Cartoons

BoJack Horseman is a deep, well-written work about self-sabotage and depression. It might be the best show ever made for getting people into some kind of therapy or self-improvement; or at least to stop downing a fifth of Jack every day. But it's miserable, incredibly unpleasant to watch sometimes, and I'll almost certainly never rewatch it, with the exception of a few non-depressing episodes ("Fish Out of Water", for instance).

Rick & Morty is exactly what I want from a cartoon: A bunch of science and fart jokes with parodies of Doc Brown & Marty McFly, with an unhealthy dose of cosmic nihilism, and I can watch it anytime I need a laugh or cry at the futility of life. "Nobody belongs anywhere, nobody exists on purpose, everybody's going to die. Come watch TV?"

The Simpsons hasn't been funny past season 2 other than some Treehouse eps and guest-artist couch gags, and the characters are the blandest stereotypes possible. It's extruded cartoon product. I have no subscription that would let me watch it, and I don't care, but I do see clips and even complete episodes sometimes on the Youtubes or such. It's Seinfeld without the observational "humor" or asshole New Yorkers, it's every awful sitcom with a whiny family, just flavorless pablum. It'll probably outlive us all. The Terminators will sit around after exterminating Humanity and watch their new Simpsons episodes, chuckle robotically, and complain that earlier seasons were better.

Groening's (well, to the extent he's involved; producer & they imitate his old style?) medieval fantasy cartoon Disenchantment is equally dire, which is ridiculous since they've taken a genre where there's unlimited possibilities, and made it into a Simpsons style sitcom. I'm dis-enchanted.

Archer, man, I miss Archer. Seasons 1-4 were fun but standard Adult Swim-type nonsense. Season 5 Archer Vice was the peak, with the coke smuggling, Smokey & the Bandit, Pam's habit. Season 6 was dull, trying to recapture 1-4 but you can't go backwards. Season 7 Hollywood was great, film noir done by lunatics; it reminds me excessively of every time I've run or played in a modern/espionage RPG. I've only seen the first eps of S8-10 in this "dreamland" saga where Sterling's in a coma fantasizing, and they sure didn't persuade me to find some way to watch it. S11's supposed to be back to "reality"? Dunno.

Is there anything good I'm missing?

What I'm Watching: Green Eggs & Ham

"I'm not great with kids."
"Ha! Oh, you're not so great with adults, either. Or Chickeraffes. Or really anyone."
—Guy Am-I & Sam I-Am

Yes, the Netflix cartoon of the Dr Seuss book. And this time, it's properly animated, and not infested with Mike Myers.

The book was just a short journey into madness with Sam-I-Am inexplicably tormenting Guy-Am-I who gets run over or flees into cars, trains, darkness, rain, boats… until he gives in and eats the green eggs and ham.

The show turns them into characters and a plot. Sam I-Am is either a sad delusional lonely little man, or an elite ninja animal liberator who frees the Chickeraffe, which is a giant terror-bird that can be squished down to fit in a briefcase. Guy Am-I (Michael Douglas) is a pathetic inventor whose inventions all explode. Pursued by Bad Guys (they have a card) old-timer Snerz (Eddie Izzard) and rookie Glutz, they keep running into single mom Michellee (Diane Keaton playing very very dull and safe) and bored kid EB.

Each episode is more or less a page from the book. "Would you, could you, on a train?" So there's a long train journey and every sight gag they can extract from it. I'm especially impressed by the miniature train car. "With a fox?" And the Fox (Tracy Morgan) is insane, one of the better characters and subplots. "With a mouse?" And there's a mouse in their prison cell who sings Les Mouserables and then it turns into the Shawshank Redemption. Most of the references are pretty good; subtle but on point.

The one part where the show falls down is "Boss", who's ordered this caper, trying to impress his "Cronies". They're all boring and loathesome, and utterly disconnected from the main plot. Delete Boss, make the Bad Guys have some motivation of their own, and this would be a better show. If I'm annoyed by him, I bet kids watching this have a screaming tantrum every time Boss appears.

The green eggs and ham do look tasty, but full of cholesterol. Michellee's tofu version might be safer.

★★★★☆

Lester Bangs Sunday Music

So the playlist:

So I was thinking about Lester Bangs, who basically taught me how to write with his reviews (which explains a lot, you know? I had higher ambitions but some rambling reviews with moments of clarity and profanity are what I can manage), then remembered Bruce Sterling wrote an alt-history biography "Dori Bangs" about him and Dori Seda hooking up, reread it. Fucking fantastic and a little heartbreaking, highly recommend it.

What I'm Watching: Undercover, L4yer Cake, Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

Undercover S1: A Belgian/Dutch crime drama, based very loosely on a real case, with Anna Drijver as a Dutch woman cop (and rather sexy when she cleans up, or if you like dirty biker chicks), and Tom Waes as a Belgian asshole man cop, setting up an undercover observation of a drug kingpin. Except the drugs are mostly ecstasy, the action is mostly in a campground trailer park, and everyone is just pathetic and low-rent. It's barely above reality TV at times, the filmmaking is not excellent, and the plot is glacially slow. The tension between these cops who have to pretend to be a couple, and the shitty crime boss, his pathetic wife, and ever-changing roster of idiot henchmen, is much better than you'd expect. Watch it in the original Dutch/Flemish. Don't expect a fast burner, this is one to watch a bit, go on with your life, watch a bit more…

★★★½☆


L4yer Cake: Great crime book, if a little heavy on the "oo eck 'e're so 'ery English wot wot" shit. Movie's about 50% of the book, plus 25% new shit out of the writer's ass, not always seamless. Movie ending is bullshit—in the book the same asshole shoots him but he lives and then delivers his "if you knew my name" line.

Never said in the book or movie, but his name is Bond, James Bond. Thus XXXX and the fake posing as Bond, sudden development of Navy Seals level murder skills, and fucking another man's wife (which is rarely brought up in the Bond movies, but in the books it's a common theme, also common to Ian Fleming himself—adultery made philandering without consequences easier for him/them).

I don't especially like Daniel Craig as XXXX or Bond, but if you're gonna do both, he barely passes. Book XXXX is just short of 30, Craig was 36 at the time, but looked 40+, a dried-up ballsack face already. Bloated tub of lard Colm Meany will always and only be sad, pathetic Transporter Chief O'Brien to me; he just looks constipated and confused when he's trying to be menacing, or really all the time. George Harris as Mortimer is too pleasant much of the time to be the borderline personality of the book; it's legitimately shocking when he does snap. The girl, Sienna Miller (named for the shittiest color crayon), is about a 7 or 7.5, not the perfect femme fatale of the book; tho the English have a lower scale of hotness so she's probably as good as they've ever seen; and she has few scenes to even establish the adultery subplot.

Funniest moment of the show was the "Serbian" gangsters speaking Romanian; I couldn't tell everything they were saying with my half-assed Spanish and quarter-assed French, but all Romance languages are recognizable. The English filmmakers probably didn't know the difference; anywhere east of Germany is Poland, eh, limey?

★★★☆☆ — aggressively mediocre interpretation of better but not amazing source material.


Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse: So, up front: I don't especially like Spiders, or Men, or Spider-Men, and as noted in The Boys, I don't trust anyone with super-powers not to be a super-jerk. I grew up with the Electric Company Spider-Man, but by the '80s that motherfucking bug had his own live-action TV show, cartoon, cereal, toys, Japanese sentai show, and more, raking in $millions a year. Plus the police, military, and civilian applications of his web-shooter goop must be worth $billions. If he's married to MJ she's worth at least as much as an actress. The poor white boy from Queens act is offensive.

But I needed something light and dumb after the hash they made of L4yer Cake.

Miles Morales is certainly a more humble protagonist than '60s-era Peter Parker; less Hardy Boys and more Boyz n the Hood. But it's taken 20 minutes to get him bitten and plot to start. How are there not thousands or millions of Spider-People in a world where every radioactive spider produces the same powers? As usual in the movies and TV shows, with limited rights and limited creative people of their own, they only acknowledge the existence of Spidey's "rogues gallery", not any of the hundreds of other supers placed in New York in the comics.

I'm not a big fan of urban graffiti; it's mostly criminals marking territory they extort protection money from, or vandals damaging property they don't own. Buy a fucking canvas to paint on.

Mama Morales speaks like two lines of Spanish ever, then switches back to English for the honky audience. NYPD Cop Dad is the stern-but-fair bullshit they'd like to sell; I expect he's all Training Day on the streets.

Even in cartoons, Stan Lee got his cameo. But not Steve Ditko. They can't spare one fucking scene in this Russian-epic-length film for the man who created classic Spider-Man and drew the comic until Stan stiffed him on money (as he did to everyone)? There's a passing mention of him in the credits, which is sadly better than most do.

I did genuinely laugh at one joke: "Hey, maybe you guys can go around? OK, thanks, New York."

Spider-Gwen and Noir SM are good takes on the idea; I'm familiar with SG from the comics. Has-Been SM and Spider-Ham are awful, jokes carried way past their sell-by date. Old Aunt May with a baseball bat is good and strong, as fits a potential Herald of Galactus. Mary Jane as slightly frumpy Jessica Rabbit is weird, but she has little screen time, she's just a trophy for various Peters.

Kingpin's a perfect villain as always and chews the scenery less than in the Daredevil TV show. But for someone so obsessed with family, he isn't very understanding of others' familial conflicts. Still, he halfway saves this flick.

Doc Ock is interesting, but I don't see how the relationship with Aunt May can work after this. Prowler's given a surprisingly good background (but a very Huntress-like outfit with nipple patches). The other villains are just big mooks, zero personality.

There's no plot or conflict except "can Miles survive 3d6 random fight scenes and then push a button?" You will be shocked to learn the answer is yes, he pushes the button.

By 1 hour 20 minutes in, I'm ready for the end of the movie, but there's 40 minutes of this to go. Brevity is the soul of wit, but alas. This just drags out the "kid can't fight" part before the moment of heroism schtick. Then a very long neon Jackson Pollock screensaver with Doc Ock taking an improbable amount of abuse, instead of using a bruiser villain or fighting with the tentacles. All the villain fights get dumber and more punchy as the film progresses. The collider's said to be making a black hole, which means it has at least the mass of a planet, possibly a star; but happily magic dimension shit just reverses itself and there's no lasting apocalyptic results like a city vaporizing even if you do shut it down. Consequence-free adventuring.

"Anyone can wear the mask", moralizes (oh, "Morales", I get why he's so preachy now, "Miles" of it even) a kid who is faster and stronger than any athlete, can recover from almost any injury, swings by his arms from tiny spider strings, and can be invisible (and what man could be good with that power?!) and shoot lasers from his hands. You know, like a SPIDER. If a normal kid wears a SM mask and leaps off a building, they'd just die horribly.

★★☆☆☆ — massively overstayed its welcome, shitty final sequence, too many underdeveloped characters.

What I'm Watching: More of Love Death Robots

Apparently Netflix is doing 4 different ep orders, they say it's completely at random, though some people think it's based on gender, sexuality, age, etc. What horoscope does my robot show order reveal? Humans are idiots.

The Dump: Joe Lansdale story of a weird dump thing, videogamey CGI of of slime & trash, quick and obvious, but amusing. Not shown: Fuel-air bombing of the dump after missing persons are tracked there. ★★★½☆

Shape-Shifters: Military werewolves, realistic CGI, clearly the next Call of Duty game. Too much werewolf dick. The transformed state isn't as convincing as the Human. But not bad at the personalities and how shitty the military is. Author's Marko Kloos, a military fanfic writer. ★★★☆☆

Helping Hand: This is perfectly designed to piss me off (or any educated person). As anyone who's ever seen a spacewalk knows, astronauts don't work without a tether and a tight grip on their ship or station. It just does not happen. That was bullshit in Gravity, with idiots flying around on 5-minutes-of-fuel maneuvering packs that haven't been used since the '80s, and it's bullshit here, too. Dumb astronaut—again like Gravity a woman, which is so insulting to Peggy Whitson and other skilled woman astronauts—is knocked off station by space junk. I don't buy a cheap company sending out a lone astronaut, either: Launch cost for an extra body isn't much compared to a whole ship. And then her first solution is dumb, maybe 1kg of reaction mass thrown half-assed overhand won't move a 50kg body anywhere. Her second solution is even dumber—in reality, heat radiates away from a body very poorly in a vacuum. THAT'S HOW A THERMOS WORKS! YOU INCOMPETENT FUCK WRITER! Vacuum of space will chill you eventually, especially if you touch cold metal or regolith, but a floating body won't freeze solid for days. ☆☆☆☆☆ Claudine Griggs, hack "sexual politics" writer, I hate you and want you to get an education and then die of shame at your stupidity.

Fish Night: Interesting look, motion-captured CGI but so cel-shaded it looks hand-drawn. Probably took 10x as much time and money as simple rotoscoping and hand-drawing would've. Alas, I care nothing for the characters or the situation. Stop talking and start doing. Hunter & Dr Gonzo had "The drugs took hold around Barstow, on the edge of the desert", too, but then they did shit. Supposedly another Joe Lansdale story, but it's just nothing but a screensaver. ★★☆☆☆

Lucky 13: More Call of Duty, now in a space dropship but carrying Marines to terraforming stations on some planet. And the writer keeps calling the Marines "Soldiers" which at least modern ones don't like much. Love affair of a pilot and her dropship (AI? Maybe. It never speaks, but gets a camera POV.) is nice, and the dogfight videogame sequences are fine. It's not clear who the enemy are supposed to be, they're just as well-equipped, so are they a rival nation of Humans? Why would anyone bother shipping military to space to fight over an uninhabitable rock? Stupid premise, unexamined. Author's Marko Kloos again. ★★★☆☆

Zima Blue: Another Alastair Reynolds adaptation! Perfectly animated and told. The joke of Zima the beverage is a little weird against a serious story. The theme of transforming and abandoning unneeded complications is done several times in Reynolds (Diamond Dogs is another), but here is the best of those. ★★★★★

Blindspot: Mad Max/Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors/GI Joe do a train job with no planning, and get hosed down amusingly for it. All the nonsensical robot-on-robot violence we grew up with, but more swearing. Fuck yeah! Vitaly Shushko makes more of these ridiculous animations, too. ★★★★☆

Ice Age: A very light microscopic civilization take by Michael Swanwick (Vacuum Flowers!). Almost too silly to publish, the characters are utterly passive, but cute graphics for the micros. ★★★☆☆

Alternate Histories: Multiple ways for Hitler to die and consequences. Trivial, and I hate the stick-figure art, but amusing. Surprisingly by John Scalzi, who managed to make several actual jokes in a row! Maybe he wrote this before the brain injury that made him a humorless Internet troll. But it's about Nazis, so it gets no score according to Godwin's Law. He should have done the Lincoln one instead.

The Secret War: More Call of Duty with Soviets in fur coats in the snow during WWII, hunting monsters. And a story of making monsters, and the futility of being right in the Soviet Union. The monsters look like crap, almost literally, like the Xen in Half-Life. Written by David W. Amendola, another military fiction/horror writer. ★★★☆☆

Fin and Philosophy

And that's it for this season! More dumb combat and horror than robots in this half, and I do not appreciate that.

When I say "Call of Duty", that's not a compliment, I think the lowest form of Human slime make and play these mass murder simulators, and stories which are just "then I shoot everything wooo!" are by and for morons.

I have no objection to monster-killing if it illuminates something in a story, or in games if it's a drain on strategic resources (tactical RPGs with HP, MP, and gear to keep an eye on, and that's why my games are bright and happy AND bone-crushingly hard), but otherwise you leave those monsters alone, it's their world and you're just a morsel in it. Compare especially Beyond the Aquila Rift, where there are no "monsters" but these Call of Duty fuckheads would see one.

Total ratings are not bad, Scalzi and that incompetent Hand ep are all that's really bringing it down, but that glut of mediocre military content is hard to wade thru.

☆☆☆☆☆ 2
★☆☆☆☆ 1
★★☆☆☆ 1
★★★☆☆ 7
★★★★☆ 5
★★★★★ 2

What I'm Watching: Love Death Robots

Anthology series of adult SF cartoons, produced by David Fincher and Tim Miller (Deadpool director). Which is like Netflix said "hey, Mark, we made a thing exactly for you!" I <3 you too, Netflix!

18 episodes, I watched 8 so far, will see the rest next binge.

Sonnie's Edge: I instantly recognized this, but couldn't place it—how could I have seen it already? Impossible! Turns out it's adapted from a short story in Peter F. Hamilton's A Second Chance at Eden. What's weird is I remember it visually, where most of my SF reading I remember as text/lore with a few mental illustrations. Nicely animated 3D, a little bit videogamey and exaggerated. I already knew the twist but I don't think it's hard to figure out. ★★★★★

Three Robots: Walker, tiny walker, and weird pyramid robot explore a ruined city and talk too much. Despite withering contempt for Humans (which is entirely deserved), they don't have enough intelligence to avoid a trap. Meh, I don't like cats much, but people infected with Toxoplasma gondii will find this hilarious. CGI is adequate. Ah, it's a short story by John Scalzi, "Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind from the Era of Humans for the First Time", which is why it feels like obvious jokes driven into the ground by a humorless boot. ★★★☆☆

The Witness: Rear Window/Run Lola Run with a stripper. Characters look like painted dolls, unfocused "camera" like an Italian giallo flick. Striptease could be erotic if they weren't so toy-like. Neatly tied up plot, nonsense surrealism but I like it. Alberto Mielgo has a number of other good animations and paintings. ★★★★½

Suits: Farmers in mecha fighting bugs. Weird 3D with cel-shading to look like a cartoon or plastic toys. This is pretty much daily life in Rifts, they even call the bugs "DeeBees" (dimensional beings in Rifts, no definition given here but maybe Damn Bugs?). Decent combat story, a little personality for the farmers, but not deep. ★★★½☆

Sucker of Souls: Archaeology/adventurer team explore a tomb and are not alone. Hand-animated mostly, I think they had to have traced over 3D in several places. Very aesthetically similar to Castlevania. Not much plot, and no chance of further adventures, but I like the team. Written by Kirsten Cross, who writes hack military-horror shovelware books; short form clearly suits her "talents" better. ★★★★☆

When the Yogurt[sic] Took Over: John Scalzi's shitty parody knockoff of Greg Bear's superb Blood Music, adapted into weird stick-figure and frizzy-hair CGI blobs, narrated ("tell, don't show") by The Brain^W Maurice LaMarche. Sadly no relation to The Stuff, which had a better plot, actors, and special effects. Fucking awful, everyone involved should be drowned in yoghurt. ★☆☆☆☆

Beyond the Aquila Rift: Short story from Alastair Reynolds! Spaceship has a bad wormhole jump/technobabble, ends up somewhere wrong, greeted by a person who shouldn't be there. Music is excessively on-the-nose. CGI is detailed but videogamey, and the space scenes look right out of some space shooter. ★★★★☆

Good Hunting: An evil man and his stupid son hunt a beautiful Hulijing (Chinese Kitsune), tragedy ensues. Then becomes a weird steampunk thing in Hong Kong. Then a superhero origin story? Hand-animated, good fighting motion, but very flat, I don't like the style. Based on a short story by Ken Liu ★★★☆☆

The Boys are Back in Town

Coming sometime this year. I'm more than cautiously optimistic, given this. The Frenchman, the Female, and Mother's Milk look great; I'm not keen on their Wee Hughie or Billy Butcher but you can tell who they are, they're not obviously embarrassing like the Powers adaptation. Hopefully all of them can act the part. The few action scenes in the trailer look great, the slutty, trashy lifestyles of the rich and superpowered look right.

They've replaced Jack from Jupiter with an invisible man; and/or a tracksuit that stands up by itself. Which really isn't much of a downgrade from Jack, the whiniest and least useful of The Seven. Hm. Though Jack can fly, which is important at a couple points.

The Boys TV-The Seven

The Boys TV-The Boys

The Boys is the cure for taking superheroes as magical demigods. Garth Ennis asks, "What if people had superpowers? What if a corporation could make more of them? What would they be like?" And you know what the answer is. They're people, they would be terrible.

So, the CIA funds a group of counter-superheroes. They get a little power, but not much. They use dirty tricks and crime and scams to keep the supers from getting out of control, and killing more people. And even then, what kind of people do you recruit for such a job? Not our best and brightest, but damaged people who have a reason to fight these fuckers in spandex.

The Boys-G-Men

What I'm Watching: Carmen Sandiego

Remember "Batman: The Animated Series" from '92, the super art deco film noir one? And Erin Esurance? This is that, but in red.

The art and action animation are nicely done. It never has high detail, and sometimes smooth art deco looks too much like paper cutouts, but if you like this kind of thing, it works.

Opens with an annoying detective Chase with an outrasheous fronsh aaacksent by way of Monty Python, Julia a little lesbian cop with an iPad, "Red" running on rooftops, and "Player" (now her sidekick instead of the antagonist like in the games), a hikikomori otaku nerd who plays Control over a radio like Theora in Max Headroom.

Carmen's a running, jumping, grappling-hook-shooting superhero (antihero, but not really that anti-), which I'd chalk up to cartoon physics except Chase is merely human, risks a broken neck trying a rooftop chase. The other pro thieves also have amazing powers and advanced tech, which always makes me wonder why they don't start businesses to sell this tech instead of committing crimes.

However, then they start having dialogue and flashbacks, and the show grinds to a halt. The writing is stiff and formal, everyone clearly enunciates in silly accents, then LOOOOONG pauses between lines. Howard Hawks, where are you when we need you for some talking-over witty banter?! Well, long-dead, just like my patience with this fucking monologue they're STILL doing since I started writing this paragraph.

Of course everyone is obsessed with their tiny glass rectangles now, and can't imagine a world where anyone isn't. Would it be too much to ask for non-phone-based tech? I miss the videogames' insistence that everywhere is in reach of a home computer or phone booth.

Eventually her Thief School (oh no) cohort become Graham Crackle, Le Chevre (goat cheese), El Topo (the Jodorowsky film?), Tigress (clearly a fursuited camwhore), and Mime Bomb (horrific).

So, uh, there's a gem, the Eye of Vishnu. And we first see this dug up in Morocco. Which is, what, 6000 miles west of anyone who has ever worshipped Vishnu?! WHAT THE FUCK, SHOW. You have one job, which is to teach geography & history, and this is a failing grade.

The final caper in the school is not bad, though, and sets up her nom de guerre, costume, and a long-term goal for the series.

Started to watch a third ep, but the whinging ginger driver annoyed me so I stopped for now.

★★★½☆