90’s Nostalgia

It’s begun a little prematurely, but it has already begun.

In our last decade we saw an overwhelming flood of love for the 80’s in media, Stranger Things being one of the biggest flags waved on that particular hill, but the resurrection of Mad Max, the themes weaved into Guardians of the Galaxy, Legion, Joker, a few ill-advised reboots and remakes, and while there wasn’t such a clamour to see the return of big hair and shoulder pads, there was a definite rush to see the return of a certain colourful aesthetic.

Well, the thirty year wheel of nostalgia is turning, those of us who most keenly remember the 90’s in TV in film are now well into their thirties and entering positions of power within the film and television industry, and rapidly all of those “90’s Kids Will Remember” memes are about to become the guidelines to a whole era of mainstream media. So what have we got to look forward to over the next ten years? Well how about a Jumanji reboo- oh hang on…

We’re not going to roll back to the days of playing GameBoy games in short bursts by street light, and this decade is more likely to see a few deaths in the physical media market than a return to floppy disc, CD and cassette – well, unless cassettes make a vinyl-style comeback. We might see retro gaming reunite us with the old black and white, heavily pixelated game style, and while it won’t be anything new to create pixelated games, I suspect we might see some low-poly graphics like Superhot become a growing vogue over the next five years, an effort to evoke the days of emergent console gaming, days spent crosslegged in front of CRT monitors playing early renditions of Street Fighter and Mario Kart, on their first Playstation or SNES.

Tamagotchis are already circling the mainstream again, weirdly I can see the incredible growth of mobile gaming and the GO-gaming era creating some new Tamagotchi style trend. Not that one can’t get a Tamagotchi app, but they’ve hardly exploded the same way Pokemon Go did. The handheld gaming market exploding in the 90’s could spill over into the mobile market as well, I can envision a greater boom in mobile games in the years to come than we have seen before, driven by those kids who so fondly remember their first GameBoy.

Television and film, the titans of the 90’s were – for the geekier kids – Buffy and the X-Files, and not forgetting Charmed. Of course there were the Star Treks and various other space-faring sci-fi’s that some might consider a golden age, but I suspect that Star Trek has shot its proverbial quiver. We might see Babylon 5 resurrected, but I suspect it’ll be the teen-appeal horror that makes a return, 90’s kids sick of Twilight just waiting for the right time to step up and “show these kids how it’s done!”

Sitcoms never go away, they’re a universal constant, and the Seinfeld formula of “Friends in New York in a Coffee Shop” has the potential to make a comeback. I’d love to see the trope blended with the kind of dark-backdrop cartoons like Hey Arnold, Doug, and Recess, some kind of blend of cheerful fantasy set against harsh reality… seems like we could do with something of the sort at the moment.

So many of the television themes are about the outsiders perspective. There may be nothing more iconic than Daria, I’d argue that it’s a version of the 90’s that will linger longer than the likes of Friends, but time, and the release of a new Jay and Silent Bob film, will tell… maybe Bill and Ted 3. Better, I think, to see a return of flannel shirts, baggy jumpers, and Doc Martin boots, than to raise Mr. Blobby from the dead. Who wants another Spice-Girls decade when we could bring back Deftones instead?

I for one, look forward to the 2030’s. Assuming a natural progression and no apocalyptic event in the next ten years… as unlikely as it may be, I anticipate a new age of long leather coats and films ending with nu-metal tracks.

Legion

Seek television that breaks concepts down to dust, a story of the mind that tinkers with perception, deception, time and personality, every bit as warped and alien as a dream. All of those arguments you’ve ever had about what a superpower should be capable of are great fodder for a creative mind, but it’s so rare to see the product of those arguments come to mainstream television. This kind of arthouse flexing of the thought muscles, toying with metaphors brought to life, the landscape of the mind turned into a battlefield, that’s usually the reserve of Sundance Festivals and indie game developers.

Legion, a series based on a lesser known X-Men character, and played by Dan Stevens, who you’ll know if you watched Apostle on Netflix at all. Legion is the son of Charles Xavier himself, and like his father he is a staggeringly powerful telepath, actually a great deal more powerful, but there’s a few complications attached to his ability. At a very early age, David Haller was subject to a dark parasite that piggy-backed off the strength of his mind, another telepath – Amahl Farouk, the Shadow King, disembodied but no less alive, arrogant and malevolent, and harbouring a vendetta against David’s father.

Now, whether it was because of Farouk, the strain of carrying the indomitable will from an early age, or the side effects of having the bogeyman that haunts you for decades, or if it was already part of his mind, David… Legion, suffers a host of mental health issues, not least of which being dissociative identity disorder on a massive scale. He’s a bucket of voices, a classroom of toddlers piloting a psychological tank, and the results are amazing.

Where Legion breaks the comic book mould is that war between telepaths isn’t an action packed romp of explosions, gunfire and thrown fists, they’re wars of words, and emotions, and concepts, which leads to battles of song, dance, hallucinations, haunted-house style walks through memories, and the reshaping of reality, not just mental reality but the physical world.

The series features surreal and dark performances from Aubrey Plaza and Jemaine Clement, predominantly comedy actors but masters of the strange, and brilliant at creating unsettling characters. One can never be certain if Aubrey’s character, Lenny, is real or a mask of the Shadow King, worn to gain trust, even to the very end it’s near impossible to know for sure. As for Jemaine’s character, Oliver, is never entirely certain if he is real, being so wholly attuned to his own mind and the myriad worlds and sweet jazz therein, that his body has become a fiction to him.

The “side cast” are also arranged to explore psychological concepts; memory, identity, loss, dependence, addiction, and all of the madnesses that dog these parts of human interaction, and because they each represent a part of the human condition we get chance to explore their feelings and their characters through interconnected narratives that drive towards a single, many layered plot.

It’s all strangely beautiful, and set to a 60’s/70’s backdrop, colour scheme, and soundtrack, meaning everything is cast in this psychedelic clash of colours and images, equal parts horror film, musical, and emotional drama, but dotted with anachronisms to  There’s astonishingly little in common with anything else based in a comic book universe, although I’d say it has fingerprints in the Joker, being based on the struggles of mental health. We’d have seen something like it in the New Mutants, a project so quagmired in production limbo it looks set to sink into oblivion.

But it’s more than just comic books, I don’t remember the last thing I saw that was so willing to violate the basics of narrative to the point where it becomes an aesthetic study of character rather than a straight forward beginning-to-end story. And sure, there’s a narrative to follow, but it’s impossible to know what parts are story, what parts are fictions, what takes place in the mind, or out of it. This is television that plays with the medium, rolling camera angles, shifting aspect ratios, clever transitions, unapologetic use of colour motifs, even the recaps that begin some episodes replace “previously” with “apparently” or “ostensibly”. When season three introduces the mere concept of time travel, it’s not a shark jumped, more a continuation of themes, themes of warped narrative and the inherent instability of the mind. We cannot trust our narrator, not the accuracy of his story, or his motives, or the way he perceives himself.

The only thing I’ve seen come close is American Gods, or perhaps Westworld, and more should be done like it, mentally challenging, shifting sands of ideas that force the brain to work harder instead of accepting a linear and heavily simplified story telling upon which our brains grow fat. A little mental junkfood is all well and good, and I’m not saying that this is your meat and potatoes as such… perhaps a more accurate analogy would be that it’s like a long holiday somewhere far from home compared to a weekend in the same old pub. One expands the mind, the other is all too comfortable to promote active thought. There’s nothing wrong with either, but too much of one makes the other lose value.

Infinity Train

A few years ago I stumbled across a pilot for a possible cartoon series to star Ashley Johnson in the lead role. That pilot became a series, that series will be getting a follow up some time next year, and there’s a handful of short episodes somewhere that I haven’t seen.

The series takes place on a train that is, unsurprisingly, infinite in length, and comprised of extradimensional cars that contain worlds that conform to a strange and alien theme. Kingdoms ruled by dogs, nations of sentient water blobs who are terrible salespeople, caverns of crystal that alter with sound, worlds where reflections can gain independence from their caster, that sort of thing. The cars reorder themselves on a whim, and some require quests to be completed or revelations to be reached before they will reveal a door onwards, some are just hard work.

Main character, Tulip, is a young programmer and games designer who flees a troubled home life to get to a design camp, and takes the train oblivious to how it’ll interfere with her plans. Suffice is to say that the train turns into a journey of self discovery, and she gathers new friends along the way, because it’s a kids show, of course she does, and one of them is a robot with mental troubles of its own, and the king of all corgi’s voiced by Ernie Hudson because hell yeah he is!

I won’t lie, I tend to evaluate any intellectual property based on how easily I imagine running a role-playing game in the setting and using the rules inherent to the world, and by that category alone I’m pretty well sold. Characters could start with a fixed level of mental disquiet, and every step of their journey either brings them closer to, or takes them farther from the revelation that will point the way home. Sessions are based on cars, their are enemies… allies, and all of it is in pursuit of personal betterment… like Quantum Leap… but it’s a train.

How can hindsight be so flawless if we use rosy tinted glasses to see it? We look at the kids shows of our youth as “the golden age”, hell, I’ve had plenty of arguments with people about who got the best era of cartoons, but the truth is we only remember the good ones. When I was a kid I watched Hey Arnold and Recess (also starring Ashley Johnson), and that’s still good TV, it’s dated surprisingly well over the years. But we also had Bodger and Badger, Teletubbies, and the Men in Black cartoon series. And it’s easy for us to watch kids TV now and say “Well this is terrible, we’d never have sat through this!” Well, we did, we just forgot because it wasn’t very good.

We’re already confronted with a generation who grew up on Adventure Time, of which I’m already a fan, and I think that – given another season or two – Infinity Train has that kind of potential. It doesn’t shy away from thoughtful dialogue, challenging issues, or emotional moments, nor does it dress up every heartbreaking moment in clunky metaphor, we see the unpleasant home life that drove Tulip to flee home, and we understand the struggle she’s going through. It’s a situation many children suffer with, and it can present them with challenges that are horrible and confusing, but all too real. And slowly but surely we see her come to terms with her situation, and that’s not say that things automatically get better for her. There’s a happy ending that’s not “happily ever after”, but accepting, and powerful in its own way.

Ok, it’s also a kids show, I’ve no doubt with a subtle change in target audience – like if this was an anime instead of a western cartoon – it’d be able to go a little darker, take things a little more seriously, maybe even take a more dramatic stance on the adversity Tulip faces; it’d be nice for more animation to embrace the melancholic. But I won’t lie, I’m curious to see what a second season of Infinity Train can offer. The trailer already shows that we have a new protagonist, but thanks to certain events in the first season we keep Ashley Johnson’s character, Tulip. There’s also no malevolent force controlling the train, so I’m curious to see what adversity our new hero faces.

Those Bad Creative Habits

While Tim brings a close to his NaNoWriMo efforts (well done man), and as the year heralds the end of GeekOut, I’m coming to realise that a few of my bad habits have reared their ugly heads. Perhaps it’s brought about by the sedentary lifestyle of a self-employed writer and entertainer, destined to only travel for work once or twice a week for the foreseeable future. I’m stuck in front of my computer far more often, clawing and reaching for excuses to get out of the house for a few hours. Fortunately running GeekOut events have afforded me a far wider social circle, so I’m certainly not short of people whose times I can encroach upon. But in between coffees and gigs, I sit, a slave to my keyboard and microphone.

I recently used Skyrim as a means of pulling myself out of an unpleasant mental spiral. It worked, and I’ve built up a rather brutal sneaky barbarian and necromancer who I’m rather pleased with. Built a house at staggering speed, took part in the civil war for the first time ever (disappointing cycle of quick mission and dull fort sieges to be honest), and then realised how much time I’d been pouring into the game… and all of the games I’d neglected.

Understand that I am not saying Skyrim was a bad choice, nor am I particularly saying that the amount of time I’ve been spending playing games has been particularly negative, but there is a definite need to dig into the untapped well of unplayed games, and not give in to the temptations of the Autumn sale! That well is not running dry any time soon.

And it’s not just Skyrim, I’ve been watching the same cycle of YouTube videos, watching the same old films and TV shows that make me a little over-comfortable, and while they do just that, I come to face a blank page and find myself with nothing new to say. I sit and drive at old projects, progress definitely slowed, but I’m definitely not going to give into the temptation of starting a new project and consigning the current ones to the archive of half-finished trash.

To be fair I’m rather proud of some of that trash, pieces of it are constantly being rolled into the next thing, and onwards to the next thing, so that my entire library of unfinished products can be charted like sedimentary strata, but it doesn’t change the fact that there’s very little finished work in it. It’s a terrible cycle, but there’s some positive side-effects.

We’re creatures of habit, life is a series of cycles, good and bad. Hells, I’m almost entirely certain I’ve written this article before, perhaps not with the same words or the same examples, just something to consciously break the loop and to drive me back into doing something positive with my work, and maybe to encourage others too, to recognise what are positive habits and what are destructive cycles, how to promote some and break others.

Sometimes one requires a kick up the idiom, and as perverse as it sounds, I tend to use the same YouTube videos every time I need one, because it’s advice I need to hear, and sometimes need to be reminded of.

Next on the to-do list, play a different game, prepare for Christmas, and the start of a new chapter, get some new working routines, and try and get back into the habits that GeekOut has fostered in me for the last six years.

Live for the positive takeaway.

Top 10 Reborn Characters

Rebirth, resurrection, metamorphosis, here assembled are characters who undergo transformative experiences, generally involving some period of death, or at least dormancy (at least one cocoon).

While we ourselves undergo a time of great change and transformation, here is our Top 10 list of characters who have been reborn.

GeekOut Top 10s

Rebirth, resurrection, metamorphosis, here assembled are characters who undergo transformative experiences, generally involving some period of death, or at least dormancy (at least one cocoon).

While we ourselves undergo a time of great change and transformation, here is our Top 10 list of characters who have been reborn.

Continue reading “Top 10 Reborn Characters”

Godzilla – New King of Cinema

I watched King of Monsters the other day as part of a larger kaiju-based binge, specifically the new Kong films too, as we’re only a few months away from the big showdown. Godzilla versus Kong has been teased since the first of the new Godzilla films way back in ’14, was made official in ’17 with Skull Island, and we’re far too close to a release date now for there not to exist a cut of the film, probably not a finished cut, but there’s got to be something by now, right?

Well, here’s what I’m thinking, I’m going to do a quick (spoiler-ish) review of King of Monsters, then I’ll tell you why I think Godzilla and Kong could bear the weight of a new cinematic universe.

Long Live the King

I can actually understand why this film got a raw deal from critics. I’ll give it credit for continuing with some reoccurring characters and themes, and I’ll admit to being mildly curious about the various activities and political conflicts of the titan research group “Monarch”, but we’re still pretty light on rich and interesting characters, and yet those characters still feel like they take up a lot of screen time compared to the real stars of the show. But critics would complain if we had nothing but monsters, and they’d complain if the characters drew too much attention away from the monsters, there’s not really a right answer here.

And it’s not exactly easy to try and slide aliens, Atlantis, and the hollow earth theory into a film about giant monsters fighting each other, and to be honest probably not a great idea either, but they managed it all without it being too ridiculous. These days you can’t just roll out the likes of King Ghidorah without some kind of explanatory power, even if it’s a tenuous explanation, and it’s not like twelve thousand years of human civilization and mythology haven’t left us with some groundwork for giant monsters.

But if you like watching giant monsters get into fights then it’s a great film. It’s actually a really good film, I think I enjoyed it almost as much as Pacific Rim. As well as bringing in all the big classic monsters like Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra, it also managed to introduce some background players with very little effort, and I find that I’m really interested to see more of the MUTO, Methuselah, Scylla, and Behemoth, as well as the other titans listed in the wiki,*.

We have a Thanos-like villain, a group whose motives I can get behind 100%, and not just because they’re headed by Charles Dance. This time the method is to awaken the titans and have them topple human civilization and put an end to the holocene extinction, destructive harvest of natural resources and extermination of non-human life. Interesting to note that the counter-argument given by the so-called good guys is “No, don’t stop, that’s… very bad.”

Biggest highlights of the film for me, Godzilla’s case of nuclear diarroea, Rodan’s “Starscream” moment, and the closing credits… which sounds like an insult, but they used the song “Go Go Godzilla” and so help me it made me smile. Right, to the point:

The King Is Dead

Pretty sure at this point Marvel’s done. I don’t know what the next four films are, I don’t even know what the next film is, the excitement bubble seems to have burst pretty hard in the jagged edges of the Sony vs Disney debacle. And with every studio clawing and scratching at the market, desperate to be the ones to raise the next big thing, I think Time Warner might actually be in control of the right horse and they just aren’t betting on it.

So far as material content, as I already mentioned they have a glut of titans to play with, and with repeated mentions of the Hollow Earth theory in King of Monsters and Skull Island, I suspect a tie-in with Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and it’s been more than ten years since the Brendan Frasier version. There’s scope for a couple of dozen films, and the fifth is already well under way as we speak… although we’re not speaking, I’m doing the- never mind. Besides, Godzilla is every bit the media darling now that comic books were for decades before the MCU, and with the rise of anime fandom in the west, and the likes of Pacific Rim opening the way, now could be the time of the Kaiju.

We know the basic conflicts of narrative, Man versus Man, Man vs Self, Man vs Supernatural, Man vs Society, Man vs Technology, and Man vs Nature, and it’s that last one that I think is most topical. The last decade or two have been governed by “Man vs Man”, all of the comic villains being dark reflections of the hero, often villains of their own creation, but there’s a new growing narrative, something that could become a dominant talking point, with the escalating arguments over the environmental crisis, could Godzilla and Kong be poster-children for natural order in the 2020s?

Maybe. For certain the age of comic book films has come to a close, or if it hasn’t, if the Joker foolishly reignited that flame, then it needs to go back to sleep soon, like a huge, ancient monster returning to its resting place, deep underground. The new titan of schlocky box office dominators could be, and should be, Godzilla and friends.


*Seriously though, just click that link, there’s some interesting names listed in there.

Happy Halloween 2019 From GeekOut UK

Let’s chat a little bit about Halloween and the significance it has on geek culture. After all, this is a night that many geeks revel in. So today, I thought I’d talk quickly about a few Halloween episodes from TV shows that I thoroughly enjoyed – And yes, there’ll be at least one Treehouse of Horror episode. With that said, let’s buckle down, get the popcorn and snuggle on the sofa with these spooky specials.

Happy All Hallows Eve! Happy Halloween! Etc.

Anyway, let’s chat a little bit about Halloween and the significance it has on geek culture. After all, this is a night that many geeks revel in. So today, I thought I’d talk quickly about a few Halloween episodes from TV shows that I thoroughly enjoyed – And yes, there’ll be at least one Treehouse of Horror episode. With that said, let’s buckle down, get the popcorn and snuggle on the sofa with these spooky specials.

Continue reading “Happy Halloween 2019 From GeekOut UK”

Top 10 Terrible Horror Tropes

Ah it’s the Halloween season, which means that we’re going to get the popcorn on. Let’s turn on a movie and… Oh no. Oh dear, oh my. These horror villains are so scary! No, not because they’re shocking, murderous and altogether evil beings. No, they’re so scary because even the most psychopathic of villains succumb to the most terrible of horror tropes, which is what we’re investigating in today’s Top 10!

GeekOut Top 10s

Ah it’s the Halloween season, which means that we’re going to get the popcorn on. Let’s turn on a movie and… Oh no. Oh dear, oh my. These horror villains are so scary! No, not because they’re shocking, murderous and altogether evil beings. No, they’re so scary because even the most psychopathic of villains succumb to the most terrible of horror tropes, which is what we’re investigating in today’s Top 10!

Continue reading “Top 10 Terrible Horror Tropes”

Geeky Comedy on YouTube

Now, we’re all familiar with the likes of Funny Or Die, and College Humour – who started doing D&D games online last year, Brendan’s a decent DM – and before I even start I can tell you that you almost certainly recognise a name or two from the short list below. YouTube has been a great space for comedy acts to get their ideas out there and appeal to a unique sense of humour that might not have reached a mainstream audience without it, and maybe that’s because network executives don’t understand, or maybe it’s that certain niche markets can’t get comedy that appeals to them any other way.

Here are some of my favourites, some of the geekier comedy groups and lesser known sketch channels that deserve a few more views… more accurately I want more people to know them so that I can reference their sketches in conversation, so help me I just want to share the joke!

And be forewarned, there are a lot of YouTube links here. Get ready to fill up your Watch Later list. Continue reading “Geeky Comedy on YouTube”

Riot Games Go All Out For 10 Year Anniversary – New Games!

Riot Games have gone all out for their 10 year anniversary, which is a pretty exciting thing to be able to say. Riot Games made the Free-To-Play giant, League of Legends, which is a major title in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre. For years, they’ve run just the one game but this year, they’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and show how much progress they’ve made in their world.

Riot Games have gone all out for their 10 year anniversary, which is a pretty exciting thing to be able to say. Riot Games made the Free-To-Play giant, League of Legends, which is a major title in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre. For years, they’ve run just the one game but this year, they’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and show how much progress they’ve made in their world.

Continue reading “Riot Games Go All Out For 10 Year Anniversary – New Games!”