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Marvel’s Agents of Shield:Worth Sticking With

It is fair to say that I know most of what I do about comic books from cartoon adaptations from when I was a child. I loved the Spiderman and X-Men adaptations made in the 90s as they dispensed with the fluffy ‘the world has to be nice and the hero always wins tripe’ and gave us serial stories that felt more believable whilst still not being too adult in content. I have read some X-Men comics but all other understanding of the universes out there are from trawling the internet or watching the myriad of superhero films. It is the films in particular that I find very hit or miss. Many stories are predictable and for every ‘good’ superhero movie there are three or four ‘average’ or worse ones. For example, whilst X-Men 1 and 2 are fantastic the whole line of Spiderman films are just a tad boring for my liking. Iron Man is fantastic, largely due to Robert Downey Jr., but we also have to put up with Daredevil, Hulk and Ghost Rider. The Batman reboot is fantastic, excellent acting and dark storylines, but this has grown out of epic failures such as Batman and Robin and the cult but very camp 1960s TV series.

It was on the back of this scepticism of superhero movies that I started to watch Marvel’s Agents of Shield. To keep the trend of ‘good’ going hand in hand with ‘poor’, I like the Thor movies as well as Iron Man however I was not fully won over by Captain America, and The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble in the UK) left me feeling a bit cold. The first episode of Agents of Shield was interesting, an intreaging underground network known as The Rising Tide, a corrupt organisation using dangerous technology to create superheroes (centipede) and the do-gooders S.H.I.E.L.D. at loggerheads with one another. It set up an interesting premise and the fact it tied so well into the movie franchise only added more gusto. It seemed as if the series would build up to reveal dark secrets, have recurring enemies and leave you guessing at every turn. To my disappointment this did not really happen. As the series continued the lack of peril made uncomfortable viewing, you knew that whatever scrapes the team got into either Ward or May would come out swinging and get them out of it. If they needed some new tech to beat an enemy then Fitz and Simmons were there and when they needed some unknown information they would turn to Sky. Although well acted, unusual for a superhero series, there was very little care for the characters. It all felt a little sterile and somehow distant from the movies. There was a cameo from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury but other than that, and some events from the films being mentioned, there were few links. There are a few other areas that irked me too, particularly that they keep mentioning the lack of people with psychic super powers however this is the same universe as X-Men and I only need point you towards Professor X and Jean Gray.

I am now nearing the end of series one and am glad I stuck with it. I have little time to watch TV and can only put it down to the fact there is little on I want to watch at the moment that I am still tuning in every week. However, the game seemed to change a few episodes ago. A random message from *spoiler alert* Hydra twisted the whole plot on its head. Suddenly I care what they did to Phil Coulson, they explained what happened then turn it round so you don’t know if that is really what went on. Now I am cringing every time I see any of the team doing something for Ward, knowing where his allegiances lie. Or do I? Is he going to turn back to the light for Sky? May is a lot more interesting now we know her purpose and even more so since going AWOL. We also know there is something special about Sky, buy what? I understand that they may have dragged the series out because of when films will be released but I wish they had started this change of momentum earlier.

Agents of Shield has been worth sticking with, but there are a few ways it could be improved. I would like to see more cameos from The Avengers. I hope that the agents in the show will appear in some of the films, even if only bit parts. I also hope that Deathlock gets a large part in a film or at least teams up with other villains in the TV series. So basically Agents of Shield has pulled itself back from the brink. Let’s hope it can continue to move forward and not drag out again to simply become an advert for the big screen adaptations.

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Does every tale need a love story woven in?

Recently I read To Kill a Tsar by Andrew Williams. Whilst I enjoyed the book I found the love story between Anna and Hadfield to be a bit of a distraction. I understand it is a literary device to bring an Englishman into the Russian Revolution and in many ways make it more accessible to British audiences, however I really did not enjoy it. At one point there was a sex scene which seemed a little at odds with the rest of the story. I wanted more of the revolution, of people’s struggles and the differences between the revolutionaries and the government. Maybe I am just more intrigued by historic fact, by what people are hiding rather than what they do and say. I like the mystery, I like to be kept guessing and coming up with my own theories of what is behind character’s decisions. I feel good when I am proven right but love it more when a twist in the tale moves it in a direction I was not expecting. This got me thinking about other books I have read and the shows that I watch on TV. Nearly all have a love story woven in, by that I mean boy meets girl or boy likes boy or even girl falls for girl. But I do not read or watch for that reason. I am fed up of the X-Factor style sob story or the idea that a character is motivated by doing it for the love of their life. I don’t mind the love between a family but that lusty, sickening I can’t live without you stuff just makes my head spin and my stomach churn. The only genre that seems to dispense with this ideal is comedy. Not many Terry Pratchett novels have a love story and most sitcoms use it as more dysfunctional couples or are set in places where love like that is abnormal, I am talking about things like The IT Crowd or Father Ted. These are shows and books that I feel most passionate about. It was then that I started to think about my own writing. Not a single piece I have written or plan to write has a love story in it. I am in a very settled place in my personal life, I have a wonderful wife and a gorgeous son so don’t need to think about this stuff. OK I do do the odd romantic thing but I am not thinking ‘I would die for you!’ The thing is I would die for my wife and son I just don’t portray that in everyday life. Therefore when I write I don’t thinking about these things, yes I feel uneasy writing a love story and would feel physically sick writing a sex scene, I think that is largely down to mentioning anatomy that is generally hidden from view and it all feeling a bit low-class porn, however, in some stories I actively avoid it. The Wings of Aysh-Karal is about ideas other than love and a teen fiction book I am planning moves away from that as I feel it would detract from the story. So the thing that I realise about myself is that I like subterfuge, I like twists and turns, a story taken into an unexpected place and don’t want a love story cluttering that up or taking me away from the real point of the tale. But is this the correct way to think? Do we need a little love to bring different audiences in? Can we really have a tale devoid of the traditional idea of a love story? I think we can, I think we need to be bold and I think we need to tell the story we want and not have to place in plot devices that we feel do not fit just to conform to social norms. I intend to send one or two of my stories to publishing houses, it will be interesting to see if they notice the lack of a love story and want that woven in just to reach a larger audience or they see what I write for what it is, a story that is intended to intrigue and entertain, and hopefully keep people guessing.

Does the new Star Trek bode well for Star Wars?

Whilst I watched a lot of Trek when I was young, I was never really a massive fan. Wars, yes Wars is where it is at. I fell in love with Vader, Chewbacca and R2 when I was younger and in the Trek vs Wars debate I always came down on the Wars side. For me Trek was too much talking and stories quickly wrapped up in the last five minutes of a show. Wars was expansive, intriguing, full of battles and big set pieces. It had a villain you just could not hate and was far far cooler. Despite the debacle of Episodes 1 and 2 (I love the clever story of Episode 3 and the dark moments such as Anakin killing young ones and order 66 so will not have a bad word said against it! Ok the acting was terrible, you can have that!) I have never lost my love for the saga. Trek, on the other, I discarded some years ago like some child’s toy found at the bottom of a draw when finally moving out of your parents home, feeling myself to old and mature to watch. It didn’t give me that childhood charm like Wars. Recently, however, I was invited to go see Star Trek Into Darkness with some friends. I don’t visit the cinema much so though, ‘what the heck, I’ll give it a go!’ I decided to pop the first Star Trek reboot on high priority on my LoveFILM list to make sure I had seen the prequel. Late one night I watched it and thought it to be decent viewing, nothing special but better than the Star Trek I had watched as a kid. Now mildly excited I went to see Into Darkness. Now that was a much better film. It had the morality and discussion of the series I had fallen out of love with, but also action and excitement with enough comedic elements to keep it fresh whilst not being over the top. But there was one scene, only a little scene, but a scene all the same that got me more excited than I could thought I could be. At one point Scotty is given some co-ordinates and takes a shuttle to check them out. As he flies round a small moon we get a shot of a planet, a planet that looks like Tatooine. It made me think, ‘this guy is directing Star Wars as well, I hope it’s this good!’ Into Darkness had dark elements as well, double-crossing and breaking of rules by a rebel with a cause, a just and right cause. What it got me thinking then was, does the improvements in the new Star Trek films bode well for the new Star Wars films as J.J. Abrams is directing these too? He also directed one of my favourite US series, Lost. Well the pilot episodes but those were some of the best. If Abrams can keep the dark feel and stylised visuals he has got with Star Trek then at least the films will look good. Acting in the new Trek is good as well so hopefully we wont get any of that horrendous Portman and Christensen false love stuff that makes you shudder with every syllable. The only thing then is the script, with what has been learnt about comedy from Jar Jar Binks then we can only expect this to be improved. As it is written by Michael Arndt, the likelihood is that it will be pretty good (well I am only really saying that from watching Toy Story 3 and Brave!). All in all those Disney concerns might be being pushed to one side and if Star Trek is anything to go by then the other Star franchise should, hopefully, be reborn successfully this time.

Is Dr. Who getting too American?

Before getting started on this post I would just like to point out that I do not dislike American TV, some of my favourite shows are American (Lost, Once Upon a Time, The Mentalist, The Big Bang Theory, The Walking Dead). This post is simply about the way that British and American TV does different things. Whilst I think some shows over here could do with the big budget American twist, some shows are decidedly less because of it. Dr. Who, in my opinion, is one of those shows. I understand that it is now extremely popular with our cousins across the sea but it is a British institution. There are some slight annoyances with the American way of doing things that I feel do not fit with Dr. Who. Firstly is the idea of splitting a series (yes it is a series, not a season!). It frustrates us Brits, we don’t mind a series finishing on a cliff hanger but to stop it half way through for no apparent reason seems silly. I understand that Amy and Rory going was a big thing, but to stop there was not right in my opinion. We did not need a Christmas special then, surely Clara could have been woven into other stories. That may have added more mystery and you could have had many adventures where she turned up before becoming the Doctor’s assistant thus building more intrigue into her character. The thing, however, that I find American TV shows like to do is create self-contained stories with a nice start, middle and end in one forty-five minute show. As you can see from the American shows I love, these break from the mould and have more of a continuing saga feel about them. Dr. Who was always a saga type of affair, the classic series had stories in parts and the new series had some one-off stories and some multi-part tales. Quite often there would be a strand that wove them together. Whilst I do think these strands have become a bit shoe-horned in these days and I like some one-off stories, too many pass quickly without being noticed. Many classic American shows build up the tension and drama then in the last five minutes of the show everything resolves itself and is back to normal ready for the next episode. This is one reason I fell out of love with shows like Star Trek and The X-Files. Dr. Who seems to have fallen into that bracket a lot, a bit of peril, the story starts to get going then suddenly there is something that solves the problem and in a few minutes we are back to normal. I am not saying this is always bad but it does start to make things predictable. Episodes such as Cold War, The Crimson Terror, Hide and Nightmare in Silver all seem to end just as they were getting good. Why did we not have any two-part stories? Whilst I still love Dr. Who I am starting to grow a little discontented and am concerned it may end up being one of those shows I lose interest with. The good news is that the last episode of series seven was a cracker and I am looking forward to finding out who John Hurt’s character really is. Let’s just hope for some more of this in the 50th Anniversary special and beyond.

Could you have a late night Dr. Who?

I was having a brief facebook conversation with my friend, journalist and highly talented musician Tom Girard (you can find lots of his music and film reviews on his blog) about Dr. Who. In particular the episode Cold War. Whilst we both loved it, I yearned for a bit more combat and maybe some views of gore rather than what was hinted at. When stating this to Tom, he said that it would not be Dr. Who with this more mature content. That got me to thinking, could they do two versions much like they do with extended editions of some comedy panel shows? In this case there would be a short version for kids and a late night version, that was extended with extra scenes, for adults? And if so, would there be a market for this? Ok, I don’t think it would happen for budgetary reasons, but it makes an interesting argument. Would Dr. Who lose it’s appeal if it was more adult orientated? For me it is on the cusp of being an adult program anyway, they often take very dark stories and weave these to a positive ending with almost no bloodshed. But if they added more gore, would that mean sex and drugs would need to be added to make it truly post watershed? For me that would definitely destroy the show. Although that said, if I was single and had Clara as my assistant I might see if she wanted to be more than friends! I suppose if you look at some of the more adult sci-fi movies and shows they become more a version of soft core porn than true science fiction and that is definitely not what we want. Also those other shows that do late night versions, such as Hollyoaks and Neighbours, seem to churn out horrendous rubbish and strange scenes just to push the boundaries (well I think Hollyoaks is horrendous all the time!). Would we want our beloved Doctor to be put into that situation? Not me. Maybe I am talking myself out of the idea. It couldn’t hurt to try one episode though, and then seek the public’s views. I suppose though, that many families sit down to watch it together. May I should just stop thinking about this, maybe it is a strange idea that would rip apart the foundation Dr. Who is built on. I just think that some episodes could be so much more with only a tiny bit of post watershed content. All in all I love Dr. Who and avidly watch it every week so I can’t complain too much!

Why would you not read a book on your Kindle? Apparently because Kindles aren’t for reading books on!

Maybe it is my age showing through, maybe it is because I am trying to become an author, but the new Kindle Fire HD advert has really really annoyed me. A few years ago Kindle was revolutionary in that you could download digital copies of books and take them with you whilst you were on the go. It had so many good features like the ability to download and store thousands of books, change text sizes, get it to read to you, find out what words meant straight away as well as linking to other work by authors. The beauty of the Kindle store is that it allows people like me to post short stories for cheap and get a readership. We can all become self-publishers in a digital age. Then the wave of copies came along, that was good for competition. But then came the tablets (or rather the tablets got smaller, more portable and much more powerful). So Kindle changed. We got the Kindle Fire with its lovely screen and choice of apps, movies and games. So now the Kindle Fire is more like a tablet you can read on. But the crime has happened now in my eyes, the new advert shows that you play games, watch a movie and surf the net on the go. But what does it lack? It does not show that it is a device for reading. Kindle Fire has now just become another tablet, marketed to a visual age. It has moved away from its primary purpose as a device to promote literature and has merged in with the digital age stating clearly, why read when you can play games and watch movies. Maybe I should not be annoyed, Kindle Direct Publishing allows me to get my work on the Internet, to a wider audience and even make some money from it (well maybe it will one day!). I am just so frustrated by this marketing change of direction, moving away from the uniqueness that Kindle created.What is more interesting is that I looked for the advert online and only found the American version. This has someone reading in it. Why doesn’t the UK version? Are we too stupid to be able to read or has it been cut for air time? Maybe there is a short and long version, if so someone has cut the main point of the Kindle!  Is this then a clever business strategy to allow more people to access Kindle or another nail in the coffin of reading?

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Delight

Maybe it is because I have not read the book, maybe it IS a travesty but unlike so many reviews I read about The Hobbit I actually enjoyed it. My biggest concern was not that I would not like the film but simply that people said it dragged. One thing I loved about The Lord of the Rings trilogy was that, despite being three hours each, they felt much quicker than that, moving at an alarming rate and keeping you hooked for more. The Hobbit started a bit slowly but did make you feel all nostalgic for the other trilogy. When the Dwarfs arrived at Bag End I was concerned that it was going to end up one silly gag after another but to my delight it settled down pretty quickly. In between the jokes and over the top action there was some serious moments that at times tugged on the old heart strings. It just seemed to have enough comedy, when you thought it was going a little too far then it would pull it back again.

The reviews did seem fixated that Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum was as far as the film got but there is a lot that happens before that and I never felt it moved at too slow a pace, somethings were draw out longer than maybe they needed to but it was not as if I was there going ‘come on, we know what’s going to happen lets just get there.’ The setting too was lavish, flowing on well from Lord of the Rings, they even made it feel like it was  before the event. Sometimes prequels can feel more advanced than the originals and feel at odd with what is effectively about to happen (take Star Wars as an example), but I never felt The Hobbit was anything but a section of the same story just set before hand, I think the fantasy nature of the film helped and the links to The Lord of the Rings were clear showing that it was not just a film adaptation of a children’s book but actually fits in with the whole story. My only real criticism here is that no-one seems to die, the dwarfs are in such peril a lot of the time but they always find a way out. I think to be more realistic (I know it’s a film with orc, dwarfs, elves and wizards but just go with me!) one or two could have faced an untimely end.

I have heard that there are many changes from the book but as previously mentioned I have not read it. Maybe when I get round to it (I need to finish Return of the King first!) I will change my mind, but once again I disagree with many film critics, this was a lovely story well told that had comic moments but was also a lot darker than I thought it would be. Tolkien’s story would be hard to do wrong after the success of Lord of the Rings and I feel some reviews are harsh. Is it a bad film? No. Is it worse than Lord of the Rings? Possibly. Does it feel part of the franchise? Most definitely. All in all it was  a delight to watch, again I did not feel as if I was in the cinema for three whole hours and am looking forward to the next two (a cash in I know but if they are all at least as good at this it is not a bad thing). Maybe I should thank the reviewers, I have mention a lot previously about not going in expecting much. I don’t think I did because of bad reviews and came out pleasantly surprised. It might not be the best film ever made but it is one the best I have seen at the Cinema for a long while. Maybe that says something about the state of film making today, I personally think it was actually pretty good.