Suicide Squad (belated) Opinion

I’ve just rewatched the Suicide Squad film, and realised what I’m unhappy about with it.

On the whole I liked it, but that may just be my nostalgia for the property (mainly from the Ostrander era in the ’80s. I’ve read the first collection of the New52 era, but it didn’t really catch me).

While some of the characters are off from the versions I like, that’s understandable given the shift in medium (I suspect Waller may be slightly closer to the New52 version). On the whole, they were recognisable enough, and entertaining.

The main thing that irritates me is the story, particularly as a first film. Dealing with a problem Waller caused through her machinations isn’t out of line, but as the first film – potentially only at the time – it makes her look less than competent. It also feels like a traditional reactive superhero story structure, with the heroes simply switched for villains.

I liked the rationale of the team being green-lit because of the idea of the next war being fought with metahumans. That’s close to the Ostrander version of the team, interacting with metahuman teams working for other countries (fictional and real), terrorists, and corporations.

I’d have preferred it the story had focussed more on this angle, with the threat being covert actions by a hostile power’s metahuman operatives. It could have made the film feel fresher, and it’d have been closer to what I like about the series.

I still like it more than the previous films in the DCCU though, which admittedly isn’t saying much.

Endings and TV Reviews

(Mainly a proof of life continued existence post)

 

I seem to have watched the endings of a number of TV series in the last few months. Only one of those listed below actually on broadcast TV (and that probably a bit behind US screenings), most of them being on DVD or alternate sources.

While you can’t really judge a series solely on it’s ending, it obviously play a large part in how you remember it. It’s been years since I’ve watched any Blake’s 7, and over 35 years since the final episode was screened, but I still have that ending seared into my memory (also, I feel old).

It can, of course, depend on the type of show. The more episodic type doesn’t necessarily need as satisfying a conclusion  as a serialised story, the latter justifiably having more expectation on it’s dénouement. Many series these days straddle the two.

One recent series I’m still undecided on is The Mentalist. They dealt with the big bad in the middle of season six, then went on for another season and a half . I can understand wanting to deal with the repercussions of the ending of the main story, but it made the later season feel like it was killing time.

 

Covert Affairs

I kind of wish this had finished with season 4. It’s big bad had been around since the beginning, and gave the series a feeling of a larger story than the season arcs it was composed of. Annie had a great arc for that season, faking her death and operating on her own, and it ended strongly. It felt like a good final act for her story.

But it wasn’t the end. Season 5 was fine, but it was mainly bringing in new plots. Possibly I felt let down by it not addressing some of the issues I hoped from the previous season. I know it was probably complicated by casting issues, but how did Annie deal with explaining to her sister (who hadn’t been around for a couple of seasons, but with whom she would have kept in touch) why she’d had to fake her death. A lot of the series had been based around the relationships, so it just felt an odd omission (understandable, in a way that drags you behind the fourth wall).

 

Continuum

The shorter fourth season made the ending feel a bit rushed, but it was an otherwise satisfying ending to one of the best SF series of recent years.

It was particularly good in playing up the moral ambiguity of who was in the right (or the less wrong) position, and the decisions they made. Time-lost cop hunting time-lost terrorists could easily fall into cliché, but the rounded antagonists helped make this good. And the ending, while rushed, hit the perfect final note of success at a cost.

 

The Following

To be honest, the story contortions probably started fairly early as they tried to keep this going after the first season. It was usually enjoyable, but the morally questionable situations in which the characters found themselves did start to feel like they were coming too fast.

It never really slowed down fast enough to feel more than a slight jarring from all the plot holes, and as long as you didn’t compare it to Hannibal it was enjoyable enough (I don’t know I’d say it was fun though).

The ending tried to give a kind of set up for future stories you’d never see, but for me it felt a bit, I don’t know, unfinished maybe. It made a kind of sense for where they’d taken the character, and was kind of in keeping with the feel of the show, but I’d have accepted a happier ending.

 

Person of Interest

While some moves in this long game seemed opaque, and at times it veered towards the formulaic, this series often managed to shift out of the formula as soon as you got too comfortable, and remained entertaining. Mainly because of the characters.

I’m not sure whether to class it as a hybrid SF/Crime Drama, or SF masquerading as Crime Drama, or whether it even matters.

Even with the final season cut short, they knew far enough ahead that they used it to focus on the main story, hitting all the beats they needed to and providing an ending that just felt right.

 

Penny Dreadful

The end of the final season felt a bit rushed. The entire season felt more disjointed than the previous ones, with having so many of the characters separated, having their own stories without as much interaction. Then it hurriedly brings them all together at the end. It feels like they were expecting another season, but had to quickly tie it all up.

It kind of works, but there were some parts I’d have liked to have gotten more room to breathe.

 

Endings

I doubt there’s much I can learn from these, since they’re so heavily influenced by their medium. Even if they have an ending planned from the outset, the practicalities of such complex collaborations probably require all kinds of compromise – both dealing with input from various sources, and the financial realities of what you can afford to create visually rather than just with words.

If a story is complete over one season, such as with True Detective and similar shows, you have greater control over what can be achieved. Multi-season series are more at the whims of viewing figures and other factors, often ending up unable to provide a satisfying ending, or having to cram so much in that you can feel the artificiality of it.

In prose, you don’t have those excuses for weak endings. It can still be worth thinking about why certain endings work well, though. You simply need to distinguish the story elements from the structure in which they’re presented.

 

 

 

Behind Her Eyes – A Hype-Enhanced Reading

I can’t be the only writer, or reader, who takes the marketing of a book as having an ending you’ll never guess as a challenge. Which it basically is.

Can you outsmart the writer? Which is a stupid way of thinking of it. Because its the marketing campaign that’s making such a big deal of it. I doubt there’s many books where you can’t try to beat the author by guessing how it’ll end. But when the marketing campaign out and out challenge you like that, you can hardly not try to beat them.

Behind Her Eyes probably isn’t the kind of book I’d normally read. It sounds a bit too domestic, to be honest. But Sarah Pinborough had been entertaining at a convention I’d seen her at, and on twitter. And the book had good word of mouth. And there was that challenge. And it was on sale for a fiver in the first week (and not simply as the fastest in history to the bargain bin).

The writing draws you in, making it hard to put down. While the description makes it sound like a primarily relationship-centric story, the mystery behind it propelled me through the parts that may be less interesting to me. (Not that relationships aren’t at the heart of most stories, but it did sound a bit too soap opera-y for my tastes, and that kind of thing can rely on characters acting stupid.)

 

Looking For Clues

The pre-publication hype (of which there was quite a bit) and ARC reviews, while staying free of spoilers (that I saw), did admit there were supernatural elements. Which may be good, since it could discourage those inclined to dislike such on principle. It also gives a larger scope for what kind of things to look for.

And I found as soon as I had some ideas (and I had a few), I was looking for more buried beneath the obvious ones.

Since I did work out the two twists before they were revealed (around chapters 46 and 51 I got the end twist, and the deeper twist, respectively), I have to say it felt fair on the reader. No cheating, out of left field, surprises here. It was foreshadowed if you looked at it the right way. Admittedly a twisted way. Even then, though, I wasn’t certain I was right until the end.

It was only after finishing the book that I realised they were vaguely similar to twists I’d used in one of my stories, which may explain why I got them. And I can imagine the author had to resist the same impulse to laugh out loud when the idea struck.

 

Did the Hype Damage the Reading Experience?

Not for me.

I don’t feel that going in knowing there was, and looking for, a twist detracted from the story. If anything it may have encouraged engagement, getting me to look deeper than I might otherwise, in the hunt for clues. I did find myself admiring the way information was laced through the story, and how the pacing kept you moving too fast to necessarily focus on the clues.

I may well read it again soon, to deconstruct exactly how it was done.

Busywork

Still having trouble focusing on actual work, but I have managed to spend the last couple of days compiling a list of potential reviewers (thanks to The Indie View) and sending requests to around thirty of them. A process I find far more excruciating and stressful even than blurb writing. It’s communicating with people directly, no matter how remote the communiques.

I also busied myself making new covers for Stoneweaver and Coral Throne. They’re not perfect, but the old ones were really starting to irritate me. I need to do more with them, since they look slightly bland. But they’re closer to my aesthetic tastes than the Createspace ones I had, and at the smaller size they’ll be viewed at on estores I feel the simpler designs stand out better.

Deadpool

The Deadpool film is probably the most accurate transition of a character from comic to screen that I’ve seen, and hugely enjoyable and funny.

The only problem I had with it was purely a personal issue with flashbacks. Most of the story is told in flashbacks, which because of the way my mind works makes the actual forward moving story seem slight. But this is just a personal thing, and won’t stop me watching it again when it’s out on DVD.

It also feels right at the rating level it is, and the calls to have a children’s version don’t really make any sense to me. Deadpool’s never really been a children’s character, and a younger skewing version would either be ten minutes long or have to be redone from scratch. You’d have to have the action be far more cartoonish, changing the entire tone of the film, and it wouldn’t be how I see the character.

Early on in his comic history Deadpool evolved into basically a cartoon character transposed into the slightly more realistic comic world. Surrounded by violence that was harmless in a cartoon, from which he’d always heal, it left more of an effect on the world around him.

The film takes this one step further, making the violence that much more real, and visceral, while maintaining Deadpool himself as a cartoon character. Reducing the violence, and other adult content, to a more child-friendly level, feels like it’d rob the film of its character.

Remember, Wolverine: Origins was only PG-13, and look at what happened to Deadpool there (shudder).

Warning: I don’t mean actually go and look at Wolverine: Origins, because I don’t necessarily hate you that much. Just recall it. And if you haven’t seen it, I in no way want to be responsible for inflicting that on you. Go see Deadpool instead. Provided you’re old enough.

Doctor Who: Hell Bent

[No detailed spoilers, but vague, and rambling, discussion of the tone and type of story]

I enjoyed the finale of this season of Doctor Who, but it was only in considering it I realised how different last season’s finale was from the others of Moffat’s era. It was more the blockbuster finale of the Russel T. Davies era.

Understandable, since all of that season was basically the new Doctor discovering who he was, taking a bit longer than they usually do. It also had a clear bad guy, and widescreen, epic, action. Whereas most of Moffat’s others have been a tighter focus, with the Doctor’s main adversary being time, or fate.

His first season’s penultimate episode, The Pandorica Opens, had an array of enemies banded together against him. The final had one dalek, and the wasn’t the real enemy. The collapse of time was. It felt like an attempt to mark out the difference in showrunners, building up to what appeared to be the same kind of blockbuster, then taking it somewhere different.

His second season finale, while it had more bad guys running about, was basically about escaping his fate: his apparent death in the first episode.

The next finale had the Great Intelligence as an enemy, but ultimately was about the Doctor’s ultimate fate: his apparent death. Playing into the anniversary and Christmas specials, which while more widescreen were still about him cheating fate, saving Gallifrey and avoiding his destined death.

Then Capaldi’s first season finale went back to the more traditional blockbuster, as the Doctor defines himself. Which feels odd in this retrospect, although I still like it.

And this year’s finale feels more like Moffat’s earlier ones, starting off large scale before zooming in to a smaller, more personal view, with the danger – fate – overcome by trickery rather than fighting. And hints that this all started for the Doctor because he was running away from a fate he claims to no longer remember clearly. So time has been his adversary all along, and he’s running to keep ahead of his fate.

Doctor Who: Listen

I didn’t comment on the new series of Doctor Who in last weeks TV review as it’s still new, but this weeks episode (so possible vague SPOILERS) was just beautiful.

I liked the casual pace of the story, the lack of a real threat to give it momentum. It’s a refreshing change of pace, and it felt similar to some earlier Moffat episodes in its lack of a proper antagonist.

It wasn’t entirely satisfactory: Was the conclusion meant to imply there was no race of perfect hiders, that it was simply fear? Most incidents in the episode could be viewed in this way, apart from the thing on the bed (which could admittedly have been someone intending to play a trick on Rupert).

I don’t mind an ambiguous ending if I know it’s meant to be ambiguous, but this feels like it may be more due to Moffat’s occasionally flaky plotting. While I generally like his writing, especially when he plays around with the time travelling as he does here, his usually strong story logic does occasionally show possible plot holes that spoil my overall enjoyment – they may not be holes in the plot so much as my understanding of it, in which case it’s possibly the exposition that’s deficient (or my comprehension).

This doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the episode though (unlike the possible plot hole in the Christmas Carol episode).

It’s a beautiful piece that goes at its own pace and feels different enough from regular episodes while remaining consistent. I wouldn’t mind more episodes like this.

More TV Reviews

Some more TV reviews – because it’s something to do – following on from the last one, so some are no longer that recent.

 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I liked the end of this, although I’m still not sure if I found it lacking something. I prefer ongoing stories to episodic stuff, though I can understand why many series start off episodic (as much because executive types seem to believe viewers need that stability as because the series is finding its feet). Still, the tail end of the season worked better for me, and I’m glad the main story was tied up in the season without any hard cliffhanger (some strands still dangling, but the main plot was tidied up).

Maybe rewatching it in one block will make it seem more cohesive (or tell me what’s wrong with it).

 

The Boss

Season two was unfortunately the last. And while it did kind of have a resolution, it didn’t feel like a proper one. While not happy, and with few laughs, the show was mesmerisingly dark, and I kept watching to see exactly how bad the mayor could actually go. While I’m in no rush for a box set, I’m disappointed something this interesting was canned.

 

Orphan Black

Season two kept up the quality of the first, with some interesting and surprising avenues. I’m not sure how well it would work with a different lead actress though, as Tatiana Maslany is the reason the show’s so good. I often find myself so engrossed by the performances that even with two of her clones on screen it can be easy to forget it’s the same actress. She helps the special effects do what they should do: disappear.

Will season three have more focus on the male clones? Hopefully not too much, since I didn’t find the actor as watchable as Maslany. Maybe he’ll be more interesting in different roles, but she should remain the star of the show. I just wish she was in more scenes.

 

The Honourable Woman

After the fact, some parts seem slow, but watching it was always engrossing. Despite a few plot strands feeling like danglers (unless I missed something, which is possible) it was generally satisfactory, with strong performances (particularly Stephen Rea and Maggie Gyllenhal [but since I’m currently rewatching The Fixer , I was longing to see Andrew Buchan shoot or beat someone]).

While I’m glad I watched it, the memory of how slow some parts feel in retrospect means I probably wouldn’t want to rewatch it again anytime soon.

 

Continuum

Just finished watching season two on dvd (so many US series we can only get on dvd). It builds on the promise of the first season, and while the episodic, procedural nature can sometimes feel a bit vanilla, I can understand why it’s (possibly wrongly) seen as a useful tool for getting some audiences to stick with a science fiction show.

Not that it’s that heavily science fiction, those element of the show taking a back seat to the characters and intrigue, and the shifting allegiances among everyone, good and bad, are interesting. The main thing that keeps me engrossed is the question of whether the protagonist is hero or villain, protecting the peace or enforcing the laws of totalitarian corporate rule, although admittedly that’s probably the wrong question. She’s both. They’re unafraid to have her skirt the line, and she’s constantly fighting to balance her desire to uphold the law against her desire to get home to her family.

There’s still a sense that it could be better, maybe if it dropped the procedural stuff (and from how the second season ended that may happen), but it’s still enjoyable enough to keep me buying the dvds (when they reach an appropriate price point).

 

Random TV Reviews

I’m having trouble writing much at the moment, with too many ideas flitting about my head that I’m having a hard time concentrating on one. I’ve started a few blog posts that I’ve had to abandon. So to get something written I’m reviewing recent TV that I’ve watched (UK TV, so some may be unfamiliar or a few seasons behind to some readers).

 

New Worlds

I’ve only vague memories of the preceding series, The Devil’s Whore, but I gave this one a chance as there were a few interesting bits in the trailers. Those may have been the only interesting bits. I did manage to stay through to the end, but my reading in the adverts often continued when the adverts ended as I couldn’t be bothered to pay full attention to what they were agonising about on screen.

Possibly I’m just not the intended audience, but I’ve enjoyed some similar things before. (None memorable enough to mention here though)

What story there is felt like it meandered along the scenic route, and ambled near the resolution without ever doing more than glancing in its direction. At least that 4+ hours wasn’t wasted. I did get some reading done.

 

The Mentalist

I enjoyed the end of the Red John storyline (although it may not have completely ended, since one of his acolytes did escape the big showdown – why do that unless they intended it to matter later on), and felt it worked well (and I didn’t work out who it was till the week before, thankfully). The fact they did so in the middle of the series leaves me with hope that they have something planned for the end of it (still have about a handful of episodes to go here), and some larger story to be going on with (maybe Red John’s acolytes, although would they need to sacrifice a long-standing cast member raise the stakes rather than make it seem forced).

While the formulaic episodes are enjoyable enough, it’s when the series strayed into the darker areas of Jane’s desire for revenge that it became truly good. And I doubt his murder of Red John is going to be as easily brushed aside as it so far appears to’ve been.

 

Person of Interest

Nearing the end of series two here, I don’t understand some of the harsh opinions I’ve read about the series. They seem to amount to wanting it to be something it isn’t. Maybe there’s a sense of it being on the verge of being something better, when it gets into the larger mythology of the series, but it seems content to be what it is. I enjoy the chemistry between the actors enough to take it as it is.

 

Mammon

A fairly by-the-numbers conspiracy thriller, which nevertheless manages to hold the interest with good performances. And a death in last week’s episode (the penultimate one) genuinely caught me off guard.

It fills my addiction for subtitled TV while I’m waiting for BBC4 to find something interesting for Saturday nights (I haven’t tried their current offering, and while Salamander was ok – albeit fairly misogynistic – I just want the next series of The Bridge to hurry along).

 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I want to like this more than I do. There are many elements that I do like, and it’s in no danger of losing me as a viewer, but it feels like it’s missing something. Possibly I’m expecting too much because of Joss Whedon’s involvement, which in this case probably isn’t as direct as in other stuff. I’m kind of hoping it’ll be like Dollhouse, and take time to find its groove.

While the links to the movies is good at making the series feel part of a larger world, there is the danger of it controlling the series if the movies are seen as more important – and therefore allowed to do what they want with the series having to react accordingly. I doubt that’s the case at the moment, and the impact of the recent Captain America film (which I haven’t seen, and won’t until it’s out on DVD – another problem with being tied in) will have been known when they were creating the series.

I’ve enjoyed how they’ve tied it in so far (we’ve just had the Hydra spy in the team revealed), but I’m still waiting for the series to decide what it wants to be. Maybe knowing this shake up was coming is what’s prevented it doing so. I can hope.

 

At least I’ve managed to write something. I might end up doing another of these in a while. The second season of The Boss has just started, and the second season of Orphan Black is back this week, so there’ll be those to comment on in time.