.” Given that only one guild can provide chickens (or something) everything has to sort of work together. Big shock: the flow’s going to disappear, and so humanity and their present system are fucked. There’s a plenty of good stuff here: the time delay in communications, rival guilds vying for power, a massive cataclysm, space pirates and fun action scenes, and yet it all feels rather thin. That might be because there’s no sciencey stuff to this space opera, other than dropping big words like “phsyics”, and the interdependent guild setup feels both forced and like something I’ve read a hundred times before. While I enjoyed this as a quick read I’m not racing to find the next in series.     

Doing: MissImp’s Virtual Drop-In

 This week we had Claudia Behlendorf from Germany with a fun workshop on creating big characters fast. We also instituted our first post-improv virtual pub event for regular MissImp folk on Zoom. That was a very uplifting web chat! While improv on Thursdays has been part of my life for more than fifteen years now, it’s the being with people in person and chatting in the pub afterwards that I’ve actually been missing. We had eighteen folks at one point, including some real out-of-towners and people we haven’t seen for a long while. Very nice! It’s on again next week. 


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