Weekly Ramble No. 13

This week’s TV viewing pivoted around Siggy and I watching Luther Season 1. I’ve only seen Idris Elba acting in the fantastic The Wire and didn’t watch any of Luther when it was a big hit on the BBC, so (like Black Mirror) it seemed rude not to catch up with it on Netflix.

We found the overarching story-line and the individual cases in each episode to be excellent telly. Beside John Luther, Alice Morgan, brilliantly played by Ruth Wilson, is the star character – Luther’s go-to psycho much like Hannibal Lecter was for Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs – she is fascinatingly creepy like a cat playing with a dead mouse and yet also very helpful. Some of the plotting is rather streamlined for TV and Luther at times seems to have almost supernatural abilities of investigation (more intuitive and less analytical than Sherlock Holmes) when he says ‘it’s not right’ and figures something profound out. that’s when he’s not shouting, table tossing and door smashing like a human demolition machine.

On the subject of smashing things up, I have been having fun doing just that on Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All the usual Lego game treats such as gold bricks, red brick collectible extras (such as the collectible detector and various points multipliers), mini-kits and collectible characters and vehicles are all there with some features new to me like teamwork with NPCs to help move or destroy objects, collectible carbonite blocks to unlock classic characters and multiple build options from the same pile of Lego pieces. It’s nice to be able to pick up a game and know the gameplay mechanic straight away.

The humour makes these games doubly enjoyable beyond the usual fanboy nerd-fest of playing in the Star Wars universe and the voice acting is very good if rather muffled at times (and I’m not just talking about Kylo Ren’s silly helmet voice-box).

My main gripe with this particular game is the length of the levels coupled with the uncompromising save functionality which means you can lose a lot of progress if you want to step out of a chapter half done (or the level crashes). It’s really built for people with too much time on their hands and non-arthritic joints. Unfortunately I no longer fit into their target audience. I hope I can grin and bear it long enough to get to free play where the collecting fun really kicks in. Also the fact that the invert flight controls setting doesn’t stay toggled is rather annoying. Am I too old for this shit? No, no yet.

I have also been enjoying Lumo a fantasy action-adventure game developed by Triple Eh? and currently available for free download from PlayStation Plus. The game has the nerdy style of an Eighties room-by-room isometric platform game. It is text free and so some of the puzzles tend to be solved by trial and error. Unfortunately for someone like me with limited eye-hand coordination and a poor reputation for controller trashing rage when it comes to platform games this can become tiresome. But each room is relatively small and the resets on dying aren’t too punishing.

There’s an element of fun and humour sadly lacking in most modern games (the Lego games tend to be the exception) which this has in heaps. I’m about halfway through and the thing I’m most annoyed about is not being able to turn off the music which can become rather annoying at times – especially when your little character is repeatedly dying despite your best efforts to make a well-timed jump. Also while you can pick up maps of the dungeons you are exploring there is no indication of where you are on the map and very little detail beyond the shape of the room and door placement to help.

Pinball 1973 by Haruki Murakami is the second of his early novels showcased in Wind Pinball. Again it is a short but meandering tale of the narrator and his friend the Rat finding a place in life. It is typical Murakami with glimpses of the author’s fascination with wells, The Beatles, jazz and documenting the minutiae of life such as food preparation.

Pinball 1973 is philosophical and surreal at times. For example the narrator holds a funeral for a telephone switch box removed by a service technician and left behind in his apartment. At the funeral are the twin girls that share his bed. To me this smacks a little of wish fulfillment on behalf of Murakami and unfortunately they are painted rather one dimensionally.  The writing contains some thoughtful and poetic metaphors along with some that just don’t work – perhaps the beauty in the language is lost in translation.

I did a bit of creative writing of my own this week – towards my 2016-2017 Project.  My inspiration and motivation to do creative writing comes in spurts these days, but I certainly get more sense of satisfaction and achievement from a few hours of writing than a stint at the gym. Maybe that’s why I’m still so unfit and out of shape. Listening to podcasts helps but I still think I could be doing something more interesting than exercise.

On the subject of podcasts, I finally finished Distraction Pieces book by Scroobius Pip. I have to say that unfortunately I found a lot of it rather boring and disagreed with a lot of the naive pseudo-anarchist sentiment shared in the extracts. There are a few interesting insights but it does seem to be mostly a bunch of people with axes to grind about subjects that I’m not overly interested in – the sections on mental health perhaps being the exception. It’s an award-winning podcast so I just have to put it down to me being happy in my blinkered middle age. My rage against the machine has dissipated since my university days and even then I wasn’t overly interested in marches and politics. Anyway, moving on…

I also finished reading The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen on Kindle format. It feels like I have been reading it on and off for almost a year and that’s rather a poor signal of how much I enjoyed the book. It is really very good and probably one of the best books I have ever read. It’s so unlike the stuff I usually read and perhaps more akin to Michael Chabon’s work. It is the story of the lives of two adult sons, an adult daughter and there old aged parents. Their lives are all very interesting and the tale is dramatic, funny and poignant. There’s some really touching scenes around the senile dementia of the father which balance dark humour with biting reality. I highly recommend it.

Last year’s remake of the iconic Western The Magnificent Seven is blessed by having a great director – Antoine Fuqua – director of Shooter and Training Day – and a great cast including Denzel Washington playing Chisolm, Chris Pratt as Faraday, Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux and Vincent D’Onoforio with a wonderful performance as soft spoken mountain man Jack Horne. Fuqua’s in-camera action philosophy that made Shooter so enjoyable is in full force in this film – with lots of real explosions and very little computer jiggery pokery.

Of course its a remake of a reinterpretation of The Seven Samuri but as Hollywood films I think the spirit of the story holds up well. There’s a bit of tweak to make Washington’s character bear more a rational grudge towards Bogue played by Peter Sarsgaard and motivate him to help out Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) get her revenge – beyond the big bag of money she offers and her cleavage that seems to be on constant display throughout the film.

American Sniper was not as much of an American propaganda piece as I thought it might be. Clint Eastwood directed and I guess that makes all the difference. His handling of WWII in the duo of films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima was very well balanced and uncompromising in showing both sides of the war. While America Sniper is rather one sided in its story telling it makes sense since it is a biopic of the US Navy’s legendary sniper Chris Kyle played very well by Bradley Cooper with Sienna Miller doing a good job in a supporting role as his wife.

It probably helped to know nothing of Kyle’s story while I watched the movie and I was drawing similarities to the book The Longest Kill by Craig Harrison, the British Army sniper who held the record for the longest confirmed sniper kill in combat. What is most shocking about the latter story is the lack of support Harrison received from the British Army after returning home and the hate campaign aimed at him and his family.

And finally, I went to the cinema a couple of times to see Ghost in the Shell. I’m such a big fan of Ghost in the Shell that I deemed it worthy of its own blog post.

Image: Nicolas Cool (unsplash.com)
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