The 5 Best HBO Shows

The American television industry had shockwaves running through it this week as president Michael Lombardo left after 33 years at the network, 9 of them as network head. Lombardo has spearheaded some of the networks most loved programming, notably he was responsible for guiding Game Of Thrones into development. The future for the network is now somewhat uncertain, not in a “they’re going out of business” way, but in a “wonder what’s happening next” way. Longtime collaborator Terence Winter quit halfway through development of the second series of Vinyl, Westworld had production halted when it was decided it needed retooling, and Game Of Thrones is suffering from rumours that it will end after another two seasons (or in other words; the time it takes George R.R. Martin to decide on a verb). So let’s celebrate the network with this, a look at the best work they’ve produced. This isn’t ranked by order of popularity, or critical success, just personal preference, so statistically nobody will agree with this, if that’s the case, comment and tell us where I went wrong.

5. Sopranos

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One of THE shows of the 2000’s. It was almost like they saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and said “Awww, Britain thinks they can make gangster related media, how adorable” and reclaimed America as the centrepiece for gangster films and television shows. I said “almost like”, the pilot was actually ordered in 1997, so it’s just a coincidence. But meh, still an awesome show. The effect it had on television cannot be understated, it could easily be argued that it was this, not Breaking Bad that legitimised television as an artform, not as a stepping stone on the way to film. If it wasn’t for this there wouldn’t be Six Feet Under, there wouldn’t be The Shield. It was this, more than anything, that legitimised HBO as a network that provides high concept dramas, a network that will produce content you wouldn’t get anywhere else. This was a show that could only really be done on this network, it was too brutal, too uncommercial to be made by anyone else.

4. Game Of Thrones

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A show so good it deserves its place here despite me having never seen an episode. A show once described (not by a critic, or anybody important, but by a woman behind me on the bus) as like “Merlin with muff”. Everyone knows roughly when Harry Potter was published, and it’s the same with a lot of book adaptations, but I think a lot of people would be surprised to discover the first book was published in 1996, yet most people weren’t aware of it until the TV series (the series didn’t really pick up until A Feast Of Crows in 2005). Without the show the book series would be highly regarded, but with it? It’s become a cultural phenomenon, and shown that you can do not just high concept, but high budget adaptations too. If the show was made sooner then the chances of Harry Potter being a TV series instead of film would be much higher, and we might have got Rik Mayall as Peeves, AS WE DESERVE!

3. Veep

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A show so good that it’s replaced The Office as evidence that American adaptations of British sitcoms can occasionally work out. Is this better than The Thick Of It? Not quite, but is it worthy enough to be discussed on its own? Definitely. It wasn’t really the easiest show to adapt, ABC attempted it in 2007 with Michael McKean (of Spinal Tap and Better Call Saul fame) and Oliver Platt in the leads. They made the pilot, and by all accounts it was pretty awful, they turned it into a conventionally shot sitcom, removed all improvisation and swearing, and then were surprised when it didn’t work. It would be like if you remade Transformers and took out all references to any robots, removed baking from Great British Bake Off, or added jokes to Joey. So when a second adaptation was announced, people were kind of worried. Then it was announced that Armando Iannucci would be directly involved and people were excited again. Then it was announced that Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the lead and I became very excited as I was a massive Seinfeld fan. I was slightly concerned how an American version of this would be, but it’s just as sweary and brilliant as the original. The original was good, but it didn’t have the line “That’s like trying to use a croissant as a fucking dildo, it doesn’t do the job, and it makes a fucking mess”. It’s probably helped not just by Iannucci as showrunner (at least until the 5th season when David Mandel took over almost seamlessly), there’s other talent behind the camera too. The list of director’s is like a who’s who of British television comedy: Chris Morris, Chris Addison, Tristam Shapeero etc. This show is a mesh of British and American talent, and is all the better for it. Long may it continue (still needs Peter Capaldi though)

2. Curb Your Enthusiasm

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Seinfeld is undoubtedly one of the biggest American sitcoms of all time (sadly, one which has never really got the love it deserves over here) so it was always going to difficult for the creator, Larry David to pull off that greatness again. Yet he managed it, this show not just matches his previous show, at many times it beats it. Seinfeld had a weak period, the last two seasons in particular are nowhere near as good as the earlier seasons, but Curb hasn’t suffered that problem. The first season is a little off as the show is still finding its feet, but the second one is just all kinds of brilliant and details the character attempting to make a show after the success of Seinfeld, so lots of meta-comments and the media, lots of in-jokes, and a season long story arc. Basically, all the pretentious stuff that film students love. Oh yeah, the cameos. Because Larry David plays himself, and he konws famous people, there’s a lot of celebrity cameos; Ricky Gervais, John McEnroe, Mel Brooks all send themselves up beautifully. The Ricky Gervais one is important because he also made a cameo-heavy sitcom: Extras. There’s one major difference between the way the cameos are handled thought: Extras is defined by the cameos, episodes can almost be titled after them. People think “oh, that’s the Samuel L Jackson episode”, or “that’s the Orlando Bloom episode” and that’s how they’re defined, in Curb, the story comes first, and it’s all the better for it. The best one is probably Michael J. Fox, where he uses his Parkinsons as an excuse to be a bit of a dick in one of the best “I shouldn’t be laughing at this” moments, of which the show has plenty (a highlight is the episode where a holocaust survivor has dinner with someone from the TV series Survivor, and they argue over which one is the true survivor).

1. Last Week Tonight

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An odd choice for number one, I know. Not the funniest, not the best made, but definitely the most important. Like a surprisingly high amount of American political comedy, this owes its existence to The Daily Show. When Jon Stewart took a break from the show in 2013 to make Rosewater, he handed the show over to John Oliver, who filled the role admirably. That’s not an easy role to fill, as anybody who has been on the comments section of the facebook page of the show since Trevor Noah took over can attest (for the record, I think he’s doing an excellent job). John Oliver’s stint was so successful HBO offered him a series. Unlike the Daily Show this only has one episode a week, so isn’t really suited for extremely topical stuff. But what this does mean is the areas they do focus on, they REALLY focus on, aiming for them like US Military planes aim for terrorist training camps, only unlike the military, this show usually hits what it’s aiming for. Whether he’s creating Jeff The Diseased Lung in a segment on tobacco companies, or starting Our Lady Of Perpetual Exemption to show how televangelists should by all rights be told to go f*ck themselves with that knife-penis from Seven, this show constantly creates amazing segments which are perfect for sharing on social media. His reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris last year was particularly fantastic, basically telling ISIS “if you gigantic arseholes are hoping to win a war of culture with France, good fucking luck”. To me, a personal highlight will alway be his war of words with former FIFA vice president Jack Warner, which led to the corrupt former executive to respond, calling him a “comedian fool” in a really badly made video. It’s weird, you’d think a guy who (allegedly) diverted relief funds from a Haiti earthquake appeal, and illegally sold black market tickets (not allegedly, this definitely happened, and he was punished for this million dollar making fraud by being made to pay back $250,000) would have enough money to make sure his videos were of a better production quality.

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The 5 Best Film-Based Video Games

Happy Friday The 13th everyone! Now like all of you I’ll be celebrating this most holy of days by killing horny teenagers near a lake somewhere (lake, puddle, it’s all the same). But other people celebrate it differently. Since the days of Jesus fighting a Pterodactyl in the Roman Colosseum, some people have watched some of the Friday The 13th films on this day. So it makes logical sense that I should take advantage, celebrate this by blogging about it. But I’ve never seen any of the films so instead I’m going to talk about video game adaptations of films, because there was once a video game adaptation of the film, and do I need another reason?

5. Goldeneye

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Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. This is the first game everybody talks about when they talk of truly great video games. There’s not a word missing there, that should be “video games based on films”, that’s how good this game is. At the time I’d never watched a James Bond film, and even now I’ve seen one I still think he’s a prick, he’s a sociopathic monster who probably has so many STD’s that he should pretty much change his name to Mydia, Chlamydia. But despite that, I still love this game. It has not aged well however, but that’s mainly because of the lot of the things we found innovative in the game are now standard. Before this game it was normal for weapons and ammo etc just to be laying around, this made ammo collecting logical: you could only pick up what had been dropped by people you killed. Yes, there were a few bits of ammo laying around, but your main source of it was the people you killed. Then there’s the multiplayer. There are two types of people who played video games in the 90’s. Those who spent hours shooting their friends in the head in multiplayer and obeying the “no oddjobs” rule, and liars! Dirty stinking liars!

4. Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy

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This game comes from a different time, whereas modern games help the player, sometimes with tutorials, sometimes with guidance during the game, and sometimes with just skipping parts of it if you find it too difficult. Gaming is now focused on enjoyment, making the player have fun (with a few notable exceptions). It wasn’t always the case, however. Some video games used to make you wonder what you had done to piss off the creators. The biggest genre for this were text adventure games. Games which by their nature were quite annoying: you could spend hours trying to talk to a character before you work out the exact phrasing needed (for example: “Talk to person” wouldn’t be accepted, but “converse with person” would). This game is fiendishly difficult, but also very funny. It will make you laugh, scream in anguish, and then hate yourself, a bit like having sex with a clown. I’m not exaggerating by the way, the game is available here if you don’t believe me.

3. Aladdin

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Oh, should have mentioned, I am not doing these in any particular order, otherwise there’s no way this would be higher than Goldeneye. But it is very very good. A 2D side scrolling platformer that stands out on a console which it seemed like almost every other game was a platform game. I don’t think people can appreciate how hard it must have been for a platform game to stand out in the early 90’s. You were competing against Mario and Sonic at their peaks. The Mario games had some of the best level design in video game history, easing you into an unforgiving game with innovative gameplay that filled you with wonder, whilst Sonic went “vroom” and moved quickly. So for a game to stand out it must be truly great, and this is. I would talk about why, but I already did it here so anything I’d say would just be repeating myself. So because anything I say would be repeating myself, and I don’t like repeating myself I won’t say anything more, because I don’t like repeating myself.

2. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

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Because rarely has a video game of a film been so faithful in tone to the film. Anybody who has played video game versions of films and television shows know that the games can play fast and loose with the themes of the film. For example: there’s a Doctor Who game where you play as the famous pacifist, and go around shooting and killing everyone. In Scarface, crime totally pays, and the Fight Club game has Fred Durst. This game doesn’t suffer from that. It’s a throwback game based on a film which loves 80’s video games. It’s not just the film it uses for inspiration, the graphic novel has a scene where two characters get beaten at the same time and an achievement pops up, if you recreate this in the game, the same achievement pops up. It’s little touches like that which are missing from a lot of games.

 

1. Alien Isolation.

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This game is terrifying, it makes the Alien scary again, which it should be. It should be a fearful beast, it shouldn’t be something you can handle with a few shots from a pistol. This game makes you fear it, and that’s wonderful. You know how highly regarded this game is? It put faith back into the franchise after Colonial Marines, a game so bad someone attempted to sue the makers, and won. Whereas that game had you running around shooting aliens by the hundreds (and just made them into another enemy), this game only has the one alien, and you can’t kill it, all you can do is hide and survive. This is the survival horror game the latest generation has been waiting for. I am in no way saying that the genre is not good anymore, just that it’s mainly indie developers doing it now, you don’t have many major releases anymore (I mean, P.T got cancelled for f*cks sake), most of the franchises people used to turn to for the genre have now changed into more action games, so it’s good to see a game where you’re completely helpless, a game where (contrary to video game logic) exploration and discovery will probably kill you.

 

So yeah, that’s it. Hope you enjoyed it, and Fuck You Konami

Why We (Already) Love Captain America: Civil War

Erm, because it’s good? That’s it, blog’s over everyone, go home and play with your food, eat your wives and make love to your xbox (side note: Ex-Box is a truly vile nickname for someone’s vagina, don’t use it, you’re better than that).

But yeah, this film. It’s……amazing. Pre-hype for this was pretty intense, until Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn’t You (Forget About Me), then people started to get concerned. Was easy to see why, it seemed like Civil War was following a lot of of BvS mistakes: they released a trailer that seemed to give away the plot, then another one which introduced a character people weren’t certain if was going to be in it, and they seemed to be introducing a lot of new characters in one film. I’ll admit, I was really disappointed that they put Spider-Man in the trailer. I thought “but it would have worked better if it was a shock, stupid idiots. I hate them all! Burn them!” But here’s the thing: I was wrong. Spider-Man came in waaaaaay too early in this film for him to be a surprise character. Besides, if that happened then people would walk out talking about “Oh my God, I can’t believe Spider-Man was in that!” as opposed to how good the film is. Plus that information would have leaked in the first screenings, even if you tried to avoid it you’d see it everywhere on facebook when you woke up on release day. So in the end it made sense, so so much sense. God damn I loved this movie, probably my favourite Marvel film so far, had everything: sensible plotting, good characterisation, good action sequences, just, everything you want. Anyway, enough pointless random conversation: let’s get started on purposeful random conversation.

1. Spider-Man

He’s one of the characters I’ve never really liked in films, he’s always supposed to be a teenager but is never played as one. At least, not an actual teenager, he’s played like the leading man in a teen drama where “anxiety” and “shy geek” just means “is friends with the most popular girl in school but hasn’t dated her yet” and the only sign of their geekdom is that people with letters on their jacket shove them into lockers. This Spider-Man however is a teenager, he geeks out over superheroes, he messes up, he gets overexcited (which then leads to more mistakes). More importantly: he’s fun. He’s a funny, engaging character whom is inherently likeable.

2. Black Panther

This film is not just Spider-mans, it’s not even fully Captain America, this film belongs partly to Black Panther. This film is his origin story. Which is fantastic news, A LOT of people have seen Civil War, which means a lot of them are now familiar with the character, so now when he has his solo movie (which thanks to this serving as his origin, should be able to avoid the whole “boring first movie” syndrome that plagues so many films) a large number of people who ordinarily wouldn’t go to see the film now will. They’re invested in the character, they’re invested in the story, and they want to see what happens next.

3. The Villain

I’ve seen one or two people annoyed that the villain in this movie is just a guy. He’s not a very rich guy, he’s not a powerful or influential guy, he’s got no powers at all. He is, just, a guy. But to me that’s perfect. Who better to show the Avengers the damage they’re doing to the man on the street than a man on the street? A man who has suffered personal loss due to the actions of a few self-appointed übermensch’s. Superhero movies needed to find their humanity again, they needed a human touch (not the human torch, nobody needs that guy). The characters needed to be shown the consequences of their actions, they needed to create their own villain, not through a mistake, not through an accident in a lab somewhere, but by their very actions which make them heroic. This guy realises that he can’t beat the Avengers, he needs them to defeat themselves, and he sets it up beautifully (which is another thing I like about this film, it doesn’t really have a happy ending, everything’s not fixed, this film truly changes the dynamic of the group).

4. The Airport Scene

Possibly the best action sequence in a Marvel film so far. Every character is given a chance to shine and showcase their abilities. We see why Tony Stark wanted Spider-Man so much, we see Ant-Man do…..well, trust me it’s amazing. So much better than the action sequence which opens the film (which to me was a little too jerky and didn’t really flow properly. Why do so many directors move the camera during action sequences now? It very makes us feel like we’re really there, instead it just makes it dicking difficult to focus on the scenes they’ve spent months working on). One of my biggest problems with Age Of Ultron was that the fight scenes felt pointless, there were too many moments which felt like someone high up said “ok, we need an action scene here otherwise people will get bored” instead of “we need an action scene here to develop the story”. This doesn’t really have that, there are quite a few action scenes, but they’re well placed within the story and they all make sense. Plus there’s a certain uniqueness to them; the character’s are all slightly holding back. They’re going more for showmanship and intimidation than “I am going to kill you” (with the exception of one rather notable three way fight) which brings a different dynamic to the scenes.

5. Next time.

I’m already excited for the next one. There’s so many questions I want to ask (but not in a “this movie didn’t answer these questions and I’m unsatisfied way) and so many things I’m looking forward to seeing. I’m already excited for films that won’t be out for years to come. THAT’S how good this movie is. Basically: here’s the things I’m looking forward to seeing/finding out:

  • How will Captain America cope now he doesn’t have his shield?
  • What will happen with Martin Freemans character? He’s too big an actor for such a small part so I assume they’re doing something big.
  • How will people react to Iron Patriot? One of America’s soldiers is now paralysed due to superheroes, American’s are perfectly okay with foreign civilians dying, but when a soldier is shot at? Shit goes down.
  • What’s the villains next step? Does he even have one?
  • How will Hulk and Thor react?
  • What will the next stage of the MCU films be like? This film changed the dynamic of them completely: the heroes can no longer operate in the open, they are now forced underground. We won’t get the good guys teaming up with the military from now on, we’ll have the military shooting at the good guys.
  • Will other countries use the superheroes as an excuse to declare war? All, say, North Korea would need to do is stage a scene of massive devastation and frame someone from South Korea for it and claim they’re a superhero and it would be a pretence for war (with international approval as well as South Korea has disobeyed international law).

Oh, and spoilers btw. I, probably should have mentioned that earlier. Whoops.