Wednesday, 15 October 2014

I love garlic bread, I could honestly eat it for every meal

It's a dull and dreary October day. After an unexpected extension of summer into late September, the United Kingdom's weather has finally returned to its status quo of unrelenting rain. On this particular October day, I was running through notifications on Twitter, a platform I rarely use except for when I actually get around to posting a blog update. I find a notification from about two years ago. I look at the drop-down list of blog entries and notice something that makes me want to hang my head in shame and almost makes me want to weep. 2012 - thirty-four blog posts. 2013 - eighteen blog posts. 2014 - five. Throughout this year I've evidently been pretty damn good at pushing things to the back of my mind and saying "Hey, I'll get around to that one day." And it makes me feel shame and want to weep for a simple reason - the decline from thirty-four, to eighteen and then the sudden rocks-fall-everyone-dies drop to five indicates a startling lack of writing discipline.

Today sees a vow to get back on the proverbial horse and smack some discipline into my writing life. I'm going to do that classic thing and set myself a goal of updating once a week. I was once good at that, back in university when I maintained a little blog for the purposes of scoring academic points (I don't think I scored that many). Suddenly, with deadlines and direction, it all falls mildly apart.


Wallowing in self-loathing, self-pity, one of the selfs, is not going to endear my writing to the ethereal Internet readership. Sitting my butt down and saying something interesting might. Though given the nebulous, subjective definition of interesting, this is something of a Hail Mary pass. Nonetheless, I shall soldier on.

I would like to say I've been up to a lot in the months of silence. But not really. I've watched a lot of TV, I've indulged in an addiction to a particular video game and I've been shockingly lax in my reading habits. About the only really productive things I've managed is slaving away at my place of gainful employment and proof-reading the first draft of my novel. I have successfully edited the first part now, but the rest of it is still sitting on my desk, waiting. Upon the completion of this post, I will be tackling that particular area in which I have lacked discipline.

As is tradition, I will talk about the things I've been watching and playing. Of course, given the months of silence, the back-dated list runs a little long so I'm going for the top highlights now with an option on further highlights in the coming weeks.

In my last blog entry, I mentioned being excited for a couple of movies. One of those been Guardians of the Galaxy. I was quietly sceptical in the back of my mind, not exactly sure what to expect but also quite hopeful after seeing the trailers and thinking "Hey, Chris Pratt might just be able to pull this off."

He did just that and more.

I ended up seeing Guardians in the cinema three times. Not a milestone by some movie-goers standards who will see a film ad nauseam (if I took a quick poll amongst my friends about how many times they saw The Lord of the Rings trilogy in cinemas I image the numbers would make mine cower in a corner in fear), but for me it's a big deal. Take Avengers. Until I saw Guardians, it was my favourite Marvel movie. Unfortunately, the words of Joss Whedon mildly betray him on this one - I quote from 2012's Firefly Reunion Panel at San Diego Comic Con: "I need spaceships or I get cranky." Avengers had the Helicarrier (which was awesome), but Guardians of the Galaxy had spaceships. And space. And Rocket Raccoon. And Groot. And Drax. And Star-Lord. And Gamora. And...well, it had the whole thing going for it. I fell in love. I have a Guardians of the Galaxy poster adorning my bedroom wall now. Only one of three movie posters I have and only one of two that I paid money for (the other one I paid for being Serenity, still my favourite movie of all time. Joss still wins there).

The other point Guardians of the Galaxy wins on is the soundtrack. There's a bit of a special place in my soul for music. While some of those I knew at university, fellow inhabitants of The Writerverse, shunned music and preferred to work in silence, I cannot abide working without music. Don't get me wrong, there are times when silence is a beautiful thing, where it can speak volumes louder than words ever could. But when I'm working, silence is an incredibly frustrating thing. I'm amazed I survived my exams in secondary school given the levels of enforced silence there.

Moving away from the tangent (and creating a new paragraph just to emphasise the point), the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy is awesome. In my last post I mentioned the joyous addictive quality of Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling". This is but one of the many brilliant tracks on Awesome Mix, Volume 1, the official soundtrack for Guardians. Top tracks from this album include Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love" (played during the credits sequence at the beginning of Guardians, a beautiful and hilarious sequence), David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream", Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" (many daydreams about slow-dancing with that one girl induced by this song, it will have a lot to answer for) and finally, The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb". The whole album is awesome, but these tracks are the favourites.

So, amazing soundtrack (sorry, Alan Silvestri. The Avengers score was great, but you didn't have awesome 80s music to back it up), spaceships and one final, teeny little detail - the film begins in 1988, the year of my birth. It wins points for that, it just does.

Staying in the Marvel spectrum for a moment is a movie now crowned as my third favourite of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Absolutely phenomenal film. Not on the same level of hijinks, action and rib-tickling-ness as Guardians, but then this film is definitely not supposed to be that. It plays as a kick-ass spy thriller/action movie combo and knocks the socks off its predecessor, The First Avenger and deals some pretty spectacular critical hits to its brethren in the MCU. The acting, the action, the whole thing is brilliant from start to finish. It remains in third simply due to my sentimentality and attachments to Avengers and Guardians. I guess I have a thing for the ensemble movies. Bring on Avengers 2.

Next up it's time to talk about television and I'll be staying in the superheroes theme (tenuously) by talking about the recent UK premier of Gotham, the TV show based around James Gordon's rise as a police officer in the brutally corrupt, crime ridden locale of Gotham City. Unfortunately, gushing praise is not forthcoming. I have a few issues with this TV show.

First, I want to preface these comments with the editorial note that I am not massively invested in the DC Comics universe. I enjoy the Batman movies, Christopher Nolan's trilogy being a masterpiece of all the Batman movies to date even if they could have been mercifully cut short by an hour. Man of Steel was okay, had the gritty edge but...well, Superman isn't really about the gritty edge. He's the clean-cut, All-American Hero. Well, if Captain America didn't upstage him at every turn on that particular criteria.

One final preface, I'm going to go into some detail in my critique thus there may be spoilers ahead. Best to turn back now or skip a couple of paragraphs to when I talk about something else. Fair warning has been given.

Anyway, to the critique of Gotham. My first and biggest point is that I wish they had slowed down. Or made it a two-part opening. Great, we were introduced to whole host of characters - The Penguin, identified as Oswald and despising the moniker Penguin. Edward Nygma, the infamous Riddler, is at the moment a forensic scientist with Gotham City Police Department with neatly-hinted at psychological issues. We also saw a teenage Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) in the opening and at the end. There was also a nice hint towards Poison Ivy, with a young girl named Ivy who seems to be obsessed with tending to plants being introduced as the daughter of a man framed for the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Oh yes, they opened Gotham with the murder of the Waynes and having James Gordon and Bruce Wayne meet. Don't get me wrong, nice dynamic opening, but again this could have been much better as a two-parter.

Now we come to the critique of cast. I was dubious at first about The OC's Ben McKenzie being cast as James Gordon, a role that I'm afraid Gary Oldman has nail-downed so perfectly that beating his performance is a challenge McKenzie isn't up to. He may prove me wrong yet, but thus far I remain unimpressed. Next up is Sean Pertwee. As an actor, I like him. I think he's cool and I was intrigued to see what he would do with Alfred Pennyworth. Maybe I was expecting the poise and dignity that Michael Gough and Michael Caine brought to the role, maybe I'm too set in that being Alfred's manner, but I found Pertwee's Alfred a bit too...colloquial. He addresses people as "mate", shouts "Oi, Master Bruce, get your bloody arse..." (I trail off this quotation as I can't remember exactly how it goes) and so on. I have more hope for Pertwee given his established talent and pedigree, so I will be watching with great interest.

It's not all bad things to say about the casting though. Donal Logue's character, Detective Harvey Bullock, looks set to become quite a complicated character - at least I hope the writers go in that direction. And the casting directors made an inspired choice casting The Wire's John Doman as mob boss Carmine Falcone. So there is some small hope for Gotham, we'll see if it delivers in the coming weeks.

Moving forward on the subject of television, we hit the works of Aaron Sorkin. Part of the reason I can give for my long absence from this blog is having binge-watched all seven seasons of The West Wing and becoming addicted to quite possibly the most brilliant, hilarious and dramatic TV shows he's created - The Newsroom.

Alas, The Newsroom only has three seasons, two of which I have watched. It is the story of Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), news anchor for Atlantis Cable News, who doesn't ruffle anyone's feathers or do anything outrageous, until taking part in a Q&A session for journalism students at a university. His tirade about how America isn't the greatest country in the world (seen in The Newsroom's trailers) tears down his middle-of-the-fence image and with a new executive producer at the helm of his news show (Mackenzie McHale, his ex-girlfriend, played by Emily Mortimer) they re-vamp his image. It's a tale of cleaning up news, fighting the sensationalism and spectacle of modern journalism and returning to good old-fashioning reporting. Informing the public of what they need to be informed about.

And it is downright hilarious. There's tons of drama, tension and heart-wrenching moments, but in amongst all that is Sorkin's trademark brand of humour, seen throughout The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The Newsroom was aired on HBO and I wager that the third season is either airing or about to soon. Go out there and watch it. It's a thing of brilliance and beauty.

To wrap up this muddling essay, it's time to talk about gaming. But first of all, I'm not going to tackle video gaming. I'm going to talk about tabletop gaming and my introduction in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. It was a strange world I'd heard about a lot during my formative years and a former housemate of mine post-university insisted that I should give it a try because I would love it. In the latter stages of last year/early stages of this year, I participated in my first ever tabletop roleplaying game, a zombie apocalypse game devised by a friend call-signed Jester. He and his girlfriend Harlequin are the ones who sucked me into this world and are respectively Dungeon Masters of their own campaigns. That's right, after an introduction to tabletop roleplaying with a zombie apocalypse game, I was brought into the world of Dungeons & Dragons and now I am involved in not one, but two separate campaigns. Well, I lie. Three. Another member of our party is DM for his own campaign, of which I appear to be a Baron. And essentially party leader. Which I find most curious as I tend to shrug off anything that resembles leadership and responsibility. It's a character flaw.

So there we have it. I have now entered the world of Dungeons & Dragons. On a strangely tangentially related note, my other videogame addiction: XCOM: Enemy Within.

I have previously touched upon the subject of XCOM without going into much detail. A squad-based, turn-based strategy game set around an alien invasion of Earth where you also have to manage the resources of your central base, assign research, etc., it has proved to be very addictive. Currently I have embarked upon my sixth playthrough and it would appear to have infinite replay value. Many of the missions are randomly generated, but there are some fixed missions. But within those, the enemies themselves are randomly generated. Thanks to this, even though I know the layout of 90% of the maps used in every mission, the random generation of enemies means I am always on my toes. Suffice it to say, I highly rate this game and would recommend it.

I feel that now is a logical time to wrap up for today. Next week I will babble again, about what I do not know, but I'm sure I can dig something up that will be worth talking about. Before I go, the time-honoured context for title has been left until last (because it wasn't until now that I came up with the title). It's very tenuous, but put simply I had garlic bread as part of my lunch. Thus I quoted Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Not very exciting as context goes, but there it is. Until next time, I leave you all with a favourite musical number (which I have posted before. But I'm going to do it again anyway, repetition be damned!)

(Song of the Mind: Battlestar Sonatica - Bear McCreary).

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