Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Geek Syndicate Review: Tomb Raider #1

Wherein I review the umpteenth first issue of Tomb Raider. Short version: it's a reasonably competent stab at Generic Action Heroine #1, but that's all it is, in the main.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Eight Points On Hateful Eight

      Spoilers, yer peckerwoods!

Geek Syndicate Review: Code Pru #1

Now that I've moved some of my writing over to the Geek Syndicate website, I'll be dropping links here and as when appropriate. If you liked the reviews I did of Providence #1 and Bitch Planet #1, then know those were specifically done as audition pieces. My first actual piece on GS, a review of Garth Ennis' Code Pru #1, is up now.

Monday, 18 January 2016

A Tale Of Cocktails #58



1 1/2oz gin
1/2 oz creme de cassis
3/4 oz lemon juice
1 tsp sugar syrup

Taste: 5
Look: 7
Cost: 9
Name: 8
Prep: 6
Alcohol: 6 (For, like, twenty seconds)
Overall:  6.7

Preparation: Combine ingredients and stir. Fill glasses with crushed ice and pour in mixture.

General Comments: I've never been a fan of drinks that require you to fill a glass with crushed ice, and this hasn't changed my mind. Every time I get a drink like this I either have to drink it at extreme speed (not the best idea given its high alcohol content) or experience the cocktail getting worse with every sip as the ice melts and dilutes the taste.

Not that the taste is all that amazing to begin with; it's basically a French 75 with a blackcurrant twist replacing the fizz. Which isn't a bad idea, really, but combined with the surfeit of ice the switch leaves you with a flat, almost dead drink, neither tasty enough to chug nor worth the effort of savouring, even beyond the issue with the ice. It's also a pain to make if like me you don't have sugar syrup or crushed ice to hand. Really the ice is only there to lessen the impact of the alcohol; I'm wondering whether replacing the ice and syrup with lemonade wouldn't both improve the drink and simplify its prep. Still, this is the recipe the BBC gave me. Looks like its grotesque conservative bias isn't its only idea for making the world worse.

On the other hand, as my northern friend observed, at least it's named after a bramble and not one of those shitty southern blackberries. So at least it gets a mild spike in score for some petty jingoism.  That's a nice note to end on.

Monday, 11 January 2016

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.13.9 - "'Heroes'" (David Bowie)

As the world falls down, indeed.

The seemingly endless outpouring of grief and bittersweet remembrance currently sweeping social media like glitter-soaked kudzu, a lot of people have felt their world crumble if not outright collapse today. I, personally, find myself more grief-adjacent than anything else; Bowie's music means a lot to people who mean a lot to me. In five years the only CD I've found that my partner will sing along to on long car journeys is the Labyrinth soundtrack.

Which is fine with me, obviously. Like most geeks I am no stranger to the Goblin Bulge.  My experiences of Bowie never got much beyond that, though. Which feels oddly appropriate. For all that the man was adored by legions of people who more or less swim in parallel with the world, it was always clear that wasn't what Bowie himself was doing. This was an artist perpendicular to reality, his music appearing as three-dimensional images of four-dimensional shapes cutting through our reality at right angles. My politics and my personality might make me feel like I'm swimming against the current, but Bowie was something else. He kept swimming out of the river and into the sky.

He was the freak that made freakishness seem both less and more - much more - freaky. An ambassador to "normality" - whatever that is - from the Outside where so many found themselves.  I make no claim to having been to that Outside. That strange, twisted, wonderful, beautiful place belongs to others, and I can only doff my hat at it in passing. But I know it exists, in part, because of Bowie and those that followed and preceded him, and that's a powerful thing. I don't have to be able to visit somewhere to be glad that it is there. To be glad of those who won't stop telling us that it's there.

Along with his duet with Queen, "'Heroes'" was the one Bowie offering from outside his acting career that I instinctively felt I understood. It's not just the casting of life as a battle of "us" against "them", though I'm a major sucker for that kind of thing, and would love the chance to tell David Cameron and George Osborne and all the other soulless scraping hagfish clinging to Bowie's legacy like turd-damp leeches that they are fucking them and they have always fucking been them. It's the idea of compressing and expanding time.  The idea that we can't actually beat the vicious, smirking monsters forever, not with them being everywhere, clustered like shit-eating fish around a sewage outlet, but if we can overcome them for one day, then that's enough. Indeed, in it's own way, that is winning forever, because that day becomes inviolate, a bastion they can never enter. Somewhere we can live forever, in stolen time they can never win back. No beautiful was ever made worthless by the fact it couldn't last.

And how do we do it? How do we pull off the twenty-four hour win? By becoming heroes, which means - and how I love this - becoming ourselves.

Whatever else you want to say about David Bowie, he was always himself.  He created an awful lot of days for an awful lot of people that can never be taken back. So let's live inside those. Let's live inside, to quote a very different musician, the day he didn't die.

As though nothing could fall.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

No Apologies For The Infinite Radness 1.1.7 - "Deckchairs and Cigarettes" (The Thrills)

There is almost always far more truth in sadness.

Most of So Much For The City was a lie, of course. Recently dropped by their label, their future seemingly swept from under them, the Thrills were a band with no idea of where to go or what to do when they got there. As a result their debut is defiantly, almost comically upbeat, all warm nostalgic smiles for a past not their own. If life as a struggling Irish indie-pop band wasn't going to cut it, then why not conjure up a fictitious life of travelling from town to town in sunny California, itself a fictional version of itself where the biggest problems are settling for just one gorgeous girl or whether the local cool kids are sufficiently down with wherever you've rocked up to?

"Deckchairs and Cigarettes" - both the saddest song on the record and the only of the first five tracks to not be released as a single, these two facts being almost certainly connected - is where the truth comes out.  There was nothing to do that summer but sit in deckchairs, smoke cigarettes, and wait for autumn to bring the recording sessions that might now never amount to anything. It's not that the story of Golden State sun-powered skipping is entirely abandoned, but now it's something distant, something they need to get to (return to, actually, given the band's history) but simply can't, any more than they could get back to the breathless optimism that characterised their earlier stabs at the material that ended up on this album.

But whilst the song is drenched in sorrow and the fear of wasted potential - and what could be less Pacific Southwest and more British Isles than linking restless disappointment to summer? - it's not without its defiance. "Don't change a thing, don't change a thing", Deasey sings in the final lines. The world might be collapsing around the nascent band, but that doesn't mean they should change direction. Let the world reassemble itself around you; it'll be OK. For all that Deasey has been criticised for obvious, vague cliche, there are times when only the simple will do, and this is one of them. It's a strong end to low, foggy lyrics that then give way to a quite lovely coda, all sliding guitars and melancholy piano, with Deasey's soft wordless vocals like gusts of wind on a windswept Irish Sea beach.

(It also features at 3:50 one of my favourite ever moments in music as the song's chord progression is switched from piano to acoustic guitar mid-cycle. Astonishing.)

So much for the Californian city, then. For the best moment the Thrills ever had, you don't go to San Diego. You go to Dublin, and you wait for the summer to leave.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

MaRey Sue 2: The De-Reying

Let's all just take a minute to marvel at the level of stupidity it takes to argue Rey wasn't included in the new The Force Awakens Monopoly set for fear of giving away spoilers.

As Chris B pointed out on Twitter, how can it possibly a spoiler that Rey joins the Rebel Alliance, but not that Finn - a fucking Stormtrooper, let's remember - does? Apparently audiences will be more surprised by a hero who's a woman than one who's a soldier of an evil tyrannical government.

If Hasbro watched "The Curse of Peladon", they'd be more surprised that Jo Grant could walk in a straight line than that Izlyr wasn't evil.

 Even beyond the hypocrisy of Rey's treatment compared to Finn, however, this makes less sense than blancmange banknotes. It's a spoiler when the main character of a Disney film isn't a villain? Did the company have to keep Ariel toys off the shelves until the last possible moment for fear people would work out she wasn't a sub-aquatic vampire ripping out the souls of drowning sailors? Were their fears word would get out that Aladdin didn't keep Abu fed by murdering younger orphans and feeding their eyeballs to his monkey?

Sure, it's possible for a main character to secretly be evil, even in a Disney film (I was told today - ironically spoiling me - that this has happened at least once in the not too-distant past). But the fact a trope can be inverted doesn't mean you are spoiled for finding out it hasn't. It's not a spoiler to note that Hercules and Meg end up together, or that Simba eventually decides he cannot shirk his father's legacy. These are simply hardwired into the narrative. And even though it's a spoiler to say Tasha Yar dies in the 22nd episode of Next Gen, that doesn't make it a spoiler to say that Data doesn't die in the 23rd.

Still, Hasbro's lunatic definition of a spoiler can afford us some fun. I shall now without apology ruin some of the most notorious surprise endings of cinematic history for you, doing exactly what Hasbro dare not.

  • In The Unusual Suspects, Kaiser Soze is NOT an unstoppable alien killer with the ability to control ferrets.
  • In The Crying Game, NO-ONE turns out to be seven voles manipulating a crude rubber approximation of a human being.
  • In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke does NOT learn that his mother was a Swiss roll baked by Paul Hollywood during a somnambulism episode.
  • In The Halfblood Prince, not ONE main character has a life-changing experience brought about by a malevolent artichoke 
 I just can't be stopped. I'm like a demon. UNLIKE the talking dog in Up.

Five Things I Learned In Suffolk

Your humble writer ponders the efficacy of his sat-nav
in an area of non-Euclidean geometry.

1. Unsurprisingly, New Year is a fairly stupid time to go bird-watching in Britain. Even so, just beyond the squamous nightmares of Dunwich (not pictured) there's an RSPB sanctuary where you can watch marsh harriers braving the weather to make various species of duck rather nervous. Having never seen them before, this was something of a treat, even if the local otters failed to make an appearance.

2. While on the subject of Dunwich, we got to play Eldritch Horror with three of the current four available expansions (I don't have "Under the Pyramids" yet, though with my birthday just 10 days away this situation may quickly rectify itself), and it's clear Fantasy Flight has learned its lesson from the grotesque swollen whale-cadaver that is the fully-assembled Arkham Horror. Which, don't get me wrong, I adore in all its insane fundamentally unplayable glory. But the route taken for Eldritch... is much more sensible; one randomly chooses a Great Old One threat along with a prelude card, the latter of which adds flavour to the game. One or both of these may require you to add in some components of the expansions, or they may not. As a result, each game can play out massively differently, but no individual game will use more than, at most, two elements from the expansions. This works both in avoiding bloat and increasing the lifespan of the game.

Last week's session saw us having to deal with a super-charged Dunwich Horror firing out gates in all directions from turn 1 whilst Shub-Niggurath marshalled her forces. It did not end well for us, or humanity generally, though the site of a magically-enhanced librarian killing the Horror with repeated point-blank shotgun blasts meant our ultimate defeat did not come without cost to the forces of squamous naughtiness.

3. Cleaner shrimp are awesome. Having learned our lesson about wasting time on wild animals the day before, we headed over to the Sea Life Centre in Great Yarmouth to check out various sub-aquatic captives. Of these, the shrimps you could present your hands too and giggle as they nibbled away under your nails were the unquestionable highlight. It was kind of like a fish pedicure, except no-one has to smell your feet, and there are no idiots around insisting that sticking your extremities in a tank filled with piscine poo has somehow made them cleaner. Plus, watching two crustaceans fight for the right to jab their tiny claws under the nail of your ring finger rather makes one feel wanted, which is always nice.

(Other things learned at the aquarium: once it starts to get dark out all the eels in the aquarium come out and start dancing [1]. Synchronised Eel Disco isn't just an indie band name, it's also very fun to watch. Also too, a three year-old child can be stood right next to deliriously cute penguins playing with the crowd and still decide she'd rather play Ring a Ring o' Roses with a fat asthmatic man. Kids, man. What's up with them?)

4. Against all odds - and much to the displeasure of Chemie, who had arranged the screening - I actually rather liked Rubber, the post-modern horror(?)-comedy(??) about a murderous tyre with telekinetic powers. It's by turns clunking in its heavy-handedness and utterly beyond comprehension, but it's beautifully shot, pleasingly short, has a couple of great lines ("It's not over! It's been reincarnated as a tricycle" being the most choice; and no I don't care that I've just spoiled it for you - this is a film that transcends spoiling), and gleefully teaches us that roadhogs are despicable scum even if they happen to accidentally save your life.

Plus, its fundamental messages that studio accountants will not only destroy films but ultimately themselves, that most actors just want to get their job done and go home before things can get screwed with by the higher ups, and that test-screening audiences are at their best when not actually there, are all potentially interesting ones, for all that their presence here generates so schizoid a feel one could be forgiven for thinking two short film scripts were shuffled together, filmed in haste, and then given a gobshite awful opening monologue just to screw with you.

5. "Piecaken" (a cake baked in a pie, surrounded by more cake), somehow, is a thing that exists, and which - even less plausibly - does not kill those who eat it. Actually, it is ludicrously tasty, a kind of black forest gateau with a more interesting texture. Even so, I would have assumed the whole thing a joke had I not eaten a tiny slice of it and then failed to do more than crawl to the sofa for the next few hours.

SPECIAL BONUS LEARNING: I know this has been bugging some of you for a while, so I'm glad I've finally had the chance to do some experimentation. For those who've been on at me for years about how much money I would have to drop into a (just flushed) toilet before my Yorkshire-bred tightness would overcome my mild-ish mysophobia would force me to extract it, the minimum amount is, at most, two pounds. Further experiments are not planned.

[1] Tomsk beat me to the conger-conga joke, and as such has been judged an ENEMY OF THE BLOG.