Devs episode 2

I still love the visual tone of this show. For the most part, the light is beautifully relaxing; ethereal. A perpetual autumn evening. A frozen moment. It’s got that dreamlike feel that reminds you of Tree of Life, in as much as you’re not sure that this is really happening, or happened.

This second episode’s emotional tone was overall less serene than the first. Probably intentionally, considering it detailed the fallout from Sergei’s death. Grief-stricken Lily tried investigating his phone for clues: other than a mysteriously password protected, self-destructing Sudoku app, there were none. That must be the key. She even leaned once more on that poor, rejected ex boyfriend to help her hack into said app.

In this episode, we also learned who Forest is, and the mystery of the giant child watching over the campus: she is an avatar of the real Amaya, Forest’s daughter who passed away. Forest is the charismatic cult leader-style head of the organisation, and we now have some insight into why he is so intense.

I like that the writers withhold key bits of information, drip-feeding it to us on a need-to-know basis. In the first episode, we took it as read that Forest was senior to Sergei and Lily, but that was as far as it went. We also knew that he was incredibly protective of his company’s data – to the point of murder – and that personal background helps us to understand why. Sort of.

Still very keen. And now I’ve written this up, I can carry on with actually watching the damn thing. I need to maintain some momentum. Not sure I’ll review every episode, but let’s see.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Dave Green (USA, 2016)

I do kinda like the Turtles. I’ve always been into the idea of them, and the comics. I’ll go into length at some point in the future about how much I love 80s alternative/independent culture, from bands like the Minutemen and Hüsker Dü to the Garbage Pail Kids, Troma Films and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. And obviously, given the ease of producing them, comics figure into that in a large way.

TMNT comic started in… 1984? …and it was cool, DIY and pretty dark in its content. One thing I didn’t pick up on when I was watching the cartoon as a kid (I wasn’t cool enough to buy the indie comics as a toddler) was that the evil Foot clan was a parody of the Hand from the Marvel comics. I mainly know the Hand from Daredevil, but I think they also bothered Wolverine:

I’ve not watched the first film in this series, but this sequel popped up on Channel 4, so I figured why not. Plus, I don’t much care for an origin story: to me they’re anthropomorphic turtles living in the sewers of New York City, and that’s all I need. I don’t want to think of them as men, which might be an issue, as their desire to retrieve their humanity seems to be a major subtext here.

From what I can tell, the first film must have detailed how they became what they are, they had a fight with Shredder, and he went to jail. And apparently, Will Arnett had something to do with it. So we join them with Shredder wanting to get busted out of jail, and Will Arnett being a local celebrity, which they communicate to us using a Knicks game, shot from a fun perspective (the Turtles are up in the rafters). For those who love origin stories, this instalment at least tells us the tale of how Bebop and Rocksteady came to be.

We also seem to get introduced to Krang (for those who don’t know, he’s an interdimensional supervillain, somewhere between MODOK and Thanos), when he pulls an escaping Shredder into his realm for the standard “do my bidding and I’ll give you more power” speech. We also get ice hockey-obsessed vigilante Casey Jones (Stephen Amell). Now I thought Casey always had more of a basic mask, and that this one looked more like Gladiator (which I was happy with, because then it reminds me of MF Doom), but on further inspection, it’s actually pretty accurate. 

So if all of these standard characters are being introduced in this one, who was in the first film? No Krang, Casey Jones, Bebop or Rocksteady. That must have been quite something…

I like the little touches in this film. Rocksteady is played by Sheamus from WWE. Which is great, because Kevin Nash played Super Shredder in… I want to say the second Turtles movie in the 90s. Way to keep the wrestling link going. And also, Sheamus uses the phrase “twisting my melon, man”, which must be lost on 90% of the audience, a fact that makes me enjoy it even more.

Some of the big touches are fun, too. There was an excellent mid-air mission, seeing the boys go from (their) plane to (baddies’) plane, with the sense of height and speed quite well communicated. As both planes inevitably became history, and the Turtles, Bebop and Rocksteady plunged into the Amazon, we got the best image of the film: Rocksteady sailing in a tank down the Amazon, taking pot shots at the Turtles. Amazing. 

Admittedly, this trailer gives you everything you need, with the possible exception of Megan Fox playing a nerd.

So there you go. 

In terms of flaws… Well, I don’t like the “cool” renaming of the Turtles from the Renaissance artists to merely Raph, Lio, Donnie and Mickie. I mean, come on. I also don’t know why the professor guy wanted to help Shredder in the first place. Maybe I missed some exposition, but he seemed to me that he just was. And that the Turtles just knew about it. Also, Casey Jones spends too little time dressed up as Casey Jones and too much time looking like A Random Guy. Like, the default setting when you’re creating a character in a video game. Almost featureless.

I also don’t know why damaging the warp machine that allows Krang to bring his Technodrome into our dimension deconstructs said Technodrome rather than just closing the wormhole. But I’m not an astrophysicist, and trying anything less convenient would have added an hour to the running time. Plus, we now know what will happen if there is a Turtles 3!

But yeah, it was a fun ride overall, with some amusing bits and good set pieces. I’d not heard of director Dave Green before now, but he did well with $100m+ dollars, no doubt assisted by crafty blockbuster veteran (and producer of this) Michael Bay.

Ladies in Black

Bruce Beresford (2018)

I love a nice department store. While the biggies like Harvey Nicks, Selfridges, John Lewis and such have a level of allure to the addict-consumer in me, I much prefer the local department stores, ones that have a bit of history and personality; the kind of place that really goes all out with the Christmas decorations. I think most of them were bought out by House of Fraser, sometimes still run under their original branding so as not to alienate the denizens of whichever town they’ve moved into. Now, of course, it all sits in Mike Ashley’s grubby mitts, so who knows. 

But you know the sort of place I mean: Jenner’s in Edinburgh (for now), or Rackham’s in Altrincham (Kendal’s in Manchester until 2005). You’ve also got Hooper’s in Wilmslow. You walk in and in addition to the familiar mid-range fashion and household brands, you’ve also got that sense of local history, of identity: families shopping there for decades, as much a part of civic culture as the town hall or museum.

As steeped in tradition as these stores are, each with a story to tell and its own speciality cake in the obligatory cafe, there is a sense of faded grandeur about them all, rather like one of the ageing, sprawling hotels on the Nice promenade, populated with ghosts of better times and surrounded by dog poop-covered pavements.

So you start to imagine what these places were like in the glory days: not only before Amazon started dominating the retail landscape, but before even out of town retail parks or every town having the same names decorating their high streets. Days when these places were the shopping hubs for everyone in their town, where you bought everything from your pressure cookers with their whirling, whistling tops, to your poshest frock.

I do feel a bit of a guilty pleasure when watching something like Carol or the Marvellous Mrs. Maisel*, and you see reconstructions of what these places were like (though I have no doubt that in New York City, the big names are as they were) in their heyday, usually around Christmas time. Which brings me to the most recent film I’ve seen (at the time I started writing this, a week and a half ago): Ladies in Black.

Set in Sydney in 1959, Ladies in Black is most definitely one of those feelgood, stress-free sponge and custard films. There’s not much in the way of peril. We have four main characters, all working in the local Goode’s department store: the veteran shop assistants Fay (Rachael Taylor) and Patty (Alison McGirr, reminiscent in appearance and attitude to Joan from Mad Men); Lisa (Angourie Rice), the young, wide-eyed girl who is full of potential; and Magda (Julia Ormond), who is frowned upon for being a “reffo” (refugee), but predictably is more stylish and cultured by those who are trying to claim superiority based on being born in Australia. Obviously, whites born in Australia trying to claim any kind of moral superiority invites its own scorn on multiple levels.

Fay and Patty are the lifers, cliquey and superior, but decent deep down, and managed by the warm, maternal Miss Cartwright (Noni Hazlehurst). Film starts as we see Lisa begin her tenure at Goode’s: she makes newbie mistakes that Fay and Patty take her to task for, but it’s clear to the audience that Lisa has potential far outstripping her entry-level role potential spotted by Magda, who is not part of the clique due to being foreign, but effortlessly good at her job (and a far better saleswoman than Fay or Patty).

So the key character journeys are young Lisa finding her niche in life (even if that’s not in the store), Magda doing her level best to facilitate Lisa’s destiny-finding, and Fay overcoming her Australian-birth supremacy and snootiness by falling in love with an insanely charming reffo, Rudi (Ryan Corr), along with the exotic ways of these seemingly unknowable foreigners. I won’t try to understand the Patty storyline. In addition to these, there are subjourneys of Lisa’s dad (brilliantly played by Shane Jacobson) learning to let go of his little girl and Lisa being able to buy a posh frock she wants. Because not every ambition is noble, and it’s nice to show the shop as its own character.

The tone of the film being so light, there was a risk that everything would be too airy. However, veteran director Beresford (he’s directed a lot of things over the decades, but I only really know him for Driving Miss Daisy) smoothly swerves that pitfall by folding in nuance via family disputes, inter-departmental rivalry and of course the trifold issue of racism, immigration and integration. 

And it works! My life wasn’t changed by Ladies in Black, but I was entertained, it never dragged, and I may need to watch more stuff featuring Jacobson or Taylor. I understand Rachael Taylor is in those short-lived Marvel Comics/Netflix series…

* This is not to say Carol is as light as Ladies in Black or Marvellous Mrs. Maisel; I think it’s an absolutely brilliant character study and portrayal of what marriage and gay life were like back in 1952. The presentation of the Frankenberg’s department store in which Therese works is just the icing on the cake.

Everyday I’m scrobblin’

My most recent Tumblr post

Just adding a bit of insight to the above Tumblr. I’m trying to figure out what kind of stuff should go on here, on Tumblr, on Twitter. So short stuff on Tumblr, maybe a bit more fleshed out here, with both of those used as signposts for this. Or something.

I’ve spent the last couple of years doing what a lot of music fans have been doing: shuffling. Spotify premium (or Tidal or Qobuz), make a playlist, get it shuffled.

And that’s fine. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. I can add a bunch of albums I’d like to get to know, and shuffle them; or I can playlist a bunch of old favourites and randomise those. Guess which I do most often…

So I’m making a concerted effort to listen to full albums, and ideally new ones. Maybe even from artists new to me! Try to combat that cynicism that comes from ageing, or try to understand the age-old question: is it the music, or is it me?

With hip-hop being the primary (only?) musical currency at the moment, I’m getting refamiliarised with that genre. I think my metal bands are doing well with a couple of million Spotify plays, then I see rappers I don’t even know, with hundreds of millions, billions, for a song. I’m old school. I like rappers with flow and clarity. I’m not historically into the current scene that seems to have taken its key influence from a decade-old Kanye album. But, partly because it’s clearly captured everyone’s attention, and partly because it’s the only “new” thing out there, I’m listening.

XXXTentacion is not without his controversy. Charged with violently assaulting a woman, Spotify initially hid him away with R Kelly. Then he met a violent death. Aside from the accusations of brutality to women, which he denied, but also admitted, his fans really love him. His music speaks to them in a way that most artists don’t have a prayer of.

While newpaper readers know him as a thug who abused his girlfriend, his growing masses of fans listen to his songs of inner turmoil, angst and confusion. XXXTentacion, shit name aside, was clearly a complex, conflicted character who you could tell might be prone to bouts of rage and violence, expressed externally as well as internally.

As you can see, he “won” the weekly listening, as I played his ? and 17 albums, which I think are his official albums? Both open with an earnest, if ham-fisted entreaty for listeners to understand alternative music, and to listen without prejudice. Granted, if his market at that point was mainly rap heads, such a request is understandable. It’s just a clumsy way to open an album, even if I appreciate the personal touch that clearly helps endear him to his audience.

Musically, there’s a lot of drawly auto-tune, as you might expect from modern hip-hop, but there’s also live instrumentation, screaming and howling and a surprisingly organic sound. This strand of rap gets compared to emo, but to me it has more in common with the earthy, heavy grunge sound. It’s good enough for me to pursue this avenue further, for sure.

I didn’t know much about Dødheimsgard until recently. My man Da5e repped them (a few years ago, in a post I got to late) and they’re intriguing. A Norwegian metal band that started out as black metal (don’t they all), but who got more avant garde, I guess following in the footsteps of Ulver, Arcturus and Ihsahn. They also seem to only do one or two albums a decade at present, so I’ll give this a few more spins to understand it, rather than rush to evaluate it.

The top 3/4 is rounded out by old favourites Nine Inch Nails and Anthrax. The former is on the list because Trent Reznor (and friends? Who knows any more) has released a new installment of the ambient Ghosts series, which seems fine. And Anthrax are there because I made a playlist of 80s bands in the early 90s. I find it fascinating to hear how 80s hard rock and metal bands changed (and if they did) to cope with the challenges of a new decade. And I am of the opinion that Anthrax were even better in the 90s than the 80s anyway. But more on that later, I imagine.