Category Archives: TV

Defenders of the Earth

Defenders of the EarthIn the late 1980s, when I was a wee lad (ok, not that little but a bit younger than I am now) there was an awesome cartoon called Defenders of the Earth. It featured a number of very brightly dressed heroes that went out on exciting adventures together to battle the forces of evil, usually led by Ming the Merciless. I was previously aware of Flash Gordon, from the old black and white TV shows and then later from the seminal 1980 film starring Sam Jones, Timothy Dalton and of course the fabulous BRIAN BLESSED! You have to type his name like that in caps, because he is never ever quiet, in any interview. Then there was the Phantom, the Ghost Who Walks, who I knew from the comics created by Lee Falk. Added to that was Mandrake and Lothar, who I didn’t know plus a whole bunch of their kids, and unfortunately a weird fuzzy little alien thing, allegedly for comedy effect.

Anyway, the cartoon itself was pretty awesome, as it mashed all of these characters together on screen. Long before we had The Avengers battling aliens in New York City on the big screen we had the Defenders of the Earth. We had Flash blasting stuff out of the sky with his spaceship. We had Mandrake doing all sorts of clever and cunning things with his magic and generally outwitting the enemy. We had the mysterious and slightly brooding Phantom who was a physical and yet philosophical hero and Lothar, the muscle of the team who could build anything. He kind of reminded me of Panthro from Thundercats. The others would really be lost without him as he was the backbone of the team. Together they destroyed countless armies of ice warriors, saved villages from the evil Ming and a wide array of nasty allies and fought the good fight.

Normally the children in these shows are really annoying. They flap around and don’t do much, but in Defenders they were actually pretty involved, and reasonably competent. The most interesting character among them was Jedda Walker, the Phantom’s daughter. For those not familiar the Phantom is a legacy character, a seemingly eternal and ageless presence, but in fact the mantle is passed on from one generation to the next. In one episode of Defenders, the Phantom goes missing and is believed dead, and so Jedda becomes the Phantom. It might sound trivial but that kind of thing didn’t really happen a lot back then, especially not passing the mantle of a superhero from a man to a woman. I haven’t watched the episode since, and couldn’t tell you any details about it, but I still remember it today which indicates how unique it was at the time. Today we’ve currently got a female Thor at Marvel comics, but this was about 25 years ago and things were very different.

The whole series came out on DVD a couple of years ago and while some of the special effects and stories might not be great by today’s standards, it’s still a fun show to watch and one you can sit down with your kids to watch and not worry about. Partly in honour of the show, and partly because I like creating things and love Lego, I’ve submitted a project to Lego Ideas which you can find out about here. Those Lego Idea that receive enough votes are submitted to Lego for consideration and those they think have legs get made into proper sets. Previously submitted Lego Ideas that have made it into the shops include Back To The Future, Ecto 1 and Ghostbusters, Lego Birds, Research Institute with scientists and an awesome Exo Suit space thing. More info on the successful projects is available here.

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Beauty and the Beast – Month 5

Ep.17 – Down to a Sunless Sea – On the whole this episode was just ok. In short, an old flame of Catherine’s who was overbearing and controlling, turns up after several years and wants to reconnect with her before he dies. He’s supposed to be a changed man but slowly we start to see the signs that all is not well and he’s just as bad, in fact much much worse, than he was before. Then it all goes wrong, she gets into trouble and Vincent has to save her again. So, on the whole despite some changes, pretty formulaic. What’s most interesting to me is, long before Vincent and Catherine talk about this man, long before she even mentions it to Vincent, he has been having nightmares, and then waking flashes of the same thing. This vision of being pursued through the woods at night by someone persists and he tries to warn Catherine. In the end it all comes full circle, Catherine does end up running through the woods in terror, just as he saw. They fudge how he knew, but part of me today is thinking, wait, so does that mean that no only does Vincent have a strong empathic link with Catherine, but he’s also having visions of the future? He’s able to see the future? That is pretty cool and I hope the explore this a bit more but I have a feeling they don’t.

Ep. 18 – Fever – Mouse discovers a pirate shop full of treasure under the city. Greed infects the whole of down below and people who had nothing suddenly have the chance to use the treasure to buy new stuff they need but also want, instead of relying on stuff they find, or borrow, or are given.  All of this is focused through Cullen, one of the senior adults on the council who does some pretty nasty things for money, but we also hear about his life before and what made him leave the world above. Like most of them it is a tragic story full of heartache but he is the worst infected. There’s an odd moment when Catherine says it’s a disease from my world, as if the people down below are a different race of people. Not a bad episode, and the best bit about it was probably the cameo of some guy reading a George RR Martin book in a diner. It might even be him for all I know, but I spotted it straight away. A nice episode to get a bit more background on one of the supporting characters but I’m still waiting to find out about Winslow played by the great James Avery.

Ep. 19 – Everything is Everything – In this episode Catherine and Vincent try to help a gypsy boy clear his father’s name who has been wrongfully exiled from his people. Catherine is shown up by a street-wise kid with a mouth on him, but eventually she manages to win him over and prove that she’s a good person who is only trying to help him. The episode is so so and a little predictable, but it’s sweet and touching, and there are some interesting moments such as when the boy first comes face to face with Vincent. He doesn’t freak out, scream and run, but is just curious like most children. Yet again there is an echo of being an outsider, someone different from everyone else in society, living on the fridges and not being accepted.

Ep. 20 – To Reign In Hell – The show has always had more freedom than others. It’s not a cop show, so it is not always the same thing every week in terms of structure. There are recurring themes, being a modern day twist on an old fairy tale, but in general it has a lot more scope for stories than some TV shows. That being said this was by far the weirdest episode yet. Laden with quotes, visual cues to mythology, heck even the title of the episode comes from literature and is quoted and explained by a character in the story, this felt like a completely different story. A giant, yes a real giant who is never explained, kidnaps Catherine to take her down into the underworld, a red and hot and hellish place, where a cast out character now rules. He even wears a mask that makes him resemble the Phantom for cripes sake. So many things going on here, Vincent punting a narrow barge across a river in the underworld, a quest to save a damsel in distress, there was just too much. I felt bewildered and that someone had thrown everything at the wall and most of it had stuck. Also I had to go and open my big mouth a few episodes back about wanting to know more about Winslow. We find out a little more about him and then of course this is his last episode. All in all, a very jumbled and visually exciting episode that generally left me feeling a bit cold this close to the end of the first series.

Ep. 21 – Ozymandias – This episode was more on more familiar ground. Elliot Burch is going to build a giant mega huge tower, because he has a big ego and because he wants to and because he thinks he can do whatever he wants. Unfortunately the deep foundations necessary for the building threaten the top layers of the underworld which mean Vincent and everyone else would have to relocate even deeper and rebuild their lives again. Father is a little bit more dramatic saying it’s the end of their world, but to be fair to him there doesn’t seem to be any sites as suitable as the one they currently live in. Meanwhile Catherine is struggling with mixed emotion about Burch who is both evil and generous and he appears to care for her. Their interactions awaken emotions for both of them and there’s a marriage proposal. The resolution for this episode was quite interesting and unexpected. It also showed how much Catherine was willing to sacrifice for other people, especially Vincent, which is weird given what happens in the last episode.

Ep. 22 – A Happy Life – There’s been no mention of Catherine’s mother up to now, but we quickly learn in the first few minutes that she died when Catherine was young. On the anniversary of her mother’s death Catherine becomes emotional, sees how her friends are getting on with their lives, having families and apparently living the good life and she begins to feel alone, bereft and seeks psychiatric help to unravel and resolve her issues. What follows is a bit jumbled, but essentially Vincent is both the root of her loneliness and the best thing in her life so there’s lots of emotional wrangling before she decides something has to be done and she can’t go on like this. Vincent tells her to walk away from him forever, to go and live her life and be happy and there’s a lot of angst and heartache. Then it turns out her friends who apparently have perfect lives envy her life in the city. In the end Catherine decides she can’t live without Vincent and comes back to the city as she cherishes what she has even if she can’t be with him as a normal couple. Despite what I felt was rather a flat ending to the series that didn’t have a lot of punch there were a few good scenes, such as those between Catherine and her boss Joe. Once again it’s a rare male and female friendship without any romance and some great dialogue which gives a sort of shorthand about their relationship. I had kind of hoped that at the end of this season their relationship would progress a bit more, but apparently we’re not there yet.

Looking back at my comments about the last few episodes, I think the end of season 1 tailed off a bit. However, overall I have been continuously surprised and amazed by this series for many reasons and it has proven to be far better than I remembered with my rose tinted glasses of memory. I am now a proud owner of the whole three season box set so I will continue to watch the rest at some point, but probably at leisure without a self-imposed schedule.

A great bonus I found at the end of watching season 1 was a documentary and a short interview with Ron and Linda, which looked fairly recent in fact, with them talking about the series, favourite episodes, the writers and the style and dialogue of the show. Also, an added bonus which will spur me on to watch the next two seasons is they have done short introductions to certain episodes in series 2 and series 3.

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Beauty and the Beast – Month 4

If you’ve not read the previous posts then this will make no sense at all. But, I’m doing a rewatch of the TV show Beauty and the Beast with CE Murphy. And, much to my surprise, the show is a lot better than I remembered, or rather I was convinced my rose tinted memories would be trashed when the show was dragged into the harsh light and reality of 2014. In reality, the show is still really good today.

Ep. 13 – China Moon – This episode as a whole was quite good, not brilliant, but good. However, it was another Romeo and Juliet story where people from either two different worlds or different sides of the same world, cannot be together despite their feelings, once again reflecting what is happening with Catherine and Vincent. It’s starting to get a little thin now and I think this is the third such version. I’m also at the point where each time they don’t kiss I start to twitch and get close to shouting at the TV. Ok, I already have shouted, but I didn’t this episode, although it was a close call. This time instead of Protestants and Catholics, it’s Chinatown where a woman is marrying a young man to honour her grandfather who owes another man a great debt. Family honour and so on aplenty. Vincent goes bananas and actually kills several people to defend his home but is also shown to be a man of honour. I’ve used that word a lot in this episode but that’s it’s core. I’m hoping for more going forward, although I have a sneaky feeling it will not progress as fast as I would like.

Ep. 14 – The Alchemist – This was an interesting episode exploring a little further what happens to a person who doesn’t fit in or abide by the laws of the underground society. What if their crimes are so severe? What happens to them? A new street drug has ties to the underworld and is traced to a man exiled from the underworld, but he is still living underground, beyond the reaches of their territory. He threatens to reveal the secrets of those living underground if arrested and he’s beyond the borders of Father’s jurisdiction which creates a thorny issue to deal with. The episode itself was pretty good, but the information beneath the surface that they hint at was what really held my attention. The exiled man was one of the founders of the society with Jacob, he came up with the idea of communicating on the pipes and Jacob hints at other things. He also manages to disarm Vincent by hinting that there’s more to his origin than Jacob has told him, being found abandoned outside St Vincent’s hospital. This is the first time someone has said anything about his origin. For most people Vincent is simply different and that’s the end of it, but every time you see his face it’s hard to forget. This episode definitely asks lots of interesting questions but only answers a couple of them. Hopefully more of them will be addressed in the future.

Ep.15 – Temptation – This was a Joe focused episode, so Vincent had very little to do which was fine for a change. It focused on Joe being seduced by a beautiful attorney who was actually using him to delay a case he was due to take to court. It was handled really well and not ham-fisted at all, with him slowly becoming more and more distracted, leaving Catherine to be the bad and point out he’d been acting like a teenager. This episode highlights their friendship and it’s also the first time in years I can remember there being a strong friendship between two leading characters, a man and a woman, that didn’t then lead to a romantic connection later down the line. They’re close friends, she tells him how much she cares for him and only wants what’s best for him, but at no time does she get that look in her eyes or vice versa. For a show that’s coming up on twenty years old, it continues to surprise me, open my eyes to things I’ve apparently forgotten about the show and characters on TV in general, because I just don’t see it very often these days.

Ep.16 – Promises of Someday – This episode was written by George R.R Martin, and in some ways it turned out be a very personal and small story, with wider emotional repercussions. It dealt with the return of a character from Vincent’s past, a boy called Devon whom he grew up with, and one left physically scarred by an incident with an angry Vincent. It also showed Vincent as a boy, and it gave an indication of his age for the first time of being somewhere in his early thirties. Father was painted in a less than favourable light and it showed him to be human, fallible and not the perfect father-figure. I really liked seeing the flashback parts where we saw a young Vincent and hearing Devon talk about how he carried the tunnels and world below with him as he travelled around the world. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but this episode really added more texture and history to the characters of Vincent and Father. It also showed Vincent as less than perfect and that not everyone liked him. Catherine didn’t have as much to do, except act as a sounding board, but it’s good to get a balance between episodes set predominantly above and those below.



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Beauty and The Beast – Month 3

My rewatch of the classic TV series Beauty and the Beast with C.E. Murphy continues. We watch one episode a week, try to watch it at the same time and chat over twitter. We’re about halfway into series one now, so there’s still time to catch up if you want to join in.

Ep. 9 – Dark Spirit – This was for me the weakest episode so far of the series. The basic concept was interesting; a high profile figure is apparently killed by voodoo, but then all of the little weird details that were probably meant to be interesting, just felt a little too contrived for me. The evil voodoo spirit just happened to look a lot like Vincent. The one person Catherine turns to for help just happens to be the person responsible, and there were a few other bits that made me roll my eyes. Father tells Vincent it’s all nonsense, people preying on the weak, the power of suggestion and so on. There were some interesting moments, a strange weird woman who lived underground, and yet, it just felt a bit ham-fisted to me. Catherine was drugged and in terrible peril and Vincent rescued her. Her transformation and paranoia was handled very well and Linda Hamilton did a great job, plus she looked incredibly sexy all vamped up in red, but I just really struggled with this episode. I’m hoping it picks up again in the next episode.

Ep.10 – A Children’s Story – This was a return to form for me after the previous episode which was quite disappointing. We get a glimpse of the underground network that later comes to be more important in the series. In this episode one of the many children who live underground comes across a boy from above who is in trouble. He reports it to Father and Vincent who then get Catherine to investigate the foster home, as Vincent can’t look into it during the day above ground. It was very Oliver Twist at times, kids disappearing, being trained to steal if they want to eat, lost in the system, forced into a life of crime with the constant threat of violence from their so-called protector who tries to foster the idea that they are all a family now. Edie, the IT genius, gets a moment to shine, to play the seductress and distract a nerdy guy in the records department who looks suitably flustered. Strong supporting performances from Catherine’s boss, Joe, who is ever the realist. He knows they have a lot of cases to work through without Catherine finding new ones by herself, but he’s also a stand-up guy and trusts her to find the time around other projects. Roy Dotrice has a nice moment as Father with the latest orphan, where he lets the boy make his own decision about their secret, while the adults smile on as Father nimbly but subtly guides the boy to the right decision. A great episode and I hope it continues like this.

Ep.11 – An Impossible Silence – This was another great episode, one that was actually really emotional as well. The premise was pretty simple, a dodgy cop kills another cop and there is a witness. Someone else is blamed for the crime and arrested and the deaf girl, who lives below, has to come forward to see that justice is done. She has to step out of the shadows and face up to the risks that come with being the witness in a very sensitive case. Catherine’s boss Joe wants her to leave it alone and for the first time we find out a bit more about him and his background. A tragic event shaped him at an early age and quite possibly put him onto the path of becoming a district attorney. Vincent also shows great sensitivity and awareness in this episode and he disagrees with Father’s approach to the situation. We also had our first glimpse of Pascal, a character that crops up a lot in the future, portrayed by the talented Armin Shimerman, who people will know from a host of SF shows including Star Trek Deep Space Nine and Buffy. The pacing in this episode was a lot slower than more modern shows, but it really helped give the actors space and time to breathe in the scenes, to build the atmosphere and explore character. Catherine was tough as ever, even going so far as to not let Joe off the hook when he later apologises for his attitude. There were a few pretty harsh moments, some things I doubt we would see happen on TV these days to a main character, but they did it here and didn’t flinch away from it. Definitely a favourite episode so far.

Ep. 12 – Shades of Grey – This is the first episode where the balance of the story felt more in favour of Vincent and the people below than Catherine, which is not a bad thing. It opens with a large group of people gathered to render judgment on one of their own who has broken one of their most important rules. Father is trying to get the boy to understand what he’s done but he doesn’t see it as a problem leaving them no choice but to decide on a punishment. Mouse is sentenced to a month of the Silence, where no one will talk to him which sounds easy but is actually pretty tough given that they’re a small and close community who rely on each other. Meanwhile Catherine is dealing with issues of her own at work as someone tries to exploit her past relationship with Elliot Burch to help the DA’s office get rid of someone even worse. This was still a relatively simple episode compared to modern standards, but it started to pull different threads together from previous episodes. Elliot Burch, Father and his firm but fair approach to punishment, the difference in opinion between Vincent and Father, an orphan from above who ended up living down below with his sister and also Catherine’s relationship with Joe. We also are introduced to Winslow for the first time, played the late and very great, James Avery, a giant of a man, who was a remarkably talented actor. We get another glimpse of Pascal but only a little and several other adults down below. Another cracking episode, one that while I could predict what was going to happen for the most part, I was still surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Rewatching some old TV shows makes me realise I really am wearing rose tinted glasses, but definitely not with this show. If you’ve not seen it before, you really are missing out.

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Beauty and the Beast – Month 2

Ep. 5 – Masques – This episode really plays with the strong theme of Catherine and Vincent being different people from different worlds who don’t belong together. The Romeo and Juliet vibe comes through a lot, people who can never be together, on different sides of a line that should never be crossed, and it’s also tied into a story featuring the troubles in Northern Ireland at the time. A famous writer from Ireland is in New York and she’s caught in the seemingly endless cycle of violence. So there are lots of echoes of what’s going on between Vincent and Catherine, even when it’s not about them. The title refers to a masquerade ball that Catherine is attending up town, and I’d forgotten Vincent goes out into the city above without having to hide his face. People just assume it’s wonderful make up or a clever mask, and there’s a lovely moment at the end when a jogger sees him and does a double take. Again there are moments for Catherine to shine, to take care of herself and kick some arse as she’s no-one’s victim. I was also curious to see that I think this was the first episode written by GRRM himself. Overall a nice reminder of the current status quo but I’d like to see things start to move on now. There’s still so much to explore but it seems as if the show is in no rush to get there.

Ep 6 –  The Beast Within – This was a really interesting episode because as well as Catherine’s story of corruption down on the docks, we found out a bit more about Vincent’s childhood. It seems totally reasonable those kids who grew up with him wouldn’t be scared or freaked out by his face, so it was interesting to see someone from his old days. Their paths went in very different directions and when this old friend, now enemy, hurts Catherine we see Vincent lose control. His old friend is petrified, surrounds himself with armed me and nearly wets himself when he comes face to face with an enraged Vincent  and the full weight of his rage. Once again Catherine takes care of herself in a tough situation, but she isn’t invincible or made out to be a superhuman. We also met another lonely character, a man devoted to his work and the good fight. He was tough but also tender and a really nice guy. This episode gave us a glimpse into Vincent’s childhood and how not everyone can be saved by Father and the tunnels. A very simple story but really well told.

Ep.7 – Nor Iron Bars a Cage – This episode asks and answers one of the biggest questions in the series. Why has no one from above in the city ever seen Vincent and tried to do something about it? Why haven’t they tried to capture him and expose him to the media? People love a story about the weird and unusual. I’m guilty of this too and addicted to shows about the search for Bigfoot. In today’s society it might seem impossible for someone like him to go unnoticed, but back in the 1980s, no one had mobile phones, so no one had a camera on them 24×7. Even so, someone does see him, capture his image on film and this episode takes it times and I think handles the subject well. There’s also a bit more exploration of the strange almost telepathic bond between Catherine and Vincent. We get a couple of good scenes with her boss Joe, who is just one of the nicest guys around and a solid mainstay of the series. Good stuff, roll on next episode as I’m really keen to know more about Father.

Ep. 8 – Song of Orpheus – This episode we find out who Father, aka Jacob, used to be before he descended into the world below. I won’t spoil it too much but it really wasn’t what I expected and I’d completely forgotten everything about his background. There were some lovely scenes between Vincent and Father, and also between Father and Catherine where we see several parallels between her relationship with Vincent, and the relationship Father had with a woman before he disappeared. Father has always had an uneasy relationship with Catherine to some degree. He knows that she cares for Vincent a great deal and that they have a special bond, but he’s always kept her at arms length. Finally, in this episode, she tells Father to his face that she loves Vincent, and his reply is very sad and also telling. He thinks he know what must inevitably happen to them and that’s why he’s kept his stance. By the end of the episode Catherine seems to have adopted this slightly more negative and long-term viewpoint. Once again, Vincent comes to the rescue, but this time not with his claws and teeth, but his endless optimism and by focusing on the now. Father and his old flame were given a second chance, but only for a short time. He’d equally live in the now, with Catherine, and enjoy what they have, rather than think about what might happen in the future. It was a simple story, but very well told and I continue to enjoy this series more than I had anticipated.

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Beauty and The Beast – Month 1

As previously mentioned I’m doing a rewatch of the original Beauty and The Beast TV series with CE Murphy. Below are my thoughts on the first few episodes.

The Pilot – It’s been long time since I’d watched this, but I still remembered the basics. However, there were actually quite a few things I had forgotten, both major and minor. The episode begins with a title card saying ‘Once upon a time…’ playing into the whole fairytale theme, which initially might make you think it will be akin to a warm and cuddly Disney film, like Enchanted, a film set in modern day. However it really isn’t, what with the murders, the disfiguration, and other very adult themes that are hinted at but never shown. But there is a fairytale feel to it, right down to Catherine vanishing into a spotlight from above that then fades, as if she’s just stepped off a stage.

I’d completely forgotten about Isaac Stubbs, the rough, tough, streetwise New York guy (played by Delroy Lindo no less!) who trains Catherine how to fight. He teaches her to protect herself with NY street fighting, which he describes as nasty, dirty and painful for the attacker. I’d also forgotten that the reason Catherine was attacked in the first place was due to a case of mistaken identity. I also blocked out that Catherine was a fairly spoiled rich girl who, after the attack, leaves her high society life behind and completely changes into someone that wants to help people. I go into more detail but I’ll leave it there for now. Overall I thought it was still an interesting and intriguing pilot, and it barely scrapes the surface of Vincent’s world but hints at so much more.

Terrible Saviour, Ep2 – Despite the obvious dating of the TV show, which is immediately visible through the clothes, cars, technology and even to some degree, the way characters speak, this show continues to impress me for a number of reasons. If there was a big dude in a hood who rode on top of the subway trains, rumours would have started. Someone would have seen him and people talk, and like all good fairy tales, in an age before mobile phones, and therefore a camera in every pocket, before widespread CCTV and instant media messaging, there were urban myths and legends. New York is a big old city that’s been rebuild many times over, so who knows what’s lurking down there under the modern sidewalks and subway tunnels from centuries back. The idea of Vincent’s underworld and a whole other city beneath NY gives it all a lovely rich texture and flavour.

I also like the fact that very early on in the first series they focus on one of the more worrying aspects of Vincent, his bestial nature. He’s a man, but not like any other. He has a wild side and potential ties to a heritage we don’t and may never understand, but you don’t need to quiz a lion to know it’s a powerful and dangerous animal. One look at it will tell you that and to some degree it’s the same with him. This episode carries over threads from the pilot, about Vincent saving Catherine, but in a rage he mauled three men when she was put in serious danger.

I also like the fact that we get to see Isaac Stubbs again, and we learn that Catherine was one of his star pupils. She can take care of herself, but they don’t overplay it, or feel the need to make her show it by throwing people around. It’s there, it’s stated and they move on, no displays of bravado are needed. Other characters treat Catherine differently now, from her boss to the IT girl, showing she’s moved away from the spoiled rich girl playing at helping people. There’s acceptance and now they just regard her as someone who is there to get the job done.

Siege, Ep3. – Although the reveal of this episode was fairly obvious, I still really enjoyed this episode for many reasons. This is the first time they’ve dealt with some of the difficult issues that have been alluded to. Vincent is a fully grown man, but he’s emotionally stunted in some ways, and almost teenage in some of how he deals with certain feelings, because he’s never had to deal with them before. He doesn’t know what to do and doesn’t have the emotional maturity, but he does get there a lot faster than a teenager would, and with far less moping. Equally I really liked how Catherine would walk up to anyone, give them a piece of her mind, and tell the bad guys, I’m going to take you down. She wasn’t intimidated by their thinly veiled threats and even when the crunch moment came she launched herself at one thug and took him down. She was only overpowered by two more, at which point Vincent showed up. So less a damsel in distress that needed saving, more a friend who was outnumbered. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but even the old lady had a moment to shine and tell her story which gave me a chill at its conclusion. I spotted someone else making a cameo, and it was a sad one for me since the actor has since passed away. A young Rick Biggs, who to me was most famous for his role in Babylon 5, had a couple of lines as a reporter. Even before we saw the character I recognised his very distinctive voice. The show continues to surprise and entertain me and for all that it is sometimes tame in comparison to modern shows, it is refreshing in its tone and theatrical scene setting and lighting effects.

No Way Down, Ep 4. – The core of this episode was relatively simple. Vincent is injured and left effectively blind on the surface, unable to get home as he can’t see where he is going. He’s captured by some unpleasant people but he managed to escape and then has to rely on the kindness of strangers of the surface, a place he and everyone else who lives under has fled. The world above is cruel and harsh, Father has always told him this, and that he would be feared and shunned. Many people who now live under the city came there from above ground, including Father, who found it a horrible place to live. And now Vincent has to rely on others to help him while Catherine frantically searches for him with Stubbs. It was a great flip of the usual scenario you sometimes see even today in modern dramas where the girl in danger and the man comes to her rescue. Suddenly he is weak, injured and despite his strength, leaning on people to help him down the street. A kind security guard, Lucy, a street walker with a kind heart, a slow but gentle giant. There is still fear and sometimes horror at Vincent’s appearance, but people still help him. One of the most distressing moments for me was actually seeing Lucy cry after she has betrayed Vincent to save herself. Sure it was hokey in places, and the dialogue was dated, but there again Catherine took out two gangbangers herself when they tried to get cute with her, using the skills Stubbs had taught her. She is no damsel in distress. I sound like a stuck record, but I continue to be touched and impressed by this series and am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

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Thoughts on World’s Strongest Man 2013

As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts I’m a big fan of strongman events, and in particular the World’s Strongest Man. It’s the only sport I’m actively interested in (although I do enjoy the Olympics and have a passing interesting in Wimbledon) and it’s a sport I’ve followed for about the last 30 years. Ever since I was knee high to Geoff Capes and he came to our town for an event. I wanted to grow up to be just as tall and him, and some wishes do come true, because I did.

For about 350 days of the year I have to endure endless talk in almost all areas of my life about Football (huge yawn), Cricket, Snooker, Formula 1 (dullest thing ever), Rugby (I do enjoy watching the occasional game) and countless other sports that don’t interest me. So, now it’s my turn to probably bore you as I talk about the 2013 final of the World’s Strongest Man.

Derek Poundstone

Derek Poundstone

This year the event was held in Sanya in China. It was filmed in August I think, but we don’t get it on TV until December. It’s been this way for years, so I don’t complain, and quite frankly I’m just glad it’s on TV these days and is easy to find. The competition is always held in an interesting and exotic location which brings its own challenges. Sanya is by the sea, but it’s incredibly hot and wet. I don’t think any of the competitors in the final come from that kind of climate. Even the west coast Americans were struggling as they’re used to a hot and sometimes arid heat, so every athlete was constantly struggling to stay hydrated. As if the competition and the heavy weights weren’t tough enough already.

Strongman events are becoming more popular every year. When I was a boy there weren’t many and they were difficult to find. Now there are several events in the UK throughout the year and in the run up to the final. The regional qualifier events, whereby the top 2 or 3 athletes qualify for WSM, are also being shown on TV, which is great too. So first there are the qualifiers, whereby it comes down to the top 50 strongmen in the world, and then 5 heats, where the top 2 from each going through to the final, knocking it down to 10 competitors.

Mark Felix

Mark Felix

A quick note on the athletes. Despite the growing popularity of the sport, the majority of athletes work full time in normal jobs and train for strongman events in their own time, weekends and evenings, away from their families. These men are dedicated far beyond most athletes (I’m looking at you football), who earn hideous amounts of money for, in my opinion, doing very little. I respect strongmen far more than them, who just keep going, despite injuries and they do it for the love of the sport. Some athletes are sponsored by companies and are able to dedicate themselves to their training, but they’re very much in the minority. Derek Poundstone (shown above) from America is a police officer in Connecticut, Lloyd Renals is a NHS physio therapist, Krzysztof Radzikowski from Poland is a high school PE teacher, Mark Felix is a plasterer. These are ordinary guys who can do something extraordinary. They are real world supermen who can pull trucks and planes.

Zydrunas Savickas

Zydrunas Savickas at Europe’s Strongest Man 2012 in Leeds

This year, the WSM final, was probably one of the most interesting and the winner came down to the last event and the last second. If you don’t want to know who won, then skip the rest. For three out of the last four years, Zydrunas Savickas, or Big Z as he’s known, has won the title of World’s Strongest Man. He’s a monster of a man from Lithuania who has broken a lot of world records and his power is utterly astonishing which has made him a legend in the sport. In 2011, Brian Shaw from the USA, a tall and athletic strongman managed to beat Big Z. He took back the title in 2012, but this year the top two spots were dominated by these big men. Shaw broke a world record in the deadlift event in order to beat Big Z in one event and yet he struggled with the overhead medley which Big Z won. They continued this back and forth until it all came down to the final event, the Atlas Stones, which epitomises strongmen competitions. Brian Shaw led on points overall, but it was down to who was the fastest and this year Shaw won. Looking back I think his overall performance was stronger than Big Z and perhaps Shaw was hungrier because he lost the title in 2012. Despite a problem with one arm, he seemed stronger and fitter than ever before. Of course this only increases the pressure on Big Z to push himself even harder next year to try and reclaim the title, or we might see Shaw win his third title, and equal Big Z in the number of WSM wins.

Mike Jenkins

Mike Jenkins

The other athletes were remarkable, in particular Mike Jenkins who seemed to be getting stronger and stronger, and Mike Burke, a relative newcomer, and a very affable and down to earth American who I like very much. Most people, when asked, do you think you can win, will say yes. Burke was incredibly modest and said no, not yet, maybe one day. His goal was to be in the top 5 spots and he achieved it. Hafthor Bjornsson was much leaner and 20kg lighter this year after coming third last year, and again this year his performance earned him the same spot. But he was only one point ahead of Jenkins. Unfortunately this year the event was touched with tragedy, as Mike Jenkins passed away in November. I knew this going in to watch the heats and final, so it was gut-wrenching to see him doing so well and end up as one of the top 5 strongmen in the world in 2013. I was also very disappointed to see Terry Holland suffer with some back problems in the final. Until then he’d been doing very well, beating Big Z in one event and coming only a second behind Shaw in another. He, Laurence Shahlaei , Mark Felix and newcomer Eddie Hall were England’s best hopes for 2013, but sadly only Terry made it to the final ten.

There are a lot of new names and faces coming into the sport, big young men who are incredibly strong and very driven. We’re now on the cusp of some of the older guys stepping down and yet I really relish seeing someone like the American Nick Best showing some of the younger guys how it’s done and beating them with strength, grit, and willpower. He and Derek Poundstone qualified for the WSM heats this year in their regional event.

I don’t like the football, but I can understand the passion. Recently someone heard me talking about strongman events and WSM for the first time, and she was amazed at my enthusiasm and the way I rattled off the names and achievements. But then again, after so many years of watching, and more recently attending events, I do know a thing or two. WSM was brilliant in 2013 and going forward things are only going to get tougher and more exciting. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Get Involved in 2014

I’m not one for making new year resolutions, but what I am doing starting from January is rewatching and rereading a few things together with some friends. This is your invitation to take part and then join in with the discussion. I should quickly mention, that I know how life (and by that I’m including work, family, the unexpected) can stall a great idea like this, which is why I’m doing all of them at a reasonable pace. So if you want to join in on one of them, then please do, but there’s no pressure and we’re going at a steady pace so no one gets left behind.

g4The Dresden Files reread – First up, I’m an enormous fan of the writer Jim Butcher and I think he is a very talented guy. The Dresden Files are one of my favourite series of books, ever really, but there are quite a few of them out now, and although I know what’s going on in the story now, I am sure I have forgotten some of the smaller details. I’ve forgotten character moments, seeing the clues that led to greater things and dooms to come, and there are seeds planted along the way. So overall I’m very excited about starting from the beginning and reliving all of the amazing moments and witnessing the growth of Harry. My reading buddy on this is Stacey Whittle, she of the Small Press Big Mouth (small press comics podcast), the Whittle Waffle podcast (solo podcast where she talks comics, TV, film, geek stuff and of course knitting!). Both podcasts are on iTunes and she is @Stace_W on Twitter. We are reading one Dresden Files book a month. As I said, it gives us time, just in case.

Beauty and the BeastBeauty and The Beast rewatch – Through talking to some friends at conventions and also on Twitter, I quickly realised that one of my childhood cornerstones, and slightly guilty pleasures, is the Beauty and The Beast TV series that ran from 1987-1990 starring Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton. It was awesome. There’s been a TV remake in name, and what little I saw, I thought was megacrap. The Beast, is a pretty boy with gel in his hair and a scar. Enough said.

The original and still the best from the 1980s, is slightly smushy, but also very moving TV show, with opening music and credits that still give me chills to this day. I just loved it back then and still do. Catherine was a tough woman who as an assistant district attorney, sometimes got into a fair amount of trouble. And there to help her, was the intelligent, sensitive but also very angry and powerful Vincent, played by Perlman. This would be the first of many roles in which I think Perlman to be far more attractive with heavy make-up than without. He’s not a bad looking guy at all, but he’s also got that in common with Andreas Katsulas, who as G’Kar in B5 was mesmerising and women were instantly drawn to him, but less so when himself. It’s an interesting idea I might revisit in another post.

Anyway, another lesser known fact is that a certain George Martin worked on the show as a writer and executive producer. Yes, the George RR Martin of Game of Thrones fame as he is now known.

So, CE Murphy, Liz de Jager, and I will be rewatching the whole show, from episode 1, at the reasonable pace of one episode a week starting in January. It’s available to buy on DVD and is also available to stream from various online sources. We’re going to have a Twitter hashtag, and we’ll all chat about our second, third or tenth impressions of the show, somewhere online at a place to be decided. So, follow them both on Twitter, and I’ll post on here again when we start watching so you can join in if you want.

Babylon 5 rewatch – This is something I’m not doing at a set pace, but I have started rewatching the whole show from the start. Given the chance I can and will talk your ear off about this TV show for hours at a stretch. Put very succinctly, it is my favourite SF TV show ever. It’s not perfect, and the CGI and make-up is not up to today’s standard, but there’s a reason Star Trek The Original Series and old Doctor Who are still revered today by many fans. It’s because if you can look at it with slightly historic eyes and ignore the old tech, the shows were groundbreaking at the time and are still great shows with fantastic stories.

B5 is like that. To me it’s a masterpiece in writing and character development, and is a TV show with individual seasonal arcs and an overall story arc, long before such things were common. It led the way for this sort of thing on TV, which a lot of people don’t realise. It’s a 5 year story done right. None of this making it up as we go along and hoping we can sort it out in the end (Lost). It’s one big story, with seeds planted from day one. So, I’ll be posting here periodically with my thoughts and impressions, so feel free to join in on the rewatch.


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Miserable isn’t Cool

There are lots of good comedy TV shows and films out there, so this doesn’t apply to everything, but in the last seven to ten years or so, there has been a noticeable growth of grim, depressing and gritty output on TV and at the cinema. Now, some of it is distinctly linked to the character to some degree, so I’m only going to mention Batman and Dexter in passing. The former doesn’t have much to laugh about in the Nolan films, but there is definitely a delicious dark river of humour and laughs in the latter. So putting those to one side, I’ve found myself walking away from certain TV shows and absolutely ignoring some film franchises because they’re just depressing and will sour my mood.

I’m not sure if the wealth of this material can be blamed on the current world climate being in the toilet, but in some ways I think it is linked to it. During a recession and times of hardship, the sale of chocolate tends to increase. People want a brief temporary boost to lift their mood. In the same way I think on some level we like to see other people being a bit miserable and upset, because we’re all feeling it. I’m not saying we like seeing people being injured or hurt, but I think seeing people share in our collective misery is somehow soothing. Misery loves company is a well worn saying and very true. Again, I feel I should stress, not everything is like this, and we don’t all want to feel this way all of the time. We want to watch stuff that will make us laugh and cry, that will lift us up, make us think about the future, family and believe in heroes. Films that will inspire, make people look up at the stars in wonder and imagine the possibilities and consider taming the impossible and making it into reality. I still want all of that, but sometimes, I also want to watch the darker content.

For whatever reason, I think I’ve moved out of that phase in my head and I don’t enjoy swimming in that collective pool of misery anymore. I’ve purposefully avoided certain TV shows because they’re just too bleak, despite all of their critical acclaim, such as Breaking Bad. I watched the first series about a year ago and haven’t gone back to it, despite the amazing performances, particularly by Bryan Cranston. I may not know the definite end of the series, but the show is a train wreck in slow motion over several years. You can hear the whistle and thrum of the engine, feel the vibrations while still lying on the tracks. I’ve no desire to witness the destruction of a man as he sinks deeper and deeper.

I’ve also become reluctant to watch some TV shows that I previously enjoyed a great deal, such as the Walking Dead because there’s no relief, no real joy, and no hope. I watched a few episodes last night, but found myself doing something else at the same time, and only keeping one eye on the screen. The acting was great, the sets and location were amazing, but it was just more of the same. I fell out of love with the comic a couple of years ago but have continued to read the trades when they’re loaned to me by a friend. Even so, I recently told him to stop passing them to me, as it’s just more of the same, misery, death and destruction as mankind tears itself apart in the shattered remains of the old world. Sometimes there are brief moments of joy or sparks of hope, and that can make them all the more poignant, but at the same time it also means wading through a lot of smelly brown stuff to get there for a few seconds of relief. I’ve already written about Man of Steel, so I won’t repeat myself, but for me the film was a huge let down on some levels, one of which is there was very little to inspire. The symbol on his chest stands for hope, but there was very little in the film that gave me hope for the future.

I’m also becoming very tired with snarky journalists and columnists who tear things apart and seem to relish it. Whether it’s a book, TV show, film or even a celebrity in the public eye, there seems to a feast of people queuing up to destroy them and tear them down. Recently critics have ripped into the new Lone Ranger film and before that they went to town on John Carter, which was actually a lot of fun. I’ve not seen the Lone Ranger, but I doubt it is as bad as they claim and even so, it’s not meant to be anything other than a light, enjoyable summer romp for all the family. I mean look at the main character and Johnny Depp’s costume! It’s not a historical representation of anything. It’s also made by the same people as Pirates, so that gives you an idea of what to expect and yet they seemed to love filling entire pages with venom. The celebrity thing, well, people seem to enjoy that, so you could argue the media are just giving the people what they want. I still think it’s shameful and actually none of our business. Personally I have no interest and don’t care about who slept with who, or how many pounds someone put on, or their new haircut.

I’m not going to go into the grimdark fantasy thing too much as people have written about that a lot elsewhere, but I will say when every character is grey in a book it’s hard to find any heroes and you may come away feeling a bit grimy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing about heroes, people that inspire and lead by example. The black hat and white hat fantasy books of my youth are gone, Eddings and Brooks etc, but I’m now more interested in reading about good guys trying to help people, whatever that means in 2013, and I use the term good guys very loosely.

So I think I’ve turned a corner somewhere in my head. Things are still pretty grim, we’re still in a worldwide recession, but I don’t want to add to that anymore. I’ve no desire to go back to pouring more of the really bleak stuff into my head that doesn’t need to be there. I might be missing out on some great stuff, but I’m ok with that.

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