Banshee (Season Four)

This review contains mild, early episode spoilers for Banshee season four.

Thus far when reviewing Banshee, I’ve talked a lot about the show’s pacing. For all its bombast, it’s a very smartly constructed show, always advancing stories and informing you about the characters and their dynamics. With season four, the show crescendos wonderfully as it sunsets its various pulpy heroes and anti-heroes; but not without a brief stumbling block along the way.

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Banshee (Season Three)

This review contains spoilers for Banshee season one and two. There are mild spoilers for season three.

In my review of the first season of Banshee, I talked about how its gung-ho violence and titillation were satisfying in a shallow way, but there was undoubtedly heart and (some) brains beneath it all. With season two, I felt they really amped up the emotional stakes without compromising the show’s visceral nature; delivering a more thoroughly engaging season of TV. With season three, the show’s status as a cult classic became crystal clear, with a breathless, twisting, wrenching collection of ten episodes that showcased all its best elements, with scant few complaints.

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Katana Zero (2019, Switch)

Having spent the majority of my life playing video games, I have skipped an untold number of time-wasting conversations. You know the drill; the text box slowly fills up with meaningless NPC waffle, warning you of impending doom or making an unfunny quip. You mash ‘A’ to make the box fill quicker, then again to skip to the next line. And repeat.

Sure, sometimes you want to hear it. But other times when a game makes no effort to grab you with its story in the early goings; the ‘skip’ button gets a workout.

Typically, brushing off what a character has to say doesn’t manifest itself on your character or in the game world (with some exceptions). You’re simply speeding the conversation up.

Katana Zero changes that. And while there’s lots of exciting things to talk about in this twitch-y, psychedelic, action-platformer; I’m mainly fascinated by this.

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Banshee (Season One)

Here’s a brief synopsis of Banshee season one.

The fuckin’ coolest guy in the world is released from jail, where was locked up for 15 years for being too much of a badass. He briefly stops shagging every woman he looks at to track down the love of his life, another ex-con who has taken on a new identity to hide from their former mob boss patriarch; a scary stoic Russian with a cool nickname. When sombrely drinking whiskey at a bar, like a cool guy does, our hero bodies some troublemakers – but a soon-to-be-appointed sheriff is killed in the crossfire. Because he’s an antihero, the most badass of character alignments, our protagonist steals the sheriff’s identity in an attempt to cover his own tracks from the afformentioned big bad Russian.

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Top Ten Video Games of 2018

If there’s one St. Patrick’s weekend tradition that I truly love and respect; it’s finally bothering to sit down and make a list of my favourite games from the previous year. That’s right, it’s March 2019, so here’s my favourite games of 2018.

Usually it takes me four months to write a list like this because I’ve committed to finishing everything in the running. This year I’ve been so scatter-brained that I didn’t even do that. Instead I’ve compiled a list of games that I’ve enjoyed, some of which I finished, some of which I’ll take at face value and assume they don’t ruin themselves at the final hurdle.

Failing to make the cut is Red Dead Redemption 2, a game that’s ambition and technical achievements are to be respected, but is desperately betrayed by, well, the part where you actually play it. I don’t want to make a ‘most disappointing game’ post, nor do I want to dump on this game too heavily given all it does right; but it would feel wrong to not at all acknowledge why it isn’t listed here.

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2018 was… Pretty Bad!

When I set this site up, I added a ‘blog’ category just in case I had any non-review, personal writings I wanted to make. Nothing really came of it because I pretty much commit every thought I have to the internet anyway, so who needs more of that but without a character limit?

Anyway, it’s year-end and I’m feeling awful reflective. I wanted to jot something down other than what my top five Call of Duty maps are this year (Nuketown remains undefeated), so here we go.

This year was bad. I’m not sure how to write this without sounding extremely dramatic, but it’s the only phrase coming to mind right now; I feel like every aspect of myself unravelled this year, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be back to the way I was before.

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Making A Murderer (Season 2)

This review contains major spoilers.

There’s a scene in episode nine of this newest season of Making A Muderer, where Barbara Tadych (mother of Brendan Dassey) calls Steven Avery. Tadych unleashes an angry tirade at Avery, whose new attorney has just pointed the finger at her husband, Scott, as a possible suspect in the murder of Teresa Halbach — the murder for which Avery is currently incarcerated. Scott is also heard in the background swearing, screaming, and professing that he always hated Avery. It’s a very jarring scene, where the show’s primary functions come to a head; the pursuit of the truth, and to offer a compelling, bingeworthy drama with a few twists for Average Joe, before he moves onto the next thing. People played Armchair Detective after season one, with some theories implicating Scott and stepson Bobby Dassey, so seeing the theory somewhat vindicated was undoubtedly thrilling; but at the expense of Barb’ Tadych, the long-suffering mother whose human interest story has been a source of levity in the show.

Making A Murderer’s second season is a different beast to its first; an evolution of the core idea. These might typically be read as compliments, but honestly, I’m not so sure.

The true crime mega-hit has tried to come of age somewhat; taking in criticism with the best of intensions, and barfing up something of a response. Where they were lampooned for showing no real compassion for the murder of Halbach, they’ve kinda sorta tried to illustrate how beloved she was by her peers. Where they were knocked, rightly, for leaving out compelling evidence against Avery, they’ve kinda sorta outlined how it’s not valid. Where they were called one-sided… well, they paid lipservice to some of the awful things that happened as a result of their sensationalism. Ken Kratz is undoubtedly a skin-crawling presence on both seasons of the show, but a sub-10 second clip of him saying his family have recieved death and rape threats isn’t exactly doing justice to the mess that’s been made of this story in the last three years.

That’s very much a microcosm of the season as a whole; feeble attempts at broadening their horizons, making something of a haims of it, but still managing to make me think more broadly about this case, and the true crime genre itself. This is far from the first show to milk a tragedy for its creator’s gain and for punters’ amusement. It’s far from the first one I’ve watched this year. But for whatever reason this one felt the need to try and rationalize it’s place in the world.

There’s an extended sequence early in the season dedicated to speaking with what few friends or peers of Halbach are willing to meet the filmmakers. It’s sincere enough, and tastefully done, but rings somewhat hollow when you know her family still disavow the show, and are viewed as villains by some of the audience as a result. If anything it makes the show almost feel seedier, more disingenuous; continuing to make a media circus of this woman’s death, but acting like ‘hey, we really care though.’

Later in the season, the aforementioned pantomime villain Ken Kratz is on a media tour to promote his book, and he speaks to reporters from CRIMECON(!) — a Comic-Con-esque venture for true crime fans, which honestly made me question the very nature of fandom itself in 2018.

Central to the show’s mix of stone-faced seriousness and hollywood twists and turns is Kathleen Zellner; Avery’s previously mentioned attorney. She’s prolific and respected in her field, notable for getting dozens of convictions overturned in her career. She’s also something of a showman; leading the charge for Avery’s freedom with rallycries on twitter that almost read as blurbs for episodes of the very Netflix show she now stars in. New evidence! New suspects! A man robbed of his life! All this and more, tonight! She couldn’t be more perfect for this show; a talented legal mind who seems very aware of the fanfare surrounding the case and loves every second of it.

For a season so bogged down by its own place in pop culture, it also remains thoroughly poignant in places. As you might expect, the legal trials and tribulations are much slower in this season compared to the last, so things are padded out with more interviews with the Avery and Dassey clans. Steven’s ageing parents are easy to root for, struggling to keep their families together and merely hoping to see their son free again before they pass on. It might sound like a brutal summation of things, but that’s explicitly stated by everyone involved. Likewise the turmoil suffered by the Tadych/Dassey family, as Brendan comes SO close to freedom, is an upsetting reminder of the human cost of this story, outside of prison walls.

Making A Murderer season two is a compelling mess. For some reason it feels determined to draw your eye to the dehumanising mess it’s made of this story, stroking its chin about what it all means. Every slick montage of Wisconsin scenery set to their ominous score feels more like a work of fiction than any kind of documentary. But the story at its core is so hard to tear yourself away from. The term guilty pleasure should really be taken back from lowbrow comedy and the like, and be applied here. It might be award-winning, prestige TV, but I’ve never felt quite so conflicted during a TV show as I did during this.

Jordan Devlin vs. Walter (OTT, Wrestlerama 2)

Watch this match here. (Sub req’d, $8/month)

When OTT finally announced they had booked Walter for their June 2018 event, their fans were delighted, and the match was obvious. The world-conquering Austrian versus our boy Jordan Devlin, whose gimmick has been putting down “imports” and banging out a four-star match in the process.

It would have been great, and the fans would have been satiated.

But great wasn’t great enough for OTT. They had NOTIONS, and those notions paid off two shows later at the company’s flagship August event.

With their Wrestlerama 2 singles match, Devlin and Walter produced something special. Concluding, at least for now, one of the most simple-yet-effective angles on the indies in recent memory, OTT wrung more out of a mere three Walter appearances than some promotions have in months of booking. They created something far beyond a one-and-done great match, and told an excellent story that felt distinctly OTT. With the rabid Irish crowd in Jordan’s corner, this really felt like a match that couldn’t be replicated elsewhere.

The story of the match was this; a more focused and intense Devlin was able to learn from what previously felled him, but Walter still had his number.

The song and dance routine of Devlin and David Starr in June was replaced with a no-nonsence power walk to the ring. Starr wasn’t the irreverent buddy cop partner, he was an earnest cornerman, and he added to the match in a very real way.

Devlin’s performance as the no-nonsence babyface was perfect. He came out strong early with leg kicks and a taunting feign of a chop. When it was time for Walter to, well, be Walter and lay a beat down, Devlin sold it like it was the fight of his life. His hope spots had a sense of urgency and panic, never quite feeling like he was kicking Walter’s ass, but occasionally feeling like he had him rattled and survival was possible.

The other big carryover from June was the ‘Gojira Clutch’ sleeper, which scored Walter the win when these two met in a tag match. On every occasion, Jordan either countered it or simply weathered the storm. This culminated in the finish which was so perfect I’ve had to re-watch it in isolation a dozen times, separate from the three times I’ve watched this match in full. After a 20 minute war, Walter gets the clutch on one last time and Jordan starts to fade. The crowd are on tenter hooks, rallying for Jordan to power through. In a spot as old as wrestling itself, that I would consider a tired trope 95% of the time, the referee checks Devlin’s hand to see if he’s still conscious. It drops twice. On the third drop, Devlin keeps his hand in the air, looks up at it, and makes a fist, causing a roar from the crowd so impassioned you’d swear the guy just won the whole match.

Before he can start his comeback, before he can even tease a package piledriver, Walter says ‘fuck this’ (at least in my head), scoops Devlin up, and drops him with a Rikishi Driver, or whatever you want to call it if you’re a movez-nerd, and scored the pin.

Devlin learned from his past mistakes; but Walter was still too good. A wonderful story, hammered home by a tremendous post-match segment. A gloating Walter and Tim Thatcher taunt their longtime rival David Starr, who then tends to Devlin, looking precisely as devestated by this loss as a former champion should.

I’ve seen a lot of great matches in my time as an OTT fan, and have a great attachment to them as a promotion and Devlin as a performer. But this was a match that felt like it simultaneously encapsulated everything great about the promotion, while also shattering the glass ceiling of what people think about as a “great OTT match.” It’s a detail-oriented, minimalist classic, where every second is treated as important, and the crowd reacts like the winner’s purse goes straight into their pockets.

With so much left on the table for a rematch (the match very intentionally shied away from any kind of finisher spam), the really exciting thing is considering what they’ll do when Devlin rebuilds himself to try again.

Wrestlemania 34 Review

Wrestling Christmas has finally been and gone.

Much like regular Christmas, following months of build up and excitement, after a few hours you were thankful it was done for another year. Time to… Take down the Wrestling Tree?

Anyway.

Wrestlemania 34 had fans reaching almost unheard of levels of uncynical hype before showtime. WWE had not only thrown together a fairly compelling card, but it was so stacked that people forgot that sitting still and watching anything for seven hours is fucking insufferable.

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