Archive for TV series

the witcher

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2020 by xi'an

As I read (some of) Andrzej Sapkowski‘s books, and then watched my son play the derived video game, I took the opportunity of the break to watch the eponymous Netflix series. Which I found quite decent and entertaining, given that the books were not unforgettable masterpieces but enjoyable and well-constructed. The New York Times was quite dismissive in its review of the show, seeing as a cheap copycat of Game of Thrones when the books were written earlier than Martin’s unfinished no-end-logy. The Blaviken battle scene in the first episode is certainly on a par with GoT most fighting moments, while lasting a few seconds. And the actor playing Geralt manages to convey much more in a few grunts than, say, Kit Harington’s permanent cocker spaniel sad face!!! The budget here is clearly not the same as HBO’s investment, with some exterior scenes looking a wee bit bare (just as in the BBC’s rendering of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel). But, again, nothing there to dim the appeal of the series (although they could have cut on the definitely gratuitous softporn moments!) and a plot gradually rising from the fragmented time line and the apparently unrelated subplots, which is also a feature of the books, made of short-stories vaguely glued together. I am hence looking for the second season, hoping the GoT curse does not extend to this series. (Tor.com also published a highly critical review of the show. And of the books, which are incidentally not published by Tor!)

good omens and bad jokes

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , on July 7, 2019 by xi'an

Following the news that members of a religious sect had petitioned Netflix not to show Good Omens as they deemed the story blasphemous, mistaking Netflix for Amazon Prime!, I could not resist but engage into watching this show. While having skipped reading the original book. as I am fairly tone-deaf when it comes to Terry Pratchett’s novels. And sometimes to Neil Gaiman’s as well. The story itself reminded me very much of the later Tad Williams’ Bobby Dollar series. Which did not impress me either. While I found the concept amusing and the construction of both central characters rather tolerable, the whole story is far from funny as a whole, even though a few lines are hilarious. I find it rather hard to feel any sustained interest in the general story and any worry for the characters. Especially since, to quote the Guardian review, “every character apart from the main two is tissue-paper thin”. And it once again comes to my feeling that satire does not carry that well into movies…

end of the game

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 28, 2019 by xi'an

While I have not watched a large part of the Game of Thrones episodes (apart from the first season I had time to follow while in the hospital), I decided to subscribe for one [free] month to OCS to get the last and final season [unlike a NYT critic who watches the entire eight seasons in five weeks!]. And witness how far it has diverged from the books, at least those already published. The first two episodes were unbearably slow and anti-climactic, the [mentionable] worst part being the endless discussion by a chimney fire of half a dozen of the main characters who would all be better sleeping. And the antagonism between Sansa and Daenerys sounding almost childish…The last battle in Winterfel was both fantastic and disappointing, fantastic in its scale and furia and impetus, a cinematographic feat!, possibly the best in the whole series, disappointing for the terrible military choices made by the best fighters in the seven kingdoms and beyond, for the disproportionate imbalance between the living and the dead, for the whole thing depending on the two seconds it took for the Ice King to shatter  [no longer a spoiler!], and for the absurd and lengthy scene of the zombies in the castle library. I just don’t like zombie movies as I find them a easy lazy plot element, especially when they can be resuscitated over and over… They have not yet appeared (on that scale) in the books and I hope they remain dead still! Some scenes are furthermore too reminiscent of video games, which cuts even deeper into the realism (!) of the battle. The scenario of the fourth episode is definitely botched and hurried, for the sudden and radical reversal of fortune being once again so much against basic military concepts (and basic physics as well!). Contrary to most reviews I read, maybe because I had little expectation about the characters in the show, I found the fifth episode quite impressive, in its vivid description of the sack of a city, the instantaneous switch from victorious to rapist and murderer, and the helplessness of those very few who wanted to stop the slaughter of the inhabitants. (By contrast, I found most of the individual scenes appalling, except for Arya’s which remains consistent with her parabola in the plot. So far. But we could have been spared the white horse in the end!) And then the last and final episode…! Which I definitely enjoyed, primarily for the bittersweet feeling this was the last hour spent with the (surviving) characters, even for the unrealistic developments and predictable conclusions, and the feeling that some scenes were made up in someone’s grand-father’s backyard, by the same someone’s teenage nephews… Although I was hoping for a glorious ending in line with the one of Monty Python and the Holy Grail… Alas, no police van, no delegation of bankers or lawyers showed up at the eleventh hour!

[Uninteresting coincidence: in this NYT pre-finale analysis, I read the very same sentence “Power resides where people believe it resides” pronounced by Mikhail Gorbachov in the daunting Chernobyl series which I watched a few hours earlier.]

밤을 걷는 선비

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , on May 5, 2019 by xi'an

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell [BBC One]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on March 18, 2017 by xi'an

After discussing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell with David Frazier in Banff, where I spotted him reading this fabulous book, I went for a look at the series BBC One made out of this great novel. And got so hooked to it that I binge-watched the whole series of 7 episodes over three days..! I am utterly impressed at the BBC investing so much into this show, rendering most of the spirit of the book and not only the magical theatrics. The complex [and nasty] personality of Mr Norrell and his petit-bourgeois quest of respectability is beautifully exposed, leading him to lie and steal and come close to murder [directly or by proxy], in a pre-Victorian and anti-Romantic urge to get away from magical things from the past, “more than 300 years ago”. While Jonathan Strange’s own Romantic inclinations are obvious, including the compulsory  travel to Venezia [even though the BBC could only afford Croatia, it seems!] The series actually made clear some points I had missed in the novel, presumably by rushing through it, like the substitution of Strange’s wife by the moss-oak doppelganger created by the fairy king. The enslavement of Stephen,  servant of Lord Pole and once and future king by the same fairy is also superbly rendered.

While not everything in the series is perfect, with in particular the large scale outdoor scenes being too close to a video-game rendering (as in the battle of Waterloo that boils down to a backyard brawl!), the overall quality of the show [the Frenchmen there parlent vraiment français, with no accent!] and adhesion to the spirit of Susanna Clarke’s novel make it an example of the tradition of excellence of the BBC. (I just wonder at the perspective of a newcomer who would watch the series with no prior exposure to the book!)

Will Winter ever come?!

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on January 16, 2016 by xi'an

Just read in my Sunday morning New York Times that George R.R. Martin had no clear idea when the sixth volume of a Song of Ice and Fire will be published. Not a major surprise given the sluggish pace of publishing the previous volumes, but I thought maybe working on the scenario for the TV Series Game of Thrones would have helped towards this completion. Apparently, it just had the opposite effect! While, as Neil Gaiman once put it in the most possible delicate way, “George Martin is not your bitch” and,  writers being writers, they are free to write when and whatever they feel like writing, there is this lingering worry that the sad story of the Wheel of Time is going to happen all over again. That the author will never end up the series and that the editor will ask another fantasy author to take over. Just as Brandon Sanderson did after Robert Jordan died. Thus I was musing over my tea and baguette whether a reverse strategy wasn’t better, namely to hire help now just to … help. Maybe in the guise of assistants sketching scenes for primary drafts that the author could revise or of an artificial intelligence system that could (deep) learn how to write like George Martin out of a sketchy plot. Artificial writing software is obviously getting against the very notion of an author writing a book, however it is plausible that by learning the style of this very author, it could produce early versions that would speed up the writing, while being tolerable by the author. Maybe. And maybe not. Winter is simply coming at its own pace…

True Detective [review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2015 by xi'an

Even though I wrote before that I do not watch TV series, I made a second exception this year with True Detective. This series was recommended to me by Judith and this was truly a good recommendation!

Contrary to my old-fashioned idea of TV series, where the same group of caricaturesque characters repeatedly meet new settings that are solved within the 50 mn each show lasts, the whole season of True Detective is a single story, much more like a very long movie with a unified plot that smoothly unfolds and gets mostly solved in the last episode. It obviously brings more strength and depth in the characters, the two investigators Rust and Marty, with the side drawback that most of the other characters, except maybe Marty’s wife, get little space.  The opposition between those two investigators is central to the coherence of the story, with Rust being the most intriguing one, very intellectual, almost otherworldly, with a nihilistic discourse, and a self-destructive bent, while Marty sounds more down-to-earth, although he also caters to his own self-destructive demons… Both actors are very impressive in giving a life and an history to their characters. The story takes place in Louisiana, with great landscapes and oppressive swamps where everything seems doomed to vanish, eventually, making detective work almost useless. And where clamminess applies to moral values as much as to the weather. The core of the plot is the search for a serial killer, whose murders of women are incorporated within a pagan cult. Although this sounds rather standard for a US murder story (!), and while there are unnecessary sub-plots and unconvincing developments, the overall storyboard is quite coherent, with a literary feel, even though its writer,  Nic Pizzolatto, never completed the corresponding novel and the unfolding of the plot is anything but conventional, with well-done flashbacks and multi-layered takes on the same events. (With none of the subtlety of Rashômon, where one ends up mistrusting every POV.)  Most of the series takes place in current time, when the two former detectives are interrogated by detectives reopening an unsolved murder case. The transformation of Rust over 15 years is an impressive piece of acting, worth by itself watching the show! The final episode, while impressive from an aesthetic perspective as a descent into darkness, is somewhat disappointing at the story level for not exploring the killer’s perspective much further and for resorting to a fairly conventional (in the Psycho sense!) fighting scene.