Saturday, August 03, 2019

Pop Culture is Dead to Me 6: Avengers Addendum

Concluding my trip through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as usual well after the Lord Mayor's Show, with some comments about the double-fisted Avengers films that tie up the first (three) phase(s) of this sprawling introduction to the Marvel comics characters in film form.

Avengers: Infinity War
I tried to explain this film to someone who hasn't seen it without spoilers. It is essentially a Marvel film; the Avengers are in it, but this is really all about everybody that's been seen and how they fit into - they're all Avengers and they need to battle Thanos, who has sped things along at a tsunami pace after dawdling his way through the preamble like a man with no real motivation. The Infinity Stones were the be-all and end-all of his purpose, yet he seemed to treat it like a side project. The urgency of why he's now desperate to retrieve them all seemed slightly rushed and, you know, Infinity Stones in the singular make the bearer really powerful and Thanos kicks Thor and the Hulk's arses inside the first 10 minutes of the film and still has an army of subservient subordinates doing most of his wet work and he only had one stone. These stones on their own are powerful enough to need several heroes to contain them - as we've been shown - Thanos is still taking Thunder Axes in the chest after collecting all six and winning the free gauntlet.

The thing is, it's Marvel's Empire Strikes Back (yawn, boo, hiss at the use of the reference) and it's all the better for it and the pay off, while not as shocking as they might have hoped did what all good comics need to achieve, to be as good or better than the ones before it and to set a bench mark for the one that follows.

It's rare that films of this ilk feel like they need to be longer, but Infinity War probably did need to be a bit longer, or maybe, with hindsight, some of the other films needed to lay down more than just teaser moments about things to come.

Over all though, Infinity War is a fun film with some glaring omissions and some good set pieces. As the first part of a double header, it flicked 90% of the right switches.


Avengers: Endgame
After managing to avoid 99% of the spoilers, I went into this film knowing that [spoiler] dies, but no one else and that time travel would be involved. I even hypothesised about the film in the previous edition of this sub-divided themed blog and I might have got some things right. Yahoo to me, but it has been loosely following an original comic or comics.
Endgame is... No, hang on a minute, I need to quantify my right to have this judgement of this film. Part of me despises the idea of Doctor Who, especially when the 'laws of time' are conveniently written for the benefit of the story rather than in a consistent manner. I love time travel stories, films TV series. It's my little obsession hidden inside a general liking for the genres where time travel might appear.

I am, oddly, in the same mind as Stephen King when he wrote The Langoliers, that the past doesn't exist any more so it's impossible to return to it because it simply isn't there to go back to. Going into the future - apart from the fact we're all doing it - is a concept that I have more ease with. That said, I enjoy a good time travel romp like the best of you, not so much ones that are playing with it in such a way that it gets difficult to follow or so easily-achieved.

We'll get to this in a minute because I want to talk about the first hour of Endgame. It was... unexpected. Incredibly well put together and devastating and yet there's this beacon of hope just popping back after 5 years in the twilight zone and what follows that is mumbo-jumbo; throwaway soundbites saying that fictional time travel is nothing like the real thing, yet no one really bothered to explain how it would work; how they would be able to navigate the quantum realm so easily and more importantly none of them realise that they are actually creating a time loop by actively removing things from their place in time, using them to alter reality before returning them to the exact point in time they were stolen to fulfil their original destiny, which in turn creates the situation that requires that to happen again. Not to mention what peripheral continuity errors they've now built into the entire franchise.

Let's not even try to figure out how pre-Endgame Peggy Carter and post-Endgame Peggy Carter fit into a universe, at the same time, never and for always...

What actually happened? Well, for those of you who don't want to know, you'd better be ready to bale out. Because the invigorated Avengers reunited with a weak and feeble Tony Stark and powered up by the presence of Captain Marvel are now on a mission to change things back, so they track Thanos down only to discover he's destroyed the stones and there's nothing they can do. Thanos gets dispatched really quickly and easily and the rest of the first hour is five years later and how the world is not coping at all well with what happened. Up pops Scott Lang from the Phantom Zone and within 30 seconds we're talking about navigating the weird time zones Michelle Pfeiffer casually mentioned at the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp and changing time. Scott Lang is a petty criminal with a magic suit, he's struggled to understand most of what Hope and Henry Pym have told him and here he is inventing the Tardis.

Oh and the Hulk is now Bruce Hulk or maybe Hulk Banner; he's big green and intelligent and a little cocksure of himself, as you'd expect. He has his moments, but he's largely underused. Hawkeye's become a samurai wielding Punisher clone with good aim and the rest of them are just the same but a bit older and tired.

Then we're off again, this time to the past for a chance to relive old moments, except we don't really. There's a lot of the first Avengers film and the first of the problems in that the way the stones will eventually arrive back where they are stolen from and that has changed in a number of ways from the original films - it wasn't fully or possibly even generally explained what consequences it might have for the future if things prevented that time from happening the way it did/does/is.

The events in space essentially mean the Guardians of the Galaxy shouldn't exist, especially as Quill never steals one of the stones, Gamora isn't in custody with the Nova Corps, there's no reason for Rocket and Groot to get themselves arrested and do you see where I'm going here? Unless there was something like months between Quill obtaining the stone and getting detained then the events of this film prevent that from happening. Gamora was ever-present in a period where she should have been in custody.

There's also the matter of War Machine disappearing in the Time Tunnel but Nebula being taken over by 2014 Thanos, but both of them reappearing at the same time. But gripes aside, (apart from the fact that as much as I lust over Karen Gillan, she really can't act to save her life) they recreate the Infinity Gauntlet, Professor Hulk puts it on and then comes weird bizarre thing number 2. Tony's asked Bruce to ensure that his relatively happy last five years are retained; he has to bring everyone back, as they were, but five years later. Did I hear that correctly? How come all of Peter Parker's fellow schoolfriends seemed to be the same age and still at school? Is it 2023 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe now?

Or how about when Loki disappears with the Tesserac in the cock-up in 2012; how does that now impact on the Marvel Universe, especially as other things become clear.

I didn't expect [spoiler spoiler] to die and in what seemed both a heroic and pointless way and makes you wonder how a film featuring [spoiler spoiler] now will fit in with the direction Marvel might be going? But if someone returned the stone at the point it left - to ensure no multiverse is created (or something like that), how come [spoiler] is still dead... This is supposed to be a fun film why is my head hurting?

That bit when you know who snaps his fingers and the threat from 2014 simply disappears is also perplexing in that this means that technically as 2014 Thanos is dead there isn't a 2015 thru 2018 Thanos to cause any problems. The stones are wherever they were before he got any of them.

If you take out the melancholy, the nostalgia, the tributes and the comedy it's just a big bombastic explosion of... actually, it isn't. There's not a lot of action; there aren't really any set pieces until the final battle which, truthfully, felt more Lord of the Rings than the Avengers Last Stand.

The thing is Infinity War felt more... large. It felt like Thanos's lackeys were kick ass and mean and could handle the likes of Thor and Iron Man. In Endgame, Giant Man is trampling all over the Doomsday lookalike the way a child does with a toy. He's also not getting light-headed and faint, like he did, very quickly, last time he tried that stunt.

And there was this feeling that we'd missed some things. Gamora and Nebula growing up was something briefly touched on in earlier films, but mainly through anecdotal exchanges between the two, yet in Endgame there's this feels like a bit of rewritten history has been inserted to allow the events to happen the way they did. A lot was made of their growing up which felt the opposite of what we'd been led to believe. And when the future Nebula kills herself - so to speak - something else should have happened and... the paradoxes this film creates is unparalleled.

And there's this weird relationship between Stark and Peter Parker that seems to have escalated considerably since Homecoming. It also felt contrived and exaggerated to enable parts of the plot and the next Spider-Man film. It would have been nice to have had some kind of explanation for Pepper Potts's Iron Woman suit and frankly if you'd come in cold you would have been as lost as a blind man in Hampton Palace Maze.

It is in my opinion a complete mess and it's a real disappointment of a film. If the plan is to sort out continuity or just leave it as it is, I'm not sure I want to know. The most interesting characters have finished their respective stories - after a fashion - and the new breed are simply not as... iconic. I'm sure that will become obvious over the next few years.

Another thing is at 3 hours (well, 2 hours and 48 minutes, there's 13 minutes of credits and no post credit scene, so if you sat through it at the cinema then I feel for you) it didn't feel overly long, but it did feel as though it had been edited badly and some of the scenes blending the past with today felt... a little like being clever for the sake of it rather than the necessity. Also while it felt like it rollicked along at a decent gallop, there were times when I wondered if anything remotely interesting might happen. It was like an over-produced album that can't find its way out of the tracks because of engineered bits.

I am also, as I said, really quite disappointed because I don't think the finale has been a fitting end to what, on the whole, has been a well-built inter-connected labyrinth of stories leading to one place. As a franchise film series, it has re-invented 'event cinema' to conclude these events they appear to have opted for schmaltz over sense (and excitement). The overriding feeling is 'Was that the best they could do? After all that build up?'

I'm not even sure I liked the make-up of the film either; they didn't feel like a team but so much time was spent with them as a team it felt like papering over the cracks. Perhaps this was intentional, but if it was it made the tone feel... wrong. There were too many looks and expressions that told much about the previous five years coping with the loss with none of them ever really being explored, giving it a slightly surreal feel, like we've wandered into something armed with no more than a rudimentary knowledge.

Oh and Captain America with Thor's hammer - the original one that has been snatched out of time - was bordering on ludicrous. I actually winced and continued to wince every time he wielded the power of Thor. It was like in this reality Captain America versus Thanos was like an ant versus a JCB; he'd had his moment in Infinity War, that wasn't going to work against a more ruthless, vengeful Thanos, but they needed Steve to have his moment in the sun.

Plus, the what I can only describe as 'Home Run' sequence was just ... there in the film, like any number of giant staged bits that felt like the time could have been better used between scissors. It was a spectacle without substance, or if it had substance it wasn't rounded and whole.

I wonder now if Marvel are going to be clever or if they're going to forget that a convincing narrative, regardless of how fantastic a setting, is essential to something staying both relevant and interesting. I'd like to see some time spent, in some way, explaining how this post-Thanos reality works; what did and didn't happen as a result of the climax and some way of introducing parallel universes that have the estranged Marvel characters in them as well, in some cases, existing Marvel heroes and villains as a way of eventually merging them all and giving us a new generation of the heroes and villains we're unlikely to see again.

In conclusion; expectation is often a bitch and I think I've entered into the last half dozen Marvel films with far too much and have ultimately been found wanting. I can now look at the previews for Spider-Man: Homecoming for fear of spoiling my upcoming enjoyment. Don't get me wrong; there were some genuine tear-jerking moments in the film, but it felt hollow and slightly fake. People will take from this what they want; I've taken very little.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

PCIDTM - Xtra Xtra Read All About It!

Here's a Pop Culture is Dead to Me Extra...

It was early 1995, I'm sat in my office in my Wellingborough house, I'd just had my modem installed and I'd got a CD off the front of a computer magazine with a new-fangled thing for the masses of new computer users. E-mail.

Now, it had existed, but not as a web-based thing and Yahoo were at the forefront. 24 years, I've had my email account, Yahoo's changed hands more times... The thing was, I didn't really have anyone to email. In the days of ignorance and treating the internet like a big place full of friendly nerds, it should come as no surprise that in the pages of this magazine was an interview with fantasy writer Terry Pratchett and at the end it actually invited people to email Terry and gave out his email address. Yes, I know...

I sat there and decided to email Terry Pratchett (I believe one of my friends was there when he replied, but we'll get to that). I introduced myself - News editor of Comics International - and asked if he'd seen the glowing review I'd given to Mort, the comicbook adaptation drawn by Graham Higgins. His reply thanked me for getting in touch and yes, he had seen the review and thank you very much, kind regards. I was chuffed to bits until my mate reminded me that my glowing review of Mort began - "I've never read any Pratchett; he's just never interested me..."

Aghast, I swore I'd never contact Pratchett ever again (like he would have even known?) and returned to my ignorance of Pratchett. Several years later, after connecting with an old friend from comics dealing days, I discovered she was friends with Pratchett's daughter with the name only Fleetwood Mac could spell. It was the kind of fact that fills up 20 seconds at a dinner party.

But that was it. Pratchett was just a little too... I dunno. I simply never got him. I should have. It mostly sounded like the kind of thing that would float my boat, but the few times I tried, we just didn't click. So when Amazon announced Good Omens, I was virtually surrounded by many people making noises you'd possibly associate with orgasms. For me it was simply something else to add to my un-watched watch list; maybe the wife would want to watch it.

We watched it in 3-parts over the last 3-nights. Here is my review, of sorts: Camp. Reeking of nostalgia. Dull. Never gripping. Forced. Not very funny. 3 unnecessary swear words otherwise it would be fine for kids. I fell asleep for ten minutes in episode two. I struggled to stay awake for most of episode four and something was starting to happen by then. A big enough budget but could they make the general special effects look better than Bedknobs and Broomsticks? Could they fuck. Ham, lots of ham. The first four episodes felt like information films and God really wasn't the most... effusive of narrators.

Don't get me wrong, it has some fine moments, but they're so few and far between it doesn't feel worth the wait. The Hellhound - albeit quite brilliant - was sign-posted almost a nanosecond after the Hellhound concept was introduced. Satan was ace, but the payoff was lame. Both lead actors chewed the scenery up and looked like they had fun, but I don't really know why? The script was plodding and so many of the characters essentially spoke in the same voice - I can understand why; angels and demons etc etc - but it was heavy-handed and slightly overblown in a pantomime way and I understand that was probably the point; I just don't get it; they could lose an entire episode by simple expunging Michael McKean from this mess. They could have done it without duly affecting the plot. Perhaps I fell asleep when it was revealed Miranda Richardson was a psychic, so imagine my surprise when her character managed to suddenly be the ideal psychic shoehorn into the story...

I didn't like it. Okay, I'm probably wrong. I've never seen lots of the TV everyone raves about, or if I have I've usually wondered why they were so enthused. The wife really liked it and despite berating her over dinner tonight (well, berating the series in a 'I can't understand why you liked that heap of shit' way) and picking holes in it you could ride a Satan through, she still likes it.

I'm done with Pratchett now though. I know I never really did anything with him, but what I have hasn't really made me understand certain nerds better or enhanced my days or enriched my life in a deeply silly way. It should also be noted that aside from DC's The Sandman and a half decent DC Secret Origins issue (Poison Ivy?) I wouldn't let Gaiman near comics ever again.

I just made a comment to a mate about wondering what's wrong with me. I'm finding all TV is a bit meh - so much promise, so much disappointment. If I could remember them, I could probably count the number of films over the last two years I've thoroughly enjoyed on one hand. I decided I have enough music to last me an extra lifetime, sooo... unless something arrives that really floats my boat, I'm sticking with what I've got. I don't do computer or games consoles and I've restricted my social media usage to less than 1 hour a day (I'm averaging about 27 minutes, although today I checked in on it a lot as I'd asked a question of my friends).

I also am fully aware that when I do Pop Culture is Dead to Me blogs that someone reading it probably won't have seen what I'm talking about, so my own righteous indignation at having things spoiled by inconsiderate people might also play a part in my general feeling about popular culture output devices... It still happens; a couple of people have really tried to ruin Endgame for me. If it gives them a workable erection then someone's happy...

I'm actually nowhere near as stressed and when I get stressed I switch off whatever distraction is on around me, because you know that's going to probably be the cause. I have only seen about 10 minutes of TV news since June 1st.

After Good Omens we cracked open the NOS4A2 box set... I loved the book; probably one of the best books I've read in a long time. The TV series feels so abridged - in all the wrong places - and feels so hammy and seems to be cramming 13 years into 13 days. Serves me right for actually looking forward to something.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Zoneless

At about 9.40pm on Saturday night, I switched off BT and BBC Sport and sat here in my office and did nothing for almost two hours. My team had effectively lost the cup final they were playing in and I didn't really want to see what was said and done about it, so I switched the computer and mobile phone off and went to bed.

I got up about 8.45 Sunday morning. Fed the boys (the girls only get one meal a day now), read The Guide from Saturday's Guardian. Drank some coffee. Switched the computer on; opened Word; wrote 50% of June's quiz, carefully only using Goggle as my on-line presence and for what it was originally designed for. I didn't open Facebook. Didn't look on Twitter. Avoided the news sites. Avoided all human interaction on a computer and have done for the last 48 hours. It has been strangely enlightening and oddly peaceful. What has also been cool is that I've also avoided any watching of the news; I have switched the TV off or over if the news has so much as been near being seen. I have wanted to be inside my own personal bubble.

As a result the number of words out of my mouth has decreased by at least 50%. I don't think I've talked about anything much in the last two days. General chit chat, some small talk, much commenting on the dog's arse. Stress levels are ridiculously low and the dogs are behaving themselves, but partly because they know their dad is feeling a bit low.

I've been tinkering with an idea for the last couple of months; nothing I want to talk about, but it's a possible way of motivating me to look at The Imagination Station again, especially as I have had some ideas how to improve parts of it, but still find myself locked out of the box - mentally. So this new idea, which fizzles and pops every now and then, is up to 21,000 words and is a bit different for me in that I'm writing it in bits and then filling in the gaps when I want to write, but feel more workmanlike than creative. I probably got down 4,000 of those words in the last day. I can't say I've been particularly productive, but a lot of that is down to the fact most of what needs to be done is a bit beyond my scope unless accompanied by an adult.

I haven't seen a meme in two days. I haven't been asked to share something. I've not used a hashtag. I've not spent pointless time writing pointless statements or even pointless time writing meaningful statements. I'm finding it surprisingly liberating not knowing what my friends have done or are doing or are planning to do. I've discovered somewhere new to take the dogs for a walk and get a decent bit of exercise without killing myself or coming home with half a beach or pine forest. I also have a list of things that I need to investigate and a social calendar that's consistent. I could probably do without frivolous communication with the outside world quite easily. I've certainly not missed the news or views of or from said news.

I do know the Ginger ManFat Splash is over and what better reason than to avoid watching TV? Sometimes or a lot of times for some people, media, especially the social kind, becomes the ... centre of existence and it's easy to forget about the world next to you. We need to make sure we can function without it for periods of time, because I think that makes things... calmer.

I think me and social media needed a well-earned break from each other. I'm going to see how long I can resist. It's easier than stopping smoking.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Pop Culture is Dead to Me: The Umpire Strikes Back Again For the Second Time

Several months ago, I wrote an appraisal of the first bunch of Marvel Cinematic Universe films. I stopped my progress at Captain America: Civil War - essentially an Avengers film with a story wrapped around it. This has spoilers but I reckon I'm a fair way behind the rest of the people who are likely to read this, so please, no spoiling it for me in any comments.

Next up was Doctor Strange (recently shown on TV). I stated in the last blog I couldn't understand why they put Cumberpatch into an ill-fitting New York accent. My understanding was Strange was a Bostonian but would have been better suited to a Niles Crane kind of Mid-Atlantic accent. His squeaky Bronx-like lilt kind of allowed the pathos to die a little.

I thought it was me, but several people I've spoken to thought Doctor Strange was longer than its just under 2 hours. It certainly felt like it the first time round - not in a bad way. Watching it again it felt short, abridged in places and nowhere near as sophisticated as it felt originally. In fact, in many ways, it is a slight film based on a similar premise to Iron Fist without fists (although it does predate it by a decade or so). The casting of the ubiquitous weird looking androgynous female actor to play the Ancient One felt like it was done deliberately and the Time Stone being in the possession of a bunch of mystics, hidden in a cloak seemed to suit the rapidly advancing MAJOR plot running through all the films. Don't get me wrong, it's a fun film and fits in nicely; it just felt contrived and unoriginal - oddly. I'm not sure Doc Strange has ever been anything other than a good part player - his comic struggled for many years to sustain decent sales; it was all a bit weird for mainstream comic fans and probably not weird enough for its target audience - the film sat between that.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is in my opinion much better than the first film and also a load of shite. It was a story because of a story tale which felt like a lot of jolly wheezes strung together with a flimsy story draped over it. It managed to introduce, subtly, what's around the corner for the MCU while not really moving things along. The Guardians are like those blokes you sometimes see down the pub; at times they are the best company, but at others you just want to sit on your own or with some less exuberant people.

Second watch was better than the first - as it was with the first film - I just struggled a little with the team and found Ego to be both puzzling and nowhere near as menacing as he was originally portrayed in the comics. It also upsets my sense of original Marvel continuity when characters and things are introduced in 'comics' they didn't originally appear in... if you know what I mean? They do things to appease the likes of me, but it sometimes feels as though Marvel is addressing issues they know old fans will question or are different from comics continuity - this feels especially true of Guardians. I suppose when you have a wise-cracking raccoon and his sentient tree sidekick, you need to wrap a few other characters around them to try and squeeze a film sub-franchise out of it.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is in need of a explanation. Like Batman, I find Spider-Man just a little too much. The MCU without him (or the X-Men) was easy to live with (not so much not having the FF for reasons mentioned in the above paragraph). The first bunch of five movies were... okay. A couple were bearable, I never saw the last one - I caught ten minutes of it on TV a few weeks ago, it didn't make me want to go and watch it. For any comic fan growing up in the 1970s Spider-Man was everywhere. Batman in the 80s. Wolverine in the 90s; you kind of feel happier without them...

Homecoming is a film I enjoyed immensely and also found reminiscent of the first Iron Man film in that it almost felt like an anti-climax - in hindsight. The first Iron Man film is pretty lo-tech compared to what followed; a deliberate low key beginning because the sequels always have to be bigger and better. Despite this being technically the 6th Spider-Man film, it felt underwhelming in its action scenes and that actually helped the film. What I didn't like was how the period after the origin was handled or the fact that Aunt May was now some hotty rather than a wizened old woman. But I did like how Iron Man shoe-horned Spider-Man into the MCU and the development of their relationship. This film was too long by ½ an hour.

Thor: Ragnarok is a bit of a puzzle; it is both brilliant and utterly crass. Ridiculously funny and devastatingly brutal. History may well look back on it and declare it to be the best Marvel film ever; personally I think it's a load of fun with lots of problems and is one of the most disjointed, badly plotted, Marvel films so far. The tone of this film is wrong. It throws up villains capable of destroying a realm which has never looked as grand or impervious as it did in the first Thor film and tried to be a mix of Game of Thrones and Spinal Tap. Comedy gladiators meets Auschwitz with a big demon thrown in for good measure. Ultimately it is just a scene setter - a set up for the final Easter egg - the positioning of players in a bigger game. Was it me or did this film seem just a tad ... convenient?

Black Panther did wonders for multi-culturalism, the use of BAME actors and crew and is about as dull a film as I've ever seen come out of Marvel's studios. For all the brilliance of Wakanda it simply stank of privilege, power and isolationism and as for an action adventure film? Yawn... T'Challa makes Steve Rogers seem like a Vaudeville showman and his back-up crew of jazzy hiphop scientist sister, Walking Dead reject with shaved head and girlfriend who can kick butt against tattooed villain with a power trip was considerably less exciting than watching a Groot grow. There's going to be a second one. I can wait.

And then there was The Avengers: Infinity War where lots of things happened most of the time and then half the population of the universe were gone... It's an intense, full-on film jam-packed with plot holes, which I'm sure will be addressed in Endgame. Other than that, I need to watch it again (probably in the next few weeks) because so much happens.

Ant-Man and the Wasp was all about the post credit scene really. I understand why these films are made. It is amusing and some of the effects tickle the 6 year-old inside me, but they're like the comedy episode in your favourite TV drama - there's one every season to lighten the mood before a big revelation at the end. This film ticked all those boxes. Snap!

And that brings us to Captain Marvel and me as up-to-date as I can be, living in isolation. I won't see Endgame before the end of July at the earliest, so seeing this gave me the chance to see what the preamble to the big show was going to be like. I'd seen reviews expressed about the film, but I had been careful to avoid the main spoilers - not that there were any - so my enjoyment wasn't really impacted on that way.

It's rare I will sit through an entire Marvel movie without some conscious nod of approval, burst of laughter or exclamation of some kind of amaze or amusement. I think it happened with Black Panther (although I did bemoan the fact that Klaw was really poorly used and would have been a much 'better' villain) and when the main credits of Captain Marvel began I realised my only reaction was 'meh'.

Meh? It was a huge hit. Fans loved it.

My Guardians of the Galaxy wasn't the team you see in the cinema; mine was Charlie 27, Vance Astro, Yondo and the other crystal guy - they were the intergalactic heroes of Marvel's late 1960s...

Carol Danvers is Ms Marvel - a maligned and short-lived superhero series in the 1970s by Chris (X-Men) Claremont and John Buscema. It was ace and one of the last comics series I got rid of. It was a vitally important cog in the wheel of Marvel and so much was introduced in it that had bearing on the future of Marvel's comics universe.

Captain Marvel or Mar-Vell was a noble Cree warrior and rebel against his own race, who was also instrumental in the events of the future, but would eventually die of cancer in one of Marvel's best graphic novels - Jim Starlin's Death of Captain Marvel; seek it out; it's stunning (and Thanos is in it). Captain Marvel was also inextricably linked to, among others, the Incredible Hulk, although no Rick Jones exists in the current MCU. And I'm just scratching the surface, I can be really nerdy about this specific corner of the Marvel comics universe.

So, while there are elements of comics history in Captain Marvel, I thought it was an awful film. I mean really dreadful.

Let's start with that epilogue in Infinity War, the one where Nick Fury presses the pager. That's fine. I liked that idea. The one problem I had with it was if I'd been writing this or at least 'show running' it, Captain Marvel would have come out before Doctor Strange. I just find the idea of introducing a major character on the eve of the defining film in the series smacks of deus ex machina and a lack of imagination - so obviously Captain Marvel is not going to have the desired effect in Endgame or be as important as she is being made out to be, otherwise, you know... god in a machine.

As for the film... Brie Larsen wasn't awful, but I'm not sure she's a superhero actor. I found her glib, flippant and almost devoid of any character apart from slightly wise-ass. Nothing happened in that 2 hours that made me want to like Carol Danvers (the film version) and not since Black Panther did a Marvel film feel as staged and as deliberate. The mid-90s were rammed down your throat - look how primitive we were!

Let's get on with the plot/story... there was a story, I'm sure of it. Ace, never-give-up, wannabe fighter pilot Carol 'Avenger' Danvers can't fly combat missions in the late 1980s because she's a girl, so she can only fly top secret light speed missions with a scientist - natch! - until one day an alien craft blows them out of the sky. Carol then destroys the light speed engine and is imbued with the power of the Tesseract which makes her a super-powered bad ass. So the Cree kidnap her, wipe her memories away, turn her into one of their own elite fighting squad - because that always works out for the best - and set her against the evil, nasty, shapeshifting Skrulls, who are bad and evil and need wiping out. Stranded on her home planet and teaming up with a young Nick Fury, Carol discovers her true origins, defeats the bad guys she thought were good guys and returns the good guy who she thought were bad guys to a safer place. The end.

It's shit. Everything from the Blockbuster video store to Fury's eye felt so stage-managed it was unreal. The post credit scenes were both excellent, the first one felt really rushed though and pretty much blows a lot of theories out of the window as to when Captain Marvel will turn up in Endgame.

I have managed to avoid most Endgame spoilers; I am aware that some characters won't be coming back from this next film; although I'm not totally sure who they'll be. I have some nagging feelings about Endgame that I'll share on the understanding that I don't know and don't want to know until I see it.

The strongest feeling I have is that Spider-Man isn't going to be in it. I do know that time travel is involved; you don't have to be a genius to work that one out and I think Tony Stark is going to prevent Parker from following the path he does in Infinity War - maybe putting something in the suit that prevents him from reaching that floating disc. With the next film being a Spidey film, I don't think the MCU are allowed to overkill him that much.

I also expect the Hulk is going to be considerably different from the last time we saw him because he has been conspicuous by his absence in trailers. I expect they're going to get their arses kicked in the first half an hour or so, leading to 2 hours of time travel shenanigans around past Marvel films, altering the time line or preventing whatever happened from happening, before a final showdown with Thanos where people die and the world mourns its heroes.

I think Marvel has been clever in their use of the Hulk since the failures of the first (second) film, but I think they've missed an opportunity by not scheduling another film.

But all of that is to come in the months ahead. I have to avoid all the trailers for the new Spidey film now...

So, 22 films across 11 years and by and large the majority have been great fun - a worthy franchise in many ways. My biggest worry however is the disappearance of my sense of wonder. I accept I'm not the age range the people at Disney are aiming at, but I am the silver generation of comics; I represent the new grandfathers who can introduce their bunch of kids to the delights of comics and comicbook films. I'm not even sure I've got that excited about many of them; possibly the reason I was so disappointed by Captain Marvel was my sense of expectation was destroyed inside ten minutes. I'm trying to wrack my brains for the last Marvel film I genuinely got excited about? I don't feel a nerdy sense of ownership; I can live with the necessary changes to stories and history, in general I've been more than happy with how characters I was never fond of have become integral to everything and have excellent actors making them believable - it's why Captain America, Iron Man and Black Widow have been so powerful and important to theirs and others' stories. It's how they fit into a world of Thunder Gods, rampaging gamma monsters and universe-bending Titans.

The problem I'm having is I'm not even sure I'm enjoying them as much any more. Part of the reason I fell out of love with comicbooks was over exposure mixed with the realisation that I'd subscribed to a never ending story; like a drug I was hooked on reduced to a decreasingly lower quality, massively diluted. I go into each film hoping for something that blows me away and it doesn't really happen any more. Have I reached peak blockbuster movie? Is there just too much superheroness everywhere and not enough on the page, where it started?

To be fair, for me, the next Spider-Man film holds slightly more interest than the next Star Wars film. I just hope that the Marvel films success doesn't end up making them as meaningless to me as other film franchises I can't fathom.

***

Game of Thrones? Meh again. It was all right. Not everyone I disliked died and some I liked did. It was a reasonably satisfying conclusion if not a bit rushed. Like Brexit, not everybody was going to be happy with the conclusion.

Lucifer returned to Netflix with a 10-part series and yet another cliffhanger ending - ish. It kind of crossed the Moonlighting line in the penultimate scene of what was an entertaining, if a little rushed, series and one wonders if another series will happen. If so, I'm betting this season's hellish ending is soon brushed over and we return to crap murder of the week. It's great fun for all its faults.

Doom Patrol - watch it; just watch it. Series of the year.

Shameless US - Fiona left. I said she'd be better off gone and she finally went. It should have been the ending of the series because in a way it felt like the logical conclusion - pretty much back to how it originally started but totally different.

Next up - expectations to be dashed by Godzilla: King of Monsters. Or possibly Stranger Things crossed with a kaiju version of Strictly. I never knew Millie Bobby Brown was British; that rather blew me away (more than Captain Marvel, anyhow...)

The Boys which could be the nail in the superhero series coffin or take it somewhere new.

And catch up on the ½ dozen things we've procrastinated about over the last year: season 3 of Mr Robot and Daredevil and eventually Agents of SHIELD when I'm sure it won't spoil Endgame. That Good Omens looks like it should be great, so I expect it'll be awful - that kicks off on Friday.

The most important TV of the century so far is on BT Sport on Saturday night. I expect it will define the rest of my life or shatter it for the summer, at least...

Monday, May 13, 2019

Pop Culture is Dead to Me 5: Some Things and another Thing

It's time to wander through the trichome-lined walls of my brain once again as I open my occasional bag of opinions on current televisual and cinematic wassnames...

Indulge me. Sometimes I simply need to kick back and do something I used to do for a living - speculate about trivial bollocks. It doesn't happen very often - I fancy playing golf more often but I don't do that either - and I wondered if I still had it in me and if I haven't it might be fun to speculate...

Now the Disney/Marvel/Fox 'merger' has been finalised it means the return of certain properties into the MCU or Marvel Cinematic Universe. This means that (Disney) Marvel can now use the X-Men and all related characters and The Fantastic Four and (I believe) most of the related characters; this would include Dr Doom, Galactus, Silver Surfer, but probably not She-Hulk (I don't know why, I might be wrong, I watch so much shit on You Tube).

Historically, the FF were the start of the Marvel Universe, so in an attempt to introduce them into an extant MCU would possibly be a bit of stretch (if you'll pardon the pun); also the X-Men's existing (but soon to be defunct) universe is most definitely not part of the same universe that houses the Avengers; the X-characters are fundamental elements of their reality.

To confuse purists, the MCU has The Inhumans yet the FF was the comic the Inhumans were introduced in and the one I used to associate them with the most. The MCU can use the Peter Parker Spider-Man and related characters, but other characters belong to Sony (Venom, Black Cat, certain villains). The waters are already muddy without really adding to it by introducing new elements that simply can't be... new.

I expect at some point - it might have already been hinted at in Avengers: Endgame (but I haven't seen it so no spoilers) - where all these different realities will merge into one and it won't only change things, it'll allow back stories to be told, new origin films and return any heroes no longer in the films to return, as new-look.

This would have been longer but I wrote it before Captain Marvel came out and I figured several months later I should be as superficial as any good click bait...

There have been some standout TV shows this year, so far, many with a superhero tinge and rammed full of humour done in a way that works. The Umbrella Academy was unknown to me and it didn't do anything I thought it would. It's an exasperating series - without giving any spoilers away - that delivers more than enough to keep you hooked, but leaves just a little too much for a sequel which I'm not sure has been green lit yet. It's bloody awesome, but it leaves you with a shit load of questions.

The Tick opened his wings again and became more grand. The almost theatrical (as in stage) feel to the first series was replaced by something much bigger and bolder. There was the return of familiar jokes and it meandered its way through 10 episodes like a bull on acid in a cushion shop while introducing an entire Tick universe to ogle at. It is brilliantly absurd and I highly recommend it, but you need to see season #1 or #2 will make no sense at all.

Old favourites in our house are having a hard time in many ways; the latest season of The Walking Dead really feels rudderless and could soon become the 21st century's version of V. Remember that? By the time they got to the end, extras had stepped up to play lead characters, the main cast were like rats from a sinking ship. The series needs to die and in many ways so does the franchise. Fear the Walking Dead was better than its parent last season, but that's because it unshackled itself from the angst and got a bit black comedy. There is literally no future for these shows.

Game of Thrones is coming thundering to a conclusion and while I thoroughly enjoyed the later seasons for the spectacle alone. As a fan of the books, I know I'm never going to read them because it isn't going to finish, so this has been fun - after a fashion.
I'm puzzled by it and I don't think there will be resolution. I'm still none the wiser as to the motives of the Ice King or even who he was, really. The mystical side seems to have been underplayed to the point of it being a tedious side story that needed completion. The dragons do not appear to be much of an asset unless it's frying innocents and so many good characters have had their stories curtailed by the need for completion. This final season so far - I have one to watch - seems... convenient, almost an unjust finale. I have no idea what will happen, I don't think I care, I do think Jon Snow (err nerr, Jon Snerr) will go back to the North and that's as far as I'm going with my predictions. It's been too quick, shoddily written and kind of jumped the shark in odd ways.

Lucifer is back and looking far more lavish, with a bigger budget and the same cheap, tackiness I've grown to love about this utterly dreadful series. All ten fell last week on Netflix and reaction is positive. As for resolutions, part of me wants this to be it, even if they could really go for it and do something really weird. I also want someone, at some point, to point out that Lucifer might be the angel of death, but he was once simply an angel and a very important one at that. There's a great scene in the second episode of the new season where Chloe asks him how he could be who he was and he replies, 'It was my job.' The thing that makes Lucifer possibly one of the best crap TV shows for yonks is Tom Ellis; he is simply brilliant and this new series seems to have remembered the charm he had in the very first season, which gave the show its character.

As usual there are a stack of things we haven't got around to watching and things we're finally getting through now it's the summer. I sometimes wonder what my fellow TV nerd friends must think when they learn that I don't watch one of my all time favourite TV series as soon as I can - hey, I haven't seen Captain Marvel or Endgame yet and I'm avoiding most spoilers; I have ideas based on snatched headlines and if I can keep it that way... In many respects, we've embraced the box-set culture and as a result we have everything from Fleabag to last year's second season of Flowers to catch up on. Over the last couple of weeks, we've been working our way through season #9 of Shameless US. It has consistently been one of my favourite series since its second season and I know that it's been renewed for a tenth season. It has become a grower in the US and now has a huge following thanks to syndication.

This ninth series has felt like it's time to stop and the first cracks in the cast are showing. Every season, the character Lip has pretty much had the best stories; he has been one of the most likeable rogues TV has ever created and in the US version he sticks around and as a result he has really become the central character - flawed, brutally human, alcoholic at 20 and an absolute pillar of decency and he's driven this latest season. It has been good to see the two youngest finally get interesting stories, far more enjoyable has been Liam's travails than his whiny sister Debby. But the main reason for the decline has been the two main reasons for its success. Fiona and Frank Gallagher played by Emmy Rossum and William H Macy have dominated this show from the start, but as the years have gone on, the devilishly brilliant Chicago Frank Gallagher has slowly been morphing into his UK equivalent. He has had more and more outlandish stories in a series that seemed to only have one every year - one slightly inexplicable unlikely event - but now has him lurching from one comedy set-up to another. He has had his moments this year, oddly enough mainly with his daughter Fiona, two actors who are rarely seen in the same scene for the last few years. The best line in the series for years was when he told her at the bar, "The difference between us is simple, I'm a happy drunk, you're a mean drunk. You're just looking for a fight." As he watched his daughter finally descend down the path he chose many years before.

However, all of this is just a preamble...

I watched the 13th (of 15) episode of a new TV show on Saturday and for the following fifteen minutes or so I considered that it was possibly my favourite show on at the moment. It shouldn't be; in many ways it's slightly more ludicrous than the Umbrella Academy; it's definitely not The Tick, even if it out-weirds the Tick by a country mile; it is something of an enigma, especially for me and I think it might be one of the best things to hit the screens for a long time. It has problems, but I don't know if they are problems or just part of the journey...

I'm not a fan of DC TV series. I don't watch Gotham. I'm not into Arrow or Flash. I stopped watching DC-related shows with Smallville. Nothing I saw from the few episodes I've watched held any interest. So when Titans came along I simply ignored it and probably would anything else that came along. DC TV for me = meh.

You ever get that feeling? It's happened with music and books; where I've judged it by its cover or title or simply because... When I saw that DC was releasing a Doom Patrol series my initial reaction was meh. But when it was released, I was quick to get hold of it. I'd had a feeling that it was probably going to use the Grant Morrison template rather than the Arnold Drake one and while I'd never read an issue of that, despite being right in the middle of my comics period, the idea of it being weirder than average appealed to me.

Before I continue; people who watch Titans will have been introduced to the Doom Patrol in the fourth episode of that series. Forget that ever happened because this is not the group of individuals who appeared in that (and I can't understand why they did it that way and then changed it so much unless it's another Doom Patrol and this one exists in a reality where Titans don't...).

Doom Patrol loosely is:
Cliff Steele's brain encased in a robotic body. Cliff Steele was a boorish NASCAR driver and minor celebrity. He's voiced by Brendan Frazer, who, in the flashback scenes he's in is looking fat and oafish. Robotman is loud, tactless, bombastic and a little bit mad. His story is dealt with in an very interesting way, partly involving a rat gaining revenge.
Rita Farr - former B list Hollywood actress who was a bitch of a bitch is like the team's Margot Leadbetter. During the filming of a blockbuster, an accident means she has no control over her body and can simply turn into a puddle of ... well, her. She now has a degree of control, but is haunted by her past. She is Elastic Girl.
Larry Trainor is a closeted gay test pilot who has an accident that should have killed him but he walks away badly disfigured and connected to a negative energy being. Larry is also riddled with guilt about his own past and having to accept that the energy being is actually part of him.
Crazy Jane has 64 multiple personalities and it seems that every single one of them has a superpower, although that isn't clear and we've only seen a few on the surface. She's a blindingly brilliant character played by an actress who takes on each personality extremely well. Jane is possibly very, very powerful.

Then there's Dr Niles Caulder, their mentor - of sorts - and reason all of them were together. Caulder is really a man of mystery who appears to have several sides and has as many enemies as friends. He plays a big part in the series but is only in it for a few episodes because he's abducted by...
Mr Nobody is the chief antagonist, a devious, scheming manipulator with a fragmented body and mind who is also extremely powerful. He has been pulling the strings, in more ways than one, since the opening episode.
He was also the reason that a character who isn't on the Doom Patrol roster in comics was brought in (or was he?). Cyborg, from the Justice League feels like the only character that has been shoehorned into this series. From his debut in episode #2 to his complete ineffectiveness throughout the series, despite putting himself up as some paragon of virtue, may well have been a manipulation by Mr Nobody - but I think he's unwanted extras.

There are other characters: Willoughby Kipling - a chaos magician; Cyborg's dad Silas Stone, who has been made deliberately obtuse and potentially nasty, Flex Mentallo, the original Doom Patrol, The Bureau of Normalcy, Danny the Street, a donkey that vomits other dimensions, King Ezekiel of the cockroaches (literally), Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, the Beardhunter and enough weirdness to make you know with all your heart you aint in Kansas no more.

It is just totally wrong for a superhero series. It's definitely 18 rated in places; deals with issues you would never expect to see and it's hammed up to the eyeballs, yet it's quite brilliant. By the time you get to the 13th episode you will have become hooked or given up. My wife gave it one episode and decided it wasn't for her. I was almost ready to join her after the second because Cyborg was such a jarringly wrong presence (which might be key to why Mr Nobody doesn't want him there), but I stuck with it and it just got under my skin. It's like no other superhero series I know; especially one where the baddie essentially ignores the fourth wall.

Long may it stick around if it's as odd as it has been.

Anything else wasn't worth mentioning or I haven't seen it.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vegetarians versus Vegans - the Final Battle

Give or take a couple of months, I've been a vegetarian 25 years this year. It's one of the few things I've consistently succeeded at.

By some strange coincidence, it is also over 25 years since I started eating cheese. Apparently I had no problem with it when I was very young - a time I have no memory of - but the closest I'd ever got since then was mozzarella. My aversion to cheese could have been caused by discovering I didn't like yoghurt when I was 5 and then discovering both cheese and yoghurt were made from 'off milk'. The 'cheese epiphany' started at a rare breeds farm just outside St David's, on an absolute shitty day. We were on holiday with our great friends Roger and Barbara, in a remote part of south-west Wales, and they opted to sit in the car rather than brave the usual holiday weather looking at cow shit and sheep's arses.

For 50p you could buy a bag of animal feed, which you could then give to whatever animal you fancied slurping out of your hand. I like animals, so when this tiny ickle baby lamb [said like you are 5] took a shine to me I revelled in him tickling my hand eating out of it; he was so good he consumed all the treats and I needed more. I went in search of the wife, who also had a bag of feed, and was followed by the tiny ickle baby lamb. I introduced her to my new friend and she said, "That's your favourite meat, that is." Having been a vegetarian for at least 5 years she was very passionate about that kind of thing. It would be fair to say that I never purchased meat to be consumed by me again. Whatever was in the freezer was quickly consumed and within a year I'd decided on being a fully-fledged veggie.

On the same holiday as this, the wife and friend Barbara went to a cheese making factory and came home with locally-produced Welsh cheese. I sampled a cheddar with chives and was pleasantly surprised; Roger who wouldn't eat cheese for another 23 years wasn't even going there. Obviously the discovery that mature cheddar is an entirely different world to some of the bland Edam-esque slabs of fat I'd grown to dislike, was a great thing, especially with my impending vegetarianism and despite being in my 30s when I discovered its joys, it is the equal-single-most reason I could never be a vegan (the other being duck eggs). Vegan 'cheese' isn't cheese, the same was Californian sparkling wine isn't champagne or Crawley town isn't capital of Ireland. Vegan 'cheese' is some form of spread masquerading as cheese by virtue of some enormous environmental footprint. [This pivotal holiday also introduced me to the delights of red wine - something I'd resisted until then.]

This is pretty much the 2nd (and 3rd) reason(s) I'm not a vegan. I can't see myself giving up dairy and in an enormous amount of ways they are as bad as meat eaters in terms of environmental footprint and damage; a large portion of vegan food is now processed because veganism is a new cult for burger-loving 30-somethings who probably wouldn't know how to make a brilliant vegetable stew or a spicy dhal or a wicked 5 bean chilli if their lives depended on it.

Let's also get another thing straight; you are not going to convert the world to not eating meat; the best you can hope for is a shift in beliefs, eventually leading to a huge downturn in consumption - there are too many meat eaters; it's a weaning off process only. So what vegetarianism needs to do is come up with ways of lessening their environmental footprint and given that my own consumption of processed food is minimal and I do not eat imported fruit or vegetables, sticking largely to seasonal produce unless left with no option; it is probably my cheese, milk, eggs and processed material that travels the most distance. The vegetable basket of Scotland is Ayrshire so most of our vegetables have travelled less than 50 miles, only our pulses and spices are really imported... I pretty much feel like a post-Brexit Britain citizen already.

The reason all this vegan food is as expensive or worse for the environment is the amount of work going into making it 'as good as' a meat dish. I understand the logic behind burger and sausage shapes and pies; they're all convenient shapes for wrapping or being self-contained; I don't understand the desire for 'bleeding' burgers unless it's to con a meat eater into eating a beetroot. I don't think a homemade veggie burger eaten on a bun is me hankering for a cow; this new vegan burger is almost like an advert by the meat industry for the meat industry and it costs five times as much and has about as much environmental impact as that cow in that field you want stopping because of the children's futures...

Take the infamous cauliflower steak - an enormously expensive slice of vegetable, marinated in more spices, for longer, with an unknown amount of waste. You pay for someone else's pfaffing about because most people haven't got the imagination to work out how to do it themselves.

I don't eat meat because I like animals. My wife doesn't eat meat because she actually doesn't like it. I'm the more radical of the two. I've stayed a veggie probably because I've never said I'm never going to eat meat again because my intention, at some point in the future, is to have the one meal I've hankered after in 25 years - seaside fish and chips (oh and people who claim fish are vegetables are twats).

Over the last month I have made a conscious effort to map out my environmental footprint. I add to it because of the amount of lentils, pulses and beans I have in my larder, as well as spice mixes from India and I have cassava in my freezer - the thing is a bag of lentils will last me months; as will the spices, so the cost per meal is spread out thinly. The worst footprint is probably the small amount of Quorn we consume and the bean burgers or other 'processed' food we have in the freezer when I don't feel like being Fanny Craddock and inventing something glorious to eat.

No meat or fish cuts down the carbon footprint enormously; what dairy we consume is all locally sourced or produced; in fact my preferred tipple here is from a microbrewery 15 miles to the south of me and, a major point is if I did eat meat or fish I could get 100% of it within 15 miles of my house and have a history of what the animal is likely to have lived like. The weird thing is people up here think of venison the way people down south think of pork chops - easily and widely available (but more local).

I kept ducks for years. I know people who keep chickens - ex-battery hens or rare breeds - is giving these animals a healthy, stress free life and reaping the rewards that you would otherwise dispose of sensible?

Veganism is something I have always thought as a bit extreme; a bit swivel-eyed and slightly mad-bag-lady with a dusting of masochism. As a vegetarian for nearly half of my life, I think I have a valid opinion here. If being vegan means your environmental footprint means you're not really an eco-warrior just a weekend warrior then you either need cooking lessons or are too bloody lazy. If you can survive on just about everything inside a 20 mile radius then you can eat live pigs just so long as they don't mind and you have their written permission. Just remember what you eat, or rather where it comes from and how it was produced is far more important to the environment than whether it 'bleeds' or has a 'beefy' flavour, or even simulates 'real sweaty fat' or the 'screams of dying animals' when you bite into it. If you take £10 of your weekly shop to local producers, local markets and shops then you're contributing towards the general regeneration of your own high street and the local food industry. That must be worth it more than a packet of Egyptian fine beans or Peruvian asparagus?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A Spirit in Eden

Like any great love of your life, this one for me had an inauspicious start. In fact, I'm pretty sure that influenza played a huge part in the music that changed my life.

I'm fairly sure that I remember seeing Talk Talk perform either Today or their eponymous first hit on Top of the Pops. I'm also fairly sure that I was not moved to go and buy whatever one it was. The reason I believe this is because when I went to Milton Keynes Bowl in 1982 to see Six of the Best (Genesis and Peter Gabriel raising money for the failed WOMAD festival), I had heard of this woefully misplaced bunch of young men, even if I really can't tell you anything about their set; apart from the fact they didn't complete it and I was one of the people booing.

37 years later, I still feel as though some of the most important gigs I've been to I've missed essential things. Talk Talk stopped doing live gigs after they toured The Colour of Spring and I didn't get to see them on that tour, so my only experience wasn't a good one.

Talk Talk existed and I was largely unaware of them. However, a measure of how important this band have been to me is the fact I can tell you, in great detail, what I was doing, where I was and who I was with when I had the penny drop moment and realised they were something special.

I had influenza. So did my housemate Rob. Proper flu not man-flu. I'd been going out with my then girlfriend (who would become my wife) for about three months and she offered to cook us dinner because neither of us were in a fit enough state to do much but crash out on the sofas. She made spaghetti bolognaise, based on my recipe, and it was utterly horrid and only the third thing she had ever cooked me from scratch in 36 years.

The house had recently had the new 'cable TV' fitted and we now had a dozen or so extra channels to get bored with. One of these stations was called Music Box, a Dutch produced MTV copy with VeeJays and about 60 videos. While we struggled to eat an unpalatable mess, Talk Talk's Such a Shame came on and it freaked us both out. It was a decidedly weird video, using all kinds of then modern trickery and I would later discover that the song was loosely based on Luke Reinhart's The Dice Man, which I'd read just a few months earlier and had been impressed by.

I didn't know if I liked the song. It was weird and didn't really sound like your average pop song, but I wanted to see the video again; there was something really 'wrong' about it. Over the space of a week, I saw it again about six times and by the time I was well again I'd gone down to my local WH Smith's and bought the 12" single. This alone was something of a revelation as I thought the B-side (Again, A Game, Again) was also astounding.

As a serious collector in the 1980s, I immediately bought everything by Talk Talk as humanly possible. Both albums, umpteen singles, back catalogue stuff from record fairs or mail order. I already knew that I'd found my band. Not a band or artist that I'd been influenced into liking by peers, family or popularity; this was something I heard, I liked and I obsessed about.

It's My Life, the second album, was on constant rotation. It was an unusual album in that while it was full of commercial records, the band's sound made them almost feel as though they were by alternative dimension. Lead singer Mark Hollis had a distinctive, velvet voice, unlike anything since the crooners of the 1940s and 1950s but with a contemporary edge and distinctively uncommercial. Of course, back then I had no idea that what I was listening to was the embryonic first footsteps of the invention of a rock genre and the metamorphosis of a pop band into something uncategorisable by the time their final album was released. This bunch of Essex lads who came into music for a laugh were about to have a profound effect on some of the greatest musicians of the last 30 years...

The Colour of Spring was preceded by Life's What You Make It - the single that was more anticipated by music fans than it was by pop fans. The respect the band was developing was clear to see when almost every DJ in the country spun a song that didn't even make the top 10 and while it was clearly Talk Talk it felt like a departure from the wall-of-sound Euro-pop jauntiness of the first album or the off-beat quirkiness of the second. This felt like a song performed by three men who had just been awakened.

People bang on about The Spirit of Eden, but it was prefaced by The Colour of Spring; an album with some pop songs that weren't poppy and some other songs that had already begun to confuse, astound and puzzle. Spring is a tale of two halves - the end of one era and the beginning of another; you could almost rearrange the running order into two distinct periods, separated by vinyl and flow. If an example was needed from the album it's Time, It's Time, a song which lays the foundations of what was to come by flushing away the pop in a track that must have had prog rock fans scratching their heads, but tapping their feet. It wasn't the real indicators - April 5th, Chameleon Day and B-sides of singles suggested - forewarned - fans what to expect in the future. No one noticed.

The Spirit of Eden was something profound, yet it took me considerably more time to get than I expected. I bought it the day it came out, rushed home, put it on and sat in silence for two sides. What had I just listened to? Where were the tunes? What was it all about? But, you see, Talk Talk had become the most important band to me. I had already declared that Such a Shame was my favourite single of all time and that the video - directed by Tim Pope - was the best video I'd ever seen. It's My Life was vying for favourite album; they could do no wrong.

I persevered with it; playing it three more times before putting it away and wondering what I was going to do. The next day, I played Spring again and then Spirit and for the second time the penny dropped. I got it. I really really got it. It was about texture and movement; it was about fluidity of music and word; it was something extraordinary for its time and the people who got it realised that almost immediately. People talk about important albums; this was pretty much one of them and largely because of what people remembered them for as a pop band and not for the album tracks that hid the future so beautifully.

I'm probably wrong, but I can't remember a bad review for it. I do remember a lot of bewilderment and even some people who weren't even sure it was Talk Talk, but it also largely disappeared.

This was pre-internet days and a time when the music press was still your main source of news. A friend who worked in a record shop told me about Laughing Stock coming out and this time I approached it expecting it to be like Spirit and not like what went before; and this didn't bother me because Spirit was still something otherworldly and emotional.

I remember laughing after I played it. Oh it was most definitely Talk Talk but where Spirit of Eden felt as though it was a puzzle you needed to crack to reveal its hidden beauty, Laughing Stock felt like an impenetrable anti-record (and it was now well known that Hollis had massive problems with the record company and pretty much did the album as a complete opposite of what they requested). Yet, it wasn't at all. It was the next layer down in Hollis and Friese-Greene's journey into the heart of a musician's soul. Essentially 19 hours of improvised jazz-infused post rock, edited down into what essentially is a single piece, it's the kind of thing you can imagine people in 200 years pouring over like music historians do something by Mozart or Beethoven.

Laughing Stock is a dark, disturbing album littered with moments of hope. It infuriated the record company, confounded the critics and like the album before it would have won more awards than it could hold in a big bag had it been released in the 21st century. And that, my friends, is the thing. The Colour of Spring only feels dated because of the production, but large parts of it wouldn't feel out of place in 2019; the same but more so has to be said of The Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock - they're not timeless in that classic sense; they're timeless in that if you played someone who had never heard of Talk Talk either album and told them it was a new release they would never question you or think you were lying. In many ways it is impossible that a band could release two amazingly unsuccessful and uncommercial albums which are now regarded as two of the greatest albums of the 20th century.

In 1998, Mark Hollis released a solo album. It was minimalist again. It felt less produced than the last two Talk Talk albums and there was a sense of maturity about him. It seems it may well have been a contractual obligation album, but even so it exudes everything that changed Talk Talk fans into Talk Talk fans (and only Talk Talk fans can really understand that). In many ways it feels like a sad throwaway album, which is both lovely to listen to but of little substance. Even if Hollis wanted to do the album, maybe it was the fact he knew himself that he couldn't regain the heights he achieved in the late 1980s.

I play most of the albums at least once a year now; sometimes I'll have a binge on Spirit and Laughing Stock with some of the extra tracks thrown in and then the next time I might do the period that started it for me.

A few years ago, a piano piece Hollis wrote was used in the closing sequence of a Kelsey Grammar series called Boss, it was pretty much the first sighting of Hollis in the 21st century and started a flurry of rumours, which as usual proved to be wishful thinking and hope; but the wonder if Hollis would ever do anything again was never too far away from the surface.

Then the news of his death broke and I have felt the way you do when you find out a childhood friend, who you haven't seen for 30 odd years, has died and you're transported back to the days when you were the friends. That nostalgic melancholy that sinks in sometimes and hurts because while you've always known you can never go back there again, you kind of wish you can.

I can't think of a single musician's death that has effected me as much as Mark Hollis. He belonged to me. I got it. I got it a long time before anyone else did. They were a special band and he was a very special front man; a rare thing in music, a man of his word with integrity and determination. He wasn't a trained musician, he picked it up as he went along; that makes him even better in my eyes and he was always the best anyhow.

You never knew me but I was your friend x