The Acolyte.

This is a kids show. The plot nor the characters have any sophistication and the story operates on a level just above a 90s television sitcom. Instead of twin sisters separated at birth and reunited as teenagers it's twin sisters separated as children and reconciled in their early twenties. Neither set of reunited siblings can wield a lightsaber so it's not that far away from the TV show Sister, Sister. It's Sister, Sister: A Star Wars Young Adult series.

While I expect a flap about the show's checklist diverse cast from those who make money from YouTube video ads breaks, the true issue is the lack of diversity in the story. The first two episodes are a simplistic crime procedural without stakes or a sense of threat. We get two assassinations in the first two episodes. They're nothing. In episode 2 of Shogun an assassin slices her way through people and paper walls to get to her target. It's on screen for seconds. It's horrifying. That couple of seconds of screen time in Shogun is more compelling than the first two episodes of the Acolyte.

For a streaming show, the production value is fine. The acting is not memorable and there's an over reliance on reusing classic Star Wars phrases absent in other Star Wars streaming shows that I find puzzling. It is like the writer convinces herself she's a fan too but needs the audience to know it if they suspect she isn't.

I understand Disney looks at Star Wars as a property, sees the median age of its fans as 40 and its viewer demographic as male. The company worries the franchise has no future as those men age. With Disney being the largest seller of entertainment merchandise for girls, expanding Star Wars as a property for girls in their early teens makes sense for the company. But it makes for poor viewing for their current audience.

I think Disney could get a larger female audience for Star Wars. But only if they moved in a True Crime direction. God knows why women of all ages enjoy guzzling down stories of brutal murders but the stats show the audience for that stuff is 85% female. No one wonders how to get more men to watch that. Where's Making a Murderer: A Star Wars Story, Disney?

The bottom line. The Acolyte is Star Wars for a female YA fiction audience. If you're not into that you're better off watching something else for your Star Wars fix. Like Andor. Again. Until season two comes out.


The Fall Guy

A stunt show movie as flimsy as an empty bucket of popcorn but it has a summer romantic comedy charm. It's very early 2000s in its Hollywood commentary. That kills the momentum after the first hour as it is not presented well enough to hold interest.

For what the producers were looking to do it needed action, humor and adventure. It has plenty of action, with bone-crunching stunt work. Gosling and Blunt deliver humour with skill, but there's a large sucking void on screen where adventure should be. The lack of adventure comes from a weak script. With several different elements crammed into the second half of the movie it feels like it was the product of several rounds of studio notes and reshoots. If there was an adventure here it was overwritten in later drafts and edited out in post production.

Ryan Gosling's Colt Seavers is likeable. Woman may find him gentle and dreamy but he's not so much of a drip that other guys wouldn't enjoy hanging out with him. Emily Blunt is more upbeat than I've seen her and there's some chemistry between the two of them. However, the relationship doesn't develop throughout the movie.

Gosling could be a movie star. He hasn't landed the roles that will make him a movie star but he's a guy the old Hollywood studio system would have supported. This could have been a better movie if it had a stronger story. There could be a great movie about stunt performers in Hollywood but this isn't it. Unless you want that trip to the cinema wait until this hits video on demand or streaming.


Late Night with the Devil.

What do you want and how much do you want it? That's the question faced by the horrified guests on "Night Owls with Jack Delroy." Delroy (David Dastmalchian) has everything a successful talk show host needs. He's articulate, comfortable bantering with the audience and has a comfortable rapport with his celebrity guests. He does the shallow opening monologue, makes jokes at the expense of the band leader/sidekick, gets into the audience, and conducts interviews. This is the work done by every talk show host night in and night out. The difference between success and failure is how many viewers like the host as a person.

For Delroy it all works and he's rewarded with a TV show. Then punished by going head to head with Johnny Carson. And more people like Johnny. A decade into a 30 year TV career, and after moving the Tonight Show from New York to LA, Carson was a juggernaut. Delroy's show is suffering so for Halloween he goes all in. It goes all wrong.

Presented as an unedited archival broadcast this is a horror movie where the kick comes at the end. The tension builds through the broadcast as both the filmmakers and the guests manipulate the viewer. Dastmalchian shows good range as a man close to losing what he has left. Ian Bliss's skeptical Vegas magician channels Orson Welles and James Randi. As for Ingrid Torelli, she's unsettling from the moment she gazes into the studio camera.

I'll admit to an involuntary shiver in that space after the finale but before the end credits.


Fallout.

The spaghetti western turns post-apocalyptic in this high-budget production of a gritty tale. We have cringe-worthy but endearing optimists. Antiheroes whose cruelty disfigures them more on the inside than radiation has on the outside. Striving zealots of gleaming order and anarchic savages who'll wipe themselves on the drapes. And that's just the first two episodes.

The show's burnt out 2150s are mirrored by an alternate 1950s. Bing Crosby croons as one of our protagonists walks across endless scorched dust. Johnny Cash sets the pace for a bone-crunching fight. Violence here can be comical, but it's always bloody.

It's a great looking show with money on the screen. Long shots make the world before and after atomic armageddon seem huge. Characters are framed to highlight their interesting faces. Be they natural or prosthetic. The HDR also looks good as it's colour graded in a way that enhances shots and doesn't overwhelm them.

Its story telling is conventional enough to appeal to a wide audience. This was a concern I had when I saw who the show runners were. In the past Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have been cerebral storytellers. Not as smart as their West World audience as shown when viewer theories nailed plot twists. But this isn't that. This show lacks jigsaw puzzle plotting.

There's no point in turning what happened to the world into the driving mystery of the story. The constraints of the Fallout IP mean anyone who plays a Fallout game will know a lot. Instead we get a call to adventure that sends a capable extrovert into the horrors of a nuclear wasteland. If you know nothing about Fallout you will learn it as she does.

I have several episodes left to finish but I like this show. It has an unusual vibe and a great cast.


Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

This is the dumbest movie in a franchise that includes the brainless Godzilla: King of The Monsters. Kaiju fights are awesome. Everybody knows this. Even if you don't know it you do. But this movie is so dumbly dense it's a Saturday morning cartoon playing in the heart of a neutron star.

When we meet Kong, we see how clever he is. The Hollow Earth is a lurid and dangerous Playstation 2 CGI environment. The prime ape has mastered tactics and tools. Local wildlife doesn't know what's hitting them. He's Kratos from Sony's God Of War, no family no home and a big axe but for the first hour there are no stakes. It takes more than 60 minutes before the driving force of the story appears.

There is a poor attempt to generate a mystery for the cardboard cut out humans to solve. The mystery doesn't matter and neither do the humans. I forgot about the mystery until one of the characters looks, points and all but says "Hey, that's the mystery!" Dan Steven's Hawaiian shirt wearing titan vet is fun. He should return whenever Monarch does. Everyone else is forgettable. Apart from Godzilla and some of the other titans.

Godzilla has moved to Europe and taken to napping in the Coliseum. Showing the monster's enduring popularity the nuclear powered lizard still gets top billing even though he's more of a guest star. The movie delivers the battles Kaiju fans want though I had a problem with a lack of scale in some of the fights. Seeing the monsters destroy things that you recognize above ground gives you an idea of how large they are. When they fight in the Hollow Earth, which they do a lot, I lost that sense of scale.

There will be another one of these and when there is the film makers should be more careful with the foreground scenery. Two giant creatures smashing each other as people flee for their lives is engaging. Two creatures you can't tell are giants smashing each other? Well that's just a punch up.


Road House

Road House is stupid and enjoyable. I'd watch a sequel. When we first see a ripped Jake Gyllenhaal his character comes across as one of life's losers. Why this man, Elwood Dalton, with his warrior's physique is so unmoored from existence is the mystery in the early part of the film.

He is not doing well though in body and attitude he appears solid. His life is squalid, his choices are careless, and we see he's in the grip of suicidal ideation. Warriors without a purpose don't do well, but there is more to this than that. Transplanting himself to the sun blasted Glass Keys, Dalton, guitar strumming theme music and all, slips into the role of the bouncer for the Road House of the title.

The plot here doesn't matter but it is serviceable if a bit choppy due to running time. The humour made me laugh. The setting and cinematography were beautiful. Gyllenhaal is both charismatic and dangerous when required.

Conor McGregor's Knox is a gleeful force of chaos. Knox is here to have a good time, like the best hammer characters in movies do. When Dalton and Knox fight it's like high speed heavy machinery smashing the hell out of each other. But with quips.

I liked this movie and want to see these characters again.


Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

This is a streaming movie. It didn't start out as a streaming movie but that's what made it to the screen. While I enjoyed its prequel, Afterlife, this doesn't build on its strengths.

If there is a third movie, I fear the performance of this movie may not justify that expense, the cast needs to return to the teenage team of Phoebe, Trevor, Podcast, and Lucky. During the earlier movie, teens were in over their heads and solved problems using grit and Zoomer technology. Frozen Empire lacks most of that and is a movie where too many characters balance on a narrow plot.

Everyone gets less screen time, even Mckenna Grace. She makes doe eyes at spectral girlcrush and complains about unfairness, and that's it for her story. Dan Akryod and Ernie Hudson get more than a cameo. I like them both but why? We saw a generational handover in the previous movie and it was enjoyable. The original cast hang around taking scenes away from the current cast. Those missing scenes stunt the younger characters' development on the screen.

It was the producers' ambition to make an extended episode of The Real Ghostbusters, a popular cartoon from the late 80s. I remember finding those cartoons flimsy and unsatisfying at the time. Watching this movie made me feel the same way, so the producers succeeded in their goal. Alas.


Dune Part Two.

Is this an exciting movie to see on a cinema screen? Yes. Is the movie and the actors' performances overhyped? Also yes. Dune Part 2 is exactly what you need from the second half of a story but it feels less...grand.

The universe building was in the first movie and besides a glance at Kaitian, home of the Emperor, and a brief visit to the monochrome seat of Harkonnen power, Gedi Prime, this movie focuses on life in the desert. That's how it is in the novel too, but the novel gives you access to the characters' rich inner monologues. The first movie substituted spectacle for that and I became aware of the absence of spectacle and inner monologues when it became all about hours of sand.

At an earlier age taking liberties with source material would annoy me but now I see these things for what they are. Adaptations built on prior adaptations. Judgement doesn't involve the material modified or omitted, it's if what's presented on the screen is good. Here it is. This is a worthwhile adaptation regardless of the low nitpicking buzz vibrating away in some parts of the internet. While some have chosen to see wokeism in action at the minor story changes I can see where the changes appeal to an audience who likes their romance reality TV style. Not middle ages political marriage of convenience style.

Chalamet is fine. Zendaya is getting praise for the petulant scowling that some call emoting. It's not, but she's a strong actor when not scowling. Particularly when she wants to stand in the way of destiny because that's the right thing to do. But the biggest winner here is Austin Butler as the sociopathic sensualist Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. He has more range than playing Elvis would lead you to suspect.

This was a satisfying ending to the first novel. I look forward to the third and final movie covering the second book. Together Paul and Chani still have a way to go.


Shōgun. Episodes 1 & 2.

A luscious-looking adaptation of Clavell's 1975 novel FX's Shōgun is a worthwhile watch. You can tell there's money on the screen when the doomed ship Erasmus emerges from the fog. It looks like an oil on canvas painting. While the Samurai tropes are long exhausted, 17th century Japan at this scale may be an alien world to a Western audience. It feels substantial when you see it roll out in front of you and there is detail everywhere you turn your eyes.

Unlike the book (Read it as a teen) or the 1980 mini-series (Saw it in the 90s), English ship pilot John Blackthorne isn't the central focus. Which is the right thing since he's a foul mouthed boor here who tilts towards being unlikable. Blackthorne is the catalyst but this is Lord Toranaga's story. Toranaga remains a dynastic patriarch surrounded by political enemies and facing the horror of a civil war. But while he was an opaque figure in the book he's the lead here and you get to see his mind at work. Something the reader only had access to at the novel's conclusion.

Everyone is enjoyable to watch on-screen and Anna Sawai's Mariko stands out. Filmed before the 2023 Hollywood strike, this may be one of the last peak TV shows. Watch it.


I’m not one for paperless

People can tell the week I’ve had by how my office looks like at the end of it. Paperwork, notepads, and books explode outwards from my desk. Like some kind mind expansion blast wave.

If by the end of the week I’m jumping over piles of paper stacked on the floor it’s probably time to schedule a few days off. I prefer the tactile process of reading and writing on paper. That means I end up with a lot of paper. I had to stop buying notebooks a while back because I had too many blank pages yet to be filled. Stationary is fun, but it’s also clutter. 

My hand writing was atrocious before I spent the majority of my time in front of a computer and it’s worse now. That said, if I want to commit a concept to memory the fastest way I’ve found of doing that is scribbling my summary of it and expanding on it with my own thoughts. Each stroke of the pen is like filing something properly in my brain. 

Any notebook I retire gets a final cover to cover read through to pluck out any forgotten gems I may have written down. I record those in text files using Markdown. There are a lot of digital black holes out there and I try to ensure I’m not making another one. I used OneNote a lot years ago and am now loath to even open the app. Too much trash in there. My strategy now is to do all the sorting and cleaning before I commit something to digital. In a weird turn of events I see digital as being permanent and paper to be temporary.

In the end if you want to keep good notes organising those notes can take as much time as you spent writing them. 

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Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash