While I’m writing this I’m listening to Jack White’s third proper solo album Boarding House Reach for the first time. It’s a tasty stew of sounds. I’m hearing stuff that sounds like Muse, Queen, The Beatles, Prince, System of a Down, Rage Against the Machine and Beck. I have been listening to his first solo album Blunderbluss in my car over the past few weeks and so this third album feels like a major departure from that more blues rock / folk rock style. It’s a mad mixture of styles with gospel, synth-pop, hip-hop and funk influences but it really works.
I finished Assassins Creed: Origins a week or so ago and I’ve returned to Star Wars Battlefront II to find that they’ve ‘fixed’ it. Basically removing the original progression system and replacing it with a system where you pick up skill points by -gasp- playing the game. These skill points can be used to upgrade star cards for the type of trooper you were playing when you earned them.
That’s all good I suppose, but I was quite happy earning points with one type of character i was good at playing (e.g. a Heavy) and then ‘cross-subsidising’ the progression of other characters I wasn’t so hot at (e.g. Specialist) with the crafting parts from the loot crates. But ‘no more!’ the raven cried.
From what I’ve read there’s some stuff coming along the lines of in-game purchasing with the credits I am now amassing – since I can no longer spend them on loot crates – and I’m biding my time trying to get better at Starfighter Assault which I’m pretty dreadful at. I’ve finally find the ‘Game’ setting on my 4K telly box and so the game looks a whole heap better than it did before I lost myself in ancient Egypt. Rumour has it that there’ll be a bunch of ‘appearances’ (something missing from Battlefront II) to spend my credits on in April – with the officer class Rodian and alternate appearances for Leia, Han and Luke acting as a teaser for a list to match those available in the original game (I hope).
Atomic Blonde (rented on Amazon) was a very well put together action film starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy set in Berlin days before the wall came down. The soundtrack is great, the visuals very stylish and to think that Theron has a long-standing back injury from the days of Aeon Flux the action sequences are impressive. What impressed me the most was the camera work during a fight sequence in an apartment block’s stairwell.
Zoolander 2 (free on either Amazon or Netflix, I can’t remember…) was as silly as I expected and slightly better than I anticipated (but that’s not saying a lot). Watching it made me want to watch an Austin Powers film to cleanse my comedy viewing palette, instead I opted for Rik Gervais’s new stand-up special on Netflix called Humans. It was a lot funnier.
Only slightly funnier than the Zoolander sequel was The Bad Education Movie (Netflix) starring Jack Whitehall as an irresponsible teacher in charge of a class of young actors who really should’ve left school by now. It follows a television show which ran for a few seasons on BBC3 when it was still a non-internet based channel. Perhaps they were hoping for a hit film like The Inbetweeners but instead got what felt like three episodes pasted together. That said, I did laugh out loud at some of the scrapes Whitehall’s character gets into and it was nice to see a few familiar comedy actors, like Harry Enfield, in the cast.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard (rented on Amazon) was a pretty good action-comedy following the reluctant buddy formula almost to the letter. Samuel L. Jackson was comfortable as the annoyingly upbeat hitman and Ryan Reynolds seemed to be channelling a lot of post-Deadpool sass as the hitman hired to protect him. The best character to my mind was the hitman’s imprisoned wife, played by Salma Hayek and under-employed.
Hayek was also pretty good in Everly (recorded from Film4), an action flick with a much lower budget, in which a kidnapped woman faces down waves of increasingly tooled up but equally incompetent hitmen (and women) sent by her captor while trying to protect her mother and daughter. Pretty much entirely set in one large apartment in an unnamed city it has a pretty good script (for this type of film) and some quirky action. To me it played out like an early Tarantino outing, but was directed by Joe Lynch who seems to have done little of note beyond some low-budget horror shorts.
Also recorded from Film4 (maybe before Christmas!) was Good People, rather like Shallow Grave, starring James Franco and Kate Hudson as a struggling American couple trying to make it in a London suburb. The dodgy geezer that rented the downstairs flat from them dies and leaves behind a suitcase of cash. The couple are skint and so start spending the money. Problem is some of the dodgy geezers equally dodgy associates want the dosh back. It was an okay film but didn’t have anything particularly original about it. There’s a nail gun featured quite early in the film and it was obvious that it would be used to violent effect later on. Anna Friel is in the film too, if you’re a Friel fan.
Thor Ragnarok (I bought this one on Blu-ray as I can’t shake the habit of collecting the Marvel films) was by far the best Marvel film I’ve seen in a while. I was pretty disappointed with Spider-man Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Doctor Strange, who has a cameo in this film, and getting rather sadly bored of the whole super-hero thing. However, my faith in Marvel has been restored by this film – undoubtedly the best Thor/Hulk film made so far although I really liked the others.
I loved the story and the balance of action and humour. I was a little bemused as to how the god of thunder (who can magic up thunder and lightning by sheer force of will) could be kept under control by a electric shock collar and various other departures from the established reality, but these were really minor points. Cate Blanchett was excellent as the evil Hela and Chris Hemsworth really showed he has a flare for comedy.
The use of ‘Immigrant Song’ by Seventies rock group Led Zeppelin during two epic battle sequences was wonderfully inspired – it was almost as if the song had been written for the film rather than predating it by decades.
The direction by odd-ball Taika Waititi, probably best known before this for the brilliant TV show Flight of the Conchords rather than his two indie films, was magical and conjured up visuals that were as close to a colourful double-spread Marvel comic as you’re going to get in a live-action film. He also had a pretty good turn as the voice of Korg which I originally thought Sharlto Copley (District 9, Chappie) was voicing.
While I was stuck in Aberdeen, I bought Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I got it read in a couple of days and it was a joy to read. I’ve been wanting to gen up on Norse mythology and to find a book on the subject written by one of my favourite authors was great. Gaiman in a master of concise, witty and imagination-stirring prose and he revels in his subject matter. The only problem I had was trying to distance the imagery in my mind from Hemsworth’s Thor, Hiddleston’s Loki and Hopkins’s Odin, but it actually didn’t detract from the fifteen great tales laid out in the book – including a great version of Ragnarok.
I’ve started watching the latest season of Vikings again on Amazon and was happy to understand a few mythical references made in the dialogue after reading the book. The show is still rather messy and not a scratch on the story of Ragnar Lothbrok – a silly part of me keeps hoping he will reappear at some point, having climbed out of the pit of snakes he was thrown into by the pesky brits seasons ago.
Minor update – I finished watching what’ available of Vikings on Amazon yesterday and was very impressed by the last couple of episodes and the teased return of… Rolo.