Weekly Ramble No. 29

Some of you may have noticed I nipped off for a cheeky week in Greece. The accompanying back-dated posts for last week are available for your perusal.

Skiathos 2017: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8

These are rather more self-indulgent than usual and written more as a keepsake for Siggy than I than useful blog posts I guess, but there are some nice photos to look at. It was our fifth time and we were properly lazy so we didn’t do many trips away from the hotel, but there’s lots of other posts back through time tagged ‘Skiathos’ to look through if you were ever thinking of visiting that you could find useful.

Before I went, I started listening to Every Official UK Number 1 Ever Spotify playlist. I quite aptly got as far as Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Holiday’ as we finished packing and got an early night ready for the airport the next day.

It’s interesting to play the list through front to back to see which tracks displaced which from the top spot and get a feel for the shift in musical tastes of the nation. The impact of The X Factor is quite clear and also the sad decline in the popularity of rock tracks over the last decade or so. I’m currently down to the year 2000 and Go Let It Out by Oasis – they’re one of the very few rock bands that have featured so far. There’s been some real dross along the way. I wonder if a playlist of tracks that got to the number two spot but never made it to number one might have some better tunes in it?

I binged on Valerian when I got back from my holiday. The Complete Collection Volume 3 contains the following three tales –  ”Ambassador of the Shadows’ (1975), ‘On the False Earths’ (1977) and ‘Heroes of the Equinox’ (1978).

‘Ambassador…’ is the story on which the Luc Besson film is mostly based. It’s a great story and it’s obvious why Besson chose this one to adapt into a movie. The space station Point Central is populated by representatives from all of the galaxy’s numerous races presided over by a council. It is Earth’s turn to head the council and Valerian and Laureline’s job to be the new ambassador’s bodyguards. The ambassador is kidnapped, Valerian is taken too and it’s Laureline’s job to find out who took them and why.

The range of creatures on show, including the trio of Shingouz and the grumpy transmuter who poops out multiple copies of anything he is fed, is impressive and the story of a self-determination versus imperialism is powerful stuff. It’s been a little dumbed down for the film and certain scenes expanded and others contracted, but I was surprised at how close Besson has actually stayed to the original story. The zuur jellyfish is there, the zools and of course the Shadows who are revealed to be the Na’vi (from Avatar)-like race at the centre of the film.

‘…False Earths’ isn’t such a good story, but in terms of the artwork is good example of how the strip developed over time. It also includes the concept of human clones, which in 1977, was I think pretty out there. ‘Heroes…’ is a bit of a piss-take of Marvel and DC style superhero based comics and has a lot of humour in it. Valerian, a simple man, fairs a lot better than any of the other heroes of the Equinox. What is fantastic about this story are the kinetic double-page spreads by Mezieres which totally ‘pop’ and add an amazing dynamism to the storytelling.

I also finished The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal and must say that it was an excellent thought-provoking read. I’m a sucker for any story that involves the plight of the Jews in WWII and I also found the story about the US occupation on Tokyo very interesting. There’s a lot of tangents that de Waal could take you on that he alludes to along the way while he is writing about the history of his family that are worthy of further reading. It’s a pity that the book doesn’t have a bibliography.

The collection of 264 Japanese netsuke which is passed down through the generations is the red thread throughout the memoir. It reminds me of a collection of Wade Wimsies that my sister had when we were teenagers which I think sadly ended up being given to a charity shop in the end. Obviously the netsuke are individually hand-crafted by artists rather than mass produced, but it is the same kind of collector mentality that saw them stored away in their special cabinet and an appreciation of their significance to the family that saw them hidden away from the pillaging Nazi’s inside a mattress by one of the family’s servants.

I also finished the mother of all war novels Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. I feel like I never need to read another book about the Vietnam war ever Matterhorn was so good. Amazingly engrossing and atmospheric. It really deserves to be made into a film – it’s so much better than any of the numerous Vietnam films I have seen.

I’m properly excited about Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams which starts on Channel 4 in the UK today. It’s probably going to end up getting compared to Black Mirror and I hope it is as good.

I agreed with Siggy that we would watch just the one reality TV competition this autumn so The Voice, The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing are being ignored in favour of The Great British Bake Off.  We were intrigued to see whether it would change much going over to Channel 4 (it hasn’t) and whether Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig are any good as replacements for Mel and Sue (they are). It’s TV to check your phone to, but I’m sure it’ll get more gripping when the number of contestants gets whittled down a bit.

Also on television Siggy and I finally finished watching season one of The Handmaid’s Tale. While it was very atmospheric and very well acted, we did feel that it was almost tediously slow at times. We went straight into watching Riviera which has a much better pace to it. It’s early days yet, but it is sure good to see Julia Stiles get a lead role.

In terms of films, we watched Ben Affleck’s Live by Night based on a novel by Dennis Lehane. I’m a big Godfather and Goodfellas fan so I did feel it was rather derivative but it was much better than Shutter Island another Lehane tale. The new Fantastic Four film that has dropped onto Netflix with no fanfare at all was a bit of a mess in my opinion. They spent ages doing the origin story and then have one of the shittest boss fights with Dr Doom in what felt like the last ten minutes of the film. It’s a shame because the cast were a really good bunch of actors.

Today was a bit of an anime-fest. I watched the two episodes of the Ghost in the Shell reboot Arise available on Netflix. They looked nice, were suitably complex (that’s an in joke for the GiTS fans out there) and it was nice to see the Major in action again and see that even she isn’t invulnerable to a ghost hack. I don’t feel they will ever come close to reproducing the suspense of the Laughing Man storyline but I mostly liked what I saw. But then I liked the live action film too, i guess I’m just a sucker for anything GiTS related.

I also watched Studio Ghibli’s anime adaptation of When Marnie Was There. As usual it was visually splendid with some very well observed animations, and it certainly packed an emotional punch towards the end. It’s rare for me to shed a tear over any film these days (apart from that damned Marley and Me) – I’m such a cynical old git – but I admit I had to get my hanky out at the end of this one.

The image on this post is another beauty from The British Library’s free Flickr archive.

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