Ramble 06 – Pyramid schemes

It’s been a while since my last post and that is mostly due to me spending as much of my spare time as I can on my PS4 playing Star Wars Battlefront II or Assassins Creed Origins. I’d apologise if you’d believe I was being genuine. 

There’s been some more updates to Battlefront II including a new jetpack cargo level which is chaotic good fun. There’s a whole stack of nerfs and buffs to lots of the heroes and trooper classes and once I finally realised that my wired connection was holding back the HDR capabilities of the online gaming modes and switched to my wifi connection, the graphics are looking great.

So much so that at times I’m too busy looking at all the lovely eye-candy (look at the birdies, look at the leaves, look at the plastic bag spinning in the vortex… oh the ennui) to realise a sniper has me in her scopes and is about to pull the trigger and send me back to the respawn screen. That said I think they need to provide a full DLC pack (with some new heroes and maps) soon, or I am going to increasing look elsewhere for my gaming shits and giggles. As it happens this comes in the form of the latest Assassins Creed instalment.

Assassins Creed Origins is simply spectacular, especially in HDR. I’m finding the gameplay to be a bit of a cakewalk so far, but what it lacks in challenge it more than makes up for in terms of spectacle and storytelling. The landscapes of ancient Egypt are so atmospheric and it didn’t surprise me that the game developers have taken four years to get this right.

And it is so right. This isn’t a bug-filled rushed job that leaves you staring incredulously as you sink through the floor or watch as characters heads fold into themselves. It’s magical eye-candy at its best and to be honest I’m not even really a big fan of ancient Egypt and all the mummy-based mumbo jumbo that comes with it but obviously it fits perfectly with the Assassins Creed back story of an ancient alien race guiding civilisations on Earth. There’s even a guided tour mode without all the killing where you can learn all about the history and not worry about getting chased across the map by a hungry hippo.

A few days ago, I found the time to take my old PS4 to Game to trade in. While they were testing it out to make sure it wasn’t broken, I popped to WH Smiths and then The Works. In the space of ten minutes I went from one extreme of customer service to another. In WH Smith there was no-one manning the tills (and indeed no-one actually visible anywhere in the store) and I made do with the self-service tills. I said ‘thanks Mr Roboto’ and wandered over to The Works.

The Works sometimes have marked-down Star Wars hardback anthologies and other little paperback gems – for instance I recently got the full Terry Pratchett and Steve Baxter The Long… sci-fi series of paperbacks boxed set for less than half price. More about them later in the year I guess. The chap behind the counter greeted me and even though I said ‘just this…’ proceeded to try and up-sell me some pens or a diary or something. I repeated ‘just this…’ with a smile. You can’t knock them for trying, but he might as well have been trying to sell me a pyramid scheme.

Back in Game I got a cheerful amount for my old kit and proceeded to blow half of it on a few more games that I don’t have the time to play. More about them in other posts I guess. There quite a few titles that I have missed over the last couple of years – writing Bad Blood instead of gaming!

In between gaming and saying ‘wow’ a lot when I’ve been looking at different 4K HDR things on Netflix and Amazon, I’ve watched a few films with Siggy.

Fast & Furious 8 was ridiculous fun and I basically agree with everything the Honest Trailer has to say about it. There’s no point trying to write a synopsis of the plot because it was pretty much non-existent and full of more holes than a generous slice of Swiss cheese.

Colossal was on the other hand a strange and unpredictable film – part sci-fi part romantic drama – starring Anne Hathaway as Gloria an alcoholic who splits up with her boyfriend, moves back to her old home town and finds work at a bar run by her childhood friend Oscar. He is pleased to see her again, but obviously working at a bar isn’t a great job choice for an alcoholic. After her evening shifts, she drinks until morning with Oscar and his friends.

Meanwhile in Seoul, a giant reptilian monster appears and destroys some buildings Godzilla style. What’s the connection you may ask? Well, eventually Gloria realises that when she walks hungover through a local playground at a certain time in the morning, she is making the monster appear across the other side of the world and indeed its movements are the same as hers.

She tells Oscar and his mates, who initially poo-poo her story until she shows them via a handy monstercam live feed on their smartphones. At which point they find that Oscar causes a Beastie Boys style giant robot to appear alongside the gawky looking monster. Cue Intergalactic. Feeling bad about the death and destruction she has caused in Seoul, Gloria writes an apology in the earth and vows to never step foot in the park again.

However Oscar, who turns out to be a bit of a manipulative creep, has other ideas and after finding out Gloria has slept with one of his mates visits the park and causes mayhem over in South Korea. Gloria finds out and ends up fighting with him. Oscar blackmails Gloria into continuing working at the bar and eventually she decides to put an end to it by flying over to Seoul and ‘confronting’ Oscar back in the USA. She manifests as the monster and puts an end to it.

There’s a rather Misfits-like back story to explain why they have their powers, but it’s not much of an explanation and the film seems like an odd mixture of genres. a bit clunky as a result, but worth a watch.

In America Made Tom Cruise plays Barry Seal, a disgraced TWA pilot, who is persuaded to fly secret reconnaissance missions for the CIA over Central America in the 1970s. Seal later becomes a courier between the CIA and General Noriega in Panama. As a lucrative sideline, since the CIA pay is rubbish and he has a family to support, Seal flies blocks of cocaine into the United States for a drug cartel.

Later, Seal is asked to run guns to the Nicaraguan Contras based in Honduras – he can’t refuse the request because the CIA know about his drug smuggling and have him over a barrel. However, Seal sells the guns to the narcos instead of the Contras. Naughty naughty. The CIA shut down the operation and Seal is jointly arrested by the FBI, DEA, ATF and the State Police.

Instead of being banged up Seal makes a deal with the White House to get photos that tie the drug cartel to the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. Seal gets the pictures but when they’re published he is shown clearly in one of the photos. He is arrested again but gets community service instead of prison. Unfortunately the drug cartel aren’t happy with him about the photos and it doesn’t end well. Like Colossal it’s sort of a comedy drama with dark undertones. It’s hard for it not to be a little serious towards the end given that it is based on a true story. It sat uncomfortably with me, much like War Dogs as making light of a serious and eventually tragic story.

Despicable Me 3 on the other hand is nothing but a colourful caper-full comedy. After the dross that was Minions the animation studio Illumination brings us a story about Gru and his long-lost brother Dru both voiced by Steve Carrell. But to my mind the star of the show is South Park’s Trey Parker as Eighties throwback Balthazar Bratt the villain of the film.

On the reading front, I blazed through Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child. Told in the first person from Jack Reacher’s point of view it’s not the most smooth running of thrillers from Child but is still a page turner.

It opens with Reacher on the New York subway looking at a suspicious passenger and mentally running through a checklist to identify a suicide bomber. When he confronts her, she shoots herself in the head. As you’d imagine (since there’d be no book otherwise) Reacher investigates the woman’s death. He constantly warned off by the authorities but perseveres and uncovers a plot involving a Senatorial candidate and scheming Al Qaeda agents.

There’s the usual amount of brutality, a soupçon of sex and an efficient tying up of loose ends which leaves our hero free to pursue other noble causes. In much the same way as Bond this constant pushing of the reset button by the author means the reader thrives on the plot and action rather than any character arc, and there’s certainly a lot of plotting and action to be had in this city-based renegade romp.

I also read Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. I absolutely loved it. Which is lucky because like The Long… books I have a whole row of them to get through.

Funny story. I put what I thought was books 1,2 and 3 on my Amazon wish list for Crimbo and ended up with 1,2 and 7. So obviously, completionist that I am, I had to buy 3,4,5 and 6. And then, low, I discovered a book 8 and indeed a ninth unnumbered collection of short stories. So they’re waiting to be read too. Meanwhile my Kindle gently weeps.

I also the remember the film starring Dennis Quaid being pretty good too. But then that was actually The Big Easy so well done to me for misremembering I think.

Ramble over.

Image: Les Anderson on Unsplash.com

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