I’d like to be sitting her typing this laughing into my cocoa at the hi jinx that was 2020 in the knowledge that it’s all over. But it’s not. COVID-19 seems to be the gift that just keeps giving and when you live in the centre of England it sometimes feels like you’re in the eye of the storm. Resigned to not really leaving the house apart from the odd walk around the neighbourhood with Siggy, I’ve kept myself busy with the things I already loved to do – watching films and TV, reading and gaming – and rediscovered the delights of jigsaws and art (albeit digital). It’s a passable existence and I can’t grumble.
Anyhoo, if you haven’t read my retrospective posts then shame on you. In this post I am just going to list a few films I watched (to complete my list for December) alongside the almost obligatory Christmas viewing of Die Hard – If you don’t think that it’s a Christmas film then please do one now – a TV show I didn’t mention in my post about Apple TV+, a new Netflix original, a couple of books and a PlayStation game.
Dr Seuss’ The Grinch is an animated comedy, along the same lines as the 2000 Jim Carrey film, from the same people that did Despicable Me and the woeful Minions film. Besides Die Hard it was really the only Christmas film I was interested in watching.
If I hadn’t have watched Die Hard, I probably would’ve watched The Nightmare Before Christmas but I can only take so many Christmas films to be honest. However, I think it was the music in The Grinch that made me draw parallels with this new film and The Nightmare Before Christmas – the music is unmistakeably recognisable as being composed by Danny Elfman. While the voice acting by Benedict Cucumberpatch is very good I could not help thinking that I’d rather be watching Jack Skellington singing about ‘What’s This?’
However The Grinch was rather more enjoyable than Disney Pixar’s new animation Soul. The feeling that this was yet another Pixar film was not dispelled as it went through the motions of their approach to storytelling intended to appeal to old and young viewers in equal measure. It’s a balancing act I am a little bored off now.
Yawn… Desperate for something more adult, grittier and darker we turned to The Frozen Ground a 2013 crime drama starring Nicolas Cage as a rather cliched jaded Alaskan state trooper with a troubled marriage and John Cussack going against type as a psychopathic but meticulous serial killer. As it is based on true events some of the scenes were frankly horrible to watch and I regretted putting a dampener on an already potentially crappy Christmas (thanks Boris!). I say potentially because I thought it was pretty nice this year all said and done.
It’s one of Cage’s more toned down and realistic performances and Cussack was pretty good as the bad guy. Not exactly how I imagined ending my run of films in December, but given that it started off with the misfiring Downsizing, probably par for the course. Hopefully this year will be different. I changed my mind about paying full-price for Tenet based on some bad reviews and low-star rating on Amazon, but I might cave in later in the year in the hope that people just didn’t ‘get it’ like Memento. That said, I wasn’t particularly impressed by Dunkirk or in hindsight Interstellar…
That TV show I mentioned was Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet an 11-episode comedy on Apple TV+ about a video game design company responsible for a WoW-like online multiplayer fantasy adventure game called Mythic Quest. The narrative tends to revolve around the troubled working relationship between Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao) the head coder and Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney) the game’s creator. Taking some inspiration from the likes of The Office and Parks & Recreation, it has more realistic sensibility despite some great comedic moments.
The real-world action is accompanied by some great clips from supposed in-game action or cutscenes. Some looked suspiciously like scenes from Assassin’s Creed, and the fictional unseen head office is in Montreal, and so it came as no great surprise to see that Ubisoft had a hand in the show’s creation. Given that some of the subject matter in the comedy is about toxic masculinity in the workplace it seems a little ironic that the real games company has allegedly had some trouble in that respect recently. I even spotted an Assassin’s Creed III figurine in Grimm’s office in the tenth episode. Also the eleventh episode is noteworthy as it does a very good job of portraying the difficulties of working from home and video calling during the pandemic.
Talking of Assassin’s Creed I did succumb to the usual hype around Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and it’s been keeping me entertained. For hours. About seventy so far and I am very far from completing the main quests. I’m not going to ramble on too much about the game because there’s plenty of other people doing that and probably better than I can be bothered to do. Especially since my thumbs ache so much from playing it.
Suffice to say that it is massively immersive and while supposedly smaller than Odyssey or Origins it’s not noticeable. The map appears to have hundreds and hundreds of points of interest to explore including many ‘world events’, side quests, story quests, viking raids, hunting, fishing, and collectible gathering events.
The game franchise continues to move further away from the original premise with assassinations central to gameplay to a more roleplaying combat style with armour and weapon choices aplenty, abilities and a configurable skill-tree giving you different moves to perform during battles. This drift away from the original idea to a rich open-world gaming experience isn’t something I particularly dislike as long as the writing stays top-class, and I have to say that this is where this game excels. I’ve started watching the final season of Vikings on Amazon Prime and I’m actually thinking that Ubisoft did a better job of portraying Ivar the Boneless.
Netflix original comedy special Death to 2020 comes from the creators of Black Mirror. The news-based mockumentary was actually more akin to a big-budget version of Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe he used to do for the BBC before he got too busy with Black Mirror.
Starring among others are Samuel L. Jackson, Lisa Kudrow and Hugh Grant. All appear as characters (rather than as themselves as I first thought) talking about the main events of 2020 – the pandemic obviously and then also Brexit and the US presidential election. Brooker and Annabel Jones give us a pitch-perfect remedy for pandemic-fatigue which is intended to appeal to the sensible majority of people watching by ripping the piss out of public figures but will no-doubt enrage Trump supporters and fact-deniers. Enjoy ranting in your echo-chambers peeps…
Finally to round off this kind of final summation on a year best forgotten I will just mention two books that I read by Mark Watson, better known as a stand-up comedian. These were his second novel A Light-hearted Look At Murder and his debut Bullet Points. The former is the story of an office worker who visits a prison inmate and gradually learns the story of why he is in there. He was a Hitler impersonator hired out for office parties and the like who ran an agency with a remarkably tall woman. It reads like more of a debut novel than Bullet Points which I actually found a lot more satisfying. Bullet Points has more of Watson’s special brand of intelligent observational comedy but still not in heaps to be honest.
The subject matter for Bullet Points is the story of Peter Kristal an English-born psychoanalyst based in America with clients from the world of entertainment and sport. He is in competition with a childhood friend who is a more successful psychoanalyst also in America. It’s not so much a comedy story as a tragedy with some humour along the way and a very satisfactory ending where we learn that Kristal is an unreliable narrator. My favourite type these days (especially because I’m in the process of creating one myself… but more about that later in the year).