Avengers #2, 2 British reality competitions shows, a book #2. Two!
The Bitter Twins (The Winnowing Flame #2):
This is the second in a fantasy trilogy (review of first here) in which a kind of Victorianish (in terms of tech) world is invaded by a species that wants to consume everything on the planet and where the defenders have been weakened to the point of near irrelevancy. While I wouldn't say the writing is at some other level or anything, to the author's credit, she definitely took the story places I didn’t see coming. I'm not saying that's good or bad necessarily (hard to determine that before seeing how it all wraps up in the 3rd book), but clearly she has a vision of where she wants her story to go. Without spoilering, this book picks up directly on the heels of the last one as the invasion ramps up and the main characters split up to go off on various quests in the hopes of finding a means of preventing being wiped out. While, sure, I think this could've been pared down a bit, it's still pretty good for the middle book in a series (which is generally a total snoozy tanker in many fantasy trilogies). Like I said, this one absolutely moved the plot into some unexpected directions by which I mean they were totally logical within the framework of the world but definitely not your typical setup for how the baddies might be defeated (which I'm presuming they will be though who knows). If you're looking for an entertaining genre book with a thought-out world and decent enough characters and writing to make your time investment worth it plus a plot that moves forward in this book and sets up a big showdown for the final book, well I'd say give this series a shot. While I've certainly been wrong about this before (I'm looking at you, CJ Polk!), I'm feeling fairly confident that the final book will deliver a satisfying payoff, words I will hopefully not end up eating but will report back here either way.
The Bridge (Season 1):
Note: This is NOT the Swedish cop show with the same title (which btw is totally great especially in the later seasons) or any of its remakes but rather a British Survivor-ish competition reality show about a group of people who - insanely I might add - have to work together to build a bridge to an island containing $100,000 (well pounds but I can't find the symbol on my keyboard) only they don't realize, until they get there (if they get there), that they're going to have to vote for one person to take it all. So the show is part social gameplay manipulation but mostly the sort of sheer unmitigated slogging-through-it-with-a-grin misery that the Brits seem to love as in has there ever been a tube strike in London where 90% of workforce didn't plaster on a smile and walk for 5 hours to work then immediately turn around and walk home? No, there hasn't and this show is exactly that only raining and cold and, um, did I mention they have to build, like, a half-mile bridge? As in chop down trees with handtools, lash them together with a limited supply of rope, canoe out to go find the plastic floats that have been scattered around the lake, haul them back, fasten them to the 5-log bridge piece they just made then go do all that all over again. Like 500 times? Over roughly 2-3 weeks. All non-engineers. You'd think this show would be boring and I don't know maybe to other people it is, but I was RIVETED! It's only 6 episodes and the level of snaky underhanded machinations that show up at around episode 4 or 5 are fantastically gripping, like one guy is complete sociopathic charmer who's busily manipulating everyone in order to get the money and nix his rivals all while looking like an angel and well I won't tell you whether or not it works but I can say it's very entertaining to watch. The producers also throw in some really manipulative (in a good way) twists in that they deliver packages - well a flare goes off and there's a limited amount of time for everyone to scramble and grab a canoe to get the package - with nasty and/or difficult choices a la "you can have this big pile of food... as long as someone volunteers to quit the game right now"; I think, because it's Brits and politeness is a cultural thing in a way it isn't in much of the world (sigh), these sorts of challenges butt up directly against that quality and it's pretty entertaining to watch people squirm but pretend they're not. I'm not sure I would've enjoyed the show as much if it were longer because, well, you're just watching people build a bridge and snap at each occasionally in cold weather so it's in some ways slow. But for 6 episodes, especially because of the way the manipulation revs up in the final episodes and the real question mark - which again I won't spoiler - of whether they'll even complete the challenge at all made for a strangely compelling competition reality show and while it's not as produced as Survivor nor does it have the same types of social strategizing, it covers similar ground so if you like that show you might like this one.
The Great British Sewing Bee (Season 7):
Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel Universe #19) - So this movie was operating on two assumptions both of which were incorrect in my case: (a) that I remembered anything, even one single shred of plot or character setup, from the prior movies and (b) that I would infer that the "infinity" in the title was the running time of the film - if only it'd only been infinity long! - but given these two problems I will still do my best here. Before that though, there's just one thing I've observed over my seeming eons-long deep-dive into the Marvel universe (and this I actually do remember) which is that no matter how powerful anyone is, how much tech he/she/they/unidentifiable has, how sci-fi the universe operates, how much control a powerful being has over the raw nature of quantum mechanics itself, the person/being’s size, strength, aggression, or control over mega-lasers or whatever guns or whatnot they carry, shoot from their fingers, or merely emit, these movies all somehow wind up in hand-to-hand combat which is perhaps a fair warning to our future selves: whatever amazing planet-busting weapons you devise, dear sweet humans (or whatever you call yourselves) millennia from now, don't give up the kickboxing.
Let me ask you something: pretend you're a 5-year-old and you have a group of 5-year-old pals and a, say, high-school defensive back steals one of your friend's lunch money, would you think you and your pals had a decent chance of bringing that footballer down? I mean assuming you’re not a completely self-deluded idiot or, alternatively, Damien from The Omen? Because that's what this movie is. For the first chunk of this film, the kindergartners (read: all The Avengers) get really upset because the high-schooler (this would be a Big Bad from some prior movie whom I totally forgot about but I think is Josh Brolin) is taking over the universe and, for the final half, they just keep pounding his 250 lb. pure muscle frame with their tiny baby hands while he whips the diapers right off of them. While I like to believe that someone at some point in this process pointed out that hopelessly tossing yourself at enemy in a battle that can't be won, while certainly the history of much of human warfare until the invention of distance weapons, might not be the greatest plot for an infinte film such as this one, I’m thinking that didn’t happen as, in addition to being an idiotic non-plan, that quote unquote plot doesn't really given anyone much to do except the same thing over and over and over which is punch things and be punched. Like not even a "Big Bad's invincible but if we get the blah blah blah then maybe we have a shot.” I mean to be clear: I'm sure they'll be fine, but watching people in costumes essentially throw themselves off a cliff over and over becomes really tiring if you can believe it! Anyway, here’s how it all gets that way.
So apparently there are a bunch of super powerful stones - why they exist, how they got that way, or what they're supposed to do when they're not being collected to destroy the universe is, per uzh, beyond me - and, as with Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, people who leave toys in boxes for 30 years hoping to auction them on Ebay, stamps, flagpole sitting (for my nonagenarian fans), those random M&M flavors that occasionally emerge (like Neapolitan which should've been the subject of the same public outcry generated by all those people who accidentally/deliberately ate Tide Pods (which, if they’d been Neapolitan M&M-flavored never would’ve become a trend at all I can assure you)), cryptocurrencies (good luck with that, peoples), or, as far as I'm concerned, anything to do with baseball, i.e. where there's a limited edition of something, someone wants to collect it and, in this case, put them all into some gauntlet that will allow all of the stones to merge into an unstoppable superpower - and like how that gauntlet was constructed and beta-tested without a stone in sight is, I guess, also part of the magic.
The owner of the gauntlet is someone deeply committed to a personal philosophy about population growth but less in the sense of worrying about everyone surviving and more in the sense of one twin eating another in the womb. Conveniently, the writers didn't even bother with a nonsense backstory to back his theory - for the purposes of this discussion I'm assuming gauntlet-wearing universe-wiping Josh Brolin identifies as male but someone feel free to correct me if I got that wrong - but rather went straight for Hitler-y evil villain where he for absolutely no reason whatsoever and based on nothing has a "culling the herd" theory, one in which wiping out half the universe will somehow make it better for the other half, though what this movie seems to be lacking is any sense of why he cares one way or the other. To be fair to the incredible amount of thought the entire studio and writing squad put into this, Josh Brolin's original planet had some kind of resource problem for which Josh Brolin's solution was to wipe out a random half of them - though not to point out the obvious here which is what I'm about to do: if there's a resource problem and your desire is to have it dealt with by random death, why is there a need to do anything as won't some chunk of the population simply be wiped out... due to lack of said resource? Because it's not that he wants to wipe out a specific part of the population in order to empower some other (like Hitler) but rather just an amorphous "half" and which half doesn't really seem to make a difference. But okay, you're passionate about half and you love randomness, it's exciting to gamble, or you're lazy and "wipe out half" is just easier than picking and choosing and you’re too impatient to wait for nature to do it or, while you're a cold-hearted killer who wants to wipe out half the population sure, you don't want the survivors to think of you as judgy so you'll leave it all to a dice roll - I hear you. But just one quick thing: once half is gone and the remaining half reproduces a bunch, is this cycle like gonna repeat? Oh and to repeat one other quick thing: why do you care if people survive or not? Aaaaaaaaaannyhoooooo....
Of all the Marvels I've seen so far - which I guess would be 19 including this one - this was by far, I mean really by far, the most plotless and like 90 hours of plotless I might add. At least in (most) of the other ones, the characters are up to something, yes something that generally results in millions of innocents being murdered but something nonetheless. For example - and given how little of these things I remember I hope everyone's very impressed with whatever examples I'm about to yank out of my brainpan - in Ant-Man they're stealing a suit, Guardians of the Galaxy breaking out of prison, Thor 1 he's retrieving his hammer, etc. etc. (my way of saying I've forgotten the plots of the other ones). And there's always a baddie of some kind interfering, but the baddie is generally around the same power level as the lead, like in - this is such impressive memory, me! - Doctor Strange the baddie was human too albeit partnered which some ill-defined outside power source or in any of the Iron Mans (Iron Men? here, here, and here) the baddies may have had a shitton of superpowered weaponry but nothing impossible to overcome. This one is not like that. Basically the movie goes out of its way to tell us over and over and over that nothing can stop Josh Brolin. And then that happens.
The other thing is this: yes, I'm sure it's VERY EXCITING if you're a Marvel superfan to see basically every superhero to date onscreen, but you know what's less exciting? Being unable to distinguish them because they're put in a the aforementioned quote unquote plot where whatever distinctions exist between their superpowers (and let's be real: not much) is completely wiped out other than maybe the color of the lasers or whatever streams from their hands/suit. Like I know there's a thing where people of different races have difficulty distinguishing facial characteristics of other races - most famously of course with White cops being incapable of distinguishing amongst Black people and deciding to just arrest anyone of that skin tone or I guess the age-old racist American cliche of all Asians looking alike, but studies have show the same thing is true regardless of race, i.e. Mexicans can better distinguish fellow Mexicans, Japanese Japanese, Indians Indians, etc. - so maybe it's just my non-superhero status that's making all superheroes look alike and if so I'm working on it, or just maybe it's the writers and directors of these things who seem mired in a total lack of creativity or, perhaps more generously, a targeted set of choices. Like we have suits - some robot-looking, some costume-y, all more or less exactly the same in terms of shielding though maybe there's different weaponry - we have usually purply lasery electricityish lightning bolty things, and we have punching/kickboxing. And I guess that's all we were able to come up with! Really the only one with a kind of differentish superpower is Doctor Strange with his reality-warping, but he doesn't even really seem to do that that much anymore.
So basically this movie is this: there's an unstoppable villain that all the suits, bolts, and punching can't bring down who, based on his deeply-felt philosophy - which mostly reminded me of a CEO in league with HR to cut staff in order to increase stock valuation (never forget, employees: HR works on behalf of the company against YOU) - decides to wipe out half the universe. Is that a plot? Wouldn't a plot have, I don't know, something the good guys might be able to do if only they can get there in time or somesuch or the baddie having an Achilles heel of some sort or some form of Wondertwinsy banding together that the superheroes might be able to do if only they can overcome some obstacle, or, you know, basically anything other than a bunch of people on a bolt-throwing suicide mission? Like, yeah, I'm sure it will all work out in the end - and trust me the end is a LONG TIME COMING as this movie ended, in its own mind, on a cliffhanger that no doubt will be resolved in some future film with lots of surviving - but wouldn't it have been nice if something had actually happened? Or if those jewel stone things had some purpose or use beyond destroying everything? Or I don't know anything? Like isn't the essence of a David and Goliath story the notion that David has a chance if only he can figure out Goliath's weakness or, in the more pop-psych way the writers of these films are so fond of, find something within himself to overcome the enemy? Because otherwise what you have is this movie, i.e. 1500000 hours of loud hand-to-hand bolt-throwing combat that you know in advance is going to come to naught.
Oh the thrills! I can hardly wait for the sequel.